World Class Sailplanes Dead?

[Editor's Note:  We would like to thank Jacek Kóbiesa from Pasco, Washington for this nice article.  Jacek has numerous ratings (Commercial Pilot Airplane & Glider add Instrument Airplane), he is a CFI-G, and aSenior Parachute Rigger.  We are delighted to have this post and the beautiful photos.]

PW5 & PW6 (photo by Andrzej Rożnowski)

I would like to suggest that I think not.  However, I also think we should take a close look at glider club equipment in the United States to find out.  What does World Class have to do with soaring clubs?   That is an interesting question and if you will bear with me for a few moments, I think we may discover an answer together.  I am also convinced that some of these thoughts and ideas may apply to soaring clubs around the world, many of whom face similar struggles with their equipment.  There may be some answers for all of us who love the sport of soaring.

First, let’s face reality.  Soaring is an expensive sport. For those of us who worked hard, managed our finances, and whose families understand, soaring has become a way of life.  But for the new pilot today the challenges are much greater.

In my case, and the case of many others, I started soaring as a very young boy in an aero club. I also had the good fortune of living in a city where gliders were being designed and built. The club to which I belonged was known as one of the best in the country and it produced some of the world’s best soaring pilots. Unfortunately, it is not that today. Club memberships around the globe are in a decline, based upon my reading of several publications from all over the world.

So, shall soaring clubs go the way of the dinosaur and simply become extinct? It would seem we are well on the way, and some might argue that we are almost there.  Sometimes when I discuss this with pilots they tell me that this is nonsense, and that soaring will never become extinct.  I certainly hope they are right, and personally, I want to see our sport flourish, but I also realize that soaring will not likely become a mainstream sport.  Maybe if it became an Olympic sport it would achieve more notoriety and enter an era of widespread popularity, but that is not very likely either.

In the glaring light of the real world, how then shall we continue the sport of gliding?  Do we not need to train new enthusiasts?  Without adequate training, how will we replace the aging group of glider pilots in the world?  My answer to these questions is another question.   How is your club’s training and the condition of flying equipment?

Let’s take a look at the training market.  I think we would all agree that without training equipment, soaring will pass into history.  In the past, the two most popular two-seater gliders used for training were the ubiquitous Schweitzer 2-33 and the Blanik L-13. The 2-33 is old, and while it still may be airworthy, it is still a tired old trainer. Unlike the 2-33, the Blanik looked and behaved more like a typical modern sailplane. Unfortunately for all of us, the L-13 has been grounded by the FAA, with the EASA following suit, because of cracks in the wings. Since the grounding of the Blanik, for many clubs basic training equipment became even scarcer. While the future of the Blanik is still uncertain, reading the SSA web site on the subject does not leave me with much confidence that the Blanik will ever be airworthy again, at least without spending significant amounts of money. So what choice do clubs and soaring schools have who are looking for reliable two-seaters? The first choice is to search through the secondhand market for an old, fatigued but certified glider.  Second, there is the prospect of purchasing a new plane.

There are only a couple manufacturers offering new two-seat trainers, but most of them are old designs, like the ASK-21. There is also the new but not very popular PW-6U glider. For those clubs that want to train pilots to the highest possible level there is also the new SZD 54-2 Perkoz. Look for a full-featured article about the Perkoz in a future issue of Soaring Café.

For the moment, let us look at the PW-6U.  This sailplane was the next logical step in the design of training gliders and is closely related to the World Class PW-5.   While this is not a very popular glider, to my thinking it is the right sailplane that clubs, which are strapped for cash, might want to investigate and eventually purchase. The PW-6U flies like any modern glider.  Because it is a very “slippery” glider, acceleration is fast, roll rate is good, and it is approved for several performance maneuvers, including spins. Pilots trained in the PW-6U will not have a problem upgrading to any modern sailplane, and should have the ability to fly any such plane proficiently.

