As you’re reading this I will be attending my first Soaring Society of America (SSA) Convention in Little Rock, AR. These are enthusiastic users of the airspace and most of the time powered aircraft and sailplanes co-exist quite nicely. Rarely is there a collision but as we’ve seen in the Hudson River Corridor Collision, sometimes there are some precursors that forecast bad things if all the right factors line up in just the wrong way. Back in August 2006 a Hawker XP Bizjet and a Schleicher ASW 27-18 Sailplane collided as the Hawker was descending out of 16,000 feet.
The jet was equipped with TCAS but since the sailplane transponder was not in use at the time of the collision, it didn’t show up on ATC radar or the on board equipment. Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt but the sailplane was wiped out after it lost a portion of the wing and spun in. The sailplane pilot bailed out. The Hawker did not fare well either and limped to an engine out /gear up emergency landing in Carson City, NV.
I am part of a safety panel that will be discussing safety in general and how airplanes and sailplanes can play well together. The Nevada incident is worthy of discussion because high density soaring operations are interspersed with high density airport arrivals and departures. Here at Frederick, MD the soaring group is typically out on the weekends. Generally, everyone gets along well. The main thing is to look and listen. I suspect that transponders and ADS-B will be likely topics of conversation.
Would like to hear from any of you on what works in your area and what doesn’t. ASF and SSA will be looking for ways to make an unlikely event even more remote.
UPDATE: Courtesy of the winter storm working its way across the South and into Little Rock, we canceled our GA flight and booked with Delta Airlines yesterday. This morning ( Friday) Delta canceled their flights into LIT for the rest of the day – good decision – so we’ve started the discussion here and it needs to continue. My debut at SAA is momentarily postponed. Your comments are greatly appreciated as this dialogue moves forward.