3. WHAT MAKES A GOOD GLIDER PILOT?
Learning to fly means more than just acquiring basic knowledge and developing new skills. Over time, your self-confidence will build and you will develop a sense of your surroundings and your glider. This is called situational awareness.
When you first start gliding there will be an instructor in the glider with you, providing you with a secure feeling and helping you when you make mistakes. Over time more and more tasks will be transferred from the instructor to you, so you can develop your own set of skills. In the beginning your self-confidence may be low and if something unexpected happens you may not know what to do. For example, you might find turbulence, crosswind or other gliders in front of you during landing a bit over- whelming. Your brain is taking in a lot of new information and it does not always know how to react in a situation that requires swift action. Remember, this is perfectly normal and your instructor is there to help you build confidence
GOOD PREPARATION: VISUALISATION AND ‘TEM’
Before you get in the glider, have a look at the take-offs, approaches and landings of other gliders. This will give you an idea of the weather and the effect the wind has on take-off and landing that day. You should always have a briefing before your flight while you’re learning. If possible, take plenty of time to put your parachute on and find a comfortable seating position in the glider. Take your time adjusting the rudder pedals and fastening the seatbelts.
Try to visualise and imagine each phase of the flight: take-off, flying exercises, circuit, approach and landing. Also think about unexpected situations that might occur and what you would do in those circumstances.
For example: which actions would you need to perform after an aborted aerotow or in case of a winch cable break? This preparation is known as Threat and Error Management (TEM). We need to think in advance about threats that might come at us and about common errors pilots make, so that we are ready to deal with them properly. Your flying will be more relaxed when you are mentally prepared for what could happen and your mind can focus on the task ahead.
This mental preparation can also be practised at home while sitting on a chair (airline pilots find this a useful way to practise new procedures) and it even has a name: ‘chair flying.’ Maybe you have seen aerobatic pilots prepare for their flight with their arms outstretched, doing strange steps and head movements. This strange ballet is all about visualisation. Pilots practice the whole flight before they get into the cockpit. This is a smart idea. Once your instructor is also strapped into his or her seat, there is only time to go through the pre-flight checklist. This is the last opportunity to detect an error or wrong setting before the cable is hooked on for take-off.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Flying will never feel as normal as, for instance, riding a bike. It will always require more preparation, practice and concentration. If you are getting into the cockpit in a hurry, then you may more easily become distracted by the fact that you are not sitting comfortably, that an instrument does not display the correct figures or that you hear strange noises. These distractions can then get in the way of learning new skills or performing a perfect landing. You may even end up remembering the flight as a bad experience. Even though it probably wasn’t as bad as you thought, you were out of your comfort zone. Thorough preparation really is essential. Of course you cannot prepare for every situation and gliding sometimes will force you out of your comfort zone. Someone who has made many mistakes and who has often been out of their comfort zone is someone you can call an experienced pilot.
There is only one solution for inexperience: practice! Not only in good weather but, as you progress, also in difficult weather conditions. The more different situations you encounter, the better you will be able to react appropriately. You will worry less and feel more comfortable when you are flying because you are better prepared for unforeseen and difficult events. You are expanding your comfort zone! The building bricks are made out of experiences and solutions: if A does not work, then try B and if that doesn’t work either, you can always go for C or D.
DON’T GIVE UP
Learning to fly comes with ups and downs, and we all learn differently. Learning a new skill will take a 65-year old a little longer than a 15-year old. Sometimes you think you’ve mastered a certain skill and you do something right straight away. The next time the same solution doesn’t work and you can’t understand what you are doing wrong. You will have flights in which everything goes right and flights you’d rather forget because you made an awful lot of mistakes. Even if you progress quickly to solo standard, you will still make mistakes. This is normal and it happens to very experienced pilots as well.
The world gliding championship is not only a race to see who has the best flying and decision-making skills, it is also about who makes as few mistakes as possible. The pilots at these championships are experts at making few mistakes because they have made many mistakes in the past. So after every mistake, try and learn from it and, most importantly, stay positive. If flying was very easy, there would be no challenge in learning it