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Gliders flying in cloud

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Gliders flying in cloud

Old 15th Sep 2005, 12:32
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Gliders flying in cloud

I'm not a professional pilot. I fly gliders in my spare time. I've been doing that for 31 years so far. I don't have a grievance or a grudge, I've never posted to PPRuNe before and I'm not asking to get swatted, I'm just curious.

Quite by chance I've recently noticed several comments by "gliding virgins" to the effect they didn't realise gliders are allowed to fly in cloud in the UK. I just wondered if this is a common misconception among power pilots?

For anyone who genuinely doesn't know or hasn't ever thought about it, cumulus clouds are caused by thermals, and gliders commonly circle underneath them in order to gain height. However, thermals don't stop at cloudbase (otherwise the cloud wouldn't be there). Gliders equipped with suitable instruments can continue to climb in IMC until the lift peters out, and it is legal to do so outside controlled airspace.

ChrisN mentioned in another thread that the amount of cloud flying done by UK glider pilots is decreasing, and I think that's right. Older wooden gliders were a lot easier to handle in cloud than modern slippery designs. Also, many gliding instructors nowadays don't cloud-fly themselves and so aren't able to pass on such a skill, or indeed the enthusiasm for it.

Contributors in another thread were apparently treating quite different cloud conditions as if they were the same. Cloud flying is most likely to occur if there are isolated and TALL cumuli with lots of blue sky between them, no water gushing out of the bottom, and if its a weekend day. At the other extreme, if there is solid 8/8 cloud cover on a Tuesday afternoon, with showers, embedded Cu-nims etc, most glider pilots will be earning a crust or digging their gardens.

Descending through cloud when it has closed up below you is a different matter. This can happen when you have been wave soaring, in or near mountainous areas. The advent of GPS has made such descents easier and safer, but even so, most glider pilots would not put themselves in that position by choice.

If you get the chance on a suitable day, listening for a while on 130.4 may give you some idea of what is going on.
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Old 15th Sep 2005, 12:49
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I spent 4 years gliding before I started my powered training (on my way to a fATPL) and yes I knew that we were allowed to fly in cloud, altho like you say the glider has to be equipped with certain instruments, the minimum being a turn and slip I think ideally a AH obviously. The main problem of course then is powerinf them.

Personally I think flying glides in clouds isn't the best of ideas, and I don't think it should be encouraged, but I also don't think that it should be banned. It is sometimes necessary to fly in them, I have flown in cloud a number of times, usually when trying to jump wave bars and being caught out by the high rate of sink and plunging into the top of the next bar lol, altho I popped out within a minute into the lift

The thing that bothers me is that generally, (in my experience) is that if the weather is decent enough for decent gliding then it is pretty rare to have a good thermal to yourself and they will *usually* be other people about. If all these other gliders continue to climb into the clouds then you have a number of gliders flying close to each other in cloud. Now call me crazy but I think thats a pretty mad idea, even if they are talking to each other.
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Old 15th Sep 2005, 12:53
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Oscar Kilo
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....well I never, how interesting, I just assumed glider pilot's had to stay in VFR conditions. Given I often see swarms of gliders circling in a thermal, frighteningly close to each other, presumably there's a chance this could go on in a cloud too? ....sounds awfully dangerous.

Or is, as implied in the post, cloud soaring actually very much a minority sport only for those who dare?

Thanks for the post, I've learned something!

Oops - our replies crossed in the post.....
 
Old 15th Sep 2005, 13:04
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Final 3 Greens
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Cloud flying is legal, so glider pilots are perfectly entitled to be there.

However, IMHO, it rates with storm chasing and hand feeding sharks on the common sense scale.
 
Old 15th Sep 2005, 13:22
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...as one who does(occasionally)... it is very much the minority who, when the conditions are right, may use a cloud climb to provide them with an advantage. There are certain criteria which should be applied and these are defined in the Laws and Rules for glider pilots:

"No glider shall enter cloud within a radius of 5 nautical miles of a gliding site, except from at least 200 feet from below the lowest part of the cloud.

