Our airport is located within the surface area of the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport (ELM) Class D airspace. This unusual arrangement requires special precautions and procedures. We have a letter of agreement with the FAA detailing where gliders can operate in the Class D without radio communication and where pilots must communicate with air traffic control. The letter of agreement is regulatory. Non-compliance can result in certificate action.
The letter however does nothing to protect against traffic conflicts outside of the Class D airspace. As a club we have developed the additional procedures outlined in this document to keep pilots safe and clear of the traffic at ELM. All pilots who fly at Harris Hill are required to read these procedures. It is imperative that we abide by both the club procedures and the conditions of the letter of agreement to ensure we have a place to fly in the future.
ELM is located in the valley at 955 ft. MSL less than 3 miles northeast of, and 700 feet lower than, Harris Hill. The airport has two substantial runways, 6-24 and 10-28. Parallel to 6-24 on the south side is a turf runway 5-23 which gliders may use. Traffic at the airport includes several scheduled regional jet arrivals and departures each day and numerous corporate movements that are not necessarily scheduled. There is a small amount of single engine flight instruction and private owners. Serving the airport is a control tower, radar approach facility, and several instrument approaches.
To facilitate the separation of their traffic from other VFR traffic, ELM has Class D airspace. Within 4.2 nm of the airport, the Class D airspace extends to the surface. Anyone within this 4.2 nm ring and below 3455 MSL (2500 AGL) must call ATC and receive permission to enter.
Our letter of agreement states that HHSC will call the tower (607-739-1971) before commencing operations and after we have finished flying for the day. The club has a green flag that is placed on the deck, visible from the flight line, indicating that this has been done. Once the tower has been called, ATC reroutes all large aircraft clear of the Harris Hill Soaring Area.
Once the tower has been called for the day, sailplanes can fly within a portion of the Class D airspace called the Harris Hill Soaring Area without communicating with the control tower. Sailplanes can fly in other parts of the Class D by simply establishing radio communications with the ELM on 121.1. They are very cooperative.
The Harris Hill Soaring Area is defined as that part of the Class D airspace south of a line from Welles’ bridge eastward to the Chemung County Fairgrounds Race Track and extending to the edge of Class D and westward from Welles’ bridge to the intersection of Rt. 352 and Winters Road and extending to the western edge of Class D airspace. Again the top of Class D airspace is 3455 ft. MSL. Gliders are allowed to ridge soar the full length of the Harris Hill ridge but should stay clear of the approach to runway 28 at ELM. The agreement specifically allows for landing at ELM without a radio if the need should arise.
Rule of thumb to remain clear of ELM Class D
Those not familiar with the exact landmarks can look at ELM from the air and remain clear to the south of the approach corridors to runways 6 and 28 by one statute mile laterally. This will give you more than enough clearance. For simplicity, we will call the top of the Class D 3500 ft. MSL.
Traffic Patterns at Harris Hill
Diagram 2 shows the typical landing patterns and tow patterns when flying on “the Hill”. The two paved runways and grass area are treated as one big landing area in a 16-34 orientation. Landing on 16 is referred to as landing south. Landing on 34 is called landing north. Tow planes make their traffic patterns east of the field. That is left turns when landing south and right turns when landing north. Sailplanes normally make traffic patterns to the west of the gliderport. That is to say right traffic landing south and left turns landing to the north. If a glider is too low to make a normal approach, landing in another direction and/or from the opposite side of the airport is okay.
Tows are almost always launched to the north. Tow plane pilots climb straight ahead until clear of any traffic on base leg landing to the south then make a left or right turn as desired. Tows should always turn before the boundary of the Harris Hill Soaring Area described previously. Tow pilots should plan to have the glider release back over the Harris Hill plateau or the high ground by the monastery (approx. 2 miles SW), well clear of operations at the ELM.
Standard SSA signals are used when on tow. Prior to launch, however, Harris Hill uses a waggle of the rudder to indicate ready to go. When the slack is out, the tow plane pilot wags the tow ship rudder. When the glider is ready, the glider rudder is wagged clearly so the tow pilot can observe the signal in the tow plane mirror. A slightly different system of signals may be used during contests.
