I arrived at the airfield today full of intrigue and confidence after my long flight yesterday where I did a lot of the flying myself. We had to meet at the flying club house for our initial briefing from the course commander; Allan. With all of us who had actually turned up, as there were some who had not for reasons unknown but clearly important, Allan welcomed us all to the course, gave us a briefing and then wasted no time in getting us over to the airfield where we would be learning the ground aspect of gliding, that being; to attach the cables to the gliders, signal for the winch operator, handle and move the aircraft and looking for the dangers (as gliders can sneak up you if you’re not paying attention). There are two of us in wheelchairs who can obviously not do the ground crew part and so we learnt the console and radio.
The console is a computer where you create the flights. This is done by selecting the correct aircraft type and it’s ID. Then you must input the instructor (piot) and ensure that they are qualified to teach on the airframe. Next you must input the details of the student. Then you do the checks on screen and prepare it for launch. It is imparitive that the details are correct ensuing the airframe has the correct crew for flying hours and who pays the launch fee. We had four gliders up today trying to get as many launches in as possible for the students to get the most from today and so the console could get a bit hectic. You also have to radio the winch operator to firstly take up the slack on the cable and then give the command “All out” which means, give it some beans ’cause the birds gotta fly (or something along those lines), however none of this can happen without your say so in the console as you have the radio so you know that the flght can be 100% logged correctly because nothing goes up if you don’t use the radio.
This video shows how a launch occurs. The arm being waved below shoulder height is telling to “Up slack”, and above the shoulder is “All out”. I am confident you will see the difference.
So you can see why the airfield is a dangerous place and also why I would strucggle to do this bit but use the labour where it is best suited and us two in the chairs do the console which makes perfect sense. I pull my chair alongside the console cabin and transfer accross. Then I shuffle on my bum to the seat and I am lifted on to it, simples!
I covered so much of my training objectives toady (TO’s) it was incredible. I have done turns where you have to use the ailerons and rudder together as well as back stick to keep the nose up to maintain speed and height. I have learnt to trim the aircraft so as not to have to work so hard which I am doing now as a matter of course or habbit which is good and I am getting beter at getting it right. I have done stalls (oh they’re a barrel of bloody laughs they are). I have done soaring, finding a thermal and staying in it in a constant turn to gain altitude. I have worked on the flying of the glider during the launch, and now I actually fly as opposed to being along for the ride. I have been learning when to relese the winch cable from the glider. I have been flying circuits and working on my approaches and this afternoon it all came together. I am not going to go and buy my Aviator shades with gold rims and call myself “Maverick” but my final flight of the day went like this.
“OK George, you have been following me through the launch and for the most part of it you have been flying it, and as you have just agreed with me, you are now FLYING the lauch and not riding it. So this time I want you to fly the launch from the beginning, OK?” Well, I had been a lot happier with the last launch and I had been following his control movements most of the day and so if he was happy that I could do it then so was I so I said yes. “Remember what we have said about balancing on the main wheel and climbing without catching the tail wheel on the floor when you initially leave the ground. And think about when you will pull the release for the winch. Let’s go.” I was actually going to fly my first launch and believe me it was windy which made it all very “sporty”.
I started my checks which you do before every flight; Controls….full movement of stick and rudder….happy. Ballast….the maximum weight of the two occupants of the aircraft must not be exceeded, check card…..happy. Straps…..mine are tight, “Are your straps tight Allan?”…”Yes” is the reply. Instruments….all appear servicable and again I check with Allan that his all appear to be serviceable and with the “Yes” as a reply…happy. Flaps…not applicable….happy. Trim….check that it moves fully back and forth and then re centralise….happy. Canopy, mine is closed and in tact, I know Allan’s is closed as mine locks his in but I ask if all is ok in case of damage…..happy. Brakes….apply airbrakes fully and check on each wing, then close down and lock….happy. Eventualities….strong wind from left to right so if cable brakes and we are low, try to land if unable, then fly to the right on a shortened cicuit and land….happy.
The ground crew approach with a cable and I request that they attach it to my aircraft which they do. This is done by me pulling the release to open the catch, they insert the cable and tell me to close which I do by pushing the release forward. A sharp tug ensures we are good to go and so now we wait. The graoundcrew pick up my wing and keep me level. Signal to the console to “Up slack” and as soon as the glider is rolling they signal “All out”. And this is me, me flying my first launch being in control. We are off of the ground, we are climbing and I am flying the climb, not riding it, more to the point we got off the ground even with the wind so I haven’t stacked it which is good. We climb, we climb, I look down to see that we are approaching the edge of the airfield so I hold the climb until the winch pulls the nose over to the level and pull the release. The first time I have got it right but lets not get cocky. Ok, we are on our own so check the attitude of the aircraft and settle the speed, trim it to 55 knots and start the circuit with a 45 degree turn I need to run parallel to the airfield but the wind is blowing from my right to left and I am drifting so turn slightly in to the wind but not too much. Height is decreasing slowly but that is Ok, speed is fine, being pushed around by the wind but just don’t fight too much. Check the airfield and turn and now it’s time to line up for the approach. To the right of the console. This is where I have screwed up before on the last few times, airspeed ok, attitude not bad, bumpy with the wind, don’t blow it, don’t fight too much. Ground getting nearer, bit of a sideways action so must correct, Allan is definitely gonna take over her but until he does keep working. Closer, closer, closer and then from the back seat “Watch your wingtips, keep your wings level…” and then there was the bump and loud noise of us rumbling along the grass. I did drop the wingtip before we had stopped but not bad enough to cause damage and they have the runner in case of that. Allan had operated the airbrakes for me as I had run out of hands, he had put his hand next to the stick to stop me doing anything stupid when fighting with the cross wind but I had just flown my first launch, circuit and landing with only the airbrakes being operated by Allan, and I cannot begin to describe the feeling inside me.