Using your GPS to fly further and faster

Flymaster v Oudie v Kobo

If you’re like me, flying is something of an escape.

So, getting to grips with your integrated GPS flight computer with all the bells and whistles, buttons to press and manuals to read seems about as much fun as herding wasps.

“I just want to fly!!!”

Sometime ago I begrudgingly decided that to be committed to making better decisions in the air – whether in competitions or XC flying – I’d need to get to grips with my flight computer.

Thermalling with LOTS of pilots!!

Quality information = quality decisions

Flying far or doing well in competitions is all about the quality of your decisions.  The quality of those decisions is directly related to the quality of information but most importantly, how we process that information.

Integrated paragliding GPS units offer a bewildering choice of different types of information.  But, how much of it do we really need?

As you know, I’m the organiser of the hugely popular GIN Wide Open Competition, where many pilots come to taste competition flying for the first time.

Probably the main thing that most pilots struggle with in their first competition is using their GPS unit.

In this article I’ll tell you which information I use to fly with and why keeping things simple will almost certainly mean that you fly better.

Whilst much of the article is fairly generic I’ll be drawing examples from the Flymaster (because that’s what I generally use).  I’ll also give you the flying pages I use (you’re welcome to upload them and save yourself a lot of time!)

Finally, I’ll tell you what I think of the Flymaster v Oudie and why some of the other less costly ways of navigating might actually be a much better choice.

This is a very brief guide to help new users get a grip with their Flymaster and start them off with some good flying pages.  By all means use the pages that I’ve set up, but there are few short cuts.

Reading the manual and going through the process of setting up your own pages (or adapting mine) will help you understand better what you’re looking at.

PART 1: Which information to look at

When it comes to flying paragliders efficiently whether in competitions or XC, there’s really not much information that we actually need.

The five key pieces of information you really need and in order of importance are:

  1. An arrow to the next turn-point (competitions or other planned flights)
  2. ground speed (“speed”)
  3. glide angle (or glide ratio or L/D)
  4. climb rate, and
  5. altitude

Whilst additional information can improve the quality of our decisions, with these key pieces of information and only these pieces of information, I have won competition tasks and even broken a world record!

It’s a dashboard!

Think about this GPS information in much the same way as you would a car dashboard or even car mirrors.  You should be looking at these often.  You should know how fast you’re driving.  You should always be aware if there’s a car behind you, but we still have our eyes on the road.  We’re always looking ahead.

In much the same way as a good driver looks in his or her mirror often, so when flying we should always be aware of some key bits of information, for example, when on transition I’m keenly aware of my glide angle; when climbing, my climb rate – all information gleaned by quick and occasional glances.   AND YET…… I barely take my eyes off the sky!

Keep it simple

Additional fields of information can be useful, but the decisions made in the air with reference to visual clues (other pilots, birds, clouds and so on) are far far more important!

Yes, glide angle to next turn point, or height above ground, or G-force or whatever else might be interesting, but really!!??  Anytime spent looking at your GPS or trying to look at it, or trying to work out what it’s saying is time that you are not looking at the sky, ground or other visual markers that are much more important for making good flying decisions.

Get good at controlling your wing and keep the rest as simple as possible.

If you’re new to using a GPS keep it all really really simple.  The key is to be very familiar with which ever unit you fly with, so you can read key pieces of information very easily with just a mere glance.

Later you can add additional pieces of information if you want to.

Flying pages

For competition flying, I like to fly with TWO pages, a START PAGE and a GOAL PAGE.

On my start page I have everything I need to get a great start and On my goal page I have everything I need to get to goal (and as fast as possible)

By the way, as soon as I’ve started I’m on my way to goal – my focus is on reaching goal (and quickly).  Having goal related information at hand (even with 100km of flying to go) also helps me keep focused on reaching goal.

You should rarely need more than two pages and for XC flying one is usually enough.  Again, keep it simple.

PART 2: The Details (using Flymaster as an example)

Before you start

If you have a Flymaster, visit the download page of the Flymaster website and grab a few essentials.  Here’s the website and the 5 things you need to download.

  1. Get the latest firmware. It’s very quick and easy – just connect your device to your computer to upload your firmware.
  2. Designer (get the right one for your computer eg Windows etc).
  3. World Airspace file for SD series.
  4. Also get the Designer manual (it’s not scary and actually very easy to follow).
  5. Get the Manual for your instrument.

Numbers 1 and 2 are essential.  If you really want to get good at this you should also get the manuals – they’re actually well written and easy to follow.

