Great Falls, SC
January 22, 2016
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a....GOVIE! GSSM Junior Chloe Harris shares her experience during her January Interim, participating in the Bermuda High Soaring School Gliding Introductory Course. Check out her journal!
Experiencing three-dimensional motion for the first time was exhilarating. While we live in a 3D world, I never really had a sense of what that meant until today. On the ground, with your feet firmly planted against a solid surface, you walk forward and turn about a single axis to determine your direction. Of course, there are exceptions, but this statement holds true for most normal motion. Yes, we can travel up and down, but generally, the vertical motion of humans is greatly restricted. We can only climb where there is a ladder or a mountain, some means to ascend, but we cannot freely ascend. Most people have no means with which to move through concurrent vertical planes at will.
Climbing to 3,000 feet in a sailplane, I finally came to understand ‘free’ three-dimensional motion. The experience provided me with a perspective I would never have come to see otherwise. When flying a sailplane, altitude is vital rather than trivial information. Two new axes of motion--pitch and roll--are also introduced. A lulling illusion of stillness generated solely by height. 3,000 feet above the ground, I felt a sense of ultimate freedom. Of course, that sense of freedom isn’t at the cost of forgetting I’m responsible for what happens while I’m flying the plane, but this high I have the altitude to correct most problems that could occur, or rather Ivan does until I learn to for myself.
The sensation of my ears popping every few hundred feet during the initial climb took a little getting used to, but by the third flight, it was familiar and even comforting. Looking around at that altitude was incredible. It was awing to see Charlotte 60 miles to the north, and to think that if we flew to either the east or west I’d probably be able to see Hartsville or Great Falls if I just knew where to look. It almost feels natural to control the sailplane. Frank says that people have no instinct for flying. I know this is true, but it still feels intuitive for me to maneuver in the air.
Flying the takeoff, tow, and landing seems intimidating--having to hold such a precise position behind the tow plane and coming in that close to the trees, intentionally inducing a drastic altitude drop in altitude while holding a relatively fast speed, at least when compared to cruising flight in these trainers. Free flight, on the other hand, couldn’t be better. That high, with no other planes around, there is no sense of danger. Upon finding a thermal, Ivan took the controls, turning tightly and mapping it out. We were able to gain several hundred feet while the tow plane stopped to refuel. On my third flight, Ivan demonstrated a stall. Stalling is more exhilarating than any roller coaster, the sense of free fall is different than anything on a track can produce.
Flying is comforting. I feel at home in the sky. I’ll be disappointed when this is over, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity. I know it’s early to think about it being over, but two weeks really isn’t that long a time--I’ve got to make the most of it while I’m here.
In a day I’ve gone from no experience with aviation to flying most of the tow and all of the free flight myself, except for demos. I wonder if everyone else is going this quickly as well. I’m still intimidated by the landings, which I started working on yesterday by flying the landing pattern. Ivan still does the landing, but flying the pattern is getting easier. Holding my pitch steady was a bit more difficult at first because of low clouds obscuring the horizon, but I quickly adjusted. I kept dropping a wing and getting out of position on the tow, but about two thousand feet into my second flight I finally got it. At altitude on this same flight, shortly after pulling the release, we saw a full circle rainbow on a low cloud.
Everyone else seems not to like flying the tow. I can understand why--it’s terrifying to think that you could cause the tow pilot to crash by getting out of position at the wrong time. At the same time though, I’m getting much more comfortable with it, even coming to enjoy it. It’s kind of crazy to think that here I am, in a non-powered aircraft, flying in a formation with a powered plane. Formation flying is something that always seems so difficult. When you see it at airshows it’s incredible how fast and how close each plane can fly to another. While not nearly on that level, it is still an incredible feeling to be on tow and knowing I’m flying in formation with another aircraft.
I’ve been following through on the takeoffs and landings, and I know I’m going to be doing them before the next week is over. I haven’t done any of the actual takeoff or landing myself, like some other people. Other people have been using the rudders, which I assume I’ll do as well, so at least I’ll know when it’s coming. With three more flights past, I know this time is coming to an end fairly soon. It’s amazing to look at what I’ve already learned in this time. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
The clouds moved in even more, and now they’re too low for us to fly. Instead, we had ground school and learned about why multitasking isn’t a thing and that the insistence that it is helps to contribute to multiple crashes each year. Zulu time is used across the US for consistency across time zones that could affect aviators. The glider preflight inspection consists mainly of making sure what’s supposed to move moves in the right direction and that what’s not supposed to move doesn’t.
We’re getting in six flights to make up for not being able to fly at the end of last week. I was wrong about having some warning as to when I’d be taking over on takeoffs. Ivan simply said that I had followed him through enough times that he thought I could do it, and so I did. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I think I had a tendency at first, to tip the nose down and ride along on the skid instead of the main wheel until the glider lifted--I guess Frank made us all a little paranoid about rising above the tow plane on takeoff--but I soon got over that little issue. I got to do my own steep turns but unfortunately, couldn't hang around in any thermals. I also got to stall the plane myself, and Ivan forced it into a turning stall, even though the construction of the plane makes it stable enough that it would be difficult if not impossible to do in normal flight. I also did more work on the landing pattern and landing the sailplane. Most of my landings are pretty hard, but they’re getting better.
Lauren and I are ahead, apparently, and the wind is picking up, so the other two instructors are taking their groups up while Lauren and I stay grounded.
Three lessons of ground school. We talked about in-flight maneuvers that we mostly went over yesterday in the air. A sideslip is apparently named that because a crosswind is a side wind in the UK, and that’s where it was named. A sideslip fights a side wind. And a forward slip loses altitude while the plane continues to move forward. Side slips are only used on final as a compensation for crosswind. You don’t yaw to offset a crosswind on final. And generally, the only time you fly an unusual or abbreviated pattern is when you don’t have enough altitude to finish the planned pattern.
Five flights to 1,500 feet. Patterns and landing work, and, of course, takeoffs and flying the tow. Everything’s coming together now. I tend to come in a bit high, and I need to monitor my speed a bit better, but I’m sure I’ll have it down soon.
It’s the fourth day we’ve flown, and I think tomorrow will be our last day. It’s amazing how far we’ve all come in such a short time. My landings really are getting a lot cleaner, and I’m doing a lot better on the tow. I wish we were up high enough to maneuver a little more, or that I had time to ride some of the thermals I’m hitting, but these flights are going so quickly that I’m still getting a good amount of air time.
I actually had my first two supervised solos today. Ivan has been talking less and less during my flights, and during these, he just didn’t. It still doesn’t feel like a solo flight, but it’s incredible to see what I can do now. Flying is still an incredible feeling--I can’t compare the level of control and freedom I have to anything else. Interim may be over soon, but there’s no way I’m giving this up. I don’t know how long it will be, but I will fly again.
Day five. The last day. We talked about emergency procedures, then practiced emergency rope breaks and wave-offs. After that, we did five more flights. I had five supervised solos. Everything’s finally come together, and I don’t even really mind landings anymore. I can hardly believe what I’ve done in only five days, with less than six hours of flight time. My arm is a little sore from doing so many flights, but I also love going up so many times. I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to do this again, but I can’t wait.