THE WAVE-OFF SIGNAL
The “Wave-Off” signal from the tow plane to the sailplane has been around for many years. It, of course, means that the sailplane is to release immediately. Ask any sailplane pilot what it means and you, in all likelihood, will get the correct answer. Now ask what they are going to do after they release and again you will get 95% of the responses the same. Turn right. Unfortunately, that’s wrong. Sailplane pilots are taught to normally turn right after release. However, a wave off is not a normal situation. A wave off is most often associated with the fact that something is not right with the tow plane, i.e. a tow plane emergency. (Another situation might be that you are getting too close to the clouds.)
Now for a moment you be a tow pilot. You begin a tow and everything is fine. You begin your first turn off the end of the runway and that turn for today is to the right, maybe because of the wind or for some other reason. Now you continue your turn until you are now parallel to the runway. That is, the runway is on your right. BANG! You blow a cylinder. What are you going to do? Turn right toward the runway or turn left away from the runway. A no brainer, huh? But wait. What’s that crazy sailplane pilot doing? He is also turning right. With luck maybe you won’t run into each other. See the problem.
So how should the sailplane pilot react to a wave off? First and foremost, release immediately. Then fly straight ahead until you see which way the tow plane is going. You don’t necessarily have to turn in the opposite direction but rather just make sure that the tow plane has first option as to the direction of the turn and then you, after making sure that you are clear of the tow plane and tow rope, may decide to go in either direction that is the best for you.
This concept should be taught certainly during the initial training period. Another good time to explain this procedure is during a FAA required “Flight Review.” This is the time when we can present new ideas to those pilots who already have their glider certificates. On a flight review I always give both a “wave off” and a “rudder waggle.” I give the “rudder waggle” first. Try this. You will be surprised how many of the “old pilots” release on the rudder waggle. This gives the instructor another opportunity to help those who have been in the sport for a while (my definition of “old pilot”) a chance to review this relatively new signal and get firmly in their minds the difference between the wave off and the rudder waggle.
Remember, the wave off is not “normal.” Therefore, “normal” procedures may not be the best reaction.
Fly Safely and Have FUN!