After landing is when you’re most apt to damage your sailplane.  Obstacles are much closer and more numerous, and a graceful aircraft becomes an extremely wide contraption on one wheel whose stability and control effectiveness rapidly decrease as airspeed bleeds away.  Well after touchdown, you must continue to FLY the airplane on the ground until it stops moving – and after that until help arrives if it’s really windy!

Regardless of any other factor, the moment you’re firmly on the ground extend spoilers or negative flaps to glue that ship to the earth.  After slowing below stall speed, you may choose to retract them and extend your roll to some convenient stopping place, but before turning toward any obstacle (other aircraft, people) or down even the slightest degree of slope, be sure to test your wheel brake.  As speed decreases, larger and quicker control inputs become necessary to maintain full control.  Consider it a point of art to come to a stop before either wingtip touches the ground.  This skill is easy enough to learn; do not settle for anything less.

When you do taxi to one side with rudder the outboard wing will move faster and begin to rise.  Uncorrected, this can make the inboard wing touch down and cause a ground loop.  Counter that unwanted bank at ground level by applying simultaneous opposite aileron (cross-control, but only as needed) to keep the wings level through your change of direction.

In strong crosswinds, even an extended roll to a normal stop may be surprisingly challenging.  Just as in crosswind takeoffs, windward wing slightly down and countered by opposite rudder is technique essential to staying in line with the runway.  As speed bleeds off, the crosswind will erode directional control.  Try to stop before that happens, or at slow speed you’ll eventually weathervane off-line from the runway.  In very strong crosswinds this loss of directional control at the end of taxi is inevitable, so plan for it and manage your energy so it leaves you in a safe and convenient place – not in the middle of a busy runway…  or a fence.


(reprinted from March, 2014)

Fact: a final approach of moderate steepness makes it easy to judge the glide path, control it, and touch down on your intended spot.  It’s that simple. Flat approaches leave you vulnerable to sink or other difficulties, and extremely flat approaches are downright dangerous.  Very steep approaches on the other hand can be too effective, like showering with a fire hose.  Take a clue from Goldilocks.

Many folks habitually deploy spoilers too early and end up low before ever turning base leg.  Then for the rest of the flight, the lower they sink the fewer options they have, all because of using too much spoiler too early.  There’s a no-brainer solution to this unnecessary problem that’s apparently too obvious for some brains, yet it’s guaranteed to work, brain or no – so long as you DO IT in time.

And here’s your no brainer:  the moment you sense that you might be lower than ideal, at any point before late final, CLOSE SPOILERS!  (That’s why they call it a no-brainer.)  Say you let your airspeed – PITCH ATTITUDE – wander.  Maybe you hit sink and didn’t feel it. Or too wide a pattern results in too long a flight path. Plus some other excuse.  No matter.  NOW is when to break the chain of errors.  The worst thing you could do is chase your airspeed indicator while leaving spoilers out, but we see it all too often!  Come on Goldilocks, just close spoilers, reset pitch attitude where you know you need it, and wait a few seconds to regain a healthy glide angle. Then reopen the spoilers as needed to resume a sensibly moderate descent.  It really is that simple.


And one more thing. When you do open spoilers for real, quickly glance at one wing to confirm how far out they actually are, just so you’ll know. It’s very useful information that costs nothing to obtain, but does you no good unless you look.


One year a fellow pilot died and we all attended his funeral. Coming in to the service, we were given the usual small memento printed with the deceased’s birth and death dates and some comforting or inspirational verse. It’s intended as a keepsake, but after holding mine politely through the service I must have dropped it without a thought when I got in my car to leave.

That car was a sandblasted junker given me by an appreciative student who’d been reassigned at work and had to move away. I used it in ways never intended by the manufacturer, ramming it around the desert like a dune buggy, even hauling firewood in its seats.

A couple years later time came for another sad memorial when my father passed away. After roaring along the interstate for hours at 80 with all the windows down, traffic began to slow for the first time as we entered the outskirts of Phoenix. From some hidey hole in back, under the rusty tools, bark chips and trash, a small piece of paper shot up in the wind, zoomed around the cabin and fell like a wounded bird into my lap. It was that keepsake from the pilot’s funeral twenty months before – perfectly clean and uncreased.

After a long double take, the first thing that came to mind was, Dad never understood why soaring is so important to me and thought my career in it a silly waste of time. I believed that when he finally saw the point he’d have to approve, and always hoped for that day. But it never came. Now I had this image of him perched up there at the Pearly Gates, having met the pilot we buried earlier and who knows how many other disembodied aviators. Maybe they’ve explained things in a way I was unable to and Dad finally understood. Was this piece of paper, so pristine after long neglect, a kind of sign?

