Words from our CFI Duncan Stewart

Gliding has traditionally been rather a solitary experience thanks to the prevalence of single seaters. These days however, there are more 2 seat gliders around and more people are starting to enjoy sharing the flight with a friend. Many gliding clubs have discouraged 2 seat recreational flying in the belief that it is somehow likely to be less safe. If it was simply a matter of more eyes providing better lookout, then two heads should be better than one, so what are the pitfalls that lie in wait for 2 seater crews? Who should be allowed to fly with whom at the gliding club? In commercial aviation, crew cooperation and interaction is taught under the heading of ‘CRM’ (Cockpit Resource Management or maybe Crew Relationship Management??). Since, unlike me, many of our club members are airline pilots who have studied CRM, I venture into this domain in some trepidation.

Before the introduction of CRM, P1 was king of the cockpit, and P2 had little say in how the flight was conducted. Several accidents could have been averted if P2 had taken control when P1 was making a mistake. CRM promotes communication between the pilots, so both understand the plan, both can alert the other if they see a problem arising, and can agree together the best course of action. The will help in the classic situation of a less-experienced P2 noticing a problem:

i) P2 alerts the captain to the problem,

ii) If the captain doesn’t respond satisfactorily he can escalate by suggesting a solution,

iii) If P1 is still ignoring him, take control.

Quite apart from any personality mismatches, certain pilot experience levels do not combine well. Two captains flying together is considered potentially problematic, as any disagreement may either result in a fight for control, or both affording the other too much respect and not mentioning the problem.

How does CRM translate into gliding? It seems to me that flying an airliner is a bit like two bus-drivers taking a coach along a motorway. For 99% of the time very little happens, the plans and procedures are well understood, deviations are rare and the safety margin is kept large. Glider flying on the other hand is more like two weekend drivers taking a sports car for a spin on country roads. The pilots are looking for thrills, the flight will often be in some kind of semi-crisis, and judgement will be needed whether to press-on or switch to Plan B. Frequent discussion is required to evaluate the options and decide on the course of action. Let’s look at some common scenarios.

P1 experienced, P2 novice – for example, instructor and pupil, or XC pundit and Newly Qualified Pilot, or Safety Pilot and P2 Only pilot.

If P2 sees a problem arising, they need to tell P1, who may not have noticed, and escalate if there is no response. There was an accident at the club about 20 years ago in which an experienced XC P1 flew with a novice. The return to the field seemed low to P2, but ‘he must know what he’s doing’. In fact P1 was having medical issues and occasionally tuned out. If P2 is in the front seat with the best visibility, he may be best placed to see the threat and handle the response.

P1 & P2 Both Experienced Pilots – for example, 2 Green Card holders, both experienced on type

The flight plan needs to include a decision on who will be P1. Hopefully this will avoid a battle for control in a crisis, but the danger is that the nominated P2 may not really respect the decision when the stress levels mount. How do you decide who will be P1? It should be the most experienced and current both in total, and on that type of glider.

Good communication is essential to agree the best plan. Groups tend to take riskier decisions than individuals because they assume someone else has got the risks covered. Both pilots may be thinking: ‘I don’t like the look of that, but if he thinks it’s ok, maybe it is’. Express concerns and agree the lower risk option.

P1 & P2 Both Experienced Pilots – P1 more experienced than P2, but not familiar with the type

A very experienced pilot may be nominated as P1, but if they are not familiar with the glider, they may misjudge it’s performance. Maybe their own glider would have made that glide easily. P2 may defer to P1’s greater reputation, ‘he must know what he’s doing’. Perhaps the aim of the flight is to take P2 out of his comfort zone… in which case, P1 needs to be really current on type.