How many of us (CFIGs) tell our students that 200 feet above the ground is the lowest altitude that we may attempt a 180-degree turn back to the field?  Most of us in all likelihood.  Most of us even have the student call out “200 feet” when we reach that point on tow.  Then sometime during training we give the student two, maybe three, 200-foot rope breaks.  Certainly the student needs to see this emergency procedure to both convince himself that he can handle it and that the sailplane does indeed have the aerodynamic capability of doing this low level turn.  However, if we stop there we have not completed the needed training.  We need to get across to the student the fact that there are times when turning back to the field at 200 feet or even 300 feet will not make for a safe landing at the airstrip.  How many of us have heard the stories of instructors automatically pulling the release at 200 feet only to find that the field is too far away to get back?  Or the reverse side of the problem – the student turns back to the airstrip and even with full spoilers and full slip flies through the field and lands (crashes) beyond the airstrip.  If you haven’t heard or, even worse, seen one of these scenarios you are lucky.  The point here is really quite simple.  We must factor into all training the concept of “situational awareness”.   Most students never see the situation of not having a good safe option at 200 feet because you, the instructors, are not going to give a rope break when you don’t think you can safely get back to the field.  However, this concept needs to be discussed in detail so that the students do not think that it is automatic – 200 feet, rope break, turn into the wind, land.  It sometimes is just impossible to make it happen at 200 feet.  With many operations using Pawnees and with a moderate wind the sailplane gets to 200 feet too quickly leaving not enough runway behind you to land on after the 180-degree turn.  I certainly have had days where I planned to give a 200 foot rope break and just didn’t do it because I didn’t like where we were when we arrived at 200 feet.  That’s situational awareness.  If we don’t discuss this with the students then we’re not sharing all that we should.  Think about it and then make sure your students have not memorized automatically to turn back to the field.  It really just depends on how we ask the student a rope break question.  I used to ask, “What is the lowest altitude at which you can attempt a 180 and land downwind?”  Now I ask, “What are our options if the rope breaks at 200 feet?”  If the only answer I get is “Make a 180” then I know I have more teaching to do to make my student as safe as possible.


Fly Safely and Have FUN!


Frank Reid

Bermuda High Soaring