This article documents my out-landing experience during the Duchesne Soaring safari in 2004.

Duchesne Safari – 2004 report by Dale Taylor

This year’s Soaring Safari, hosted by Morgan Valley Soaring was held in Duchesne Utah.  As it turned out, the weather didn’t cooperate and while a few local flights were enjoyed, we weren’t able to get in the serious cross-country flying we had all hoped for.  I would like to share the story of my flight of Saturday afternoon, June 12th.  There’s a few lessons we can learn, so please don’t tear me apart for exposing my mistakes; I hope to make this a positive learning experience.

The morning started very overcast, in fact when I first peeked out the hotel window at the overcast cirrus filled skies, I was disappointed, as they looked pretty dark.  Fortunately, by noon, much of it was clearing, there was a band of CU’s heading west directly towards Heber, though the Uinta’s to the North and the range to the South were both over-developing.  Many of the pilots packed up their gliders and headed out, the Grob was towed back to Heber with Tom as the pilot.  As my wife and I discussed the situation, we asked Jay about taking a tow back to Heber as well, figuring it would be a nice flight, saving the disassembly-reassembly time.

As a note, before deciding to go, I checked a few things out first. The tow-rope was a 400’ rope since others had used the dirt runway and needed the extra distance to keep out of the dust when the tow plane hits power for takeoff.  Since it was there, I used it.  I discussed using a low tow –vs- high tow but got mixed results from those I talked to.  I decided I would start on high and remain there unless something needed to be changed.  I called Tom who had then landed in Heber in 46Y to get a report, he said there were some pretty rough conditions over the mountain passes and that at times it was a wild ride.  Tom said he felt the rope could have broken a few times, I figured the 1-34 was much lighter than the Grob and I would be fine.  I had previously towed cross-country and felt comfortable with my abilities to remain on tow, so I went ahead with things.

My plan was that once I neared the Heber valley, after the flight computer said I had Heber made, I would enjoy some soaring as the chase cars caught up to me, since things were looking pretty good that direction.  My wife took a few practice runs around the airport towing the trailer as she was uncertain how it would feel towing such a long object.  After about 2pm, I was up next and I prepared for takeoff.  I held the down wind wing on the ground during the initial roll to add some drag on that side and keep me from weathervane-ing in the cross wind, I was very pleased with the takeoff.  Tow to altitude was uneventful, a few bumps and such but nothing unusual for a summer afternoon.

I was very careful to stay right behind the tow plane.  Once we got to about 10,000 ft (the airport is at 5800’), he descended some and I had to spend a minute or so slipping with lots of rudder to keep from catching him, I heard the tow rope links clatter for a moment but quickly tightened up and we kept on our way.  I did realize at that time that I had a slightly different problem than the Grob, that the release mechanism on the 1-34 had a back-pressure safety and I really need to keep the slack out more than Tom would have.  I watched my required altitude for Heber and my distance to Duchesne, knowing that after I was about 6 miles out, I was in the middle and didn’t have either airport made.

At about 12 miles out, we hit some really serious lift, very strong and going up nicely.  I liked the extra altitude and felt better about things, then on the other side we started to descend.  We kept descending and after a couple minutes of continual descent, I was having trouble staying behind the tow plane.  With my much better L/D and being so much more efficient, slack had started to build.  By the time I heard the tow rings clanging again, I was using full rudder and still overtaking the tow plane.  I struggled with the decision to use spoilers as I was really worried about breaking the tow rope if I didn’t back off them in time.  Just as the tow plane was becoming difficult to see, I opened spoilers and quickly corrected things.  I was very pleased with the results and decided that I should have opened them sooner since they worked well and the line straightened out nicely.  As I got back in line, I closed the spoilers and waited for the gentle tug.  A few moments later, I watched the tow rings pull away from me, literally just feet in front of me as we were in near perfect alignment.

Instantly I knew this was going to be a BIG problem.  I radioed the tow plane, to let him know I was off, and to ask him to relay back to the chase teams.  By the time this happened, I was at about 8700’, we had already descended nearly 1800’, I was now only about 2000’ agl over some very uninviting terrain.  I looked ahead, did a best guess concerning the head winds and just how far I could go, and started to pick out a few spots that could work in a pinch, knowing that at this point I had very few options.  I made sure the spoilers were stowed to conserve what little altitude I had.  I immediately changed course to give me a direct route to what appeared to be some landing options.  As I headed to the highway, I hoped for some lift and realized that the vario was off, as why bother with all the noise when none of it previously mattered!  I quickly turned on the vario and waited as it settled down.  I was sinking very fast, about 600-800 fpm.  As far as I could see there were rough mountains, trees and very hostile terrain, there was a dirt road as my first option, though I could see some high voltagae transmission line parallel and slightly to the north of it.  That road would also have a serious cross wind, but the dangers of the highway outweighed the cross wind and put it first on my option list.  As I neared the highway and continued to fly to the dirt road, I picked out a 2nd and third option.  Option #2 was a rest stop on Hwy 40, just east of Fruitland, right in front of it there was a turn out lane for each direction, making a very appealing wide section of the road.  I radioed to the tow plane and Lynn Alley in the Duo (who I felt could probably hear me) that I had figured the rest stop would be my landing site, and to please let the crew know so I wouldn’t be on the ground for hours and hours.

