Common Power Pilot Misconceptions

Over the past 35 years we have found that there are common errors made by Power Pilots transitioning into Gliders. If you are aware of these and understand them, you will hopefully minimize their effects!

Do Not Assume That It's Just A Glider!

Attitude is always the pilots first concern. Your personal attitude toward safety, proficiency, willingness to always learn and improve. By attending this course you have shown your willingness to learn, to experience and to improve yourself. The attitude of the aircraft is also of primary concern to pilots. Using the horizon and watching out for traffic with NO reliance upon instruments might be different at first, but it is more fun!

Do Not Watch The Instruments

One of the first things you will notice in the glider is an apparent lack of instruments. Flying gliders is basic flight and it is more of a sport. Most of the information to the pilot would be thought of as "seat of the pants" flying. The glider pilot flies much more by use of outside references rather than relying on instruments such as a gyro. So, at first it will seem odd, but as you get to relying on your eyes, ears and even your nose, you will even enjoy the lack of instruments and really begin to enjoy the true freedom of flight!

Do Not Fly Like You Drive

Next you will find that the ailerons do not seem to respond the way that you are use to. This slower reaction is due to two reasons: 1. The long wing & 2. the slower air speeds. You will find it's hard to get the wing moving and then seems slow to stop the momentum.

The biggest difference is in the rudder. At normal cruise in an airplane, you probably do not need or use rudder. The sailplane, however, is very different. Due to the long wings and slow speeds, adverse yaw is much greater in the glider. A quick review of adverse yaw reminds us that as the aileron is lowered it increases the angle of attack which increases the lift and also increases the drag. The drag is induced drag (drag produced by lift), which is greater at slow speeds. That is why in slow flight, even in your powered aircraft, you need more rudder. The glider is usually in slow flight. HINT: When you start flying a glider and you think you have enough rudder, double it! You may find that you need to reread this paragraph a couple of times for complete understanding, it is important.

The instrument we use to tell if we are coordinated is the yaw string (invented by the Wright Brothers). It works backwards to the ball, so it is confusing at first. Thought question: When making a left turn, your body has a tendency to lean to the right. Which rudder do you need? There should be very little thought on this. HINT: Your body is like the ball, try it!

Spoilers - Do Not Rely On Power

The spoilers are very unique controls, they are invaluable to the glider pilot. Some are only on the top, other types are both top and bottom. Spoilers are very important since sailplanes have glide ratios of better than 20:1 (for every foot we go down we travel 20 feet forward), on our field we have sailplanes which approach 60:1. Most power pilots are dubious at first since they remember how often they rely on power on final, in the glider we fly the pattern high (for us!) and always allow the need to use 1/2 spoilers on base/final. With this approach, we can add or take away spoilers as needed. The spoilers allow us to make extremely precise landings and stopping within inches of where we want. Some flapped ships will have their flaps go to 90° down and 10° or more up!

Short Landing - Do Not Settle For "Somewhere On The Runway"

One of the new and unique ideas that you are introduced to in a glider is the ability to make very short field landings. Also, the ease that you find to placing the aircraft exactly where you want is fun. Since sailplanes are designed to land on an un-improved strip or field, they are inherently strong. Combine the maneuverability, strength and easy flying and you have a ship which is able to do astounding things. With the use of spoilers and slow speeds you can put the sailplane down with great accuracy. If you are landing out, you plan where you want to stop with the best access to take the ship apart and trailer home. Since we do not want to have to pull the glider very far on the ground the importance of precise landings is not only a matter of pride, but functional. On your first flight you might be extremely uncomfortable landing on one part of a runway with aircraft still sitting in the middle ahead of you, however you will be surprised at the ease in which you stop where you want. The importance of accuracy short landing comes into play if you must land off field. If you think about this it is equally important for the power pilot to be precise.

Pattern planning is even more important for the glider pilot. However, the lessons learned in the glider transpose to the power pilot. We find that thinking more ahead is developed by the glider pilot which ALSO serves the power pilot. Most power pilots ignore the effect of winds aloft unless it is a cross wind on landing and then they wait to figure it out on short final. By planning ahead you will see the advantage and importance of being ahead of the aircraft. Since the glider does not have the advantage of the go around, the pilot must take the weather, runway, other aircraft and performance into consideration each take-off and landing. The proficient power pilot, will also pre-plan. In other words, if the wind is strong he should plan to make a steeper approach and shorter pattern. This simple procedure is rarely done because of the reliance on the power to drive us where we need to go. If the engine stops, this dependence upon thrust will be very detrimental. Hopefully this never happens, if it does, you are fortunate to have taken this course! If your pattern takes into consideration the wind and not relying on the engine there is little concern.

