A Winning Glider Pilot’s AAR

This is the 2nd time I’ve posted a writeup by “The Kid”, known only to his mother as Daniel Sazhin. He is a prodigy. And he is still young enough to compete in the Junior Nationals (talking soaring here). I am posting this because I think a few of you will be touched by how he lays seige to a task even though this is utterly unrelated to anything we normally discuss on this forum. For those of you who don’t fly gliders, you might understand 75% of what he says. I do fly gliders and I understand maybe 76%. It doesn’t matter. He renews my faith in “intellectual pilots” (if that ever was a thing) and a future governed by by millennials.

Hey Guys,

The contest having come to a close, I’ve collected my thoughts as to what worked to allow me to have a successful run. Fundamentally, my goal was to perform consistently. This has been a challenge on multiple fronts and Nephi has worked out well in this domain.

I achieved consistency in my performance through good preparation, strategy and execution.

To prepare for the contest, I did the following things:


My goal at this contest was to perform sufficiently well to get on the 2019 Junior team. I figured that a ranking of .95 would be a reasonable bottom threshold. In order to determine a target level of performance, I chose to use pilot placing on contest days. I felt that this would be psychologically easier to work with on a daily basis. In flight, I felt it would be easier to let myself drop down a couple places, as the point spreads don’t always remain constant day by day. Basically, getting 900 points can feel crappy, but if you’re in the top 5 for the day, you’re actually doing great!

I studied about 12 contests and used composite scores of the 10th, 9th, 8th, etc place finisher on all of the contest days. Stated differently, it’s like asking if I’m in 8th place every day, how would my ranking look at the end? Statistically, I found that the 10th place finisher on a daily basis in a reasonably sized contest gets about .95. Furthermore, the composite score of the 5th place finisher usually wins the contest.

As a result, I defined a goal to be in the top 10 every day as a must. Top five was a plus. This was a guiding feature in my decision making. Whenever I approached a tricky area, I said I can afford to drop a couple places to stay in the top 10. And this worked very effectively.

As an aside, at Nephi, the composite score of the 9th place finishers was .95. So I was pretty close in my analysis!

-Gear shifting

John Bird and I have done a lot of work on quantifying risk in thermal flying and modeling it to define when and how to gear shift. We showed that statically that there are really two gears: Optimization and Risk Minimization. Colloquially they are Racing and Survival, but I believe these terms are a bit too loaded and less accurate. Our paper is almost done and will be submitted to Ostiv shortly. We will also write a less technical version for Soaring magazine, so stay tuned!

We essentially quantified the number and reliability of thermals one must have on a consistent basis in order to fly consistently over a competition. I applied this research effectively and saw it as the counterpart to MC theory in my decision making.

-Cognitive/affective decision making

Simply stated, tactics generally are most optimal when done intuitively and strategy must be done more analytically. I pushed myself to reassess the big picture analytically. “Should I take this line or that line? What’s the risk of going deeper for those clouds? What is the lowest I should go in the band?” However, I let the affective black box tick away at the tactics and did not second guess it. That cloud feels right! I felt like I had the optimal balance between both thought processes.


I used skysight religiously during the contest. I found it did a good job of predicting the weather, especially due convergence lines. This greatly influenced my pre contest day planning.


In terms of flying the glider, I felt I really got dialed into the LS3. It handled beautifully and performed well too! One of the more interesting aspects of flying this ship is that it has a very good flap actuation system. The flaps have a long throw on the handle and the forces are light. As such, I was able to manipulate the flaps quite actively.

I flew the flaps like how I saw the computer work the flaps in the Duckhawk. Whenever I pulled back and loaded up the glider, I was also pulling the flap handle. Vice versa when unloading the wing. As such, the flap handle essentially mimics the movement of the stick. Done correctly, this saves a lot of energy.

Furthermore, I used this effectively whole employing some dynamic soaring techniques. Especially when flying in weak ridge lift in blue, i made sure to work the gusts as effectively as possible. In doing so and actively working the flaps, I meaningfully increased my L/D which allowed me to keep up with the heavier and higher performing gliders.

Overall, I think that these are the more interesting and/or innovative themes in how my contest turned out and I hope that these insights will be useful for pilots in the future.

All the best

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This is interesting. I know nothing about what he is saying (like you correctly guessed)…but my assumption is that the Duckhawk is a type of glider that has some sort of automated wing shaping technology? Like leading and trailing edge changes? Interesting if he was emulating that manually. Not on the same level, but I know of some guys that used to wedge a large book under their flap handle in the early Piper singles to cause the flaps to just ever so slightly droop. It lowered their nose attitude just a skosh and gave them a couple extra knots in cruise.


