I am more and more convinced that flying in a plane without a functioning engine is a foolhardy enterprise. Nowhere is this more true than in the circuit and landing phase. Most gliding mid-air collisions occur in the circuit and one of the most popular accident categories is ‘landing at own airfield’. The laws of physics draw the glider down to the ground with an inevitability that leaves the pilot with diminishing control over where and when to land, so a disciplined approach to the activity is desirable. Unfortunately, there have been a number of poor airmanship incidents this year in the circuit and landing phase. For example:
Gliders on conflicting circuits meeting head on,
Gliders landing from opposite ends of the field at the same time,
Beat ups after cross-country flights not noticing other traffic,
Underestimating the effect of wind or sink,
Ground runs too close to hazards,
Landing long and stopping in the path of a glider landing from the other end,
Blocking the field and not clearing the glider off the field.
Most of these incidents involve at least one quite experienced glider pilot. It’s probably a case of familiarity breeding contempt. After a successful soaring expedition, ending the flight with a flourish and landing conveniently close to your hangar/car/launch point/friends seems like a good idea. If there is nobody about, this is fine, if judged right, but quite often a glider doing the same thing in the opposite direction is encountered or a launch is held up.
Our small airfield and tall trees on the southern boundary mean that we are unusually fond of taking off to the north even if it is downwind.
In all but a strong northerly tugs return landing to the south as this saves time and avoids flying close to the launch point so risking a rope strike. This can appear somewhat odd to the uninitiated, and probably encourages glider pilots to think that landing direction is a bit of a free-for-all.
The choice of landing direction is the responsibility of the pilot in command of the glider. We would like boring, sensible decisions to be made and conflicts with other traffic and ground obstacles avoided. It should be prioritised thus:
1. Choose a clear area. Never aim at anything unless you want to hit it. Remember gliders are quite wide.
2. Wind direction - land into wind.
3. When there is no obvious wind bias, ie no wind, or directly across the strip, land in the same direction as the prior traffic.
4. Don’t get dazzled by the sun, alter your approach direction so you can see.
5. Land in a convenient place.
6. If you are blocking the field, pull the glider to the side.