The importance of a pre-landing check list cannot be over stressed, however it should be done except for some control inputs, prior to entering the pattern to allow you to keep your head out of the cockpit and outside where it is need. Especially in this target rich environment (and by the way, you are the target!).

Effects Of Wind - An Aircraft Is Not A Kite

The effects of an air mass on our craft is important. One area that must not be confused and often is, is wind. The important thing to remember is that we fly through and in an air mass, the wind is not hitting on the side of the aircraft, it is the air mass that is moving us over the ground in that direction. This is especially confusing when we talk about the air flow and "relative wind", I have always changed that term to be "relative movement". There are still many licensed pilots that believe in the pattern you must hold rudder to crab because of the wind. Since it is confusing to try to understand the many concepts that we are talking about, lets agree that there is no "wind" above where we take off, only "air mass" moving.

When on final, let’s assume a light air mass, wind is calm on the ground. Your normal approach, if viewed as a profile, is let's assume 15°. You plan your approach on downwind with your base in a descent profile which intersects this ideal approach profile. One way to think of this is like a roller coaster. It has rails connecting the turns with base and final, ending at your flare point, flattening to the touch down. Now, lets assume a 20knot head wind on the ground. Your roller coaster would change in what ways? In a glider we might change our roll out distance because we still want to end up at the same spot, but our roll out is shorter. Our flare to touch down distance will also be shorter and our approach angle is very much steeper, say 25°. This also means our base will be closer with a shorter downwind leg, but the downwind altitude remains the same. As we fly along our imaginary roller coaster, if we get low we reduce our spoilers (add power) until we are again on track. If we are high we add spoilers (reduce power) until we are on track again. What about airspeed? In gliders we take our best glide speed and add 1/2 of the wind velocity, the same applies to a power plane. If it is gusty or a cross-wind add the full amount of wind velocity to your pattern & approach speed.

That was easy, "NOT". Now lets talk x-winds on the ground and a moving air mass from the left, with a left hand pattern. Flying down wind, the pattern should be a little wider, base should be a little closer, and the turn to final sooner. This is all due to the movement over the ground. Also, the downwind leg needs to have a right crab. The crab is initiated with a normal turn to whatever seems about right for the movement, then level flight. NO additional rudder, No aileron, and No bank. Your ground track should still be parallel to the runway. You have added the additional wind factor to your airspeed, but if you are using the wing down method your approach will need to be still higher due to the increased descent rate of the slip. After observing many, many pilots I notice that x-winds are a very weak area. They need not be. We teach the wing down method because it best demonstrates the effect of the moving air mass. If you simply use the wing to control drift and the rudders to keep the nose straight down the runway, it is easy. Touch down with the wing lower into the wind. If on final you cannot keep the nose straight down the runway and correct the drift with aileron, the x-wind is too great, go around. Yes as you get lower the wind on the ground is less, but if you cannot hold is straight aloft, it will be too much on the ground. In the glider an early determination that the x-wind exceeds the capabilities of the glider or pilot, is important. This allows time to drift and turn more into the wind since the glider needs so little runway anyway. In fact landing perpendicular on the runway is not out of the equation! Also, use the proper controls once down and taxing. I believe very strongly all pilots should taxi, take-off and land like they would in a tailwheel aircraft, even in the nose draggers, stick back. This procedure saves wear on the tire, the nose shimmy, slows us down without brakes, and it is just good technique.

What about a take-off and/or landing downwind? You must be familiar with you aircrafts performance for the day, weight, runway condition/length temp, altitude, power and of course wind. With every one of these factors in mind, you must use your pre-take off emergency check list. Be prepared for a much longer take-off roll and flatter (in relation to the ground) climb. We do lots of downwind take-offs due to our trees at one end. The biggest mistake we see is power planes trying to force it into the air because it looks like they have plenty of speed. Once off they try to get too slow again, due to the illusion of speed. What then of the downwind landing? It should be mandatory that ever pilot be properly trained in landing down wind. Why? Because someday, in an emergency you may have to. The lesson then will be hard earned, if survived. Again your glide will be flatter in relation to the ground, your speed will seem to be too fast. If you do not fly by attitude the ground shall rise and smite thee! Your landing roll will be greater and even your controls could reverse with strong enough winds. Think this through, most pilots have not. So what is the big deal? None if it is well thought out and practiced with someone who knows. Unfortunately most do not.

Very strong winds will require a very steep approach as well as added airspeed. If using flaps get them up ASAP after landing. The winds could be so strong as to not allow you to turn. If that is the case, just stay in the plane, running if needed, into the wind and fly it! And wait for the winds to calm. In a sailplane we wait until there are enough people to move the ship, and we have someone remain in the ship to keep the nose down and assist with control input.

