Condor Beginner’s Tutorial

The first part of this manual is intended for people who would like to use Condor but lack knowledge and understanding of the basic principals of flight. If you are new to Condor and are already familiar with aviation terminology and the basic principals of flight, you can skip to the next section

This tutorial is to supplement the Condor Manual and is mainly intended for people with little or no experience or understanding of glider or powered flight and no experience with Condor the Competition Flight Simulator.

Hardware requirements

To run and use the Condor competition glider simulator software you will need a PC running the Windows operating system. It should be Windows XP or greater.

Condor is very taxing on your computer’s hardware and is best run on a machine that is fairly powerful. I would recommend a quad-core processor, the best video card that you can afford and a minimum of 4 GB of RAM. If your hardware is not up to these specification, the glider simulation will not be smooth and it will be much more difficult to fly. On the other hand, you may still be able to fly with older hardware and if that is all you have, it’s worth a try. I myself began with a Dell GX 270. It was far from ideal but I still learned a lot until I was finally able to upgrade to a more powerful machine.

I also recommend a wide screen monitor and it’s nice to have a fairly large size. I have a 23″ size monitor. The wide format will enable you to see more to the sides which is more important than a high vertical view as, in my opinion, panning to the sides during flight is more disorienting than panning up to view clouds.

Running Condor on non-windows machines

If you have a Mac you should be able to run Condor in a windows virtual machine like boot camp or vmware or parallels. I have tried it on a first generation aluminum bodied Mac Book under boot camp running Windows XP and it wasn’t too bad. Again, the most important thing is probably how powerful the hardware is, but keep in mind that you are bound to lose something while running under a VM.

USB Joystick

In addition to a computer, you will need one or two peripherals to fly Condor flight simulator in order to control the glider. The essential one is a joystick. There are quite a few brands and models to choose from. I use a Saitek AV8R which is not ideal but it does the job. At this time, I think it may no longer be available but there are other Saitek models to choose from as well as other brands. Which is the best available at any given time is a matter of opinion and is probably best left to the Condor forums where you can study a variety of opinions.

One thing to keep in mind is that the smooth functioning of any joystick is extremely important. As you use the joystick it will eventually begin to get sticky, which is extremely frustrating. When my AV8R began to stick I ordered a new model of Saitek joystick only to find that the action was even stickier than my old one. I sent it back in disgust and reverted to my old one.

After that I contacted Saitek to inquire about some kind of lubrication to restore the smooth action it originally possessed. They were no help so I continued searching the web to see if anybody had discovered a lubricant that would remedy a problem stick. I had tried silicone spray and even 3 in one oil but they only made the problem worse. Finally I went to Home Depot and found a shelf with various high tech lubricants. I found one that was described as ideal for a combination of metal and plastic since those were the moving parts on my joystick.

I went home and covered the moving parts of the stick as thoroughly as possible with a very small amount of the lubricant. To my great joy, this fixed the problem and I’m still using the same joystick a couple of years later. All it takes is a little touch up every month or so.

USB Rudder Pedals

Though not essential, rudder pedals will add to the realism of Condor and enhance its usefulness as a learning tool for flying a real glider. But if you don’t want to spend between $100 and $200 for rudder pedals, there are two other options.

One is to control the rudder with your joystick. Most joysticks allow you to control the rudder by twisting the stick right or left. There may be other ways of controlling the rudder depending on which joystick you use but I believe the twist control is the one most commonly employed.

Condor auto-rudder setting

The other option is a setting in Condor that adds the correct amount of rudder for you when needed. I have to confess that I use this option because I have yet to buy rudder pedals after flying simulators for years. I strongly advise you not to follow my bad example though. In fact, I also plan to purchase some in the near future (That’s what they all say!)

There are a few disadvantages of using the auto-rudder option in Condor:

You will never learn to control the glider in the conventional manner. This can be especially damaging if you fly or intend to fly real gliders.
There are times that you will want to deliberately yaw the glider. One is to lose altitude rapidly by employing a slip. The other is to align the glider with the runway in a crosswind takeoff or landing. With auto-rudder configured you can still activate the rudder manually but the range is quite limited. There have been instances where I have had to take off in a strong cross wind in competitions. To take off in a cross wind you need to apply powerful rudder away from the direction of the wind or the glider will feather into the wind like a weather vane. There were several competitions where the wind was so strong and at such an extreme side angle that I didn’t have enough rudder to compensate for the situation. I eventually had to release from the tow plane or I would have crashed into the trees on the side of the runway!

