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Dad was a marine aviator and there was, therefore, nothing cooler than flying.
Together, we followed the exploits of the space pioneers--X-15 pilots, Mercury program.  As a young kid I followed NASA like other kids follow sports teams.  They were often kind enough to schedule launches near my fall birthday, making a big day even bigger.

My high school offered aviation and aerospace as an elective, providing a thorough ground school preparation for the written exam for the pilot's license.  That summer, I went to a small nearby field and took a demo flight.  While we were flying, I asked the pilot, "when do we do the fun stuff?"

"What do you mean?"
"Wing overs, loops, you know--fun stuff"
"Son we don't do that in these planes.  If you want to do that, you'll need to get a license and then take aerobatic training"

"So what do you do in these planes?" I asked, a bit deflated
"Well, we like to fly to other airports.  Some of them have pretty good restaurants and we get a hamburger"
I can do that in my '70 Ford LTD I thought.

As a senior in high school, I briefly flirted with the idea of going to the Naval or Air Force Academies, since it seemed the best way to get to do what I thought of as fun flying.  Dad's tales of freedom in the air ever ringing in my ears.  Fortunately, I recognized that my chaffing at authority paired with the possbility that I might get stuck flying a tanker wouldn't yeild the outcome I hoped for.  

I put away the dream.

Decades later and married, my wife gave me a flight in a glider for my birthday.
Yes!  The tow, flying in formation 200' behind the Pawnee.
Yes! The release and a climbing, steeply banked turn.
Yes!  Climbing in a thermal, 45-60' of bank, round and round until I could no longer find the airfield we took off from and tendrils of a flat bottomed cu were hanging just above us
Yes!  A steep approach to landing, rounding out just above the green grass, tail wheel reaching down, down, now the grass hits the wheel and it starts to spin.  Main gear 6" above the earth we stall and roll to a stop.

I'm hooked.

Soaring, perhaps the most improbable of sports.  In our motorless, fusion powered airplanes, towed up by av gas to 2000' AGL, we release and spend 5 hours or more climbing in thermals with raptors and carrion birds, gliding across the coutryside from cloud to cloud, intimate with the atmosphere and the incredible power it holds.  We race across the countryside with our friends because it is impossible for men and the boys we still hold inside ourselves to be in things that move and not race.

Cruising between thermals at 90mph, I hit a strong thermal, pull up sharply, drop flaps and establish a 45 degree bank, cirlcing just above stall speed as I rise up to cloud base again.  Climb, glide, repeat all afternoon.

In the last thermal of the day, 25 miles from home, I reach an altitude that allows me to glide back to the Soaring Club of Houston without stopping for any more thermals.  Before I leave the thermal and the shade of the cloud I'm under, I thank God for letting me play with the majesty of the sky.

Crossing at mid field, I still have some excess altitude and a lot of speed, so I do wing overs and the occaisional loop in the acro box before entering the pattern.  Steep approach, round out just above the ground, reach down with the tailwheel until the grass makes it spin, drop the last few inches to the earth, flying no more, turn off the runway, roll up to the hangar.  Ah yes, the ground.  I remember it well--it's the place we tell our tales of soaring.

www.scoh.org is a great jumping off point on the web if you want more info on soaring

Originally posted to Mosquito Pilot on Sun May 04, 2014 at 07:53 AM PDT.

Also republished by Kossack Air Force and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A little theme music (10+ / 0-)
    Come dance with the west wind and touch on the mountain tops.
    Sail o'er the canyons and up to the stars.
    And reach for the heavens and hope for the future
    and all that we can be, and not what we are.

    "If you pour some music on whatever's wrong, it'll sure help out." Levon Helm

    by BOHICA on Sun May 04, 2014 at 08:05:46 AM PDT

  •  You left out the spoilers, (7+ / 0-)

    er, speed brakes, er, speed boards. I know you used them, having had a glider ride of my own, once. I just love the idea of them and the implementation of them.

    When I got an inbound from High Altitude who was a little higher than usual and the front end of my arrival stream was at 210kts, it was a job getting them to slow down and hurry down—it's pretty much one or the other.

    CFM-56 equipped DC-8s were the worst because even at idle thrust they were getting lots of push. They don't call them "high bypass engines" for nothing. Pilots didn't like to use the speed boards because they made the airplane shudder and the passengers likewise.

