First soaring flight:
I was going into Saturday with some mixed expectations. I had texted with Tiki earlier that week and she hinted that I may be flying in some turbulent conditions. I thought to myself, turbulence.. oh yeah that’s pilot speak for thermals…so I packed my used ebay flytec 4005 with my flying gear. But somehow in the back of my head I thought that Bart would probably not let me use it. I only had 7 solo flights under my belt at the time and I could see Bart telling me that I didn’t need any instruments so early on, one less thing to think about.
I was happy as a blue jay in my grandpa’s pecan tree as I sat out in the mid morning sun flipping the pages of the Wills Wing Falcon 4 manual. Slowly, I put my wing togther and went through the preflight. The itchy little bugs that get on you when your down in the airport grass didn’t phase me. Next thing to do was to get the cart and get in the harness.
I didn’t bother to use the vario in the first flight of the morning…it was going to be my first time taking off in slight crosswind and I didn’t want any distractions. The 8th solo went without a hitch. Had the most rowdy tow I’d ever had up to that point but I had confidence in my wings and the jolts really didn’t bother me. During the flight I could feel my glider getting pitched up and down all over the place. I was thinking to myself, these are the thermals! Had a smooth landing on the borrowed M&M wheels (that’s what Niki calls them) and my belly. About the time I’m getting up Tiki pulls up in the dragonfly and says, you gotta start landing on your feet. I had practiced getting vertical at altitude and gone through some “finals” up in the air just with out the flair.
Back at the trailer with the pack of dogs I take a sip of water. By this time the dogs are having their late morning siesta sprawled out in the shade sleeping soundly. I asked Tiki, Hey do you think I can use some of my gadgets on this next flight? Tiki replied, Sure! Throw those gadgets on there. In the corner of my eye I could see Bart listening in and giving me that look that he does, and I just knew that Bart was going to say something to the contrary…but he didn’t. He seemed to be reluctantly giving me permission to use the vario.
So I strapped the vario on and put on my gopro hero2 on the keel and took off.
It was about 11:30 in the morning and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. This 9th solo was even rougher that than the last but I was frothing with excitement because I knew there were some thermals out there. Tiki waved me off on the south side of the airport and right when I released my nose popped up and my vario was beeping like crazy. I glanced at the vario when I released and we were at about 2400′ up. The only HG thermaling experience I had was months ago during a training tandem with Bart. I watched him as he set a turn and basically let go of the control bar and we circled up with the birds.
Where Tiki dropped me off I just circled and circled as the vario bleeped. I couldn’t believe it…I was gaining altitude the averager was showing a 3. I really really wanted to get above 3000′, I had never been that high before and within a minute I was there and still climbing…3250’…3500′ The air felt so good up there and it was cooler than the other side of a pillow. The thermal seemed to get scattered, and eventually I was out of it sinking. I really didn’t mind though because the view was amazing, I let my hands go from the bar and just enjoyed where I was at. Those moments are what keeps me coming back. I feel myself becoming connected with my wing and I directed it back to where Tiki dropped me off. Sure enough, there was the thermal again, I was at 1800′ and took it back up to 3000′ again I was so happy I was grinning and hooting through the whole climb. Up again, I can see Tiki towing up others, landing, towing, landing. I thought to myself, This is what its all about. Get high, stay high.
But in all my joyful bliss I was sinking again…Bart had showed me how to look for lift…birds are a good indicator he said….then suddenly as I was starting to think about landing at 1600′ a hawk like the one that was under the trailer when I arrived in the morning flew past me at an amazing rate of speed. He had the same brown and white checkered feathering and my neck jerked to follow where he went…South east, downwind, away from the LZ, I followed where the hawk went and there were three more circling up above a dust devil. I thought about making back to the LZ, and with a headwind I’d have a long hike back, then I though about getting the lift and not having to hike back…at this moment I was really excited and in a fleeting moment I thought that if worst came to worse I could land in the plowed fields…I had a ton of confidence so I went for it, I followed the birds and the birds kept circling south, then below them were 2 dust devils. I mean they looked like full blown tornadoes really, I approached the vicinity where the birds and dust devils were and to my delight there was a thermal and I was back up to 2400’…I decided to use this altitude to make it back over the runway…my arms were pretty worn out, mouth was dry, and I’m pretty sure Tiki and Bart were starting to get worried about me…
It really didn’t dawn on me that I had been up for over an hour until I my landing came to a stop as i skidded in on my High Energy cocoon and those M&M wheels. I was brimming with happiness, energy, stoke, whatever you want to call it. Thermal soaring…CHECK!!!