Just as I neared the rest stop and about had option #1 made, I hit some lift.  I circled and realized that while it was about holding me even, I wasn’t gaining.  I started watching the traffic on the highway to see if there were any breaks.  After I completed the first circle, I realized that this bubble was very rough and wasn’t formed enough to keep me from needing to land.  I also realized that I no longer had option #1 made, that due to the very strong head winds, each circle was moving me quickly east, away from the only land-able options.  I focused on the traffic on the highway, trying to time the gaps in the cars, RV’s, and trucks, heading in two different directions.  After my 2nd circle, I knew I was going to lose my 2nd option soon, but there was still traffic there.  I saw a that things were going to align for a clearing in the traffic at my 3rd option, an area with some passing lanes about a mile east of the rest area.  I made a 3rd circle waiting for the cars there to get out of the way.  Just as they started to clear, I opened full spoilers and dove for the road.  My main concern was the diesel truck coming up behind me, but I knew I had some distance and hoped they would see me and slow down.  Just as I was lined up and things were looking very nice, I saw the power lines crossing the road directly in front of me, right at eye level, I didn’t have time to check speed or anything, I just dove hard directly under them.  I pulled back about 6’ off the road and held it perfectly centered and figured I was just above the road signs.  I was just getting to the wider area where I felt I could now land without hitting anything, I checked my speed and I was doing about 60, I had no cars in front and once I cleared the road signs and edge barriers, I was doing about 40, I pulled full spoilers.  The instant I landed, dead center on the highway (with no cars visible in front of me) I pulled hard spoilers, used full brakes and pushed the nose over to use the friction of the skid plate.  With the head winds, I figure I stopped in under 100 feet.  I was nearly centered between the road markers, as I slowed, I let off the brakes, added right rudder and drove off the side, though I stopped before letting it roll down the embankment.  I jumped out as fast as I could and was pulling the glider off as a few cars came up on me from the west and pulled off asking if I was ok.  Worried about the impending truck pulling over the ridge I yelled that I was fine and pulled the last few feet off the road.

Just as I pulled the glider off, the “diesel truck” was pulling off the road and as incredible as it may seem, it was in fact my wife pulling the glider trailer that I thought was a truck in my quick looks to assess the traffic.  She pulled up, asked if I was ok and once she realized I was fine and there was no damage, immediately gave me a serious lecture concerning landing on the highway.  She had attended one of Lynn’s previous safety seminars and knew landing on the highway was one of the lesser desirable options!

At this point, a few of the cars passing by asked if I needed help, I said “yes” and asked one to park at the top of the ridge with their flashers to warn people to slow down as my tail was very near the lane.  I then asked a family to help me hold the glider as I positioned and opened up the trailer.  We had the first wing in the trailer when Dan Thirkill pulled up.  He helped us load up the 2nd wing and we about had the fuselage in the trailer when the Highway patrol pulled up, lights flashing.  He was very concerned as they had several reports of an airplane accident with “wings and pieces scattered about”.  We got a good laugh, as people must have seen us disassembling things and thought we were clearing wreckage.  Once I was able to show him that everything was fine and that there was no damage, he wanted some ID for his reports and then helped us load the fuse into the trailer.  He said it was something rather exciting for his small town and would probably make the papers.

As amazing as it seems, by giving detailed instructions and careful guidance, I was able to have total strangers help disassemble and safely stow the glider, even in VERY windy conditions on the side of a highway.

As we drove back to Heber, I thought about the situation and the fortunate results.  I do have a few things I felt I should have done differently.  I’m sure many will be able to find fault and be critical, fortunately I can say “no harm no foul” and lets all learn from this.

1                    I feel that using the 400’ tow rope was a mistake.  It doubled the length of rope and greatly added to the back pressure that eventually caused the release. 

2                    I should have transitioned to low tow position right after the initial climb. This would have given me the option of pulling up and back to fight the slack rope situation.  This also would have kept the rope more up above me and lessened the chance of a back pressure release, all while keeping the tow plane in better view.

3                    This is probably my biggest fault, I should have communicated with the tow pilot and explained that I needed him to start climbing instead of descending for minute after minute.  I don’t know why we descended so much and figure he had his own issues, but I should have communicated with him instead of struggling to deal with the situation myself. 

I hope that you’ve found this article interesting.  I have some pictures taken by my wife and others of the glider on the side of the highway.  They show the power lines and signs I had to clear and just how little room there was to pull this landing off.  I also have the IGC file for those of you who have flight analysis software and would like to review in livid detail the exact flight and the minute details of every turn.

One last thing, I thank my wife for putting up with my sport and supporting me, I apologize for the stress this landing caused her, as she watched me land just over the ridge line from her position and barely out of sight.  I also realize that I was very “lucky” and prepared mentally for this.  I have studied many times various options and while a highway was very low on the list, I had figured it was possible in the right situation.

Dale Taylor .

This page was updated Wednesday, June 16, 2004.

©98,99,2000&01 Dale Taylor,, contact via email.