Glider engine failure on take off

If you find yourself in a single engine airplane and experience an engine failure on takeoff the proper procedure is to land straight ahead with maximum 15° turns to either side. What you never do is turn (or rather ATTEMPT to turn) back to the airport. There are numerous cases of fatal crashes when the pilot tried to turn back rather than land straight ahead. But what happens if you’re in a glider and the tow plane experiences an engine failure on take off?

Glider in tow just after takeoff

I asked a friend of mine who is a licensed glider pilot with SOSA and this is what he had to say:

Depends on height:

  • If still in ground effect, we release and land ahead.
  • From ground to about 200-300 ft we have alternate fields picked out, and above that most gliders are capable of safely turning around and landing downwind.

The official height at which we can turn back is 300 ft, but used to be more like 200 ft which experienced pilots cite. In any takeoff emergency the tow plane either signals the glider to release by rocking the wings, or the tow pilot releases the rope at the tow plane end.

That sounds fairly reasonable to me but neither myself nor my friend are glider instructors so please don’t base your actions on this. It is a great question to ask your instructor.

Any glider pilots or instructors reading this blog? I’d love to hear what you have to say on the subject. Leave your input in the comments.