Flying Vehicle Without an Engine (Oooo)

I spent all summer in the Washington DC area. It was great fun but living inside the flight restricted zone mostly wasn’t as a budding pilot. Oh sure, flying commercially on business into BWI, IAD, and DCA afforded picture opportunities like this:

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Great view of the capitol from a DCA taxiway

But the ‘local’ flight schools were really far. All but two places I looked at didn’t have 152s, only 172s, 182s. Sure, I could learn the 172 or 182 systems – not too hard…. But that and my work at NASA meant I didn’t look to go flying until today. A fellow student at my flight school used to fly gliders ‘locally’ and suggested I try it. Flying without an engine? Ah, why not? I’m no expert in gliders and it’s very possible I’ve written things wrong here, but I will try to describe my flight experience.

It was a cloudy day when I pulled up to a small Virginia airport. I was thinking “Oh no, this was my only time in the area before going back to Fairbanks, will anyone even go up if there may not be any thermals? There’s always a *chance* we’d find a pocket of warm air right? I mean, you can go soaring in winter….” I watched as the group gently guided the gliders out of their hangar to the grass staging area.

“Let’s go” said the instructor right away. I was really hoping to watch others in the soaring club go first, but no biggie because this was a very light intro flight with some sightseeing. We climbed into the painted canvas skinned SGS 2-33 (I had a heck of a time figuring out the seatbelt, the exposed hook system wasn’t what I was expecting); me in front, instructor in back. All our favorite instruments were there without the added complication of a radio panel. Our [handheld] radio hung from the instructor’s lanyard. Recalling some of my previous posts, “yay, no earplugs!” In addition to the inclinometer, there was a red yarn tied to the pitot tube coming straight up from the cowling in the middle of our ‘straight on’ field of view. Yarn straight back means you aren’t turning; deflection to either side means you are. The instructor had all the same controls that I did except trim (a simple enough tensioned metal lever). Cool, ready for takeoff.

We were hooked to the tow plane and the glider was walked into place. The glider has two wheels on the body, one in front of the other (one at mid-body, one at tail), and wheels on each wing. It was basically riding on a sort of top; without support or enough momentum, we’d ‘fall over’ onto one of the wingtip wheels.

Our glider looked something like this [http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Schweizer_SGS_2-33A_N17968.jpg]
A few last words: if the tow rope breaks shortly after takeoff, we can turn around and land on the same runway. Pretty cool to be in something that needs so little runway to land.

With the words “Ready for tow”, the tow plane started moving and the instructor did tons of of rudder work to keep us in the right direction. I never even noticed when we’d left the ground – one second we were rolling and the next we were a couple feet up. The tow plane took longer to become airborne. Instructor had told me that the only job is to stay level, no rotation at takeoff or landing – just stay flat. Interesting experience.

Once airborne, our goal was to stay behind the tow plane.  Pitch up if you were low, let the plane come up to you if you were high. At our desired height, I got to pull a release knob and we were on our own. The tow plane got to dive left away from us as quick as possible (totally awesome sounding job btw) and we went right. We flew around for a bit (with the instructor looking for thermals I think) and me trying to orient myself to the airport and local sights. For me, even though it was a small mountainside-ish town, it was the most populated area I’d ever really ‘piloted’ over.

The instructor guided me through some turns (Oh my usual lazy use of rudders wasn’t going to do in this glider!) It felt so steep I was sure I was doing something wrong, but the instructor later pointed out that the most efficient glider turns were 45 degrees – oh okay. He took the controls and did a stall.  Oh my! So gentle! No spins in that particular glider we were in, but possible in the club’s other glider. We also did a few slips.

I took the next few moments to snap some pictures:

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All too soon, it was time to land, aw. We flew a left hand pattern and lined up on the runway. I was super shocked as we touched down.  *Incredibly* bumpy and rough without the normal Cessna hydraulic systems I was used to and expecting. We stopped on the runway and a car came to meet us and pull the glider to the taxiway and back to the original staging area.

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This is the other glider of the day, coming in to land.
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This is the other glider of the day, coming in to land.

Yay, so now I have my first 0.3 piloting hours logged in the lower 48. It was an incredibly expensive 0.3 in comparison to my powered flight lessons in Fairbanks, but I had a really great time and can’t wait to go again after I finish my private pilot certificate.

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