Sunday, August 1, 2010

Finishes and Safety

By now most of you have heard of the accident. I posted the following to the discussion going on on rec.aviation.soaring, and echo here. Those of you who know me will not be surprised on my view of things.

At Szeged there are beautiful fields for the last few miles short of the road and barbed wire fence. The only thing separating a landing just shy of the road in a field and a landing 1 cm over the barbed wire fence and road is the substantial number of points offered by the rules for trying to pop over the fence.

We say "pilots will act safely and throw away the contest when safety intrudes" but time and again experience proves us wrong. Put 400 points 1 cm above a barbed wire fence and pilots go for it.

This is a solved problem. A substantial minimum height for finish, coupled with very strong penalties for coming in low, means that for pilots like the one in this accident, racing is over when you're making the life or death safety decision of stopping in the last field or popping over the fence.

Alas, IGC rules do not even allow the safe finish. Yes, they allow a cylinder with minimum altitude, but the penalty for finishing low is a warning the first time, and 25 points the following times. Compared to the loss of all speed points for stopping in the last field, this will do nothing. The US has gradually moved to a cylinder finish with substantial penalties for low arrival, which is helping.

To those who have "never heard" of this type of accident, go read the accident reports. European accident reports are littered with crashed gliders in the last few km of contest flights, driving into the ground in the hope of squeaking over the fence. (Kudos to Sailplane and Gliding for printing them.)

All this is explained in great detail in an article I wrote for Soaring magazine nearly 10 years ago. Here is a link.

I apologize for the harsh tone, but it's sad to see utterly preventable accidents continue, and sadder still that international rules do not even allow organizers to take the obvious corrective action. This is not rocket science.

John Cochrane BB