No glider shall enter cloud unless all its occupants are wearing parachutes and have been instructed in their use.

Additionally it is standard practice to announce your intention to enter cloud on which ever frequency you are operating on giving height (QNH), and location and then changing frequency to 130.4. Once on 130.4, this message is repeated and then the height called at every 500'QNH. Once clear of cloud call "[Callsign] clear of cloud' before changing to en-route frequency.

Cloud flying is not for the faint hearted or novice, and pilots really should be of sufficient standard that their general flying is intuitive - but there are times when it can prove useful, especially on log distance flights or in competitions.

However, not only do you need to have the skills to keep a glider in controlled and balanced flight on instruments (preferably turning to gain height) but also have a full of a number of other factors to consider - before you even enter the cloud:

At what height the zero degree isotherm is (when icing may start),

What other gliders were in the vicinity prior to entering cloud,

Does the aircraft you are flying speed limit below VNE with full airbrakes out and at what dive angle?

Is there any controlled airspace above you - to name but a few!

My first few excursions (as a P2) into cloud flying were scary, and resulted in my pulling the airbrakes out and descending below cloud. In terms of frequency, I've flown over 4000kms this year, but only taken 2 cloud climbs (although a 3500 ft climb in cloud, having entered it from a 3800 ft cloud base, was particularly satisfying, if not just a tad twitchy!)
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Old 15th Sep 2005, 13:37
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It is nothing like as dangerous from a collision viewpoint or informal as you might think.

The standard practice for a glider entering a cloud from below, if no other gliders are apparent in the area, is to announce reg or number, "entering cloud", position reference to a place on the 1:500,000 chart, and alt amsl, on 130.4. If no other glider responds, you know you almost certainly have it to yourself as far as gliders are concerned. It is my experience that GA is normally not in cu clouds on days like that, but if they are, and don't listen out on 130.4, they take the chance often described as big sky, little bullet, but with less safeguard than we try to practise.

Most gaggles of gliders in one thermal have no intention of entering cloud. They are usually intent upon going cross country by the fastest means possible, which rarely involves cloud flying, so they leave the thermal at or below cloudbase.

On the rare occasions when two or more gliders are at or approaching cloudbase and one or more wants to go up into it, the usual thing is for the highest to announce on 130.4 first. The next will generally either go away altogether, or leave at least 500 feet vertical separation before following, after which both call out heights at frequent intervals. It happens so rarely that incidents are almost unknown.

The only one in the UK that I recall was about 30 years ago. Two were in the same cloud, one using 1:250,000 chart for reference to a small village or something for position, the other a 1:500,000 chart and position relative to a different, larger ground feature, both calling out heights as they knew they were in the same part of the country. Eventually one realised they were actually in the same cloud and left, colliding with the other on the way. Both survived, and the BGA then adopted the practice I outlined above.

As I have posted before, power pilots who get excited about the collision risk with gliders are focussing on the least of our and their collision problems. Most power collisions are with the ground, i.e. CFIT. Those with other flying things are mostly with other power. GA power/glider collisions are the least frequent of all - only about 3 in the UK in the last 30 years, at least one of which was in the circuit of a gliding site which the power pilot infringed, and another was between glider and tug from the same site in that site's circuit area.

Most glider collision are with other gliders. Those with powered aircraft included the one mentioned above, i.e. with a glider tug from the same site as the glider. The least frequent type is one with a powered aircraft nothing to do with gliding, i.e. in the same 3 at most, I believe, in 30 years, all in clear air, the most notorious being a Rockwell flying straight into the back of a glider flying straight and level in his 12 o'clock.

Chris N.

Edited to add "from a collision viewpoint" in the first line. Cloud flying by the unskilled is certainly dangerous from a loss of control viewpoint.
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Old 15th Sep 2005, 13:41
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I believe it to be pretty harsh when thinking about gliding competitions. How can it ever be a level playing field if say 5% of the grid would be prepared to take a cloud climb in order to fly across 'the big blue hole in the sky' to roar home and win the day?

