I was setting up to land after a double ride, everything pretty much normal — except the spoilers wouldn’t open… Eeek! What to do? Time to employ that oft discussed, yet seldom seen solution, slip to a landing. Except I’d never flown one before, or even seen it done by anyone else…
But I was an instructor, you say. How could that be? Well when I started this journey in the 1970s, things were different. I slid through with so little training, we discussed emergencies once, but never did any actual simulation. Nor was the topic even mentioned during my check ride!
Nevertheless, the inclusion of ‘slip to a landing’ in the Glider Practical Test Standards has made it a hot topic over the years (in some jurisdictions anyway). According to the PTS, the objective is to determine that the applicant:
1. Exhibits knowledge of the elements related to forward, side,
and turning slips to landing, with and without the use of drag
2. Recognizes the situation where a slip should be used to land
in a desired area.
3. Establishes a slip without the use of drag devices.
4. Maintains the desired ground track.
5. Maintains proper approach attitude.
6. Makes smooth, proper, and positive control applications
during recovery from the slip.
7. Touches down smoothly within the designated landing area.
Sounds simple enough, but what do those words really mean? Are you required to bring that slip all the way to the ground with NO drag device, or may you return at some point to straight and level with open spoilers? If your examiner demands the latter, no sweat. Demonstrate a slip same as you would a thousand feet higher, then resume standard configuration and land normally. It’s the former case that can blow the lid off Pandora’s notorious box.
Ask examiners for clarification and they all say, “It’s right there in the book”. Yet personal interpretations of those 76 words – identical for Private and Commercial – have varied widely from one examiner to another. #1 can be completed on the ground, verbally. #2 could be air or ground, but doesn’t necessarily involve physical action. #3-6 are simple and easy, and all of these first six should be within the grasp of any solo student. #7 though, in its strictest interpretation, may lie beyond the capabilities of some beginners. In a Grob 103 for example, a novice without specific training faces one of the most difficult and critical maneuvers in the entire repertoire, potentially consuming several thousand feet of open space, and exposing the aircraft to high risk of damage from PIO or ground loop.
For years, some examiners insisted on the most stringent interpretation (and pocketed extra cash when retesting failed applicants). Now it seems they’ve become more reasonable. Fortunately for the new applicant, a recent decree suggests you only have to show a few seconds of slip somewhere on final approach. That makes the check ride easier, but dismisses the eventual real-life problem of actually getting down and stopped – perhaps in a constricted area – with no brakes whatever.
This procedure, while no longer required, remains one of the most vital to ultimate safety, and you need to know you can perform it when necessary. As with spins, if you haven’t already learned and practiced it, don’t try it the first time solo. Arrange for at least a demonstration with someone you trust, to keep you out of trouble. There are many ways to execute (and teach) no spoiler landings. What we offer here is not the ‘only’ method, but one that works well and helps to limit the risk of unwelcome results.
First, it’s smart to leave spoilers closed but unlocked, with your hand on the lever so you can open them smoothly when the far end does eventually near. Some say modern sailplanes don’t like to slip, but that’s hogwash. Bring in heavy rudder at first, and you can slip some glass ships twice as far sideways as a 2-32 or Blanik. Coming out of that slip just above ground level, though, requires twice the finesse — and if you level out a touch too high you’ll be needing maybe twice as much runway, too.
For transitioning power pilots, you don’t need to hold nose low when slipping a glider. In fact higher is better, up to a point. Gliders usually won’t stall in a slip unless you just haul back, something there’s rarely any call for. Think of it this way: the slower you are the steeper you’ll come down in a headwind, and the faster you are the more energy you’ll need to dump before touchdown. Also, slipping at comparatively high speed unduly stresses fragile T-tails and feels a lot less safe…
Think beforehand about which wing to lower, and for what reason, such as crosswind or direction of pattern. My preference is to start downwind leg in a full slip from the usual location and height, banked toward the landing area, so all you need when turning in is to temporarily relax your opposite rudder. Stay with a smallish but normal pattern.
Whenever it starts to look like you’re too low, just come out of the slip for a moment and you’ll be surprised how quickly you end up high again. (A left-hand pattern to a right crosswind might necessitate changing slip directions while turning final, a hiccup that always seems to result in a higher/steeper approach.) Then any time you’re not low, get right back in the slip. Warning: if you don’t stay with the big fat slip you will not get down in time!
The final phase of a no spoiler landing requires extreme PATIENCE. If it doesn’t look spooky low approaching the threshold, you’re probably still way too high. Stay in the slip until it almost feels like you’ll drag a wingtip, and only then smoothly rudder around to straight and LEVEL… Now comes the hard part: waiting, and waiting in ground effect while those last inches of altitude bleed away. At this point, if you panic and nudge the stick even a smidge, all unholy heck may erupt. Be brave and do nothing! If room ahead does begin to look tight, that’s when to smoooothly ease spoilers out and get on the ground while you still can.
So it’s recommended that you practice (don’t say master!) no spoiler landings, with supervision as necessary. Not to pass a check ride, but because it’s challenging and fun, and confirms that you truly can handle your aircraft near the edge of its envelope. Most importantly, you WILL be needing this esoteric skill some day soon! See you then.