October 18, 2015

Sunday morning at Cowboy Up there was a steady wind out of the East which is uncharacteristic for Wharton Regional Airport. It was mostly clear with wispy cirrus clouds way up above and the chilly autumn air made a light jacket a requirement. Only a handful of buzzards were up around 100′ looking for a lift.

I bought a ridiculously long wind sock (15′) off ebay that was claimed to be used for PG pilots because it showed more texture in the air due to its length. I use and old 10′ surf fishing pole and surf rod holder to hold up the wind sock. It’s my ritual to put up the wind sock every time I go to the airport. Anyways, With Sunday mornings gusts the 5 meter windsock was dancing to and fro. I was slow to set up my glider due to the shifting winds and was constantly worried that it was going to roll away(m&m wheels) or much worse, get flipped over, by a wild gust. I’d be damned if my glider was to flip over, so George showed me a cool way to tie down the glider from the nose.

Once I got the Falcon 195 set up with much assist from George who has a plethora of knowledge, I got a great lesson on high wind ground handling techniques from local legend Mick Howard. I practiced turning and walking the glider in the gusty wind a number of times till I felt I was comfortable. Still the gust were unpredictable as we approached lunchtime.

By1:30pm pilots were finishing lunches and starting to think about getting up in the air. I went through a preflight of my glider then Ingo stopped me on my way to get the cart. He wanted to see my preflight procedure…I saw the merit in this…even though I was really getting motivated to be on tow. Ingo walked me through his preflight and I showed him mine. It was nearly 2 o’clock by the time I was on the cart.

Still the wind was East and maybe a bit of SE around 10mph…we waited for the big sock to be in our favor and it was a go go go.

This was my roughest tow to date for me. There was a point where Tiki’s tow plane was bouncing around so much I was expecting to get the rope any moment. Maybe after about 800′ the air was much more smooth and we climbed up through various thermals.

After reading through this yahoo groups and talking with other pilots, I was really thankful to have reached so many lengthy flights in such a short amount of time. For me it’s not uncommon to have a 30minute flight…then I talk to others that say that it took them many months or years to have a flight like that…so lately I have been really thankful, and been mindful of the input and whom it’s coming from.

Back to the flying…I release and to my dismay there were no big fat thermals, there were very few strong ones that were far apart surrounded by strong sink. I really tried to get a good bank into these strong thermals but the moments that i did spend in the cores were short. It was either the way it was drifting, or there were clusters of small cores, whatever it was it was really hard to center it.

After a while, I was running low on altitude and I was being cautious of my position in relation to the wind and trying to keep an eye out for general aviation traffic that was taxiing down the runway. The East wind wants to blow you right over the runway, and as I set up my approach sure enough a big ass plane is there, over my extended downwind approach. He is just warming up his engine creeping down the taxiway. So not to worry I glided further south to make an approach past the antenna and the big plane was still there, he had just turned around…so I headed more east to lose some more altitude and let the plane go by, and that damn antenna was in the back of my mind.

A buzzard flys past me heading towards the barn. I thought for a beat that maybe he knew where the lift was…turns out that old buzzard was just cruizin along… I decide to go on approach…downwind south of the antenna…and my heart sank because I was low low and the bob’wire fence was going up rather than going down. My heart skipped a beat, and in that same period of time I realized that I was going to have a change of plans. I just committed to the idea of landing in the neighbors field. I had flown over it a bunch of times I knew that it was suitable. I turned on base well away from the antenna and thought about carrying speed in this turbulent air…on final just did my thing and actually had a nice foot landing… Good thing I had foot landing experience because that field is really a bunch of brambles and thistle, a wheel/ belly landing would have been a tangled up mess that would have probably led to a whack, or worse.

As I was backpeddling the falcon back to the airport I was getting snagged in the low lying thorny vines and sharp brush. I was making slow progress tripping in divots and anthills…embarrassed of my botched landing. Yes botched I say…for me this was a failure..I felt miserable…I just wanted to get my glider over the fence and tied down, call it a day and have a beer. I glanced back at the trailer and I could see Niki coming to help me out along with George and Bart. I thought, “oh boy i’ll never hear the end to this” . I glanced back at the windsock…”oh look no wind” i thought. I thought I would just turn that glider around and trot over to the fence and get out of there…instead of backpeddling and tripping. Then, just as I started turning tail to the wind, a little gust flipped me over. NOOOooo!!!My glider gently flipped on to the king post. I couldn’t believe it was happening, how could I let it happen…I had just been through this and had been warned over and over about it, literally…

no harm, no foul, just a big dent in my ego…but I couldn’t end on a bad note…even though my instructors and fellow pilots said I made the right call, i felt like I had done poorly…so I went up for another tow and this time more determined than ever to make it on the grassy runway…my mind was elsewhere and couldn’t find the lifty stuff and sank out quickly…on to the approach…”theres that damn antenna,”i thought…”don’t fly over the runway”i thought…all this thinking and not a lot of flying going on…that is the best I can summarize that second flight…made it to the field but crosswind belly landed it…another failure…can’t end it on this note

Another tow…my arms were feeling the burn…this time I was flying with no tail fin, a first for me…and by this time the evening air was smooth…I tried hard to just focus on having fun…and enjoying my flight…look around and take it all in…i milked every last little evening thermal for all it was worth..and stayed in a comfortable position within the runway…the east wind just faint now…low and on base I hugged the taxiway and came in for a short final…it was too short…and my mind wasn’t moving quite as fast…my landing technique was pitiful…a late “flaire” that put me on my belly and wheels again….I laughed out loud…I wanted to end the day on a good note…

All this flying we do really is something special. I feel privileged just to be able to do it…it really is awesome…

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