Post by Dan Marotta
I get stuck on the attitude of "giving up and heading for the pattern".
What works for me is to keep trying until I must lower the gear, turn base,
and land. There's no pattern (for me, at least) when flying that low.
Pick a a touchdown spot early, on airport or off, and work the lift until
you feel that your touchdown spot will soon become out of reach. Maybe
you'll drift to a location where there's another safe landing spot, maybe
not. The comfort comes from developing that feeling for the glider and its
response to your input.
Pretty much, "What Dan said." Where-n-when I obtained my license was a shared
field (Cumberland, MD) and I had it beat into my skull to "NEVER be trying to
soar below pattern altitude (or you'll screw it up for gliding here, and quite
possibly also do somethings else stupid)!!!" So the first question the Chief
Instructor (not mine, but one from whom I'd heard the above message) asked me
after I'd abandoned a 5-hour attempt after approximately 4 hours and 55
minutes late on an overcast afternoon during which there'd been essentially
zero other traffic of any kind was, "What'd you quit circling for? There was
nobody around!" I'd known that, but...and the question didn't diminish the
bloom on my rose one iota.
Fast forward a few years and maybe a couple hundred total soaring hours to
Boulder, CO, another (almost guaranteed-to-be-busy) shared airport. There,
simple self-preservation is usually sufficient for Joe Average Glider Pilot to
realize on his own that circling down/below pattern altitude as if the sky
isn't a shared resource, is dangerously foolish, with or without instructor or
peer input. That said, the relatively busy pattern entry sky is simultaneously
a superb training location for improving one's situational awareness when
simultaneously trying to avoid having to land. Over the years there've been
times I pulled the plug as high as (say) 1300' agl, and other times I've hung
on to below 1000' agl delaying my pattern waiting for less congested
pattern-or-field conditions, and (rarely) some times landing farther down the
field was the safest and sanest choice, ground-convenience be damned. I can
recall only twice when my "Shoot - landing required!" planning didn't result
in my desired outcome, once due to a grossly situationally-unaware, visiting,
bozo glider pilot who barged into the pattern from an unapproved/"wind-wrong"
direction at about 500' agl, and once from a local pilot burning off several
thousand feet of altitude in an almighty rush to get on the ground "just
because." In both cases, I simply landed well down the runway to avoid 'em.
Point being, there's "no guaranteed magic" about a height-agl number when it
comes to pattern planning, and if Joe Pilot insists on thinking there is, he's
setting himself up for (at the very least) some future disappointments.
That was all in my mid-twenties, ~40 years ago.
Bob - head on a swivel is good! - W.