Additionally, it's not really a problem in this country as we rarely get a (cu) cloudbase above 6000ft, however gliderpilots elsewhere have been wearing devices on the tip of a finger to measure the concentration of oxygen in the blood. On the principle that if they stay above about 95% they are fine to coninue climbing..... many of them upto 12500 even 14000ft.

I have recently done a hypobaric chamber run to these hights as an experiment. If something happens to cause stress and potentially hyperventilation (maybe you thought you saw another glider in the cloud), you feel all the symptoms of going hypoxic. I am sure the decision making process will be impared and the whole fact that you are up there without oxygen is highly dangerous!

As for competition, I believe there should be formal BGA training to fly in cloud, or all should be banned from doing so.

TBK
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Old 15th Sep 2005, 14:01
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ChrisN
As I have posted before, power pilots who get excited about the collision risk with gliders are focussing on the least of our and their collision problems.
Some perhqps, but not me.

Many people chase storms and many people hand feed sharks. Few are killed or even injured.

All, again IMHO, are very low probability:high severity risks, so it is unlikley to happen, but if it does..........

Just because it has never happened does not mean it will not (or that it will in the near future.)

Anyway, glider pilots can legally cloud fly, so thats the end of the debate for me.
 
Old 15th Sep 2005, 14:33
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I believe it to be pretty harsh when thinking about gliding competitions. How can it ever be a level playing field if say 5% of the grid would be prepared to take a cloud climb in order to fly across 'the big blue hole in the sky' to roar home and win the day?
The debate of whether cloud flying or not should be included in competitions is a debate which has been on going for a few years, and has yet to be resolved for international competitions...the debate continues. In the UK however it is still allowed, on the whole, for regional and national competitions.

If we therefore assume that it is legal, and allowed (as it is in the UK), we can turn to your comment about a level playing field.

100% of any grid are allowed (by law) to cloud fly. If that they have the aptitude, training, ac mandatory requirements and the desire to do so - then they can. For those of us who fly competitions regularly and wish to increase on National ratings or get higher up the leader board, then cloud climbing may prove one strategy that may just enable you to do so. But there really are such few occasions when you would actually do so. There’s nothing to stop any pilot on any grid acquiring the wherewithal and the skills for cloud climbing should he/she so desire. So it remains a level playing field. I just consider it another tool in the toolbox, which I can bring out when I need to.

In terms of danger, as anyone on who flies regularly in a regional or national competition will tell you, there is significantly more ‘danger’ in flying in a highly competitive gaggle of 30/40/50 gliders at the start of any stream launch multi class competition, than there is in cloud flying. But again, good airmanship, sensibility and innate responsibility to the safety of yourself and the others around you typically ensures that the collusions are very few and far between.

In respect of TheBeeKeepers comments on a formal syllabus for cloudy flying – I do agree. I maintain a currency in this respect through the use of blackout screens flying from the rear seat of a K21, with a competent and current BGA Full Cat sat up front, who also happens to have an IMC instructor rating (amongst others). Some form of similar guideline or recommended practice should be issued by the BGA.
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Old 15th Sep 2005, 15:23
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Well, that's something I never knew!

Is it burried in the AIP somewhere, or are gliders exempt from the AIP?

I take it from the posts here, that there is on further training or qualification necessary for a glider to enter cloud. ie no glider Instrument Rating? Obviously you'd want some form of training, but am I correct in my understanding that none is legally required?

Is there any other group of people who can enter cloud without an instrument rating?

Just curious
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Old 15th Sep 2005, 16:07
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The truth is that GA pilots transitting under IFR & in IMC in Class G airspace are highly unlikely to be listening out for gliders on 130.4. In fact I don't know of anyone who routinely does this. In general there are more appropriate frequencies, on which one can obtain either a RIS or FIS, depending on the circumstances.

