Becoming a solo pilot

I spent time during the winter of 1999/2000 researching gliding clubs near my home in Harlow. I quickly developed a short list, headed by the Cambridge Gliding Club, mainly because they were the only local club with an ASK-21. On a fine, sunny Sunday in early spring I visited them as the top club on my list...

12 Mar 00
I had my second flight in an ASK-21 at the Cambridge Gliding Club. They have a good big field and clubhouse and seem a nice, friendly bunch.

This time we were winched off to 1200 feet. This was a more powerful winch than I'd met before. The initial acceleration was amazing. The glider had aileron control within 10-20 feet launching into about a 5 mph breeze. It was very similar flying conditions to those we met at Front Royale though the temperature was only around 17°C at a guess: T-shirt temperature in the sun when I arrived but not in the glider or afterwards. I managed some reasonably co-ordinated turns and towards landing time I was more or less flying in straight lines without dancing on the pedals and thrashing the stick.


The Cambridge ASK-21, HTV

In this picture the ASK-21 is on both wheels and rolling forward after the winch snatched, causing the glider to overrun the cable and release. You can see the weak link, at the end of the cable, under the rear fuselage.

26 Mar 00
I had an excellent day today. I thought about heading for Salisbury plain with my models, which still haven't been flown since last September, but the forecast for the south west wasn't brilliant. As it was a lovely day at home I headed for Gransden Lodge and the glider club instead. Right decision! It was a really nice, sunny day with maybe 3/8 cumulus at 2000 feet and no more than a 5 kt breeze. Gliders were bombing off in all directions. Andrew Warbrick filed for somewhere down in the south-west and set off in a Pegasus. He came back in a bit over two hours. He'd got as far as Didcot, which is just south of Oxford, saw all the rain and horror ahead, turned round and came back. Meanwhile I had a couple of flights in the Grob 103. One was pretty much up and down in 11 minutes, so we went straight up again and snagged a couple of thermals for a 36 minute flight. The lift wasn't strong as I didn't see more than 2.8 kts up and usually we were looking at 1.2 to 2 kts. 1 kt is 100 ft/min. On the other hand we didn't see more than 3 kts down and that was in the sink on the edge of the first thermal. There wasn't a lot of room between the launch height of 1200 feet and the 2000 foot cloud base, so light lift was fine. Quite a bit of traffic too, as lots of gliders were lurking around the field and picking up each others thermals. I was pleased to see that I was spotting and tracking them OK and keeping book on where the field was as well.

The Grob is a really nice machine. Its very similar to the ASK-21 but with a little more room in the cockpit and is somewhat more difficult to fly. Good thing too. The ASK-21 is considered to be too easy to fly to be a good trainer.

Grob G103a, EWP

The Cambridge Grob G103a, EWP

In this picture the winch launch has just started and the initial acceleration has lifted the nose wheel off the ground, putting the tail wheel on the grass. The Grob will be balanced on its main wheel for the rest of the short take-off run until it lifts off at around 45 kts. Notice the cable attachment near the balance point just in front of the main wheel. Winch launches are exciting. From a standing start until you're at 30 feet and passing 55 kts, when you rotate for climb-out, takes around 5 seconds. That's Ferrari country!

I still haven't really come back to earth. The sensation of seeing a thermal from the inside and riding up to the cloud base is fantastic!

16 Apr 00
I went up the Cambridge and gave them a heap of dosh, so I'm now a club member and have the Large Economy Size student pilot package up and running. Then I wandered out and snagged a flight in the ASK-21 and three more in the G103. I'm starting to love the Grob. The ASK-21 is nice, but the Grob is that much nicer to fly. Co-ordinated flight is definitely on an improving path. I did my first turn that was tight enough to require top aileron to counter the wing tip speed differential effect. Interesting landings and takeoffs all day, though. There was a lot of standing water on the field and showers of it for every operation, especially the tow planes, to say nothing of the way the launch line drogue scooped its self full of water before lift-off. Longer than usual takeoff runs resulted together with lower launches.

