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Number three - Day 5

04/12/2008

Permalink 09:42:52, by admin Email , 1440 words   English (ZA)
Categories: no fly day

Today was going to turn out to be another bad gliding day, but not just for me, but for gliding everywhere. After a day like today one can not help but to reflect on gliding, and aviation in general, and to think: "Yes this is great, being able to fly and defy gravity and all that, but at what cost?"

In my short time in gliding, which is now just over three years and also considering that it's mainly only a weekend activity, I have witnessed one accident during a winch launch in which the guy upfront broke his leg and the glider was badly damaged as well as observing the devastating after effects of what happens when a motor-glider flies into the side of a mountain and also helping to carry the deceased off that same mountain.

Glider Down!Today was unfortunately going to be event number three in my experience book of how not to meet the ground. On day one I mentioned that I had witnessed two really scary takeoffs. The first was when a glider, during the tow, climbed way too high behind the tug while the tug was still low over the ground. The risk here is that the tug can run out of elevator authority and either not be able to climb or have its nose pulled into the runway. Both of these situations are of course not good and normally the tug pilot pulls the plug on the glider. These two both got away with it today, but it was close.

Still on day one, and about six takeoffs later, a very short while after both aircraft where just airborne during an aero-tow, the glider started getting badly out of position and starting getting into some weird type of oscillation. It was very scary to watch but some how the glider pilot managed to get things back under control and all went off well from there forward. This is what is know as PIO (Pilot Induced Oscillation) and is particularly prevalent in gliders as they have long wings that flex under load.

I’m no technical expert, but basically what happens is that as the plane gets out of position the pilot makes a correction which may be too sudden or he may give too much control input, the plane then changes position but often too much in that direction, he then tries to get the plane back inline and the control inputs become more and more bigger and sudden. Furthermore, as a glider has long wings, and some gliders wings are more flexible than others, the wings start to bend and sometimes in opposite directions to which the fuselage is moving. For example, the pilot pushes the stick forward, the fuselage moves down and then the wings start to bend up a little later, he then pulls back on the stick and the fuselage starts moving up but the wings are still bending up and so it goes on and the oscillation tends to go from bad to worse in a few seconds.

Today I was again near the back of the grid and the weather was looking a whole lot better than the two preceding days. Just over half the field was airborne and I was casually watching a launch while the other guys were busy getting their planes ready.

Discus Down!As I mentioned early, I have previously witnessed a glider crash on take off and it's a really horrible helpless feeling that one experiences. Things start off looking okay, but then picture of how things should normally look starts to change, slowly, but then rapidly as you start to realise that shit is on the way. You also watch helplessly as the slow motion chain of events completes itself with a horrible thud, dust everywhere and then silence.

I again needed to go though this as a lady from Britain, flying for the first time in Bloemfontein, lost control of her Discus due to serious PIO. She elected to pull the plug and to try land ahead, but she couldn't control the decent and the right wing of the glider caught the ground and spun the plane through about 180º breaking off the empennage just behind the engine. Nobody else at the launch site witnessed the crash and all that I could think of was shouting to get people's attention. Fortunately two of the pilots there (and still on the ground) were doctors and they raced off to try and help. Even more fortunately the lady involved was fine, it was however decided to call the paramedics to extract her from the plane just in case she had hurt her neck or back.

The ambulanceThe newspapers managed to get hold of the story and there it was, the next morning in the local newspaper, a broken glider splattered all over the front page. Not a nice thing to see; not to mention the unneeded bad press for general aviation.

As far as the organisers are concerned (i.e. Soaring Safaris), I was more than a little disappointed. Once the ambulance had left, which was about and hour after the crash, no one came to the launch point to inform us of what would happen next. Even once the damaged plane had been removed the weather was still looking good and still nothing. We just sat in the sun chatting about the events of the day. What I found even more disappointing was that the next day during the briefing the accident was not mentioned at all. I would have expected at least a statement to the effect that the pilot was alright, that the plane was packed away in its box and that we could rest assured that all their contingency and safety procedures, in place for just an event, had worked well and as planned, but nothing, nanna, zip!

If you think that after that accident, my excitement for the day was over then you would be wrong. As it turned out the weather started to over develop and a few very black and nasty looking clouds started to develop. One of these clouds started moving slowly towards the airfield and by the time it started to get dark most the pilots had gone to seek shelter. I then heard on the radio that a glider was returning. The sky was now looking very dark and the wind was beginning to pick up and here this plane is on finals for 27.

He landed pretty deep on a really badly maintained runway and I saw nobody come to help him, most notably none of the organiser's crew. As he was stranded in the middle of the runway with no help on the way I climbed into my bakkie and went to go help him drag his aeroplane half off the runway into the veld. I then gave him a lift back to fetch his bakkie and tow out gear and returned to the glider. This whole process could not have taken more than 10 minutes, but as we arrived back at the glider the heavens opened up. I don't think that I have ever been drenched in rain water as quickly as today. From being warm and dry to wet and soaked in mere seconds. All this while we pulled the glider out the bush, put on the wing dolly and hooked her up to the back of the van. This all took five very long wet minutes. One part that had we really worried, and perhaps in retrospect it was not that intelligent of me, but we were doing all this with a few lighting bolts flashing about. Anways, all turned out alright and within 15 minutes the rain had stopped. Exciting stuff!

Dust StormThe last interesting event of the day was the dust storm that arrived a few hours after the thunderstorm. Weird stuff that I have never witnessed before. The horizon turned a light orange colour and started moving closer. You could actually visually see how the dust front moved in and in our direction. When it did arrive it was not as serious as it looked. The wind blew, but was not particularly strong and though there was dust in the air it was more like a mist than sand.

So to summarise day four: Scary crash, lightning and rain storm, dust storm... What a day and preferably one that I would not like to be repeated. I suppose we need to accept that these kinds of things will happen, learn from them, appreciate that all involved did their best considering the circumstances and in this case be thankful that no one was hurt.