As we enjoy the heat of summer, hopefully with our glider in trim and our reserve repacked, is there anything else we should do to make sure we’re having our fun as safely as possible? Well, one of the common answers is to make sure we’re up to date on our SIV practice. But that’s scary, and not for everyone, right? And do I really need to know how to stall and recover my EN B wing to fly safely?
I went on my first SIV three years ago. We covered an extensive syllabus including spins, spirals and stalls. At the end of it I felt I had experienced the worst of what I might encounter out there if conditions got really rough. But despite gaining that confidence, I was also unsure that I’d be able to reperform the right corrective action in the heat of the moment if I had to. So I decided to top up again this June.
It had taken me three years to feel ready to have another go. Partly that was because I’d found the first course scary: I’d fallen through my lines after a spin developed beyond what I could control, and got locked into a spiral dive. But my second SIV was to show me that all my anxiety was entirely unwarranted. In fact, approaching more extreme manoeuvres step by step, with enough practice, could in fact be quite fun.
I had two clear goals in mind. My first was to feel much more comfortable with extreme pitch. I’d always exited spirals rather cautiously to avoid a rapid climb with my wing dropping way back, as I didn’t feel confident I could catch the subsequent dive. For the same reason I was probably also over-compensating in very thermic conditions – perhaps what you might call hyperactive flying – and both my flying and the wing would benefit from a more relaxed approach and a bit more free rein. My second goal was to revisit asymmetric collapses, and build my knowledge about how to control an autorotation and clear any cravat that might have caused it.
I joined a full course with seven others, run by Malin Lobb at Flyeo, a BHPA school based in Annecy. The group encompassed pilots with between one and more than ten years flying, and gliders from EN A to C. After a thorough discussion about each person’s aims, Malin outlined the course and some underlying fundamentals that would maximise our learning. Then the group was spilt into two for a detailed briefing on the exercise relevant to our aims and experience.
My first exercise was to control a rapid spiral exit. We would be able to control the level of energy in the spiral, and the speed of exit, but we were encouraged to push them both as far as we felt comfortable. Increasing either would give a steeper climb, followed by a more severe dive – tackling my first area of anxiety head on. Taking time over the classroom preparation really paid off, giving ample opportunity to address any uncertainty anyone had. The bus ride to the first launch was pretty quiet as each of us mentally rehearsed exactly what we were going to do. Then we were off.
On the flight out to the box, I relaxed into my harness, leant back and looked over the wing. I knew from Malin’s explanations of his three other fundamentals that I had to dissociate my arms from any instinctive balance reactions, and use them to operate the full range of the brakes. And the better prepared I felt before doing the exercise, the better placed I would be to develop my situational awareness of where I was relative to the wing, and how both I and it were moving.
“OK John – now let’s build up some energy in a spiral.” Malin let it build up until the angle between the leading edge and the horizon reduced to less than 45°, before instructing me to “Exit”. As fast as I could I released the inner brake and gave a massive input of outside brake. Immediately the glider rolled out extremely fast. “Compensation” told me to reverse the brake input again to kill the roll. The glider went into a steep climb, and I watched the wing drop back towards the horizon behind me. “Relax …” as everything went quiet and peaceful, just for a few moments. Then came the dive. And to my surprise and relief, “Catch it” prompted me to give a big brake input that did exactly that, and I flew away without any drama. Wow, I thought!
Over the next couple of days I got enough practice to feel totally confident doing not only this exercise on my own, but also autorotations (hold in all the As on one side and lean into the collapsed side until a rapid spiral develops, which you then control) and spins (which can be used for emergency course changes and clearing cravats). By giving each of us a comprehensive individual debrief, and then appropriate briefing for the next flight, we each were able to address our own particular points, and progress as best we were able.
So back to my initial questions: is it scary and not for everyone? Well, I did get mildly anxious in preparation, but no one on my course described their experience as scary. And given tailored exercises, I believe that any pilot can enhance and develop their skills in a safe environment, under careful instruction. I would have described myself as a confident pilot before, unintimidated by strong thermic condition, but now I can tackle those conditions with substantially increased confidence, more able to focus on what’s happening and much better prepared to make appropriate corrective control inputs should the need arise.
Thanks to Malin and the Flyeo team, and my companions on the course: Marcus, Chris, Pete, Alex, Robin, James and Thomas.
Enjoy your flying!
If you want to chat anything through, we’re always happy to offer help and advice over the phone (01433 627195) or by email (email@example.com).