Stretch the glide
5 min read

I have a theory I don’t want to have to test again. I took a passenger for a glider ride at Chardon, Ohio. He was a tech magazine editor based in Cleveland. The wind had seriously increased while we were aloft and on downwind I realized we were too far out when I turned base. This is the point where you know you must fight the urge to raise the nose a little to stretch the glide. Raising the nose could lower airspeed, cause a stall, and spin into the ground. I was getting a close-up view of the trees at the end of runway 11. I did two things, one of which was apparently necessary. One was fighting the urge to raise the nose. The other was to continue a conversation with the passenger so our landing would appear normal, not frightening. 

I don’t know if I processed what I decided to do. I think I reasoned it out later. I put the nose down to increase speed so as to be in the strong wind a shorter time and to get into ground effect for better glide ratio and penetration. I don’t know if that was the correct decision, but we brushed the last of the treetops and landed. The retrieving golf cart took a long time, using the entire runway to get to us. Although it was a really good short field landing, it wasn’t done on purpose. The increasing wind made this the last flight of the day. In a powered aircraft with a running engine, more throttle would have been the solution—but not in a glider. Okay aeronautical experts, I would like opinions.

I am telling this story because I have been helped by hangar tales to avoid catastrophe a few times. The most memorable was hearing one of Ted Pawski’s tales. In the early thirties, he had been an instructor in Germany in sport aviation glider clubs, pre-Nazi, pre-Luftwaffe. We always thought Ted knew some way to create his own lift. Maybe it could be attributed to his ever present pipe.

In a hangar flying talk session, someone had asked Ted what the most common accident was back then in training in Germany. I listened carefully, as you had to translate Ted’s very strong German accent. Since I occasionally heard German as a kid, when used as a parental secret code, it might have been a little easier for me.

Stretch the glide

It seems like it will work, but it never does.

Ted said the most common training accident in Germany was always when a student was a little low when making the turn to final approach. On base leg they would raise the nose to stretch the glide and be reluctant to lower the inside wing enough to make a coordinated turn and use too much rudder. The resulting low speed, skidded turn would end in a stall/spin accident.

I had just joined Cleveland Soaring Society, which was then flying at Freedom Field on Route 18 near Medina. I had previously been a member of Central Ohio Soaring Association in Marion. I was in the club’s Schweizer 1-26 glider returning to Freedom Field.

The wind had increased and as I made my turn to base, Ted’s voice came back to me, complete with German accent. I was in exactly the potential accident situation I had overheard him describe a couple of weeks before. The wind had increased since takeoff and I was unaware of this until downwind. We and our gliders had no radios then for AWOS. I turned onto base leg later than I should have. At this point the recording in my mind of Ted’s voice turned on and I resisted the urge to raise the nose; instead I started looking for alternate landing sites straight ahead. 

I could see there were none, except small ones in people’s backyards. I still had enough altitude to make a coordinated turn to final approach and then thought maybe I would have to land crossways on Route 18. I found I had put the nose down enough to pick up a little extra airspeed and could perhaps go under the wires on Route 18 to make the runway. A thermal from the highway pavement gave me enough altitude to skim over the wires. After landing and looking back at the wires I saw the wires had been lowered and there was no room under them. 

The final note of this story is, I had been designing modifications of Sunbeam appliances so they could be sold as brand name products by Sears, Montgomery Ward, Penney’s, Hoover, etc. Ken McGarr, an Akron, Ohio, model maker, was producing models of my designs for me. 

At a later visit to his shop, he told me he was driving west past Freedom Field on Route 18 and was telling his wife he knew a glider pilot who flew from there. It was at the point I was crossing the road in the 1-26 low enough for Ken to recognize me and point me out to his wife as I passed low over his car. That’s way too low but it was high enough to make it back.

Keep the nose down when in doubt. Airspeed, airspeed, airspeed. Keep em flying! That was a slogan from WW 2 Army Air Corps recruiting posters.

Later when editing this it occurred to me that when I recognized the increase in wind I should have turned base early but since I didn’t catch that in time, my next option was to continue my turn to base beyond 90 degrees to aim diagonally at the runway threshold; then a shallow turn to align near the runway. There was no absolute reason that I had to use a rectangular pattern. There were no obstructions. It would have avoided the possible use of airport neighbors’ backyards.

I could have used the hypotenuse and answered the question asked in high school geometry classes: what are we ever going to use this for?

