Is Silence Really Golden?
from a year long, long ago ...... keep scrolling down to fast forward to 2019....

June 6th: Saturday was an unusual Florida summer day. By the time early June rolls around, we should be experiencing afternoon thunderstorms with nice cool, clear evenings and breathless mornings. This morning, I was awakened by the thunder and the rains as they came pounding against the bedroom window.  Perhaps my planned flight will have to be delayed. I was to go flying with my friend and fellow 99, Jessica Stearns, early this afternoon - nothing spectacular - just a little meandering around the local area.
By late morning, the clouds had cleared and I was off to meet Jessica at Immokalee. She teaches out of the airport and has her J-3 Cub hangared there as well. The air was smooth and the day not too warm as the lingering morning storms had not allowed for the daily heat to build too rapidly. Jessica had a passenger waiting: a gentlemen who decided to work on his "bucket list" and aviation activities were on the list. But the plane that Jessica needed for their flight had an intake hose dislodge so the mechanic was doing a quick repair before their flight. Ours would have to be delayed.
By 2:00 p.m., Jessica was finally off with her her "bucket list" passenger. They climbed out to about 4,000'  and seemed to drift lazily around the local area until Jessica executed a perfect landing, stopping directly in from of her parking space. A quick swing of the tail, push back and her bird was stowed. Landings don't get any better than that! She was now free for our excursion.
The winds had picked up a bit but we were parked right there on the south end of the field, so instead of a long ride down to runway 27 to take off in to the wind, we lifted off from our grassy spot right there on runway 36 with a bit of a crosswind. Jessica was sitting behind me and was on the controls. The engine roared and we were up so fast that it surprised me. The ride up was quite bumpy, climbing out to about 3,000' to stay below the clouds. Even with the cross wind on the ground, the air aloft was quite calm and still very smooth indicating that the daily heating was just not taking place this afternoon. We were up in a blue hole above the airport and the town of Immokalee, although there were numerous clouds and rain showers all around us - not any convective activity but just plain old rain. It was a beautiful afternoon.
We leveled off at 3,000' when it happened - silence. That familiar roar of the engine suddenly disappeared and we were faced with quiet. We could easily talk without head sets as the only sound was the breeze whafting by through the window vents. I had the controls by now. I turned off to the right as I watched the tow plane turn left and start his descent back to the airport to pick up the next glider. The air was really smooth now. We had been battered a bit by the prop wash from the tow plane; but the ride was still not too bad. I was surprised how much work the tow was, continuously manuvering to stay at just the right spot teathered to the tow plane. If we were too high, we could actually pick up the tail of the tow plane; too low and we were severely buffeted by the prop wash; too fast and we could whiz past the tow plane. We had to match his pitch and turns. Now, we were free: we were soaring on our own.
The 2:00 p.m. ride that Jessica gave our "bucket list" passenger was probably the best in terms of time. There was some heating, some lift, but the rains had not yet started. With clear, blue skies above us and rain surrounding us, there were no up-drafts to be had. We caught a small bump up above the school yard but that was short lived. After half hour of gentle swoops and turns, we were nearing the 1,000' mark which meant that you are committed to land. Jessica directed me to the pattern then took over on our base leg. We had been soaring at 45 kts; but the landing was executed at a much faster speed - 60-65 kts. in a dive. Jessica lined up in the grassy section south of the runway, dumped the spoilers and made another beautiful positive contact landing, skidding to a stop directly in front of our parking spot once again. What a blast!Glider.JPG
My first glider lesson had ended. It was short, but informative. The transition from powered flight to glider will be interesting. I enjoyed the quiet but I will have to get used to working on the tow - you need very happy feet and a constantly moving stick with ever so slight adjustments. While the foot work is not a problem, I will have to work on "overcontrolling" on the stick as it is much more responsive than the Citabria, but I will be back for more.

June 10th:  The first flight went well enough that I was ready for another. This day looked promising for obtaining the needed lift to make the flight a bit more long-lasting. This was to be a real lesson flight. With Jessica securely behind me correcting all of my errors, I had the take off. It went much better today as I resisted the temptation to overcontrol on the pitch. "No bank, no bank" was the echo from behind today. Try as I may and think as I might , the stick I kept moving left to right. Another project to work on. Overall, the yaw was good, the pitch was good but the bank was an issue. Finally at 3,000' we cut loose and entered wind powered flight. We did a series of manuvers: steep turns, slow flight, stalls with and without the spoilers and we sank to about 2,500' - time to go lift hunting.

