Fast 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.
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.
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.