Tuesday Tip: Head in the Clouds

Tuesday 13 November, 2012

This week’s Tuesday Tip is from the current issue of Cross Country and is part of a larger feature on flying and clouds. We asked several expert pilots for their advice on what to do if you get sucked in to a cloud. Twice British Champion Adrian Thomas gave us this tip:

Head in the Clouds

Spiralling or B-lining or full-stalling all have you descend in the same place. A thermal has inflow, particularly close to a sucking cloud where thermal strength is increasing. If you spiral or B-line or full-stall you will be sucked gently towards the strongest updraft and will stay there.

Much better to fly in a straight line and get out of the updraft. Even in the strongest cloud-suck the updraft region is small, and there is sink nearby. It is very rare indeed to have an updraft more than a kilometre across. Even if you head the wrong way across such a monster updraft you only have to fly 1km to get to the other edge at the absolute maximum, and at trim speed that is going to take you a little less than two minutes, provided you fly in a straight line.

That is the key: fly in a straight line (in any direction) and you will get to the edge of the updraft. Obviously it is a good idea to fly towards the nearest edge of the cloud, but even if you are totally disorientated if you fly in a straight line you will exit the cloud.

Flying in a straight line in cloud is hard, since there are no visual references. You need to have instruments you can rely on, and need to believe what they tell you (it’s too easy to think the compass is lying). I find that it is entirely possible to follow the arrow on a GPS and fly reasonably straight in cloud, but it is much easier to use a compass.

It is very easy to get disorientated in cloud. I’ve emerged from cloud convinced I was going straight to find the world turning below me. You really need an instrument to guide you out of cloud!

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