The pilot must be familiar with the approach and landing traffic pattern to a gliderport or airport because the approach actually starts some distance away. Gliderports and airport operators should comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommended procedures established in Advisory Circulars (AC), the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), and current FAA regulations for operating in United States airspace. If glider operation is conducted in other countries, the air regulations for those countries would apply. These publications also serve as good references to ensure safe glider operations.
Pilots need to determine a proper visual reference point as an initial point (IP) from which to begin the approach for each landing area. The IP may be located over the center of the gliderport/airport or at a remote location near the traffic pattern. As shown in Figure 7-26, the sequence of a normal approach is from over the IP to the downwind leg, base leg, final approach, flare, touchdown, rollout, and stop. Some gliderports and airports have established procedures to follow when conducting flight operations in and out of their airfield. It is good pilot practice to review existing approach and departure procedures so as to always follow safe established procedures. Be aware that compensation for winds often requires modifying the traffic pattern to retain a safe approach angle.
Determining the IP comes with good training and experience. The IP should only be used as a visual reference point for proper positioning into the traffic pattern. Do not rely on these visual points, as when landing at a different gliderport/ airports these points will change. Pilots should develop proper placement, altitude, and distances based on current conditions. Use proper alignment for winds and always consider other environmental factors. Flying the glider traffic pattern is basically the same as a power pattern; however, the glider pilot must consider other environmental factors that affect the landing.
Once over the IP, the pilot flies along the downwind leg of the planned landing pattern. The pilot should plan to be over the IP at an altitude of 800 to 1,000 feet AGL or as recommended by the local field operating procedures. During this time, it is important to look for other aircraft and, if installed, listen to the radio for other aircraft in the vicinity of the gliderport/ airport. Glider pilots should plan to make any radio calls early in the pattern, so the pilot can concentrate and on the landing task without being distracted. Glider pilots should be aware of other activities located at the gliderport/airport, and it is important that they are familiar with good operating practices. Glider operations usually establish the patterns for their operation with other activities in mind. Pilots new to a gliderport/airport should obtain a thorough checkout before conducting any flights.
Pilots should complete the landing checklist prior to the downwind leg. A good landing checklist is known as FUSTALL. This checklist can be modified as necessary for any glider.
- Flaps—set (if applicable)
- Undercarriage—down and locked (if applicable)
- Speed—normal approach speed established (as recommended by the GFM/POH)
- Air brakes (spoilers/dive brakes)—checked for correct operation
- Landing area—look for wind, other aircraft, and personnel
- Land the glider
Normal Approach and Landing
Prior to entering the downwind leg and accomplishing the landing checklist, concentrate on judging the approach angle, distance from the landing area, and staying clear of other aircraft while monitoring approach airspeed. The normal approach speed, as recommended by the GFM/POH, is the speed for ideal flight conditions. Medium turns can be used in the traffic pattern, but do not exceed a 45° bank angle. The approach should be made using spoilers/dive brakes as necessary to dissipate excess altitude. Use the elevator to maintain the recommended approach airspeed established by the manufacturer. If no approach speed is recommended by the manufacturer, use 1.5 VSO. Establishing a proper pattern entry and normal approach speed is a foundation for a good approach to landing. During the entry into the traffic pattern, pilots need to ensure that the glider is in trim and keep the yaw string straight during these turns while maneuvering in the traffic pattern at all times.
Strong crosswinds, tailwinds, or high sink rates that are encountered in the traffic pattern require the pilot to modify the individual pattern leg (downwind, base, or final) and to adjust the approach speed as appropriate. It is recommended that half of the gust factor be added to the normal approach speed to compensate for wind gusts and sink. A strong tailwind or headwind requires a respective shortening or lengthening of the leg. A sudden encounter with a high sink rate may require the pilot to turn toward the landing area sooner than normal. The pilot should not conduct a 360° turn once established on the downwind leg. Throughout the traffic pattern, the pilot should be constantly aware of the approach speed and plan ahead by keeping the glider in trim and the yaw string straight.
When at an appropriate distance from the IP, the pilot should maneuver the glider to enter the downwind leg. The distance for a normal pattern from downwind leg to the landing area should be approximately one quarter to one half of a mile. Of course, this depends on current conditions and the type of glider. This varies at different locations. On the downwind leg, the glider should descend to arrive abeam the touchdown point at an altitude between 500 and 600 feet AGL. On the downwind leg, the groundspeed is higher if a tailwind is present. The pilot should use the spoilers/dive brakes as necessary to arrive at this altitude. The pilot should also monitor the glider’s position with reference to the touchdown area. If the wind pushes the glider away from or toward the touchdown area, the pilot should stop the drift by establishing a wind correction angle into the wind. Failure to do so affects the point where the base leg should be started.