    My response, "turn left (right) 40° and do the best you can". My speed control problem then became a vectoring problem. One of my work mates was known for his high speed vectors.

    LRod—UID 238035
    ZJX, ORD, ZAU retired
    My ATC site
    My Norm's Tools site

    by exatc on Sun May 04, 2014 at 08:25:04 AM PDT

  •  perfect bedtime story for later today. (5+ / 0-)

    kiss on your nose

    TRAILHEAD of accountability for Bush-2 Crimes? -- Addington's Perpwalk.

    by greenbird on Sun May 04, 2014 at 08:36:22 AM PDT

  •  Great! (4+ / 0-)

    Mosquito Pilot conveyed strong understanding of what soaring is all about.

    It's pure flying.

    Huey728 "I'm not really big on calling strangers on the phone, but I felt this election was too important to just sit back and watch." Elections are decided exactly this way; every damned election! GOTV counts... the votes!

    by Nebraska68847Dem on Sun May 04, 2014 at 10:54:55 AM PDT

  •  Good story (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mosquito Pilot, RiveroftheWest

    I soloed as a glider pilot in a Schweiter 222 at Sky Sailing Airport in Fremont, California back in the early 1980s. We used to soar back and forth on Mission Ridge. I doubt that many people remember the airport.

    My invisible imaginary friend is the "true" creator

    by Mr Robert on Sun May 04, 2014 at 11:02:51 AM PDT

  •  Great diary! (4+ / 0-)

    A sad thing is that most aircraft are rented (or club ships for gliders), and many have insurance policies that don't allow aerobatics. :-(

    Fortunately, some clubs' insurance does allow it, and most clubs have many private owners who can do what they wish (within the FARs). Most single-seaters almost always wear parachutes anyway, so as long as you've got the altitude, the ship, and are away from an airway, you can have fun (!).

  •  Learning to soar (5+ / 0-)

    I lived in Orange County from 1968 through 1972 and learned to fly with Orange County Soaring Association. Flight group dues were $50/month, so I flew almost every weekend-instruction was free! We had a Schweizer 2-22, 2-33, two 1-26's and a Laister LP46. We'd fly out of Perris and El Mirage. My strongest memories were climbing in thermals at 18,000 feet, accompanied by two red-tailed hawks who would zoom across the canopy with talons extended, and also accompanied by the LA Times comic section sucked up from the ground by the El Mirage dust devils.
    Haven't found affordable flying since-sigh.

  •  What's it like to solo? (8+ / 0-)

    This video should give you a very good idea of what it's like. This young girl solos on her 14th birthday.

    The action starts about 5 minutes into the video if you want to skip ahead a bit. Lillymae does a great job. I think she's a lot calmer than I was the first time.

    My invisible imaginary friend is the "true" creator

    by Mr Robert on Sun May 04, 2014 at 12:12:20 PM PDT

  •  I thought too of joining the Air Force for pilot (6+ / 0-)

    training--I had heard that the Air Force promotes you more quickly than the other services. But alas the recruiter told me that because I wear glasses I could not be a pilot (though I could be a backseat weapons officer).

    What's the fun in THAT? I wanna drive the damn plane.

    So I ended up never learning to fly.  :(

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Sun May 04, 2014 at 05:06:11 PM PDT

  •  In the early 70s I read Richard Wolters' classic (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FarWestGirl, RiveroftheWest

    guide The Art and Technique of Soaring which presented such a detailed and easy to understand narrative that you felt you could step in a glider and take off and land the craft.

    It was my intention to find a place to learn to soar but being in the Navy at the time, we were never stateside long enough for me to enroll in a class.

    Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps makes as much sense as trying to pick up a chair while you're still sitting in it.

    by Ammo Hauler on Sun May 04, 2014 at 10:13:50 PM PDT

  •  Great Story (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee, FarWestGirl, RiveroftheWest

    I also got a ride in a glider as a gift many years ago, and loved it, but wasn't in a position to dive into it big time after that.

    My best glider story was not when I got to fly however.  It was maybe a year or two later when my son and I day hiked Mt. San Gorgonio in Southern California.  We start at about 5,000 feet and go up to 11,500 in seven miles.  By the 10,000 foot mark I'm really gassed, waiting for the oxygen masks to drop out of the tree branches.  As I'm standing there catching my breath a glider comes along doing acrobatics in the updraft from the mountain.  It was like a special floor show just for me.  Loved it.

