Reflections of a Semi-Beginner in Texas By: Glenn Smith Posted: June 22 2001
Nineteen flights down and who knows what is next. You see last fall I took my first ride in a glider at a local airport (see earlier article entitled "Reflections of a Beginner in Texas"). I had logged about 100 hours in a Cessna 152 twenty years ago. [Sometimes I wonder if it is good to have experience flying power planes before trying to handle a glider on tow.] Of course, my first five or six tows were pretty wild to say the least. However, I felt better when an airline pilot in the group told me that he almost quit because the tow was so hard to learn.
Actually, I thought I would share the wide range of thoughts that have passed through my mind during my first 19 flights. I have experienced a real paradigm shift. You see, I wanted to fly gliders because it looked so sureal and peaceful and floating and ...Man was I in for a shock! Let me just come out with it. Number one, there is nothing peaceful about being tied on to a crop duster. Number two, thermaling is hard work. Number three, soaring for me right now is like cowboy boots (the only thing that feels better than putting them on is getting the damn things off). In my glider world, the only thing better than getting to go up, is getting back on the ground.
Actually, I have finally gotten comfortable on tow and I am confident in the traffic pattern. But this thermaling thing? You see after several solo flights, I was feeling good and I could not wait to get in a thermal and "go up". Well, I got my wish recently. The first thermal I experienced was (as I now realize)quite benign. I wandered into it and circled from 2000' to 3800' before they called me back because they needed the plane. So I went up in circles and then pulled spoilers and came down in circles. When I landed I thought about walking around in circles.
The next weekend, I found ANOTHER thermal. I did not "wander" into this one, I would say I "hit" it or it hit me something.
It was rough. I ran into this thing around 1600' and it took me to 3500' before they needed the plane back. Actually, things calmed down after I got passed 2500'. But down lower it was noisy and rough. At one point, I had to remind myself to pry my left hand off the spoiler handle and I went to three fingers on the stick to try and relax my movements.
I guess my point in all this is I have not found soaring to be a totally peaceful floating-on-a-feather experience. Instead, it is a pure stick & rudder. It is challenging, exhilarating, and sometimes frightening. With every two or three additional flights, I have a whole new perspective. The odd thing is I cannot wait until tomorrow (Saturday is forecast for 94 degrees). I am not sure what to expect but I want another shot at a thermal. It is sorta like war, lately I look at the tow plane just before giving the thumbs-up and say I am going to stick to your butt like white on rice. After tow, I despartely want to find a thermal and get in the center of it. It is like a contest and I cannot wait for my next encounter.
As a side note I should mention that I was starting to feel a little concerned that I got so nervous in my bumpy little thermal until I watched a SSA video. There was a Dr. Zimmerman on there talking about dehydration and its effects on our ability to fly. He mentioned that when soaring he sometimes mildly hyperventilates and it causes a tingling in his lips and checks. He laughed and said "afterall soaring is all about various levels of panic".
Well, as I said earlier, I cannot wait until tomorrow. Not because I will be soaring with birds or floating-like-a-feather but because I do not know what the next tow will be like or how the next thermal will behave. What I do know is that if my yaw string is straight and my airspeed is up, then I can fly that plane where ever I want it to go.