Saturday, May 14, 2011

Serial v. Open Class Revisited

The annual discussion flurry about "Serial V. Open Class Competitions" has flared up this month. . . The ignition point was a letter of resignation from Mark Hayman to Brit team leader Kitt Rudd. In it Mark criticized CIVL for making banal rule changes that essentially did little to improve safety.

Mark writes: “I know, living in the real world, that every time I attach an uncertified two-line glider to my body I am increasing my risk substantially of having an accident over flying a certified wing.”

Mark was participating in Valle de Bravo in 2009 when he watched Stefan Schmoker wrestle with a low collapse and make a fatal impact.  Mark also had a brush with mortality when he had a major event on his R10.2 that included lines wrapping around his neck as he descended under his reserve.

His message has been loud and clear. . . and, as many times happens when one raises the flag of caution, his message seems at times, to be somewhat overstated -  Perhaps so his voice is heard by the resistant masses of enthusiastic pilots who enjoy the sport as it is.

R10.2 line plan
Marks' main point seems to be that the new crop of 2-liner wings are being accepted by CIVL, and being flown by every wanna-be comp pilot, with only a superficial examination of the flying characteristics of these wings.  The prevailing views seem to be that the current crop of 2-liners (essentially a row of A-lines at approximately 25-30% chord - and B-lines at 60% chord) are very collapse resistant when flown well.  The problems become apparent after the wing goes away - the recovery characteristics are just plain bad.  Where as an EN-D (certified) glider is required to recover with proper pilot input, the 'open-class' uncertified wings aren't required to demonstrate recovery.   It's not uncommon to hear of 2000'+ cascades before the wing recovers or the excitement is terminated in a reserve toss.  Mark is simply asking, as am I, IS THIS REALLY THE KIND OF AIRCRAFT BEHAVIOR THAT WE WANT TO PROMOTE?

I've been flying a long time.  I've flown all kinds of aircraft.  But I've always known that if the aircraft departed from "normal flight attitudes" that I could recover without the need to bail-out.  Even the homebuilts - the early fiberglass competition sailplanes that had marginal stability - the 2nd generation swept-wing jets that required 'skills' - they all displayed a required, predictable level of safety and handling.  Mark's primary message is that this is not the case when flying the open-class wings of the last 2 years.

The argument to Mark's point, is that the "good" pilots have no problem on the new wings.  I agree that with the right set of skill, judgment, and luck a good pilot can successfully fly the new wings without incident.  But is that a healthy attitude when considering the sport as a whole?  Let's look at US pylon racing in the 1930s - Speed and performance ruled - The good pilots lived the longest, but even they couldn't fly aircraft that had negative stability and couldn't survive minor equipment failures without fatal consequences.  To compete with the fastest "good" pilots, many other pilots flew similar *dangerous* aircraft and died trying.  Was that the fault of the pilots, or the system that allowed dangerous machines in the air and required others to compete on that "level" playing field?

Pylon races, in spite of their popularity, didn't survive the carnage of 1933 - 1940 and the interuption of a couple of world wars.  Now the few races that are staged in the US are very highly regulated and safety is highly regarded.

So the question becomes one of scale and philosophy.  How many accidents/incidents are to occur before Mark's cautionary message becomes valid?  In my case, he's preaching to the choir. 

In a parallel logic path, the DHV in Germany is making some important moves that may get the parade moving in the right direction. Jorge Ewald translates -
From a post on the German Forum by Ulrich Prinz:

* DHV recognizes the harmonic community of Serial and Open Class pilots in Germany as a good model that may be applicable for FAI-1 events as well: Introduce a Serial class in parallel, crown a Serial Class World Champion. This would prevent pilots from lower qualification countries from giving in to the temptation to fly in the Open class, just to remain competitive. Hence the DHV will now work on the international level to introduce the Serial Class in parallel, rather than to get rid of the Open class. [which is a complete paradigm change, as far as I can see. Great, Mark Hayman - given he stays away from bikes and stairwells long enough to heal - may have a glorious come-back. Mads and other PWC old-timers may feel like after an involuntary ride in a De Lorean, though...]

* DHV (especially Charlie Jöst, their president) will task the DHV technical department with finding new test criteria for competition wings (in collaboration with the other testing houses). This because it is now understood that today's testing criteria are not applicable to competition wings, which were built for actively piloting pilots
It's great to see a European entity, with an official acronym, working in a reasonable fashion to actually make some positive changes in the way Serial class is viewed.  Stay Tuned!


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