Both my wife and I are pilots, so it did not surprise us that at least one of kids wanted to learn to fly. As he was not yet old enough to take lessons in powered aircraft we sent him to learn to fly gliders, and a whole new world I was not part of opened up for all of us. We traveled about 35 miles to the West in order to get to the airport where they flew gliders, and he immediately took a shine to it. That was some 30 years ago, and I will tell you more about this young man later in this post. But for now I want to share part of an interesting article I just read today.
Change Your Life, Learn To FlyIn an article in Forbes titled "Change Your Life, Learn To Fly" by Mark Patiky he details his first experience of flight. What follows is an excerpt from that article.
The Kent Gliding Club had a minuscule budget which allowed them only an old rusty hulk of a fire engine that they used as the launch vehicle. It lay at the opposite end of the field 400 foot above the valley below. The truck engine had a large winch wrapped with a thick steel cable. The tractor driver dragged the free end of the cable down the field and the ground crew attached it to the glider. Then, wingmen supporting the single-wheeled glider’s wing tips waved a signal flag, the winch driver revved the engine, slipped the clutch, and with formidable display of power, reeled in the cable pulling the glider into the air like a kite. Being part of the launch process, steadying the wings and running beside them until the glider had sufficient speed, was exhilarating. Once the wings were self-sufficient, the glider rolled along gently bouncing over every bump until it reached about 35 mph at which time it lifted into the sky and climbed steeply. The roaring fire engine shook violently as it swallowed up the extended cable. As the glider reached its maximum altitude about 700 feet above the winch, the pilot disengaged the cable using a hand release. The cable dropped back to earth, the winch driver throttled back so as not to ensnare it and in the stunning, momentary stillness, the glider, now released from its terrestrial tether proceeded silently over the ridgeline in search of lift.
I Am Airborne
While the idea of flying was a thrill, the idea of flying with Glynn was not. He had the demeanor of a British Army Staff Sergeant trained in the RAF tradition, which meant he shouted everything and had no tolerance for imperfection despite one’s total lack of experience. Butterflies raced in my stomach. I was simultaneously elated and terrified. Strapped in with a five-point harness, I knew I wasn’t going to get out in a hurry. There was no changing my mind now. “Follow me through on the controls,” Glynn snapped in a particularly gruff tone. With the wing tips level, the signal was given and we lurched forward accelerating quickly. Through the hard wooden bench seat, I could feel every stone and imperfection in the field. If we had we run over a shilling, I could have told you if it were heads or tails. After bumping along for several yards, we were suddenly airborne. The blister hanger grew smaller and the roar of the winch engine changed pitch as we climbed skyward. It was adventure beyond belief! Protected only by the miniscule curved plexiglass windscreen, the full blast of air, the sound of the wind and a crystal clear view around and below enhanced the experience of flight a thousand fold. As the ridgeline passed beneath us, Glynn shouted for me to pull the large red knob in the center of the meager instrument panel. “Pull it twice!” he shouted. With a loud bang, the cable fell away and the winch went silent.
Follow That Hawk!
Although a glider is in a constant descent, glider pilots seek rising air to counter the sink and, at worst, remain level or, at best, climb. Glynn pointed to the variometer – the vertical speed indicator. Thanks to a fresh evening breeze streaming up the ridgeline giving us what was known as ridge lift, we were holding altitude. Suddenly, Glynn bellowed, “Follow that hawk!” Birds know how to glide far better than man. We followed the hawk in close formation and astoundingly, traveled along the ridge in a continuous slow climb. Soon the hawk began a turn back. Whether it turned for better lift or to search out prey mattered not. I followed obediently. I was giddy with delight and so fully intoxicated by the experience that I couldn’t believe my senses. The experience was indescribably delicious.