How to set a Record
In February 2010, the CIVL Plenary voted to ratify the Bureau decision to mandate the wearing of EN966-certified helmets in Category 1 competitions. The enforcement of the helmet rule is the responsibility of the organisers.
The list has been compiled by FAI Officials, using a variety of sources, including manufacturer websites and sales agents. The CIVL Bureau hopes that the HG/PG community will help keep this list updated by informing us of any omissions and notifying new models that are certified.
List of helmets currently used in airsports which are claimed to be certified to EN966
Last updated: 10 April 2013
* Not allowed in Category 1 Championships
Why can't we get a handle on this safety thing?
|Manufacturer||Model||Harness Certification Complies with the rules EN1651, LTF09 or LTF03||Protector Certified||Allowed in Cat1|
|Advance||Axess 2 air||EN 1651 LTF 03||YES||YES||YES|
|Success 2+||EN 1651 LTF 03||YES||YES||YES|
|Impress 2||EN 1651||YES||NO||NO|
|Impress 2+||EN 1651 LTF 03||YES||YES||YES|
|Lightness||LTF 09 EN 1651||YES||NO||NO|
|Axess 3||EAPR-GZ-7636/12 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|AeroSport Int||Bump'air 17+||n/a||n/a||YES||YES|
|Airwave||Ram Race||DHV GS-03-0332-06 LTF3||YES||YES||YES|
|Laminar Control||still in progress||NO||NO||NO|
|Alpine GT light||EAPR-GZ-7050/08 LTF03||YES||YES||YES|
|Cruiser NG||AIRT GZ_014.2011 LTF03||YES||YES||YES|
|Student NG||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Okuri MF||AIRT GZ_013.2011 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|Twin NG||AIRT GZ 033.2012 LTF09|
|Gin Gliders||Genie Race||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Genie Race II||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Genie Lite||EAPR-GZ-7535/12 LTf09||YES||YES||YES|
|Genie 4||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Gingo II||LTF 03||YES||YES||YES|
|Basis RC||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Gingo Airlight||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Gingo Airlight(II)||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Yeti||LTF09 GZ 017.2011||YES||NO||NO|
|Hofbauer||Hiro Pro||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Icaro - Fly & more||Energy Cross||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Energy light||DHV GS-03-0328-06 LTF 03||YES||YES||YES|
|Clever 2||DHV GS-03-0359-07||NO||NO||NO|
|Arrow 2||DHV GS-03-0356-07||NO||NO||NO|
|Kortel||Kamasutra II||EN 1651||YES||YES*/NO||YES*/NO|
|Kanibal II||EN 1651||YES||YES*/NO||YES*/NO|
|Kanibal Race||EN 1651||YES||YES*/NO||YES*/NO|
|Karma II||AIRT GZ_019.2011 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|Nervures||Fusion||EN : n°2010/016||YES||NO||NO|
|Airtreck / Altirando||EN : n°H0601176SA||YES||NO||NO|
|Bivouac||EN : n°H2006/008||YES||NO||NO|
|Expé||EN : n°H0402156N||YES||NO||NO|
|Drifter||LTF09 GZ 017.2011||YES||YES||YES|
|Ozone||Oxygen 2||LTF09 ; DHV GS-03-0379-11||YES||YES||YES|
|PRO-DESIGN &||Hiro Air||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Sky Paragliders||Reverse 2||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Reverse 3||AIRT GZ_040.2013 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|Gii 2||AIRT GZ_0141.2013 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|Excite 3||AIRT GZ_021.2011 LTF 09||YES||YES||YES|
|Gii||AIRT GZ_015.2011 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|Skyline Flight Gear||Pure||LTF09 EAPR-GZ-7175/09||YES||YES||YES|