Gliders are always descending

Lift is rising air that a glider pilot can take advantage of to gain altitude

It is probably already obvious, but just in case you are dumber than I am (unlikely), I need to point out that because a glider lacks an engine, you are technically always descending. The technical part is that you are always descending through the surrounding air. The lucky thing that makes soaring such a great sport is that air in the atmosphere can move in any direction. Wind generally moves in a horizontal direction which can be helpful or hurtful depending on which direction you would like to travel. But even wind can have an upward or downward component which can be a help or a hinderance to your travels. For example, when wind comes up against a long mountain ridge, it will flow upward in order to get over the ridge. This is called ridge lift and if the wind is strong enough and the direction is favorable, it is possible to follow ridges for many miles, often at quite high speeds. Or you can just fly back and forth on the same ridge if you lack either the experience, the time, the extent of ridge or the inclination to go further. Flying ridge lift is a very common practice in mountainous areas with favorable wind and ridge directions. But even in those areas the wind is not always favorable. For those conditions and over flat terrain, thermals are the most dependable form of lift.

A thermal is a rising column of air produced by air heating up at the surface and becoming warmer than the surrounding air. Warmer air is lighter than the surrounding cooler air and will break free from the surface at a certain point and begin rising. It will rise until it cools off to the temperature of the surrounding air which normally happens when it reaches cloud level.

If the air in the thermal is rising faster than the glider is descending, then you can effectively gain altitude by circling in the rising air. Being able to locate, center and circle in a thermal is one of the most fascinating challenges to soaring. Condor is a great way to practice the techniques involved in thermalling and I will have a lot to say about the technique involved later in this tutorial and in on other parts of this site.

Controlling the glider

In order to fly a glider using Condor, you will need to know the basic principals of flight and piloting or you will find it very difficult to control the glider. I will try to introduce you as simply and quickly as possible to the principles of flight, so that you can start using Condor!

The three axes of flight and the three basic flight controls

There are three terms which describe the movement or attitude of an aircraft in flight. It is very helpful to be familiar with these terms as they will frequently be referred to in describing flight maneuvers.

An aircraft can move in three dimensions: vertically up and down, roll to the right or to the left, and twist clockwise or counterclockwise horizontally. These three movements are defined as Pitch, Roll and Yaw.

Pitch describes whether the nose of the aircraft is pointed up or down. Pitch generally controls the speed of the aircraft as well as the rate of descent. It does both by changing the angle of attack of the wings. The angle of attack is the angle at which air meets the wing. It is an extremely important concept.
Controlled by the elevator

Roll describes the movement of changing the horizontal position of the wings clockwise or counter-clockwise. Once the wings are no longer level the aircraft is said to be in a bank. Although roll is the technical term to describe the rotational movement of the aircraft around a central axis, bank is the term which is nearly always used to describe a non-level position of the wings.
Bank — If the right wing is low, the glider is in a right bank and in that position the glider will want to turn to the right. If the glider is in a left bank with the left wing low, the glider will turn to the left. Rolling into a bank is the way a turn is initiated.
Controlled by the ailerons

Yaw describes the position of the position of the nose relative to the flight path. If the nose is pointed to the right of the direction of travel, it is said to by yawed to the right and vice versa. While pitch and roll are desirable changes in attitude to bring about normal changes in flight, like slowing the plane by pulling the nose up, or turning by rolling to the right or left, yaw is most often an undesirable side effect that you must take steps to avoid. When the glider is yawed one way or the other, the flow of air will be against the side of the glider. This will slow the glider down as well as cause it to fly less efficiently by spoiling the flow of air over the wing surfaces and reducing the amount of lift generated by them.
Controlled by the rudder

All gliders are flown with a control stick, or joy stick, which controls a glider’s three basic flight controls, the elevator, the rudder and the ailerons.

The elevator controls the pitch of the glider, i.e. raising or lowering the nose of the aircraft. The rudder controls the yaw of the glider, i.e. pointing the nose to the right or the left. The ailerons control the bank or roll of the glider, i.e. rolling to the right or the left.

