Launching Emergencies

By
Thomas Knauff

Fatal launching accidents account for approximately 20% and landing accidents about 65% of the total.

There is a fundamental difference between these two scenarios because landing accidents most often involve a single person. Before a launching accident, there are several people involved.

This article will review causes of launching accidents, how to avoid them, and what to do in case you experience one of the many scenarios.

Accident statistics reveal glider flying is dangerous.

One of the ironies is the kind of people who fly gliders. They tend to be of above average intelligence, well educated, with above normal income.

Unlike the typical automobile accident statistic, glider pilots are not dying because of alcohol, teenage invulnerability, late Saturday night partying, or falling asleep at the wheel. These things dominate the horrific highway statistics.

On the other hand, if you fly gliders, statistics reveal you are more likely to die flying gliders than all other forms of accidental death. (The bad news.)

The following table from the National Safety Council gives the odds of dying in one year due to the manner of injury. For example, referring to the first line of the table below:

The odds of dying from an injury in 1999 were 1 in 1,805.

ACCIDENTAL DEATH

National Safety Council

WWW.NSC.ORG

The good news is the answers to glider accidental deaths are well known.

Unfortunately, no one knows how to make glider pilots do what is necessary to fly safely.

There are a lot of people trying to make flying gliders safer. The SSA, SSF, FAA, NTSB, AOPA and others have developed numerous programs, lectures, seminars, pamphlets, articles, etc. In the case of gliders there is no evidence any of these efforts have had any impact.

Several years ago, Bruno Gatenbrink said that he personally knew no one who had died as the result of non-gliding accidental death but he knew personally several glider pilots who had died as the result of a glider accident.

For me it is the same. I do not personally know anyone who has died in any accident other than in gliders.

Glider fatalities have occurred each year at an extremely high per-member rate, which has not decreased despite the efforts by many. NTSB statistics are available at:

www.ntsb.gov/NTSB/query.asp

USA GLIDER FATALITIES

20 years

134 Fatalities

6.7 per year

Many people consider the automobile fatality rate as the worst of all accidental death statistics. Almost every day, our local newspaper reports a fatal traffic accident.

Comparing automobile fatality rates by dividing the number of fatalities into the population and comparing in a similar fashion, glider fatalities divided into the number of SSA members, reveals flying gliders is almost three times worse than driving automobiles!

STATISTICS

©Tom Knauff

Flying gliders is dangerous.

Fortunately, it is known why gliding accidents occur, and we know how to greatly reduce the risks.

We do not know how to make each pilot (you) do what is necessary to fly safely.

Studies show the fundamental problem is pilots lack of knowledge.

Flying gliders is especially unforgiving of ignorance, errors or foolish behavior.

Alexander Pope, (1688-1744) said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.”

Testing of licensed glider pilots show few have the basic knowledge to allow them to fly safely.

Garrison Keillor says, “Just as going to church won’t make you religious, sleeping in your garage won’t make you a race car driver.”

Being a high time, very experienced glider pilot won’t make you fly safely, or exempt you from a serious accident.

Knowledge is one of, if not the most important, key to safe flying.

Knowledge

Skills

Experience

Judgment

THE LEARNING PYRAMID

©Tom Knauff

The FAA’s “Learning Pyramid” foundation is built upon thousands of blocks of knowledge. Missing one or a few of these important blocks makes the entire pyramid unstable.

Focusing on Launching Emergencies

Focusing on launching emergencies can have the desirable side effect of reducing accidents in landings as well as other high-risk areas of glider flying. Creating a safe mental attitude, getting others involved in safety of flight environment, and educating pilots, flight crews, and even bystanders can have a profound effect on flight safety.

Launching has easily identifiable risks. Injuries should rarely occur and deaths are absolutely avoidable.

Pilots should expect things to go wrong and have a plan of action when things go wrong.

The odds are 50/50 of something bad happening on each launch. Either it will or it won’t!

With this attitude, a pilot would be alert to something happening, and execute the plan of action immediately.

What can go wrong?

