PSC Safety Bulletin July 2017 Flying with Sailplanes
Dear members, many of you may have been on Parlick a few weeks ago when a hot sunny weekend forecast drew dozens of PG pilots and Sailplane pilots from Bowland Forest Gliding Club (BFGC) to Parlick. The forecast was accurate in terns of temperature, but the inversion and high pressure meant soaring conditions were awful, and there was very little chance to get above the hilltop. This led to very crowded flying. Thanks to those members who supplied reports and videos.
I have since had numerous discussions with the senior pilots at BFGC, not just about this particular day but about mixed flying in general. I am impressed by the very disciplined structure that they operate (see below for details), and I am also confident that they take this issue very seriously and deal with any incidents of aggressive or dangerous flying quickly and effectively.
We are working towards developing our already good relationship with BFGC to ensure we continue to enjoy our shared love of flying so look out for more details in future.
Please read carefully the notes below, which are specific to flying Parlick in the company of sailplanes from BFGC. It's also worth refreshing your memory on the characteristics of sailplanes, hang gliders and other air users in general.
Please also let me know if you have any concerns over the behaviour of any pilots of any aircraft; video, photo and witness evidence is particularly useful to help sort these issues out. This example has shown that we can deal with these incidents before they turn into accidents if we approach each other calmly and professionally, looking for solutions rather than blame.
Flying with Sailplanes at Parlick
We nearly always fly with other aircraft - other PGs, hang gliders, models, drones and sailplanes. Each has its own characteristics, and it is each pilot’s responsibility to understand these and fly their own aircraft appropriately. The rules of the air are clearly defined in your training syllabus.
Sailplanes fly much faster than us, they are bigger and heavier. Their exceptional glide means that they maintain altitude in very light lift and can explore the terrain well away from the hill. However in poor thermal conditions, they suffer the same problems as we do - needing to use the dynamic lift close to the hill. On busy days, this causes problems for them and us.
Approach: BFGC rules state a minimum of 700’ QFE Chipping or 1300’ QNH (you do know what these letters mean, don’t you?) This means a sailplane may be low if they fail to find lift after release from the tow. It will be approaching at high speed (60+ kt) towards that part of the hill closest to them - the SW or SE ‘noses’ on either side of the S face. A PG launching from these locations presents a serious hazard, as it is likely to be launching into lift; from the sailplane pilot’s point of view they are closing at high speed, low and with little room for manoeuvre. Be aware of this, and make looking towards the glider field part of your pre-launch observation check.
Circling: The BFGC rule is no circling below 500’ above the hill top: this means that they should be flying an S or figure-8 pattern until above this height. You need to be aware of this pattern and anticipate likely courses of action; even if a sailplane finds lift near the bowl, it will have to continue S-turning until high enough.
Choke points: these can occur in marginal soaring conditions where a glider may be low on Fairsnape (or beyond Wolf Crag in the East) and turn back to find several PGs at a similar height. They may face the difficult choice of threading their way through them or going across the bowl, possibly back to their field, at less than optimal height - both stressful courses of action.
Who is in the air?
BFGC operate a card system where the Duty Instructor on the day takes the first flight to assess conditions. Following this, limitations are placed on where pilots may fly, depending on their experience. There is always a duty instructor in charge of flying. Conditions assessed, as well as wind, thermal strength, turbulence etc, include the presence, number and location of paragliders on the hill. This means that less-experienced sailplane pilots may be excluded from the hill in marginal conditions or crowded situations. They may also restrict their flying to remaining out in the valley.
Pilots flying sailplanes in the ‘bowls’ at Parlick are either very experienced or under instruction. They are not allowed to fly in these places, or with PGs in the air until they have received appropriate training and been signed off by the CFI.
What are the main hazards?
Relative speeds: are significant: a PG can appear stationary to a sailplane pilot, and to us they look like fighter planes. Less experienced PG pilots can find this intimidating, so it is best to get used to this gradually: take short flights while sailplanes are in the air; watch them flying while on the ground and get used to what they do. With experience, you will get used to it and start to enjoy flying with them, appreciating their skills. Thermalling together can be a joy with the PG turning much more tightly, so the sailplane with its higher speed stays further out on opposite sides of their respective circles.
Visibility: We both have blind spots: The wing blocks our view immediately above, while Sailplanes are restricted looking down. Be aware of this.
Communication: it is frightening if you think the other pilot hasn’t seen you. Making an exaggerated turn of your head towards the other pilot or giving a wave is very reassuring.
Turbulence: a fast-moving aircraft leaves vortices trailing behind which could disturb our canopies. My personal experience is that I have never noticed this but it is a potential hazard.
Safety Officer PSC