Flight Numbers: What They Mean, And A Better Approach
The number one question that we hear disc golfers ask when they are checking out a new disc is, “How does it fly?” A discs flight characteristics can determine whether or not it is one we want to add to our bag. Generally speaking, although there are many variables that determine the flight of the disc, such as wind speed/direction, elevation, skill of the thrower, etc., what they really want to know about a disc is how the disc will fly for THEM. And more specifically, they want to know about the flight numbers.
To answer the question about how a particular mold will fly for a customer, I start by explaining the common flight rating system. I then find out about their skill level so I can find the flight they are looking for based on their ability to throw. Let’s take a look at those flight rating numbers. Then we can explore some of the variables that I discuss with customers. We will also discuss the more accurate Infinite Discs flight rating system. Let’s assume for this discussion that the throw is right hand, back hand (RHBH)
Four-Digit Flight Rating System
The four-digit flight rating system commonly used today was created by Innova as a way to describe how a disc flies. Other brands have tried using their own methods of expressing the flight of their discs, but the four-digit rating system is the most common. The four characteristics are (in the order that they appear on the disc or on a chart):
The first number indicates the relative speed that the disc needs to be thrown at in order for the other numbers to be accurate. It has probably been responsible for more disappointed disc buyers than any flight number. That number does not mean that the disc will automatically fly faster than a lower speed disc, as many beginners erroneously assume. It means that a speed 13 disc needs to be travelling much faster than a speed 7 disc in order to fly like it should. Unfortunately, few beginners have the technique in order to get high-speed discs flying fast enough, so the disc flies a short distance, then fades hard to the ground. Throwing high-speed discs that are very light weight is kind of a cheat code for beginners, but lower speed discs are a better option for someone starting out.
The second of the four flight numbers indicates how long the disc tends to stay in the air before fighting to get to the ground. While getting the maximum time aloft for a drive on a long hole may be desirable, there are other times we want the disc to get down faster to hit the landing zone we are aiming for. The common approach to determining how much glide a person should seek in a disc is that beginners should get the most glide possible. More experience disc golfers can get lower glide discs, because they have more skill in hitting technical landing areas. They want discs that they know won’t travel an excessive amount in the air, so they have more control over when it will come down.
Also called ‘high-speed stability’, this flight number describes how the disc will behave during the first part of the flight when the disc is traveling the fastest. With a RHBH throw, the more negative the number is, the more the disc will turn to the right during the fast part of the flight. If the TURN number is positive or zero, it will likely not turn to the right at all. Those discs are helpful when throwing into a headwind. They have the ability to resist turning, even in a headwind. Conversely, discs with -3 to -5 as a TURN number will roll to the right during the high-speed stage of the flight. Some will turn so much that they will be difficult to control, and may come crashing to the ground or even result in an unintended roller. Thrown in a tailwind, the same disc will have a small turn and get great distance. Disc with a more negative TURN are called ‘understable’ discs
The final flight number indicates how the disc will fly as it begins to slow down. Also called ‘slow-speed stability’, the fourth number ranges from 0 to 5. The higher the number, the more quickly the disc starts to head to the ground. It will roll to the left a lot faster and hit the ground at a steeper angle than one with a lower FADE number. A lower number will finish its flight a lot more straight and level. Discs with higher FADE numbers are called ‘overstable’ discs.
Infinite Discs Flight Ratings
While flight numbers can give you a general idea of how a particular mold flies, which is good, it doesn’t give the most accurate representation of the flight of a disc. Although flight numbers are based somewhat on the physical dimensions of the disc, they are determined by each manufacture. Since, they vary from company to company, that makes it difficult to compare one brand to another. To find a more accurate method of determining the flight of a disc, Infinite Discs has created a more inclusive method of determining how a mold flies: The Infinite Discs flight rating system.
Infinite’s flight rating system comes from the reviews of each mold. Reviewers indicate what THEY think the flight numbers are for the discs they are throwing. This gives a much broader view of the disc and how it actually flies. If you combine that flight number with the other useful information in the reviews, you get a better sense of how that disc will work for you. Here’s how it works:
If you pull up the web page that shows the Infinite molds, you’ll see that the Sphinx has an Infinite flight rating of 9, 6, -2.8, 1. It is the average flight rating of EVERYONE who has reviewed that mold on our website. If you click for details about the mold, you can then see the manufacturers rating for the disc. By comparing the two numbers you can see that most people think the Sphinx is close to what the manufacturer determined the flight numbers are, and only slightly less understable. This gives you two flight ratings to compare and help you decide if the mold it right for you.
If you want to further refine the results, you can filter the reviews by skill level, which helps you see what people with a skill level similar to yours think the flight numbers actually are. That information is more useful than taking the suggested flight numbers from a manufacturer alone.
In addition to learning about a molds average flight number, there are additional benefits to checking out the review. You can learn more about a disc by checking out the reviewers with your skill level to see how they rate the disc and some of their comments about the mold. And finally, you can see if the mold is beginner-friendly, which helps for the newer players.
The four-digit flight number system may be replaced by a better system in the future, but for now it is what we have. The Infinite Discs Flight Rating system is a user-generated way to see how a disc will fly. That system, along with the other user-supplied ratings, will help you pick the perfect discs for your disc golf game.