DOUBLED DOWN

We were coming in to land at a field where standard glider traffic included four legs, from a universal entry point, across the runway to downwind either direction. Soon as we arrived, I saw a STOL aircraft crawling around its wide base turn, kitty corner across our pattern, a mile away and at half our height. That other pilot had been practicing very slow approaches and very short landings into a steady wind for the past hour, round and round, entirely predictable.

Given our separation, a casual observer might not have recognized any potential conflict, but the moment I saw his position a flashing alarm went off in my head. Despite appearances, it felt like we were on a weird kind of circular collision course, intersecting at the threshold. Fortunately that runway has ample grass off to one side, often used for short glider landings. Even so, I considered dashing down ahead to avoid a formation landing but declined because of how it could look to the other pilot, or to others who wouldn’t understand. Besides, it’s awfully spooky when a whirling meat cutter’s on your six and you can no longer turn…

Having dismissed that option, the next choice was to fly as slow a circuit as possible waiting for our compadre to eventually clear the way. But he couldn’t cooperate because he didn’t know we were there, three full-size adults in a Schweizer 2-32 at maximum weight with a high stall speed, in effect stalking him.

The subsequent pattern seemed to last forever. On crosswind and downwind legs the bogey was probably flying faster, but our ground speed was about double due to the tailwind. As we quartered into it on base he seemed to hang motionless, slowly pivoting in his turn to final. By the time we reached that point and turned fully into the wind he was still only halfway down, and then we really began to overtake him. I flew slowly as I dared all the way but had to keep something in reserve for wind gradient, doubly important at this end of the runway, where rising ground just before the threshold guarantees sink exactly when you need it least. Heavy as we were, it was not quite slow enough.

We took that length of grass on the side of course, landing simultaneously, super short and right abreast of our compadre just as he powered up for another takeoff. He confirmed later that he never saw us.

In hindsight, obviously I should have exercised my right-of-way long minutes earlier by diving in front, and to heck with appearances! No doubt mister slow flight would have enjoyed it as an entertaining break from monotony. Not something anyone’s apt to go out and practice, though. It’s one of those instances where you have to decide which rule to disobey and prepare to accept the consequences. Or as I always say, make decisions you can live with even if they’re wrong.

To wit: a third option we haven’t mentioned is loitering at the top and entering your pattern later. Yeah, you can do that, and it’s usually the best solution — when it works. But there may be no better way to invite bad luck than coming down to a thousand AGL and then deciding to not go lower. This logical fallacy can be all it takes to conjure insidious sink of the widespread variety. I know whereof I blather. Best not volunteer to make such a play before acknowledging the silent peril that’s never certain but is always real! Caveat actor.

 

 

MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK

Soaring is a sport, and no one expects to win every time. That means sometimes you lose. In championship events each competitor is so skilled, often the loser falls short because of some itty bitty shortcoming the winner eluded – that or just some tough luck. (But then, well before next season the silver medalist is back out there working on that pesky flaw, because there’s no better way to improve one’s luck…)

So if runners-up can mistakes, we can too. Lot’s of them actually. That’s the way it is. We need to recognize our limitations and vulnerability, and make decisions that will always turn out okay even if they’re mistaken. But we can’t be sure of that unless we consider the potential ramifications of each decision – in advance. Whether we do this or let the glider go wherever it wants, either way the consequences are ours to absorb, like it or not. So think objectively beforehand and then act with certain purpose, such that even failure will afford a welcome lesson learned! Anything else is abdication of control and responsibility.Soaring is a sport, and no one expects to win every time. That means sometimes you lose. In championship events each competitor is so skilled, often the loser falls short because of some itty bitty shortcoming the winner eluded – that or just some tough luck. (But then, well before next season the silver medalist is back out there working on that pesky flaw, because there’s no better way to improve one’s luck…)

THERE’S (STILL) NO APP FOR THAT

Some things even you can’t buy. You have to earn them for free.
It’s only natural that pilots approve of technology, but many become addicted to always having the latest device and forget they became aviators in the first place because they love flying. Each time some new technical marvel appears I wonder, will it enhance our joys and fulfillment or put us further out of touch from the direct experience we sought as rookies?

Electric toothbrush, motorized windows, music amplified to deafening levels. What’s next, turbo powered toilet paper? Won’t that be neat!
Failing to climb in a thermal does not mean I have to pay thousands more for fancier gadgets or tens of thousands for a slicker ride. It means I should work on my thermaling. I don’t need a machine to tell me how I’m doing and what to do next. What I need are deeper awareness of actual reality, smarter decision making and improved techniques.

Results! I have gotten a lot of results.
I know several thousand things that won’t work.

Thomas Edison

Results? Can’t check my PDA to see how much fun this is ‘cause I don’t own one. Maybe I can find out for myself.
Secret: that is the fun part.

SINS BEST CONFESSED

Rope breaks!  For too many reasons to enumerate here, they do happen.  And like flat tires they can be very inconvenient, but if you’re prepared and operating properly they don’t have to be disasters.  Even so, better to avoid them than not.

It’s gratifying that nearly all rope breaks occur in training.  The higher this percentage the better, if you think about it.  It’s true that unplanned, or ‘real’ emergencies provide a more profound variety of training, but full application of that logic would suggest no emergency training at all, and who’d want that?

No, as unfun as slack rope can be, training for it is a practical necessity, and occasional breaks are a fair price — one always paid by whomever’s waiting for the next tow. I hereby propose a small procedural nicety that will cost nothing and could potentially help someone sometime (YOU, SOON) avoid unnecessary ‘inconvenience’.

We had a break not long ago while practicing slack line recoveries.  Not a big deal.  What’s noteworthy is our tow pilot said later that he felt a harder yank on the tow before ours, and suggested that first one might have compromised our weak link… If there were evidence of such, we destroyed it. This suggests that pilots at either end of any line would do well to report unusually hard yanks by radio the moment they happen, whether in training or ‘real’ life, so someone on the ground can take an extra close look before the next tow calls for hookup.

We all know how easy it is to casually glance over and nod before takeoff without careful visual confirmation that the rope (and rings) are actually sound.   Eventually, one fellow pilot confessing an awkward moment on tow could provide another with just the heads-up needed to prevent inadvertent sabotage… Which of these two would you rather be?