Pivotal Altitude - Do Not Get Fooled By Optical Illusions

A subject which seems to attract almost no discussions is pivotal altitude. It seems to be only touched on when you are introduced to pylon turns or pylon 8s in the Commercial rating. However, one characteristic which is important are the visual signals which are not apparent but might be extremely important in an emergency.

To calculate the pivotal altitude you take the ground speed (knots) squared and divide by 15. Sounds complicated, not really. The important part is understanding. The pivotal altitude (PA) is when the ground stays in one place in relation to the wing in a spiral. Above PA, where you make most of your turns, the ground appears to move forward or the wing moves backwards in relation to the ground. Below PA, the wing appears to move forward. This is normally not significant except in an emergency. I believe that subconsciously pilots see the wing moving forward in that low altitude, highly stress filled, and most likely, slow speed turn. With this optical illusion in place, many pilots apply rudder to make the wing look right. This could very well end in a spin. I am convinced that these optical illusions take place. I have watched many pilots take-off downwind at Warner Springs, it is obvious they are responding to the illusion of speed when they force the aircraft into the air.

As an example lets use 100 knots GS. 100X100/15= 666 ft AGL. or 80 knots gives us 426 ft AGL. These might be below your normal base to final turn except in a stress filled turn in an emergency. There you are, engine out just making a field with a low turn (not very good procedure) but low none the less. In trying to make the field, you made a classic mistake of too close in on the downwind leg. Instead of a safe base leg, you have to make a 180° turn to final (big mistake following other mistakes). Since you are over shooting, you need a steeper turn. Out of the corner of your eye the wing on the lower side (you might even be looking there because of this low turn watching the ground) is too fast, so you add rudder to make it look right. It is then that the world changes in your cockpit as the nose goes down you pull back, surprise!

If you have not done turns on pylons or are out of practice have a qualified CFI ride along and look at it from this view point. I would be willing to guess that most CFIs only teach the maneuver and not the reason behind it, if even known why! It is strange, but I have not seen much written about this.

Engine Out On Departure - You Must Always Know Your Aircraft

You are at 400'AGL on departure at Best Angle of climb speed and your engine goes south. What are you going to do? Does this terrify you, it should, and unless you expect it on every flight and have a plan each take-off, it will happen. Let's not trust to luck that the place you will arrive at is survivable. You need to have a plan, an emergency check-list before take off. You need to consider the wind direction / velocity, temperature, runway length / condition, the performance of your aircraft, what you expect, what is your plan. You must practice and find the safe altitude for you and your aircraft to make a 90° turn and a 180° back to the runway turn.

Before hiring a tow pilot for Sky Sailing all applicants are given an oral, written and flight check. This is after they meet the minimum requirements of at least 100 hrs in tailwheel aircraft and have a Commercial. About half fail the exams and need to go get more time. They fail in the basics. These pilots are very proficient, highly motivated in flying, many with dreams of the airlines, some are current CFI's, yet they fail at the basics. Over the years I do not think I could count on my fingers the number of pilots who when loosing an engine at 200 feet or less got the nose down far enough to avoid a very hard or uncontrolled landing. None had a plan that they told me about before take-off. And very few can do a good steep 720.

Number ONE in any emergency is to fly the plane, shortly after take-off engine out, immediately get the nose as far below the horizon as it was above, this is critical to allow you to be able to maneuver. Do not automatically try a turn no matter what, get the nose down then if altitude permits, a turn. From 0 to approximately 300 feet there can be no turns more than a few degrees, to go between the trees instead of head on. For many small singles at or above 400 you could make up to a 90¦ turn (preferably into the wind [on the ground, air mass above!], but an open field is more important). This may be why normal cross-wind turns are done at 400'AGL. Once completing that you could do another 90° and land down wind. This means that below approximately 600' you are not landing on the runway. This is where that preplanning has paid off, since you are aware of the wind direction and velocity. You already decided before application of power which direction to turn. On your take off roll you monitor your power to be correct (for that day) before committing to the air. You have a plan. Also, think back how many times you flew a -non standard pattern, making lower than normal turns, a tighter pattern landing further down the runway. Not many I would bet. Do not wait until everything has already gone sour to have a plan.

Therefore, Do you have a Pre-takeoff Emergency check? And once rolling do you check, really check oil pressure, and power? If something is not right you can stop before getting in the air. We hear of pilots who get bad mag checks on one mag but feel it is normal and go anyway. If the power is not where you expect it, abort. On climb out not only monitor power but outside, where are we going now if it quits. Remind yourself to get the nose down and do not turn. You must be ahead of the climb, aircraft, and situations as they develop.

