ANOTHER MASS LANDING?

Our last discussion dealt with multiple gliders landing in tight sequence on what happened to be my first day instructing at an operation new to me. That donnybrook worked out okay despite a number of human flaws, including my own response. When another mass landing arose not many months later, more familiarity allowed sufficient bandwidth to concoct what even detractors might call a ‘creative’ solution.

That field offers three parallel strips, one for gliders, one for powered landings, plus another for back-taxi and emergencies. We had three tugs running that Saturday, with multiple students in training, but no radio in use. Prior to launch, I called for a simulated emergency wave-off – not knowing that the instructor ahead of us had done the same. Our tow pulled us further away than it should have before rocking wings, so when my student looked back, the ship that launched before us had already released and headed in, between us and the field.

Traffic also included the third tug, descending from an earlier tow and now well into its approach. So we had a total of five aircraft under 500 feet, three already on parallel finals before we could even enter the scrum. Assuming our tug would respect our right of way, we’d be number four, approaching from the opposite direction, low and in front of the others…

The student was visibly relieved when I pulled rank and took control.

We still had ample energy, but the clock was ticking fast. The first and most obvious option was to spiral down midfield and land into the wind ahead of all the others. Next option, stretch it around a steep one-eighty, roll out at ground level and land close behind them. Were there other choices?

I decided to loiter very briefly, letting all of them proceed, and then land the opposite direction (downwind), behind them, passing over the other glider moments before it touched down. That gave us half the airport ahead with all traffic retreating behind, which worked perfectly, but looked like madness. What the other pilots saw was us diving at them from twelve o’clock, barely too high to collide, while observers off to the side saw diametrical approaches narrowly miss each other a hundred feet up.

Crew who came to get us were fairly blubbering with outrage. “What the hell were you doing?” Yet when I asked how they might have made it safer… they clammed right up. This one at least, I may have gotten right.

I can always make up for that next time.

MORE OF THE SAME

Our coming week may be a lot like the last one, only a bit better for soaring .  We’ll have full sun each day with light northerlies and surprisingly good convective potential, meaning blue thermals up to around 8000 feet MSL, plus even some bow wave to boot if the north wind picks up…   Altogether  as much as we could ask for this time of year!

SEE YOU SOON!

MEEP BEEP!

Ever been part of a mass landing? Not something we train for, but like every other unwelcome surprise, it could happen. Mine took place at the annual Vintage Sailplane Regatta in Tehachapi, the weekend when ordinary traffic mixes with a delightful array of rare gliders from earlier generations. It’s especially nice to see colored wings adorn the all-white uniformity of our modern soaring fleet, even while wondering about the proficiency of pilots older than their antique craft. I was quite current of course, but this also happened to be my very first day at that operation… Hence the mandatory attendance of Barrister Murphy, formidable aviation lawyer.

Birds of all feathers were languishing in one slow gaggle near the field, almost too many to count, when a deck of cirrus drifted over and the lift abruptly died. First to enter downwind was a venerable Slingsby T-31, whimsically suggestive from above and behind of a gaily decorated B-17. A Libelle went second, and me third in a Blanik with a student I’d never met before. From our downwind leg we watched the Libelle run under the Slingsby as they both turned base, moving ahead to land first. When my student asked why, the only reason I could think of was maybe the Libelle driver could not fly slow enough to stay behind. No doubt some announcement was made, but you can bet the open cockpit T-31, like our Blanik and who knows how many others, had no radio.

Number one stopped short on the right side of the runway and number two stopped close behind it on the left, effectively blocking the road for us. Though getting down even shorter was well within my capability, this student’s skill and confidence were unknown. Landing over the obstacles would be an easier and more practical option, but there’s a strong taboo about that because it’s so scary for everyone watching. If I had a student do it my first day on the job, I’d expect to get canned. Meanwhile several more ships were coming in behind us…
I politely took control with full spoilers and a huge slip, landing very short but intentionally a little fast. To make a point, I taxied off the runway around the obstructions, our inboard wing banked nearly to the ground, then back on the pavement and hundreds of feet further to the proper stopping place. So there. When we climbed out and looked back, there were three birds on the ground behind us and one on final — plus number six, a blisteringly slick ASW-12 approaching on a parallel runway. My student was awestruck, naturally, but that doesn’t mean much. Remember when you were a newbie? You were awestruck half the time because you didn’t know any better!

My cute taxiing exhibition may have made an impression, but was not the smartest choice, if for no other reason than its unpredictability. Had someone behind us already committed to where we swerved, or tried to over-fly and land long, my action could have deepened the complications for them — and those next in line. But more to the point of this confession is that parallel runway.

Mountain Valley Airport has not one adjacent strip, but two available for exactly this scenario. That very morning, I’d been briefed to divert to either of them any time things got tight. It’s something I’d normally do anyway without being told, but the press of unfamiliarity and first day jitters got to me. Not that I quit thinking, I simply narrowed my focus too much and quit thinking big.

Only when number six landed on its own strip beside us did I realize we could/should have sidled over there ourselves, safe and easy. But watching numbers two and one swap places at their base turn flipped the stoopid switch in my brain, snapping into tunnel vision, blanking out awareness of alternatives and ignoring vital info that was obvious with or without a brief. So we’re back again to the issue of cognitive bandwidth, a finite capacity in which that particular mass landing found me deficient. Mea culpa.

Regarding my ageist skepticism of visiting geezers’ proficiency: looking up from the flight line, among those still there scratching at that same gray thermal we’d fallen from were a TG-4 (WWII trainer) and another antique some grizzled aficionado claimed was the last flying Schweizer 1-19. Something more than local knowledge was keeping them aloft in that zero sink; wonder what it was.

TRICK? OR TREAT?

Happy November, folks. We can expect still more fine leaf raking weather this whole coming week, cool yet a bit warmer each day, with light northerlies continuing through the period. While thermals will be strictly of the feeble persuasion, any increase in that cooling northerly could provide ‘interesting’ soaring near the mountains…