The hook is set

The adventure started when I was visiting Jerry Barnette in Virginia and we decided to go full scale flying. Jerry had told me that I hadn't lived until I'd been upside down in a Stearman, which is an American open cockpit biplane with a radial engine.

Stearman PT-17

Stearman PT-17

Unfortunately, my visit was sandwiched between two hurricanes and the weather hadn't co-operated. The final opportunity saw us on an airfield near Fredericksburg, but with too much low cloud to fly. Then Jerry decided that a visit to a glider field at Front Royale would be a good idea as it was in the hills and above the weather...

16 Oct 99
Jerry and I took Air Experience rides in an ASK-21 owned by the Skyline Soaring Club, who are based at Warren County Airport near Front Royale, Virginia. It was a beautiful, still, cloudless day though by the time I got to fly there was little or no lift. My flight was an aero tow behind a Pawnee, boxing the wake during the tow. We released from the tow plane at 3000 ft near the local soaring ridge. I flew a circle or two and then the instructor demonstrated a stall, a hammerhead stall and steep turns.

Warren County Airport Skyline Soaring's ASK-21

Warren County Airport

Skyline Soaring's ASK-21

This was not my first experience of gliding. I had ridden back seat in a Ka-4 Rhonlerch when I was 12 and had flown in an ASK-13 during a flying evening run by the Cambridge Gliding Club when it was at Duxford in the late 1980s, but the bug hadn't bitten. However, this time I was hooked and decided I was going to learn to fly, starting the next spring.

Why gliding?
Some time previously I had wondered about learning to fly and run through the possibilities. I decided that I could get bored flying General Aviation light planes because these are essentially transports and great if you have a reason to travel by air: I didn't have that reason. I discounted pylon racing and aerobatics on expense grounds. Microlights and parascending are too low performance to attract me, given my background of competitive Free Flight. Gliding looked ideal: you can have an enjoyable flight just soaring locally or, if conditions are suitable, you can go hundreds of kilometers cross country. You need to keep sharp mentally to stay airborne. This last point, together with the beautiful shapes of gliders were very appealing.

I was to find out later that gliding is extraordinarily relaxing as a direct result of the need to keep sharp. This appears paradoxical, but as well as enjoying the quietness of gliding flight and the wonderful views you are constantly alert, keeping a lookout for other aircraft, staying aware of where your next climb will come from and navigating. This is not enough to be stressful, but it is certain that you'll not have attention to spare for anything else except the task in hand. As a result, you arrive back at your home airfield with a feeling of achievement and a refreshed mind.