Winch Launch Failure – Land Ahead

This lesson describes what to do initially, and when you can clearly land ahead.

The situation immediately after reaching the recovery attitude.

Learning Points

This lesson shows the glider just established in the climb, then suffering a cable break. Following the BGA guidelines:

Immediate Actions

Recover to the appropriate recovery attitude, while checking the airspeed.

The immediate action is to reach an appropriate recovery attitude. In general, the ‘appropriate’ attitude would be the mirror image of the attitude at the time of the failure. A steep climb justifies a recovery attitude just as steeply nose-down. In a significant wind gradient, an even steeper attitude may be necessary to regain speed quickly. This requires an immediate and significant shove forward of the stick to pitch over, without being over-done. It must be done immediately to avoid losing energy whilst still nose high. Use the energy the winch gave you to get the nose down.

Wait to regain the approach speed

It is easily possible to spin violently at this point. You must wait until you have recovery speed before manoeuvring. The image above shows the situation after achieving the nose down recovery attitude. It looks safe doesn’t it?

The glider may be nose down, but with only 40kts indicated, wait!

Closer inspection shows the varios indicating the glider is still rising. The pilot is probably still experiencing negative G from the push-over. The glider may still be slowing. Note that the ASI shows the airspeed is well below a safe approach speed. In the demo it can be seen to drop to 40kts whilst still in this attitude, before it builds again. Moving the controls to turn in this configuration is asking for trouble. So Wait, Wait, Wait until you have regained the desired approach speed.

The pictures above show that the recovery attitude was achieved at 310 feet. The second pair of pictures (below) show the situation when the glider has reached the approach speed: the glider has lost 60 feet of height, and is at 250 feet by the time it has regained the approach speed.

Approach speed achieved

Now is the time to make the decision.

Assess the situation

Approach speed has been reached. We can land ahead. Proceed with the approach.

Whilst waiting, look ahead. Judge if you can land ahead, using full airbrakes if necessary. Take into account the availability of an overshoot field or area ahead. There appears to be one in this case, although the winch is in it, to one side. Local knowledge and your preparation for ‘Eventualities’ should mean these thoughts are fresh in your mind. The judgement in this demonstration is that it is possible to land ahead safely. We may end up at the far end of the field, blocking launches and taking a while to retrieve the glider – but these issues do not matter and must be disregarded. Note that at small airfields, the land ahead option may vanish quite early in the launch. At larger airfields you will be able to land ahead from a considerable height, in which case you should do so. Without knowing the cause of the launch failure, you must take the safest option. Better to land ahead if you are trailing several hundred feet of cable behind you!

Plan a safe approach and landing

We are going to land ahead. When speed builds and passes our approach speed, we will deploy airbrakes to descend steeply, and treat it like any other landing.

Release the wire

Now you have a plan, release the wire, with two pulls.

Check the airspeed again

Execute the plan, and monitor airspeed.

Continue to monitor it

Airspeed is important after all.

Fly the approach and landing or a circuit variation to it

We opened the airbrakes fully to achieve the land ahead comfortably. We will fit in the field ahead and there is no need to overshoot.

Scenario and Demonstration

This demonstration takes place with a ten knot headwind, at a relatively small airfield.

A Note About The Demonstration

Once hooked on, the pilot should keep their left hand on the release knob until they have released the cable. It isn’t possible to show this in Condor, so please use your imagination to visualise this.

After a launch failure, land ahead if possible. Video has no animation.
Same video as above, with easily read messages.
About the videos

Multiple versions of the videos are being made available:

  • With animation and voiceover.
  • Alternative without the animation graphics.
  • As recorded in Condor Flight School. These will have messages at the top of the screen, with no additional animation or voiceover – that’s the way the Condor cookie crumbles!

The videos are suited to any device that supports YouTube. If you have trouble loading the video in the browser, click on Watch on YouTube in the lower left corner.

Performing the Exercise in Condor

The exercise is set up so that when you Try Lesson, the launch failure can occur at any point. You may therefore want to read all these winch launch failure lessons before trying them. The process is the same every time – you just have to get into the appropriate recovery attitude, wait, achieve the recovery speed, and make and execute a plan. Simples!

Condor shows the pilot pulling the cable release in the demonstrations, whereas in fact that was the point where the winch had failed (cable break). Your first action in any winch failure is to get into the appropriate recovery attitude, and only then deal with the cable release.

Condor is generous towards gliders in ground effect – they will float for miles. Seek instruction on whether you should use airbrakes in the eventuality of a very low level break. Condor requires it, but in the real world, airbrakes must be used with enormous caution at low level.

Further Reading and References


The lessons were developed for Condor2. They will be updated from time to time. Visit the Downloads page for news of updates, and to request the latest version.

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