  •  The time I forgot my mask (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VTCC73, RiveroftheWest

    It was fall wave season at Warren, Vermont.  A boomer wave was forecast over the mountains and I reserved some time in the club's Pilatus B4.   After the Schweitzer stuff I trained in, the Pilatus was like getting in a sports car after learning to drive in your father's Bonneville.

    Though the temperature was in the 60's, I dressed in my warm clothes, as the temperature drops 4 degrees for each thousand feet you go up.

    The tow up to 4,000 feet was... exciting.  Glider pilots are the only ones who intentionally fly into rotor conditions, in tight formation with another aircraft.  But the only way to get into the wave lift is to be towed there by a power plane, even though the conditions everywhere else, including right at the airport, are not conducive to flying gliders at all.

    So there I was trying to keep a steady pull on the towrope so it would not snap, and keep my position directly behind the towplane, as we both bounced around the sky.  But finally we got out from under the overhanging clouds into the sunlight, and the air got very smooth.   Ah, this was it.  The tow pilot flew straight into the wind and was clearly expecting me to let go here.  So I did, and he peeled away to go back to the airport.

    I slowed down from towing speed (about 65 knots) and tried to match my air speed to the wind speed so that I would stay in position over one place on the ground.  The variometer said I was going up like a bat out of hell.

    The wind was not quite as fast as I needed so I flew back and forth over the Sugarbush ski resort, aiming just enough into the wind so that I was not blown backwards into the looming wall of clouds behind me.

    Once out of the gloom of the clouds and in the perpetual open window where the air was rising, the clouds were brilliant white.  I moved up and down the long open slot, about 5 miles north and south, going up at over 1,000 feet per minute.  After a while I was entirely above the clouds and I could see over the mountains and the white clouds to the West, where lay Lake Champlain, and to the East where Mt Washington was somewhere in New Hampshire.

    Passing 8,000 ft, better put on the oxygen mask.   Hmm.  Where did that get to?  Did it fall under the seat?  Scramble, scramble.  Uh, oh.

    In my excitement getting ready, I had left the mask in the car.  For lack of a simple $10 plastic thing, about like the emergency mask that drops out of the ceiling in an airliner, I had no way to get the oxygen from the little fitting two feet in front of me on the panel back to my mouth.

    I had taken the high altitude flying course at the nearby Air Force base, so I knew all about hypoxia, how to avoid it, and how the body reacts to lack of oxygen.  (The explosive decompression part of that course was exciting.)  I knew I should not go above 11-12,000 feet.

    Ah well.

    So I flew back and forth a while, holding at 11,000 by holding the spoilers open about half way, and looked up to see the other guys who were up at the same time.  They were about 10,000 feet above me, going for a state two-place altitude record.

    My feet started to get cold.  There was plenty of sun coming through the canopy, but my legs were up under the panel in the nose of the aircraft.  The Pilatus is of all aluminum construction and the cold air outside was sucking all the heat out of the interior.  It was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit out there.  No insulation.  Brr.

    So now, how to get down?   All the air in my open cloudless window was going up.  All the air anywhere else was full of clouds, and I couldn't fly through that.  SO I had to go down in the middle of a rising fountain.  Luckily, the Pilatus has a retractable landing gear, so I put that out.  And the spoilers.  And did some slipping.  It took a while.  I read some of the pilot's manual, one arm hooked around the spoiler handle, as I wafted down, back and forth, up and down the cloud window.

    Dreading what was to come, when I finally got below the cloud bases, and would have to turn away from the smooth air and fight my way through the rotor back to the airfield. Which was luckily downwind.

    The Pilatus is so responsive that "Pilot Induced Osciallations" where a problem.  The turbulence bounced me around in my seat, even with the five-point belt, so that my arm moved the stick enough to make the nose go up and down, which induced more bouncing, etc.  I would have to grab the stick in both hand and brace my elbows to stop it.

    But that required taking my left hand off the spoiler handle, and the fail-safe spring pulled them closed again, so I was no longer coming down very fast.   So I would use the spoilers, and slipping for a while, until the oscillations got too bad, then release the handle, grab the stick, and catch my breath again.

    I had to cut one corner off the pattern at the end there, and I might have just clipped a treetop.    Finally rolled to a stop just off the pavement, and sat there a while so I was sure my legs would not buckle when I got out.

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