This is a courtesy translation by the BEA of the Report on the Safety Investigation. As accurate as the translation may be, the original text in French is the work of reference.
Note: The following information is principally based on the pilot’s statement. This information has not been independently validated by the BEA.
1 - History of the flight
The pilot was taking part in an international gliding competition organized at Issoudun Le Fay aerodrome (Indre). After two competition flights on Thursday and Friday, the pilot took off at 12:40 for the Sunday competition. The meteorological conditions were favourable and the pilot performed the planned circuit.
After a flight time of more than 4.5 h, and on his return close to the aerodrome, the pilot looked for the runway in order to land on it. He flew over the last planned point of the flight, at what he thought was a height of 180 m with respect to the aerodrome. When he finally saw the aerodrome, he realised that he was only at a height of 60 m and not 160 m as he had thought. It was no longer possible for him to reach the aerodrome and he decided to land in a field.
All the surrounding fields had tall crops in them; the pilot chose one of them in which to land. He tried to extend the landing gear but experienced difficulties in keeping control of the glider with his left hand. He managed to unlock the landing gear as the glider arrived near the ground but did not have time to fully extend it before making contact with the terrain. During the landing run, the left wing was slowed down by the crops, the glider pivoted 90° to the left and came to a standstill 20 m further on. The pilot evacuated the glider unharmed.
2 - Additional information
2.1 Arrival procedure
The competition rules stipulated a procedure with an arrival circle of a diameter of 3 km and height of 100 m. The flight was considered as finished when the glider crossed this circle at a height of 100 m or more, failing which penalties would be incurred.
2.2 Pilot information
The pilot, of Dutch nationality, has had a glider pilot license delivered by the Netherlands in 2013. He had previously participated in numerous competitions and had logged 350 flight hours of which around 30 h on type. He stated that he had not felt that there had been any particular difficulty with extending the landing gear during his previous flights on the Cirrus.
The pilot explained that during the previous flight on Friday, his GNSS LX8080 navigation system was incorrectly configured: his arrival point was positioned above the aerodrome instead of being on the edge of the arrival circle. He had therefore configured the last point of his flight on Sunday at a height of 100 m at the edge of the circle. He thus added 100 m to the value displayed on his GPS to determine his height with respect to the aerodrome. He thinks in retrospect that he did not correctly save his configuration and that the last point was saved at ground level rather than at a height of 100 m. There was thus a height error of 100 m.
The pilot added that as the majority of the flight had taken place at an altitude of more than 2,000 m, he considered that his perception of height was distorted on arriving closer to the ground and that he preferred to rely on the indications given by his GPS. It was only on acquiring sight of the aerodrome that he realised that the indication on his GPS was erroneous and that he was too low. He specified that his altimeter was correctly set but that he looked at the altitude on his GPS only.
Several pilots had told the pilot that the aerodrome was difficult to see on arriving from the sector in which he had been flying.
3 - Lessons learned and conclusion
An arrival circle of a diameter of 3 km and height of 100 m only provides a small safety margin for a glider such as the Cirrus. In competition, each pilot must take suitable margins according to his/her skills and the characteristics of his/her glider in order to carry out a safe approach. The pilot’s safety margin (80 m in addition to the minimum height of 100 m) did not allow the configuration error of his GPS to be compensated for.