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Dive Testing

Dive Testing Your Sailplane

There is much dilemma over how to conduct and interpret "dive testing" of a sailplane. What is typically asked is, "hey, you're plane isn't flying 'right', have you done a 'dive test'?" What does this mean?

What dive testing usually does tell you is whether the decalage angle (the angle between a wing and horizontal stabilizer) is 'right' and the resulting pitch stability of your plane. From this you can guess at your plane's relative CG position.

To perform a 'dive test', start from a relatively high height. Dive the plane to pick up speed and neutralize the controls (let go of the stick) and watch what happens to the plane.

There are three things that can happen:

  • The plane pulls out of the dive.
  • The plane 'tucks' under or accelerates in the direction the plane is travelling.
  • The plane remains in the dive.

Ben Clerx summarizes these behaviors well in the following:

If the [flight path of the plane] pulls out of the dive quickly, your plane has a relatively large decalage angle, has a forward CD, is 'pitch stable' and will want to fly at one airspeed - the one it was trimmed for in level flight with the stab trim level. This setting is good for free flight gliders and student R/C pilots.

The noseweight has the same effect at all airspeeds. The large decalage angle (up elevator) has a tail lowering force that increases with increasing airspeed and hence the rapid dive recovery. Likewise, if you get too slow, the heavy nose (forward CG) and lack of a tail-down force will lower the plane's nose to increase the airspeed to its "trimmed" value. If your plane makes a good gradual pull-out, you are somewhere between very stable and neutrally stable. This is the region I [Ben] prefer.

If your plane tucks under by itself in the dive or keeps 'nosing' up when you pull out of the dive, the plane has negative stability (or divergent stability). Whatever the airspeed trend is, it will tend to accelerate that trend. This yields a very maneuverable plane, but requires a fly-by-wire computer (like [in] the F-16) to stop the divergent trends. Nobody wants to fly in this region, but if you like to fly with an aft CG and the plane doesn't want to trim out and "groove," you're probably slightly into this region.

If you plane remains in a 45 degree dive (do remember to pull out prior to reaching ground zero), it is neutrally stable. This is a good position for slope racing and F3B speed runs, because the plane goes where it is pointed instead of ballooning every time the stick is released or the plane is rolled out of a pylon turn. The pilot, however, must be proficient at "pointing" the plane. This means you'll have to "fly" the plane and constantly change or adjust your pitch to maintain proper airspeed. You'll need a good view of the plane to fly it, and as such, this is probably not a good setting if you like to fly two miles downwind and have only average eyesight. I like to trim to this region and add a half ounce of noseweight and a clevis-turn of up stabilator.

Again, the dive testls you about the decalage, stability and CG position. It doesn't tell you where it should be for max performance.