Don’t stretch the glide—easier said than done

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I have a theory I don’t want to have to test again. I took a passenger for a glider ride at Chardon, Ohio. He was a tech magazine editor based in Cleveland. The wind had seriously increased while we were aloft and on downwind I realized we were too far out when I turned base. This is the point where you know you must fight the urge to raise the nose a little to stretch the glide. Raising the nose could lower airspeed, cause a stall, and spin into the ground. I was getting a close-up view of the trees at the end of runway 11. I did two things, one of which was apparently necessary. One was fighting the urge to raise the nose. The other was to continue a conversation with the passenger so our landing would appear normal, not frightening. 

I don’t know if I processed what I decided to do. I think I reasoned it out later. I put the nose down to increase speed so as to be in the strong wind a shorter time and to get into ground effect for better glide ratio and penetration. I don’t know if that was the correct decision, but we brushed the last of the treetops and landed. The retrieving golf cart took a long time, using the entire runway to get to us. Although it was a really good short field landing, it wasn’t done on purpose. The increasing wind made this the last flight of the day. In a powered aircraft with a running engine, more throttle would have been the solution—but not in a glider. Okay aeronautical experts, I would like opinions.

I am telling this story because I have been helped by hangar tales to avoid catastrophe a few times. The most memorable was hearing one of Ted Pawski’s tales. In the early thirties, he had been an instructor in Germany in sport aviation glider clubs, pre-Nazi, pre-Luftwaffe. We always thought Ted knew some way to create his own lift. Maybe it could be attributed to his ever present pipe.

In a hangar flying talk session, someone had asked Ted what the most common accident was back then in training in Germany. I listened carefully, as you had to translate Ted’s very strong German accent. Since I occasionally heard German as a kid, when used as a parental secret code, it might have been a little easier for me.

Stretch glide 300x148 - Don’t stretch the glide—easier said than done

It seems like it will work, but it never does.

Ted said the most common training accident in Germany was always when a student was a little low when making the turn to final approach. On base leg they would raise the nose to stretch the glide and be reluctant to lower the inside wing enough to make a coordinated turn and use too much rudder. The resulting low speed, skidded turn would end in a stall/spin accident.

I had just joined Cleveland Soaring Society, which was then flying at Freedom Field on Route 18 near Medina. I had previously been a member of Central Ohio Soaring Association in Marion. I was in the club’s Schweizer 1-26 glider returning to Freedom Field.

The wind had increased and as I made my turn to base, Ted’s voice came back to me, complete with German accent. I was in exactly the potential accident situation I had overheard him describe a couple of weeks before. The wind had increased since takeoff and I was unaware of this until downwind. We and our gliders had no radios then for AWOS. I turned onto base leg later than I should have. At this point the recording in my mind of Ted’s voice turned on and I resisted the urge to raise the nose; instead I started looking for alternate landing sites straight ahead. 

I could see there were none, except small ones in people’s backyards. I still had enough altitude to make a coordinated turn to final approach and then thought maybe I would have to land crossways on Route 18. I found I had put the nose down enough to pick up a little extra airspeed and could perhaps go under the wires on Route 18 to make the runway. A thermal from the highway pavement gave me enough altitude to skim over the wires. After landing and looking back at the wires I saw the wires had been lowered and there was no room under them. 

The final note of this story is, I had been designing modifications of Sunbeam appliances so they could be sold as brand name products by Sears, Montgomery Ward, Penney’s, Hoover, etc. Ken McGarr, an Akron, Ohio, model maker, was producing models of my designs for me. 

At a later visit to his shop, he told me he was driving west past Freedom Field on Route 18 and was telling his wife he knew a glider pilot who flew from there. It was at the point I was crossing the road in the 1-26 low enough for Ken to recognize me and point me out to his wife as I passed low over his car. That’s way too low but it was high enough to make it back.

Keep the nose down when in doubt. Airspeed, airspeed, airspeed. Keep em flying! That was a slogan from WW 2 Army Air Corps recruiting posters.

Later when editing this it occurred to me that when I recognized the increase in wind I should have turned base early but since I didn’t catch that in time, my next option was to continue my turn to base beyond 90 degrees to aim diagonally at the runway threshold; then a shallow turn to align near the runway. There was no absolute reason that I had to use a rectangular pattern. There were no obstructions. It would have avoided the possible use of airport neighbors’ backyards.

I could have used the hypotenuse and answered the question asked in high school geometry classes: what are we ever going to use this for?

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