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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.

2. 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!

3. 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.

4. The towplane out there is actually a crop duster, useful for glider towing because of its slow flying speed and powerful engine.

5. Nearing our drop-off altitude. The towrope is cast off the glider, and the towplane returns to the field to take another glider up.

6. 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!

7. 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
(Photos by Arthur Brown)


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