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Dear readers

We present a story of flying solo for the very first time.

All at the tender young age of 16!

Yours sincerely, POSOWOCO

Anyone ever wondered about a first solo in a creaking open-air glider?.

Would it be on cold weekend and would it be a memory for many years?.

Would it take place at an old airbase in Yorkshire?.

Would you want it passionately, because the chance has come your lucky way?.

Would you be prepared to learn theory and practical aspects of flying?.

Every weekend?

For over half a year in all weather?.

This is the story of my first solo flight on a cold morning at a lonely airfield.

I could have stayed home in the warm.

But, no I just had to fly, I had to leave the earth.

It was time to try doing something difficult and time consuming.

It was time to find out if I had the aptitude for the air.

 

A visit to the museum of memories

A recent visit to a museum contained a display shown in the image opposite.

It brought memories back, not only of flying.

But of being at a time when my mind was emptier.

It was at that time more available for possibilities.

The aircraft strapped to the museum ceiling

A flying background

I first flew solo when I was just 16 and knew “not a lot”, I thought. The aeroplane to take me to the skies and cutting my earthly links was a forces Kirby Cadet which had 2 seats in tandem. The instructor would sit in the back seat shouting instructions and I was to sit at the front.

The plane was launched by a winch (a metal cable that pulls fast enough to get our wings flying) to well below 1000 ft. The flights would last just over 10 minutes (more on summer days). That would be enough time to receive instructions, perform any exercises and slowly get around the “circuit”. Then we would land before we ran out of nerves and height.

Kirby cadet landing

Basic controls of the air

The cockpit and controls were the most basic ones I have ever seen in an aircraft. There were some knobs, 2 dials and a variometer. You were strapped in hard with a 4 point harness, no parachute as you weren’t going to get high enough to use one.

There was only a stick, rudder pedals, spoiler lever and cable release knob. Nothing adjusted. A small console housed the instrument panel, which is as uncluttered as you could get. The panel was only fitted with an altimeter (height), ASI (speed) and Cobb-Slater ‘Cosim’ variometer (up/down indicator).

Kirby cadet cockpit

Takeoff

A first arrival

I arrived at a forgotten WW2 airfield in Yorkshire, early on a freezing winters morning. Everywhere had a coating of snow, just enough to cover the ground but not enough to wade, walk or run in.

After an initial briefing on the procedure and what to expect, I was taken to a lonely open-air glider and was helped to strap in by one of the instructors. Another instructor got in behind me and fiddled with his harness.

A landrover appeared from the distance towing behind it a long, thin metal cable with a tiny parachute on it. This I was told, was the winch cable that would drag us up into the heavens.

All set and ready

When we were all set to go (the instructor did his controls and instruments check out loud for me). I acknowledged all was ok and another helper lifted the wing of the glider on one side. The winch was attached and the Landrover and other personnel cleared off out of the way.

This is it I thought what I had “dreamt” of. I was at the beginning of the glider pilots course, the first lesson was just entitled “air experience”. Here I was told to listen, look and feel the sensations of taking off, flying around and then landing.

Take up slack! the instructor behind me called, the winch was signalled to start slowly being operated to tighten up the cable at the front of the glider. All out! he then blasted into the cold air; another signal was sent to the winch operator via flags and the glider started to move on its clumsy skid.

The wingman holding the wing was now running. I was on my way!

Circuit

Circuit pattern

First Flight

There I was strapped into an ageing flying machine, hurtling down a grass runway bumping and clawing itself into the air, I looked at the airspeed and it was increasing, at some point, we would leave the ground and things would settle down I was told.

It was icy cold and I could hear the noise of the winch pulling on the wood and canvas, as well as hearing the aircraft creak and bounce in the air. I think it’s the noises and physical feelings of my first take off that has stuck with me the most.

At about 800 feet, the instructor dipped the aircraft (to put some slack into the winch cable) and then pulled the release cable. This was a special moment as I was told what would happen if the winch would not release, ah joy when it did then quiet. Just the noise of the air rushing past us, no creaking from the winch pull.

The Standard Circuit

The first thing we had to do was to turn to the left to get into the “circuit”. This is generally a rectangle around the left (or right sometimes) edge of the takeoff/landing area. This circuit is where all my training would take place. Being such a low height and a fairly heavy glider, I would be descending at a fair gradient back towards the airfield. The left turn also ensured I always had the airfield in view.

On this bit of the circuit, the instructor explained and demonstrated the controls and then let me have a go. You have control he shouted. I have control I replied, loudly and nervously, all was not too bad – I had read some theory first anyway.

First Turn

The first turn was onto the crosswind “leg”, then we turn left again for the “downwind” leg. The ground was getting nearer and the features larger all the time, we had lost a few hundred feet already. Soon it was time for the penultimate turn onto “base” leg where we would turn left again just in line with the takeoff position. Most things by now were returning to “normal” size.

