Last Saturday, Sean Eckstein logged the first cross-country soaring flight from Crystal this season. Good on ya, Papa Vic! Somebody had to do it.
This story is one that many pilots could tell, but Sean’s sense of gastronomical irony shows through at the very end.
I made it to Olancha. Flying cross country on a marginal day might not earn you a Diamond, but it does challenge you.
The conditions north had the best chance for getting any distance, but cloud coverage would probably shut down sections of the route, so maintaining altitude would be important.
Because it’s still early in the season I launched a little after noon. The climb out in the mountains was not difficult and I climbed to 11.2 K. I wasted a little time trying to get more altitude before leaving the mountains, which cost me. Gliding to my first alternate, Rosamond, I found that there was some strong sink to deal with and arrived low. I had my next alternate Backus (Pontious airport) on glide but wanted a little more altitude because of the sink I had encountered.
I arrived at Backus and found lift that took me to 9 K, that allowed me to get into the mountains where lift was easier to locate and worked my way north to Boomer Ridge near Inyokern. From that point north the mountain range was all in shadow, but I was able to stay above the mountains until my next alternate Coso Dry Lake. That’s where I worked my last thermal before gliding to Olancha, to find only more sink.
I had a good landing at Olancha, treated my driver (6PK) to a fine dinner at one of the many fine desert restaurants, and headed back to Crystal.
Yesterday, May 9, was the best thermal day of the year so far here at Crystal, with cumulus up around 14,000 feet. Tragically it was a Wednesday and no one went soaring. Now we recline into probably the last cool period of this season, trading two-mile high thermals for one more week or so of sweet not-too-hot desert afternoons.
To a graybeard that’s welcome news, but for those who crave suffering, have no doubt, the hot stuff’s a-coming!
For some people learning to fly turns out to be far easier than they imagined, their biggest impediment simply letting that be so. My favorite example was a PhD teaching at the Air Force Test Pilot School, who, unlikely as it sounds, had never taken flight instruction. In our first conversation he disavowed possessing anything like the natural talents of those Flash Gordon types he tutored on weekdays. He characterized his eye-to-hand prowess as “wooden,” apologizing that his only advantage would be, wait for it… technical. Oh well, good to know at the outset where my challenge would lie.
After several lessons he was doing fine on most skills, but not a single landing had been without problems, mostly due to lack of spatial awareness. He was so concerned with altitude and airspeed as numbers on the panel, he had no time to see where he was going and control pitch. He fully understood that being at some exact height may not help if you’re in the wrong place, and that chasing the airspeed indicator is no way to control velocity. But while dutifully espousing these truths in his own teaching, he had not yet learned to believe them.
As he entered downwind on our next flight I peeled my shirt off and handed it forward, telling him to drape it over the panel and cover the instruments. “Now look at the actual world all around, and straight ahead, and get your attitude right. Use your ears and your eyes.”
With his mind finally outside the cockpit and focused on what matters, his shoulders settled from ATTENTION to AT EASE, and the ship seemed palpably to relax as well.
“Once your attitude is stable, keep it there by holding the stick still while inspecting where you intend to touch down. Look close for some speck that might turn out to be a hazard, possibly a human one. Then follow your flight path backward, up the final approach and base leg to where you expect to turn.”
When his head moved his hand did too, involuntarily, so I snapped the stick back where he’d had it and nearly shouted, “Stick still!”
He muttered something to himself, self-defaming doubt.
“Nah, you’re okay,” I said. “This is how we get there. Notice that in the few seconds since that distraction with my shirt, you’ve double checked for traffic, confirmed where you need to be and enhanced your control of both the aircraft and the situation. How’s that for technical?”
“Got to admit,” he laughed, glancing again at the aim point.
“And keep looking straight ahead anytime you’re not looking somewhere else. If you hold that pitch steady on the horizon, you’re well on the way to your best landing yet!”
The hard part was remembering to keep his hands still, but by midway on base leg he’d accomplished that too, and gained so much confidence his head began to bob in recognition. A minute later he kissed his first spot landing with ease.
And the rest would soon become history. We both moved on to positions elsewhere, but I heard through friends that by the end of the next season he was himself a certified flight instructor. And, I’d be willing to wager, not a wooden one!
First, congratulations to two of our favorites, Kathleen Fredette and Martin Orchard, who both passed their Private Glider check rides last week – and just in time for quite possibly the best thermal conditions so far this year! Yes, welcome to May! An unseasonably cool period is ending and a warming trend will peak this weekend. (About time, don’t you think?)