If you’ve been around disc golf for a round or two, certainly you’ve seen some numbers etched into a disc golf disc. You’ve probably even heard some other players talk about discs with a numeric value. What do the numbers on a disc mean and how can you use this information? Beginner or Advanced, we hope our disc golf flight number guide gives you some new information to ponder while taking about your favorite discs.
Flight Numbers for discs is a complex topic. Here’s a table of contents to let you jump around.
Disc Golf Flight Numbers Basics
If you just want the basics around each of the flight numbers we have you covered here. These are what the numbers on the front of a disc golf disc mean and we’ll hit each one in more detail below. Wondering about that 5th number? You can ignore it for now as it only appears on Discraft discs and won’t allow comparing to other manufacturers.
A measurement of the disc’s aerodynamics. Faster discs with higher speed numbers have a larger rim and a sharper nose to allow the disc to move faster and further if you have the arm speed to keep it in the air. This number is generally based on the rim size and scales from 1 to 14.
The disc’s ability to stay in the air. A higher glide insinuates a disc will fight to stay in the air. In our opinion, a higher glide disc exhibits a more forward pushing fade. This is an arbitrary scale from 1 to 6.
The propensity of a disc to move laterally (to the side) in the initial stages of flight. This is the movement to the right for a right-hand back-hand thrower and is sometimes referred to as high-speed-stability or HSS. Turn numbers are usually ranked from +1 to -5 and the more negative the number is, the more it moves laterally.
The late-flight characteristic of a disc causing it to move laterally as velocity reduces. This movement is to the left for a right-hand back-hand (RHBH) thrower and is sometimes referred to as low-speed-stability or LSS. Fade numbers usually run from 0 to 5.
Basic Disc Flight Terms
If you are new to disc golf, some terms may be confusing but we are here to help.
RHBH/LHBH/RHFH/LHFH – an abbreviation for the style and handedness of the thrower. Right-hand-back-hand, left-hand-back-hand, right-hand-fore-hand, left-hand-fore-hand
Stability – a description of the disc’s overall left or right travel
Overstable – a flight that fades more than it turns. This is a disc that ends left of center for a RHBH throw
Stable – a flight that is relatively straight. This term is sometimes (confusingly) used to describe a disc that is overstable, especially when the word stable is emphasized like “that disc is stable“.
Understable – a flight that turns more than it fades, or ends more to the right for a RHBH throw
Flight Numbering History
You may be interested in hearing some historical facts about flight numbers since this system is so unique to disc golf. Innova Disc Golf popularized the four number flight rating system when they started stamping the ratings right on the discs in 2009. This four-number system has since been implemented by many major disc golf brands including Discraft, MVP, Dynamic Discs, Westside Discs, Latitude 64, and many others. Prior to 2019, Discraft used a different system that effectively shows the overall expected left/right travel of a disc (or commonly stated as stability) with a single number.
As a side note, when you are shopping for discs you may run into listings that use the abbreviation PFN. This simply means the disc was produced prior to the flight numbering system and doesn’t have the numbers printed on them, thusly it is labeled Pre-Flight-Number. These are sometimes sought after by collectors. Other discs may not have the flight numbers printed on them, especially custom stamps and special runs.
Flight Number Controversy
If you listen to disc golf media, you’ll hear a lot of pros who have a negative view point of the numbering system. Their main argument explains that each disc flies different for different arm speeds and throwing styles. They also mention that two discs with a similar flight path may have a drastically different feeling in the hand. So their solution is to try every disc and pick the ones you like. That’s not really practical for most of us.
Flight Number Caveats
Most of us just don’t have the financial means or storage space to buy and try every disc (hopefully your favorite disc golf blogs and video channels help you narrow down your decisions). But those pros do have a few valid points.
Caveat 1: No Universal Standards
The most disappointing thing about flight numbers is, there is no universal standard for how they work. Simply put, they are an estimation from the manufacturer about how the disc should fly. So in reality the numbers should be fairly accurate for comparing discs within a given manufacturer, but not across all of disc golf. But even that isn’t absolutely true because tests may be conducted by different employees or in different conditions. Some companies may choose to number based on the post-break-in intended flights, whereas others might use the brand-new flights.
To help you and the rest of the disc golfing community compare discs across manufacturers, we created our disc golf flight chart site. Our experience throwing a lot of different disc golf discs combined with a significant amount of research on each disc helps us to accurately depict the intended flight of a disc across manufacturers. We even have an adjustment for different arm speeds.
Caveat 2: Plastic Affects Flight
The specific plastic used to mold a disc can change its flight characteristics enough to warrant a different flight number. For instance, the Innova Tern has a different turn number for Star and Champion plastics. This is rather rare however and most manufacturers just stamp the same numbers on each run of the disc.