24 Apr 00
I spent today up at Gransden Lodge on what turned out to be the best day of the weekend. The field had dried out well and I got three flights in the ASK-21 in the morning and a late afternoon one in the G103. First and last flights were both around 3/4 hour, so I almost tripled my air time during the day. There was a nice breeze all day, so the winch was putting us at 1400 compared with the previous, soggy, Sunday when 1100 was about it. In the morning the thermals were good despite a 2000 ft cloud base, so we ended up scraping the murk off the bottom of a couple of clouds and finding out how to stay below them. By late afternoon the base had gone up to 3500 feet and despite nice thermals the Grob didn't crack 3000, so no more cloud scraping.

29 Apr 00
Rain stopped play at lunchtime today, but not before I got in three very short flights under completely liftless conditions and had a demo of different stall modes in the ASK-21: minimum speed straight stall at 38 kts, accelerated stall at 60 kts in a 2G turn and a full vertical descent hammerhead.

We don't fly gliders in the rain if it can be avoided. The normal flying speeds are low enough for the rain to form drops all over the glider which leads to a couple of undesirable effects. The most obvious is that drops forming on the canopy and slowly crawling upward both hinder your field of view and are quite distracting during approach and landing. Less obviously, they disrupt the airflow across the wings and tail which causes an increase in stalling speed as well as killing the glide performance.

30 Apr 00
Today, unlike yesterday, was nice all day with a good launch breeze but the lift was scrappy to say the least. We must have had 25 gliders on the two flight lines. Winch and aero-tow queues are separate. We logged 95 flights during the day, of which four were mine. I've now done 19 flights, flying the full approach and landing for the last three with some nagging from the back seat. I flew the whole of the last flight, which included launch, practise stalls, circuit and landing, All this was in the Grob G103, EWP.

7 May 00
Talking of ugly aircraft, I've just had my first brush with our Puchacz. Its not that it looks bad, just that its an ugly customer compared with the Grob. To be treated with care and respect at all times. It bites! Specifically, it has an 'interesting' wing drop when stalled and very powerful airbrakes that open above and below the wing and have no pitching effect. This means you have to be very careful to keep your speed up on finals lest bad things, like stall and spin, should happen. I'll see more of it in future because its our stall and spinning trainer. Actually, its not so bad apart from some fairly dire cockpit ergonomics. My elbow hits a moulding alongside the seat at half airbrake setting, so getting the rest requires severe contortions and you need a third hand for the wheel brakes. Still, progress was made. I'm far less stressed during launches and landings. Things have subjectively slowed down a lot and I was a lot happier with my round-outs this time.

Jerry Barnette: I once heard the Three Rules of Glider Flight:

  1. Keep your speed up.
  2. Keep your speed up.
  3. Keep your speed up.

This is really only the case on finals or in gentle turns. Its difficult to stall without trying in a decently tight 45 degree banked turn, though its quite easy in a wide turn. In a tight turn you're pulling so hard there's little stick movement left to provoke a stall, but in a gentle turn there's lots and you don't need much to get too slow...

On finals it depends on the glider. The Grob and ASK-21 are both fairly slippery and with only average airbrake power, unlike the Puchacz, which is draggy and has very powerful airbrakes. If you trim either of the first two out to 60 kts and pop full brake with hands off the controls you'll drop the nose a lot and speed up. Closing the brakes returns you to trim speed and attitude. I've done this in the Grob; we shut the brakes after we'd gone through 65 kts and were heading slowly but surely for 70. The ASK-21 would not speed up so much. This is actually good; you keep back pressure on to keep the speed down to what you trimmed on the downwind leg and are less likely to stall on finals as a result. If you are a little cavalier you just end up at 65 kts and a little low. Pulling up puts you mostly back on the glide path and still able to hit your spot, but in the Puchacz you must feed in forward pressure simultaneously with opening the brakes.

I've promised myself I'll try the trim fast and hit the brakes trick in the Puchacz next time I fly it so I'm familiar and I'll think about doing it in the ASK-21 before I try landing it.

