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Posted - 06/18/2009 :  05:31:45 AM  Show Profile
A Timer's Guide for TD contests.
By Ed Anderson

The timer's role at the typical thermal duration contest can be as simple as running a watch, keeping the pilot aware of the time, and reporting the time and landing points to the score keeper. It is easy and it is fun. Plus, you can learn a lot by watching how pilots manage their flights, read the air and set-up for their landings. Even if you don't feel ready to fly a thermal duration contest, working as a timer is a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

However, the timer's role can be very valuable as the timer is allowed to help the pilot during the flight. How much of this actually occurs will depend on the timer and the pilot involved and how they wish to work together. Some pilots welcome the help and others prefer the timer to be quiet and just work the watch. But even a rookie pilot, working as a timer, can help an experienced pilot with just the right information at just the right time.


The timer's job is to record the duration of the flight as well as any landing points. This is then reported to the score keeper once the flight is complete. If you do nothing else, you have fulfilled your role as timer. Good job!

The timer will need to know the specified task in effect. Before the pilot launches the plane, confirm that you are in agreement as to what the task time is for this round.

For example, the CD may have declared an 8 minute round. That means the pilot is trying to have his flight last EXACTLY 8 minutes, not a second more or less. Not every pilot hits it exactly but the timer can help by keeping the pilot informed of his time throughout the flight.

1) When time starts depends on the format. In an ALES format time usually starts when the glider leaves the pilot's hand. In a Thermal Duration contest (winch or hi-start launch) time usually starts when the glider leaves the winch or hi-start hook. Confirm that you and the pilot agree as to when the time starts. If there is a disagreement, check with the CD or whover is calling the launch.

2) Prior to the launch, ask your pilot how often he wishes updates. Some would like ever minute. Some may not want any updates till half way and some may not wish an update till there are two minutes left. Ask your pilot for his preferences.

3) Last two minutes - Each pilot has a preference, but typical is to give a notice when there are two minutes left. Using the 8 minute task, during the 6th minute typically pilots want an update every 15 seconds. This is usually when they are planning their landing.

6 minutes
7:00 minutes

4) Last Minute - Typically during the last minute the pilot wants an update every 5 seconds and to have the last 10 seconds counted down. Check with the CD as to when time stops. In most cases, time stops when the plane touches any earth bound material such as a branch, grass, or the ground itself. The plane may still be flying but if it touches something, time stops. But check to be sure as local rules may differ.

But assuming the plane has not touched, here is the typical last minute:


At this point, if the plane is still in the air, stop counting but keep the watch running so you can record the whole flight. If it is 8:06, that is what you report. If it is 7:49, that is what you report, plus any landing points.

HELPING - Generally timers can help in five ways -

After the launch

You will need to help your pilot move from the launch area so that the next pilot can launch. Typically this is done by a "follow my voice" approach. Many pilots don't want to be touched while they are flying so be aware of this. Just gently guide them toward the landing area. The don't have to be on a landing station right away, but they should be in the area so when it is time to land they don't have to go very far.

Watching other pilots

If this is a man-on-man style contest, your pilot may be interested in what the other pilots in the flight group are doing. He is only competing with those pilots regardless of who else is in the air, so note who the other pilots are before the launch. You may wish to make a note of their planes so you can more easily spot them in the sky. If you don't know the other pilot's names, ask your pilot.

Looking for Lift

In all formats you can be helpful if you know how to spot lift indicators. Ultimately it is the pilot's decision what to do but you can make him aware of options and conditions. If the pilot chooses not to take your suggestions, do not be offended, you are offering options, not instructions.

Birds circling in lift
Other gliders circling in lift
Birds feeding in a confined area
Other lift indicators that you may know.


If you are timing for a rookie pilot and you are much more experienced, you can offer advice. However, be very gentle with your suggestions. No matter how bad a pilot he may be, he is still the pilot and still in control. You are offering advice, not instructions. Never take offense if he does not follow. He may be unable, unsure or afraid to do what you suggest. This is his flight, not yours. Ask before you give advice and keep it to yourself if he prefers to fly on his own.


Illustration of a typicaly TD of F3J landing approach and spot landing:

The landing area can become quite busy. The pilot is focused on his plane. You should be focused on the watch, but whenever possible be aware of other planes in the area. You could help the pilot avoid a mid air which will not help his time and might cost him his plane.

If landing tapes are being used, straighten the tape. Ask your pilot if he has any particular orientation for the landing tape he may prefer. For example he may wish the tape away or toward him.

Some landing areas have marked stations. Help you pilot get into position. Typically this is done some time during the last two minutes, but well before the final approach.

If there are landing points, you mark the landing and report the landing to the pilot to insure he agrees. Landing is measured at the tip of the nose of the plane. The plane must be upright. Most contests will not allow points for a plane that lands inverted or flips over. It can "stick" into the ground, sometimes called a "dork" or dart landing. Check with the CD about local rules, before the flight.


When the flight is over, tell the pilot his time, confirm the landing points, then immediately go to the scoring desk to report the time and landing points. Make sure you know his name. Don't clear your watch till after the time and points are reported. The timekeeper has the option to see the watch, so be prepared to show it.

Out of Bounds

Most fields have boundaries. They will be discussed at the pilot's meeting. If the pilot lands out of bounds he gets a zero for the flight and that is what you report.


Ultimately the pilot is in command. Your primary job is to time, to record the landing points and to report them to the score keeper. However be aware that you are allowed to help if you feel able and if the pilot is willing to accept your assistance.

That was a quick summary of the timer's job. I welcome comments and other people's guides for timers.

Best regards,
Ed Anderson
Long Island Silent Flyers

Edited by - aeajr on 01/24/2011 08:21:33 AM
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