|Racer 4||LTF03 DHV GS-03-0369-08||YES||YES||YES|
|Ride||LTF03 DHV GS-03-0329-06||YES||YES||YES|
|Debut||LTF03 DHV GS-03-0352-07||YES||YES||YES|
|Vertigo||LTF03 DHV GS-03-0309-04||YES||YES||YES|
|Cult C||EAPR-GZ-7399/11 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|Cult C 2012||EAPR-GZ-7510/12 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|SOL SPORTS||CX 2||EAPR-GZ-7176/09||YES||YES||YES|
|CX 2 - PRO||EAPR-GZ-7176/09||YES||YES||YES|
|Spring 2 Airbag||
|Virtue||DHV GS-03-0353-07 LTF03||YES||YES||YES|
|Virtue 2||DHV GS-03-0376-10 LTF03||YES||YES||YES|
|Amazon||DHV GS-03-0363-07 LTF03||YES||YES||YES|
|Easy 2||DHV GS-03-0364-07 LTF03||YES||YES||YES|
|Easy 3||EAPR-GZ-7685/12 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|Mountain light calipox||DHV GS-03-0375-10||YES||YES||YES|
|Supair||Altix 2||LTF09 EAPR-GZ-7281/10||YES||YES||YES|
|EVO XC 2||LTF09 EAPR-GZ-7282/10||YES||YES||YES|
|Access BumpAir||LTF09 EAPR-GZ-7180/09||YES||YES||YES|
|Access Airbag||LTF09 EAPR-GZ-7158/09||YES||YES||YES|
|Walibi||EN 1651; EAPR-GZ-7173/09||YES||YES||YES|
|Shamane FR||EAPR-GZ-7425/11 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|Altirando 2||EAPR-GZ-7545/12 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|Sun Gliders||Sunny 3 plus||-||NO||NO||NO|
|Swing||Connect Race||LTF09 EAPR-GZ-7438-11||Yes||YES||YES|
|Connect Reverse||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|Connect 2||LTF 03||YES||NO||NO|
|Connect light 2||LTF 03||YES||NO||NO|
|U-TURN||IQ 4||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|IQ 5||EN 1651||YES||YES||YES|
|UP International||Fast Pro||LTF 09||YES||YES||YES|
|Fast Pro 2||LTF09 EAPR-GZ-7426/11||YES||YES||YES|
|Vonblon||Nexus||EAPR -GZ-7604/12 LTF09||YES||YES||YES|
|Woody Valley||x-Rated 3||N0||NO||NO|
|x-Rated 4||LTF03 DHV GS-03-0366-07||YES||YES||YES|
|x-Rated 5||LTF03 EAPR-GZ-7325/10||YES||YES||YES|
LTF09 EN 1651:1999 EAPR-GZ-7439/12
|Voyager PLUS||LTF03 EAPR-GZ-7198/09||YES||YES||YES|
|Velvet2 T-Lock||LTF03 DHV GS-03-0335-06||YES||YES||YES|
|Velvet2||LTF03 DHV GS-03-0336-06||YES||YES||YES|
|Velvet2 Airbag T Lock||LTF03 DHV GS-03-0338-06||YES||YES||YES|
|Peak2 T Lock||LTF03 DHV GS-03-0348-07||YES||YES||YES|
|Peak2||LTF03 DHV GS-03-0349-07||YES||YES||YES|
|X-Alpes GTO||LTF09 EAPR GZ-7438/11||YES||YES||YES|
|x-over 2||LTF03 DHV GS-03-0247-01||Yes||YES||YES|
The wearing of EN966 certified helmets in Cat 1 events has been mandatory since 1 January 2010. CIVL Officials have compiled a List of helmets currently used in airsports, noting those believed to be certified to EN966.
At the 2011 CIVL Plenary, the paragliding harness rule, 12.2.1 in Section 7B of the FAI Sporting Code, was modified. A Table of certified harnesses and back protectors has been compiled from information sourced from the websites of harness manufacturers and test laboratories.
The wearing of EN966 certified helmets in Cat 1 events has been mandatory since 1 January 2010. CIVL Officials have compiled a List of helmets currently used in airsports, noting those believed to be certified to EN966.
An article from Dennis Pagen about Sprog testing and measurement for CIVL Competitions. Plus links to a Series of videos including the Gerolf Heinrichs' lectures, how to check and set your sprogs, and an explanation of the HG prototype ruling among other important safety issues.