While our flight chart doesn’t directly allow comparing across different plastics, we have a disc golf plastics chart to give a general idea of how a specific mold might change with a different plastics.
Disc Golf Flight Rating in Crazy Detail
Disc Golf Speed Rating Details
Above we noted that the Speed Rating is a measurement of the disc’s aerodynamics. Most discs’ speed rating follows the rim width. You’ll see that most manufacturers give a speed rating very close to the rim width. For example, an Innova Thunderbird has a rim width of 1.9 and a speed rating of 9. Per PDGA technical standards, the widest rim a disc can have is 2.6 cm. So the fastest speed rating is technically a 16 although none are labeled as such at this point. The Latitude 64 Raketen breaks this rule in a marketing ploy to have the “fastest disc”.
A couple years back we did an analysis on the average rim width of discs manufactured each year. The analysis showed a heavy trend toward producing faster discs.
The speed rating is also used to generally classify discs (again with some exceptions). Speeds from 1 to 3 are usually considered putters. Speeds from 4 to 5 are considered midrange. Speeds from 6-8 are fairway drivers while speeds 9-11 are control drivers. Finally, speeds 12 and up are distance drivers.When searching for a disc, understand that the speed rating is not necessarily how far the disc will go for you but more of a distance potential rating. We prefer to use the speed rating to give us an idea of how hard a disc will need to be thrown in order to achieve the desired flight path. Discs with higher speeds are usually more difficult to throw and require a lot more arm speed to achieve their great distance potential.
Due to their aerodynamic qualities, faster discs usually fly better when throwing into a wind. Technically speaking, the headwind increases the high-speed-stability of a disc and makes it turn more. Slower discs on the other hand often perform better with a tail wind because the wind will actually reduce the amount of spin on the disc.
Disc Golf Glide Rating Details
Our definition of glide is the disc’s ability to stay in the air. We believe the glide rating is the most misunderstood and the most arbitrary of four disc rating numbers. There is no specific disc measurement that seems to contribute to the glide rating. In general, the more air that can stay under a disc, the more glide it will exhibit. So discs with a higher dome and deeper rim are more likely to have more glide. Some people see an understable disc stay in the air a long time due to its turn and improperly assign it more glide. One of the highest glide discs is the Discmania FD.
Also noted above, we feel that a higher glide disc should have a forward pushing fade. We don’t think we’ve heard glide described as such. Basically, given two discs with similar speed and stability, the one with more glide will go further due to the softer fade at the end of its flight. The one with less glide will fall out of the sky at the end of its straight flight often referred to as a dumping fade. For instance, take a look at the Infinite Discs Pharaoh in blue compared to the Prodiscus FASTi in red (using our disc flight comparison tool):
The Pharaoh shows more forward push at the end of the flight, even though the relative stability of each disc is similar.
Higher glide is valuable for gaining distance. This is a great feature on your maximum distance disc. This isn’t a great feature for accurate distance control with your midrange. Glide is also your nemesis in high wind situations when you’d rather have the disc get to the ground.
Disc Golf Turn Rating Details
We already noted that the turn is the propensity of a disc to move laterally (to the side) in the initial stages of flight. The disc is moving its fastest just after you release. The first lateral movement is the turn stage, thus the terms high-speed-stability or high-speed-turn. Again, this value can’t easily be predicted by the measurements of a disc.
The turn rating is important for many reasons. Simply put, you may want a disc that turns to the right for strategic purposes. As a beginner, you’ll want help keeping the disc in the air and a higher turn disc will do just that. More advanced players will use a high turn disc to perform the roller shot.
Disc Golf Fade Rating Details
Earlier we said that fade is the late-flight characteristic of a disc causing it to move laterally as velocity reduces. Some discs fade gently, some fade harshly, and some tend to fade while still flying forward. Higher fade discs are usually considered overstable.
In reality, all discs have some fade. One of the mistakes I made when I was a beginner was a search for a disc that would fly straight. Any disc that holds a straight line will end up dropping left at the end (for RHBH throwers). Any disc that lands straight where I aim must have had some turn. There are a lot of discs that fly relatively straight however. The Discraft Buzzz being a great example.
Hopefully we’ve explained these flight numbers in a manner that makes sense to you. If not, please let us know so we can update the article accordingly.
Truthfully, the pros who are “against” flight numbers aren’t wrong. Each disc has a distinct feel and flight that you need to experience to understand. But they are generally limited to a single brand and have the ability to demo discs from their sponsor. So, the rest of the disc golf population (the vast majority) is stuck guessing what each disc will do. Remember, our disc golf flight chart aims to assist you in making a decision.
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