Today was supposed to be all about landing practice. Jim didn't say so, but the impression I have is that he'll solo me after he's happy with my landings. He wants to see me consistently come in at a good angle and speed, flare at the right spot, and touch down at the right speed while being on the centerline.

Let me tell you, that's easier said than done. I had four flights this morning. The first two were to 2,000 feet. We towed to the east and released. I circled around a bit and watched the tow plane head to the airport. By then I was at roughly 1,700 feet and entered the crosswind leg for runway 31. Jim didn't say much during those flights and told me he wouldn't be saying much. I think he just wants to see what I do all on my own. He's getting a feel for my decision making in the cockpit.

We spent a fair amount of time on the ground discussing rope break procedures again, short patterns, and landing with a tail wind.

The first landing was a little low and fast. I caught myself flying 80mph in the pattern rather than 70mph, and that made me a bit low. I touched down right at the beginning of the runway (on the 31 numbers) instead of starting my flare at that point. The second landing was a little better but still not good.

With all the rope break discussions, I really expected him to pull the rope at 200 feet again on one of the first two flights.

The next two flights were simple circuit or pattern-only tows. We'd fly up off runway 31, turn crosswind, and then downwind. Roughly half way thru the downwind leg, we'd be at 1,000 feet and I'd pop the release. I'd done this a few times before, so I didn't think it'd be a big deal. And the first flight went relatively well.

The second (and last flight for the day) was a different story entirely. I managed to fuck up in a big way. When it was time to release, I did the typical manuver: climb about 30-50 feet, dive back down to get slack in the rope, and level off. This all happens very quickly. After you're level and there's slack in the rope, you pull the release and wait for the rope to fall away.

The release knob in the glider is right in front of the pilot. It's literally a knob that's just about the size of a golf ball. However, in the SGS 2-32 trainers, there's also and identical knob on the left side of the cockpit. It controls the dive brakes (or spoilers).

You can see where this is going.

I pulled the wrong one.

This is very bad for so many reasons. What happend (very quickly) was that the glider slowed down a lot, causing the slack in the tow line to vanish. That made the towplane pull the glider faster, which caused the glider to climb. Now the moment I pulled the knob, I realized something was very wrong and glanced down to figure out what the hell had happened.

That was my big mistake: looking away from the tow plane and worrying about what was going on inside the cockpit. In an emergency situation, a pilot's first responsibility and focus is simple: fly the plane and keep it flying. I didn't. We've talked about it many times on the ground, but when things happen that quickly and you haven't yet developed the instinct, you screw up.

I'm glad this happened with Jim in the back seat. He knew exactly what to do. He pulled the release the moment he saw the tow plane vanish below us and he also slammed the control stick forward all the way to keep up flying. That sent some stuff flying in the cockpit because it was an abrupt negative-G descent. As soon as I realized what he had done, I got control of the glider back and flew the rest of the pattern and landing.

I never really thought much about the fact that the release knob and the knob for the brakes are identical. That's horrible. Controls in the cockpit that do very different things should look and feel different. Ask and usability expert about that one. Worse yet, in all the "I once had a student that did..." stories Jim has told me, he never mentioned this particular problem. However, he's had this happen many times in the past. That makes me feel a little better. Not much, but a little.

Anyway, that was a lesson I'll never forget. Needless to say, I have not flown solo yet. On Friday's morning, we'll pick up where we left off--probably flying some 2,000 foot tows and just trying to perfect my landings.

I know this is all part of learning, but that doesn't stop me from feeling really stupid for having done it.

Posted by jzawodn at January 19, 2003 06:39 PM

Reader Comments
# BDKR said:

Awesome blog! This reminds me of a number of things.

I never really thought much about the fact that the release knob and the knob for the brakes are identical. That's horrible.
... We've talked about it many times on the ground, but when things happen that quickly and you haven't yet developed the instinct, you screw up.

I hear you there brother. Before coming to Venezuela, I did a lot of motorcycle riding. Skyline is one place you're probably familiar with. Anyway, it's the same thing here. You have to develop instinctual reactions to certain event or conditions in order to come through favorably. On a sport bike, the one that is hardest to learn (and I don't know I managed to get it sussed out with being thrown into the weeds) is NOT letting out of the gas when the back end steps out on the power. With skateboards, it's leaning forward while heading down a vertical face back into the transition. The point is that learning these actions / reactions are completely contrary to what may seem common sense, or at least what your body / instinct feels is safe.

Anways, keep having fun.


on January 20, 2003 07:49 AM
# Dave Smith said:

My instructor had a couple of good "wrong knob" stories, including one of flying in a Mooney for the first time, where the flaps and trim where backwards from what he'd learned flying in Cessnas and Pipers. Oops, but recoverable.

The closest I came to a "wrong knob" problem was during a mountain flying checkout ride. My instructor gave me an autopilot demo, then forgot to tell me to turn it off. Later, I fought the plane all the way town to the ground, thinking I was dealing with mountain wind patterns, and made a decent cross-wind landing at Truckee. It wasn't until he took the plan to taxi, and the wheel slammed all the way right, that he realized the mistake. Oops.

Instructors. Gotta love 'em.

on January 20, 2003 10:39 AM
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