How to deal with tight landings in grotty places
The perfect landing goes something like this - a wide, grassy field with a gentle breeze tugging the windsock towards you, you flare at the perfect height, and land on the spot, smiling at the cute BBC reporter. The advanced pilots, oh revered SkyGods, make it look so easy, always gently touching down, exactly where they want to, not a blade of grass upset. But what happens when it all goes horribly wrong, and you are in the pilot's seat? When the field isn't there, you're being hammered by turbulence behind the trees, and your glider has just decided to quit flying?
1. Checking out the lay of the land
Its a pretty basic idea, I'll admit, but often it is neglected in the excitement of finally finding a flyable hill - visit your landing field before flying. By placing a windsock in the field you can reduce the elements which can go wrong - at least you will know the wind direction. On warm, thermic days the wind is especially variable. I have ploughed a good section of field with my nose when a dustdevil switched the wind 180degrees on final approach. A windsock would have spared the field injury
2. Always have a little bit on the side
If the Sink Monster (massive collumn of descending air) decides to send you to the earth in a hurry, do you have a 'plan B'? No matter how desperate, an emergency landing area (within very easy glide) tucked into your flight plan is a must. Evaluate your approach to both fields (primary and emergency) while you are flying, so when the brown stuff hits the whirly thing you've got one less thing to think about
3. Small field, big ears
To land in the little grass field in the middle of the forest of tall pine trees, a variation of the normal landing setup may be needed. The challenge is that your glide angle is too shallow - even approaching the field from the downwind edge with your feet clipping the tree-tops, you are going to overshoot the field and fly into the forest on the far side.
Tucking your wingtips in (big-ears) will make your glide angle steeper. Tuck them before your final approach, maybe one hundred feet above the trees. Use weight shift to steer the glider into your normal landing pattern and approach, S-ing off your height on the downwind side of the field, and coming in on a final glide. You may want to do a final S-turn below the height of the trees if they are very high, to lose as much height as possible.
4. Shear flying terror
Because the field is surrounded by trees, there will be a shear layer (interface between two wind-systems) which your glider will pass through. Turbulence may try to collapse your wing, although with big-ears in, you are unlikely to experience wingtucks due to the high internal cell-pressure. What you do have to be careful of is a stall, because of the high angle of attack. Be ready to tramp on your speedbar if you feel the stall pulling the wing back and the lift breaking away. It is important not to pull the brakes too much as you pass through the shear into the wind shadow below. The glider has to increase its airspeed to maintain aerodynamic function, and even '1/2 brakes' will slow the wing to stall point. Allow the glider to dive if you have enough height to do so. Once the glider has levelled out, you will find you glide a long way because you are sheltered from the wind. This often means gliding off the field and into the trees, so keep the big-ears on and only flare them out on the final landing flare, one metre above the ground. It is better to have a hard landing (softened with a Parachute Landing Fall), than to overshoot the field and fly into the trunk of the trees. Besides, you'll get the nickname 'Woody Woodpecker'. Unbearable.
5. Italian Butterfly
I call it the Italian butterfly because this is where I first really needed this technique. Flying around Lake Como, you're often crossing large areas of houses with limited landing areas. We had just sunk out on a task on a tandem glider, and were forced to fly down a little street, turn left at the end, and put down in a small, small field. All looked good until the last second, when I spotted telephone lines circling the field. There was hardly any wind, and even with big ears tucked we were going to dangle from the 'phone line. So I 'butterfly-ed' the glider in. Pull the brakes to 3/4 on both sides, then release quickly, and just as quickly re-apply the brakes to 3/4 continuing in a rhythmical, flapping motion. The 'flaps' are about one second apart. The benefits of the Butterfly technique is that you can cause an almost vertical descent. The danger is that if you hold the deep brake for too long, you can stall the wing. You are close to the ground. So here's a tip you can use for every crash landing - assume the Parachute Landing Fall position before you even get close to the ground. Legs together and pointing down, knees slightly bent, legs turned 45degrees off the direction of motion. Landing gear is down - one less thing to worry about.
When you realise that you are going to land in a tree do not panic. Remember to close your legs! Aim for the densest part of the tree. Flare (pull brakes) about 2 metres before the tree and simply stand into it. Be careful not to flare too early, as you will fall through the weak outer branches - you want to get to the centre part of the tree. Your chances of injury will then be greatly reduced. Secure yourself to the tree as soon as possible, remembering to get the glider under control, as it can re-inflate in the wind and pull you from the branches. If you're flying around lots of trees, essential equipment is a long, thin piece of cord (to haul up a rescue rope) and a wire-saw to cut your glider out of obstinate branches.
7. Wet 'n wild
Firstly - stay away from water. It is safer to land on rocks rather than in shallow surf. However, if a water landing is inevitable, undo your legstraps (if you have the time). Land as normal with a big flare to ensure the glider and all its lines do not envelope you. Once the legstraps of your harness are undone, you can slip out of the bottom of your harness and swim clear of the lines and glider. If there is a high risk of water landings at the site you choose to fly, always carry a hook-knife on your harness so that you can cut yourself out of a tangle in the water.
8. Nasty surprises
The danger with weird obstacles is often that pilots change their landing technique, and land with a tight turn near the ground, or with a huge pendulum as they brake to avoid something which looks unfriendly. If you have to land in a bad area like a junkyard, treat it just as you would a normal landing. Pick a clear spot, or the object which you are going to hit, set up with a normal approach, come in cleanly and fast on your final glide, flare properly at the normal height. Even in zero wind conditions, a proper landing flare will bring your craft almost to a stop. It is easier to land on the obstacles with a slow, straight momentum than with a body that is swinging to avoid every object along the way.
9. Target fixation
The recent tragic tale of a competent pilot in the USA who crashed into a 5foot wide water channel and drowned says it all. Unless you consciously choose a safer landing spot, you will hit the dangerous obstacle, because you are watching it. Once you identify a dangerous obstacle, identify a safe place, and watch the safe place. You've seen the obstacle, its not going anywhere. The only exception is when the dangerous obstacle is a Spanish fighting bull. If that is the case - ask for a refund on this issue of Sports in the Sky, because Crash! hasn't helped one jot.