21 May 00
I've been gliding this afternoon. The morning was washed out by rain. I got there this afternoon to find the weather dry and overcast, the hangar shut and the duty instructor, tow pilot and winch operator standing around with no customers. On my arrival they decided I was the duty student and so we had to fly. The winch was unavailable because somebody from the morning crew had gone off with the key to the tractor, so it was decided that I would be aero towed and have spins demonstrated. Accordingly, we opened the hangar, got the planes out, and I was loaded into the Puchacz and towed off in the front seat with the duty instructor in back, heading for 3000 behind a Rallye. I flew the tow from 1000 to 2000 with assistance when it looked like I was starting to get it wrong. That was very hard work, requiring lots of concentration and minute corrections all the time, but the instructor was pleased with my first attempt. Then, after I'd cruised about a bit to show I still knew what was what after two weeks off, Alan took over and we spun. First it was a demo of how people kill themselves on tow after a line break. How to avoid that fate has already been drummed into me and the message has probably taken. Basically you nose over as steeply as you were climbing and wait for airspeed before doing anything else. I haven't yet had a line break for real. However, if you're slow to react and only push over to normal glide attitude and then make a turn you'll spin like that because with the negative G from the push over the aircraft is still well under its stall speed. Its true: I glanced at the ASI and we were in glide attitude at 30 kts in a plane with a 38 kt stall speed. It was also very quiet still, and that's always a bad sign! Next I was shown how you can end up spinning out of a turn in a thermal, which is relatively easy to do in traffic but should be avoided as it startles anybody below you and wastes height. If you're a bit slow in a mild turn and you kick the rudder into the turn and pull back a little, e.g. because Fred just joined in front of you, you'll likely spin. Its less likely in a steep turn because you'll already have a lot of back pressure on and anyway the airspeed difference between the tips decreases as the turn tightens and the bank increases. In future I'll learn how to recover from spins but its too early for me to try that yet. Spins are fun, though, and not scary so far.

Then I tried a stall and managed better than last time, though I did loose more height than needed on recovery. Once again, I know how not to do that in future, so I'll practise a little more in a fortnight when I'm again gliding. Finally, I flew the pattern, got it somewhat messed up, and again I now know why, and did one of my best landings yet after Alan sorted out the approach. All in all an interesting and eventful 20 minutes in the air.

Then the winch guy had a flight. This time I was wing boy and lookout. This means I kept the glider level until it was going fast enough for the controls to work by holding a wing tip and running, plus controlling the situation while towline slack is taken up and keeping a lookout above and behind. Acceleration on grass behind a relatively low powered Rallye is much less than on tarmac behind a Pawnee and this is further reduced because the Puchacz is draggier than the ASK-21. I ran a good 10 m before the glider started to outpace me.

Finally we 'flew the glider back to the hanger' with me riding in back and the Alan in front doing all the flying. The quotes are because this allegedly simple hop involved an aero tow to 2500, a couple of loops and a chandelle, and then landing back at the other end of the airfield from where we'd left. A simple flight to hangar, yeah! We do this with the winch too: why tow the plane up the field when it can be flown up, though the winch equivalent is a rather staid launch and circuit. Again, a lot of fun.

I think gliding is great therapy after a heavy work week. The workload while you're flying is plenty high to stop you thinking about much else, but not so high as to kill the wow factor. That still hits every time I pull the release at the top of a launch and have trim and airspeed set for a nice cruise.

One worry: I'm even getting to appreciate the Puchacz' flying qualities. I just still don't like its cockpit ergonomics.

3 Jun 00
I got to go flying this weekend. The effects of virtually a month's layoff were rather obvious. The forecast was bad, with the possibility of flyable weather on Saturday. In fact today was wonderful: sunny and hot, with about 3/8 cumulus at around 2000 ft and near flat calm, though with little lift below 1800 feet or so. The forecaster wasn't entirely wrong, though, because Yorkshire had very bad flooding. Today was cable break day. We had five altogether. I got up to the field in the afternoon and flew the Puchacz for three flights and had a cable break on the first launch at about 280 feet. I pushed over quickly without loosing much speed and the instructor took over as soon as we had airspeed back for a quick circuit and landing on the cross runway. I've not been properly briefed for that nor have I done any practise breaks yet, so that was fine. That was a one minute flight. The next two were pretty uneventful and I didn't do too much that was silly. The day was so calm that we had Bluebell, our Slingsby T21b, a real 1950 vintage antique, out and the queues for her were longer than for anything else. I finally got a ride with Debbie as P1 and was able to do some of the flying. It seemed very strange: stalling speed is 22 kts and it cruises at 30. Its an open cockpit, side by side seat arrangement with tiny aero screens for each pilot, so this was also my first open cockpit flight. Bluebell is quite unresponsive despite huge control surfaces due to its slow flying speed. After a later flight Debbie was fuming a bit, which is unusual for her, when she got boxed in on one circuit by the Grob. There she was, on the down wind leg at 30 kts when the Grob went steaming past at 55 or 60, also on its downwind leg. It was a great sight from the ground.

