THE "NEW" SSA SIGNAL
As most of you know or should know there is a fairly new signal between the tow plane and the sailplane. It is the rudder waggle. It means "There is something wrong with your sailplane". What could it be? One of several things. The most obvious is that your spoilers are open. Your first thought when you see that signal should be CHECK THE SPOILERS! It could mean your tail dolly is on. It does not mean your canopy is open as you would surely know that before the tow pilot, or at least I sure hope you would.
What it does NOT mean is RELEASE. The weekend before Christmas a sailplane in the eastern US was towed off with the spoilers open. Radio calls to the sailplane got no response. The tow pilot did the new rudder waggle signal. The sailplane pilot closed the spoilers and all went well. NOT!!!!! The sailplane pilot released and went into the trees. How did this happen? Somewhere along the communication line the ball was dropped. Certainly the sailplane pilot should have known the signal as it has been written about several times in the Soaring magazine. Or maybe the sailplane pilot is not a member of the SSA (another good reason to require club members and strongly encourage customers at commercial operations to belong to the SSA). What about his instructor? Maybe the sailplane pilot has had his certificate for several years and has not had any instruction since then. But wait a minute. What about a BFR? Certainly, the new signal is something covered in BFRs these days. What about the club or the commercial operation? Surely, there are safety meetings (such as the WINGS program) where these points are covered. Or at least when a new person is checked out to fly at a new field the check pilot makes sure that the new pilot knows the important signals between the tow pilot and the glider pilot.
With all of the above possible chances to know the rudder waggle signal how in the world could it not be known by every sailplane pilot flying today? Well, the truth of the matter is many sailplane pilots do not know the new signal. If you doubt the above statement start asking pilots the next time you are at your glider field. Who is at fault for this lack of communication that caused an accident? We all are. If your club is not having regular safety meetings then that club is not doing its best to promote safety. The same holds true for commercial operators. The same also holds true for each and every one of us in the soaring community. We are our brothers' (and sisters') keeper. We should be talking to each other about new as well as old safety issues. We don't have to have official safety meetings. When doing our after hours "hangar flying" some of the talk should be on safe flying. Think about it. You can help someone else not have an accident by simply asking a question or making a comment such as, "Hey, has everyone heard about the new rudder waggle signal?" or any number of other leading questions which will generate discussions on safety.
This accident could and should have been prevented. Think about it. You can prevent accidents not only for yourself but also for others.