For several years, the CIVL has been committed to measuring hang glider sprog settings at major competitions. The reason for this policy is to inform pilots of their settings, to ensure a minimum of safety and to gather information useful to the entire flying community.
Sprogs, also known as washout struts, are rods connected to the leading edge of a glider by a swivel and a cable so that they can be lifted upward at their trailing end, but have a limit on how far down they can be moved. They rest underneath the glider sail’s top surface and hold a minimum amount of twist or washout in a wing. They operate in the following manner: If the glider’s angle of attack becomes too low, air moving over the top surface pushes the sail down until it in turn pushes down on the sprogs. The sprogs then put a torque force into the glider’s leading edge to pull the nose of the glider back up, thereby increasing the angle of attack. By this action, sprogs are a powerful part of a hang glider’s pitch stability system.
Sprogs settings are thus important for safety. Sprogs set too high can reduce a glider's roll control because the sail on the wing outside of the curve can hit the sprog and reduce roll response. Sprogs set too low can reduce a glider’s pitch stability, as indicated above. Since sprogs are readily adjustable by the pilot, it is reasonable and important that knowledge of correct settings be available to all pilots and officials. The following information provides the official CIVL measuring procedures (what we use at competitions). With this information in hand, a pilot can control her/his sprog settings so that they are in compliance.
Ideally, a glider should be measured in a protected area (hangar or a large room) on a flat surface protected, although outside with a reasonably level area and wind less than 8km/h (5mph) is acceptable. Many measurements at competitions take place in the landing field or on takeoff. The equipment needed is a digital inclinometer and a telescopic stick. These instruments are available fairly cheaply. A protractor with a weighted string through the apex is also suitably accurate. The following steps explain the procedure.
Step 1: Set the glider up totally (with all battens attached), open the undersurface sprog zippers, and pull the VG chord on full. Note: open the zippers before pulling on the VG to prevent damaging the zippers. Also, if the glider’s VG system has been modified, pull the VG to the original factory maximum setting.
Step 2: Level the glider’s base tube. Use the inclinometer to get the base to level, side-to-side within one degree. You can use pads or other items to prop up one side, if necessary.
Step 3: Level the keel. Prop the rear of the keel up on a suitable support. We use an adjustable telescopic stick, but a ladder or other prop can be used, as long as you can alter the height to get a level keel. If the keel is within a degree or two, you can make the measurements, but will have to add or subtract the difference from the sprog angle measurement (see step 5). If you are only doing one or two gliders it is worthwhile to get the keel exactly level. For CIVL officials measuring many gliders at meets, using digital instruments able to take a setting and give an angle relative to that setting, we typically get the keel within a degree of level and let the instrument do the difference calculation. (If this method is used, the measurements all have to be taken facing the same direction as the keel was measured, or an error will be introduced to the measurement. For some gliders, it is not possible to take measurements all the same way because of sprog access. In this case, the keel must be made exactly level before measuring the sprogs.) Note: the support should be placed as close to the lower rear cables as possible to avoid bending the keel, resulting in false readings. In addition, the true measurement of the keel angle with respect to level is at the nose, just behind the noseplate, which eliminates the effect of keel bending due to tight lower cables and the support.
Step 4: Place each sprog in its normal flying position, then put a hand on the leading edge from underneath to support it, and pull down a bit on the rear of the sprog to “set” it. Next, measure its angle with respect to level. This measurement should be done under the support cable as much as possible to eliminate a false reading due to sprog bending.
Note: It is important to hold the sprog down to full cable stretch while measuring without pulling it down too much and changing the angle. It is easy to push it up as well when measuring. A little bit of practice teaches the right “feel” for when the sprog is setting at its correct working position. Generally, you can hold the inclinometer against the sprog with one hand, while holding the leading edge up with the other so you can feel the solid engagement of the sprog.
