Monday, May 28, 2007

Echo Kilo, downwind to land

Saturday morning arrived and I was, to put it lightly, somewhat with excitement.
Despite the lingering rain, I shot off to the local torture garden to inflict the self flagellatory delight that is 'exercise' onto myself, to expunge the guilt of a decent glass or four of Claret.
Returned home, quick shower (too many verrucas at the gym) and packed my aviating bag.... juice.....flask of tea for those windswept runway thresholds.....packet of dried meats and some peanuts.
Arrived airside must have been about 10.30.
Entire gliding club is sheltering inside clubhouse telling tall tales (you know the sort - all containing, at some point, the phrase....No Shit, there I was, thought I was going to die...)
It was raining. Big time raining. Winch driver was making tea, tug pilot reading an old copy of S 'n' G. Strong smell of wet dog abounded.

The sky is leaden and shares it's wet with us all.
This was going to be a long day.

Now as you know dear reader your humble chap here is actively engaged in a programme to learn how to do this properly. I flew solo last year (hussah!) and took my law, weather and flight theory exams in February - just before my mission to Austria. But I am still in limbo.
I am chasing numbers. That means doing circuits.
I have to have 50 solo flights (50!), plus 2 x 30 minute soaring flights (nearly there), take a flight test (few spins, couple of simulated cable breaks and some point landings) then I can fly off into other airspace.
Now to non gliders - it would appear that we have had a good spring. Not So.
April had a blocking high killing off all thermal activity, and Monsoon May has struck.
Today was no exception, but I was determined to get my knees in the breeze.

I ate an apple and appealed for some assistance in pulling a single seater out. This was met with the usual hoots of derision, 'death in the skies!' etc.
Press on I shall.

In the fullness of time, the rain stopped, and I borrowed the golf cart and towed my chariot all the way down the long grass strip that is runway 22 / 04 shivering all the way.

I arrive at the threshold by the bus and picnic table, and there is Alan the Artisan:
'Hello Mr. D'
'Ah Alan, well met, trust you are well?'
'Peachy, peachy..yourself?'
'Not bad.....can you do anything with the weather?'
'Fraid not. Looks a bit murky-dismal, but there is talk of this clearing through. You after a quick dash about the skies?'
'Sure am.'
'Ok when did you last fly?'
'Last week'
'Oh then - yes I remember, weather was shit then.'
'Was indeed - you didn't get away.' (Gliding jargon - means get enough height to move off to another thermal or area)
'No chance of it today either. How's your stunning kitchen and bathroom?'
'Desperate. I blame the tiler.'
'Do you indeed? Handsome and dedicated fellow is he?'
'He is a wastrel, and should he return I will have him whipped'.
'Ooh, sir.'

The next dialogue has been heavily censored, as it was both puerile and rude.

So I dutifully strapped my parachute on, clomb aboard said aeroplane and ran through my pre-flights.

Now - I have winch launched a few times, and this is really what this post is about. What hasn't gone away is the nervous anticipation, excitement and wonder.
I still say to myself - under my breath - as I run my checklists:
Am I really going to be flying? Really? I am really going to be flying a 'plane?
I mentioned this to Alan - is this usual, one wondered.

'Not unusual at all - I still get it every time I get in my glider. Why we all do it, you see'.
I'm with him there.

Ever since I was old enough to remember, I was fascinated by flight (Going to the 'Spitfire and Hurricane' Nursery in Biggin Hill may be something to do with it. )
Every time I strap myself in to the aircraft I still find myself thinking how lucky I am to have the wherewithal to do this.
Luck indeed.

First launch.
Pulled into the back of my seat and controls feel heavy. Airborne at 35 knots, then set to rotate at fifty.
This was a stinger of a launch...straight up to 70 knots through the rotation - max speed for a winch launch. G meter showing 2G positive. Ouch.
Rolled out at 1200' dropped the cable and went looking for lift.
Not looking good. Small blips. half a knot here or there and the size of bin lids. So little heating, but a lot of sink under the decaying front.
Yuk, yuk, yuk.
Entered circuit for downwind at 700' after 3 minutes futile searching. As usual - a blip at the entry to the circuit - 'Murphy's Thermal'.
Still not used to this thing down wind, so turn to diagonal and cross wind at 500' sideslipping to burn off the height. Finals at 300, then aim for the threshold diamond. Plenty of spoiler, keep speed to 50 knots, round-out on the ground effect as I cross the peri-track. touchdown and roll-out to the end of the cables.
Total air-time - 6 minutes.

Disappointing in someways - a circuit with some turns basically, and one more on the tally. But each time when I curse the weather, I still find myself saying:
I was flying up there.......

In one fell swoop (a pune or playe on words) I had reconnected with my childhood again. It was hard work, high workload and tiring - but that little corner of you that makes your heart pound, your mouth go dry was lit up like a Christmas tree.

It was Alan that broke the spell.
"Bloody hell, didn't you like it up there? Going again?'

I wiped the grass stain on my knee, swept the raindrops off the perspex bubble and sniffed air.

'Rude not to, really - now I'm here'......
The cheesy grin said more than words.

Repeat until poor again.

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