Follow that buzzard:  The day was a great day for lift. Lots of puffies to choose from. But which will give us the best bump up? Jessic spied a buzzard, two o'clock high. "Follow that buzzard. I want to see formation flight with him!" I obliged. We circled with the buzzard until he buzzed off and left us alone again, looking for another thermal. We chased from cloud to cloud, gaining little bits of updraft for the next hour or so gaining altitude up to 4,000'. Great - so how do we get down today? Jessica took the controls for a demonstration. She cranked the glider around, deployed the spoilers and in no time at all we were back to 2,500' and, again, looking for lift. That was quick!

Off in the distance was a small puffy under construction: it was still a bit raggy around the edges and hardly big enough to cross our entire wing span. We headed over there and Jessica thought it was going to be a good one. But so small? As we scooted under the cloud, we could feel the tail pick up and watch as our verticle speed climbed to 750 fmp. We cut a tight spiral on the express elevator up to the cloud base at 5,000'. By then that little cloud had grown to an enormous size.

 We had been aloft for nearly 1-1/2 hours and we had to come down. We headed off to "sinky" looking areas and meandered off to the east of the airport to lose altitude. At 1,000', I turned off to the downwind, then base and partially deployed the spoilers as we headed for final. This landing was mine. Take aim and pick your spot - there is no go around. We made our controlled crash into the ground, fully deployed the spoilers and skidded to a stop about 3' off the mark. Not bad, although I know there was a little bird back there helping.

The next lessons will have to wait until July when I return from the race. Hopefully, the skills learned here will be ale to translate into speed over the next several weeks. Even if not, life long lessons are learned and new skills are acquired - but for now, I must zoom past the buzzards and leave the soaring to them.

SheriffTour/BlanikWill.jpgFast forward to 2019 ......

May 29th - It is finally going to happen for real: I have been toying with the idea of getting a glider rating for years and never really had the block of time or other conditions to make it happen. With Wild Mama in the shop and a month of “free time” on my hands, I decided to make it happen. 

There are no glider ports in the Keys but there is one in Homestead. Miami Glider is at X51. They have a Blanik training glider N305MG just sitting there waiting for someone to fly her.

My lesson was scheduled for 4 pm. A little late for lift, I though, but I am not the expert. Perhaps we do not want booming lift on the first flight. I met the tow pilot/DPE, Steve, who gave me some ground information and did the preflight with me before he left to fetch the tow plane. By then, instructor, Will, had arrived as well as 15-year-old glider pilot/ground handler, Julie. (Yes, I pitched the 99s to Julie already.)

Julie and I towed the glider out to the runway into position. Will joined us to review procedures as we waited for the tow plane to arrive. The first flight was just for fun to make sure I was in. Will did the take off and landing and reviewed emergency procedures. If the tow rope breaks under 200’ land straight ahead; over 200’ turn into the wind (south today) and come back to the field. Simple enough. 

The tow ropes have to be between 80%-200% of the glider max gross weight. Over 200% and you have to have a weak link positioned close to the glider hitch. There are also procedures for unable to disconnect - one being that the glider makes a climb then rapid descent to slacken the line the hold steady as the tow plane pulls forward to create enough excess tension to break the rope. The other technique is land together by taking up a low tow position, landing first and NOT breaking until the tow plane has landed, then stop to avoid hitting the plane. That sounded trickier and best NOT left to the first time glider pilot.

We launched in a moderate crosswind and were airborne faster than one could imagine. Will did such a great job staying behind the tow plane. He really made it look easy as we climbed to 3000’ and he released. We made an immediate right turn as the tow plane took an immediate left to create maximum separation. There it was, all quiet except for “you have the glider” followed by Wills gentle instruction on gliding techniques and hunting for the thermals which were marginal at best. We stayed aloft for 20 minutes before hitting out magic 1200’ get to the pattern altitude. The key to safe gliding is always knowing where the airport is location. While this might sound easy, you must remember that you are looking up at the clouds, circling, circling, circling then looking for another cloud. You have to remain mindful of the wind direction and try to stay upwind of the airport so you get carried back toward the airport to set up for the landing. It was helpful to frequently look where we are in relation to the airport; in fact, that is the first thing you do upon release: where am I.

The glider port is north of runway 10-26 at X51 and the pattern is inside of the airplane pattern. There is a canal that makes a handy reference where the planes should be, and the glider should remain inside of that canal. Will made a perfect landing and we balanced on the single main wheel for a while until the wing dropped. A point of pride for Will. Now it is my turn.

Before I take my turn, however, I want to mention a bit about Will. First, I like his easy and relaxed style of instruction. Second, he said the magic works: “ There is nothing you can do to this glider that I cannot fix.” Probably the most comforting words a new student can hear from their instructor. Third: in our conversations, Will mentioned he was hired by American Eagle, starting in 9 months. He has all of his ratings and sufficient time but he is not yet 21 to get his ATP. I am in good hands.