Landing at the Harris Hill Auxiliary Field (See Diagrams 3, 4 and 5):
Harris Hill’s location atop the ridge provides an advantage should a tow rope break after takeoff or in case of tow plane engine trouble or emergency. The prevailing North departure from Harris Hill places the glider and tow plane over the valley in a matter of seconds with 700 feet of altitude to sort things out. To help in these situations, Chemung County has purchased a strip of farm land at the base of the Harris Hill ridge by Rt. 352. While this grassy runway is not an airport, the grass is mowed several times throughout the soaring season. Gliders can land in either direction. There are some trees at both ends but there is ample room to avoid them and land. If landing Southeast (across the road) watch for wires along the road. Be sure to locate this field during your first flight from Harris Hill.
Cross Country Flying – ELM Caution Area
Although pilots must remain vigilant for traffic at all times and altitudes, certain traffic patterns are typical on soaring days at Harris Hill. For this reason, we have established a caution area to increase awareness of traffic landing and departing at Elmira-Corning Regional Airport.
Unless radio contact is made, gliders must remain clear of the parts of Class D airspace not included in the Harris Hill Soaring Area. Glider pilots are strongly cautioned not to fly in the caution area without radio communication with ELM tower. It is possible to be legal above 3500 MSL and to be in a dangerous position.
Members flying club gliders should consider purchasing one of the affordable handheld transceivers available. The club also has several handheld radios available.
The Caution Area extends from the departure end of runway 24, goes out 7 nm and forms a rectangular box up to 6000 MSL north of 6-24. The box is 5 nm wide. Again, the idea of the box is to heighten awareness of increased ELM traffic. Being just above or just outside the box does not protect you for all possible traffic conflicts. Because of the close proximity to the ramp, jet aircraft will most likely depart Runway 24 on soaring days with winds from SW through North. Gliders starting across the Big Flats valley need to scan the surface area of ELM for jets taxiing for departure, monitor 121.1 and should report their start to the tower on 121.1. When starting to the North and Northwest, departing jets can be a problem. On final glides across the Big Flats valley, departing and arriving aircraft can be a factor. Always call the tower individually or as part of a flight when final gliding through this area. Refer to the procedures below.
The area north of the runway is highlighted because aircraft landing ELM may be descending through the clouds and may be busy with cockpit duties in preparation for landing. Gliders without transponders are barely visible to these pilots. Unlike the area west of the runway where traffic is usually aligned with 6-24, north of the runway traffic may be vectored in from multiple directions. Glider pilots need to be vigilant, maintain at least the minimum cloud clearances, and do not linger here without reporting your position to ATC.
The area east of the runways is highlighted for traffic landing runways 24 and 28. If you are low on the east end of the ridge, you need to look for traffic landing on these runways. Traffic departing to the east is not as great of a threat because east wind days are not good soaring days. Vigilance still needs to be exercised because a pilot may request an easterly departure on days with light winds.
Notice that the area directly over the Regional Airport has been excluded from the caution area. Flying over top of the surface area of ELM is actually a very safe place to be. Gliders must remain above 3455 ft. MSL (call it 3500 ft.) or call the tower. Diagram 6 shows a radius centered on ELM indicating the area overhead of the airport where it is safe to fly. Glider pilots can use some discretion here. The higher your glider is the more room you have to safely operate. The radius would be smaller for lower gliders. The object is to stay above departing jet aircraft or call the tower.
Any glider transitioning through the Class D airspace with the exception of the Harris Hill Soaring Area must call the tower individually or as part of a flight.Any glider crossing the caution area is strongly urged to communicate with the tower. The glider(s) transitioning should monitor 121.1 until clear of the caution area and then switch back 123.3. There is no need to ask permission to switch frequencies.
