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.