Winch Launch Failure – Very Very Low

A failure only just off the ground can still be very damaging if you “over-recover”. When this low, float first and ask questions later.

The winch can fail at any point in the flight – be careful if you are only just airborne

Learning Points

This lesson shows the situation where the launch fails when the glider has only just left the ground. It is at flying speed, with quite a bit of energy, but fortunately is in a level attitude.

It is essential not to instinctively shove the stick forward. Focus on achieving the appropriate recovery attitude. This is usually the mirror image of the climbing attitude. So in this situation, you’d float, as if you’d just rounded out successfully in a normal approach. 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 – beware.

The good news is that you are unlikely to have travelled very far and will still have almost all 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!

We are already in the appropriate recovery attitude and will land ahead. 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 are already there.

Wait to regain the approach speed

As noted, you already have the required speed.

Assess the situation

You can only land ahead, and are already doing so.

Plan a safe approach and landing

Land ahead. Airbrakes may be appropriate on touchdown.

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

In this scenario, you should focus on the horizon and float.

Continue to monitor it

Airspeed is important after all.

Fly the approach and landing or a circuit variation to it

The pilot relaxed, focused on the horizon and rolled some way before opening the airbrakes.

Scenario and Demonstration

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

A winch failure this low requires you to relax and simply allow the glider to land

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