Inevitably then, there I was on “final approach” where my instructor was busy lining the aircraft up. This must be both laterally and vertically for that perfect landing every pilot aims for. I could see the caravan and Landrover at the take-up position where we flew past and floated above the ground before finally touching the ground. The aircraft rapidly lost speed and the left-hand wing dropped to the ground. My first circuit had finished and it was exhilarating and peaceful at the same time.

Want to do that again? shouted my instructor; yes please sir! I shouted back. The thought of me flying it on my own suddenly struck deep inside me. Can I do it? Do I want to do it? Have I the aptitude and courage to do it? I would find out in the next few weekends.

The Course

Syllabus

Getting slightly technical, the list below contains the types and topics covered to show the breadth of things needed to keep things safe and fun.

These were all carried out at bleak weekends until the final item in the list – Solo!

That last item would mark the end of my training, the end of seeing the people that had helped me get this far.

Oh, and the awarding of my “wings”.

Lesson Covering
Lookout Technique Scan cycle & collision avoidance
Effects of Controls Effects of elevator, rudder, aileron & flaps (if required)
Speed monitoring & Control
Adverse Yaw Co-ordination
Use of Trim Use of Trim
The Straight Glide Scan cycle Drift, Track & Heading
Turning Entry, Exit and Maintenance
Slip & Skid Regaining a Heading
Steep Turns
Spoiler Effects On/off
Approach Control Normal Undershoot
Overshoot
Landing Final Approach
Roundout
Hold Off
Landing
Cross Wind Landing
Circuit Planning Reference Point
Normal Circuit
Modified Circuit
Effect of Wind Height Judgement
Launching Equipment Speeds
Techniques
Failures & Launch Abandonment
Stalling Symptoms 1G Stalling
Accelerated Stalling
Lack of Effective Elevator at Stall
Reduced G not reliable Symptom of Stalling
Pre & Post Flight Operations Pre-flight inspection
Recording of flight time, make glider safe
Solo Normal Take-off, Circuit and Landing

Observations

The essential thing about keeping an aircraft flying is its airspeed (not ground speed). The important thing to realise is that the angle of attack of the wing relative to the air is the thing that keeps the machine afloat. So, by looking at a bit of string (yes!) in front of the glider you can tell what’s going to happen next.

As you come into landing the aircraft, the wind speed may drop due to effects from the ground (similar on a river bed) you will see it on the string first.

The trick is to accelerate by steepening the glide slope towards the runway. “Stick forward”! shouted the instructor.

Nature

The natural thing about flying is that it is weather-bound, it’s not something you can just get on with. The slightest deviation from good conditions can render the whole weekend un-flyable. Standing around and looking at the skies, hoping for that change, that chink of availability for a spoonful of flying is soul-destroying and wasteful of passion. This happened frequently of course and the disappointment showed on my face as I arrived through the family doors on Sunday evening. Flying gave me a sense of being above it all, of being free and untied. It had a profound mental effect on you that some people do not ever experience.

A fantastic observation and comment by the instructor told me that the main turning point in flying is deciding who is controlling who, you or the aircraft.

Once you make it you, you’re on your way to being a pilot. A jewel of a comment I will never forget…

Environment

The Beginning

It started on a Friday afternoon, after school. I would be dropped off by my dad at the local train station with my stuff and changed mentally from school student to flying student. Now I would use the train and bus to get to the airfield. This bit of the weekend I nicknamed The Tunnel. It happened, of course, in reverse on a Sunday afternoon, back to school the next day.

I was young, excited and eager, everyone else seemed miserable and reflective on the good or bad day at work thinking finally it was over for another sandwich of release called the weekend. Anyway, it didn’t matter to me as I knew the routine, arrive at the airfield, unpack, socialise then get a good kip for the flying the next day.

There were several of us all on the same course but as I would soon learn, people would come and go as they were all at different stages of proficiency.  I have no lasting memories of my colleagues, people would come and go so quickly. I guess it was that flying demands such concentration that socialising can become a casualty as you retreat to your bunk bed at night completely exhausted.

Hard Work

No one ever wonders what an open-air glider pilot might wear in the freezing days on an abandoned airfield. A few weekends of experience taught me that the most important things to keep warm were your feet (toes) and fingers. Without these, you would get out of the aircraft feeling like you’ve had some kind of operation on your limbs and could no longer feel anymore.

