Bill & Sue's guide to keeping a retrieve driver happy!
Having a retrieve driver makes all the difference to your XCs not just by making getting home that much easier but it also takes a load off your mind when flying and allows you that extra concentration on the task in hand which in turn improves your chances of staying in the air. Be nice to your retrieve!
Before you start make sure you have all the necessary kit ready for your retrieve- if you are using your own car so make sure the insurance cover is OK, the tank is full, there are sufficient maps, you have a decent aerial and the radio, phones and GPS are charged and set up.
If it is your partner driving you can probably delegate some of these things but, whoever drives for you, if you make it easy and pleasant they will be more likely to volunteer again so make sure they have money for petrol and coffee stops, en route nibbles & whatever (and the retrieve driver will usually have nibbles and drinks for the pilot(s) when they're picked up).. Keep them (both) sweet!
If they are new to you or your kit take time to show them how the radio and GPS work where the AA/RAC card is and make sure you have each others phone numbers.
At the beginning of the day (or when a task is called if it is a competition), it is helpful to discuss with the retrieve the sort of route you intend to take. This gives your driver a head start planning their route, (maybe plan the first bit for them if necessary) as the route on the ground may have to be significantly different to the pilots track.
If your retrieve is new to the game you may need to explain how your route will be affected by the wind, (e.g. a westerly wind means the retrieve has broadly to drive east), and the need to avoid Airspace- don’t assume they will know this automatically.
It may be appropriate to suggest a series of stages for the driver to take, say stopping at Ludlow, then Worcester, then Evesham, to make sure you are still in the air before driving on and possibly out of radio range.
Ideally the staging points should be a pleasant place to wait, and have good prospects of radio communication – a tea shop on a hill beats the bottom of a Welsh valley.
Once the day is on, as the pilot you will have other priorities so it is best to discuss retrieve strategy early on – perhaps whilst driving to the hill or, better, over breakfast where you can point out key places (like takeoff!) on a map.
Agree what coordinate format you are going to use for retrieve location (Degrees-Minutes-Seconds or Degrees and decimal Minutes for instance) this probably is determined by what your car GPS accepts.
Make sure the car GPS is set to the agreed standard, and you know how to input the coordinates. If you don't understand which format to use ask someone who does to set it for you, getting this wrong could lead to a long wait and a grumpy retrieve.
Make sure you know how to set your own GPS to the required standard (it is the pilots responsibility to supply the reference in the correct format) and that you can extract your landing coordinates from it. If you are being picked up as part of a group of pilots you must all use whatever format the driver wants- don't expect them to do the conversion.
On the Hill a final important check:
Your radios are working and (all) tuned to the same frequencies before you take off.
The driver knows where the goal field is and has the car Keys (!)
As a retrieve driver you may well not be alone, talk to the others. -Make sure you exchange phone number with them as the more experienced ones can help you and make your day more interesting. Between you, you can plan your route via good coffee stops, or whatever makes the day more fun for you. Some will have better radio coverage or be on a different frequency - they may have information you didn't get. Keep this liaison going through the day, you may well find that you can make things easier by 'sharing' pilots out among you. More than one pilot in the same field could be a bonus! This also helps to make sure that all the pilots are picked up quickly and no-one gets left behind.
Once in the air most people want to concentrate on the flying and a loquacious retrieve can be a distraction (especially if you are on the same frequency as other pilots) but make sure your driver knows what is going on and where you are.
Most retrieve drivers do not leave the hill until their pilots have left. Therefore it's very useful for the pilots to let the driver know on the radio when they leave the hill and set off on the task. If you are stuck on the hill for a while it's a good idea to keep updating the driver anyway. If you are driving for more than one pilot check before leaving the hill that all the pilots have gone.
Once en-route try to call all the significant stages you reach – don't wait until you get low or you may be out of radio range.
On a good day the retrieve will have difficulty keeping up with you so they may need to skip the stops and take the faster roads. When it is going well it may help to direct the retrieve to push on by saying something like “I'm confident of making Malvern from here so push on”. This makes it easier for the retrieve to keep close to the pilot, the radio communication will be clearer, and they are not in doubt as to whether you are still in the air.
When you eventually land, if all has gone well so far the retrieve shouldn't be that far behind! It's generally not that hard to choose somewhere sensible to land near the road and easy for your retrieve; if you make it difficult for them you had better be very patient and extra grateful when they find you. If your retrieve is close when you land out you may be able to stay in radio contact but as you get lower reception inevitably becomes more difficult so your retrieve may have to guess from your last position report –preferably more recent than “I'm leaving the hill” -a good reason to keep them up to date while you are still high. Once on the ground don't clutter the frequency for other pilots; change frequency or chat on the phone.
Once you have landed, get yourself to the nearest road and send your position (in the agreed format) by text.
If you have landed somewhere near civilisation you may be able to also get the postcode from the nice Farmers Missus who offers you a cup of tea for landing so prettily in their field but if you are in the boonies you will only have DMS from your GPS.
Then, if you are on a rigid or HG, set about getting derigged and packed up, your driver won't be able to start looking for you until you send the text. Your retrieve will probably be driving when you send the text so don't call to check but wait for a “on my way” confirmation text. Using text saves errors writing down your coordinates and your driver can wait until it is safe to check the phone. Let your driver decide when it is safe to call and call you. Get derigged quickly so you don't hold up the retrieve if they are collecting other pilots, if you get a reputation for wandering off instead of derigging you will soon find that you get collected last- or not at all!
The driver should stop at the earliest opportunity, enter the co-ordinates into the SatNav/look up location on the map, and then text the pilot back, which will let him or her know they have received their location, and give an ETA if possible.
You can use a location tracking app such as Richard Hunt's excellent Tracker app or Whatsapp on your smartphone but you need to have this set up on your phones in advance. On the hill is too late to start installing apps when someone offers you a share in their retrieve arrangements. A decent set of paper maps really is essential -if only as a backup and sense check on the area once you have the co-ordinates. If you are driving for several pilots old-fashioned pencil marks on the map or mini post-its can be a great help planning your route.
If as a HG pilot you land somewhere that cannot be seen clearly from the road, because of a hedge for instance, pack up your harness first, and put it by the gate/on the verge/ somewhere clearly visible for the retrieve to see on approach while you finish derigging. If the retrieve is likely to be a while, and the pilot wishes to move (to a pub or similar) they MUST send new co-ordinates to the retrieve, and WAIT for a reply from the driver to make sure the driver has the message. Nothing annoys a retrieve more than when they've got to their pilot as fast as possible and he's no longer there, and there is no clue where he is!! If the pilot doesn't get a reply from the driver if he's moved, he MUST return to the original place as that is where the driver will go. If you leave your glider hidden under a hedge in a field, mark its position on your GPS so you can find it in the dark.
It is essential for you to keep your radio on and put the radio and phone where you can hear them, as when the retrieve gets close, contact may well be easier by radio. Communication is of the essence, as if the retrieve driver cannot contact the pilot, this makes their job a lot harder.
Most retrieve drivers will turn up with refreshments, and if they are the wife/partner of the pilot it's nice if the pilot is pleased to see them even if you have had a terrible flight– drivers always like to be thanked for coming.
If you get retrieved by someone who is not your partner don't wait to be asked about petrol money -offer it, and be generous. A 100KM flight may well involve a 250 mile round trip by road. That's something like £60 in petrol alone, A tenner won't cut it.
Oh, and don't forget how lucky you are, most drivers still like to be offered that drink in the bar later (when they've finished driving of course!)