Comps and Events, News

Web exclusive: British Champion Interview

Tuesday 15 September, 2009

Adrian Thomas in the XC hotseat

Adrian Thomas has won the British Championship after a final week of great competition flying in the southern French Alps in August. An Oxford University zoology professor, aerodynamics advisor to Airwave and regular contributor to Cross Country he won the British national title after three legs of competition and nine tasks – one in the UK, one in Spain and one in France.

Congratulations, how does it feel to be British Champion for, what is it, the second time?

Thanks, it feels great to have got the cup back. I got it in 2006 for the first time, winning it again feels even better.

How was the flying in France?

I haven’t flown St Jean de Montclar before, although I have done the Dormillouse run a few times. What a fantastic place. Huge, gentle, grassy take-off, imposing mountain ridge-runs along the Dormillouse, then technical, challenging flying out in the flatlands in front. Fantastic flying, but also a brilliant place for the family. We’ll be back.

Neil Roberts was snapping at your heels all the way through the comp and came second – what’s he got to do to win it?

Neil is very consistent, but he doesn’t lead out, which is strange because he flies huge XCs in the UK. He needs to trust his own judgement and push on a bit more. When he starts to lead out and win tasks he’ll be a force to be reckoned with, but while he is always above and behind the lead gaggle he won’t win. He also needs a better wing. I had him on glide, climb and speed in St Jean on my new FR5 proto – that only left him the option of taking different routes, which is always risky.

Out of the three legs, two flyable, of the British Champs, what was the best task for you?

Weirdly, the first task at Piedrahita. I got stuck low before the start and was horribly late. Mark Hayman and I had been discussing tactics in the airport, and had realised before the first task that with no discards in the series, making goal every day was the key. So there I was, halfway down the big spur, 10 km from the start line when the start went. I flew XC to the goal, on my own for the last 60 km, and had a nice flight with loads of vultures. That early error put me in the right frame of mind for the rest of the comp.

Tell me a little bit about your wing… you help develop them for Airwave don’t you? What’s its secret?

I thought glider development had reached a plateau last year, but we’ve just seen a huge leap forward in glider performance from all the major manufacturers. The last couple of years saw changes in aerofoils that lead to improvements in climb (notably from Gin and Niviuk), changes in speed-systems and structure that lead to improvements in stability at speed, and maximum speed (notably from Mac and Ozone), and improvements in glide (notably from Advance).

Airwave had the FR4, which was very easy to fly for a comp wing, but didn’t really excel in any area. I pushed Bruce [Goldsmith] into producing a radical new proto, the main difference is the aspect ratio – which has gone from 7.4 in the FR4 to 8.5 in the FR5. The structure is much better, so the FR5 is actually much less wobbly than the FR4, especially at speed.

We had no idea what the new proto would be like to fly, but it turns out to be very, very good indeed. I spent most of the week in France flying with a huge grin on my face. Compared to the FR4, the FR5 has masses more performance – it is in a different league entirely – but if anything it is actually easier to fly. It is certainly more relaxing.

I had a big performance advantage, which made defending a 300-point lead pretty straightforward. How it goes against the latest protos from Gin, Mac and Niviuk we will find out in the PWC Superfinal. At the moment all I know is it has way more performance than anything I have flown, and I am not yet accessing half that performance.

At the beginning of the year we saw the safety debate come to the fore again… how has that filtered through into the British Championship?

The British Championship has had an intense focus on safety for years, and that is reflected in the fact that tasks were cancelled in both Piedrahita and St Jean on days when pilots flew 300 km+ XC flights. Task safety committees have to think about safety for the bottom half of the field, and epic XC days are often not safe for competition – because you want a strong tailwind for XC. There was one reserve deployment in St Jean and one of the wind dummies had a bad landing in the goal field and broke her arm. I don’t think there were any injuries in Piedrahita.

I’m a beginner – what tips can you give me on how to become a national champion?

Get a glider you are comfortable with and learn everything there is to know about flying it. All the really good pilots have fantastic ground handling skills, and great glider control. Once you have totally mastered your wing take it to as many competitions as you can manage. There is no faster way to learn XC flying than by going to competitions because there are so many thermal markers, and you can watch other people try out all the available options and see what works.

As well as great glider control, the top pilots also have fantastic observational skills, and keep track of how pilots are doing ahead and behind them: the information from watching other pilots provides vital clues to what the weather is up to, which allows you to make informed route decisions.

And what’s next? Same again next year or off to the beach?

First I’m off to the World Cup Superfinal in Poggio Bustone. I did the Nationals and the PWC this year, and that is just too much time away from family and work (seven weeks!). Next year it will have to be just one, and it will have to be the PWC – for the competition!


1 Adrian Thomas, Airwave Magic FR5, 7978

2 Neil Roberts, Niviuk Icepeak Xp, 7603

3 Craig Morgan, Mac Magus, 7276

Women’s Champion

Kirst Cameron, SkyWalk Poison 2, 4845

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