PW-6U (photo by Andrzej Rożnowski)

If a club purchases the PW-6U, I would recommend that it also buy a PW-5 World Class sailplane. Why?  Transitioning from the PW-6U to a more advanced glider using the PW-5 as a stepping-stone is easy and safe. Furthermore, because the current market price of the PW-5 is so low, a club could make two or three PW-5 gliders available to club members at an affordable price. The current price of the PW-6U trainer is in mid 50,000 Euros, and I have seen PW-5 gliders listed in “Wings and Wheels” in the mid to low USD$20,000. In my view, these prices make the PW-6U and PW-5 combination the least expensive option for club sailplanes.

PW-6U Factory Demonstrator courtesy Jerzy Szempliński

Additionally, the cost of insurance, another inescapable fact of life, is reasonable for these planes.  I would argue that for a club to succeed in attracting new pilots, our basic premise for preserving soaring, it must present not only quality people but also quality equipment to the potential sailplane market.  I would venture to say that one of the primary factors in the decline of soaring is the available equipment, both for training and for flying.  Thus, you see that World Class is not necessarily dead, and, with the understanding I have presented here, it can actually serve clubs well.

PW-6U in flight (photo by Andrzej Rożnowski)

There are no perfect solutions to the challenges faced by soaring clubs, but the one I offer here is a good start. I know of clubs that were on the verge of demise who by following the suggestions presented here, modernized their equipment and not only survived, but came out of the difficult period successfully. The latest SSA campaign “Lets go Gliding” is a step in a right direction, but the equipment issue cannot be neglected. It is my opinion that it is the most important aspect of any soaring operation.

Invermere (photo by Andrzej Rożnowski)

A club contemplating buying a new glider should educate itself about the PW-6U and its potential benefits to a soaring operation. It also might be helpful to contact clubs currently operating the PW-6U. Two of them are, Puget Sound Soaring, http://www.pugetsoundsoaring.org/ and Vancouver Island Soaring, http://visc.wqs.ca/. The factory contact is, http://www.szdjezow.com.pl/szybowcepw_eng.html and the US and Canadian distributor is the well known soaring pilot Jerzy Szemplinski who’s web site is, www.windpath.ca

PW-6U Technical Data:

Wing span: 52.5 ft. (16,00m)
Length: 25.75 ft. (7,85m)
Height: 8 ft. (2,44m)
Wing area: 164 sq. ft. (15,25m2)
Aspect ratio: 16,8
Empty weight: 794 lbs. (360 kg)
Max take off weight: 1204 lbs. (546 kg)
Limit load factors for VA: +5,3 –2,65
Limit load factors for VNE: +4,0 –1,50

PERFORMANCE:

Gliding ratio:  34
Minimum rate of sink at 43.2 kts: 148 ft/min
Maneuvering speed VA: 88 kts.
Never exceed speed VNE: 140 kts.
Stall speed: 36.7 kts.

APPROVED AEROBATIC MANEUVERS:

  • loop
  • hammerhead
  • spin
  • spiral
  • chandelle
  • immelmann
  • split S

KINDS OF OPERATIONS: 

  • day flying
  • cloud flying
  • aerobatics maneuvers as above

    PW-6U in flight (photo by Andrzej Rożnowski)

     

The author trying the original PW-6U prototype for size at the aero club in Świdnik, Poland. (photo by Jacek Kóbiesa)

  13 comments for “World Class Sailplanes Dead?

  1. John
    April 27, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Glad to read a positive article about the PW’s. Their great ships for the investment. I’ve had my PW5 for 3 years and it’s a blast to fly. Can’t beat it for the fun per $. Our club has owned another PW5 for about 9 years and has held up very well, no problems. It’s a popular club ship with the membership.

  2. Ken Prothero
    May 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    PW-6 is FAA certified.

  3. Gerard Robertson
    May 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I started flying in New Zealand ni the late ’70s (learning on the Blanik & K-13, then moving on to the K-8 & K-6) and am also a “yachtie”.

