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Just ahead in the April issue

2009 Senior Soaring ChampionshipsThis winter can’t last much longer…can it? We’re trying to think ahead to spring as we send the April issue to the printer. At least we’re not talking about snow and ice in the “Weather” column this month.

  • Climbing into Gliders. Soaring has a lot to offer, including the fact that it is less expensive than learning to fly a powered airplane, doesn’t require a medical, and teaches you mad stick-and-rudder skills.
  • Please Hold.” How are you going to enter that holding pattern?
  • Seeing is Believing. Why you need to get your eyeballs off the instrument panel when in VFR conditions.

Plus: Turns around a point; pilots who helped to rescue sea turtles; and more.

The April digital edition goes live on Feb. 24. Learn more about how you can get the magazine delivered to your tablet, computer, or mobile device here.

In-home delivery begins March 5, and if you’re not yet a subscriber, you’ll find it on newsstands as of March 17.

We welcome your letters to the editor; email [email protected]—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

Judgment, and the Day

It was windy yesterday—blowing hard out of the south and gusting to near 40 knots, according to the anemometer mounted on the top of the FBO building that sits midfield at our little airport tucked into the Mad River Valley, near Warren, Vermont. Weather was inbound. But for the day conditions were still high overcast, with just a few scattered, scraggly cumulous. Nothing towering. Maybe some wave action from the wind flowing over the undulating Green Mountains and White Mountains to the south and east.

Sometimes it is better to be on the ground than in the air.

Sometimes it is better to be on the ground than in the air.

Definitely some turbulence.

All that, and I wanted to fly. No, seriously, I was aching to fly. Just two days before I’d had the opportunity to get back into a Schleicher ASK-21 two-place fiberglass sailplane. A sexy ship if there ever was one, with an excellent 40:1 glide ratio and plenty of capability (even for aerobatics, if you are skilled in that realm).

Sunday’s flight with Rick Hanson (who has been with Sugarbush Soaring so long no one I know can remember the place without him and his wife, Ginny) was all about re-familiarization. I’d flown a ship just like her the year before, in Minden, Nevada. Vermont’s conditions, on that Sunday, at least, were tame compared to the way I’d gotten my butt kicked by rising thermals and developing dust devils in the high Nevada desert. This year staying behind the tow plane, even boxing its wake was just an exercise, not a wrestling match.

Thermaling came back to me pretty quickly, too. Last year the thermals were leaning towers, tilting with the afternoon valley winds. This year, though they moved with the prevailing flow, they seemed a little wider. Finding that ball of rising air in the middle seemed easier, more intuitive. Maybe it is just that I’ve only let a year go by. Before Minden I’d had a two year hiatus from soaring. It could be that two years is just too long, leaving me just too rusty and out of practice.

In any case, by Monday’s flight I was feeling competent. My instructors that day were John and Jen, and they were a dream to fly with (as they all have been, really). It was an excellent day for soaring, with light winds and towering cumulous streets of clouds that did not over develop. One expert soaring pilot riding a capable steed made his way to Stowe, Vermont, and back. And yes, someone else called (actually he had his wife call for him, hmmm…) to ask for an aero-retrieve from 40 miles east. The good news was that he’d landed at an airport.

Landing out. That’s soaring-speak for not making it back to your point of origin. An aero-retrieve means you pay the tow plane to fly to you, and then give you a tow home. Some pilots combat this problem by flying a motor glider, firing up the engine when they get to the point where they are too low to return to their home base, perhaps because they misjudged the lift conditions, or how long the lift would hold out at the end of the day. Other pilots use better judgment to make sure they get back to home base every time.

My instructors on Monday spent plenty of time helping me “see” all of the possible acceptable off-airport landing sites in the valley, and just beyond. We were high enough to see the Adirondacks looming over Lake Champlain, and hear the Québécois’ French chatter in Canada, which I could see clearly to the north with every circle as I climbed to cloud base, rolled out, pushed over for speed, and commenced to glide to the next decent thermal.

We crossed the valley practicing wing-overs, crazy-eights, stalls and steep turns, until they felt I knew all the possible quirks of the fine machine I’d chosen to master. Landings required another skill—understanding that I was much closer to the ground at flare than in my usual ride, the RV-10. That took a bit of coaching, too, but ultimately I got the visual picture and our touchdowns were smooth and on the mark. The thing about sailplanes: though you can control your trajectory to landing nicely with dive brakes, you don’t get to go around if you come up short or long. Making it back to home base from altitude is all about calculating your inertia, choosing your descent speed, setting your trajectory with your dive brakes, and making your initial pattern entry point, downwind, base, final and landing spots on speed and on altitude. Add airport traffic into the mix and you’ve got a great scenario for teaching any pilot great judgment skills.