Also, be aware that many sprogs made of carbon fibre are tapered or have a rough surface. With a taper, we measure at the very rear of the sprog and hold the inclinometer against the sprog at that point, regardless if it isn’t touching the sprog further forward. With a rough sprog, we measure right below the support cable with an inclinometer long enough (20 cm or 6 inches) to span over enough of the roughness to provide an average reading. Finally, note that on some gliders the zippers are placed so that it is difficult to access the sprog without pushing hard on the sail and thus changing the sprog setting. The best way to handle these situations is to place the inclinometer between the sprog and sail, and gently pull the sprog down so that the support cable is tight, while holding the leading edge up with the other hand.
Step 5: Re-measure the keel angle with respect to level behind the noseplate to get the relative setting, then subtract or add that to the sprog measurements (add it if the keel is nose up from level, subtract it if the keel is nose down from level). Finally, record the settings of both inside and outside sprogs, left and right. These angles are your sprog settings and can be compared to the data collected over the years at competitions, or your manufacturer’s published values.
For more information, watch the Sprog setting measurement videos.
A number of useful videos are available on the FAI Hang Gliding and Paragliding Channel on Youtube to explain this important safety issue. Links are provided below:
For further information, read the Sprog testing and measurement for FAI hang gliding competitions page.
The new structure was confirmed by the 2013 plenary meeting. The Safety Officer is member of the discipline committees (ex-subcommittees) and can require their expertise for her/his own safety initiatives. In this "safety corner", technical articles are now by disciplines, plus general reflexion articles right down here. Stay tuned...
At the 2012 autumn bureau meeting, the structure was changed again. The Safety Subcommittee was replaced by only its chairman, called then Safety Officer. It is a coordinating function for the safety initiatives being undertaken by each of the discipline subcommittees.
At the 2011 plenary meeting, it was decided to split the training element out (to be managed by a Training Technical Officer) and create the Safety Subcommittee, with a chairman and members appointed by the discipline (HG, PG, Aerobatics and Accuracy) subcommittees to work on their specific issues.
Contact the Safety Officer
Bert Willing has spent some 2,200 h over 28 years in three dozen different gliders, and run about 70,000 km cross-country, mainly in the Alps. He earned an German instructor’s licence 20 years ago, and since two years also teaches in his local Swiss club. He regularly trains aerobatics - without much ambition, he just loves rolls. Here he seeks why experienced pilots also have accidents.
In 1996, Southern France claimed a death toll of 18 amongst glider pilots - three of them dying at my airfield, when the training two-seater inadvertently spun into a single seater below it. At that point, I stopped gliding for a year in order to think about my own ranking on the list. Eventually I came to the conclusion (midairs set apart) that it solely depends on me if I want to wreck a glider. I then decided to keep on gliding and bought my first glider (well, a share in a glider).
Ten years and 1,300 h later I can’t help to state that the number of accidents is certainly varying from year to year, but on average it always stays the same. Why is this? Is there anything we can do about it? Do I have a chance to escape from the statistics on the long run?
For me, gliding means to get to know new landscapes, to widen my experience. I’m constantly reaching my limits, and if I want to learn something new, I have to push these limits - on each flight, I somewhere have to cross the limit at least a little bit: the next mountain pass, the next mountain range, or the known ranges a little lower and a bit faster. I need to get beyond the limits in my head, but I mustn’t cross the limits of aviation!
I certainly have no easy solution to present how to avoid all those dead fellow pilots. I actually think that there is no easy solution at all - but may be it does help to speak out my thoughts.
Each time there is an accumulation of lethal accidents (which is about every summer) the pressure from third parties increases. Local or even national newspapers report, they point to the number of accidents (or impacts in residential areas), and subsequently politicians and the like feel the pressure “to do something”. Which will come along as “preliminary” rules and restrictions with the remark that we’ll have to wait for the accident investigation to conclude on causes.
Reading the investigation reports of the last years, one finds thorough explanations how the accident happened and why it was impossible to survive the impact. So, what do I learn from this? When a glider runs along with 110 kph below a ridge and sticks its wingtip slightly into a rock, I don’t need much of an imagination that the pilot doesn’t stand any chance. If a pilot turns into final for an outlanding, stalling his glider less than 100 m above ground - how would he possibly survive?