T-21b, Bluebell

Slingsby T21b, Bluebell

G103 rounding out

Our Grob G103a, EWP rounding out with our clubhouse and hangar behind.

4 Jun 00
When I woke up today it was as nice as yesterday, so I set off for Cambridge first thing. I was to get in another seven flights. It turned out to be a bright, breezy, soarable morning. I was there at the start of play, which got me the first two flights of the day in the Grob during which we found a few thermals for nice flights of 16 and 19 minutes. If yesterday was cable break day, today was miscellaneous troubles day. I drove the cable retrieval truck a bit and we had problems with cable tangles at the winch and cables popping off the ASK-21. With all the winch troubles the launch rate was low and the flight line was long. By the time I flew again in the afternoon it had clouded over and calmed off, so launches were not so high. I got one more flight in the Grob and then a vast crew of Air Experience people showed, so there was a big gap, ending when Paul Morrow, a friend, got some final polishing before being sent solo in the Grob and the beers were on him after we packed the hangar. Later I got in the ASK-21 for its four final flights of the day. I flew some good launches apart from one where we released at 500 feet when the winch went all slow. I flew a rather low circuit after that and then, finding the Grob where I wanted to land, pulled the brakes off and over flew him. The work load was pretty high that flight. On my final flight at about 18:00 we found a tiny bit of lift at about 600 feet over a nearby farmyard. By flying very carefully and slowly we went up all of 100 feet and then back down 100 feet in 5 minutes before giving up and landing. In still air the ASK-21 would normally loose 900 feet in five minutes, so I think my speed control and co-ordination in turns got better. I was flying between at between 41 and 42 kts, barely above the stall of 38, in fairly tight circles because it was a tiny patch coming off a farmyard. In retrospect it did sound pretty quiet in there while we were grinding round. In summary, I flew good launches, better landing patterns and rubbish landings all day. Must work on the landings, though later analysis has shown me what I was doing wrong.

10 Jun 00
Went gliding this afternoon after my usual Saturday morning shopping. It was a bright, breezy day with a moderate amount of turbulence. I got two flights in the Grob and had fun playing with a couple of thermals, 13 minutes worth in one case, and a flight in the ASK-21. Did a pair of better landings, though one approach was too steep, and was in general happier with the way I flew. I'll be out again nice and early tomorrow.

11 Jun 00
I'm still about a mile high tonight; flew my first hour plus soaring flight today.

Sunday started really nice, went all cold and then improved in late morning when I had a couple in the Grob. We didn't find much, though there was a large but very scrappy patch to the left of the winch. Richard took over and hacked around in it without much luck and so we slid off down the field for me to practise another landing with a good cross wind. On our second launch we found a nice patch that kept us up for half an hour. At this point I went off to the club house for lunch and to read the Standing Orders book. Meanwhile it got all clouded over again and I thought that would be the end, but the sun came back out and it turned into a strong day. At one point we had an empty field: no gliders waiting to launch at all. Eventually some came back and I got the Puchacz for two flights with Steve Longland as instructor. We had an initial bash that got us 15 mins and an interesting traffic situation in the circuit. We were on a right hand circuit with three other gliders on the left hand one. I got lined up and Steve grabbed it due to traffic, which I was quite glad of! The next launch was the big flight. Off the line we went left into the same scrappy patch Richard played with. Steve did better and got us to 2200 before it topped out. I flew the top of it. Then we headed off upwind toward Bedford. We were at 1400 and thinking of going home when we hit the big one, which I flew to 3800, outclimbing a single seat Astir in the process. After that the day turned to magic. Every dark cloud we tried had lift under it and we ended up riding four thermals for a total height gain of 6000 ft. We came home fat with height because we were getting thirsty, arriving back over the field at 3000 ft. Even then Steve didn't want to just dump down on brakes, so we wandered off east with me doing handling exercises but without burning much height. At this point Steve said to head for the village on the far side of the field and please to go straight at 75 kts, which I did. We still had 2000 ft left so I hung 2 1/2 nice wide right hand circles at the same trim speed, and still was 100 feet high on arrival at the high key point to start the circuit. 75 minutes from when I started the launch to touch down. Fun! After we landed nobody else wanted to fly and we were so flown out that we just car towed the Puchacz back to base rather than doing a hangar flight. That last flight started at 16:35 and landed at 17:50, so it was really quite late for lift like that. The weekend total was 6 flights and 2.5 hours of air time plus the usual amusements of driving the cable truck, retrieving gliders and generally hanging out.

