When Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, lost engine power on US Airways Flight 1549 he suddenly found himself flying a glider. Fortunately, he was an experienced glider pilot and that background probably played no small part in his pulling off one of the most celebrated successful emergency landings in recent years. The Airbus A320 such as Sully was piloting has a best glide angle of about 17:1 when clean, straight & level. Sully was obviously not flying in optimum conditions. His short but exciting flight topped out at about 3,200 feet. From there he glided approximately 6 miles giving him an achieved glide angle more closely related to that of a grand piano than the sleek gliders racing around today’s skies. On April 20th 2013, I enjoyed a very satisfying flight which, by coincidence, also started at 3,200 feet. Like Sully, my flight didn’t end as planned. However, I’m pleased to say that I got rather further than Sully did – almost 200km further actually – and was able to step out onto dry land afterwards! I was flying my DG808C which has a glide angle of over 50:1. On this day, I absolutely smashed that glide angle – by a factor of more than 8. Later, I did a write up for the Dublin Gliding Club’s newsletter ‘’What’s Up’’ and that piece is reproduced here. At the end you’ll note something else that Sully and I shared.
An Exceptional Day.
Those who were flying early last Saturday (April 20th) know that the air was rather lively, to say the least, and that some nice streets were available. I just thought some of you might be interested in some details of the flight I did, because rarely, in Ireland, are such conditions available.
I had been watching the weather developing during the week and reckoned that, if it came right on Saturday, though the wind would be brisk, a 300k task might be on, running up and down cloud streets. I anticipated the wind direction would be roughly southwesterly and I declared a task Blessington/Freshford/Hollywood cross/Urlingford/Gowran for a total of 301.5k using FAI sectors.
The snapshops from SeeYou show the track, the barogram and the stats. These are some of the interesting details:
I asked John Finnan to launch me towards the east as I needed to cross the start line at Blessington. I took a 2,000′ tow and found a thermal shortly after release. I spent almost 5 minutes fighting with that thermal but conveniently drifting towards the start line as I climbed. I broke off at c. 3,200′ asl, crossed the line and set off. I had started that climb at 11:16. I started the next one at 12:18 – just over an hour later and having rounded Freshford. The entire 1st leg – just under 90k by the route I took – and more, without stopping!
I had watered up in the morning but dumped it before takeoff so I was flying dry, just trickling along – K8 style! The headwind was 31kph on that leg and my glide angle was 472:1.
The reason I covered almost 90k on a 76k leg was that the street ran slightly south of the turn point. I followed it as long as possible, actually passing Freshford, but had to break off and glide about 11k to get a fix in the sector and the same distance back to find lift again, getting low in the process but in doing so actually gliding over 100k without stopping. That’s not something that happens every day in Ireland!
I spent a bit of time looking for a save at that point but had Kilkenny airfield as a bolt hole if necessary. I managed to get back to 3,000′ asl and headed up the second leg. The stats show 3 climbs on that leg but I actually only stopped for 1 more thermal. (I think the analysis broke the scrabbling about near Kilkenny into 2 thermals.).
I wouldn’t have minded stopping on that leg as I would have been drifting on track but I didn’t need to as again I ran up a street towards the second turn point. The second, and only other, climb I took on that leg was east of Castlecomber. The reason I stopped was because I was at c. 2,800′ asl and over the high ground between Carlow and Kilkenny. I took a 3 knot climb and drifted across the unfriendly terrain as I got higher.
I continued up the street cruising at about 4,000′ asl – passing a certain Discus at Ballitore – for a glide angle of 391:1 for the second leg. I rounded Hollywood cross having used just 2 thermals since the start – distance actually flown 170k!! The barograph trace suggests a 3rd climb starting at about 12:50. That was actually a pull up in the street that had me shooting towards Dublin airspace and I had to push on hard to avoid an infringement. A look at the track at that point confirms a straight glide of 52k to the turn point.
I took a short climb after Hollywood and headed back on the 3rd leg. However, when I was at Freshford earlier I had noted that there was heavy spreadout with some rain to the southwest and coming our way. I really didn’t expect to be continuing the task. As the sky was working very well locally, and I had been in the air at that point for only about 2 hours, I decided to see how far I could get. I found a 6.4 knot average climb which took me back to just under 4,000′ asl in 1.5 minutes. I pushed on some more hoping that the sun would break through or that another street would develop. Kilrush airfield was within gliding range at that point if it went to worms. All I needed was to push into wind again about 65k to Urlingford. If I could do that, getting home would be easy.
Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall. It was even gloomier ahead by now and to continue further would have meant a certain landout. Locally as well the climbs were diminishing. Discretion being the better part of valour, I abandoned the task between Ballitore and Athy and headed home. (Those of you possibly confused by my mentioning of an aerotow, bolt holes and landouts might not be aware that I had a total battery failure that day and was flying on pneumatic instruments only with the engine being a useless deadweight behind me. It was lovely and peaceful though!). Though we were beaten by the weather sooner, and in a different way, than I was expecting it really was an exceptional day.