Almost all mid-air glider collisions are with another glider, and they mainly happen in the dynamic situations in thermals and around airfields, where other gliders can be hidden from sight behind the glider structure. Mid-air collisions have killed a number of UK glider pilots since 1975.
In 2004, three Swiss glider pilots applied their engineering expertise to design a system that would alert pilots about an imminent collision and give an indication of the direction in which the threat lay. Today, much of the active UK glider fleet carries the FLARM system that they invented; in the UK we have had no glider-glider collisions since 2014 – the first time that there have been four such years in a row; and there has only ever been one collision between FLARM-equipped gliders.
Having invented the FLARM system and designed the first devices, Urs Rothacher, Andrea Schlapbach and Urban Mäder continued to develop the system to improve its performance, adapt its behaviour for competitions, add functionality to measure antenna performance and find lost gliders and to build in an obstacle database. New versions allowed multiple antennas for better coverage, and detection of powered aircraft equipped with transponders or ADS-B. FLARM’s complex path-prediction algorithms mean that it remains the only collision-alerting system that is effective in the close manoeuvring situations such as thermals in which gliders spend so much time.
For devising, manufacturing, sustaining and continuing to develop this exceptional safety system, which has helped prevent collisions and save glider pilots’ lives across Europe, Urs, Andrea and Urban are deserving recipients of the BGA’s Bill Scull Safety Award.
The award will be presented at the BGA conference on 2nd March 2019.