A tragedy happened in the northeast this past October.  A lady who was at a glider port for a sailplane ride was killed.  The sailplane pilot as of this writing is still in serious condition, and the tow pilot was also hurt.  Both the tow plane, an L19, and the sailplane, a GROB 103 were destroyed.  The accident occurred on take off.  The rear canopy of the GROB 103 came open.  The sailplane pilot became preoccupied with the canopy, got high, continued to try to close the canopy, got higher and finally drove the tow plane into the ground.  The tow plane flipped over on its back.  The GROB then rolled over and went into the ground at an estimated 30 degrees past vertical. The one thing for sure is that the sailplane pilot did not keep his priorities in order.  We have all hopefully been taught to FLY THE SAILPLANE no matter what else is going on.  The other vary probable pilot mistake is that he did not do his checklist properly.  Remember, the vast majority of accidents happen because of a series of mistakes not just one. 


We can “Monday morning quarterback” all we want but it will not change what happened.  I’m writing about it in the hopes that we can learn from this horrible tragedy.  As an instructor I say to all students “fly the sailplane” no matter what else is happening.  But how do we really teach or evaluate how a student will react to a true emergency?  Sure we do rope breaks and wave offs.  But is that enough?


A friend who will go unnamed was talking with me about this accident and training students to handle emergency situation.  He is not an instructor but is one hell of a pilot.  He recommended that to see how a student might react to a panic situation that I carry a live snake and throw it into the student’s lap at a critical time of flight.  While the idea would certainly evaluate the student’s ability to “fly the sailplane” under adverse conditions I fear I would lose at least half of my students who would simply jump through the canopy and never be seen again.  While this may seem a little humorous the point is indeed a valid one.  I don’t know that I have any good answers to this problem.  Each of us reacts differently in extreme circumstances. 


As flight instructors how do you evaluate a student’s ability to “fly the sailplane” no matter what?


As students what ideas do you have to help instructors evaluate your flying reactions under adverse conditions?


I’m looking for ideas to improve my teaching and that of other flight instructors who read this column.  Send me your thoughts and ideas.  I’ll consolidate them and report back to you in a later article.


My one closing thought is that each of us must continually remind ourselves and our students to “FLY THE SAILPLANE” no matter what else is happening.  Additionally we must evaluate the options for a given situation, choose the best one and then “make it happen”.


Fly Safely,



Frank Reid


Send your comments or articles for the Instructors’ Corner to: Frank Reid, P.O. Box 1510, Lancaster, SC 29721