Monday, July 27, 2009

I Think You Guys Are Crazy

It was a promising-looking day at the gliderport, and Tim, Ron, and I were rigging our gliders. Well, Tim and Ron were rigging, I am still pretty inept. We know that the only cure for that is to fly more often.

Tim and Ron got there before me, and Tim was talking to a stranger about soaring. He was patiently explaining how we did things and how our club worked. From his conversation, the guy sounded like a pilot. "I've been in 2000 foot-per-minute downdrafts east of the Wellsvilles," he said, actually pointing at the Wellsvilles.

But he didn't look like a pilot. That's hard to do: pilots are a pretty mixed bunch. In my career as a flight instructor, I've had the privilege to fly with people from every walk of life. Well, not every: I can't remember flying with any doctors. I wonder what that means?

So, it's hard not to look like a pilot. I could describe his hair, and mustache, and build, but that would be useless because I can think of lots of pilots with his hair, or his mustache, or his build, or, come to think of it, any hair style, mustache, or build. I've flown with walrus mustaches, Fu Manchus, Boston Blackies, Errol Flynns, and some British Army waxed jobs. Nothing remarkable. And my personal hair style has varied from long and curly to bald to ponytailed and back to bald.

What was it about this guy? I finally realized that he was shirtless. Now, in America, a shirtless man on a hot day is a common sight, except at airports. And it's not that pilots are a modest bunch, as I am sure you know. But in all my years of flying (and AOPA just sent me my [gulp] 25-year-membership pin), I can remember exactly one shirtless flight, between Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket in my Mooney.

We had been on the Vineyard for a few days and had settled into the island mentality. When my friend's cousin mentioned that his son would be arriving at Nantucket, we said "We'll go get him!" We jumped in the Mooney and launched. I was wearing a swimsuit and flip flops. We crossed the channel at 1000', admiring the clear water. We landed in Nantucket, threw the kid on board, switched seats so my partner could fly, and flew back to the Vineyard. My log says 0.4 hours, MVY to ACK. But clearly this was an exception to my usual over-preparation for any flight. It was only when we got back to Jerry's house and I saw my wallet on the mantle that I realized I had flown without a pilot or medical certificate. Geesh, what a loser.

[For the Red Board types out there, we paid for the flight.]

In fact, I can only remember a handful of flights wearing short pants, except in gliders. This is not modesty(hang around at the start of a triathlon to see how immodest people can be), or formality. It's fear of fire.

What they say is that clothing protects you from a flash fire, although not from an extended fire. So, no shorts when I fly.

Come to think of it, our guy was wearing shorts, too. He really didn't look like a pilot.

But I fly gliders in shorts all the time. The reason? No fuel means no fireball if something goes wrong. I usually wear a long sleeve shirt, though, for sun protection.

The conversation drifted in and out, and I was hoping that I might get a little flying out of it, giving him a demo ride. Then he said it:

"You guys are crazy to fly without an engine."

I don't know what got into me. I wasn't thinking about fire at the time, but I was thinking about energy. "An engine turns chemical energy into kinetic energy or potential energy, right?" I asked.

"Right," he agreed.

"And what organ of the body uses the most energy?"

"The brain." He had obviously thought about this a little, his answer was quick.

"And that's our engine," I said. "We've got our brains."

"You guys are crazy," he repeated, and went back to talk with the others. He wasn't insulted or anything; he really thinks we're crazy. I guess it's mutual; I think flying without a shirt is crazy, too.

Tim and Ron, more experienced than me, released below 2000' above the ground. They got high and headed off cross-country. This was only my fifth flight in my glider, so I took a high tow. But I never got high; I spent 3 hours moving from thermal to thermal within gliding range of the airport. Not a bad flight. I have 11.3 hours in the Jantar, an average of about 2.3 hours per flight. And I still have a lot to learn.

Ron landed about an hour after me, and Tim came in a little later. Tim did his racing finish: he did a low pass on runway 35, the air screaming and his wings wiggling from the load, pulled up, and landed on runway 10.

And that was the only crazy thing about the day.

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