Some of you may have heard that Brian Bateson and I ditched 2UP in the sea beneath Beachy Head in October, and some may be wondering ‘what did you do that for?’ ‘Didn’t the engine start?’ The full story, and all the lessons to be learnt, should probably wait for the accident investigation report to be completed, but in the mean time here are one or two observations.

Some say cliff soaring is too dangerous, and shouldn’t be attempted. It is certainly extremely hazardous, and should only be done by Qualified Pilots with enough knowledge to assess all the risks involved. Damian has written an article in this edition of the magazine to help start documenting our knowledge such as it is.

Southdown has a historical link to soaring at Beachy Head. In the late 40’s and early 50’s, Southdown Gliding Club was based at Friston Airfield just above the Seven Sisters cliffs, and pilots would come from far and wide to get their silver duration flights on the cliffs in the hot ships of the day such as the Slingsby Tutor which boasted a glide angle of 16:1. In recent decades only a handful of pilots have flown the cliffs and then only infrequently so our collective knowledge of cliff soaring has diminished. Vertical cliffs don’t generate lift as effectively as ridges and small changes in direction or strength can mean large reductions in, or elimination of, lift. Experience gained ridge soaring may not properly prepare you for a cliff sortie. People frequently land out on the ridge when the wind drops or changes direction, or encounter sink. Since you cannot safely land at the bottom of the cliff, or find lift below the cliff top, the operating margins cliff soaring are even thinner than in ridge soaring. being a purist, have always thought it smacked of moral turpitude, so I am not an expert on how to use them, but I will comment on them anyway.

Engines in gliders are becoming more common as people think it’s a good idea to avoid the inconvenience and potential damage of landing in a strange field. I have noticed though, that once purchased, the owner of the new motorised glider spends a lot of time worrying whether it is going to start or not, and very often they don’t. It is quite common to hear of gliders with engines landing out even when not engaged on epic flights, and according to the latest accident statistics, the field landing accident rate shows no sign of diminishing.

So far, use of the engine hasn’t made it into the mainstream gliding instructing syllabus. Perhaps this will change when the majority of gliders have engines. Last year I updated the Green Card Application Form to include a question about how many times you have performed an in-flight engine start during the year. When you need the engine, you need it soon. You don’t have time to get the start sequence wrong, so you need to practice and know your machine. Some engines are easier to start than others, but none of them like being left unused for long periods. The Front End Electric Sustainer with its promise of instant thrust is the ideal, but those that require you to fly at a particular speed, lift the pylon, windmill the prop with the valve lifter up, then bump start the engine require a lot more height. You need to know how long it will take to deploy and start, and how much height you are going to lose in the process, and what kind of climb rate you will be able to achieve. The engine start process needs to be done while you are in circuit for your chosen field as Plan B if the engine doesn’t start is to land in it safely. This makes for a potentially busy and stressful time when it would be easy to fluff an engine start.

Words from our CFI Duncan Stewart