Flight Ratings - What Are They?
Understanding your equipment is crucial for any activity you could be engaging in. Disc golf is no different. Our greatest tool is the disc, and unless you’re very new to the sport, there is an incredible number of discs to choose from. Looking at PDGA-sanctioned discs alone, there are almost 700. With a number of options that large, how can you position yourself to choose the right disc? You can start with the most basic component, the flight numbers.
Let me start out with a basic disclaimer. Flight numbers aren’t perfect and can sometimes vary across different manufacturers and plastics. However, for the average disc golfer, they can act as a great guideline to find a place to start. In this blog post, we’ll look at each of the flight numbers found on a disc and discuss what they mean. Hopefully, this will provide some helpful information for you to consider the next time you make a disc purchase.
While there are some additional numbers you can look at like stability rating, we will be focusing on the four main flight ratings of speed, glide, turn, and fade. Very simply, speed and glide are characteristics that affect the forward flight of the disc, and turn and fade are characteristics that tend to affect the side-to-side flight of a disc. Let’s break them down.
The speed represents how fast the disc needs to be thrown in order to achieve its intended flight path. Speed ratings typically range from 1 to 14, with higher numbers indicating a faster disc. The speed rating is based on the disc's diameter, weight, and rim width. Generally, a disc with a larger diameter, heavier weight, and wider rim will have a higher speed rating. This is because these factors allow the disc to travel faster through the air and achieve greater distances.
It's important to note that the speed rating does not represent the actual speed of the disc in miles per hour or kilometers per hour. Rather, it is a relative measure of the disc's speed compared to other discs in its class. For example, a speed 7 fairway driver will require less throwing speed than a speed 12 distance driver. This is a very common misconception that, when I first started playing the sport, I fell victim to. It’s very important to understand that higher speed numbers do not equal longer distance shots for all players.
When choosing a disc based on its speed rating, it's important to consider your own throwing speed and skill level. If you have a slower throwing speed, you may want to choose a disc with a lower speed rating to ensure that you can achieve the desired flight path. Conversely, if you have a faster throwing speed, you may want to choose a disc with a higher speed rating to take advantage of its potential for longer distances.
The glide rating represents how much lift the disc generates as it flies through the air. Glide ratings typically range from 1 to 7, with higher numbers indicating a floatier flight. The glide rating is determined by the disc's shape, weight distribution, and the amount of speed it generates during the throw. Discs with a flatter top tend to have less glide, while discs with a more pronounced dome tend to have more glide. Discs with a wider rim tend to generate more speed, which can also result in more glide.
A disc with a high glide rating will tend to stay in the air longer, allowing it to cover more distance before landing. This can be beneficial for long drives or shots that require a gentle, controlled descent. However, too much glide can also be a disadvantage, particularly in windy conditions. A disc with high glide may be more susceptible to being pushed off course by the wind or taking longer to get to its intended target.
When choosing a disc based on its glide rating, it's important to consider the type of shot you want to make and the conditions in which you'll be playing. If you're playing on a windy day or need a disc to make a controlled descent, you may want to choose a disc with a lower glide rating. On the other hand, if you're looking for maximum distance or need a disc to carry over an obstacle, a disc with a higher glide rating may be the right choice.
The turn rating represents how much the disc will turn to the right (for right-handed backhand throws) during its flight. Turn ratings typically range from -5 to +5, with negative numbers indicating a disc that turns to the right and positive numbers indicating a disc that turns to the left.
The turn rating is based on the disc's stability. A disc with a negative turn rating will have a tendency to turn right (or "flip") when thrown with enough speed and spin. This is because the disc has a lower stability and is more understable. An understable disc is one that is more likely to turn to the right than to fade to the left (for right-handed backhand throws) at the end of its flight. Conversely, a disc with a positive turn rating will be more stable and less likely to turn right during its flight. A stable disc will generally fly straighter and require more power to make it turn to the right.
When choosing a disc based on its turn rating, it's important to consider your own throwing style and skill level. If you have a slower throwing speed or tend to throw with less spin, you may want to choose a disc with a negative turn rating to help it turn right. If you have a faster throwing speed or tend to throw with more spin, you may want to choose a disc with a positive turn rating to ensure that it flies straighter.
It's important to note that the turn rating is just one part of a disc's overall flight characteristics. The disc's speed, glide, and fade ratings will also affect its flight path. A disc with a high turn rating may still fade to the left at the end of its flight, while a disc with a low turn rating may still have a tendency to fade to the left.
The fade rating represents the disc's tendency to fade to the left (for right-handed backhand throws) at the end of its flight. Fade ratings typically range from 0 to 5, with higher numbers indicating a disc that will fade more sharply. The fade rating is based on the disc's stability. A disc with a high fade rating will have a more overstable flight pattern, meaning that it will resist turning to the right and will instead hook back to the left at the end of its flight (for right-handed backhand throws). This is because the disc has a higher stability and is more overstable.
Conversely, a disc with a low fade rating will have a more understable flight pattern, meaning that it will be more likely to turn right (for right-handed backhand throws) and will not hook back to the left as sharply at the end of its flight.
When choosing a disc based on its fade rating, it's important to consider the type of shot you want to make and the conditions in which you'll be playing. A disc with a high fade rating may be useful for shots that require a sharp left turn (for right-handed backhand throws) or for shots that need to fade around an obstacle. However, a disc with too much fade may also be difficult to control and could easily go off course in windy conditions.
A disc with a low fade rating may be useful for shots that require a more gentle left turn or for shots that need to avoid obstacles. However, a disc with too little fade may also be difficult to control and may not finish its flight as expected.
The most important takeaway from all of this is that alone, each flight characteristic has value, but they need to ultimately be considered together to understand what you are going to get out of a disc. This is valuable when you know that you’re trying to work on hyzer flips that turn to the right (right-hand back-hand), flex lines, or even hard skips. Knowing what you’re throwing is super important.
In the future, we’ll take a deeper dive into some of these numbers and look at specific discs that accentuate the true nature of each characteristic. Additionally, we’ll continue to explore disc selection and look at plastics, manufacturers, and pretty much anything else that factors into the flight and choice of a disc.
What things do you consider when choosing a disc? Do you care about flight numbers? Let me know in the comments down below!
- Gary Daddario III