DESIGNER and “My” pages

Designer is a simple piece of software that helps you design your own pages.  If you don’t want to spend the time, you’ll still need Designer so you can upload pages designed by others.  Feel free to use mine.  I’ve attached them below.

One of the really great things about Flymaster units is that you can design page layouts yourself.  I used my Flymaster in the World Championships earlier this year and many other recent competitions and designed and redesigned my pages.

My philosophy has been as follows:

  1. to keep the pages as simple and easy to understand as possible.
  2. to keep data in a logical location, so for example if “Glide Angle” is on the top left on one page it should also be in the top left on any subsequent pages -easy to find, easy to use.
  3. to have most important data bigger and easier to see at a glance with less important data in fields smaller.
  4. ALL information should be relevant.

My GOAL Page

This is my GOAL page.  It’s my main flying page.  I also use it for free flying (though of course you might want to make modifications for things like Airspace etc).

I have put the “admin” fields like battery, sound and GPS at the bottom, (not the top like on the default) The bottom bit of screen is often difficult to see in the air and therefore I don’t want essential flying information in that space.

Notice also that some fields do not have labels.  Labels take up space and the fields that are not labelled are very obvious in the air. For example, Speed is at the top right and when flying it has a “km/h” suffix (ie it can only be Speed).  I’ll explain them in more detail now…

My Top Four fields

The fields at the top are the most important bits of information so they are also in a LARGE font.  Top left is current glide angle.  Immediately below that is glide ratio to goal (so it’s easy to compare with my actual glide).

Top right is speed in km/h and immediately below that is GPS Altitude.

I look at these 4 numbers more than any other.  To keep things simple in the air I use all these fields in the same place on  ALL my pages!

The Navigation Circle

Navigation arrow

I’ve placed the, so-called navigation circle on the middle left.  That makes it easy to see.  When flying it will look something like this:

The dot in the middle is the thermal core map and I find it to be of only occasional value.  It shows where the last thermal is (see your downloaded Manual for full details).  Many pilots like the idea of this, but you should KNOW where the last thermal is.  It’s also only historical so of limited use as the thermals are usually moving around anyway.

The wind flag shows wind direction.  (here, SE)  But the wind arrow positioned to the right of the navigation circle is easier to use at a glance.

The diagram helps explain what all the arrows on the navigation circle mean:

  1. The large arrow (1) shows the direction to the optimal touch point for the next waypoint (to follow the red line)
  2. The medium triangle (2) points to the centre of the next waypoint.
  3. The smallest triangle (3) points to the optimal route for the subsequent waypoint.
  4. The fleche arrow (4) is a fine adjustment indicator indicating a slight turn is required to be bang on the optimal course line.

 All these arrows might seem complicated at first, but depending on cylinder size and where the climbs are and well lots of different factors – all arrows can be useful.  If in doubt follow the big arrow (and when your unit beeps – look where it’s pointing to next!!)

Wind speed and wind arrow

This is absolutely essential information.  Whilst you can get a good handle on this from simply looking at your ground speed, the elements to the right are “wind speed” and the “wind arrow”.  I look at these often.

The Vario stuff

On the right is vario “stuff”.  I like to have a graphic to show me my average climb rate (though I’m listening (and feeling!) more than looking.  The big number is average climb rate and just below that is the immediate climb (interesting to know peeks in a choppy thermal), top and bottom are max average and min average climb and sink rates (additional information on how the air is behaving).

Most of the climb information I get is from feel and confirmed by the beeps!  The actual numbers are usually much less important, but I’m still aware of my average climb rate (that’s why it’s a big number – I can see it easily at a glance)

Next waypoint information

Immediately below my navigation circle and to the left is the next waypoint name (not so important, so I’ve kept that small).  The distance to the nearest edge of the next waypoint is much more interesting and so it’s size is bigger.  The closer I get, the more often I’ll be inclined to look at this distance.  I try to turn AS it beeps, NOT after.  (To do that I generally turn with about 15metres-to-go depending mostly on the wind speed and direction.)

The Bottom fields

These are all pieces of information that I don’t need, but are nonetheless occasionally useful.  I have labelled them as there are probably too many to remember in the air.


Of the top four fields the only one that’s changed relative to my “GOAL”/”FLYING” page is the glide to goal field.  This has been substituted with TTG (Time to Go).  Most other fields are the same, but the bottom two fields are Distance to Start and Speed to Start.  These three pieces of information marked START are essential to getting a good one!