Did some Googling - same kid - seems to like that Duckhawk glider and articulates his thoughts on it very well (from 2013):

"In early September, I had a fantastic day of flying at Blairstown Airport, the culmination of which was having the opportunity to fly Windward Performance’s new DuckHawk. I had just flown the club Grob Twin Astir with my brother, promptly falling out and not exactly having one of my best landings in it. It seems that Bill Thar did not see it and upon greeting him, he offered me to fly the DuckHawk! I was flabbergasted and immediately agreed. The glider was already assembled, so Bill promptly introduced me to the cockpit and gave the pre-flight briefing. We pushed the glider out to the line, which was easy because at its 440 LBS empty weight it is just like pushing my club’s 1-26E around!

While I have not flown any high performance single-place gliders before, my many years of flying the Condor Soaring Simulator have allowed me to be familiar with most of the composite sailplanes in the field. I did not feel nervous about being able to control the plane and I was excited to try it out. The first takeoff was very easy and the DuckHawk had great control authority and responsiveness. There was no need for any of the takeoff tricks found on some other sailplanes such as negative flap settings prior to takeoff or open spoilers for increased aileron effectiveness. The visibility was great and it was easy to stay behind the tow plane because the DuckHawk didn’t get thrown around in the turbulence. Unfortunately, upon releasing I was unable to find much lift except for one light thermal which amounted to zero-sink for a while. Pulling into that thermal, it was quite a fantastic sensation bringing the flaps to 10-15 degrees and feeling the glider “grip” the air. The DuckHawk was able to slow down to a tad over 40 knots and provides the pilot with a lot of feedback from the air. What was definitely noticeable was that the glider does everything you want it to. There is no feeling of “fighting the glider” like in some other gliders I had flown. The DuckHawk handled great at the low speed end and the controls were not twitchy, but yet very responsive. I liked the fact that there is no elevator trim; instead wherever one places the stick, it stays in that position. The electric flaps are easily controlled in manual mode using a switch on the stick. The flaps move at a brisk rate, but there is no tendency for the glider to “drop” such as when the flaps are moved between notches in other gliders. This DuckHawk is fitted with a prototype automatic flap control system but it was not used on this flight. I returned to the field put the flaps down and opened the spoilers to land just like you do in other gliders and the nice thing was to put the gear down I just moved the gated switch and out came the gear. Everything went easily on landing and the floating piston oleo shock is wonderful as there is no bounce and it does its job very nicely and the wheel brake is very effective.

One week later, I took the DuckHawk up for another flight on a day when the ridge was working and had the opportunity to experience this glider’s excellent cross country capability. Since there were thermals present as well, I had more time to fly the plane and it was a good opportunity to do some stalls and get a feel for the plane throughout more of its envelope. The stalls were benign and had very little tendency to drop a wing. The DuckHawk is much like a chameleon in the way it can be thermalled. For instance, at 50 knots it requires very little control in maneuvering in a thermal and climbs very well with little effort. However, unlike other sailplanes, this glider really does not seem to have a narrow and sensitive “drag bucket” and as a result, it can be thermalled even down to 40 knots without a significant sink rate penalty. It was quite interesting that the pilot is given quite the latitude in how one wants to go about thermalling, which bodes well for different conditions and pilot styles. Prior to the flight, Bill Thar also told me that I should consider bringing the glider up to its 160 knots maneuvering speed, which I did after thermalling it for a while. I dived away and got up to around 155 knots and then pulled up, heading like a rocket toward the stratosphere. That pull-up was such a rush that I decided I just had to do it again going the other way! One must also consider that this was even done under convective conditions in the vicinity of a ridge, not in smooth air. However, the DuckHawk was absolutely solid and it felt absolutely safe bringing it to a speed that is over the VNE of most other sailplanes around. The plane was flown dry with a light total flying weight around 620 LBS and when I got onto the ridge, I immediately noticed that even for its light weight it did not get particularly kicked around by the dynamic air. Unlike my trusty metal steed (1-26), the DuckHawk seemed to “plow” through the air and handled beautifully on the ridge. The ridge transitions were quite easy and I flew over 400 km with an average speed of 105 mph on the ridge, without doing any turns other than doing some more thermalling practice at the end of “our” mountain. The glider was flown with the prototype automatic/manual flap control system and I think that this will be an exciting system for the future of the plane as the automatic mode smoothly adjusts the flaps throughout their range and gives you the optimum flap setting all of the time. The fast roll rate is conducive to rolling in and out very quickly with little adverse yaw. As far as all of the other features of the plane you can check them out on the manufacturer’s website. It is quite a testament to the design of the glider that someone with as little high performance glider time as myself would be able to transition so easily to a world-class racing machine. Windward Performance’s DuckHawk was an absolute delight to fly and it would be an honor to fly it again."

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Well said. It applies to all kinds of situations–in my virtual cockpit as well as my former profession.

I love how I can quote someone else and then, in turn, someone can quote me, and magically it looks like I said that really smart thing!