The investigation report will tell me very precisely, how the accident did happen - but not much else. It probably will tell me something about the poor pilot’s overall experience, and his level of training. But honestly, I shouldn’t expect much more even from the most conclusive report. But what I want to know is: Why did this accident happen? It’s not like most of the accidents happen to low-hours pilots and youngsters. On the contrary, most often the victims are pilots with thousands of hours and accomplishments I dearly would like to get to.
Why a Klaus Holighaus didn’t return from the mountains?
Why was a Hans Glöckl been had?
Why did a Wolfgang Lengauer crash into the ridge?
Why is Frederico Blatter gone?
Why does an experienced pilot spin into the ground during an outlanding?
How can I avoid to follow them?
If it hits so many experienced pilots, and if I’m piling up more and more experience - how not to be killed by my experience?!
Aviation is built on redundancy so that a single error doesn’t turn into disaster. If a mechanical link to the aileron has failed, the daily check will make it evident and the glider is grounded - but if we skip that daily check, we make an error on top of the defect, and that gives way to an accident.
Avoiding accidents therefore means breaking the chain of errors. Obviously, we also could try not to make errors in the first place - but I personally haven’t yet met the pilot who doesn’t make errors. Now, what are these errors? “Error” is probably not the right word, “accident factor” seems more appropriate to me. Accident factors can be classified into several groups:
Error chains are typically made of accident factors from more than one of these groups. Initially, we are happily cruising and don’t worry too much about outlanding sites - things look rather ok. Then the situation becomes a little stressy because that next thermal just doesn’t want to show up, and the situation with fields is not exactly what we thought it was. Workload gets high and higher and we finally don’t even recognise the piloting error on turning into final - until impact.
About twenty years ago I had a near-miss after which I started to think intensively about my behaviour in a cockpit: After releasing from a winch launch on a day without thermals, I was doing 60 ° bank turns in a glider of 26 m wingspan. Somewhere around 250 m AGL the nose gently started dropping, and the glider just wouldn’t react anymore. The standard procedure to stop a spin showed no result (the rudder was sucked into the direction of the spin, and I was pushing the pedal towards a force-limit, instead of pushing it to the mechanical stop). After a short review of the situation (including a hopeless glimpse at the canopy jettison handle), I pushed the rudder out of the shoulder to the stop, jerked the flap lever to negative and started to pull up as soon as my bum signalled seat pressure. By this time I had done one and a half spin revolutions, and the pull-up was well beyond any limit for Vne or max G-load, just to stay clear of the tree tops.
Looking back, I had worked myself through every possible part of the error chain:
The only reason why I had succeeded to break the error chain was that over the past, I had developed the habit to train spins (at high altitude) with almost any glider I ever flew. But the fact that I did make it in the end was basically luck (obviously, I didn’t have any plan B). That day I decided that my survival mustn’t merely rely on a little luck.
In order to break the error chain, we have to think about how to avoid or neutralize the "accident factors“ of any of the above groups.
Technical defaults and piloting errors are "hard factors“; they can be assessed objectively. Since soaring has been around since quite a couple of decades, one can say that these factors can be relatively well kept at bay through official rules and legislation (training syllabus, airworthiness requirements etc.).
Stress overload and erroneous judgements are "soft“ accident factors - it depends on the very pilot which stress load he will stand, or why he misjudges a critical situation. And as it depends on the pilot, there can be no strict rules to hide behind: Every pilots needs to know his own limits, and he can’t discharge responsibility!
I am convinced that the starting points of most accidents are soft factors. The error chain then adds a hard factor or two (stalling on turn to final) to make the perfect crash. And as these soft factors can’t be fought by general rules and legislation, they are difficult to grasp - and in the world of soaring, there is no tradition to discuss them in a structured manner. Professional aviation is light-years ahead of us in this point. Of course - professional aviation deals with other levels of workload and responsibility... Well, does it? In terms of responsibility, certainly so. There are not 300 pax in my Ventus choosing between chicken and pasta while trusting the pilot.