I have referred above to the three axes of flight, pitch, yaw and roll. Understanding how these three axes affect flight, gets counter-intuitive. Pitch does have an effect on how quickly the aircraft comes down but, more directly, it is a speed control. The fact that there is a relationship between the speed you fly and your rate of descent makes pitch indirectly a rate of descent control.

When an aircraft rolls in either direction, the direction of lift is changed in such a way that the glider will turn in the direction of the lower wing. So roll is a means of controlling the direction of the glider.

Understanding the significance of the yaw axes becomes more complex. Although the rudder can point the glider in the direction that you want to turn and will slowly bank the glider in the proper direction with a turn resulting, this is not the proper way to introduce a turn. It is inefficient and can even be dangerous in certain flight situations. The rudder is actually not used to change the yaw angle but to prevent adverse yaw when rolling into the proper bank angle to execute a turn. As I stated above, you use aileron to roll the glider into a bank. Say you want to turn to the right. To do this, you move the stick to the right and keep it there. The plane will bank increasingly steeper. When you reach the bank angle desired you bring the stick back to center. The bank will turn the plane by moving the direction of lift toward the center of the turn. It is while you are holding the stick to the right that you will encounter the adverse effect referred to as adverse yaw. In order for the banking or rolling to take place, the aileron at the left wing tip must hinge down while the one on the right wing hinges up. Just like those enormous flaps you see extend on a passenger jet before landing, the left aileron will hinge downward. Just like the huge jet flaps, the glider’s little aileron will increase the angle of attack of the wing tip, pulling the wing up. The right aileron does the opposite. It hinges upward which decreases the angle of attack and pushes that wing down. Do you remember how when the jet’s landing flaps feel like putting on the brakes when they are extended. They are huge and cause enormous drag. The glider’s aileron is small and creates a small amount of drag but it is enough to drag the left wing to the left! This is the adverse yaw and you say the plane is yawing to the left. At the same time, drag is decreasing on the right wing which makes the yaw even more pronounced.This is where the rudder comes in. When you want to turn the plane to the right by banking to the right, you simultaneously step on the right rudder pedal (or twist the joystick to the right) enough so that you compensate for the glider being yawed to the left. This is not at all easy to do smoothly and accurately and takes a lot of practice to do well! I must point out that stick and rudder are used together. When you have reached the desired bank to continue your turn, you neutralize stick and rudder together. There is no adverse yaw without the ailerons being deployed.

In a glider, there is a very simple effective tool for gauging whether the glider is yawing or not. This indicator is called a yaw string and is nothing but a little strand of yarn attached to the center of the canopy (the clear plastic bubble surrounding the cockpit that allows you to see out). If the string is aligned in the middle, that’s good. If it is pointing to the left, you will have to compensate by yawing the nose to the right and vice-versa.

In order to control a glider using Condor flight simulator, you will need a peripheral called a joystick, that attaches to your computer through a USB port. This joystick vaguely resembles the control stick in a glider but lacks the feedback produced by the pressure of air flowing over the control surfaces. However the principles of use are very similar and quite intuitive. Push forward on your joystick and the nose of the glider pitches down. Pull back and the nose pitches up. Move the stick to the right side and the glider rolls or banks to the right. Move left and the glider banks to the left.

But now we come to the rudder control which yaws the nose of the glider right or left. For this movement there are three choices but we’ll only deal with two at this time. In a real glider, this action is performed with the rudder pedals which are two pedals on the floor of the glider controlled with the feet. For Condor, one choice is to implement rudder movement with the joystick. Twisting the stick to the left will produce left rudder and twisting to the right will produce right rudder. This is a bit awkward and learning this method will probably be detrimental if you are currently, or have any plans to fly real gliders in the future.

The second choice is much better. You can buy rudder pedals for your computer, which, like the joystick, connect to your computer through a USB port, and although I have yet to purchased any myself, I am told by my brother, who is both a real world (RW) and Condor pilot, that they work quite well. Certainly they are more realistic and less awkward than the joystick twist!

So, if you use your joystick for rudder, twist to the right and the glider yaws to the right, twist to the left, the glider obviously yaws to the left. Using rudder pedals is equally intuitive: pressure on the right pedal yaws the glider to the right and pressure on the left pedal yaws to the left.

