The athletes’ are flying in a “gaggle”. Here’s why that works.
You might know that cyclists can work together to move on the road faster. It’s similar for paragliders in the sky… but not quite.
Athletes move through the air trying to find lift and avoid areas that are sinking. This wouldn’t be a problem if they could see what the air was doing up ahead, so they look for signs like birds climbing or clouds forming… or other paragliders.
Flying cross country involves two skills: climbing and gliding. Both of them can be done faster together. Red Bull X-Alps Veteran Gavin McClurg says: “In paraglider speak we call flying together ‘team flying’ or ‘gaggle flying’, it's much faster because you can you have a lot more visual reference in the sky.”
As athletes glide towards their destination, they may notice that gliders to their left are going up. They then move over in that direction and extend their glide without having to waste time circling in a thermal to climb. It’s pretty simple: circling gets you up, but not ahead. When athletes are climbing it’s also quicker to be part of a group. Gavin says: “When you have multiple athletes in the same thermal then everybody will be trying to find a little bit better lift. When they do, it's very obvious to all the other pilots and they all come together.”
That’s exactly what’s happening right now. Athletes have left Turnpoint 3 Chiemgau Achental and are flying down the paragliding superhighway towards Turnpoint 4 Lermoos in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena. The leaders of Chrigel Maurer (SUI1), Max Pinot (FRA1), Pal Takats (HUN) and more are using these gaggle flying techniques to complete the 126km section in an impressive time.
When you have one other glider with you it’s a little faster. When you have ten, it’s a lot faster. “The gaggle is your friend,” says Gavin, “until final glide.”
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