George Frost
10 replies
  1. Kim Hunter
    Kim Hunter says:


    There are lots of good points in this piece.

    Best glide speed is usually determined by the manufacturer for a no-wind condition, and raising the nose only decreases ground speed and increases induced drag. There is no way to stretch a no-wind glide. However, as you write, the touchdown point can be extended in a headwind by lowering the nose and increasing ground speed. This is also true when encountering sinking air on approach due to orographic windshear. Lowering the nose can get an airplane through the shear zone more quickly with less altitude loss. The problem, as you point out, is the psychological barrier – lowering the nose takes great faith when the sink rate is already increasing.

  2. Chris
    Chris says:

    Been there once or twice in hang gliders and have fought the urge to try and stretch the glide so to speak. It always worked out and I made my landing spot but I can admit to a few moments of thinking ok which tree looks best or rather least worst!

  3. charles coulson
    charles coulson says:

    All good stuff in this article, I remember being given the same information 50 years ago when I did my initial training but the other way round. I was high on the approach and thought it a good idea too dive off the height to which my wise instructor explained the art of slowing up at altitude and letting the higher headwind do the correcting for me. That said the other bit of wisdom imparted was that in a forced engine off landing situation it is better to hit the far fence at taxiing speed that the near fence at flying speed. ie aim for the middle of the field. Arguably certainly a third of the way up the field.

  4. Cary Alburn
    Cary Alburn says:

    I’m not a glider pilot, although I’ve flown several times in gliders with friends. But my initial instructor some 49 years ago, Dick Sharp, was a strong believer in power off landings, so that I learned early on to use aerodynamics rather than the throttle to make the field. Caveat: I admit to occasionally screwing that up, too, so that throttle is necessary. But for the most part, once I reduce throttle, I don’t need to add it back in.

    One of the most valuable lessons I learned from him was that if I lost the engine or misjudged because of the wind, to head directly for the landing zone. Don’t worry about pattern shape or size. Just get there, without trying to stretch the glide. It won’t be as pretty as a nice squared off pattern, but that’s OK. I think that’s the biggest lesson I read in your article, too.

  5. Cal Young
    Cal Young says:

    Stick and Rudder, Wolfgang Langwiesche, copyright 1944, Chap. 14 (my copy), The Glide. ‘Raise the nose to come down more steeply…’. Got my Silver C in a 1-26 with several off airport landings in the past.

    • Rudolf Barton
      Rudolf Barton says:

      Wolfgang also described turning away or toward the landing spot:
      If the spot seems to be moving UP turn toward it
      If the spot seems to be moving DOWN turn away from it
      This means that you start a turn of more or less degree as soon as you turn “base.” The base leg obviously will not be square. Of course it takes practice but is great for no power landings. I taught this to all my students (CFI,Ret.)

  6. frank wiliams
    frank wiliams says:

    been in the same situation in an sg-233 after chasing cloud as the wind was picking up and decided to turn back. I was in shock when I saw how far away the airport was and that “spot” in the windscreen indicated I was only going to get half way there. It was obvious there was a strong headwind and I was going to land in the Everglades if I didn’t do something right away. I immediately pitched down about 50 degrees and pulled out as the speed reached 90mph and held in level-no clim until speed dropped to 75 and then pulled up until the stall warning started. (having done this pull up on tow release I found I could usually gain about 200 feet.) I repeated this 3 or 4 times and actually made it back to turn final at normal altitude.

  7. Paul J Lewis
    Paul J Lewis says:

    When I was taking lessons I had a hand held raido It was never used but it was handy in my back pack just in case. It would not be bad to have one.

  8. Charlie Sloan
    Charlie Sloan says:

    George. Small world. I am retired Air Force. Learned to fly hliders at RAF Bicester England in early 80s. When I was stationed in Ok City in late mid 80s I purchased a Schleicher K-7 from a guy in Ohio that bought it from Ted Pawski. It was Ted’s sirplane that he rebuilt after someone in his club had crsshed it. I had a couple calls with Ted and he mailed me the Glider repair book in German along the plans to the Schleicher which he modified to make tbe Skid stronger among other things and the FAA certifications of it slong the way. Also have a few pics of the build with him and his pipe. First thing out of his mouth when I called and told him I bought the Schleicher was “Ya, Schleicher, if you gonna crash, you have to crash Wit Da Top Ruddah” no lie. Anyway it was a great Glider snd even better story.
    Charlie Sloan
    Yorktown, Va


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