    I agree with this article. The PW-5 is an attempt to apply the Laser yacht approach of simple, low-cost, bog-standard equipment to gliding. It adequately replaces the earlier single seaters.

    Experience here is that – while entirely suitable for low hour pilots – an experienced pilot can still make long flights successfully in the PW-5.

  4. Ken Stephens
    May 23, 2012 at 12:59 am

    I flew in a PW-5 when training. I couldn’t get out of it fast enough. It’s fine for floating around the field but the XC performance is way below a secondhand standard class glider for the same or less money.

    Gliding is an exclusive sport and always will be. I haven’t been able to afford it for 10 years but now I’m able to get back into it. What I’m looking for from a club is access to sexy, high performance gliders; not cheap slow ones.

    To get more glider pilots we need to capture their imagination. Lowering the entry point isn’t the answe. Providing an accessible (safe) path to high performance thrills is the best way to attract new pilots.

  5. Lee Harrison
    May 29, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    I’ve never flown a PW-5 … though two days ago I was flying my Ka-6 on a mediocre soaring day at Saratoga (NY), and had the pleasure of flying around with one … and it could out-glide me, as expected :<) I've never seen a PW-6 "in the flesh." As you say, they aren't common in the US.

    The problem of a good two-seat trainer has an aspect you don't mention — metal sailplanes rule because they can be left outside. This is an enormous saving over the life of the aircraft, compared to hangaring one; it also increases the number of places they can be operated. And then don't neglect the fact that nobody ought to want a trainer with a 3000 hr design life, and the prospect of "life extension" worries down the road. Certification analysis standards for long fatigue life are much simpler and surer in Aluminum (presuming the manufacture cannot afford high-temperature & pressure matrix polymers).

    The demise of the L-13s has been shocking in the US; I don't have numbers but I think we've lost as much as a third of the training fleet, perhaps more? I've no expectation that there will be a viable "fix" to return them to service.

    Almost all of my instructing hours have been in Schweizer 2-seaters and Blaniks … being an old-timer I have almost 500 hours instructing in 2-22s at Torrey Pines … on winch tow. Getting those hours from a winch is a lot of flights …..

    While the 2-33 is not much of a performer, instructors and operators do come to like it — strong, safe, simple. It is generally low maintenance, and the things which do need fixing are straightforward to deal with. The skid and the steel-tubing + fabric fuselage make "out-landing rash" less likely, and much easier to fix when it happens.

    The Blaniks have much better performance, and have been the mainstay of many clubs… mine is fortunate enough to have two L-23s.

    But all of these designs are gone from production … there's no metal 2-seat trainer being built (I consider the Lark B2 to be too heavy, and too much maintenance, to serve as a general trainer).

    The economics of sailplane certification and production being what they are … I despair of a solution here unless some group organizes to establish a design and certificate it as a charitable contribution to the sport (which is how the PZ-5 got designed).

    I'm an (ex)aeronautical engineer (though fly-by-wire dynamics, not structures) … and I've gone through the parametric performance estimation comparing an "upgraded" design with struts which might be seen as a descendant of the 2-33, vs a descendant of the K7/ASK-13/Blanik lineage.

    For training purposes I can make an argument that the former actually "wins" … because it can achieve better performance at flight speeds below 30 m/s (where trainers spend almost all their time), weigh and cost less, and be more rugged. But it won't be so sexy … and that does sell.

    One other comment about trainers which I think is under-appreciated: a GOOD landing gear is exceeding important in trainers, and most two-seaters "under do" this. It's important for two reasons: trainers commonly experience hard landings (and when they do the instructor's back bears the worst of it!) … but I think it is inadequately appreciated how much of the fatigue damage to wing spars comes from landing shock. Most of the banter about the L-13's problem cites "too much aerobatics" … but hard landings are a far bigger contribution to the fleet as a whole — most clubs in the US have prohibited all aerobatics other than spins by club rule in any event.

