The Secret Life of a Glider Pilot

Adventures of a female glider pilot in Yorkshire


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Rusty cross-country flying

Next weekend, I have to return the Cirrus to its owner, for him to fly it prior to flying the Club Class Nationals at Pocklington near York, at the end of May.
So, last weekend was my last chance to fly her for a month or so, until I get her back and fly the Northern Regionals myself.

Having only had 2 flights in her so far, totalling 3 hours or air-time, I was desperate to get in the air and do something. I’d spent most of the previous week poring over long-distance weather forecasts, then as the weekend got closer, it appeared that Sunday would be ‘the’ day to go flying.

Saturday was taken up with family stuff, but the gliding weather wasn’t great so I didn’t mind! Snow and hail showers from some impressive-looking cu-nims swept across the airfield for most of the afternoon.

However I opened the curtains on Sunday to see a glorious clear blue sky. A little frost on the ground in places indicated that it had been cold overnight. With the clear blue sky, and the cold airmass, it had the potential to be a very good day. RASP indicated that it might overdevelop in the afternoon however, leading to some showers. This is the North however, so it was after 11 am when it got going. That left plenty of time to polish the glider, mess around with the Oudie, fit some new tape to the stick, etc.

Around 11.30 it became clear that it was time to launch. Lots of puffy Cumulus were filling the sky to the South, and even the club’s two-seaters were staying up for more than 20 minutes #sarcasm.

IMG_1965The inevitable stampede for the launch point began with the Duo Discus XL (pictured). We literally ran to the car and the glider, ready to take our place in the queue.
Unfortunately, we’d parked in a rather wet area of the airfield, and our Audi is useless at towing gliders through mud. We got the car stuck, and the only way to get it free was to take the glider off the tow-ball, and push. I must be stronger than I thought, as I managed to push it out by myself! She-Raaaa!

Resorting to the club’s Kawasaki 4×4 buggy, we managed to tow the glider out of the mud, and around to the queue at the launch point.

People were really starting to champ at the bit, as the sky looked glorious. With lots of pushing and shoving (of gliders) – and a bit of shouting – we managed to get the gliders into line to launch. Gliding launch points can get quite fraught – all of those pilots desperate to launch, combined with all of that testosterone – non-glider pilots can imagine how it gets. Actual glider pilots know.

At last, I put on my parachute and settled into the glider. A minor panic happened as I found I couldn’t declare my task to the Flarm logger from the Oudie, but I intended to fly around the club’s 100 Km pre-declared milk-run, so it wasn’t a huge problem.

The Eurofox arrived, and we towed off into a really cracking looking sky. Jim McLean, the tug pilot headed straight for a really juicy-looking cloud, and he wasn’t wrong. At 1300 feet the vario started to indicate strong lift. At 1400 feet above Sutton I couldn’t stand it any longer, and I released and turn hard left, straight into a strong, smooth thermal. That thermal showed 7.5 knots of lift on the vario’s averager, touching 8 at one point. I quickly found myself at cloudbase, which was 3,400 above Sutton (4,200) AMSL. Thinking that maybe it was a fluke, I flew around a little, sampling some other local climbs, and they were all strong – averaging 5 or 6 knots on the vario. So I thought I’d better get on with this! I circled back around behind Sutton Bank, logged an official start time over the line, and headed towards my first turn point at Pocklington.

IMG_1966With the wind behind me, I made rapid progress towards Pocklington, stopping to sample clouds and top up my height twice on the way. Conditions were very good, and I felt like a superhero charging down towards POC. It was interesting to note how much water there was on the ground near York; the winter floods and recent heavy rain still making its presence felt. Turning POC, I took another short climb to 5000 feet AMSL, as the next leg was into wind, heading towards Rufforth. Flying into a 15 knot wind slowed progress a little, but I soon reached RUF.

The sky to the North for the next few miles looked less good than it had, but I could see some more reasonable clouds near Easingwold, so I headed for those. I began to feel low south of Easingwold, having got down to around 2000 feet AMSL (less than 1000 feet above Sutton). I really needed to gain some height to get home, so I took a (relatively) slow climb of 2 knots, which petered out. I headed over Easingwold town centre, where I could see a patch of sunlight striking the ground, and bingo, I hit another 4-knot thermal. I spent a few minutes climbing in that until I had enough height to make sure I got back to Sutton… and from there on it was easy.

The slow section around Rufforth and near Easingwold cost me time though – my average speed around the task had reduced to 68.9 Kph, from a previous 85 Kph. Disappointing, but still, we got home safe and didn’t end up in a farmer’s field! And I suppose, it wasn’t a bad speed for my first cross-country flight in the Cirrus – which was also my first cross-country flight in 3 years!

