Tuesday, 18 August 2009


Finally, I only need to be 5 days older, and up I go alone. That is, putting it bluntly, without any snazzy linguistic effects lol

It'll be within a week to exactly 10 years after my first powerless flight, so I thought I'd put in some milestones since then:

28. Aug 1999 ~ First Glider Flight, K21 431 G-DEHO, Aerotow 20 Minutes ~ Flt #001
25. Oct 2006 ~ Began Ab-Initio Pre-Solo Gliding Syllabus ~ Flt #015
31. Jan 2007 ~ First Landing ~ Flt #024
07. Mar 2007 ~ First Takeoff ~ Flt #030
09. Jul 2007 ~ Landed in a field, K13 S G-CFYY, Aertow 25 Minutes ~ Flt #050
17. Oct 2007 ~ First Spin ~ Flt #075
14. Jun 2008 ~ First Mini X/C, K13 H G-DEVJ, Winch 2 Hours 15 Minutes ~ Flt #108
23. Jun 2008 ~ First Flight on Type - Duo Discus ~ Flt #112
12. Nov 2008 ~ First Aerobatic Flight, K21 431 G-DEHO ~ Flt #157
04. Feb 2009 ~ Flying Above 10" Snowfall ~ Flt #173
15. Jul 2009 ~ Flight on PW-6U Demonstrator, PW SP-3751 ~ Flt #218
17. Aug 2009 ~ First Landing in Remote LAS Field - Epic Failure ~ Flt #230
17. Aug 2009 ~ Cleared for Solo Flight ~ Flt #230

There are hundreds of others, for example first C/B, first stalls, first flights on many other types, but those are just a few that I've flown through. Flying in the snow has to be one of the most memorable, the way that all you see is either a beautifully brilliant white or a deepening lush blue is just incredible, and everything is so soft. No wind, no turbulence, and even the landing run is soft through 10" of snow.

As I'm now cleared for solo, my medical passed and filed, the Ab-Initio syllabus complete and declared, all that stand's between me and solo now is an oral exam on Air Law, and a checkflight on the morning of 23. Aug 2009. With no more excercises I need to demostrate that I can fully fly/recover from, I feel right now that I'm about to get into the aircraft alone for the first time.

It's a difficult feeling to explain. It's where you know you're ready and capable of doing something, that in a way you've done so many times before, but you still haven't done it yet. You've been waiting for this for so long, and you've been so unsure for so long about what you'll feel like on the day, that this semi-final pre-solo feeling is strangely unexpected.

It feels like being on the last day of school again... You've had all the lessons, all the memories of the lessons, all the ups and downs along the way (excuse the pun), all the exams, and you're about to step out into the big wide world. Just, this time, that step is something with a little more responsibility than entering the summer holidays.

In addition, I've just realised when I begin the solo, it's infact a long time before my wheels lift up from the earth. As soon as I'm in the winch line, I'm then committed. There's no turning back. When my K13 is in the line, boxed in with another aircraft infront one foot from my nose and another one foot from my rudder, with the bus boxing me in from one side and cables on the other, I'm with that glider and there's no getting away from it until I put it somewhere where I am free. And I'll have to do that on my own, and that's not with an instructor in the back acting as safety pilot. I'm the safety pilot, and the pilot in command at the same time, and it's 101% upto me to get that K13 out of the winch line by myself and put it just to the North, South, East or West where I can get some space from it. Being in this situation is to be honest, scary as hell.

What's running through my mind now is, "OMG, it's really the real deal in five days. 120 hours away. Am I really ready? Can I really do it? All this flying so far, is it enough to cover all the eventualities? Will my mind go blank if something goes wrong, will I have the instinct to react the way I've been taught in the critical moments of the flight? How will the aircraft fly with the different weight distribution? Will I nose-up unexpectedly on the ground run? Will I overspeed, if so will I have the courage to kick in bootfuls of rudder to signal? And what if I do, and the weak link breaks as I've yawed hard over? How messy will it look? And if I get to the top ok and release the cable ok, will I have the courage to let go from the release knob and re-trim the aircraft for level cruise? Will my turns be coordinated? Will I be flying on the fast side? Will I be on the slow side? Will I judge my high-key correctly? Will I turn final approach at 300ft? Will my approach be smooth? Will my speed be all over the place? Will I remeber to put on my approach speed? Will I balloon the landing? Will I land hard? Will I fly-on? Where will I stop rolling? How many beers will I have to buy all in the bar that night?"

