At the end of each article I write and each letter of correspondence I sign off with "FLY SAFELY". The purpose is to just plant another seed in all of our heads about being safe. This article is being written on June 15th. I am sad and write this article with a heavy heart. This sport is not fun when any one of us dies. Two weekends ago a tow pilot was killed in Washington State. The sailplane pilot drove him into the ground. The sailplane pilot either took off with his spoilers open or had them come open on tow. He realized they were open and closed them. In this act of closing his spoilers, he did not maintain the correct position behind the tow plane. Rather, he ballooned up above the tow plane. He could not release in time to prevent driving the tow plane into the ground. Last week a member of our world team was killed in Nevada when his elevator/horizontal stabilizer literally fell off, just as the take off roll began. Why are we killing others and ourselves?
I have no inside knowledge of either of the above mentioned accidents. However, as a flight instructor Id like to share my thoughts with you. We are careless. Too many of us think accidents happen to others but not to ourselves. We know accidents can happen but too many of us never really feel or believe that we will be the one actually involved. Too many of us think that we do not make mistakes. Too many of us have the attitude that we are just too good to make mistakes. My instructor when I was first learning to fly sailplanes was Ed Gaddy (from North Carolina), in my opinion the best instructor I have ever met. One day, after he realized that I was planning to make soaring my career, he looked at me and said something very close to these words. "Frank, every day when you get up and go shave, look in the mirror and tell yourself that today you are just stupid enough to kill yourself if you arent very careful." I try to remember those word every day.
I was discussing the tow pilots death right after I heard about it with a group of very experienced pilots. I mentioned that one of my first articles (WHATS YOUR LEFT HAND DOING) dealt with putting your left hand behind the spoiler handle to insure that they did not come open on tow and that they, the spoilers, were in the proper position before tow. One of the pilots said he did not need to do that and would never do it as he always closed and locked his spoilers during the checklist. (Invulnerability - Im too good, it could never happen to me.) How many pilots do you know who say, "I dont do my checklist."? None, Im sure. Yet how many times do pilots take off with the spoilers not closed and locked? I dare to guess that if the sailplane pilot in Washington had his hand behind the spoiler handle on takeoff that accident would not have happened.
We have had at least two major accidents in the past year dealing with something not working on the sailplane. Let me say up front that I am not a mechanic in any way, shape, or form. Mechanical malfunctions can and do happen. When they do the pilot has no control over the situation. However, as an instructor I must at least wonder if, indeed, these accidents were malfunctions or the pilots forgetting to hook things up properly. I have seen an experienced pilot sitting in his plane ready for launch with both ailerons down. Luckily, we caught it before that pilot launched. Of course, neither aileron was hooked up. The pilot simply forgot to hook them up and then forgot to do a positive control check. How could he make two mistakes in a row like that? I dont know. Were just not thinking sometimes.
We must change our attitudes. We must learn to be more careful. I would love to think that from now on each of you will look in your own mirror every morning and say to yourself, "Today Im just stupid enough to kill myself (or someone else) if Im not very careful." Mean it, live by it, act accordingly, and make safety happen.