Same time each year my dear mother would always ask what I wanted for my birthday, and I always had the same answer: a clock that runs slower. If she ever found one, she never let on. We’re all familiar with how perception of time accelerates as we age. A month in our forties seems to take no longer than a week in our teens. I recognized this mental foreshortening as a child, when I first heard it described. Now, with even 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 say, “You only get one chance to land.” It’s true of course, but that’s all any able pilot should need. The critical parameter is TIME. Powered aircraft have the luxury of delay, postponing the inevitable until fuel runs out, but gliders are committed to a process that will be finished in a minute or two, ready or not. The groundlubber could more precisely say, “You have only seconds to avoid a wreck.” Therein lies the rub.
When you’re tardy preparing to land, all sorts of garbazhe can begin to pile up, quicker each moment. Delay your checklist a few seconds, then have unexpected difficulty lowering the gear. Futz with that a few seconds and realize you’re out of position to mix with some interloper horning in ahead of you! Hang back a few seconds for safe separation and now you’re low. Fail to push over in sink only a few more seconds, & U. R. DESPERATE, still unsure if the gear is locked and starting to think about those bushes short of the runway. That, naturally, is when you’ll discover a sticky brake handle…
You had X amount of time, which should have been enough, but you squandered it several times under, stumbling further behind with each distraction. Permutations of this debacle are infinite and none work to your advantage. Bet on it.
Any airfield suitable for takeoff is also easy to land on — once you reach it. There should be room to coarsely misjudge your touchdown (near end first, please) and still walk away from nothing worse than deserved embarrassment. That’s if you kept up with the pace of events before, during, and after touchdown. Otherwise reach for your wallet. Or for that hidden handle, if there is one, on the inside of your coffin.
Proficient control of time-limited operations requires being ahead of what happens — and staying there. Anybody should know 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 divergent backgrounds, I’d say no more than half find time for their landing checklist before they’re already on downwind leg… That’s about as smart as signaling for takeoff before you get around to strapping in.
What is that in your wallet?