The base leg should not be started any later than when the touchdown point is approximately 45° over the pilot’s shoulder looking back at the touchdown area, under a no-wind condition. Newer, higher glide ratio, faster gliders may need to extend the downwind leg somewhat, whereas lower ratio, slower gliders may need to turn to the base leg much sooner. Each glider pilot must determine the landing conditions and configure the glider for that landing under those conditions. Slip and drag devices can dissipate excess altitude, but nothing on a glider can make up for insufficient altitude to glide to the landing area. Base altitude should be no lower than approximately 500 feet AGL.
Once established on the base leg, the pilot should scan the extended final approach path to detect any aircraft that might be on long final approach to the landing area in use. If a radio is installed in the glider, this would be a good time to broadcast position for turn to final. The turn to the base leg should be timely enough to keep the point of intended touchdown area within easy gliding range. The pilot should adjust the turn to correct for wind drift encountered on the base leg and, if needed, make correction turns to ensure maintainance of the proper glide angle to the landing area. The pilot should also adjust the spoilers/dive brakes, as necessary, to position the glider at the desired glide angle.
NOTE: New pilots should learn to properly scan for another aircraft operating in the traffic pattern. Pilots should also review FAA AC 90-48C, Pilot’s Role in Collision Avoidance.
The turn onto the final approach should not exceed a 45° bank and the glider should be on the appropriate approach angle to start the descent. The pilot should ensure that the yaw string is straight. Complete the turn to final to line up with the centerline of the touchdown area. The pilot should adjust the spoilers/dive brakes, as necessary, to fly the desired approach angle to the aim point and establish a stabilized approach at the recommended approach speed.
The stabilized approach is when the glider is at the proper glider path/angle with minimal spoilers/dive brakes deployed/ extended, at the recommended approach speed for the current conditions (winds, gust, sink, etc.) and able to make the intended landing spot. The stabilized approach should be established no lower than 100 feet AGL. The final approach with spoilers/dive brakes extended approximately half open (not half travel of the spoiler/dive brake control handle) is ideal for most gliders. Avoid using full spoilers/dive brakes because this use causes a higher descent rate and increase in stall speed.
Minor adjustments in the spoilers/dive brakes may be needed to ensure proper glidepath control. Avoid pumping the spoilers/dive brakes from full open to full close. Under some conditions, the spoilers/dive brakes may have to be closed momentarily to correct the glidepath. The selected aim point should be prior to the touchdown point to accommodate the landing flare. The pilot may flare the glider at or about three to five feet AGL. The glider may float some distance until it touches down. If excess speed is used, the glider floats a considerable distance. Avoid using this technique as it uses a large amount of the intended landing area. Do not try to force the glider onto the ground at excessive speeds. This may introduce oscillations, such as porpoising and overcontrolling.
When within three to five feet of the landing surface, begin the flare with slight back elevator. As the airspeed decreases, the pilot holds the glider in a level or tail-low attitude to touchdown at the lowest possible speed for existing conditions, while the glider is still under aerodynamic control.
Pilots should avoid driving the glider into the ground by little or no flare. This type of landing puts excessive loads on the landing gear and wings. The pilot should hold the glider off as possible, but ensuring the touchdown is on the main wheel as stated in the GFM. In some gliders, the pilot can increase pitch attitude with slight back pressure to dissipate as much energy as possible prior to touchdown. The pilot should ensure that the glider touches down with a nose-high attitude, but not high enough to land tail first. A good glider landing in most gliders with a main wheel and tail wheel, or skid, is on the main wheel with the tail wheel just slightly touching or the tail wheel just barely off the surface. The main wheel is designed to withstand the shock of landings but the tail wheel is not. In some instances, the attach points or structure just in front of the empennage is the weakest point and may fail first. Pilots should always follow the GFM/POH recommendations of the manufacturer.
After touchdown, the pilot should concentrate on rolling out straight along the the centerline of the touchdown area, keeping full back stick on the elevator and the glider wings level. If an obstacle is detected (possible in an off-airport landing or landing out), a coordinated turn on the ground is needed to avoid the obstacle. Ensure that a wing is not allowed to contact the ground until the glider is at its lowest speed or stopped.
Tracking along a centerline of the touchdown area is an important consideration in gliders. The long, low wingtips of the glider are susceptible to damage from runway signage and runway lighting. Turning off the runway should be done only if and when the pilot has the glider under control.
Landing in high, gusty winds or turbulent conditions may require higher approach airspeed to improve controllability and provide a safer margin above stall airspeed. As a rule of thumb, pilots add one-half the reported gust factor to the normal recommended approach airspeed. This increased approach airspeed provides a safety margin and affords better penetration into the headwind on final approach.