BIG SKY, SMALL WORLD

Just how big is this sky we all breathe? Well, our entire globe, including everything on and beneath its surface (plus all of planetary history to boot) lies within the one gaseous cocoon, so it has to be fairly capacious. Room enough for almost anything.

My very first day at Crystal, meeting new people at every turn, I was shaking the tow pilot’s hand when he said, “I know you!” I’d never been within a thousand miles of here prior to that, so I asked, “From where?” He said he’d come by my old haunt in New England years before on vacation, and I checked him out to rent our 2-33. I looked it up in a retired logbook, and sure enough his name was there. I still don’t remember it, but he does, and that’s what matters.

Not many weeks later, swapping tales with a visiting pilot from somewhere up north, I told of a blind spot incident where my primary instructor was seconds from touchdown in a Blanik when her husband planted the towplane’s main wheels on those big broad wing roots. Everyone on the ground watched in horror as he miraculously missed chopping the glider’s tail and/or cockpit, leaving pair of dents in the glider’s skin as he roared away to safety. A yarn like that is vulnerable to doubt, and I expected a skeptical response, but instead my new friend squealed, “No, really? I was there that day! I saw it too!” Whereupon I grew suspicious, and a brief two-way interrogation ensued with each confirming that the other did in fact witness that same believe-your-eyes event twenty some years earlier and hundreds of miles away.

Then, also here at Crystal, three more such small-world confluences occurred not many days apart. First, while checking out a Belgian airline pilot who lived in Hong Kong and often laid over in LA, I introduced him to one of our regulars with a similar bio. They got to talking, and soon learned they lived on different floors of the same high-rise way around there on the far side of the Earth.  What are the chances?

About that same time, I was briefing yet another ATP pilot transitioning to gliders who’d been a flight instructor in his early days. During our ground session, a staffer happened by and they recognized each other. Turns out they’d worked together at an FBO decades before, but not crossed paths since. So wouldn’t you know, today both are active CFIGs here at the Soaring Academy…

More? As I was finishing up with a primary student one day, my next victim arrived ahead of schedule. Those two also seemed familiar, but neither could name the connection. Weeks later they still puzzled over where they’d met before, until it came to them both at once — at the other place.  They were members of the same swim team, but neither had recognized the other with his clothes on!

Spend enough time breathing this sky, you’re bound to see almost anything.

APPETIZERS

Still a month of winter to go, technically, but here in the desert, spring is imminent.  Last Monday brought our first real thermal soaring of the new year, and after a surprise snow today (Thursday), chilly thermals are forecast to return for Friday.  A gradual warming trend will begin on Saturday, and a month from now we’ll be soaring thermals every day.  Between here and there you’ll have to make your own contusions.

GOD’S OWN THERMAL (so you know it’s true)

Looking over the airport in preparation to land, we were startled by a peculiar white shape like a giant piece of meringue pie covering half the paved tie down area.  Odd, then suddenly obvious.  It was emanating from a large propane tank.  That’s right, several hundred cubic feet of pressurized explosive gas was venting across the pad between lines of parked planes (all containing fuel) and spreading out right below us.  Granted, propane is a heavy gas (until it ignites), but a 2-33 is heavier.
Being only a thousand feet up, our options at that point were few, but removing ourselves from the apex of an imminent fireball was job one.  Ideal training opportunity.  I had the student glide directly away as far as we could before turning back, then fly a straight-in approach and land short in the corner of the airport furthest from harm’s way.
Because propane is naturally odorless, manufacturers add a foul smelling chemical so people can detect leaks.  On late approach that stench was thick in the air.  Unbeknownst to us, by then the entire neighborhood had been evacuated and fire trucks were pulling in to spray everything with water and remove flammable residues!  Parked clear of the runway, we were happy to sit in the cockpit awhile, watching from three thousand feet shy of the action with our bird’s canopy between us and the sirens – whence a violent pressure wave still might rush forth at any moment.  Wanna cigarette?
Later, someone on the scene who knew stuff opined that if the vapor had erupted beneath us our perch atop the fireball wouldn’t have lasted; a second later we’d have been deep inside it.  Cool.
The guy who knocked the valve off that tank?  Arse and elbows as some like to say, at Olympian speed despite big heavy work boots.  No one knows if he’s stopped running yet.

LIPSTICK ?

We always try to put a happy face on our outlook for the week, and it’s usually somewhat realistic.  Should this time be any different?  Well, there’s only so much you can do with lipstick.  The WAVE conditions we’ve seen just about every day lately are apt to continue into Saturday or beyond, albeit mostly up inside heavy layers of cloud.  Rain?  Maybe, sometimes, but so spotty and variable it’s hard to predict exactly when.  One thing we can count on, it’ll be a little cooler each day and night right into next week — a trend that can’t continue for long…
Next question, where do you put the lipstick on a Groucho mask?
SEE YOU WHEN!