TEN STEPS TO SAFER SOARING
1. Maintain Personal Proficiency
Although Federal Aviation Regulations are quite specific in describing the minimum amount of recent experience required to act as pilot in command of an aircraft, it is important to make the distinction between being current and being proficient. The adjective current is used to describe a state of being up to date or occurring within a recent period of time. Proficiency, on the other hand, relates to the ability to perform a skill with expert correctness. Being legally current to act as pilot in command does not necessarily imply the level of proficiency needed to do so. Pilots are encouraged to develop a personal proficiency program that allows continuous development of critical flight skills. This is especially important during inactive periods between soaring seasons.
2. Use Checklists Effectively
Checklists are a vital component of the operational safety of our sport. The use of checklists is appropriate in all aspects of soaring, including glider assembly, pre-flight inspection, pre-takeoff and pre-landing, and post-flight disassembly. However, a checklist is only as good as the effort put forth in using it. The most frequent contributing factors in premature terminations of the tow accidents, for example, can be traced directly to improper use of the checklist. Other operational areas that may have serious consequences that result from the lack or improper use of the checklist include glider assembly, pre-flight inspection, and pre-landing. The Soaring Safety Foundation encourages all pilots to not only use checklists, but to use checklists properly.
3. Properly Prepare for Each Flight
Inadequate preflight preparation continues to be one of the most common causes of general aviation accidents. Preflight preparation encompasses a wide range of activities that include glider assembly, pre-flight inspection of the aircraft and related equipment, weight and balance calculations, a review of appropriate meteorological information, and consideration of regulatory issues that are applicable to the airspace through which the flight is planned. Additionally, the pilot's level of proficiency, physical condition, and physiological needs must also be considered. These examples represent only a portion of the tasks required to properly prepare for each flight. Remember, FAR 91.103 states, "Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight."
4. Conduct Positive Control Checks Frequently
Several years ago, a promotion proclaiming the benefits of orange juice appeared on television. The theme of the advertisement was the idea that orange juice wasn't just a breakfast drink anymore. The marketing campaign focused on the concept that the customer would realize the same benefits of the juice regardless of when it was consumed. This same rationalization can be applied to the positive flight control check. It is, of course, necessary to conduct a positive control check after the glider is assembled. However, the integrity of the flight control system can be disrupted in ways other than the assembly process. It is possible that operational damage or malfunction may affect the continuity of the flight controls in a manner that may not be readily apparent during pre-flight inspection or the flight control check conducted before takeoff. A positive control check is always appropriate during the pre-flight inspection of the glider, especially if the pilot has any reason to question the integrity or proper operation of the flight control system. Remember, the positive control check isn't just for post-assembly anymore!
5. Know the Standard American Soaring Signals
In 1993, the Soaring Safety Foundation adopted a new signal designed to warn pilots of the glider's spoilers being inadvertently extended in-flight. In spite of the adoption of this signal, accidents resulting from spoilers being inadvertently opened on takeoff continue to occur. In many cases, either the tow pilot is not aware of the existence of the signal or the pilot of the glider does not understand its meaning. Even if aircraft radios are used as the primary means of communication, it is vital for pilots of both the towing aircraft and the glider to understand the meaning and proper use of the Standard American Soaring Signals. It is equally important for all ground personnel to understand and use proper signals as well.
6. Always Plan for Emergencies
Pilots should always have a plan of action in mind to address potential emergency situations. This is especially true during takeoff, when the pilot has a limited amount of time and altitude available to use in reacting to an emergency. The Soaring Safety Foundation strongly recommends adding an E, for Emergency Plan, to every pre-takeoff checklist. Emergency plans are just as important for other phases of flight as well. Having an emergency plan in mind will allow the pilot to concentrate on the most important of all tasks - flying the glider!
7. Maintain Situational Awareness
In recent years, the frequency of accidents resulting from gliders being landed short of the selected landing area has continued to increase. In fact, land-short accidents have been the most common type of soaring accident recorded during the past two years. Frequently, these accidents occur during the landing approach at the conclusion of a local flight. Common contributing factors cited in land-short accidents are unanticipated sink, higher than expected winds, and misjudgments of altitude on the final approach. Pilots must develop and maintain an awareness of meteorological conditions or other circumstances that may affect the altitude required to safely complete the approach and landing. This awareness will help the pilot recognize and compensate for the effects of abnormal conditions that may be encountered during the landing approach.
8. Use Effective Collision Avoidance Techniques
With the increasing complexity of the national airspace system and the multitude of aircraft types competing for the limited amount of airspace available, effective collision avoidance techniques have become an absolute necessity on every flight. Collision avoidance is an ongoing process that begins before the glider ever leaves the ground. Regardless of whether the pilot intends to make a local or cross-country flight, proper planning is essential in minimizing the potential of a mid-air collision. Pilots should be familiar with proper pattern procedures at non-towered airports, the use of common traffic advisory frequencies and proper scanning techniques and clearing procedures. Additionally, pilots should be knowledgeable of any special requirements for the airspace through which a flight is planned.
9. Eliminate Obstructions in Close Proximity to the Runway
For the past several years, obstructions in close proximity to the runway have resulted in a significant number of accidents, second only to gliders being landed short of the intended landing area. The most common culprits are automobiles and other aircraft parked near the takeoff and landing area. Surprisingly, gliders damaged by hitting obstructions on airports outnumber those reported damaged by obstructions during off-airport landings. The most frustrating aspect of this type of occurrence is that most obstruction related accidents are easily preventable. The key to preventing this type of accident is simple. Keep all parked aircraft and other obstructions well clear of the takeoff and landing area. This can be accomplished by designating a staging area for gliders being readied for takeoff and for aircraft not in use. Other surface vehicles should be parked in an area separate from all aircraft.
10. Make Safety the Primary Goal in all Decision-making
The sport of soaring is unsurpassed in terms of its beauty and serenity. Pilots are attracted to soaring for a number of reasons, most notably the sense of freedom and degree of personal challenge. Soaring provides a level of enjoyment and companionship unmatched by any other form of aviation. However, the personal benefits of our sport diminish very quickly when pilots are injured and gliders are damaged or destroyed.
Preventing the most common types of soaring accidents represents a serious challenge to the soaring community. The good news is that challenge creates opportunity. Preventing the most common types of accidents provides us with the unique opportunity to significantly reduce the number of soaring accidents and, in doing so, make the sport much safer for everyone. The benefits of opportunity, however, demand responsibility. Pilots must accept the responsibility to conduct all flight operations with safety as the primary objective. Every decision of every flight should first be considered in terms of how it will influence the safe operation of the flight. Only by making safety the primary goal in all decision-making, will we ever hope to eliminate the most common causes of glider accidents.