Gliders Might Improve Pilots’ Upset Flying Skills

 - October 7, 2013, 1:40 PM

Pilots seeking to improve their manual flying skills should consider trying gliders, according to Captain Sarah Kelman. The former women’s world gliding champion and EasyJet safety officer told the Royal Aeronautical Society’s recent International Flight Crew Training Conference in London that flying gliders is beneficial to upset prevention and recovery training.

Kelman echoed the consensus among conference participants that airline pilots’ manual flying skills have eroded in recent years. “There’s a reluctance to turn off the automation,” she said. But gliders may be just the ticket for pilots seeking a broader spectrum of proficiency. “Gliders are well suited to demonstrate what loss of control feels like,” she asserted. “Today’s gliders are high-performance machines,” capable of covering 500 miles without an engine and climbing to 32,000 feet or more (an altitude she has reached over Scotland). Glider wingspans and handling are “comparable” to those of a Boeing 737, in her view.

It’s common for glider pilots to “fly right to the edge of the envelope,” making tight 70-degree-bank turns to spiral upward on thermals, Kelman said. Gliding requires not only hands-on flying; it also demands that pilots be keenly aware of energy management and meteorology. “Even on a fair-weather day, there are risks,” she explained. “For example, you might encounter strong thermal activity on short final.”

With no automation, glider flying can require five to six hours of concentration, and all approaches use visual flight rules. Kelman said EasyJet encourages its pilots to try as much hand flying and as many visual approaches as they can within operational guidelines.