My turn. Will did the take off with me following on the controls. Piece of cake. My glider at 1000’. I am sure that Steve in the tow plane could tell the moment of handoff. Staying behind was not as easy as Will made it look. I was chasing the plane. It took me 1000’ before I focused on putting the landing hear of the tow plane on the horizon and got out of his wake. Wow, much easier to fly. I was getting a real work out there for a while. The last bit of climb to 3000’ was much better and I pulled the release and made the right turn, looking down for the airport. With the airport in sight we headed for the nearest cloud to the SE of the airport. By now the lift was seriously dying and that cloud was farther away than I thought, but Will let me choose and make the mistake myself. I was in best glide at 48 kts then curled up under a cloud at least sink of 42 kts. 

We were not out long and we hit 1500’ and started back to the airport. This landing was mine. I crossed over the airport and promptly turned downwind .... for the wrong runway! I was over the glider runway but in perfect position for runway 10. Oops - powered pilot mistake.   Will gentle reminded me of my error and I spotted the correct runway but was on a VERY tight pattern now. I managed to get into position and make the second “stretch the glide” attitude error. Retract the spoilers. Got it. The landing went well: smooth and gentle although I totally failed at balancing on one tire for any measurable length of time. We had time for one more flight to do maneuvers.

This take off was mine, and it was NOT a pretty sight. I needed more aileron into the wind resulting in my touching the downwind tip on the turf. No damage to anything but pride. I initially struggled on the first turn and dropped back into the wake. By 1000’ I was laser focused on the landing gear on the horizon and make it to 2000’. Will took over to demonstrate “boxing the wake”, a maneuver that I will eventually have to do. Again, it was my glider when he finished. I completed the climb to 3000’ when I checked for traffic, pulled the release and turned right. So far so good.

We worked on other maneuvers: steep turns, slow flight and stalls. Stalls are never my favorite. When the glider stalls, it really drops and the stick movement is basically “relax the stick” to recover. My powered pilot brain was having an issue with that and it took several tries to get it right without pushing the stick forward. My brain also had to get accustomed to the yaw string. Step on the HEAD (the part attached to the windshield) NOT the tail (the part flapping in your face). . . . Something extremely important in stalls so you do not have an uncoordinated stall condition. That wing breaking over is not a good sign. 

This was another quick flight and I headed back to the correct runway, again making a little too tight pattern but correcting in time for another smooth landing. This time I was able to briefly balance on the center wheel before tipping over. I think this was only possible as the crosswinds died along with the lift. We debriefed and watched Julie go for her flight. 

Next lesson is tomorrow. I need to re-study all of the on ground and in air signals, especially the instructional/emergency signals that we did not use today. I will make myself a reference card to help. 

My arm got a good work-out today. I keep talking about my arm because I had a total right shoulder replacement 5-1/2 months ago. This is a test of strength endurance. I feel tired in the arm but believe this will only make it stronger. 


May 30th - Lesson 2: Once again we met at 4 pm but got started lots faster. The clouds were building so we hoped for some nice soaring. Trevor arrived with the tow plane. He is a BRAND NEW tow pilot and this is, literally, his first glider tow. Out of an abundance of caution, Will did the take off to 1000' before it was my glider.Trevor was doing great and I was have a pretty good day although I seemed to be slightly low on the tow but not low enought to be in his wake.


We released at 3000' and started looking for lift. With little to none in the immediate area we did a few maneivers - more slow flight and stalls which were much better today than yesterday. By that time we were smartly positioned under a cloud that kept us aloft for a while. We circled and circled and finally got to the point where we lost the lift there. Again, time for maneuvers. Steep turns and then we found some random lift right over the airport. We had dropped to 1500 by then and this lift was marginal but was keeping us in the air. A buzzard flew by and Will said to folow the buzzard. I cranked the glider to the left and found a line of clouds. We jumped up to 180', then 2300' and started circling back to 2800'. 


After nearly an hour my arm was getting seriously tired. I think it is not so much the usage as it is that it is tucked close to my body at the side and I am still at a point that I need to stretch it out every so often. Will took the glider for a bit while I removed the shoulder harnedd, turned to the side and stretched. Ahhhh, much better. It was time to head back anyway to we played "go fast glider", diving to attain the smooth air speed of 88 ktss. What a rush! By then we were back at the airport at 1300'. One more 360 and I was in the patern for landing. My landings are good already and Will was quite pleased. I need to work on the tows and getting a better feel for the glider so my control inputs are smoother and more deliberate so the ride is more coordinated. I also need better practice in staying in the proper high tow position so I can master boxing the wake. I am nowhere near that poit yet. Weekends are always busy with the weekend crowd so we are set again for Monday for lesson #3.