Innova Discs was the first company to start putting flight numbers on disc golf discs back in 2009. It’s not a perfect science, but this ratings system is a helpful guide for disc golfers looking for flying discs that will achieve certain flight paths. When you are building your bag, you can utilize flight rating numbers to select discs you want to try out.
Ultimately, no rating system will compare to going out and throwing the discs to see what works best for you. And of course, we all know that the flight characteristics of any disc will change at least a little the more you use it. In the disc golf world, we call that “beating in” the disc. Flight numbers are primarily just a starting point to help you with your golf disc selection.
Let’s take a look at each of the four standard flight rating numbers and what each of them means:
The first number you will see on the disc indicates the speed rating. This is essentially how fast the disc must be thrown in order to achieve the flight path as determined by the rest of the numbers. The disc speed number will range from 1 up to 14, with the lowest speeds representing putt and approach discs and the highest-speed discs being maximum distance drivers. You don’t have to throw a 2-speed Classic Aviar hard at all to get it to fly straight. You do have to put a lot more power behind a 13-speed Shryke to make it fly as intended.
Many experts will argue that the correct speed rating is the most important flight rating because it really does affect all the rest of the intended flight numbers. If you can’t get the disc up to speed, it won’t achieve the desired glide or high-speed turn, and in most cases, will amplify the fade or low-speed stability. There is a reason why your higher-speed discs (especially your distance drivers) tend to fade out left on you immediately when you are first learning to throw a righty backhand shot. The more you improve your form and skills, the more you can start using high-speed discs to your advantage
The second number on the disc will indicate the glide rating. This is how naturally the disc will maintain loft while in the air when thrown correctly. Glide is typically rated with numbers between 1 and 7, with 1 being the lowest amount and 7 being the maximum. When you are looking for max distance driver, you want a disc with a higher glide.
At the same time, lower-speed discs naturally have good glide because of how they are designed with deep rims. A putter or mid-range disc will “float” along in the air easily. It may stay aloft longer, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to more distance. Meanwhile, a low-profile and sharp-edged distance driver, when thrown properly, will achieve its glide by cutting through the air and penetrating further with more speed and spin. You’ll often find high glide ratings on fairway drivers as they achieve a little of both with a combination of beveled edges and slightly deeper rims. Lower glide discs are also valuable, especially for approach shots, because they offer excellent control.
When talking about the turn rating, this refers to how much the flying disc will drift to the right for a right-handed, backhanded thrower (or to the left for a lefty backhand or righty sidearm). Turn flight ratings will range from 1 to -5. Turn is the only rating where there can be a negative number, which is actually found on discs with the highest amount of turn. In other words, a -5 turn rating means the disc is super “understable.” When you want maximum distance, you typically want the disc to have high speed and turn off to the right a fair amount before it fades back to the left at the end of the intended flight path. There’s perhaps no better feeling in disc golf than throwing the perfect S-curve (or “helix” shape) that either flies super far or shapes through an ideal fairway gap.
You may also see top-level players throwing what we call a “hyzer flip” shot, which is when you release the disc on a hyzer angle and it flips up to flat when it reaches full speed. These shots work best with discs that have good glide and turn ratings. Understable discs like Mambas and Roadrunners are also popular for backhand rollers and extreme anhyzer (flying left-to-right the entire way) shots.
Last but not least is the fade rating, which can range from 0 to 5. In disc golf, fade is exactly how it sounds. It is how much the disc fades out at the end of its flight path—once it starts decelerating from its maximum velocity. Discs with a high fade rating (i.e. “overstable discs”) will want to finish left at the end no matter what. Fade is all about control, accuracy and dependability. Overstable discs like Innova Bosses, Firebirds and Gators are popular for certain shots because you know what to expect at the end of the throw.
Novice disc golfers will likely struggle to throw a faster disc with a high fade flight rating, but you will eventually learn how to use stable discs in your arsenal. As you build your bag and refine your skills, you will likely end up with a wide variety of discs that feature a full range of different flight rating numbers. You’ll have high-speed drivers and low-speed mids and putters. You’ll have flippy understable discs with plenty of turn to hit specific lines, neutral-to-stable discs for control shots and you’ll have overstable meathooks for ultra-accurate hyzer shots.
Other Flight Rating Factors to Consider
One last note to remember is that the flight rating numbers are just a starting point to help you with disc selection. The type of plastic that discs are made of may alter the flight numbers slightly, and so will disc weights. For example, a max-weight Star Wraith is generally going to be a much more stable disc than a lightweight Blizzard Champion Wraith. Different runs of the same discs may offer somewhat different flight characteristics, as well. Then, you have old, beat-in discs that fly differently than when they were brand new. Other factors like wind, elevation and humidity will also affect flight paths. There’s a reason why a pro like Ricky Wysocki carries several different Destroyers in his bag. Each one will give him a slightly different result that he can manipulate to his advantage while out on the disc golf course.
The more you learn about flight ratings and flight numbers, the more you will be able to shop around for different discs and find the ones that work best for your game. Otherwise, the best way to build your bag is to get out there and throw. Hone your skills, try different shots and angles, and figure out which discs fly best for any type of shot you want to throw.