On the workload level, I’m not quite that sure. On an eight-hours cross-country flight through the Alps, I have to make strategic and tactical decisions by the minute, I have to fly the glider precisely (i.e. low on a ridge), I have to deal with lots of radiation from the sun and have to worry about getting enough oxygen to breathe. There is no autopilot or copilot I could count on. I’m convinced that high-performance flights in gliders put a huge workload on the pilot, and that those soft factors are being systematically underestimated and pushed away. It’s about time to grow up a little in this aspect.
A stress overload always happens when our performance doesn’t match a given task. That may be the case because a task is very or even too difficult, or because our performance has decreased for various reasons. In any case, it is a "soft“ factor as it strongly depends on the situation and on the pilot’s personality.
What can we do about this? We have three choices:
Obviously, the best would be a combination of all three.
Performance can already be maintained by technical means: The human eye is not at all trained to identify an aircraft bound for collision. That aircraft doesn’t move relative to our field of view - but genetically, we are hunters and our image processing is optimized for movement detection. The identification of a still object 30 ° off our nose is just not part of our “specification sheet”. We can help our mark-1 eyeballs by using an anti-collision system as FLARM, by giving our glider’s appearance a little contrast, and by supplying the brain with enough oxygen for image processing. As aerobatic pilots know well, image processing is the first thing shut down by the brain if there is a lack of oxygen.
Another tool which helped to reduce my personal workload enormously, is the GPS in alpine soaring. Without a GPS, going to a new mountain range gives a lot of work with map and rule in order to decide which outlanding field is within reach, and when I can’t jump into the next cone anymore. If one gets low, one also needs to find lift on those unknown ridges, and if the ridges don’t work, the workload gets real high. Since my GPS offers me the bearing and distance to the next field with a simple glance, my beats-per-minute have significantly decreased in such situations. Obviously, the maps and the rule are still in my side pocket, but most of the time I can just concentrate on the lift. And instead of having my nose in the map for long moments, I even can watch out for other gliders.
A helpful tool can also be a stall warning (i.e. the side string on the canopy). If a pilot spins in during the final turn for an outlanding, his normal input channels to detect a stalled attitude must have been clogged - which is also a form of overload.
And of course we have to pay attention to the biological base of our performance: If we fly for hours and hours, we have to eat, drink and pee - just as we do on the ground. If we sit for hours in the sun or the cold, we have to be protected. And flying in the mountains, we have to be aware how oxygen depletion affects our performance.
All these factors do tire us gradually, and we have to have a plan to fight them back. If I’m hungry, my blood sugar level is already too low, and when I’m thirsty, I am already dehydrated. And when I get the feeling that the air is getting thinner, the canula should have been up my nose since quite some time. Well, and everybody knows that bladder pressure is highest when we happen to be low down on the ridge...
All these factors play a role whether I will reach my limits during a hairy situation on this flight. And for this situation I should have made sure that I have the best prerequisites - a little less might just be the difference between a deep sigh, or dangling on a winch rope underneath a helicopter.
An important tool to escape from a difficult situation is the mental preparation - like considering a break of the tow rope while preparing for launch. Calling out "safety altitude“ during aerotow means that I know exactly what to do in case the tug lets me down, and that I just execute a pre-drilled manoeuvre. A good example is Valentin Mäder’s classification of a situation during cross country into the categories Green, Orange and Red. As long as the situation is “green”, average speed is all which matters. As soon as the situation becomes “orange”, the focus is on staying airborne, and during “red” the only task is a safe outlanding. By consequently "declaring the situation“, any doubts are dismissed and the actions are well defined - deviation from the track, accepting weak lift, dumping the water etc.
Sometimes a sharp decrease in performance may happen exactly when we need it the least: One locks up under stress - a little like the rabbit which get hypnotized by the snake. There is a fair number of investigations into this subject (mostly from the defence industry), and the findings can be wrapped up as follows: When we suddenly identify a situation as being life-threatening, our body sets free a massive dose of adrenaline. If this dose is too high, our basic motoric functions are pushed to their max (to make us escape that evil lion hunting for us), but our fine motorics and our perception are drastically reduced - with tunnel sight and selective hearing, we loose the best part of our connection to the world around us. There is just no way anymore to judge the situation correctly and to act accordingly. Once such a reaction has taken place, there is absolutely no way to control it, and when this happens in a cockpit, the outcome is dramatic: the glider stalls on turning into final, everything spins around and we try until impact to pull up the nose.
