There’s an unwritten statute in soaring: never dump your water ballast on another glider. And for good reason. If you must shed weight in order to climb, dropping even part of that mass onto someone’s wings below you is at best unsportspersonlike. (Anywhere near the ground it could be calamitous!)

This happened to me in the ’94 Standard Class Nationals, and no I was not competing. A student and I were soaring locally to study contestants’ tactics as they flowed through our neighborhood. We were in a 2-33 and the offender was flying a Discus. The surprise shower had no effect on our already dismal performance so I laughed it off as a novelty. After all, we were still climbing quicker…

Then a circle later the Discus passed so close we could see right up our wing into its cockpit — where the pilot’s head was DOWN all the way around… And banking toward us!

Some believe they simply cannot soar without an audio variometer to keep eyes outside where the action is. Okay, but every year they’re lured by more digital distractions, spendy little gadgets that clutter cockpit and mind, and complicate the panel. Each requires more attention and recurrent fingered inputs on increasingly tiny buttons, further insulating the victim from direct contact with non-virtual reality ever evolving OUT THERE.

One might assume that average skill level in national competition is higher than a typical regional, but even the most brilliant pilots need to see where they’re going. You can bet our race cat in the Discus had an audio bleating at him, but if the idea was to liberate his eyes from the panel it wasn’t working. Had he ever seen us? If we rolled level we’d have collided one second later. Then he would!

The sky is mined with such characters every summer weekend, tweaking their gizmos, resetting their screens, unendingly beset by those artificial burps and bleeps that obscure the song of the wind. Meanwhile another, less sophisticated yet equally menacing, numbly stares at an uncompensated vario, wondering why it always seems to read DOWN. (‘Cause that’s where you’re looking, fool!)

I’ve thought about rigging up some kind of klaxon horn with real punch like firetrucks have, to get their attention… Buuut nowadays the highest-teckers have started wearing headphones — noise canceling no doubt.

I give.

Anyway, 2-33s can turn tighter than any racing ship and extract more energy from a thermal’s core. So as we climbed by inside that Discus I stuck my entire arm out the big back window and hailed it with the longest finger I had, taunting gratitude for our timely bath. He probly never noticed.


Last week was about as good as it gets for thermal potential, and some Squadron members did go cross-country, but we haven’t yet heard exactly how they did.  You’ll find out when we do.  The coming week should be very similar, meaning big tall thermals and not much wind.  We’ve just passed through a midweek of near-record high temps, which will drop only slightly over the next few days, so you can leave your jacket at home.



Every year my dear mother asks what I want for my birthday and I always have the same answer: a clock that runs slower. We’re all familiar with how perception of time accelerates as we age. A month in our forties seems to pass as quickly as a week when we were teenagers. I recognized this phenomenon when I first heard it described as a small child. Now, with those forties a receding memory, time feels like wind flowing through what’s left of my hair.

Even while landing a glider.

When groundlubbers contemplate flying a plane with no engine they often say, “You only get one chance to land.” It’s true of course, but that’s all a properly skilled glider pilot needs. The critical parameter is TIME. Powered aircraft can always ‘go around’, delaying the inevitable until fuel runs out, but a glider in the landing pattern is committed to a process that will be finished, one way or another, in only a minute or so, ready or not. The concerned onlooker might better say, “You have only so many seconds to avoid a wreck.” Therein lies the rub.
When you’re tardy in preparing to land, garbazhe can begin to pile up quicker each moment. Delay your checklist a few seconds and then have unexpected difficulty in lowering the gear. Futz with that a few seconds then realize you’re out of position to mix with traffic while some interloper horns into the pattern, now ahead of you! Hang back a few seconds for safe separation, and now you’re low. Fail to push over in sinking air for only a few more seconds and now you’re desperate, hoping just to clear those bushes short of the runway. That, naturally, is when you’ll discover a sticky brake handle…

You had X mount of time, which was enough, but you squandered it several times over, falling further behind with each distraction. Permutations of this debacle are infinite, and none work to your advantage. Bet on it.

Any airstrip suitable for takeoff is also easy to land on. There should be room to badly misjudge the touchdown point and still walk away from nothing worse than deserved embarrassment. That’s if you were ready to control what happened before it happened by itself.

Competent management of any time-limited operation includes preparing early to stay ahead of events — and then keeping up. Anybody knows that. But hear this please so I can quit scratching the scab: having landed now with many hundreds of glider guiders from a wide weird world of different backgrounds, I’d say that maybe half never find time for their landing checklist until they’re already on downwind leg. That’s about as smart as signaling for takeoff before you get around to strapping in!


Last week was unusually winter like, with wave supplanting thermals and gloriously cool temperatures.  Now that’s going to change.  Every day will be warmer than the one before, well into the middle of next week, which corresponds with the longest days and highest sun of the year.  Our Crystal Squadron got skunked last Saturday, but this time they should be able to make up for it…