Our company requires us to obtain such a service so we are always in contact with the local ATC unit. If our track takes us close to an ATZ, the published frequency for that goes on VHF box 2 so we are likely to be already working two frequencies. We are otherwise required to listen out on 121.5.

We are infrequently but very pleasantly surprised to hear glider pilots advising ATC of their presence, which seems a very sound idea, bearing in mind that most gliders don't show up well on radar and don't carry a transponder.

I can understand that a glider pilot flying in very close proximity to others might consider 130.4 the best frequency to use. However, whilst operating in an area where GA aircraft are likely to be transitting, it is in everyones best interest for the glider pilot to consider making contact with the appropriate ATC unit, to enable them to warn other pilots of their presence and allow some sort of co-ordination to take place.

Although CFIT accidents are more common (the ground is EVERYWHERE, so it's not too surprising) a mid-air is often just as fatal to all concerned.
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Old 15th Sep 2005, 22:42
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Completely agree with ST, I find it a little unnerving that I could be flying the correct quadrantal level under IFR in IMC minding my own business and get hit by some gliding bod spiralling up in the cloud in a completely indiscriminate fashion simply because he feels like it! Is it me, or is there perhaps a need for a bit more rigour when it comes to the combination of gliding and IMC? Surely there should be an obligation to announce on the most appropriate GA freq. (which may or may not be obvious I grant) that he is a non powered aircraft 'overhead x, intending to spiral climb into IMC etc....' at least we could all divert and get half a chance. Or maybe gliders should stay in VMC unless they squawk and talk to ATC etc?
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Old 15th Sep 2005, 23:32
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Quote:
Surely there should be an obligation to announce on the most appropriate GA freq. (which may or may not be obvious I grant) that he is a non powered aircraft 'overhead x, intending to spiral climb into IMC etc....'

An interesting point and well presented, there is however one small problem. How many glider pilots hold a valid R/T licence to broadcast on a non gliding frequency? Perhaps Chris N would like to comment.

Regards

Bletchleytugie
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Old 16th Sep 2005, 00:41
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Re RT licences, I don't know, but the numbers are growing, I believe.

Chris N.
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Old 16th Sep 2005, 00:48
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Most glider pilots I know would be more then happy to get a R/T licence, the main thing that stops them is that they have to learn so much that just isn't needed for them.

Ideally it would be great to have a seperate R/T licence for glider pilots that will focus on what they need, making it mandatory would be even better. Problem then of course is that gliders then have to all carry radios that cost money, and they have to be powered etc etc.
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Old 16th Sep 2005, 05:29
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Most glider pilots I know would be more then happy to get a R/T licence, the main thing that stops them is that they have to learn so much that just isn't needed for them.
Everyone who uses RT needs to understand all of it, there is nothing that in the RT syllabus they do not need to know, since comprehension of other users transmissions depends on a broad awareness.
 
Old 16th Sep 2005, 08:26
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Most of your points regarding RT are perfectly valid, and to be quite honest I don't know what the answer is.

If glider pilots wish to fly x-country regularly, then I would agree that holding an R/T license would be desirable - it is not currently essential or mandated. Whether EASA will change the rules in the future is open to debate, along with the same debate surrounding gliders being fitted with transponders. There is no moral argument against the use of transponders for instance; the practicalities of supplying sufficient power to a transponder on an aircraft that does not generate its own electrical power, is the practicality that must be overcome on this one.

As it currently stands, many glider pilots are happy to fly within the local gliding airfield area, and rarely fly or venture cross country (or until they have progressed to a point where this is something that they wish to do). Consequently, for these pilots there is no real need to know more than the basics to operate from their local field, which for the majority of clubs in the UK, operate on one of the dedicated gliding R/T frequencies. I fly regularly in the US in open FIR, and the same rules apply with respect to a ‘radio operators license’ there.

I for one, got my R/T license before my PPL, and subsequently am more than happy to advise local ATC of my position when flying x-country. Equally, class D zone transition or penetration requires the use of non-gliding assigned R/T frequencies, and therefore holding a valid R/T license is a prerequisite if you wish to fly in those controlled airspaces which gliders are allowed to fly.