Again, the stick and rudder movements are quite intuitive, but the consequences of the actions the movements achieve are much more complex. And this is why you will need to understand some basic flight principles. I’m not going to get into the physics of flight. There are links on the site that will take you to articles that will delve into the physics of flight. For the purposes of understanding the basic principles of flight, I think it is more useful to think of the wings, the rudder, the elevator and the ailerons very intuitively. When the glider is rushing through the air, air pushing up on the underside of the wing pushes the wing up. If you pull back on the stick, the elevator moves up and air pushing on it pushes the tail down which raises the nose. Since the wings point more upward, the glider will (briefly) go upward.

Hopefully that is fairly easy for you to understand but what you must learn next is more complex. Here are the basics as simply as I can put them, but first you must understand one more simple concept, drag. In flight, drag is the resistance caused by pushing air out of the way. There is always drag acting on the glider because it needs to push air out of the way just to move forward. Drag can be greatly increased when the glider is no longer going as straight through the air, because it will then need to push more air out of the way.

Pull back on the stick, the nose comes up, the glider begins to climb. At the same time, the angle of attack of the wing increases which creates more drag. The net result is that the glider will slow down. In addition, since gravity is pulling down more perpendicular to the path of flight, it too will slow down the glider. Think of the glider diving straight for the ground. At that time, gravity is acting 100% to speed the glider up. Then think of heading straight up. Oops! You’re not going to go up very far before you lose your forward momentum and the glider will start to head down, thanks to gravity.

Three important speeds
Now think of the nose of the glider being pointed down a little bit. Now the wings pushing air downward and gravity pulling the glider down will reach equilibrium and the glider will fly mostly forward while descending slowly. There is an ideal speed for minimizing the speed at which the glider descends. It is called the minimum sink speed (or just minimum sink) and it is quite slow. If you go much slower than that, the wing will begin to stall (it will lose most of it’s lift, the ability of the wing to push air downward to keep the glider up). But we’ll explore that problem later. For now, just be aware that the minimum sink speed is just above the stall speed, so if you aren’t careful and fly a little slower, the glider will virtually stop flying. The nose will drop but the glider will start flying again as it picks up speed. This is fine if you aren’t too close to the ground!

The minimum sink speed is what you want when you are circling in a thermal to gain altitude. The slow speed will enable you to make the tightest circle to stay inside a thermal and the slow descent will be optimal for gaining altitude in the rising air. But minimum sink is not what you want if you are trying to make as much distance as possible, as you would be if flying a cross country.

Now for the interesting part. As you lower the glider’s nose, two things will happen. First, you will begin to descend more quickly. Second, you will fly faster. The brilliant part is that your speed will increase relatively faster than your rate of descent. The result is that you will be capable of flying further in less time than would be the case at a slower speed. Up to a point, the faster you fly, the further you can fly. The point after which flying faster will no longer enable you to fly further is called the best glide speed. It is also referred to as best L/D. If your stall speed is 35 knots and the minimum sink speed is 37 knots, the best glide speed might be about 55 knots, so it can be considerably faster then minimum sink, which is great because it enables you to fly both further and faster.

The next important thing to know is that the stall speed, the minimum sink speed and the best L/D or best glide speed are different for different gliders. Basically, these three speeds are faster for more expensive, higher performance gliders than for their cheaper cousins. Not only are they faster, the descent of the glider is slower too, which means that you can go further before having to land at any speed.

There is a way of saying how quickly the glider descends as it goes forward. It is expressed as a ratio of the distance forward over the distance down. Low performance gliders may travel 25 feet forward for every foot that it descends, while a very high performance glider may travel 50 or more feet forward for every foot it descends. This is expressed as 25:1 or 50:1 or an L/D of 25 or 50 respectively.

This and other important information is listed when you select a glider in Condor. This is information that will be included in the flight manual of a real glider and is essential information to know to fly the plane safely and efficiently.


One thought on “Condor Beginner’s Tutorial”

  1. I just installed Condor2. I only have 4000 hrs in gliders, 1800 hrs power, mostly towing, 56 yrs instructing. On my first Condor winch launch I spun in half way up and died! Anybody have info on a rudder pedal system that doesn’t require a mortgage on my house?

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