Winch Launch Failure – Very Low

A failure close to the ground can be very damaging if not dealt with appropriately. It is important not to “over-recover”, especially if you are only a few tens of feet above the ground.

A very low launch failure

Learning Points

This lesson shows the situation where the launch fails as speed builds prior to the rotation. The glider is in a slight nose up attitude, having just reached the rotation speed. The winch has given the glider a lot of energy at this point. The glider is around 50 feet above the ground.

It is essential not to instinctively shove the stick forward – much damage will follow. Focus on achieving the appropriate recovery attitude. This is usually the mirror image of the climbing attitude. So in this situation, you’d ease any back pressure and initially treat the flight as if you are on approach after rounding out. The difference here is that you do not have the airbrakes open, and you must be very careful about opening them close to the ground. Gliders vary in how they respond when the airbrakes are opened. Some will pitch nose down – which is undesirable so close to the ground. Others may slow down quickly unless the nose is pitched down. Know your glider.

The good news is that you are unlikely to have travelled very far and will still have most of the airfield in front of you. Plan on using as much of it as you need, and do not think that just because your flight failed early, you must stop quickly. Use the space!

When we achieve the appropriate recovery attitude we must decide if we can land ahead. In this case, we can only land ahead. We are however a little high to be in a float. So, following the BGA guidelines:

Immediate Actions

The actions are the same as always. Assuming you have completed the previous lessons, let’s focus on the differences here:

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

You have little height to gain speed. The appropriate attitude is the latter part of rounding out for a pre-touchdown float. In some cases, perhaps over ground that drops away from you, you have more room for manoeuvre and need to get closer to the ground, in which case manage your speed and height carefully.

Wait to regain the approach speed

As noted, you already have the required speed, and want to manage it while you descend.

Assess the situation

You can only land ahead, and are a little high.

Plan a safe approach and landing

Land ahead. Airbrakes may be appropriate to manage the descent. If in doubt, unlock them without opening them any further.

Don’t release the wire

That’s right. This low to the ground, the advice is not to release the cable, so that the parachute does not flare in front of you or wrap itself around the wing.

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

The pilot eased the stick forward very slightly to keep speed on whilst completing the ’roundout’. The entry speed to the float remained high (around 53kts) because the airbrakes were still closed. Just above the ground, still flying faster than 50kts, the glider would go a long way in ground effect. So the pilot opened the airbrakes, half way, to bring the glider down and allow him to bleed off some speed. Once on the ground and still rolling quickly, the airbrakes were fully opened to shorten the ground run. In hindsight he might have opened them fully after the first touch down, but, hey, there was lots of room ahead.

Scenario and Demonstration

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

Be cautious when the winch launch failure is very low

The video is best viewed in YouTube in Full Screen mode, to easily see the on-screen messages during the demonstration. Use view, pause and rewind as needed to grasp the content and timing of the messages displayed, then focus on the action.

Performing the Exercise

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

Gliding From Passenger to Pilot, 2nd Edition: Page 102-105

BGA Instructors’ Manual, 4th Edition: Section 4, Chapter 16, Page 7-9

BGA Instructors’ Reference Cards: Ex 11c

BGA Gliding Basics – Winch Launch

BGA Safe Winch Launching