Cross Country or Long Distance Flight
"Leaving the nest..."
Many expressions reveal how the first cross country flight remains a memorable experience in the life of a pilot. It does not matter the distance achieved because what changes once you are at the top of the thermal is to dare to take the plunge and accept this part of the unknown that is offered to you, this sweet uncertainty that scares and excites you. Going cross country always has an element of adventure, something which is lacking in modern society, this exhilarating feeling of freedom and euphoria of projecting yourself... elsewhere. It doesn't matter how far you go, what matters is what you experience on the way.
Diagram illustrating the circulation of wind and breeze in mountainous terrain
Above all, to plan well, you have to be well prepared. And to give yourself the best chance, you must already master a certain number of elements: knowing how to maximise a thermal locally, tightening your turns, being able to manage the stabilisers, the accelerator, the 360° etc. This control will be as much about mental capacity and ability to make complex decisions and being open to understanding a larger aerological analysis.
Preparation will also involve a study of a realistic potential route depending on the conditions for the day. For the experience to be satisfactory, it is important to set a realistic goal. A good start is to use the CFD or XContest sites to view cross country flight paths in your area with a wing of the same type as yours.
Your cross country can be easy or difficult depending on the topographic and aerological contexts. Take a homogeneous relief, fed by a constant dynamic lift and overhanging an open plain with multiple possibilities for landings. What could be easier than flying for miles? Yes but in the mountains this is rarely the case!
To have as much peace of mind as possible upstream it will be necessary to ask a certain number of questions.
Is my equipment ok? - rescue parachute, communication (tel/radio)
Have I planned enough to eat and drink?
I won't fly alone: it will be easier with several people, I will have more confidence, it is safer.
What type of aerology will I encounter? What does my analysis tell me? Is the route that I envisage consistent with the latter? Easy aerology: "steady wind with a constant orientation and clear thermal instability marked by cloudy bases. Difficult aerology: "irregular winds with varying directions, layers of reversals, strong turbulence and the need to seek out leeward thermals."
Choose your day
Let's be clear: the perfect day does not exist! At the start we struggle. And the lower your level of experience the more hypothetical the perfect day will remain. High ceilings (high altitudes) mean the turbulence of powerful ascents. Low ceilings mean a lot of technical baggage. So what? So we will make informed compromises and we will make sure to be well prepared the day we start.
A flight declared to the CFD.
As soon as you take-off you should head towards a thermal zone, feel the air mass, sniff out the sector that has the best performance. You will need to exploit it to the highest point. This is the basis of an apprentice cross country pilot: before setting off you need altitude. This is also what will allow you to reach the cloud base from which your trajectories can stay high and avoiding the anxiety of the low point.
Fly in the wind
You learned from the start the notions of "upwind" and "downwind". Cross country involves knowing how to fly in turbulence as it will be present at one time or another. We must now make discerning decisions. A direct “downwind” can be dangerous as soon as the wind exceeds 15km/h. An "indirect leeward" remains accessible to pilots who have the technique and the mental skills to handle the turbulence of the powerful thermals developing there. A "leeward of a massif" will protect a sector of flight benefiting from classic aerology in the low layers. Be careful however when you go out on the ridges.
If you have a lot of height and you want to go as far as possible you can use the accelerator (be careful however in turbulent areas), this will save you time and you will be able to take better advantage of the air conditions. Also be careful to have clean trajectories and not to "snake" in the air (use ground references). Take the opportunity to drink, eat, relax and observe the target point in search of clues (other paragliders, trees, smoke) that can give you an idea of what to expect. Then, a little before you arrive, refocus.
The low point
At the end of a transition we are often low. You have to show determination, endurance and gentleness whilst steering. Everything that can be exploited will have to be exploited. This is when you can't let go and it is good to be an opportunist.
Wild and makeshift landing sites
During your first cross country flight it is important that your potential landing options are simple and multiple. This will help you avoid anxieties. When you are in transit you must have anticipated where the potential landing sites are and identify at what precise moment you will have to give up the fight to be able to reach them. So you will be able to refocus on a serene landing.
Wanting to achieve too much: once at the top of the ascender you turn, turn, like a mad dervish! You won’t gain anything, the few metres you achieved on one part of the turn are lost on the other part. It's time to head for the next thermal! Be Drifted: You go up in the thermal but it shifts you in the opposite direction from where you want to go. Suddenly the vertical gain is immediately lost when you go forward. No need to stay too long here; you must move forward. Pass Through: You pass through thermals without stopping. Either you want to go (too) fast or you are anxious at the idea of upsetting this pretty tense trajectory which saves you distance... yes, but in the end the low point may be very low...
Hopefully this introduction makes you want to fly far. If you would like to learn more do not hesitate to join one of our thermal and cross country courses or a bivouac flight discovery which combines distance flight and mountain bivouac.
Please consult course dates in Our Calendar
Until we meet, we wish you blue skies!