Saturday, April 25, 2009

It shows

Glider season is almost here almost here almost here. It seems like I've been saying that for weeks, but, really, glider season is almost here. The other morning I watched some migrating raptors fly north for a full minute without flapping a wing. There were five of them, outlined against the overcast too high to identify. They drifted lazily, in loose formation, with an occasional circle. Then one dove to the southeast, flying with a Macready of +10 or so, and started to circle, climbing quickly. The others sped over, and within seconds they had easily doubled their height.

(For those not in the know, a Macready ring is a simple device that glider pilots use to fly faster. It is a calibrated dial that surrounds the variometer (vertical speed indicator), indicating the optimum airspeed for the anticipated conditions. In one method, the pilot sets the Macready ring to the expected strength
of the next thermal, so a Macready of +10 indicates that the pilot, or bird, in this case, anticipates very strong lift.)

The word from the club is that the Blanik might fly as early as today. But I was doing a Biennial Flight Review with a local pilot. He is retired engineer who built his own airplane, but we did the BFR in a Cessna 172. I knew it would go well when he showed up with two logbooks: a regular logbook and a soaring logbook.

My rule during BFRs is to let the pilot show me what he knows. It's OK to instruct, but it's a review, not instruction, so if someone has a reasonable way of doing things I say "Good job!"

We did the usual stalls and steep turns, and then we had the engine failure. He turned toward a nearby airport, and established a good glide speed while simultaneously saying "I'm checking the magnetos, I'm checking the fuel, I'm checking the mixture...," pantomiming the motions as he did so. He was the first pilot I've flown with in quite a while who did not need to be reminded to try to restart the engine. Good job!

He looked for wind markers, and entered the traffic pattern for the uncontrolled airport. There was a strong tailwind on the downwind, but he turned base and pointed for the runway.

"You look a little high," I said, "Aren't you afraid of overshooting?"

"Yeah, maybe we should slip." And he did a great slip!

Back at my airport, his patterns were continually high by power standards. On the first, I thought "We're too high and too close and I'll bet he'll have to go around." I said nothing. He touched down at the aim point. That's when I finally figured out that he was flying a glider pattern, while I was looking for an airplane pattern. And of course he was right, and I was the one who was learning something.

One of the things that instructors tell pilots over and over again is to fly the pattern within gliding range of the airport. But this is talk. Glider pilots learn to fly the pattern closer and higher, because while it is easy to lose altitude it is hard to regain altitude.

This pilot's glider training showed.

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