Is there anything we can do about this? Well, the simplest and best solution would be to avoid this type of situation - some words on this below.
The only alternative is to make sure that there are no massive doses of adrenaline. Some situations can’t or shouldn’t be trained, and it is important to go through a mental preparation with pre-defined actions schemes. If during a flight we see than the situation glitches towards drama, we then can take out the pre-defined action of the mental drawer and execute it even under stress.
However, there are critical situations which can be trained and drilled very conveniently - if one only wants to. Spins are a very good example: A pilot who has seen just half or one rotation during his initial training will be heavily disoriented when ten years later the sky turns green and keeps spinning around. It’s no big deal to do a little spin training at a safe altitude once or twice a year, together with an instructor if necessary. It will not be any guarantee that we never will spin a glider unintentionally - but if we do, stall, departure and even a stationary spin will be something we are used to, and our body will probably not push a dose of adrenaline into our veins which shuts off the better parts of our brains. Sometimes it just needs a second or two for the right reaction, and life goes on!
My near-miss described earlier is a good example: Having done spin training on various gliders over years did save my life, because the animal part of my brain didn’t take the strange attitude of the glider as life-threatening, thus giving me the chance to think. Tow rope breaks around safety altitude on aerotow are another example - having done most of my launches on a winch, a low rope break on aerotow used to be a nightmare for me. Now that I fly as an instructor in a club which exclusively aerotows, I have to fly these exercises on a regular basis (and have to prepare them mentally) - they are actually an excellent example for pre-defined action schemes.
Each pilot has his own personal limits, and we just have to understand that often these limits are much closer than we would like to think. How do we avoid situations, which push us beyond our limits? The first and most important step is to judge the situation and its potential development correctly. I am absolutely convinced that most heavy accident originate at this point.
Correct judgement of a situation requires knowing one’s own limits - or even accepting the existence of personal limits in the first place, even though our “top gun image” might take a blow. It is important to be aware that these limits shift from day to day, and even throughout a single flight: Working the ridge after takeoff is a different story than ten hours later, when we scratch together the last couple of meters to finally make it home. If at the beginning of the season I spiral in a thermal just below and in front of the ridge, I might spend a thought or two on the fact that I just finished hibernation and I don’t exactly have the same level of training as I had last autumn after logging 150 hours during the season.
There are no rules or legislations to help us on that - we have to judge by ourselves. Lying to oneself means having one leg in the tomb. During spiralling underneath a ridge I personally put myself upon each turn the question whether I think survival of the next turn is a realistic scenario - and on quite a couple of occasions, the answer is “no”.
But even knowing the own limits one can perfectly have a judgement of a situation which is plain wrong. On a competition flight, I once went up the eastern side of the Durance valley from St Crépin to the turnpoint Briançon and back - with the north-westerly wind on that day a piece of cake to run low and fast. Unfortunately, the wind happened to be just strong enough so that this part of the valley was in the lee of the high Ecrins massif, and when I finally made back to St Crépin uncomfortably low, my neck had grown by a couple of inches.
In order to judge a situation correctly, it takes experience, and experience is actually the sum of all wrong judgements. Unfortunately, glider pilots can’t really escape this mechanism - and it is also just part of the game to sometimes sit for hours in a field swearing and trying to figure out, how one ended up here.
The lesson simply is that I have to accept that my judgement may be wrong. The basic rule is "Always have an alternate".
If the thermals don’t do what they are supposed to do, my “alternate” is a field within reach. But I have to know this field and be able to recall it before I get into the situation to need it! If my judgement is that the ridge will work, and I look for something landable only once the ridge has had its laugh at me, I’ll be under stress - and I only can react instead of act. I need at least one answer for every potential development of a situation.
