My last article (Outlanding Techniques) was first about low altitude strategies and then about landout field selection – so, in a way, this article follows that progression. In my years of cross-country gliding, I have spent an embarrassing amount of time sitting in farm fields or walking around them after a landout – and I’ve also spent many nights helping other pilots get gliders out of difficult places where they landed. But, I have never read an article about “what to do after the landout” – which is the point of this article. If you haven’t landed out yet, this article may help you avoid some of the many mistakes that I have made – or, it may help you solve problems in ways that other glider pilots have solved them.
So, let’s assume that we have just successfully put our glider into a farm field (or some other inconvenient place), and we have somebody back at the club or airfield who will come and get us. As we step out of the glider in a farm field we are thinking, “OK, what do I do now?” Here are some ideas.
Do you have a cell telephone service here? Check for that as the first step because if you have phone service (or at least SMS messaging) to reach your crew, things get a little easier. If you don’t have cell service, they get more complex. Also, cell phones eat up a lot of power when continuously searching for a nonexistent signal. If you don’t have service nearby, take steps to conserve your cell phone battery – you will need it later.
Document exactly where you are. If you have a flight computer that has a GPS page (giving the latitude and longitude of your current position), scroll to that page on the computer screen and take a picture of the screen. This is much easier (and less prone to error) than writing down the numbers and you can send the picture to your crew right away in a text message. If you have to walk out to a better place for cell service, you will have your phone and the picture with you. You can also use the “dropped pin” feature of your phone map program, or the “send location” feature in What’s App to send your location to your crew. I do all of this when I land out. Much of this can be cut short if you have a satellite-based InReach or similar communication device with your crew – but even so, don’t leave the glider without making a record of the latitude and longitude where it is located. If you are near a road and see a mailbox, check to see if the name and address are printed on the mailbox as is common in rural areas. Again, you can take a picture of that mailbox and send it to the crew.
Do a quick inventory of the retrieval difficulty – even before you contact your crew. Can you get a vehicle/trailer easily to the glider in the field? Or at least, can you roll the glider near the gate? How soft or firm is the field surface? Did the glider dig in on the rollout? Can two people roll the glider here? Field access and surface are the most important things your crew needs to know – because they determine how many people are needed for the job. A solid drivable field makes it easy for you and just one other person to disassemble the glider and trailer it away. A very soft field can mean a more difficult “carry-out” of glider pieces that need four or more people. More on that below.
Learn the access route from the road to the field. The field must have a gate of some type for farm equipment to get in and out. If you didn’t see it from the air before landing – it’s time to figure out now where it is and how your crew can get from the road to you and the glider. Sometimes there will be multiple gates through several fields to get to a road, and it may be necessary to send the crew a second “pin drop” location for the gate nearest the road they will arrive on, along with a suggestion that you will meet them there and guide them to the glider. If it is not practical to stay near the roadside gate, then leave an item on the gate as a signal to mark the correct gate (a canopy cover is good for this purpose) and let them know what to look for. If the gates are not locked (many farm gates are just wired closed) do not leave a gate open if livestock are around. If a gate is locked, inspect whether access can be obtained by disassembly of a gate post or a fence section. In extreme cases, give your crew instructions to bring bolt cutters and a new lock. [Note: in such exigencies, cut a chain link and not the farmer’s lock. When done, insert the new lock where the link was cut. There is no need to destroy the original lock, which the farmer can still use.]
If your field is close to a well-travelled road, worry about spectators and first responders driving directly over a crop (or a fence) to the glider to “rescue” you. I’ve seen more damage done to fields and fences by police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks than done by landing gliders. If this is a risk, stay near the road to intercept the first responders.
Do I have everything I need here or in the trailer? One would think that people work all this out ahead of time, but in fact, it’s not uncommon to forget things needed for disassembly or trailer packing – especially on gliders that are usually kept assembled in a hanger and have trailers not used frequently. People often forget wing stands, and I once did a retrieve where the pilot of a borrowed glider didn’t have (or know the location of) the hex wrench that removed the horizontal stabilizer. We had to go and buy one at a local auto parts store. So, before your crew leaves to get you – think if there is anything they might not bring or know about and tell them.
Find the farmer – if you can. My experience has been no better than about 50/50 on meeting the farmer who owns the field. It’s more likely to happen on a small farm or ranch and less likely on a very large one. Frequently (and especially on weekends) farm families are away visiting or at church, and not at home. If you do find the farmer, your position should be “I’m a glider pilot, and I had to make a precautionary landing in your field” and “I’m sorry if it’s any trouble.” Don’t suggest that you just unilaterally appropriated his field to land in and remember that you have made yourself an ambassador to our sport. A little humility will go a very long way with people in this situation. Farmers are predisposed to help and respect others – but rural folks can sense city arrogance from a mile away. Be humble and leave your attitude someplace else.
Don’t raise the issue of paying for crop damage unless the farmer first raises it with you. If he does, just explain that the glider carries insurance for that problem and that you will give him the insurance information and do that. In my experience, significant crop damage is very rare, and a lot of modern farmers lease out their fields to 3d party growers – and don’t even own the crops that are on their farms. If the farmer has children, let them touch and sit in the glider, show them the instruments and the parachute, and explain how the glider all comes apart. Make it all fun for them. Don’t ask specific or pointed questions about the farm, like “How many cattle do you have?” Or “How many acres do you have?” That is considered rude and a bit like asking the farmer how wealthy he is.
In my experience, the farmers usually will ask what help you need, and I explain about the glider disassembly process and the crew being on their way with the trailer. If it’s practical and the farmer seems not so busy, I might ask the farmer to help tow the glider off the field to the gate or field perimeter road with his truck or tractor (I keep a Tost ring in the glider for this purpose – farmers always have rope) as that can avoid damage to the field caused by the crew car and trailer. Source: ‚Roy Bourgeois, Whings and Wheels‚.