The thing missing from this page is a good graphic showing me where the start cylinder is relative to me.  For that I tend to use another instrument – a kindle, android etc are all good for this.   You might want to squeeze in the map element on this page if you don’t have another instrument so I’ve included that as another page in “Toby’s Pages” download.

There is actually one more page I use.   It’s the “Turnpoint” page.  As I’m approaching a turn-point I sometimes switch to that page to “see” where the edge is.  Sometimes I choose to dive in to the turn-point and not follow the course line exactly for example.  That decision is tactical.  It will depend on where I think the next thermal is or more often where the other pilots are.

I hope these pages help. Pages 3 and 4 are currently duplicates so you can play with your own fields etc. I might tweak my pages from time to time if I find a better way to organise information (and so should you).

PART 3: Flymaster v Oudie v Kobo v XCTracks


There are many pros to using the Flymaster.  It’s simple, easy to use, pretty difficult to mess up, light, reliable and very easy to read in the air.

The main downside of using a Flymaster for navigation whether competition navigation or cross country navigation is the lack of easy to read maps.  This has recently improved but there are better solutions for maps which is why most pilots fly with two instruments.

Maps are particularly useful for airspace and navigating larger cylinders in the mountains, and almost essential for getting a good start in a competition.


This has easy to read maps.  It’s easy to read whilst flying.  It’s a nice size, light and very very good value.  It’s only downside, is that it does tend to wear out quite quickly.  That said it’s so cheap you can buy a new one every couple of years.  It’s track logs are not usually valid for competitions though so be careful.

XC Tracks

This is actually a piece of software. It can be used on any android device.  This allows the pilot to see the terrain in bright colour which can be particularly useful in mountains for example.  The software app is free and very easy to use.  I use this software with my phone as my second instrument in the air.  As with the Kobo, the tracklogs are not usually valid in competitions.  I don’t mind this too much as I have my Flymaster plus an additional tracker.

Naviter Oudie 4

This is perhaps the “best” unit.  That said, it’s more expensive than a Flymaster, heavy, quite tricky to get to grips with and for me the main disadvantage: it can be tricky to read in sunlight.  This can be largely overcome by constructing some kind of sunshade, but when the sun’s shining directly over your shoulder you need to use a hand to see the screen at all.  My other slight bug bear is that because it’s a touch screen, you can’t use it very easily with gloves on (unless you have special gloves or use a special touch screen pen (more difficult in the air) So why would you buy one?

Because it has everything.  It’s got all the information a Flymaster has and maybe more.  Most enticingly it has colour maps AND the track log is valid in competitions.  Ruth Churchill Dower recently wrote a very useful article sharing her tips for Oudie pilots in competitions.


My company Passion Paragliding sells both Flymasters and Oudies because they’re both excellent.  The Oudie is a more complex unit and for that reason and others, I prefer the Flymaster for, but then I choose to fly with two units – the Flymaster with all my key numbers and an arrow to follow, AND an Android device for a decent map to help me get the starts right.


I’m not a natural when it comes to technology.  I’m much happier just flying.  But then, some of this technology has helped me fly further and faster.  There are few short-cuts!  You need to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.  Learn to use your instruments and understand them.

Then, once you’ve got to grips with it, remember to looking at everything other than your instruments!

Here’s to further and faster, (and not getting lost!?)

Toby Colombé

June 2016

Fly with PASSION in Colombia

XC Paragliding Paradise
(January and February 2020)

World Record holder and former British Team member will be showing you how:   Toby Colombé:

“I can’t wait to go to Colombia this winter!  It’s hands down the best place to go flying in January and February”

It’s a beautiful road trip through places less flown. We’ll be exploring a tropical paradise of smiley happy people and flying everyday.  By flying every day, pilots tend to become very current.  We’ll also be making regular flight debriefs using tracker analysis uncovering XC secrets including:

  • Understanding what makes good XC weather and how to plan flights
  • How to find thermals
  • How to climb fast and efficiently
  • Gliding efficiently between thermals
  • Speed to fly (made easy!)
  • Psychological tricks to help you perform at your best
  • Dealing confidently with turbulence
  • How to read the clouds and stay safe
  • Advanced strategies to fly further

PASSION sell Flymaster AND Naviter Oudie 4s

Download my pages now

  1. Right click on the button below (“My pages”) and choose “save link as”.  Save somewhere easy to find.
  2. Open file (.fml) with Designer.
  3. Plug in your Flymaster unit and send files to it.

Note these pages are set up for “LIVE” and “NAV” units and might not work on “GPS”.  Also be aware that you will loose your current pages when you send new pages to your device.

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