The landing was the worst bit. Remember me saying we’d got the car stuck whilst towing the glider out? That was due to some heavy rain and snow showers the previous day, and it had left some wet and boggy patches on our already-saturated airfield. Gliders being towed across the airfield forced me to choose a landing line which went into some of the wet areas, and no sooner had we touched down than we hit one of them. The glider noticeably slowed in the first, then skidded in the second and came to a sudden stop in the third. I’d ploughed a furrow in the airfield without even trying, and covered the glider in mud at the same time! I now had a nice cleaning job to do before putting the glider away ready to take back to Jeremy. A dirty end to a nice flight!


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I got airborne again int he Cirrus yesterday. After having to miss Saturday due to my little boy having a virus, I was glad of the opportunity to get back in the air!
The forecast was for a reasonably sunny day, but with thermic conditions deteriorating by mid-afternoon. Looking at the sat pics showed why; a front approaching from the south west would spread a high layer of cloud and kill the thermals. So if there was to be any chance of a decent flight at all, it would have to be quick.

Thermic conditions didn’t really start until midday, by which time a big queue was starting to form at the launch point! The club was very busy with a load of booked trial lessons, scouts and other visitors, so the queue was lengthened every so often as a two-seater was injected in front of the waiting gliders. By the time I got a launch, it was almost 1pm, and thermal conditions were going nicely. I went straight off tow into a weak thermal, which I rode to cloudbase at about 4,100 feet AMSL (3,200 above Sutton Bank). I explored a few more thermals, and found it be be a bit more buoyant so decided to try a small cross-country flight. I knew I had a limited time in which to do it, so I thought the Sutton Bank (SUT) – Rufforth – Pocklington 100Km triangle would be good to try.

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Cirrus clouds showing approaching front (looking south west)

As I set off south from Sutton Bank towards York (and Rufforth), it was already easy to see the approaching weather front high in the sky to the south west. The feathery Cirrus cloud in the photo below decorated the sky, and on the horizon the layer of high cloud could be seen.

Keeping in mind Jeremy’s advice about optimal speeds to fly in the Cirrus, I did a high start over SUT and headed towards the next Cumulus, about 5 km away. I got there and found very little lift, so I flew to the next one, just west of Easingwold and almost in the Linton ATZ. As I was flying there I noticed the clouds near York we beginning to disappear. Looking south east towards Pocklington, the clouds had completely disappeared. Thinking that the conditions would cycle, I climbed in the thermal I had reached. But when I got to the top, I realised that if I carried on, I would be going into a cloudless sky and it didn’t look good. I suspected sear air was coming in from the south-east, on the south-easterly breeze.
Thinking better of it, I turned back towards SUT, where the clouds were still going nicely over the moors.

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Thermals over the moors, looking north-east

I spent some time just bimbling around, enjoying myself in the sunshine. I kept checking the view to the south, but no clouds were re-developing. In fact, the clouds closer to home were beginning to disappear too. The sea air was getting closer.

The last ‘proper’ thermal I took was overhead my home town of Thirsk, and it was both the best climb of the day, and the roughest! The vario averager showed 4.6 Knots, but the thermal was very rough and kept trying to throw me out. Thinking that maybe I was turning in the wrong direction, I swapped over from a left turn to a right, but that didn’t help. The climb ended abruptly and the cloud above me disappeared.

Now there was nowhere to go really. No clouds to head for, except a few over the high ground of the moors, and I realised I was beginning to fall out of the sky. 2000 feet quickly became 1000 feet and dropping, leading to an abbreviated right-hand circuit to land on runway 20.

IMG_1950

View to the south with sea air starting to come in

At 1 hour 30 it was a much shorter flight than I’d hoped for, but you can’t help the weather!

I have to take the glider back to Jeremy in a couple of weeks, so I hope I may get in another flight or two before I do – if the (northern) British Weather plays ball!


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First flight

IMG_1918As anticipated, I managed to get my first flight in 51 on Good Friday. As predicted, it was the only day of the weekend which was any good for soaring.

The day was slow to get going, which suited me just fine. Being my first flight on type – in a borrowed glider – I wanted to make sure everything was just right before launching. The glider also needed a good clean, having been in its trailer since mid-October!

Once everything was sorted I towed around to the launch point and joined the queue. Thermals were clearly popping, and even the club gliders were soaring.
I must admit to some pre-flight nerves – I was worried about the potential for a PIO with the all-flying tailplane on the Cirrus. Everyone I’d spoken to had warned me about its sensitivity in pitch… however in the end it was a complete non-event. I can imagine that in typical windy Sutton Bank conditions it might be more of an issue, so definitely one to remain aware of.

