A gliding competition lasts for several days. One task is flown on every suitable day during the competition. The task is set to suit the day such that a reasonable proportion of gliders can complete the task. If conditions are so bad that this can't be guaranteed or if people can't stay up long enough to allow a start the day is declared a scrub and no task is flown. The overall class winner is the pilot who gets the greatest total score from all the tasks actually flown.
Each day's task is set at the morning briefing, though if conditions change the task can be altered at any time before the class is launched or scrubbed before the starting gate opens. All tasks are cross country flights, set on the day to take an estimated 3 - 4 hours to complete given the weather on the day.
In the morning the gliders are rigged and arranged on the launch grid, a series of rows each containing five gliders, in launching order. When the thermals have got going the grid is launched by a stream of 6 - 8 tugs, who have to launch each class within an hour. At the Gransden Regionals we have two classes: Club and Sport. This year we had a total of 65 gliders competing. Both classes use handicapping to reduce the effect of glider performance on the result. Lower performance gliders fly in Club class and get set a shorter task than that set for Sport. The grid rows rotate within a class so everybody will be first on the grid, and the classes take turns at being the first class on the grid.
When the grid is launched, each class is stream launched with all gliders being towed to 2000 ft in a designated area before being released to sample the air and gain height before the starting gate opens: this happens 10 minutes after the last glider in the class is released. It's best to be near the centre of the grid. Those who are launched first can spend up to 70 minutes in the air before the starting gate opens, while those who are launched last only have 10 minutes working time before the off. This year the starting gate was a 6 km semi circle with its flat face aimed at the first turning point and its top at a specified height. The height is announced by radio after the last glider has been released from tow. Once the gate has opened you can start at any time from within the volume of the half-cylinder by making a radio call saying who you are and the time.
Once you have a confirmed start you set off to fly the task. This is more or less the same as a normal cross country task except that it has been set for you and you may have to land out before completing the task. If you get round you warn control that you're coming back by making a radio call 10 km out and a second call one minute before you cross the finish line.
Those who complete the task get scored on how fast they got round. Those who don't complete it get scored on how far they have got before being forced to land. Distances and times are verified by downloading the flight trace from logger in each glider. Every few seconds the logger records where the glider is from a GPS receiver and how high it is from a pressure sensor, so the complete set of data points show the glider's three dimensional flight path. Finally, pilots are docked penalty points if they infringe controlled airspace or fail to round the turn points cleanly: these are assessed from the flight trace. In the UK there are two sorts of task flown: