Dylan's Flying Page

Session 1

WHEN     : Sunday 30th January 2000
WHAT     : Basics, in a Schweizer 2-33
WHO      : Dual instruction with Ken Alexander
HOW LONG : 32 minutes and 2 flights

  The day didn't exactly dawn bright and sunny. Instead, it dawned with an overcast at about 700 feet. Not exactly soaring weather! However, by 11 am, the situation had improved. There was a thin layer of clouds now up at about 3000 feet, so I called the soaring club to make sure they were flying - they were. Even as a complete newbie, I knew there would be no lift today, but it didn't really matter to me since my first sessions would be just getting used to the glider.

Soaring Club of Houston from downwind   The Soaring Club of Houston is based at an ex-cornfield a few miles south east of Navasota, which is actually quite a few miles to the north west of Houston. I live on the south east side - straight line distance for me to the SCOH is about 65 miles or so, and right through the worst parts of Houston traffic-wise. Therefore it's rather handy that I already fly power planes and don't have to mess with that! Instead of spending two hours fighting traffic crawling along I-45 and I-10 then Texas 290, any day I go soaring turns into a delightful orgy of flying. Our Cessna 140 was out of action because the avionics were all out, so I had the flying club's Cessna 170 booked for the day. I've been up to the Soaring Club a couple of times - once to take a glider ride with my friend Michael Masterov, and another time to go and join up. Each time, we were landing to the south, which is easy. No obstructions.

  As I approached the glider field in the 170, the wind was coming from the north. Therefore, we were using runway 35. If you look at the picture, you'll see there's a stand of pine trees just off the threshold at that end. Yes, it's your standard FAA 50-foot obstacle alright. Everyone was landing long that day, myself no exception. There was a fairly brisk wind coming straight down the runway and being deflected upwards by the trees. You'd just sort of stop descending as you came over the trees. Well, I screwed up my first approach and went around. On the second attempt, I managed to touch down successfully somewhere within the first third of the runway!

  The glider club has some special rules - powered planes fly their pattern to the east of the field, gliders to the west. The photograph on this page was taken from a glider on downwind to 17. I took that one when I had a ride with Michael before Christmas.

Schweizer 2-33

  Once down, I got to know everyone. My instructor for the day, Ken Alexander, is literally just for the day. The club has a duty instructor who the students fly with, so you automatically get to fly with lots of instructors. We went over the glider, and I carefully watched what a glider preflight consists of. It's pretty similar to a power plane (except you've got dive brakes to check, and the tow hitch mechanism, and of course you don't have an engine to look at). The 2-33 is a part tube/fabric and part metal glider. The wing is metal, and resembles an extra long Cessna wing being externally braced and having that characteristic double taper. The trim system is rather interesting and crude. It consists of a lever with four positions. This simply centers the stick. Ken told me you can never quite trim off all the force, and this is true! There's not a great deal of instrumentation in a glider - just airspeed, altimeter and a vario (a fancy VSI). We also had the luxury of a radio. Of course, headsets are not needed in a glider.

  Then the glider tow. Once strapped in, the ground crew shows you the towrope that will be attached to the glider so you can make sure it's airworthy. The towrope is attached, and you give a thumbs-up signal to the wing-walker once you're ready. The wingwalker (or runner!) holds the wing up until you start moving at appreciable speed. Ken told me to give a few full rudder deflections to indicate to the towpilot that we were ready to go. The tow pilot did the same, and after a very short period of time we were off!

  Ken flew the first takeoff, and we did some basic airwork like you would do in a power plane. It was a little different for me to a brand new student, since I've been flying for a while. This meant we did stalls and steep turns on the first session. You haven't seen the meaning of adverse yaw until you try turning a glider with ailerons alone! The ailerons, all the way out there on those long wings really make the nose swing in the wrong direction unless you use a generous boot of rudder. On the glider tow, the controls are fairly effective and it's actually quite noisy in the glider because you are going much faster than normal. It takes a great deal of concentration to do the tow on your first attempt! I performed the second takeoff and tow. Ken told me to keep the glider flying about two or three feet off the ground until the tow plane was airborne (the glider gets off quite a lot quicker than the tow plane, a 235-hp Piper Pawnee). As the tow plane lifts off, I had to follow it, keeping it on the horizon. I thought normal formation flying took concentration, but this seemed a lot trickier. I was a bit paranoid of making the rope go slack!

  Once we released, I had quite an odd thought. I have had a couple of glider rides, and have never really thought of this before. But when I pulled the bright orange tow release, I thought "Holy cow, I really have no engine now!" The feeling was quite brief, but it sort of caught me by surprise. The other thing that seems unusual as a power pilot is how slow you fly. Our normal speed was 45 mph. The other interesting thing was how unresponsive the glider felt at this speed. Quite a lot of this is due to the fact I'm flying an old primary trainer. The roll rate of the 2-33 makes my Cessna 140 seem like an unlimited aerobatic ship in comparison! The modern ships like the Blanik I rode in with my friend Dave Laitnen in North Carolina are much nicer to fly. Since there wasn't any lift, so we were soon over the IP (initial point) for entering downwind. We flew a normal pattern and landed. Glider landings are also unusual for a power pilot - you don't really flare, you just fly the glider on, almost like wheel landing a taildragger.

  To conclude, gliding really is something different. Rather than the headlong rush of most power pilots to fly more and more complex ships (usually culminating in some kind of Jet-A burner), I'm really enjoying going the other way and flying simpler equipment! After my first glider dual instruction, I think I can really recommend this to any private pilot, as well as anyone who hasn't flown before.

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