Sunday, April 13, 2008


Saturday was not forecast to be the first good soaring day of the spring, but it turned out that way.

I fly gliders with a club 90 miles from home, which is more reasonable here in the West than it would be in, say, New England. There's always the "fly down or drive down" debate, and I had opted for flying. The club Archer was gone, and I was too cheap to take the Six, so I rented a 172.

The flight down was smooth. That's a bummer when your aim is soaring. The only hitch was a VFR King Air that kept making position reports right on top of me. This 172 has eyebrow windows, so I was looking straight up, with no contact. In the end, I had to extend my downwind for him. (It was an older B200, three-bladed props, not as nice as the ones I have flown.)  This month has seen too many tangles with confused pilots flying turbine airplanes VFR.

I had two students for the day. One was ground only: he had a new single-seat glider, and his insurance required a ground check from a glider instructor. This had been a source of some worry to me: how do you check someone out in an aircraft you have never flown, and could not fly with him? I came up with a list of questions about speeds, limitations, and operating procedures, had him show me everything in the cockpit, and suggested a first flight profile from The Joy of Soaring.  I also held the tail boom up off the ground so he could get an idea of the landing attitude.  

His first flight was a joy to watch.

The second was a power pilot working on a glider transition.  I was not current in gliders, so I would have to do three solo patterns before we could fly together. I showed him the preflight (including a positive control check) and went over what the transition involves.

We towed the glider to the staging area, and as soon as it got off the tug we all said "Uh-oh...". The tailwheel assembly was loose; it had broken during the tow. We put the glider away thinking that there would be no flying today. But, one of the club members found the part we needed in one of the hangars, so the two of us went to lunch while a mechanic did the installation.

Lunch was a disaster at the nearest fast food establishment. We had to wait for them to grow the wheat for the buns.

My three patterns were fun, but quick. Now that I was legal, I moved to the back while my student got in front. His first tow was as bad as my first ever tow, and I had to take over a couple of times while we swung left to right and back behind the tow plane. At altitude, we found some lift right away and used it to climb 800' above our release point. He had never managed to climb in a glider, so I was pleased to be able to give him this experience.

Then the stupid instructor [me] said "OK, enough fun, let's try some steep turns." He was not smooth yet in this new machine so we lost a lot of altitude. We could not find the lift so we landed again; his landing was pretty good.

The second flight was about the same, except this time the stupid instructor had him do stalls. The lift was a little weaker and the lack of smoothness made it difficult to stay in the thermals.

At this point we had been at the airport for 7 hours, and we were all too fatigued to fly.  Except I still had the flight home in the 172. All of the lift had died so it was silky smooth, and the low sun angle sent horizontal shadows from the mountains through the haze up ahead. I turned down the radios (I was in a valley, well below radar coverage, so nobody would call me anyway) and watched the mountains slide by. Closer to home, the mountains to the east were red with alpenglow, and I saw the last little ray from the Sun disappear below the horizon as I turned base. A lovely flight to end a lovely day.

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