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In September, 1994, I was invited to go up on a flight in a glider. They wanted me to join their soaring club. It was a beautiful fall day with a clear sky (not, actually, the best for soaring--big fluffy clouds indicate thermals, which are rising columns of air that give a glider a free boost to higher altitudes, or at least slow down the inevitable descent. These pictures tell the story...
1. Strapping in. The pilot was German, with a thick accent. He had been in training during World War Two to fly in the Luftwaffe, but the war ended before he served. He told me that the Germans used gliders a lot to train pilots in the 1930s because they were allowed only so many powered aircraft.
I sat in the front, but I wasn't the pilot! Looking at the craft from this
angle, I'm reminded how small it is. Without a motor, it needs to be only big
enough to hold the people aboard and support the tail in position for control.
Imagining this shot at three thousand feet in the air gives me a clearer
perspective on the vulnerability of flying. Up there, there isn't much substance
between me and the ground below!
We're hooked up to the towplane and ready to go. Since there's only a single
wheel under the craft, wing tenders will walk alongside the glider as it begins
to move, keeping the wings level. At the speed of a fast walk, the wings begin
to do that job for themselves.
From two thousand feet, the earth looks peaceful, especially since there is
no engine sound, only the gentle whoosh of air past our craft. Such a difference
from a powered airplane, where one has to shout to carry on a conversation. A
glider such as this has a fixed descent rate. If the pilot can find rising air
currents that lift the craft faster than its descent rate, the glider can stay
in the air for a long time. My pilot's record was about eight hours!
Final approach at the landing field. Landing speed is very slow, and because
the single wheel is almost hidden inside the fuselage, one feels very close to
the ground when we touch down. (I had this feeling that I should lift my feet.)
My flight didn't convince me to give up radio-controlled models in favor of full-scale flying, but it was a great experience.
Donald Skiff - March 14, 1998