Easy to poo-poo such an idea, but as traffic wound through the city I could not stop thinking about it. Half an hour later, just before my exit, rush hour ground to a complete halt. I’d been listening to an Al Stewart album, sentimental vignettes of history and travel that somehow fit the mood, and the song right then was Lord Grenville, a wistful ballad about the early days of ocean sailing.

Precisely as traffic stopped, the lyric was:

Tell the ones we left home not to wait, we won’t be back again.

At that point, directly across the road ninety degrees out my window stood the hospital where Dad passed! Sitting in gridlock staring there and at the car ahead, I had time to ponder this.
When eventually traffic moved, that car ahead left the freeway at my exit. Entering the street grid it turned where I was going to, then did so again, and again. I began to wonder if whomever it was thought they were being tailed. Then they pulled over and parked exactly where I intended to, in front of my parents’ house.

It was a cousin I’d not seen in more than thirty years, far and away Dad’s favorite nephew. I drove four hundred miles, he came twice as far, and we arrived simultaneously — meeting up right where Dad left us.

You can dismiss all this as a goofy coincidence, but not me. We may never comprehend the unifying principle in this funhouse of a world, but that don’t mean there ain’t one.
The next verse of Lord Grenville begins,

Our time is just a point along a line that runs forever with no end.


Last week I was pre-flighting one of our ASK-21s, and from that single little pouch in the back cockpit spilled the following: 2 pens, 2 pitot covers (why have two pitot covers if you don’t use either one?), 2 dirty rags, plus NINE barf bags and of course some of the usual litter. None of which I’d be needing. If more than two barf bags were necessary I’d stay on the ground.
Anyway, the article below, which first flew here two years ago, is obviously overdue for a relight.

We were launching in normal conditions with newlyweds cuddled in the back. Ho hum. Then no more than a foot off the ground Bogie the tow pilot released us and zoomed radically up, hanging under the prop to a full-power stall. Our glider flew itself to a stop as we watched his recovery bottom out in a swale below runway level.

So what made Bogie do such a thing? After several minutes pacing the ramp hyperventilating and going to his knees twice, intensive post-flight inspection found a pencil stub fallen below deck into the worst possible space beneath the stick, jamming it full back upon rotation. Bogie saved his own life by remotely crushing that little scrap of wood.

Now wait. What if he’d not released us the instant he sensed trouble? Impossible to know for sure, but he would never have gotten high enough to complete the recovery. And who could guess how it might have worked for us, trying to land on whatever runway was left while Bogie tried to not crash there…

So cutting us loose at the get-go also saved his life!

And that snappy response, did it come from his year of flying low level combat or from crop dusting while in college? Or was it something genetic?

A sea of ‘factors’ refracts forever around each of us like an ocean of mirrors. But one unintended cause is all you need to turn an ordinary day into somebody’s final one. Whoever dropped that pencil stub made it potentially a lethal instrument.

Most pilots these days know what FOD stands for, and it’s not Fussy Old Dude. It’s FOREIGN OBJECT DEBRIS (or any of several other D words). Anything left floating around the cockpit is FOD, whether neglected trash or vital equipment, whether you put it there or have nary a clue. FOD doesn’t need your participation to kill you, only your acquiescence. And the smaller it is the easier it can hide.

Another year, I was finishing up with a one o’clock student when the three o’clock doing an obligatory preflight interrupted our debrief to ask why the stick made the rudder move.

“It doesn’t.”

“But it does,” he assured.

Alright, having landed the bird minutes earlier with no such incongruous behavior, we leaned in to look. Sure enough, when the stick moved the rudder responded. And there was a clunk.

We unscrewed an access panel near the sound and found the little assembly tool we called Lollipop that had long ago gone missing and been replaced. Somehow it found an ideal cranny to hide in through two annual inspections! How many wallops of turbulence, ‘imperfect’ landings and bouncing taxis had it withstood in that time?

Lollipop was still incognito as we rolled to a stop from the prior flight, so what happened while pushing off and parking that impelled it to jump between a bell crank and rudder cable with its business end stuck into a fairlead? Why didn’t that happen months earlier? Why didn’t it happen in flight where Murphy’s Law has fullest effect? Still gives me chills.

Oh there’s more. You familiar with that little hatch behind the aft seat of Grob 103s? It’s where all the important things connect, and is definitely not a storage compartment. Imagine my expression on finding a twenty-pound shot bag in there, lying spread across all the moving parts! Shot bag don’t care.

So here’s a plea for common sense. Clean up after yourself! And while you’re at it don’t stuff the cockpit pouch with everything you own but don’t wanna hold on to. That spawns a FOD nursery and eventually ruins the pouch to boot. If you really want lotsa krapola handy to distract you, consider a fishing vest festooned with pockets. No, seriously. Think of it as a FOD magnet if you like. Sure it looks goofy, so does your hat. Some things are more important.

A fishing vest is comfy enough when you finally wear one – same as a coffin we may suppose. But the vest is still cheaper.