Why do athletes fly in a gaggle?

Gaggle is the word paragliders use for a group of pilots flying together. What's the benefit of that?

Athletes flying during Red Bull X-Alps on Gaisberg, Austria on June 20, 2021

Yesterday at TP1 Gaisberg, where the athletes took off for their first flights, it was an amazing sight. Practically all of them were up in the air together, struggling to find the best lift. They flew as a group, as if they were connected. A flock of birds that suddenly turns in a different direction, and no one knows why.

A group of paragliders flying this way is called a gaggle. They all want to find the best lift, warm rising air. One of the most challenging things in paragliding is finding that lift. Air is invisible and there are no direct clues as to where to find the lift. 

Indirect clues include the way the landscape looks to predict where the hot bubbles of air may release and rise. Another is a bird circling, as they seem to be born with a sixth sense for rising air making sure they don't waste energy on flappin their wings.

But another important clue for a pilot is to watch other pilots. If someone else seems to rise faster than you, it makes a lot of sense to fly towards them and join their thermal. 

That is exactly what happened yesterday. One pilot would find a good thermal and all the others would follow him or her. If the thermal dissipates, which it did yesterday at only a few tens of meters above Gaisberg initially, pilots will move to find new lift. If they find some, the rest will follow.

As the athletes progress in the race, the field will spread out and it will not be possible anymore to take advantage of the gaggle. They will have to find their clues elsewhere, rely on their experience or the masters of the sky, the birds. 

A master of flying alone is Chriger Maurer (SUI1) who always seems to find the best lift alone and first. Contrary to the benefits of gaggle flying to most pilots, he prefers to be alone. He might have a sixth sense for rising air, just like birds. He really earns his nickname 'Chrigel the Eagle'.

Follow the athletes trough day tow of the race on Live Tracking.

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