The glider flew as I’d imagined once I settled in – sweet handling, with light and responsive controls. The ailerons felt slightly stiff on the ground, but became much lighter in the air.

I spent the first hour or so getting accustomed to the feel of the glider, and working out the best thermalling speeds for given angles of bank. I found that with my weight, 45 degrees and 45 knots felt comfortable. Once comfortable, I stalled the glider a few times in different ways. Each time there was a very obvious buffet from the large tailplane, and the propensity to drop a wing even without any yaw. Another thing to be aware of!
I didn’t spin the glider on this first flight as by this point, I was below 1500 feet and I didn’t want to push my luck and risk a field landing.

After a while, I decided to land as it was cold at altitude, and I was starting to shiver. I suppose it was still March after all! Total flight time was 1 hour 32.
Coming in to land, I found the modified double-paddle airbrakes to be *very* effective (she comes down like a man-hole cover on speed) resulting in a very short ground-run🙂 (helped by running into a muddy patch on the airfield!) I never got chance to find out if the wheel-brake worked!

She’s a lovely glider, and I’m really going to enjoy flying her this summer. I’m looking forward to the next flight!


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Bank holiday weather

So… we’re at ‘weekend-eve’ already. And not just any weekend, but Easter Bank Holiday. 4 potential days of flying, yay!

But then again this is England and it has more than the proverbial capacity to rain on anyone’s parade.

I’d hoped to fly the Cirrus for the first time – and perhaps more than once – over the coming weekend, but the weather has other ideas.

Forecast for tomorrow, courtesy of the Mickey Mouse weather service on the BBC website:

mickeymouseforecast-yo7OK, it doesn’t look too bad, apparently wall-to-wall sunshine and light winds from the west. Great for Sutton Bank!

Looking a little deeper, the RASP service from Leeds Met. Uni.gives a little more detail. We can apparently expect a cloudbase of around 3500 AMSL, lasting from approx. 11am until 2pm and going downhill after that. Soundings from Leeds look reasonable, and given the westerly winds there may be a remote chance of some wave.

(For non-glider pilots or those unfamiliar with RASP, the image below shows the ‘Thermal updraft velocity’ at around 1pm tomorrow. The hotter the colour, the better the updraft velocity. Green, in Yorkshire Terms is “nobbut middlin” (for everyone else. ‘Poor to Average’). But it is only March I suppose!)

weather-fri25

But the rest of the weekend is looking a bit damp. So, tomorrow it is!

Tonight will be spent charging batteries and equipment, making sure the Oudie and Flarm units are up to date, and generally tearing round making sure I’ve got everything together to go in the car.

Tomorrow hopefully will be that blissful – and nerve-wracking – first flight on this type of aircraft. I’ll let you know how I get on. Wish me luck!


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Fab weekend!

I’ve just had such a great weekend. I managed to squeeze in a bike ride, and I actually managed to fly as well!

My last few duty days have been frustrating; twice, I’ve been within seconds of launching and the flight has been cancelled due to adverse conditions. Now you might think, why did I even get in the glider if conditions were that bad? The answer really is just down to bad luck. Both days were acceptable, if a little on the windy side, and I just happened to be in the cockpit when it went the wrong side of windy. Frustrating.

However, yesterday was a completely different story. We had a sunny morning with a light North Westerly wind, perfectly acceptable for aerotowing to the north behind the EuroFoxes. We had a large group of cheerful scouts who were really looking forward to flying. On top of that we had several trial lessons and student pilots.

I flew with some of the scouts – electing to fly front-seat as many of them were on the small and light side. Having the same problem myself, I decided it would be safer for me to fly from the front.

I have to say, those Scouts were some of the nicest I have ever flown with. They were the Tensing Scouts from Leeds I think.
Some groups of scouts are nicer than others – I have flown with some scouts who would barley say a word to me the entire flight. But these guys were great. They were interested and cheerful, and it really was a pleasure to fly with them. I went through the standard instructing patter and showed them how to fly the glider, and like many young kids, they picked it up quickly.

When the Scouts were all done, I did a couple of Trial Lessons – both again were really chatty, lovely people whom I enjoyed flying with. One man was visiting the area, and had just popped in on the chance of a flight. The other lady was having a 70th birthday surprise treat.

I think the man in particular might have been converted to gliding – he was asking questions about joining the club and how he would learn to fly. I hope he does.

In short, I had a really great day. It really makes it all worthwhile when you get to fly with people like that.