17 Jun 00
This weekend was decidedly mixed. Both days were hot and windy, around 30°C and 15-20 kts with a huge wind speed gradient near the ground in the afternoon. The speed dropped at least 15 kts in the last 30 feet down to the ground. This, coupled with a somewhat enthusiastic winch driver on Sunday, made for exciting flying. We all suffered from dehydration on Sunday and I'm certain it affected all of us more than we realised despite being aware of the problem. I drank 1.5 litres of water during Sunday afternoon and it wasn't quite enough.

Blue days are bad news for gliding. You blunder into thermals rather than having clouds to mark them. In fact the air mass was very stable, so even nice brown harvested fields were not working. The private owners stayed home; they know about this sort of weather!

Today, Saturday, was the windiest day and I flew badly. I made a terrible approach in the ASK-21 after a slightly fast launch. Then I flew a decidedly overspeed launch in the Puchacz, which the instructor abandoned and gave me back control after we'd bunted off to normal flight and I followed this with a mangled approach. In both cases I didn't get a second ride to sort things out due to time pressures on the flight line so I went home extremely pissed off with at myself.

Puchacz JEC

SZD-50-3 Puchacz, JEC
Note the pile of old tyres holding the upwind tip down!

18 Jun 00
This Sunday morning was nearly calm. I got the advanced class launch demo in the Puchacz and flew two good circuits and landings plus one good launch and so was happy. Later after the wind got up I had another flight with same instructor. This time we had a slightly fast launch. This, combined with a thermal during the climb, shot the speed up for another overspeed launch, which I abandoned and followed by flying a good straight ahead emergency landing, which Richard liked. There was no apparent adverse wind gradient at that time, though there was a warning of things to come, as all three flights needed a lot more anti-drift crabbing than one would guess on the final approach plus a good boot straight before touchdown.

At the end of the day, after a launch line shift when the wind swung 90 degrees, I had another two flights. The first was another overspeed. By this time the heat was taking its toll. The winchie was asked to slow down, got it backwards and went faster. This time I broke the cable just before I would have abandoned anyway. We had 72 kts on the clock and not reducing as we went through 300 feet. Although the maximum winch speed for the Puchacz is 59 kts this was not too serious because it happened so low that the full cable weight wasn't yet on the glider. After the break I got the nose down so fast that dirt from the cockpit floor was floating in front of the panel as we went over the top at zero G, followed by another straight ahead emergency landing. I had good speed control until we got down to 30 feet when the wind gradient bit and we lost 15 kts like that and sat down pretty hard. So, we towed the glider back to the start point and went again. Another, slower, launch went well to 1100 feet. We were on our shortest runway so there wasn't much cable to play with, hence the relatively low launch. I got a nice ride all the way round and down to the last 30 feet when the gradient bit again after a descent on the button at 60 kts. This time David took over and slammed the brakes shut for a good landing. Now I know about wind gradients and what to do if they bite: yank the brakes in, so I ended the weekend happy.

So, I reckon there's a fair bit of amusement to be had in the circuit as well as soaring. In addition, the whole deal of planning a circuit is decidedly interesting in a glider. You need to be able to hit high key at 700-800 opposite the upwind end of the active strip, regardless of where you've come from, if you're to fly a normal circuit. On top of that the shape and length of the circuit changes dramatically with wind speed and direction and severe sink on the downwind leg can spoil your whole plan. Finally, if the circuit is busy you need to be prepared to alter your landing point even after turning finals if the field is really littered with gliders and retrieval teams.

