This day I flew with Rick Kohler, the owner of Sundance Aviation. Rick is a nitpicker, demanding precise performance from his students. But that’s the kind of instruction I want. Let me know what I’m doing correctly but also tell me how to improve.
The first two landings were in calm air and I nailed it each time. On one of the landings Rick said “In a hundred of my landings, I couldn’t have done it better. But then on the next approach we found ourselves in 1,000-foot sink, needing to wrap up the turn to final and use full speed brakes to get down on the landing spot. It was a good landing but not as smooth or as gentle as the other two. All my landings that morning were safe and without incident. Rick said If it hadn’t been for the day’s increasing turbulence, he would have cleared me for solo, but decided to wait until’ the next morning’s calm air. Sounded good to me!
We completed five landing pattern flights that morning by 11:00 am and I wouldn’t fly again until 3:00. My Bloomington friend, Tom Gettinger, suggested a side trip to Madrid, N.M. (Mad-rid as the natives pronounce it) Being only 45 minutes away, I took advantage of the four-hour break and headed to Mad-rid.
Madrid claims fame as a hugely successful coal mining town, founded in 1835 that employed 2,500 miners shipping 100 tons of coal a day on 100 trucks to distributors. Prior to the 1940s Madrid was incredibly prosperous using the latest mining technology. The community had a minor league baseball team, the Madrid Miners, and built one of the nation’s first illuminated ball fields.
After WW II, the nation began turning to gas, oil, and hydropower for its energy and the Albuquerque & Cevrillos Coal Company, which owned the town of Madrid, started losing coal contacts. In 1970 the CEO of the company tried to sell the town for $250,000 but no buyers were found. Madrid became a ghost town of abandoned homes and buildings.
Then the artists discovered Madrid, and today it’s a thriving colony of art studios, gift shops, biker bars, and historical museums. Promoting it even more was the movie Wild Hogs in which John Travolta and his three motorcycle riding buddies discovered Madrid and Maggie’s Dinner. Maggie’s is still in Madrid but is now a gift shop. Madrid that Sunday was busy with a lot of tourists and bikers. After a visit to Maggie’s, a Greek Salad at a café, and touring the Coal Mine Museum, I headed back to Moriarty.
At 3:30 Rick asked if I wanted to do some thermal soaring or more pattern work. Thermal soaring at 16,000 feet is easier, but I opted to the more concentrated landing pattern work. Once cleared for solo that would be my biggest challenge and I wanted to show all observers I could handle them properly. We made five landing pattern flights and each was uniquely different with thermals and sink rates drifting across the landing pattern. Each instance took a significantly different pattern but all ended up satisfactorily.
I was glad to have these different challenges and feel confident in my ability to handle the varying conditions. Rick was very complimentary of my skills and Navy pilot training in general. Rick is a good guy and quite interesting. I was aware that opera music was always playing in the hangar at Sundance and asked him about it. He said he used to sing with a symphonic choir. Of course, I had to tell him about my pilot/symphonic conductor son, Eric. Also, after sharing a few of my flying stories, he said, “You ought to write a book.” That’s when I promised to give him a copy of each of my three books. Rick and I have a good relationship.
We’ll see how it goes tomorrow. I sure don’t want to break one of their gliders.
Okay, a big day for student pilots. The First solo. I have had many first solos in various aircraft over the years, but today was my first in a glider. Flying gliders is a challenge. Unlike powered aircraft where you can compensate for being too low or too slow in a landing pattern by adding power, gliders are at the mercy of the movement of the air mass. Three consecutive landings can have dramatically different dimensions depending on rising or descending air. The glider’s spoilers can slow you down or increase your descent, but if you find yourself low and slow and short of a runway, watch out for those cows in the farmer’s field.
Every training flight I’ve had has given me more awareness and better skills. No doubt my flying experience has accelerated that learning. Deciding when I felt confident that I was ready to solo and my instructor’s confidence coincided precisely.
Andrew (my instructor) and I flew two flights early in the morning. The first was a normal pattern and he didn’t say a word the entire time. The second flight, as I guessed, was going to be a premature tow-rope brake at 300 feet to see if I could make a 180 degree turn and land downwind on the runway. I was ready and nailed it.
Andrew got out of the glider and said, “Go fly, and have fun.” I did, making two landing pattern flights of short duration and then two high tow flights looking for thermals. I found a couple of weak thermals that morning but was back on the ground after 30 minutes.
I need to get 10-solo flights prior to my check flight, so tomorrow I hope to get the remaining six in the morning. I’ll also have a couple additional training flights with my instructor to polish those check flight maneuvers.
Andrew and I were going to go up again that afternoon, but rain clouds moved in and all flying was cancelled for the day. The plan is for me take the glider pilot oral test two days from now and then the flight test the following day on July 4th. If all goes well, I could be heading back to Indiana Friday, July 5th.
Glider flying is really quite safe. Speeds are slow and emergency landings “Off Airport” are very doable. Sadly, one of the visiting pilots from Tennessee was killed yesterday. He made an emergency landing in the desert and although he hit a fence post there was very little damage to the glider but he was found dead in the cockpit. Speculation is that he had been flying above 14,000 feet and that his oxygen system failed making the emergency landing necessary. I don’t know his age or other details but the club he was with, ten other members, left to return home. How sad.