Wake-up Stall

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This page last updated on 07/08/2017.

Copyright 2001-2017 by Russ Meyer


My cousin, Scott, is a glider pilot.  This is a story he wrote about one of his experiences:

Flying sailplanes is my form of stress relief, if you can believe that!  Fault Line Flyers is where I fly from.  I finally got ragged into taking my checkride after 2 1/2 years as a student...just didn't see the need so long as the instructors kept signing me off every 90 days.  They finally threatened to start charging me for signoffs.

Sailplanes are good fun...no place to go in a hurry, just see how long you can keep it in the air. At least that's where I am so far.  I started with them because of the low cost of entry, but I think it's the technical challenge that hooked me.  I'm looking forward to moving up to the higher performance ships from the boxcar trainers.  The club has a Grob 103 Twin Astir that I'll start working on mastering when the weather improves.  I've also been keeping an eye out for a good deal on a sailplane.  I've given some thought to getting my SEL ticket, but don't have the incentive yet.

My pucker factor story occurred during the late summer of 2002, a nice bright sunny day.  I was flying the club's SGS 1-26, a small single seat sailplane with about a 40' wingspan.  It weighs something like 700 lbs including the pilot...small, light and turns on a dime.  I was climbing in a small diameter, strong thermal at 800-1000 ft/min passing through about 3000 AGL.

In order to stay in the core of the thermal, I was turning very sharp and pulling G's. Over 45 of bank, with the stick well aft and a good bit of opposite aileron. A complete 360 was taking ten to twelve seconds.  This is all normal stuff, if perhaps a bit aggressive for me, since I don't normally like pulling G forces.  But the thermals were narrow and this is what was required to be able to climb.  Normal stall speed is 32-35 MPH, but I was flying around 50 MPH due to the roughness of the thermal and the load factor from the high rate of turn.

Somewhere in there I made a mistake, I think I steepened the bank angle to much, but I could have let the nose creep a few degrees too high. Regardless of the cause, the low wing suddenly stalled with no discernable warning.  The next thing I know I'm looking over the nose of the aircraft at the ground and listening to the wind noise increase.  The nice thing about sailplane instructors is, they drill the litany of spin recovery into you until you can quote it in your sleep.  I never developed a full spin, only did a half turn before recovering from the resulting dive, but I did good to return to base and land it. Sat on the porch and had a cold sweat in the summer heat.

The next spring I was in Phoenix and took an extra day to go to a commercial glider operation outside of town.  I spent the afternoon with an instructor, purposely doing incipient spins and recoveries.