If I’m running the ridge low above the trees, or if I thermal just above the ridge line (I have to have my escape route at any point of time) that can be the lee side of the ridge, or just my excess speed. If I haven’t thought about escape and hit the downdraft of the thermal close to the trees - well, then there will be just no escape. It’s just like crossing a mountain pass - you always approach under an angle and have the speed to abort.
The principle is always the same - I have to plan for the possibility and the ways a situation might degrade, and I have to be at least one step ahead of this degradation. If I don’t pay attention to this principle, I’ll be limping behind, and eventually I won’t be limping fast enough. Always be ahead of your aircraft.
Sometimes there is a "gutt feeling“ that something is wrong with the situation. There is no real grasp on this, every single point looks ok, but it just feels not ok. As a trained physicist, I used to discard gutt feeling and called them Voodoo - there is little place for esotherics in the world of physics. However, I have come to learn to listen to gutt feeling, and even to take it seriously. There have been days with good weather, a glider waiting for me and the whole day at my disposal. But something didn’t feel right and I told myself: Just forget it, go do something else. And I did. I still don’t know whether I should have been flying on these days, but then even I don’t need to know this - there will be enough other days to go flying.
Stupid men always commit the same errors - intelligent men always invent new errors. Every pilot commits errors - we are humans, not machines. If we want to break the error chain, we have to organize or flying in a way that one single error won’t lead to an accident. The planning for alternates is an important tool for this.
But if we want to evolve, probably the most important means is to recognize the errors we have made, and to eventually learn from them. That means being honest to oneself in the first place, and to be open for critics. If during a flight things didn’t work out as expected, flying low did turn into flying real low, acceptable fields are nowhere to be seen and the adrenaline level rises... and puh, there is the lift and operations switch to “normal” again. Then it is absolutely important not to push away the event, but to mentally go through that situation again (maybe once we are back home) and to analyze how we did end up with cold sweat on our face. Of course it would be much more appealing to tell the buddies over a beer how close that call was and how our exceptional flying skills finally made it work out. But that means pushing away and lying to ourselves. It is much more worth to admit that that event was no good, and that would be better off avoiding it the next time. Stupid men always commit the same errors...
The recognition of errors also requires to listen to critics from the outside. An experienced pilot, an instructor and sometimes even a student pilot looks at our behaviour from the outside, and when he thinks he sees something strange - well, we should be listening first and then think about it before snapping "Shut up, bimbo“. Maybe he ain’t no bimbo.
People say that there are ten near-misses for every fatal accident. Those who had the fatal accidents are no more there to tell us which error chains finally killed them. The investigation report certainly will tell us that spinning in nearly vertically unfortunately didn’t leave a chance for survival. But why did this pilot with a couple of thousand hours under his belt stall his glider? What let him to commit a piloting error and to not even be aware of it? He won’t tell us - he’s bloody dead.
But for him, there have been ten near-misses where the accident has been avoided by breaking the error chain. These pilots can explain us how the error chain was built up, and how they eventually managed to break it. We all could learn a lot from this experience if those pilots would be ready (and be allowed) to talk about it frankly and honestly! Near-misses are a huge pool of experience, and we are actually in no position to discard it. However, it is important that pilots can easily and without any disciplinary consequences talk about their critical situations - the internet provides us a fantastic tool for this.
Constructive dealing with errors is a crucial point which absolutely needs to be incorporated into the culture of gliding. According to our traditions, errors are to be punished and will have "consequences“. Piloting errors should of course have the consequence of some more training, and there is very little place in aviation for any lack of discipline.
But there are lot of occasions to commit errors on the basis of “best knowledge and conscience”. If we get away with it and are aware of having been stupid, then we could at least try and have our buddies profit from that experience as well.
This will only work if the soaring community promotes an open discussion about these errors. Maybe our image of being cool pilots will take a little blow - but honestly, the photo of a pathetic heap of scrubbed plastic is certainly not something which conveys an image of coolness, either.
Many thanks to Valentin Mäder for his thought and the discussions with him!