Before committing yourself to a lengthy glide consider the immediate objective, or short-term goal, and its influence on priorities. What is most important at the moment: altitude, ground speed, remaining daylight? Are you limping across a gap between two peaks and needing maximum height on arrival, or trying to hurry to the next cumulus before it collapses? Or is this a marginal final glide into the wind – and setting sun? An additional point here is: short-term priorities can change as you encounter unexpected conditions en route.
Any long glide should be directed toward an area of prospective lift – or else a landing field. The choice of a short-term destination is sometimes obvious, but multiple options can make such decisions perplexing. The straightest glide is usually the most efficient glide. There are seeming exceptions this, but in each case any deviation from straight flight should be for the purpose of gaining more energy (or minimizing loss), and therefore improving efficiency.
While gliding toward a destination, too many pilots allow their ship to veer back and forth or gradually stumble off course. Such inadvertent meandering increases the distance flown, and every inch you travel between climbs costs altitude and time. When you set out on a glide to some predetermined point, keep that place (or some easier-to-see landmark near it) in the same spot on the canopy. Account for any crosswind with the appropriate crab angle – with wings level and yaw string straight. Be alert to changes in wind direction and localized airflow. These may provide vital information about what lies ahead, and when reacted to quickly and well could lead to welcome lift on course. Resist everything the air does to move you from your intended direction of flight or such needless wandering could shoot you down altogether. If you find that a changed crosswind component is shifting you off course, don’t try to steer with only rudder or only stick. The way to make even the smallest course correction is a slight but fully coordinated turn, followed by a fully coordinated rollout on course.
When one wing rises without your input, quickly push it back to level and consider the possibility of a surprise thermal on that side. If you decide new-found lift is worth stopping for but are unsure which side it’s on, turn into the wind by default, because that is where it’s rising from. Even if you miss, it’s easier to relocate downwind than upwind.
Many pilots unintentionally bank into the wind, or raise whichever wing points to a higher horizon, especially when flying near a hill. Look at your wingtips occasionally and make sure they are level while gliding straight. Such cockpit discipline will limit loss of precious altitude and can be the deciding factor between success and failure.
Semi-arid or irregular landscapes present endless possibilities, advantageous or otherwise, and local knowledge can make a big difference. When uncertain which way to go, inexperienced pilots should remain conservative. One general rule of cross-country soaring applies here: keep any large deviations from course upwind of the course line unless lift downwind is closer or otherwise more attractive. This concept alone could eliminate about half of any possible course changes – and therefore half of all tactical errors.
Nutshell: if forced to choose a “lesser of evils” (especially if you’re going cross-country), take either the shortest route or one that offers better landing possibilities in case of failure…