Breaking Your Glider is OK

I wanted to comment on a thought provoking Facebook post from Bo Christensen.

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In my defence: I didn’t choose this field. It was chosen for me by the towplane suffering engine problems at low altitude. Bummer of a day.

Later notes the damage….

Cracked winglet, bent main pin, minor crack in fuselage, couple of ribs loose in the rear fuselage. All reparable, and back flying.

Worst damage was major psychological trauma to my co-owner, who had some vacation time planned for right after this :).

Granted that this was a Libelle (lightly built ship) and that the fellow had little choice in the matter. But I think it is a good reminder to pay attention to the surface and the crops when you do have time to assess your options. Avoid landing in crop if at all possible.

If you do have to land in high hay, wheat or god-forbid, corn, you WILL ground loop. The strategy becomes a matter of mitigation. Make every effort to land into the wind to minimize ground speed. Level out just above the crop. Keep pulling the stick back until you gently stall the glider in. Once you land, push the stick forward to keep the tail off the ground.

If you do that, you have a very good chance of not breaking anything. You will still ground loop, but by the time the wing comes down and the glider starts rotating, you will have so little energy by the time the rotation starts that the glider can handle it.

Bo did a good job… a Libelle is just especially lightly built so it is much more likely to be damaged in such a situation.

There’s a second element to the story worth emphasizing. Yeah, the damage was unfortunate. But notice that the cockpit was perfectly fine. As the saying goes, a good landing is one you walk away from! And ultimately, everything worked out; the glider was fixed and is flying again.

He didn’t attempt a low turn back to the airport. He simply accepted his fate and did the best he could.

Overwhelmingly, the way people get hurt or killed in this sport is due to poor approach planning and/or stall/spins in the pattern. You are very unlikely to hurt yourself in a controlled, low-energy situation in a field. On the other hand, if you take the chance and go for the low turn back to the airport, attempt digging out low from a field, or mess up the approach into a field due to poor or late approach planning, then you are putting yourself at serious risk of getting hurt or killed.

Put yourself in Bo’s situation and visualize the outcome. Given the alternatives, I hope you realize that this was the best way to end a flight. And if you find yourself in a similar predicament, that you make the same, right decision; execute a safe landing instead of taking a chance that maybe minimizes the risk of damage to the glider. Gliders can be fixed or even replaced. You are irreplaceable.

3 Replies to “Breaking Your Glider is OK”

  1. Which pattern was flown by the tow pilot ? It seams as if a safe landing option was not planned for in case of an engine failure or rope break ? Too often at various locations all around the world do I see tow pilots not giving this type of an emergency a consideration …


    1. Completely granted regarding emergency planning. Many don’t give consideration to a premature termination of tow and don’t have a good plan. That said, I think most of us would be willing to accept the chance Bo did. Otherwise, we are precluding ourselves from flying many of the summer months because the fields near our airport are in crop. But honestly, my point is not to dissect Bo’s situation. My point is that if you are in a bad situation, accept the outcome and do the best you can. Make every effort to avoid those situations through planning and judgment. But don’t take a bad situation where you might damage the glider and make it worse by taking a chance of hurting yourself.


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