A group of experienced pilots was asked this question and most wrote down 8 to 10 possibilities. Most pilots will probably think of a similar number. Here is a list we thought of:

TAKEOFF EMERGENCIES

  1. Rope Break.
  2. Canopy not latched.
  3. A control not connected.
  4. Wing drop (ground loop).
  5. Air brakes opening.
  6. Flaps in wrong position.
  7. Tow plane power failure.
  8. Tow speed too slow or fast.
  9. Being towed too far downwind.
  10. Controls hooked up backwards.
  11. Tire blow out.
  12. Tow rope will not release.
  13. Glider becomes too high.
  14. Someone moves onto runway.
  15. Tow rope catches on something at beginning of launch.
  16. Slack rope / rope wrapping around glider.
  17. Improperly installed component.
  18. PIO.
  19. Frozen controls.
  20. Turbulence.
  21. IMC
  22. Inability to recover from low tow position.
  23. Knot in rope.
  24. Over running the tow rope.
  25. Traffic conflict / mid-air collision.
  26. Wing runner error.
  27. Airspeed indicator not working.
  28. Altimeter not adjusted properly.
  29. Tail chute opens.
  30. Water ballast disconnects and spills into cockpit.
  31. Snake / Bee / Wasp in cockpit.
  32. Unbalanced ballast in wings.
  33. Seat belts undone.
  34. Pitot / Static ports clogged.
  35. Smoke in cockpit.
  36. Panicky passenger.
  37. Pillows / seat ballast moves
  38. Controls restricted (control locks, rudder pedals too far forward.)
  39. Tail dolly on.
  40. Canopy fogs up.
  41. CG out of limits – maybe due to water or ice collected in the tail

Number 42 would be, “Anything I didn’t think of.”

How many of these can be attributed to an improper assembly, improper preflight inspection or improperly conducted pre-takeoff checklist? About half.

How many could be prevented by a trained observer, wing runner, tow pilot or observant bystander? Again, about half.

Very few accidents occur when a flight instructor is in the glider. Why? Because there is someone who knows proper procedures and enforces good practices and intently watches for errors.

Each of us participating as pilot, wing runner, tow pilot or bystander can play a role by simply being observant and watching for proper practices and errors.

Many accidents occur because the pilot did not assemble the glider properly. The Critical Assembly Check has become common practice. After assembly, the pilot has another person check to see if the glider was assembled properly.

Wing runners can be trained to look for common error items such as the tail dolly being removed, dive brakes locked, flaps set in an appropriate position, canopy closed and locked, asking the pilot if a positive control check was accomplished, condition of the tow rope, obstructions in the tow path and conflicting traffic. The wing runner can even be trained to observe the towplane for evidence of oil leaks, flat tire, control locks installed, fuel filler caps on.

An important role for the wing runner is to keep distractions from occurring while the pilot is performing the pre-takeoff checklist. Other people should be kept away and be made to be quiet.

Everyone needs to be involved in safe flight operations.

The Emergency

During the launch, a pilot might perceive some anomaly. There is a strong temptation to do nothing because of the fear of embarrassment.

A pilot might have a macho reaction, believing they can handle the emergency.

Or, perhaps a pilot might have a resignation reaction believing there is nothing that can be done.

A recent accident where a pilot failed to assemble his glider properly resulted in the towplane pulling the glider nearly 2,600 feet on the ground before the glider (CG tow hook,) was literally pulled into the air by the towplane, just 400 feet from the end of the runway.

The elevator was installed in such a fashion there was not enough elevator control to make the glider take off on its own. The pilot must have had the elevator in the full aft position - far further aft than normal and must have perceived there was something very wrong, but did not release.

After the glider was pulled into the air by the towplane, without elevator control, the glider crashed and the pilot died. The only reason the tow pilot was also not killed was due to a legal strength tow rope, which broke.

This pilot had help assembling his glider. He actually did an improper positive control check. Several people could have noticed the peculiar elevator position if they had only looked.

Plans of Action

Pilots must have a prepared plan of action for any emergency.

In most cases, there are three plans of action depending on the phase of flight.

Plan of Action One:

There remains lots of runway ahead.

The plan of action when a problem is perceived very early in the launch is to simply release and land straight ahead. Care must be taken to stop the glider in a controlled fashion. There is a very strong tendency to continue the launch rather than releasing, and investigating the problem.

Plan of Action Two:

The glider is too high to land on the remaining runway.