    A strutted airplane greatly reduces the peak tensile forces in the wing due to a hard landing … combine that with better landing gear compliance than the 2-33 has… and a very durable sailplane can result.

    But I don't expect to see one…. sigh.

    • Bill Moorman
      July 3, 2012 at 10:22 am

      Longing for DC-3 in an era of 787…… quite remarkable. Bill

  6. Shawn Kintzle
    July 7, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    As a new student I was fortunate to have recently flown a Krosno 03A at a local glider club.The only one in Iowa of the thirteen in the U.S. .What has become of the jigs for this wonderful little craft? Metal construction with a sleek modern look. I would think there would be a market for this glider to this day.Going back for round two next weekend,cant’ wait!!!

  7. Bb
    July 27, 2012 at 12:41 am

    Shawn,
    Nice to know you have flown the Krosno 03A. Our club (cypresssoaring.org) owns KR-03A SN 03-14‏ and it is a nice plane to fly. The Krosno, hopefully, is going to be built soon in USA (see barryaviation.com) with a new name “Peregrine”.
    Our club also happens to own a PW6 which I love to fly. IMO, if it looks good, it will fly good–

  8. Jan willem janssen
    September 25, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Blaniks, Schweizers ? What about a Duo Discus, DG 500 or 1000

    • Stephan S. W.
      January 7, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      Duo Discus, DG 500 or 1000? You are talking about clubs with a financial problemes due to declining membership.
      And Bill, to attract new members, you have to show them what is gliding about. For this you need a modern glider with adequate performance and not a new Schweizer 2-33 when even its ancestor the 22-2 was an retro step.

  9. Jacek Kóbiesa
    January 15, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    I received an email from Stefan Perrin, the President of PSSA, Inc. which read the following:

    Jacek, thank you for pointing out the article and I will get a link to Soaring Cafe added to our web site. Your words ring true with regard to modernizing equipment. Since we have owned our PW-6 we have seen an increase in gliding interest and also have grown our membership.

    PSSA’s PW-6 was purchased to fill the hole left by the grounding of the L-13 Blanik and we have not looked back since. At the time we had a very dedicated board and our timing was right because with the global grounding of the L-13 the used two seat market quickly dried up. I suspect this market segment should slowly be recovering but even a new PW-6 from the factory should be quite affordable for most clubs.

    Stefan Perrin
    President PSSA, Inc.

  10. Martin Chaloupka
    February 18, 2013 at 11:57 am

    US based glider pilots and clubs should try to access funding through sport and recreational activities grants. I flew some 6 different two seaters or so during my not so typical training path and I personally do not like the 2-33, yet am fine in Blanik or Super Blanik. People who don’t know any difference and aren’t put off by vintage Schweizer gliders, would be fine, but for me, having trained in ASK13, 21, L13, L23, G103, DG505 and Puchacz stints, I just can’t enjoy 2-33 as much.

    The ‘commercial factor’ of US clubs can also be double-edged sword. It’s way more non-profit, volunteers/members run thing in Europe, for the best part AFAIK. Still lots of clubs in the US, but the aerotows (if no winch available, which isn’t much these days anyway), glider rental, CFIG rate, dues/membership, it all adds up for those who want to fly/train more intensively. Let alone the hours/flights vs time spent at the gliderport, in the days of more and more commitments at work or family or studies.

    In the UK, for example, many gliding clubs took advantage of percentual grants/funding from lottery towards sporting activities. They can also up the profile through working with people with disabilities with gliders with adjustable/modifiable controls, as well as cooperation with local schools to raise awareness to get more members in.

    I love gliding, but the life gets in the way, as for many of us. I’d love to get to instructing proficiency and share my passion with new ‘generation’ of pilots, not just flying power aircraft.

  11. Jacek Piterow
    December 1, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    So for a glider club which needs sturdy long life glider Puchatek will be probably best choice. How abot single seater? Also metal. From this what I have heard all carbon/glass airframes have limited life. Does anybody knows where can a club apply for equipement grants in US?

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