A STITCH IN TIME

Every year my dear mother asks what I want for my birthday and I always have the same answer: a clock that runs slower. We’re all familiar with how perception of time accelerates as we age. A month in our forties seems to pass as quickly as a week when we were teenagers. I recognized this phenomenon when I first heard it described as a small child. Now, with those forties a receding memory, time feels like wind flowing through what’s left of my hair.

Even while landing a glider.

When groundlubbers contemplate flying a plane with no engine they often say, “You only get one chance to land.” It’s true of course, but that’s all a properly skilled glider pilot needs. The critical parameter is TIME. Powered aircraft can always ‘go around’, delaying the inevitable until fuel runs out, but a glider in the landing pattern is committed to a process that will be finished, one way or another, in only a minute or so, ready or not. The concerned onlooker might better say, “You have only so many seconds to avoid a wreck.” Therein lies the rub.
When you’re tardy in preparing to land, garbazhe can begin to pile up quicker each moment. Delay your checklist a few seconds and then have unexpected difficulty in lowering the gear. Futz with that a few seconds then realize you’re out of position to mix with traffic while some interloper horns into the pattern, now ahead of you! Hang back a few seconds for safe separation, and now you’re low. Fail to push over in sinking air for only a few more seconds and now you’re desperate, hoping just to clear those bushes short of the runway. That, naturally, is when you’ll discover a sticky brake handle…

You had X mount of time, which was enough, but you squandered it several times over, falling further behind with each distraction. Permutations of this debacle are infinite, and none work to your advantage. Bet on it.

Any airstrip suitable for takeoff is also easy to land on. There should be room to badly misjudge the touchdown point and still walk away from nothing worse than deserved embarrassment. That’s if you were ready to control what happened before it happened by itself.

Competent management of any time-limited operation includes preparing early to stay ahead of events — and then keeping up. Anybody knows that. But hear this please so I can quit scratching the scab: having landed now with many hundreds of glider guiders from a wide weird world of different backgrounds, I’d say that maybe half never find time for their landing checklist until they’re already on downwind leg. That’s about as smart as signaling for takeoff before you get around to strapping in!