This plan of action will be to land in a suitable area planned in advance in anticipation of a possible problem. This might include an intersecting runway, farmer’s field or even a planned, controlled crash into a tree row, lake or whatever. Done properly, injuries should be minimal if any.

Plan of Action Three:

The glider is high enough to return to the runway.

Performing a 180 degree turn back to the runway should be practiced at least every year.

The minimum altitude should be planned before launch considering wind, glider, tow plane performance, terrain, available emergency landing areas, etc., and this minimum altitude noted aloud as the glider passes through the critical altitude.

The Left Hand

Glider pilots fly with their right hand. The left hand is ready for three or four possibilities:

1. Ready to pull the release knob. General practice is to have the left hand near, but not on the release knob during the first phases of flight in case of an emergency.

2. Ready to close the dive brakes in case they are not locked before the launch commences, or accidentally open because of a rough runway surface.

3. Ready to grab the canopy in case it opens in flight. There is often a very slight warning before the canopy suddenly opens. An alert pilot might grab the canopy or press on the appropriate rudder to side-slip the glider through the air keeping the canopy closed. If it does open, no attempt should be made to close it until after reaching a normal tow height.

4. Moving the flap handle in case the flaps are placed in, or inadvertently move to, an incorrect setting.

AVOIDING PT3 ACCIDENT AVOIDING PT3 ACCIDENT

Expect the emergency.

Have a plan of action.

React instantly.

Get the nose down to a flying attitude.

© Tom Knauff

When the glider is more than a few feet above the ground, it will almost always be necessary to lower the nose to a normal gliding attitude to maintain airspeed and avoid a stall. A stall from even a few feet above the ground can result in serious damage.

Being prepared means having a plan of action for each phase of flight. Upon reaching the critical altitude where it is safe to perform a 180-degree turn back to the runway, it is very important to announce this critical altitude aloud. Some pilots announce “200 feet” others say “Decision point.” In either case, this minimum altitude must be determined before the launch begins considering all conditions.

Pilots need to practice this low altitude emergency each year during biennial flight reviews and club check rides.

200 FEET PLAN OF ACTI200 FEET PLAN OF ACTION

1. Lower Nose to Gliding Attitude

2. Initiate turn (Usually into wind.)

3. Keep Yaw String Straight!

4. Establish Adequate Bank Angle.

5. Constantly Monitor Pitch Attitude

and Yaw String Throughout Turn.

© Tom Knauff

The tow pilot can help.

Most tows proceed along the centerline of the runway. If an emergency occurs, the glider pilot must perform more than a 180 degree turn followed by a reversing turn to align with the runway.

NORMAL TOW

X

Wind

© Tom Knauff

If the tow pilot would simply allow the tow to drift downwind off the centerline of the runway, the glider would only need to make a safer, 180 degree turn.

A BETTER WAY

x

Wind

© Tom Knauff

What we did at Ridge Soaring Gliderport

After the recent launching fatality where all the pilot had to do was release when it was obvious something was wrong, I began to worry about the pilots who fly at our gliderport. A little introspection led me to believe many of them would have responded the same way. I wanted to know if each and every one of them recognized the risks and had specific plans of action when an emergency occurred.

Every pilot must read a “Takeoff Emergency Procedure” document before flying at our gliderport. It basically reviews the possible emergencies when launching from our gliderport and suggests the three common plans of action.

After reading this document, they sign a sheet.

They then have a briefing with one of our CFI’s who basically asks, “What is your plan of action in case of a launching emergency?” The CFI makes an entry in their logbook when they have had this emergency plan briefing.

We further make it clear we expect everyone to be involved in the safety of flight operations at our gliderport. Everyone is expected to be quiet while a pilot is assembling their glider, doing their preflight inspection or their pre-takeoff checklist.

We now see pilots telling others not to be making distractions, casually looking at other’s gliders after assembly, and doing a much more professional job as wing runners. They are helping us all be safer.

Take More Time

How much extra time is needed to do a proper preflight?

How much time to do a proper pre-takeoff checklist?

How much time to ask if someone has performed a Positive Control Check?

We take time to have lunch, take time for a coffee break; take time for numerous things during the day. Taking a little extra time to perform a proper preflight inspection, proper pre-takeoff checklist, and perform a positive control check can make the difference between life and death.

