THIS REALLY HAPPENED

Jay, a savvy pre-solo student, completed his standard launch protocols by stiff-arming the brake handle exactly as he was taught. Then, when the rudder didn’t wag I supposed he was just over eager and did that for him.

Several times in those next few seconds I could have added a touch of something, but never quite needed to as we veered one way and gradually back, wings almost level, bird finally lifting off by itself the way it should. I remember thinking, ‘He’s usually sharper than this.’

Then fifty feet up, one wing dropped and we swung out to that side. I cringed as remaining runway neared zero, watching for Jay’s response. All he did was tilt his head square with the horizon. Only as I intervened did he blurt, “Uh, you’re flying it, right?”

“I wasn’t, but I am now,” we both said at once… and arm wrestling didn’t work much better.

Jay thought my pedal wag indicated exchange of control and dutifully let go the moment we began. From there on, each deferred to the other and both went along for the ride — a thousand feet forward and a full wingspan into the air with no one in command!

Easy on the kid, I told myself. Not his fault, it’s mine for butting in with the rudder wag.

Someone watching said even our wing drop looked fairly normal, given the context, and wondered only why my correction was so awkward. No harm in the end, and everyone got a smile out of it…

But it’s really not funny, is it?

As the CFIG solely accountable for whatever might happen, I’d like to think my response was at least timely enough. But imagine the same scenario for two casual pilots, each trusting the other with both their lives. How long might either wait to question what neither is doing, and how deft the recovery when both get a grip at the same time? Could get sticky!

The tandem configuration of glider cockpits naturally invites such confusion, but it’s still preventable, and in more than one way. The gold standard is “I have control” or “You have control”, or some verbal equivalent. Also common, a quick jiggle of the stick when control is being transferred frequently. But communication of any kind requires agreement on what things mean, or don’t mean.

Also, someone should be already in control…

Many seasoned pilots can tell of similar embarrassments and most of their stories seem to end well. Maybe that’s because those that didn’t end well don’t get told. Nothing is more important at any time of flight than knowing who actually has the con, and no time is more critical than launch! Otherwise it’s Russian roulette with no empty chambers.