If you want to see the current laws and rules pertaining to gliding, with relative extracts from the ANO then go here: BGA Laws and Rules 15th Edition

Last edited by Nimbus265; 16th Sep 2005 at 08:40.
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Old 16th Sep 2005, 09:22
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If a glider pilot wants to fly in the vicinity of a published glider field, which sensible GA pilots do avoid, then I don't see much of a problem with remaining on the glider frequencies or non-radio operations.

However, if a glider pilot wants to venture further afield, I think for his own safety (and everyone else's) he needs to consider the bigger picture before he goes flying in cloud without advertising his presence to others.

"Problem then of course is that gliders then have to all carry radios that cost money, and they have to be powered etc etc."

I really don't consider this to be a valid argument these days.

A hand held ICOM transceiver with a rechargeable battery costs about the same as four fill-ups of a car petrol tank. A lightweight gel type motorcycle battery could be used to prolong the battery life for soaring or cross country flights, at very little weight penalty.

As the old saying goes, "If you think flight safety is expensive; just try having an accident!"

Fly safe!
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Old 16th Sep 2005, 09:51
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Red Chilli

>>>>I find it a little unnerving that I could be flying the correct quadrantal level under IFR in IMC minding my own business and get hit by some gliding bod spiralling up in the cloud in a completely indiscriminate fashion simply because he feels like it<<<

and I find it unnerving when flying VFR along a line feature keeping to the rules of the air, but some twit flying a GPS route comes head on at me because he says to himself that he is navigating en-route by following the moving map.

If you are under IFR in IMC you are quite likely to be in receipt of a service who will let you know of even small traffic in your vicinity. It happens to me when on a FIS in VFR conditions.

As an ex-glider pilot, I still hold to the view that no-one has absolute priority. After all the ATCO will be the only one at the Board of Enquiry.
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Old 16th Sep 2005, 10:31
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Er... I think you missed the point ShyTorque...

99% of all gliders are fitted with radios; those radios, almost without exception, operate across the full Air frequency bands. Those that aren't, are normally old vintage aircraft which are very unlikely to fly x-country.

Most tranceivers are designed to draw as little current as possible when on TX/RX thereby providing maximum endurance for the battery or batteries. (Typically up to 8 hours)

The issue is regarding fitting a transponder not a tranceiver. Transponders consume significantly more power than a typical glider tranceiver, and the additional electrical load would significantly reduce overall endurance, without the need to add additional batteries (which add weight/Cof G changes etc). Most gliders are fitted with a single 12V7AH battery; some have 14V 7AH; some have a reserve.

When you consider that it is possible to fly distances of 500kms cross-country, with durations over 8 hours, then the overall electrical load needs to be as low as practicable to ensure sufficiant power is available at the end of a flight.

Once you start adding GPS systems, horizons (which can draw 1.5A on start and 1A in a steady state), Mode C transponders etc then electrical endurance for these long flights (where you may be more reliant on additional instruments) does becomes a issue.

You also stated that:

However, if a glider pilot wants to venture further afield, I think for his own safety (and everyone else's) he needs to consider the bigger picture before he goes flying in cloud without advertising his presence to others

As both myself and other posters have already pointed out; cloud flying is the exception not the norm. It's not done every time you fly ouside of gliding range of an airfield as you would seem to intimate. And as already mentioned in this thread, it is standard practice to call before, during and leaving cloud, when you do enter it using the en-route frequency and cloud flying frequencies.

The majority of the time we fly in Open FIR, not under control of an ATC - I'm not sure that there are too many other frequency options available?

Glider pilots just don't fly cross country willy-nilly and I can assure you we are more than aware of the bigger picture.

Before a glider pilot can even begin to fly x-country he or she requires compentancy and endorsement (At least 2 successful approaches into fields; planned and flown a triangular task of at least 100km (in a glider, motorglider or light aircraft) and having already passed examinations on airmanship, meteorology, principles of flight, radiotelephony and navigation).
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