As soon as I push down the nose of the glider onto the nosewheel, I'm then in for it. I didn't mention this earlier, but as soon as both feet are in, and I'm sat down in the front, I can't get out. As soon as I'm in, I'm locating my feet on the pedals, and then shuffling around to get the parachute comfortable in the backrest. As soon as I'm comfortable, I'm reach over to get the lap-straps together and buckling them together and tightening them, I bet two-bob I'll be tightening them as much as possible, more than usual. I then reach over the left, and lay the left shoulder strap over my 'chute strap and click it into the buckle. I do the same for the right shoulder strap, and then tighten both as much as possible, again I bet two-bob I'll be tightening them more than usual. Then I'll shuffle about a bit to get comfortable under the straps. Then I'll realise I've got the aircraft strapped to my back, and already it'll be time for the checks. The pre-flight checks will go quicker in theory, as there's no instructor for checks as well. However, I'll probably do each throughly; CBSIFTCBES. C - Controls. Full and free? I'll move them around "the box" and move them around again, check the wingtips for airleron deflection and ask my instructor who will be standing outside the cockpit for the first time if my tail surfaces all look good. I'll visually check rudder deflection on the pedals, for adjustment, and probably check the length-rails for full-length. B - Ballast. For solo flight, is the glider ballasted ok? Am I heavy enough? If not, do I have weights in, and if so, are they nice and secure? I'll double check the attachtment bolts. S - Straps. Straps tight? I'll re-tighten them all and shuffle about a bit more, and place all the adjustment cords clear from the footwell , stick and buckle release. I - Intruments. Any broken glass? Altimeter set to 0000.oo? Vario's looking good? ASI reading what I expect? Audio Vario on? FLARM on? Compass reading roughly the right direction? F - Flaps. Flaps not fitted to a K13, so I can skip this check. T - Trim. Trim lever full and free, for this I'll hold the stick central in my right hand and then reach across to the right with my left and move the lever all the way back and forwards to check for full and free movement, then set it just forward of center for approach, should I have a launch failure. Which I damn well hope not. C - Canopy. This is where I shut myself out from the world. I reach up and bring the canopy down, pull back the white know and then slot it in, locking it down and visually checking the pin is located properly and protruding. I'll then lightly push the white and red levers forward, to double-check it's closed and push up on the frame, to triple check it's down and locked. I'll then probably ask to ensure the rear DV panel is fully closed. B - Brakes. I shall fully open the airbrakes, check left wing top and bottom paddles, and then right wing top and bottom, then half both wings, then fully closed and check they're locked. I'll then double-check they are locked by pushing on the blue lever forwards through the over-centre lock. E - Eventualities. My least favourite part. In the event of a launch failure, what do I do for that particular day, glider and conditions. Firstly, push forward on the stick by the correct amount for the particular stage of launch failure, to the best recovery position suited to the failure height. Then wait for the manouevering speed to build up, usually 55 kts and then make a descision whether to go striaght ahead or not. If possible go straight ahead and open the brakes to the suitable setting should they be required, if not make a turn. Turn conditions depend on the conditions of the day and failure height. S - Sunglasses. Down, over eyes, to look like a glider pilot =). I'll then say something like "Ok, right" and take a breath. I'll ask for the black link, once I have confirmation of a black link I'll say "Cable on please" and the instructor will get down under the glider with the cable, I'll hear the rings hitting the release, then the "Close!" and I'll release the pressure on the yellow knob. I'll then keep my left hand on that knob until I'm above 500ft, but for first solo probably right off the wire. I'll reach across with my right hand, and close my DV panel. The instructor will walk to the non-cable side wing, and lift it up to level my wings. I'll hold the stick in my right hand, and shuffle about to get comfortable once the glider is level. I'll then say something like "Ok, rock and roll". Then I'll wait in complete silence and glance at the ASI to recognise the 50 mark. I may glance across to the launchpoint to look at everyone, then look away to the cable and watch the curve in the cable become a straight line where the slack has been completely taken up. Perhaps I'll be able to hear the "All Out" signal, the faster buzzer from the bus then suddenly as my glider slides the first centimeter forward I'll grip the stick a tad more, my glider shall accelerate and I'll be focussed on keeping the wings level, keeping the aircraft directed at the winch, and forward pressure on the stick to stop the nose rocketting skywards before I'm ready. Then rest of it will be happening to quickly to document here, but hopefully 27 seconds later I shall be completely free, not still on the cable, but just me, the glider and the sky that envelops our only world.

To put it this way, how much solo means, I take off on a couple of wheels from beside my friends and family in a K13 from Lasham, only to touchdown on the tarmac at JFK International, on Manhatten Island on 20 wheels, not solo this time, 560 of us all making it from across the Atlantic Ocean in 7 hours with an extra four jet engines. It's the first takeoff in a long flight, with the same family along the way, the same friends along the way with some new ones boarding, and you never know which ones will make the transition from A to B to family. It's kinda called life, and part of life are dreams. And dreams will always come true if you try to bring them to reality.

And what's that got to do with solo you ask? It was a childhood dream to fly solo at 16, and here I am, 16 days, one oral exam, a checkflight/assesment flight, alot of adrenalin and 120 hours away...

Rock & Roll then... crazy

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