12 Classic Mistakes in Disc Golf. No. 6 - Classic Nose Angle Issue
Updated: Jun 24, 2020
We’re back on the CMIDG series again, this time taking aim at nose angle, which is known as Angle of Attack in aeronautical terms.
Nose angle is something we all need to work on – as it is so very important at the top end of the sport. In the simplest possible terms, for a disc to fly far, the trailing edge of the disc must follow the leading edge, relative to its air flow.
If the trailing edge is lower than the leading edge, then it juts out into the laminar (smooth) airflow below the disc (see below). This radically increases drag, which reduces glide ratio, and slows the disc. A nose-up disc will also often climb in altitude, trading airspeed for height, and then stall, and finally dive hard left – the absolutely typical beginner’s throw.
Glide Ratio is defined as Lift over Drag: G = L/D
All wings (aircraft) get a Glide Ratio based on the amount of lift they make divided by the Drag it creates. This is why aeroplane wing designers always want to minimise drag, so that extra Glide Angle can be obtained for any given Angle Of Attack (nose angle).
Golf discs are no different. So, throwing a disc with the leading edge (nose) higher than the trailing edge wrecks the gliding performance of the disc.
Nose down flight If the trailing edge is above the leading edge, then the disc will descend rapidly and will collide with the ground close to the teepad. There are sky-high, nose-down anhyzer throws performed by experts but they are irrelevant to beginner and intermediate play.
How can I tell if am throwing nose up? If you can see the top of the flight plate of a straight-thrown disc, when it is above head height, then it is nose up.
Also, any time a disc went out on a line and hyzer angle you thought was good, and it ended up short and left, it is a fairly safe bet you had the nose angle too high.
As a disc golfer you should learn to recognise the nose-up condition in discs thrown by others, and you will see for yourself the difference nose angle makes in distance and flight shape.
How can I reduce the nose angle to make my discs fly farther? It’s mostly to do with grip, and the angle between the disc and your forearm bones. The very first thing you need to do is watch Mike Cook’s brilliant tutorial video about how to make a proper power grip:
As you grip the disc, you need to push the thumb downwards firmly, such that the wrist is dragged down with it – this is known as Ulnar Deviation, and is the same movement you make to shake hands.
The disc should be aligned with the Plane of Play Push down until the disc is parallel with the forearm bones. This also means that the hinge of the wrist is now perpendicular to the disc, and this will greatly reduce the wobble you will often see in disc flight – it’s called Off Axis Torque (OAT), and it is created when the disc is not aligned correctly with the forearm bones and/or the wrist hinge.
Disc wobble can also be the result of the disc spinning too slowly for its forward speed, which is a frequent issue when learning to throw forehand.
>[Incidentally, to create an OAT-free and much more powerful snap/hit/smash you will need to find Blake T’s very low quality “hammer pounding” exercise videos - You must not attempt these exercises with any vigour, unless you have a very light disc. You should expect to hurt your forearm quite a lot the first time you pound the hammer, so read how to avoid that here.]
During the pull-through, smash and release, it is very important to keep that thumb pressed down firmly, because that is what dictates the nose angle of the disc. You will find that the very first time you rip a disc with a nose-flat attitude you will probably break your personal distance record.
At the top end of the sport, the Line of Play and the nose angle of the disc is almost everything. Differences of 1/10th of a degree have an impact on the line and distance a disc will fly. It is one of the biggest physical co-ordination challenges in disc golf.
To learn about the Line of Play and the Plane of Play, read our article on the subject.
What else can cause nose-up flight?
Standing on the back foot to throw This is the most common cause of nose-up, sky-high disc flights for absolute beginners. Many beginner players do not know that weight must be completely transferred to the front foot in the throwing motion.
They also do not understand that the disc must be propelled OUT rather than UP. When children learn to throw, they rapidly learn to accommodate gravity, and thus they throw things on parabolic arcs in order to hit their target.