Being prepared for a possible emergency during the launch can also affect the safety of flight because of a fundamental change in attitude. Procedures and attitudes during launch can even affect landing accidents, mid-airs, etc. It can make all of us think and act in a safer manner.

This presentation was given at the 2003 SSA convention and an FAA Safety Seminar in Lakeland, Florida. A VHS video is available. For a copy ($20 plus shipping) contact Knauff & Grove Soaring Supplies at tknauff@earthlink.net or www.eglider.org

Further glider emergencies are covered in a new booklet, “Glider Emergency Procedures.” They can also be found in “After Solo” or “Transition To Gliders” by Thomas Knauff

© Tom Knauff

When the glider is more than a few feet above the ground, it will almost always be

necessary to lower the nose to a normal gliding attitude to maintain airspeed and avoid a

stall. A stall from even a few feet above the ground can result in serious damage.

Being prepared means having a plan of action for each phase of flight. Upon reaching the

critical altitude where it is safe to perform a 180-degree turn back to the runway, it is very

important to announce this critical altitude aloud. Some pilots announce “200 feet” others

say “Decision point.” In either case, this minimum altitude must be determined before the

launch begins considering all conditions.

Pilots need to practice this low altitude emergency each year during biennial flight

reviews and club check rides.

200 FEET PLAN OF ACTI200 FEET PLAN OF ACTION

1. Lower Nose to Gliding Attitude

2. Initiate turn (Usually into wind.)

3. Keep Yaw String Straight!

4. Establish Adequate Bank Angle.

5. Constantly Monitor Pitch Attitude

and Yaw String Throughout Turn.

© Tom Knauff

The tow pilot can help.

Most tows proceed along the centerline of the runway. If an emergency occurs, the glider

pilot must perform more than a 180 degree turn followed by a reversing turn to align with

the runway.

NORMAL TOW

X

Wind

© Tom Knauff

If the tow pilot would simply allow the tow to drift downwind off the centerline of the

runway, the glider would only need to make a safer, 180 degree turn.

A BETTER WAY

x

Wind

© Tom Knauff

What we did at Ridge Soaring Gliderport

After the recent launching fatality where all the pilot had to do was release when it was

obvious something was wrong, I began to worry about the pilots who fly at our

gliderport. A little introspection led me to believe many of them would have responded

the same way. I wanted to know if each and every one of them recognized the risks and

had specific plans of action when an emergency occurred.

Every pilot must read a “Takeoff Emergency Procedure” document before flying at our

gliderport. It basically reviews the possible emergencies when launching from our

gliderport and suggests the three common plans of action.

After reading this document, they sign a sheet.

They then have a briefing with one of our CFI’s who basically asks, “What is your plan

of action in case of a launching emergency?” The CFI makes an entry in their logbook

when they have had this emergency plan briefing.

We further make it clear we expect everyone to be involved in the safety of flight

operations at our gliderport. Everyone is expected to be quiet while a pilot is assembling

their glider, doing their preflight inspection or their pre-takeoff checklist.

We now see pilots telling others not to be making distractions, casually looking at other’s

gliders after assembly, and doing a much more professional job as wing runners. They are

helping us all be safer.

Take More Time

How much extra time is needed

to do a proper preflight?

How much time to do a proper

pre-takeoff checklist?

How much time to ask if someone has

performed a Positive Control Check?

We take time to have lunch, take time for a coffee break; take time for numerous things

during the day. Taking a little extra time to perform a proper preflight inspection, proper

pre-takeoff checklist, and perform a positive control check can make the difference

between life and death.

Being prepared for a possible emergency during the launch can also affect the safety of

flight because of a fundamental change in attitude. Procedures and attitudes during

launch can even affect landing accidents, mid-airs, etc. It can make all of us think and act

in a safer manner.

This presentation was given at the 2003 SSA convention and an FAA Safety Seminar in

Lakeland, Florida. A VHS video is available. For a copy ($20 plus shipping) contact

Knauff & Grove Soaring Supplies at tknauff@earthlink.net or www.eglider.org

Further glider emergencies are covered in a new booklet, “Glider Emergency

Procedures.” They can also be found in “After Solo” or “Transition To Gliders” by

Thomas Knauff