By day’s end on Monday I’d thermaled, reviewed primary skills, proven my pattern, landing, and even emergency landing prowess, and received my sign-off for solo in the ASK-21. Tuesday’s conditions, however, were nowhere near what I’d proved myself in, and I knew it. The sailplane sat ready for me at the end of the runway, and the tow plane pilot, Steve, eyed me, waiting to know what I wanted to do. The wind was whistling through the gaps in the window frame of the not-ready-for-winter FBO. Sure, I’d flown in some gnarly winds in Minden. But not solo. In fact the last time I’d soloed a glider was in benign conditions over flat land.

“Um…no. I’m not going up today,” I said definitively.

Steve smiled. Good call.

That afternoon I hiked up a cliffside to sit on a sheltered hunk of granite that provided me a view of  half the Champlain Valley. It wasn’t quite as splendid as my perch in the sailplane, but it did sooth. The clouds streamed by, harbingers of the rain that would follow. I was happy to be on terra firma, and ready to fly another day.

Amy Laboda has been writing, editing and publishing print materials for more than 28 years on an international scale. From conception to design to production, Laboda helps businesses and associations communicate through various media with their clients, valued donors, or struggling students who aspire to earn scholarships and one day lead. An ATP-rated pilot with multiple flight instructor ratings, Laboda enjoys flying her two experimental aircraft and being active in the airpark community in which she lives.

My aviation bucket list: soaring, helicopters, finishing that RV

glider, soaringIt’s good to have an aviation bucket list. Mine has stayed pretty consistent over the years. Much of it I have accomplished, but there are some items of unfinished business on it. When I first started flying, I wanted to fly airplanes with retractable gear and more than one engine. My first multiengine experience was in a Piper Aztec, and on that first leg, it might as well have been a 747. It just felt huge! I got my multiengine rating in 1994.

Seaplanes were always a favorite, and I bummed rides in them whenever I could. I finally got to the point where I couldn’t stand the wait anymore, and with my wife’s blessing, took a five-day trip to Florida, two of which were spent splashing around in the lakes getting a seaplane rating. It’s some of the most fun flying one can do, and it’s more challenging than it appears.

Seaplanes are right up there for me with ultralights. Some think that the UL world is filled with lunatics, given that many of the airplanes have little or no structure surrounding the pilot. That’s true, but the open air, the slow speed, the grass landing…they all add magnitudes to the fun. If you haven’t done it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

IRV-8, experimental aircraft, homebuilt’ve always wanted to build my own airplane, and I have at least begun that. Several years ago I finished the empennage of an RV-8. I don’t know if or when I will be able to start on the next sub-kit (the wings), but it was a very rewarding process at the time, and it convinced me that I can do it. For me, it wasn’t the time that was the issue, but the money. I may have to wait until my kids are out of the house, but it’s a dream that is only dormant—not gone.

helicopters, learn to flyAlso on my list of “gotta do” is to learn to fly helicopters. It’s such a different kind of flying, with totally different skills. Whirly-birds just look like so much fun (to match the danger!). Again, this one will have to wait a while (also because of the cost), but I have long vowed that I will achieve this particular dream. Not for any particular reason, but just because. That’s good enough for me.

I taught my dad how to fly, and something we both long wanted to do was to learn to fly gliders. Glider flying is pure flying, since the duration of the flight is up to your skill in finding the thermals. My dad has since passed away, but I’ve never forgotten how much he wanted to learn to fly gliders. One day, I will take the time to go somewhere where I can devote the time necessary to master this particular art.

I’ve been lucky to also get a few other items on my list knocked out. Flying jets, including one of my favorites—the 737—has been a blast. The high-speed, high- altitude regime is totally different from the low and slow of an ultralight or a Piper Cub, but both are rewarding for different reasons. Fast airplanes are much more complex, but the personal satisfaction can be just as rewarding.

My list still has a few items on it, and hopefully for each one I knock off, I can find another one to add to it. After all, with nothing to strive for, what’s the point in getting out of bed every morning?—Chip Wright

Is learning to fly on your aviation bucket list? Get a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high…

Jean Moule last wrote about flying with a different instructor for the Flight Training blog. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

learn to fly, student pilot, flying in Hawaii

Rather than go snorkeling, student pilot Jean Moule (right) arranged a flight lesson during her visit to the islands.

