June 6th: Saturday was an unusual
Florida summer day. By the time early June rolls around, we should be experiencing afternoon thunderstorms with nice
cool, clear evenings and breathless mornings. This morning, I was awakened by the thunder and the rains as they came pounding
against the bedroom window. Perhaps my planned flight will have to be delayed. I was to go flying with my friend and
fellow 99, Jessica Stearns, early this afternoon - nothing spectacular - just a little meandering around the local area.
By late morning, the clouds had cleared and I was off to meet Jessica at Immokalee. She teaches out of the airport
and has her J-3 Cub hangared there as well. The air was smooth and the day not too warm as the lingering morning storms had
not allowed for the daily heat to build too rapidly. Jessica had a passenger waiting: a gentlemen who decided to work on his
"bucket list" and aviation activities were on the list. But the plane that Jessica needed for their flight had an
intake hose dislodge so the mechanic was doing a quick repair before their flight. Ours would have to be delayed.
2:00 p.m., Jessica was finally off with her her "bucket list" passenger. They climbed out to about 4,000'
and seemed to drift lazily around the local area until Jessica executed a perfect landing, stopping directly in from of her
parking space. A quick swing of the tail, push back and her bird was stowed. Landings don't get any better than that! She
was now free for our excursion.
The winds had picked up a bit but we were parked right there on the south end of
the field, so instead of a long ride down to runway 27 to take off in to the wind, we lifted off from our grassy spot right
there on runway 36 with a bit of a crosswind. Jessica was sitting behind me and was on the controls. The engine roared and
we were up so fast that it surprised me. The ride up was quite bumpy, climbing out to about 3,000' to stay below the clouds.
Even with the cross wind on the ground, the air aloft was quite calm and still very smooth indicating that the daily heating
was just not taking place this afternoon. We were up in a blue hole above the airport and the town of Immokalee, although
there were numerous clouds and rain showers all around us - not any convective activity but just plain old rain. It was
a beautiful afternoon.
We leveled off at 3,000' when it happened - silence. That familiar roar of the engine suddenly
disappeared and we were faced with quiet. We could easily talk without head sets as the only sound was the breeze whafting
by through the window vents. I had the controls by now. I turned off to the right as I watched the tow plane turn left
and start his descent back to the airport to pick up the next glider. The air was really smooth now. We had been
battered a bit by the prop wash from the tow plane; but the ride was still not too bad. I was surprised how much work the
tow was, continuously manuvering to stay at just the right spot teathered to the tow plane. If we were too high, we could
actually pick up the tail of the tow plane; too low and we were severely buffeted by the prop wash; too fast and we could
whiz past the tow plane. We had to match his pitch and turns. Now, we were free: we were soaring on our own.
2:00 p.m. ride that Jessica gave our "bucket list" passenger was probably the best in terms of time. There was some
heating, some lift, but the rains had not yet started. With clear, blue skies above us and rain surrounding us, there were
no up-drafts to be had. We caught a small bump up above the school yard but that was short lived. After half hour of gentle
swoops and turns, we were nearing the 1,000' mark which meant that you are committed to land. Jessica directed me to the pattern
then took over on our base leg. We had been soaring at 45 kts; but the landing was executed at a much faster speed - 60-65
kts. in a dive. Jessica lined up in the grassy section south of the runway, dumped the spoilers and made another beautiful
positive contact landing, skidding to a stop directly in front of our parking spot once again. What a blast!
My first glider lesson had ended. It was short, but informative. The transition from powered flight to glider will
be interesting. I enjoyed the quiet but I will have to get used to working on the tow - you need very happy feet and a constantly
moving stick with ever so slight adjustments. While the foot work is not a problem, I will have to work on "overcontrolling"
on the stick as it is much more responsive than the Citabria, but I will be back for more.
The first flight went well enough that I was ready for another. This day looked promising for obtaining the needed lift to
make the flight a bit more long-lasting. This was to be a real lesson flight. With Jessica securely behind me correcting
all of my errors, I had the take off. It went much better today as I resisted the temptation to overcontrol on the pitch.
"No bank, no bank" was the echo from behind today. Try as I may and think as I might , the stick I kept moving left
to right. Another project to work on. Overall, the yaw was good, the pitch was good but the bank was an issue. Finally at 3,000' we cut loose and entered wind powered flight. We did a series of manuvers: steep turns,
slow flight, stalls with and without the spoilers and we sank to about 2,500' - time to go lift hunting.
Follow that buzzard: The day was a great day for lift. Lots
of puffies to choose from. But which will give us the best bump up? Jessic spied a buzzard, two o'clock high. "Follow
that buzzard. I want to see formation flight with him!" I obliged. We circled with the buzzard until he buzzed off and
left us alone again, looking for another thermal. We chased from cloud to cloud, gaining little bits of updraft for the next
hour or so gaining altitude up to 4,000'. Great - so how do we get down today? Jessica took the controls for a demonstration.
She cranked the glider around, deployed the spoilers and in no time at all we were back to 2,500' and, again, looking
for lift. That was quick!
Off in the distance was a small
puffy under construction: it was still a bit raggy around the edges and hardly big enough to cross our entire wing span. We
headed over there and Jessica thought it was going to be a good one. But so small? As we scooted under the cloud, we could
feel the tail pick up and watch as our verticle speed climbed to 750 fmp. We cut a tight spiral on the express elevator up
to the cloud base at 5,000'. By then that little cloud had grown to an enormous size.
We had been aloft for nearly 1-1/2 hours and we had to come
down. We headed off to "sinky" looking areas and meandered off to the east of the airport to lose altitude. At 1,000',
I turned off to the downwind, then base and partially deployed the spoilers as we headed for final. This landing was mine.
Take aim and pick your spot - there is no go around. We made our controlled crash into the ground, fully deployed the spoilers
and skidded to a stop about 3' off the mark. Not bad, although I know there was a little bird back there helping.
The next lessons will have to wait until July when I return from the race. Hopefully,
the skills learned here will be ale to translate into speed over the next several weeks. Even if not, life long lessons are
learned and new skills are acquired - but for now, I must zoom past the buzzards and leave the soaring to them.