Thus, as adults, we’re programmed to throw up rather than out. Subconsciously we feel like the disc should behave more like a ball. And that is 100% true when we think about the Pitch Putt technique, which relies on gravity to pull the very slowly moving disc down and into the chains and the cage of the basket.
But it is not true for discs when thrown with driving power. Golf discs are gyroscopically stabilised flying wings, for the most part, with some very overstable discs behaving in a more gyroscopically stabilised ballistic fashion.
Disc flight physics for nerds. Some very overstable golf discs with high parting lines do not generate any upwards lift at all on the top surface of the wing due to a low pressure area when thrown flat, and all lift is produced by way of deflecting air downwards below the Parting Line. These discs are almost entirely spin-stabilised ballistic objects.
Figures 4. and 5. The Justice and Sinus. Two non-flying discs, which behave like ballistic objects
The shape of discs alters the way air flows around them, which affects the flight shape – but pretty much all low glide, extremely overstable discs are not “flying” as we generally understand the term as used in discussing powered or gliding flight.
Discs with high Parting Lines do push a lot of air downwards – and this generates lift – but it is a different kind of lift to that created by a low-pressure zone developing on the top surface – which is what we normally mean by “flying”.
It’s worth noting here, that aeroplanes are predominantly kept aloft by the massive amount of air deflected downwards by the nose-up angle of the wings in level flight, and not by the lift force generated on the top surface of the wing, by low pressure.
This so-called Bernoulli lift only makes a wing efficient. It’s perfectly possible to fly planes without aerofoil-shaped wings. Perfectly flat wings work just fine, and that is why paper planes glide so well. However, aerofoil wing shapes have better handling characteristics and operate correctly over a wider range of flight speeds, and this is why they are used in aeroplanes.
Classic Dipping This is where a player reaches back at a very high altitude, pulls the disc down to their stomach region, and then yanks it upwards again for the throw itself. We’ve already published an article about Classic Dipping; why it’s bad and how to fix it.
Classic Low Elbow The disc is thrown by massively powerful extension of the elbow and shoulder at the same time. Only by keeping your elbow very high, and thus on the Plane Of Play, can you throw with proper power. We’ve also covered the Classic Low Elbow Issue in a previous article.
Nose Angle for Putting
Changing the ulnar deviation of your putting grip alters the nose angle of your putter, just as it alters it for driving.
This is also another subject Vortica has addressed in a previous article: Putting Putter and Shot Selection.
Is there any time you WANT to throw nose up? Yes! Midrange discs and putters launched on a flat-ish line, with a nose up attitude will tend to slow down far more quickly, and fade early as a result. So it often makes sense to combine airspeed with some nose-up angle to provide accurate ranging of upshots.
It is possible to use slow-flying discs thrown anhyzer with the nose up, to perform very accurate upshots, as seen below in an excellent clinic put on by Paul Ulibarri, where he talks about the advantage of throwing nose-up for short shots.
Air Bounce and Ground Effect Not really applicable in today’s game of disc golf, the “air bounce” is an Ultimate Frisbee technique. The disc is thrown firmly downwards, with a high nose angle and it literally bounces upwards off the air, and cruises flat (see Fig. 2, below). Golf discs are not as large, or as deep as Ultimate discs, so they don’t perform in the same way.
From time to time you may see a golf disc in Ground Effect, where the disc will be very close to the ground, and fly a weirdly long way before touching down. Any time a disc is in level flight with a flat nose angle, and is less than 20cm above the surface, the disc can enter into a ground effect state.
All wings can get into Ground Effect when they are less than one wing-width from the ground. Essentially, a cushion of air is created between the wing and the ground, which keeps the wing at the same altitude until something happens to degrade the effect. The higher the aspect ratio of a wing (it's chord length divided by its depth) the more likely it is to enter into Ground Effect. Thus sailplanes with very long and narrow wings are especially prone to it, and can sometime glide a kilometre or more while in Ground Effect.