Spiraling up on thermals in a glider, circling Kauai dodging clouds: what a way to spend time and funds for vacation fun.

I expected to take to the air between islands and headed home. Yet…something called…

Normally time in the tropics leads to sunset and/or snorkeling cruises. Fancy meals overlooking the beach. And, for more active adventure: zip lines, parasailing, scuba diving, SUP (stand up paddling), horseback riding. There are hikes and special coves for swimming. So, what did I unexpectedly do?

Oahu

This time…it was different. Even as we landed from the mainland onto Oahu, I knew I wanted to see more from the air. On some of the islands 80 percent of the scenery is only visible from a boat or from the sky. A bit of research and a few calls and I was scheduled to take a mini-glider lesson.

What was it like without an engine? Everything seemed different. Until Yuki had us up in the air after our release from our tow plane and we turned slowly upward and she let go of the controls. Somehow it began to feel familiar. She had told me earlier, “A student pilot learns a lot about flying from the engineless experience.” Now, if only I could take my eyes off the scenery long enough to solidify my growing skills.

She let me take the glider wherever I wished, while maintaining her watch on the altitude, the other gliders, and parachuters in the air not far from us. I FLEW. As we got ready to return to the airport she took over the controls and did a few steep g-force turns that had me laughing and joyful. Then she landed. My mini lesson helped me understand the power of rising air and the feel of an airplane, as all of them are, designed to fly on its own.

Kauai

Quite a day. This is an adaptation of what I wrote to my Salem, Oregon, flight instructor:

Remember the time you took over the controls after we were landing to quickly clear the runway for a corporate jet flight coming in? As we landed in Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii, my flight instructor took over the controls to get out of the way of an American Airlines flight about to take off. Oh my…amazing to be intertwined with the big guys. And, like, holding them up!? We also had to wait in line for the takeoff earlier. Almost cartoonish: Big planes and little us. A first for me.

As I took off Bruce said, “You’ve done this before.” He also appreciated that I was gentle on the controls. Certainly learned a bit about flying in the mountains, near the rainy clouds and in some turbulence. Now I know to say 492 Echo Romeo unfailingly (OK, confession: Since my regular N number is 75765, I had never asked for a briefing with a tail number with letters. The briefer let me know my error when I said E R, even added “November” for the N part of the number! I have studied, my husband has tested me: At this point I think you can wake me up in the middle of the night, give me a letter of the alphabet, and I can tell you the standard word…I am even dreaming of them).

As a CFI, Bruce, a former college prof, freely shared that he could not get a student to pilot certificate level as I believe the island situation has limitations. He certainly knew his island. I was surprised that we carefully avoided flying over populated areas to reduce the noise to those communities. And I learned to skirt clouds. Raindrops on the window did not freak me out this time either.

The scenery was awesome and the cost—that had both Robbie and me up in the air—was all of $2 more than if we had both taken the regular scenic flight with the same time and route!

Worked for me. And Robbie took 100 photos.

I think I enjoyed it most when Bruce and Robbie were talking and I just flew over the coastline with some turns and altitude adjustments as I felt like it. 1.1 Hobbs and I have an entry to paste into my logbook.

Thought you might like to know…

And, one last surprise: having now flown a different Cessna 172, my heart races every time I see one…and I want to fly it.—Jean Moule

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

 

 

 

Just ahead in the July issue

GliderWhat great summer trips are you planning this year? What hot-weather issues confound you as you progress through your flight training? Our July 2013 issue, just off to the printer, touches on weight and balance, density altitude, and nailing your best glide speed in the event of an engine failure.

  • Weigh in: Why You Should Calculate Weight and Balance—Every Time: Your instructor makes you calculate weight and balance, but it shouldn’t become one of those “I’ll never need to do this again” situations once you become a certificated pilot. In fact, it will become even more critical for you to go through the calculations, as you’ll learn in this article.
  • Just Like the Real Thing: Moving Training Toward Reality: When you start training with real-world situations in mind, that simulated short-field landing on a longer runway gets a little more challenging.
  • Glider Pilot for a Day: How Fast to Fly When The Engine Quits. We take some tips from the folks for whom an engine-out is an every-day occurrence—glider pilots.
  • Technique: Short-Field Takeoff: When you absolutely, positively must get off the ground quickly.

There’s a lot more, of course, so keep an eye out for your digital edition–hitting your device May 28–or your paper copy, arriving in your mailbox after June 6. Happy reading and safe flying (credit julien)!—Jill W. Tallman

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