24 Jun 00
Today was good after all. I woke up with a terrible muzzy head that hadn't cleared by the time I got to the field, so I helped out, driving the cable truck and pushing gliders until my head cleared in the early afternoon. The whole day was calm and cool, making a nice change from the previous day which was overcast and cold.

I eventually got some flights in around 16:00, which was OK though there was very little lift. Bit of a mixed bag as I flew the Puchacz first and then took a couple of flights in the Grob, all with Stefan, our Czech full time instructor. I must be making progress again, because he seemed quite pleased with my flying and muttered about it being time I did my spin training. My last landing was interesting. We joined the circuit only 300 m behind the Puchacz; the Grob is the faster plane. Fortunately we were 200 feet or so higher, so I just flew a wider circuit to give the Puchacz time to land and stop rolling, before I put down 50 m or so off to his right. After this there was a bit of pratting about while we got all the gliders back to the hangar and packed away, but this was followed by a good beer and bull session to end a pretty good day.

25 Jun 00
I'm now up to 52 flights and 10 hours logged and I keep learning new tricks. This time it was fishtailing if you need the winch slowed down. Turns out simpler than I thought. You just walk the pedals vigorously 2-3 times. You don't even get off line with the winch or have to settle the glider down afterwards. This is British practise, not a universal signal. Similarly, at the start of an aero-tow the rudder waggle is a US-only signal to the tow plane to take up slack. Here the wing man makes a pendulum action with his arm held down to signal 'take up slack' and waves his extended arm over his head for 'all out'.

There was another fun thing today. A Cambridge club custom was revived this year by the youth axis at the club: read 'the post-grad gang' for 'youth'. As it was the closest Sunday to the longest day, they were up at dawn and had Bluebell away for her first flight at 04:30. Consequently, when I arrived the hangar apron was littered with unwanted gliders. They'd mined their way to the back of the hangar to get to Bluebell and left the mine spoil where it lay. As it happened everything got flown, but often quite later. We did a hasty DI and cable release test on the Puchacz after Stefan and I had put her on the flight line at around 15:30 because we were first up in that aircraft. We hadn't even brought her down from the hangar. Another pair did that in preparation for spin training. We just nicked her from the aero tow line when nothing was happening over there and we were short of two seaters. I swapped to the G103 after one flight when the rightful owners reappeared and took her back from the winch queue; we grabbed the Grob and slipped that into the vacated slot.

8 Jul 00
We had generally bad weather this week. I got three launches in on Saturday afternoon between showers. I needed to as I hadn't flown for two weeks. This time I was in the ASK-21 with Debbie instructing. She's a physics post grad at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge as well as an excellent pilot. She flies both the tugs as well as gliders. Anyway, the first launch ended with a line break at the winch end at about 100 feet: my first low break. It's a different drill. You pitch over to get and hold a normal gliding speed and attitude before landing straight ahead without using the brakes. The glider floats forever when you do this. It eventually sat down without running off into the weeds, which was a relief because there was a cross wind and that downwind crop came closer quite fast when I kicked off the crab to land. The next flight had a very slow winch after takeoff so we only made 800 feet. I just flew a circuit, scratched with a bit of scrappy lift half way down the field, gave that up and completed the circuit. The third launch was a normal one to 1300 feet. The rest of the flight was much the same as the second except for having more height and flying a right hand circuit instead of a left hand one. The big advance was that I noticed that I was able to fly fairly well co-ordinated without really concentrating on it. Debbie thought I was flying well and has also recommended that I complete spin training next time out. Looks like a conspiracy to make me spin.

16 Jul 00
I got five flights in today. The first three were short. There was a stiff breeze and no lift and we were flying off the short cross runway, so 1000 feet was about the best launch height. Still, I did a lot better on short finals in wind than before and I got checked off as solo standard on cable launches. My first solo sign-off.

Later the day calmed right off and I flew another couple under nice conditions. I didn't find more than scrappy lift but had a couple of nice flights, though two other gliders got off for hour-long flights in the smoke plume from a stubble fire. If there was ever a thermal saying "here I am, guys", that was it!

18 Jul 00
This Tuesday promised to be such a nice day that I took a day's leave to go flying. Good call. It was the best day in the last month. I got to 4000 in the Grob and put up an hour's flight time over three flights. We would have stayed up a long time on the second attempt, but there were other students needing the instructor and Grob, so we just rode full airbrakes from 4000 on down until we joined the pattern.

