SOMETHING IN RESERVE
In one of the last Soaring Safety Foundation articles written by Billy Singleton he pointed out that 70% of our sailplane accidents occurred on landings. Hence, I decided that my next several articles would be on teaching pilots how to land more safely.
Throughout the traffic pattern there is an acceptable "safe range" of altitudes/angles that will result with the proper use of spoilers in landing at the desired position on the gliderfield/airport/field. I want my students to learn to stay in the upper half of this "safe range" at all times. (This "safe range" changes based on wind conditions. The greater the wind the higher the entire "safe range".) In other words I try to teach students to always keep some altitude "in reserve". I want to have to use spoilers at the end of each leg to get down to the desired altitude or angle. That is, I do not want students to give up their excess altitude too early on each leg, have to close the spoilers, and then try to float to the desired altitude/angle as they reach the end of each leg of the pattern. Rather, I want students to "need" to open the spoilers at least half way in order to get down to the desired altitude/angle as they reach the end of each leg.
I try to emphasize to my students that there are lots of ways to lose altitude if they are too high. However, there is no way to gain altitude if they are too low in the pattern. If students are closing the spoilers in order to get to the desired altitude/angle at the end of each leg of the pattern they are at the bottom of the "safe range". This is bad. This is really bad. It will take only one other adverse variable to put the student below the "safe range". This could be underestimating the wind strength and, thus, flying slower than the best penetration speed resulting in losing excessive altitude. Another possibility is hitting sink in the pattern and again losing more altitude than expected. What I want is something left in my "bag of tricks" to save me if I mess up something else or if I encounter something unexpected. I want something is reserve. In my bag of tricks I want some extra altitude. Then, when I need it I have it. There is an old saying that it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. That is the way I want my students to fly their patterns at all times. Have too much altitude and not need it. It is easy to get rid of it once you are sure you donít need it. Use the spoilers. Slip. No problem.
A game I play when Iím just flying by myself is to try to fly the pattern in such a way that I never have to move the spoiler handle forward. Never! I do this because I want to fly the pattern in such a way that I never get so low as to need to reduce my rate of decent. Anytime you decide to close the spoilers or even push the handle forward you are thinking that you are getting low or that your rate of decent is too great. Thatís not where any of us want to be. We want to always be too high because we have ways to increase our rate of decent. The other thing I try to do is not need to slip on final. This helps me practice my judgement on not being excessively high. Try this concept on each landing you make. It will improve your judgement in the pattern and, therefore, make you a better and safer pilot. Remember the old adage, "Flying is the second most exciting thing known to man, landing is the first". Letís teach landings in such a way that our students have the opportunity to try another one.
Weíve still left one important question unanswered. How much altitude should we add to our pattern on windy days? That is, how much should our "safe range" of altitudes/angles be increased for wind? Next month weíll look at how we should adjust the pattern "safe range" for wind conditions and still be very comfortable that we are not too high to land at the gliderfield.
Fly Safely & Have FUN!!
Bermuda High Soaring