Sunday, January 2, 2011
Soaring Over Alabama
From the back seat I hear a calm voice say “Pull back on the stick.” I ease the stick back and the sailplane gently climbs into the clear blue sky. Wow! What a rush! This is my first time to ever pilot any kind of aircraft and the glider plane’s almost instantaneous response to my touch on the stick is thrilling.
The takeoff was stressful. Although my instructor, Mike Baker, had given me extensive basic flight instruction and orientation on the glider plane, the fact remains that I am a total novice as a pilot and jockeying the plane around while being towed by the Pawnee required all my concentration and a deft touch on the stick. By the time we reached 6000 feet I was already sweating profusely. And it took a supreme leap of faith to release that cable. No matter how much confidence I have in Mike and this glider plane, it was still scary to let go of the only thing with power and trust your life to the vagaries of invisible air currents and updrafts. But once I pulled the lever and released the cable, everything changed. The first couple of seconds were tense as I held my breath hoping the sailplane would not plummet nose first into the red Alabama dirt below but the plane shuddered a little in the Pawnee’s turbulence and then—magically—regained its composure and we were suddenly free and gracefully sweeping through the sky, silently soaring in the rising air.
But that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm and I eagerly retake the controls. For another hour or so I swoosh over Alabama, carving wide turns, gaining and losing altitude. And then it’s time to land. I spy the grass runway a couple of miles away, line up and begin my descent. I consistently keep the plane too high-- I gotta tell you, landing a plane without an engine is nerve wracking. I definitely do not want to be short of the runway—how will I regain altitude to avoid plowing up some farmer’s field with a very expensive sailplane? Mike repeatedly tells me to lower my glidepath, which I finally do. At the last minute he takes the stick and we skim across the grass runway, finally settling to a halt.