Flight Numbers - What do they mean?
With the plethora of disc models available from each manufacturer, it can be difficult to know what will fit your needs. Thankfully most manufacturers have adopted a standard format of flight numbers that will describe the tendencies of each their discs.
The standard format is:
Speed │ Glide │ Turn │ Fade
The higher the number, the sharper and more aerodynamic the wing shape. So that must mean a higher speed flies "better" right? Not necessarily. In order to utilize the more aerodynamic shape, it also must travel at a higher airspeed. A failure to achieve and maintain sufficient airspeed will result in the disc not performing as intended.
A higher number here indicates that a larger pocket of air is formed under the disc. This allows the disc to "float" and stay in the air longer. While staying in the air longer will allow a disc to travel further, it doesn't come without its drawbacks. A disc with high glide is also prone to be pushed around by the wind more easily. This has a negative impact on accuracy and, in the case of a headwind, distance.
The more negative this number is, the easier it is to lift the far edge of the disc while in flight. When a disc is thrown quickly, the edge far away from the body wants to lift up. Like an airplane, a disc will turn away from the higher wing; so as the far edge rises, the disc turns away from it. The indicated amount of turn can only be achieved if the airspeed of the disc matches the speed rating, and overpowering a disc may result in more turn than expected.
The larger this number is, the more the disc will veer to the side as it slows down. Just as the far edge of a disc wants to rise as it moves quickly, that same edge will drop down as the disc slows. This causes the disc to fade toward that lower side. While a pronounced change in direction near the end of flight may cause a problem on a straight fairway, it might be exactly what's needed to get around a corner.
A disc that easily turns when thrown with adequate speed (-5) and very gradually fades at the end of flight (0) would be considered Under-Stable.
A disc that has minimal turn and minimal fade, allowing it to follow a fairly straight flight path, would be considered Neutral.
By taking into account the flight numbers of a disc, you can more easily find the right choice to fit your needs. In our Disc Golf Basics we review how different stabilities can be used to form different shot shapes to counter the obstacles in front of you.
If the options are still overwhelming, check out our disc guide for new players.