30 Jul 00
Today was as good a day as the forecasters said it would be. I spent the day galloping round the airfield being helpful, getting a little sunburnt and having a couple of super flights.

First flight was in the Grob with Stefan, our Czech instructor, in late morning. Didn't get above 2600 in light lift. Then Stefan thought we should fly some stalls before going home to give others a chance at the glider. It was a nice flight of 34 mins in which I did a good launch and a nice, though long landing and got growled at a bit for lack of co-ordination in turns when trying to ride a slightly turbulent thermal and keep tabs on another glider in the thermal. This will pass; with more experience flying will become automatic and I'll have more attention to spare for looking out for other aircraft and finding thermals.

Spent most of the afternoon being helpful and then got another flight at 18:00 in the Puchacz. Grob to Puchacz or vice versa is a big shift in technique and I hadn't been in the Puchacz for 15 flights. So, in we got. I was expecting a circuit and landing after 7-8 minutes because it was so late in the day. Still, away we went up on the cable for a good launch to 1400, my highest of the day, before setting off toward a likely looking cloud and finding a decent thermal. We sat over a village green and Graham, the instructor, watched a cricket game on the village green while I worked the thermal. I'm pleased to say that I felt really at home in Puchacz from the start and made much better turns while looking all around at the same time. It really is a lovely plane to fly. That thermal got soggy at 2800 ft, and so we flew over and joined our ASK-21 in a nearby thermal and rode that to 4600, outclimbing them in the process. That in turn gave out, so we headed up wind for a third thermal that took us back to 4600. Then it was spin time. First, an S-turn to check below for other gliders, villages, etc. I flew 7 spin recoveries from 4600 down to 1500 feet, which was great fun. The instructor starts the spin. The Puchacz goes quiet as it enters the spin with a turning roll to wings vertical as the nose drops and then makes an odd boiling noise as it twirls downward, the ground revolving merrily below. Instructor says "you are in a full spin. Recover!" so you stand on opposite rudder and push the stick forward. The ground stops revolving and Puchacz starts making rushing noises as you recover in a vertical dive before pulling gently back to level out at 115 kts. Feel the G-force! Then you zoom back up, trading speed for height and pushing over to normal flight at the usual 50 kts. I got brownie points for unruffled spinning. I also got to fly a chandelle off the zoom following the last spin. So, there we were down at almost circuit height. I flew a nice, though over large circuit, braking to loose height on the downwind leg, and then messed up with an undershot, slow, approach. Still, with prompting the situation was sorted and I made a nice landing exactly one hour after take off. Who would have thought the sky was still working so late in the day?

I'll definitely be asking for the Puchacz next time despite Graham calling it 'the Polish Death Machine'.

12 Aug 00
Saturday was a lovely day. I went up to the club on spec and got in a flight in the ASK-21 in mid afternoon. We hit a thermal straight off the cable and stayed up for an hour, topping out at 4300. About 15 minutes was spent sharing the lift with three other gliders and I got some valuable coaching in sharing a thermal with close traffic, i.e. how to position oneself on the opposite side of the circle from the other guy on your level and how to keep that station.

13 Aug 00 - Solo
Sunday was overcast with little lift. At least, I didn't find any. I had six flights in all. Two with the altimeter covered, two simulated cable breaks with no altimeter, a check ride with no altimeter, airspeed indicator or yaw string, and then as we put the plane back on line Stefan took the covers off the panel and said I should do the flight. Just like that. Actually my nerves vanished as soon as I strapped in and started running the check list. Ritual is an excellent thing. I had a good flight though must admit that I bounced on landing. I'd pulled the brakes and rounded out a little high, as a result the ASK-21 didn't want to sit down and stay down, so I let the second bounce go past and hit the brakes on the third which worked spot on and just gave a tiny hop followed by a reasonably straight run out. This was my 80th flight with 16 hours logged.

In retrospect, and thinking about one or two casual remarks on Saturday, I think the instructor cabal had planned that I should be sent solo if the check rides were OK but I didn't catch on. Just as well too: knowing ahead of time is a good recipe for nerves. The beers were on me after we'd packed the hangar.