I’m now looking forward to Easter, when I hope the weather will be good enough for me to fly the Cirrus for the first time!


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Adventures with a Std. Cirrus

I’ve just looked at my blog and realised that it’s been almost a YEAR since I last posted! OMG how time flies.

Last year was poor; I had no glider and so spent the summer ‘just’ instructing when I could, and cycling the rest of the time. Problem is, I’ve got really into cycling and joined a local cycling club. I think the attraction of it is that it’s a lot like gliding actually – out enjoying the sunshine, powering yourself along, watching the weather forecast… it’s been great. Several of my gliding friends have taken up cycling in recent years so I guess I’m not the only one who finds it fun!

Anyway, back to the gliding.

Last October, I was lucky enough to be given a Standard Cirrus to fly for the year. Thanks to the lovely ladies at Women Glide, I was put in touch with Jeremy Pack from Lasham, who owns two gliders and was willing to lend one to a needy pilot for most of the next year. I applied, I got it, and went to Lasham to pick her up in October. I’d hoped to fly her before winter set in; however sadly the weather up North didn’t cooperate, and I ended up tucking her into a friend’s barn for a comfortable winter hibernation in late-November. It’s a good job I did – shortly after that, the airfield became so wet that I’d have struggled to get the trailer out! Ever seen a lake on top of a hill? It was almost that bad.

Hubby and I decided that this weekend was a good opportunity to get her out. The airfield was slowly drying up and the forecast for the week suggested dry weather. So yesterday, we towed the trailer up to Sutton Bank, parked it on the airfield and got the glider out.

The club had been contemplating flying; however the visibility was poor in the high-pressure murk, so they never actually launched a glider. The newest Eurofox did some circuits to enable one of our tug pilots to re-validate his licence, but that was it.

We decided that it had been a long time since October when Jeremy had showed us how to rig the Cirrus, and that we really ought to put her wings on to remind ourselves how to do it! A slightly frustrating hour passed as we struggled to rig the Cirrus on a bit of the airfield which resembled the surface of the moon (which is nothing like the smooth ground at Lasham), accompanied by quite a bit of swearing from my hubby, who was carrying the heavy bits. Good thing I’m used to it!
Eventually we got her rigged, and even got the all-flying tailplane on at first attempt! Remembering how to connect the controls was the next job, including putting all of the fiddly little pins in (you can see why they invented Wedekind Sleeves!) but eventually, she was rigged (see below). She looks really great for her age – the gel is in remarkable condition for a glider made in 1974.

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The next problem to resolve was the cockpit, which is rather large and which doesn’t have an adjustable seat-back. I got in with a parachute on and nearly disappeared into the back of it – I couldn’t reach any of the controls!
Hubby had the bright idea of stuffing our spare parachute down behind me, which brought me forward enough to be able to reach everything. Obviously I can’t fly the glider like that, but at least I know how much Dynafoam I need to buy! I can now go to AFE and be royally ripped off for 3 inches of the stuff.

Since there was no flying, all that remained was to clean her down and take her apart again. I’m really looking forward to flying her, I just can’t wait for weekend with some decent weather (or any weather!) Fingers crossed that Easter weekend is good!


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Teaching deaf students to fly

At long last I’ve had a duty day where the weather cooperated. Yesterday I did quite a lot of flying, in the lovely spring weather, which was great😀
There were enough students to go around, the spring weather seemed to bring everyone out of hibernation.

Near the end of the day, two people arrived at the club, a father and daughter. They came to have their photo taken with a glider, and it was immediately clear that they were both completely deaf. Sadly I don’t know any sign-language and only a few signs of Macaton, so the conversation we had was difficult, especially as it turned out that the visitors were also foreign. But the daughter wanted a flight, and so we went to get some information for her.

The lady wanted to know if it would be possible for her to learn to fly. I don’t see why not, and I know there are deaf glider pilots in the UK; a group of them came to Sutton Bank a few years ago with a DG500. But quite how you would teach someone to fly when they can’t hear you is another matter.

Thinking about it later, it occurred to me that the simulator we have at Sutton Bank might be the perfect tool. It would enable the instructor to demonstrate the various exercises and sit by the side of the cockpit, perhaps with an signing interpreter. Then, once the student learned the basic effects of controls, perhaps lessons could be given in a real glider. The real difficulty would be in developing a system of communication which would be useful in the air, and especially a clear ‘I have control’ signal from the instructor!

It’s an interesting problem, and one which intrigues me. Does anyone reading the blog have any thoughts or suggestions? Or perhaps the contact details of the deaf-students instructor in the UK?
If you do, then please email me or leave a comment. Thanks!