Some Common Misconceptions Of Gliding And Gliders:

  1. You only have one chance on landing. This is only true if you are very narrow in your thinking. A good glider pilot normally will commit himself to only one pattern, but will have had many possible landing spots selected before final approach. If his original first choice becomes blocked or unsuitable, he will land long, short or to the side. Since the glider is far slower and much more accurate these options are easily available to the "thinking ahead" pilot. Also, most gliders or more technically accurate sailplanes, can easily land in under 300 feet.

  2. Gliders have to be light and inherently are flimsy. Some sailplanes carry water as ballast to make them heavier. By adding weight they have the same glide ratio only at a higher speed. Almost all gliders are aerobatic. They have better construction and strength that most aircraft. The glider is overbuilt because we fly them in rougher weather and the long sleek wings require a lot of strength.

  3. Glider flying is dangerous and scary because of no engine. It may seem to the untrained that this flimsy craft might encounter downdrafts and be forced into the ground. However, when you think of their glide ratio they can easily fly out of almost any situation. They can also rely on their strength, maneuverability, slow speeds, short landings, but mostly on the nut connected to the stick, the pilot. Soaring is the true freedom of flight and challenging your skills with nature is one of the best tests of skill, and just plain fun!

  4. During tow you are pulled and do not have to do anything. This part is probably the most demanding of attention while flying a glider. Towing is formation flying, connected by a rope. We find the average power pilot needs to take a few tows before they can stay behind the tow plane. For a novice it takes about 12 tows. And this is to just stay somewhere behind.

  5. A glider cannot stall or spin. Wrong on both accounts. The main reason gliders do not have more stall/spin accidents is that ALL good glider pilots receive spin training. If you think about it, the glider sets itself up for a stall/spin accident more than powered aircraft, but they do it less. Maybe this training is having a positive effect.

  6. Gliders are easy, as a power pilot I can certainly fly without an engine. Actually, only men are easy, especially in the middle of the night! Certainly flying a glider is not difficult, in fact flying anything is easy if the proper attitude is maintained. Early training in the glider after flying an airplane is humbling, but will make you a far better pilot. Yes it is easy, but very different.

  7. Gliders cannot fly when there is no wind. Wind, Wind, we need wind, NO NO NO we don't! It is a misnomer that sailplanes need wind, for you see there is no sail upon our backs! Wind is nice to have since it is a part of the lifting mechanisms which cause the ridge and wave lift to work. Also some wind helps to break loose the thermals which rise into the air that we circle in. But once we are aloft there is no wind to us, only an air mass in which we fly. Many people believe that we need wind to stay aloft, but in reality, we need only air and gravity, two essentials to us all! In order to stay up, to soar, to fly cross country or duration flights we need to work with the weather. We can and do! Do you know what limits our time aloft, other than money? Our bladder.

Soaring Applications To The Power Pilot

Near us we had a very avoidable fatal accident. The pilot was flying on instruments from Yuma to the coast. The flight took him over the Julian VOR. It was a strange day and the weather was terrible. We guessed the winds aloft to be 50+. As this Cessna, cruising at about 120mph neared Julian he encountered sink forcing he down from a MEA of 8,000'. He would have added power, however, he was still descending, possibly faster. So he slowed down to best climb. This takes his aircrafts' ground speed from about 70mph to 20-30mph range (assuming airspeed of 120 less 50 headwind) in this sink, of as much as 3000fpm down, even at full power. The pilot ran out of options and altitude, except for a simple 180° turn that could have been made up to the last 30 seconds before impact with the side of the hill. This very common meteorological occurrence is called a standing lee wave, or wave. Wave is possibly the most exciting form of lift with flights made to almost 50,000'. In theory they go up to 80,000', but most gliders redlines and stall speeds have merged by then! I can only recommend that you have some instruction in WAVE and other weather. In fact the FAA in all their wisdom said that this accident was due to "wind shear"! It is amazing that even the FAA doesn't understand weather.

I will bet that you were taught that if you see a lenticular cloud to get away. That was even an answer for an FAA exam, such foolish thinking is a shame. The "lennie" is a product of the WAVE spoken about above and a very valuable as well as useful tool when used to your advantage.

When you see clouds lining up in long lines these are called "streets". If you do not mind a few bumps you could, by following these, cut your fuel and increase your speed. These are products of thermals along a shear line or a frontal movement.

It is interesting that "Pappy" Boyington during WW2 used lift sources such as those mentioned above. He returned with more fuel than most others but did not realize that the others did not use these lift sources since it made so obvious to him.

Understanding weather seems like a lot of work. However, if you are serious in pursuing flying you must always challenge yourself to not only do better and learn more but to demand excellence in yourself, on every flight!

The fundamental knowledge gained from flying sailplanes is basic flying skill and safety. These skills will not only make you a safer pilot but will bring more enjoyment and less stress. Best of all, more fun!

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