Flying cross-country tasks is an important aspect of gliding. Setting tasks that are achievable and minimise risk is quite a skill! This webpage offers guidance to pilots and other task setters.
The Competitions Committee has published an excellent ‘Competition Organisers Guide’. This is a must read for anyone involved with running a competition, regardless of whether or not the competition is BGA rated. The task setting guidance in paras 2.6 and 2.8 is particularly relevant to anyone who intends to set a cross country task, and has been used to inform the following task setting considerations.
Task setting considerations
Task setting is all about planning the task length and shape to optimise the opportunities on a given day. In the United Kingdom, with its myriad airspace arrangements, challenging weather conditions and sometimes short soaring ‘windows’, this role should not be underestimated.
The seriousness of potential airspace infringements and interaction with other aviation activity, from a safety and reputational perspective, should be considered at all times when designing tasks on any particular day.
The key to setting a good task is to establish what the meteorology information suggests is the ‘rough area’ where the task should be best set and what the ‘length’ of the soaring day is.
Having obtained some reasonably good met information;
Decide the rough area where the task should be set and also the best finish direction given forecasted wind. At this point you may have decided what type of task (AAT/Fixed Course/Distance Handicapped) is appropriate.
Identify the permanent and temporary airspace restrictions that will impact on the task. In most cases the airspace identified the night before may have not significantly changed but re-confirm what temporary airspace may impact the task before starting task planning. Where a significant temporary airspace is present, such as a RA(T), then it may mean compromising the task to an area where the weather is not as good.
Decide when the task can realistically be started. The launch queue and cloudbase tend to be deciding factors.
Decide when the pilots need to finish by. Does the forecast suggest the day continuing into the evening or shutting down early for any reason? Is any weather arriving to spoil the day? This, of course, comes with experience but where thermal strengths are likely to deteriorate due to top cover approaching from a warm front then it useful to consider this issue, in combination, with any significant head wind that might impede progress on the later stages of the task.
Estimate the achievable XC speed taking into account glider and pilot performance. This will be based on thermal strength and cloudbase but must also allow for positive factors such as streeting and negative factors such as spreadout. The combination of available task time and predicted XC speed gives an estimate for the potential task distances achievable.
Decide Distances and Task Shape. From your rough estimation of achievable task distance you should be able to design a task within your task setting programme that can be shaped to coincide with the area where the best weather is likely to be available. The available task area and the desired task length will influence the overall task shape and whether the task has to be folded to fit (creating ‘arrow’ or ‘bow -tie’ shaped tasks). If the wind is strong then consider predominantly up and down wind. Running streets is fun but struggling crosswind can be demoralising. Inbound and outbound tracks at turning points should be separated where possible as lookout may be compromised close to turning points. Excessive numbers of turning points should be avoided although it will sometimes be necessary to add control points to ensure adequate clearance from controlled airspace/known busy areas.
Distance Handicap Tasks. Setting DHTs requires considering some issues specific to this task type to ensure that the task is fair to pilots across the handicap range and that tasks are not set in such a way that the task for lower handicap gliders goes through controlled airspace. A recent S&G article provides useful advice for task setters.
Take particular care to avoid setting task legs close to very low airspace where the prevailing wind may encourage pilots to get pinned against the airspace boundary when conditions are unexpectedly poor thus encouraging accidental infringements.
Responsibility. Don’t forget to remind pilots that it is their responsibility to make sure that their flight can be carried out safely, including checking NOTAM’s.