Safety at Region 4 North

(Last updated:  September 13, 2016)

The Mid-Atlantic Soaring Association has maintained a respectable safety record over forty (40) years of sponsoring the Region 4 North competition.  There are many factors that have allowed M-ASA to maintain this record; one is local knowledge of the many options for normal landings and emergency landings such as a premature termination of the tow (PT3).

If you are new to contest flying, the SSA has produced a guide for newcomers, The SSA Guide to Soaring Competition.  It includes many recommendations and tips for making your first contest safe and enjoyable.  The SSA also has developed a short condensed Critical Contest Safety Procedures Checklist that compares in importance to the Critical Assembly Check for sailplanes.

At the Airport

Like any airport, M-ASA asks that children and pets remain clear of the aircraft operations.  This includes assembly, towing, launching and landing of tow planes and gliders.  Do not cross runways while operations are in progress.  Only licensed drivers may operate vehicles on the airport.  Vehicles should stay off the three runways as much as possible.  Since W73 is a public use airport, we experience takeoff and landing traffic at all hours of the day.  Because of our proximity to Camp David and the underground Pentagon, we occasionally see military helicopters use the airport as a practice field.

At the Daily Pilots’ Meeting

All contestants are expected to attend the daily pilots’ meeting where safety issues will be discussed and resolved if necessary.  Pilots are free to make any recommendations that would enhance the overall safety of the competition.  Each day a competition pilot is asked to provide a short safety brief to the contestants.  These briefs often include topics such as ground procedures, launch rules, inflight soaring techniques, regional competition rules and trailer safety.

At the Grid

All takeoffs are conducted on the hard surface runway 15, which slopes downhill.  Therefore the grid forms at the northwest end of the main runway.  Due to the down slope and frequent tailwinds, pilots are advised to set glider “parking brakes” before leaving gliders unattended on the grid.  Many pilots use door stops or other items under the main wheel, bungee cords around hand brakes or tie the spoiler handle in the full aft position (if the wheel brake is connected).

Contest pilots are asked to partner with other pilots to conduct mutual Critical Assembly Checks at the grid.  CAC’s should be a noted with initials on the left wing tape.  Launches will not be provided to pilots without evidence of a Critical Assembly Check.

Contestants must know all the standard SSA soaring signals for both ground and inflight operations.  At the M-ASC, once a wing runner sees that the slack has been taken out of the tow rope, he then gives the “begin takeoff” signal.  No rudder wags and no thumbs up from the pilot are necessary since the Line Crew will assume the pilot is ready when in the #1 position.  If the pilot is NOT ready, he should inform the Line Crew who will push him/her off the grid.


Typically, 35-40 sailplanes and five tow planes participate in the launch where the goal is to get all classes airborne in one hour or less.  Pilots should be in their cockpits, checklists completed, emergency procedures reviewed and ready for takeoff when there are no fewer than five sailplanes ahead of them on the grid.  Release at 2000 feet AGL means that cycle times are short; only 6-8 minutes between launches for each tow plane.

The downhill paved runway increases the chance that the tow rope will be overrun and possibly back-release if a pilot doesn’t anticipate this problem.  Anticipate this by using your wheel brake as the slack is taken out.  Members of the line crew may hold your sailplane by the vertical fin to prevent this from occurring.

Premature Termination of the Tow (PT3)

The airport is surrounded by numerous cultivated fields that provide adequate landing areas in the event of a PT3 before reaching an altitude at which the pilot can return to the airport.  Referring to the graphic below, the optional landing areas will be presented to the pilot in this sequence:

1. Land straight ahead on the asphalt runway 15.

2. Land straight ahead in the overrun field beyond runway 15.

3. Make a shallow left turn and land in one of two hay fields to your left.  Notice there is a line of brush with a barbed wire fence at the boundary between these fields.  Normally by October, the hay has been harvested, bailed and removed from these two fields.  Take a good look at these two fields before you fly for the first time at W73.

4. Left Turn-out:  In a climbing left turn you are in position to complete a 180 degree turn after a PT3 and land at the private airfield Karlindo that parallels the runways at W73.  This field is just 1300 feet (1/4 mile) northeast of W73’s main runway, at least 1200 feet long by 100 feet wide, and is well maintained year round.

5. Right Turn-out:  There are 3-4 fields that closely parallel your flight path on a right turn-out as shown in the graphic below.

6. High tailwind landing after a PT3.  It’s a rare day at W73 that we have a strong southeast wind, but it has happened.  Your first reaction after a low-altitude rope break with a high tail wind might be to fully open your spoilers and dive for the runway.  However, if you find yourself high, another alternative is to close your spoilers and land beyond runway 33C on the up-sloping overrun on the north side of Pecher Road.  This overrun is well maintained and approximately 1000 feet long by 70 feet wide.  Use extreme caution since your flight path will take you over the grid and across Pecher Road.  (Click on image for full-size photo.)


Pilots needing a relight are asked to fly a left pattern, land on runway 33 Left and roll beyond the current launch point.  Ground crew personnel will assist you in re-entering the grid at the appropriate spot.  Observers not involved with launching aircraft should remain clear of any runway where relights may land.

Traffic Density

In addition to a number of small general aviation airports in the region, the air traffic in the vicinity of the Frederick Municipal Airport (KFDK) can be very active.  FDK is the second busiest airport in Maryland next to BWI and lies just eight miles to the north of the Potomac Class B and Washington DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA).  The airspace in the vicinity of FDK is shared with airliners descending into Washington-Dulles airport thirty miles to the south.  The north-to-south arrival pattern for flights from New York, New England and international airports take the heavy metal as low as 4000 feet over the FDK airport.  Airliners can be frequently seen lower to the southwest of FDK being vectored on downwind and base legs to runway 19 at Dulles.  Local low-altitude east-west airway traffic can be assigned to altitudes as low as 3300 feet near FDK.


Fairfield is fortunate to have many landing options.  The asphalt runway and two parallel grass runways provide adequate room to land several gliders simultaneously, if necessary.  The graphics below shows many of the options for normal and emergency landings.  The main asphalt runway is 2700 by 50 feet with no runway lights.  The grass runway to its southwest (33L) is the same length as the asphalt runway and is no less than 275 feet wide.  This can easily support two simultaneous landings if well coordinated between pilots.  The grass runway between the main runway and the taxiway (33R) has 1900 feet of usable length and is 160 feet wide.  Be conscious of the shallow drainage ditch that crosses the approach end.

The tow planes normally fly a right pattern for 33R.  Gliders usually fly a left pattern for 33L, but can fly either pattern if conditions warrant.  Do not “cross over” to the opposite runway; for example, do not fly a left pattern to land on 33R.  With a strong southwest wind, some pilots fly a right pattern to avoid turbulence from the ski hill and trees adjacent to the runway.  Since takeoffs are conducted downhill on 15 (hard surface), gliders and tow planes don’t normally land on 33C, but occasionally do when there are no conflicts with launching aircraft.  Pilots should minimize radio calls by making only one call when entering downwind.  Runway 15 is unmarked and closed for normal landings.    (Click on image for full-size photo.)