So… double socks and some fine gloves, warm enough for me and sensitive enough to be able to feel things like controls and instruments. I found that there was a benefit for wearing tracksuit bottoms under the trousers, mmm warm, although the legs usually get on with the cold. The head was usually ok due to the headset, but no harm in taking sunglasses if you had time to put them on…

Memories

The everlasting memories and lessons are of the hard work, concentration, and success after finally “getting it”. Then came the total exhaustion what becomes of trying to master a machine of the air. As the course progressed it became a weekly event to notice that someone was “missing”. We were told that they didn’t have the aptitude or attitude (usually the former) to complete their training. Some people will never get it, we were told,  as they can only “focus on one thing at a time”. Flying is like that, its all or nothing.

It turns out you have to be a natural multi-tasker not least with an ounce of coordination and sense of balance. It’s good to find out early if you can’t do this to avoid any serious accidents. Safety is top of the pile when it comes to teaching people to fly. Time is short so you had to be natural in a way, lots dropped out but those that lasted a few weekends more eventually went solo…

Solo!

Strap In

I turned up on the usual weekend, the weather was good and I did some flying in the morning. It seemed out of nowhere I had been assessed as “safe” and was told that I was to fly “solo” today and if all went well do another 2 flights to gain my bronze gliding license or “wings”.

The solo was the time the instructor would not get into the back of the aircraft and “be” with me. I would be alone at 1000 ft over the land I had got to know so well with the aims of staying alive and flying/landing as I have been taught; oh and enjoy it too as the instructor commanded.

Final Goodbyes

The staff gathered around my aircraft as I did some checks and then got strapped in. I was a nervous as hell but had wanted this so much that everything seemed to act automatically. I guess this is what hours of training does to you.

Everything seemed to happen very fast, I was ready, wings had been lifted, the cable attached when I heard myself shouting the usual All out! – I was on my way!

I had been told that the aircraft would climb much more quickly with only one person and that I should adjust. Wow, the G forces and rate of climb were exhilarating; it was like accelerating in a sports car but vertically too! I’m convinced they turned the winch speed up!

Around We Go

Keep the wings level, watch the speed, keep the rate of climb consistent, use the rudder pedals to stay inline of the runway, assess when you are just above the point at which the winch cable joins the ground, dip the nose slightly, pull the release cable, check it has released then fly ahead for a few feet.

Turn gently left onto crosswind, level the wings, watch the speed, watch the rate of climb, look for other gliders, look for the downwind leg marker on the ground – usually a bush or hedgerow, aim to be at that point at a certain height.

Hit the downwind leg marker, Turn gently left onto downwind, level the wings, watch the speed, watch the rate of climb, look for other gliders, look for the base leg marker on the ground, aim to be at that point on the nail. Notice the staff and instructors on the ground watching.

Hit the base leg marker on time and height, airspeed good, height good, this is it, one more turn and I’ll be landing.

Final Turn

Keep the wings level, watch the speed, keep the rate of climb consistent, use the rudder pedals to stay inline of the runway, assess when you are just above the point at which the winch cable joins the ground, dip the nose slightly, pull the release cable, check it has released then fly ahead for a few feet.

Turn gently left onto crosswind, level the wings, watch the speed, watch the rate of climb, look for other gliders, look for the downwind leg marker on the ground – usually a bush or hedgerow, aim to be at that point at a certain height.

Hit the downwind leg marker, Turn gently left onto downwind, level the wings, watch the speed, watch the rate of climb, look for other gliders, look for the base leg marker on the ground, aim to be at that point on the nail. Notice the staff and instructors on the ground watching.

Hit the base leg marker on time and height, airspeed good, height good, this is it, one more turn and I’ll be landing.

Final turn onto the runway approach, all lined up, height and airspeed good, not allowing the angle to changing landing spot on the ground identified, I will aim for this. As I passed the instructors I unexpectedly put my arm up to them (a mistake at this stage and was later told off – lesson learned quickly).

Just above the ground now, easing the stick back, float, float, float then the glider skid hit the ground and things slowed down quickly. I sat there in the cockpit silently. I didn’t know what to say or feel.

The instructors ran up to the plane, helped me out and shook my hand. Well done, said one, Welcome to the club, said another. Now let’s see 2 more of those and you’ve passed. Phew!

The next 2 flights were an uneventful time and spot-on plan. My finally landing was extremely sad as I knew that this was the end of a chapter. A thing to learn as you go through life is that its full of times like this.

Final Thoughts

There it was then. I had dreamt of flying on my own, trained for it, persevered with weekend travelling and weather, done it and was now on my way home for the last time as a pilot. Its a curiously mixed emotion bound thing achieving something you have always wanted.

This was a bit different because I know I would not be doing it again for quite a while. A sense of me felt like I was mourning a passing over, a passing over of a thing, a way of being and the place and people of all that was within this period. I would get to experience phases of emotions over the next few days.

I don’t remember much of the last journey home, just of getting back, going to my room and drifting to sleep. Perhaps when I awoke I would feel different and very proud to have got my “wings”…

Haiku

has my joy and preserved --

a sky is not enough blush

from the island yet

By Mark Anthony