A system of VFR check points has been designed to enable concise communications between gliders and the ELM air traffic control (see diagram 6). Think of the check points as general areas rather than precise points. If you are uncomfortable with the phraseology, plain language using direction and distance from Harris Hill is always acceptable.
The procedure is to describe your general route of flight using two points or one point and a direction. State your altitude in feet MSL at the time of the report. ATC will come back with an altimeter setting and whatever information they have regarding traffic arriving and departing ELM. ATC will advise incoming traffic of your approximate position and remind the flight crew that you have no transponder. Do not be surprised if they ask you for a cloud base report. ATC may try to use this information to keep their traffic well above or well below the cloud base in the area of the gliders, depending on what they feel is best for a given day. If a group of gliders are starting or finishing at once, it is preferable that only one glider call for the group. During a contest the Contest Director will coordinate the opening of the start gate and the task with the tower and there will be no need to call if you are clear of Class D airspace. Further details will be covered at the contest safety meeting. During a contest all gliders finishing through Class D airspace (except for the Harris Hill Soaring Area) must call the tower individually or as part of a flight.
Example for a club glider:
“Elmira Tower, Glider Three is over Harris Hill en route to Corning at 5500 ft.”
“Glider Three, Elmira Tower, Altimeter 30.13, no reported traffic inbound, be advised we have one regional jet departing shortly”
In this communication a few things are assumed:
1)It is assumed that you will cross the caution areas in 20 minutes or less. This equates to about 30 mph achieved cross country speed. The glider may stop to thermal some but in general it is assumed you will keep moving. Those new to cross country or flying low performance gliders may need to update their position. If you linger for any reason or reverse course, simply call the tower to let them know. This resets the “20 minute clock.”
2)The glider’s altitude and course will vary. Reporting 5500 ft initially does not mean the glider will be able to maintain 5500 during the crossing. The glider will follow clouds, zig and zag during the crossing while proceeding generally in the stated direction.
3)The two check points given loosely define the direction during the crossing so that the controller may look for a primary radar target. In fact, the glider may continue past Corning in the example above.
4)The information given to the pilot is a snapshot of what the controller knows at that time of initial contact. It is intended let the glider pilot start looking for traffic. Normally controllers like to give precise information. In this case, it is impossible for them to look 20 minutes into the future with total certainty.
1)Multiple gliders: “Elmira Tower, Glider 123AB, Flight of three gliders, Steege Hill en route to Monterey at 6500 ft.”
2)Using distance and direction from Harris Hill: “Elmira Tower, Glider 7 is 10 miles northeast of Harris Hill en route to Harris Hill at 5000 feet.”
3)Using One Point and a Direction: “Elmira Tower, Glider 7, Monterey en route to the southwest at 4500 ft.”
4)Example of an updated position report (Resets the “twenty minute clock”):
“Elmira Tower, Glider 5 is maneuvering in a thermal. I am currently three miles to the west at 3700 ft.” (Call again if not clear of the caution area within 20 minutes; continue to monitor 121.1 until clear.)
During a contest and during our club cross country flying thought should be given to tasks selected. All other factors being equal, try to avoid multiple crossings of the caution area. Think about using steering turn points to bring finishing gliders back directly over ELM or from another direction chosen to reduce conflicts with ELM traffic.
Landing at ELM
Landing at the Elmira-Corning Regional airport (diagram 7) is not a problem. Those gliders with radios contact the tower on 121.1 and advise them of your intentions. All the runways will be made available if you are low and require an emergency landing. Usually, there will sufficient time to take the runway the tower designates. Normally the turf runway 5-23 is the preferred option (indicated in yellow in diagram 7). It is open for use from May 1 to Nov 30 each year. If for some reason the paved runway looks better in your opinion, let the tower know that is your preference and clear the glider off to side after landing.
If you do not have a radio, fly along the ridge and rock your wings. Look to the tower cab for a light gun signal. A steady green means cleared to land. They may not notice you fly by. Go ahead and land anyway using your Pilot in Command authority and vigilance for other traffic. Call the tower at 607-739-1971 after landing to explain what happened. Again, they are very cooperative.