THERMAL SEASON IS HERE!

Congratulations to Joe Capra, Christopher Bryant, and brothers Jean and Christian Roche who flew their first glider solos recently!  Just in time for…

The coming week might very well bring our best thermal conditions so far this year, with warming temperatures and softening winds.  We may also see some degree of cloudiness, adding the twin benefits of thermal markers and cooler areas on the surface to enhance the dynamics of convection.

SEE YOU SOON

TRAVAILS OF HOTEL BRAVO

It’s been a popular ruse since the onset of vehicular transportation, gussy up a weary old vessel worthy of more and sell the paint job to someone who doesn’t know better. So it was with Hotel Bravo. She came to us with a fresh coat of red white and blue — whose nose cone peeled the first year. Brand new main tire — with a 3/4-inch chip out of the rim on one side. New skid too — softwood, which broke before we could replace it. Ah but to be fair, I had to admit she flew okay. Not as nice as Juliet, but then…

Days later I was up in HB, wing to wing with Juliet more or less and, just for effect, popped spoilers. No big deal — until they locked full open. And if you know anything about 2-32s, that’s a one-way ticket on the gravity express.

Hotel Bravo’s saving feature, no tidy partition behind the aft seat, leaving all those mechanical innards between the wings exposed. While setting up an off-field landing I flew the stick with my knees, right hand jiggling the spoiler handle, and reached back with my left hand to fumble around until… whatta ya know, something got the spoilers unstuck and I closed them without losing any fingers.

That evening with the two birds nose to nose and their turtle decks off, the problem was obvious. 2-32s’ brake assembly includes a strange triangular linkage that in HB had been installed backwards, allowing full extension to go over center and jam, unclosable. What I did in flight to trick it, no idea. Just so glad I happened to be in the back seat! (Imagine though, what it would have been like to land off-field with full spoilers, one-handed, while your other hand is caught in a metal pincer behind you!)

Some other year, again wing to wing, this time I was in Juliet and saw what looked like a big bundle of cellophane tumbling behind Hotel Bravo. It was her canopy. Presumably somebody in back let his fingers do the walking and the rest was… his story.

The pilot of HB, Tim knew to immediately turn straight for the airport, flying very slowly to limit parasite drag. Not much standard procedure involved, but they did make it.

Assured of that, I turned back to follow the canopy’s descent. It would be demolished of course, but maybe we could untwist the metal frame and use it as a pattern to make a new one. Wishful thinking? By the time I looked again the falling canopy had vanished. I knew only that it was on the side of a certain nameless hill.

Next morning the tow pilot took me there in back of the Bird Dog so I could pitch out a bag of flour somewhere near the place — but all we accomplished was having borrowed ear muffs blown off my head into the air. Over the next week, the Tim and I each made three trips into the woods searching, with no success. On one of my hunts (after I’d replaced those lost ear muffs with new ones) I found not the mangled canopy or any hint of flour, but the stupid muffs, hiding under a boulder. Was someone up there was just plain messing with us?

Finally, last try, we went back together, and what Tim found is still hard to believe twenty five years later. That big one-piece canopy flew open, snapped its little lanyard chain and rolled off the wing into space, tumbling three thousand feet down, through treetops to land upright in soft fiddlehead ferns… virtually intact! Delirious, we carried it over our heads like a canoe en portage, down through the woods, washed a little mud off the hinges and put it right back on the bird.

Ah Hotel Bravo, we knew ye well.
Editor’s note: Tim, my partner in crime for this adventure, was the first student I ever had who became an instructor. We hadn’t flown together, or even seen each other in about twenty years, regrettably, but after writing this piece I emailed him to see if his memory of events matched mine. His response was lengthy and lots of fun to read, though not 100% appropriate for this venue. Here’s some of the G-rated part.

“The left side canopy hinge was not safetied and it was wicked loose. I knew that, but would just push it forward before we flew and told passengers no to touch it. On this flight, either it was pulled or came loose on its own. The speed at which the canopy departed was pretty amazing. It swung up on the right, closed latches and just ripped off backwards. Glad it didn’t whack the tail anywhere.”

“And finding that Canopy! Like King Arthur’s Sword in the ferns with sun shining down on it through the trees, it had to have been set down there by the Angels. Couldn’t believe it, that was quite a sight.”

SECOND DUMBEST?

 

It may stand forever atop my dishonorable mention list, never stupid enough to contend for absolute dumbest (no one died, after all), but always bad enough for second worst. Best thing about this debacle, the only damage was to me, thank goodness.

The scene was Sunriver, Oregon, a year-round resort of more than 4000 bungalows, condos and luxury palaces with five golf courses threaded by miles of meandering river run, all beneath the forever crown of ponderosa pines. Hard on the north, a lava flow only a few hundred thousand years old surrounds aptly named Pilot Butte. A volcanic cone amid ten square miles of lumpy dark brown rock, absolutely naked. How’s that for a thermal source?

Sucker.

I glided there eagerly off the tow, wondering only how high we might climb before required to hurry down. Uh huh… Back of mind the whole time lurked a specter: moving straight away from the airport meant we’d have to wade through every foot of sink twice if I failed. Which I did, naturally.

HAbout FACE!

One of my mottos has always been, ‘plan for the worst, play for the best’, but this time I planned for the best and just got played. Almost instantly our angle back to the runway was flat as the air. Stretching, stretching, at ?00 AGL still way too far… and here ground effect was not an option. Hundred-foot pines thinned by developers and supplanted by rooftops made it impossible to get within half a wingspan of either the surface or a less efficient and even creepier forest canopy. One grassy little wetland lay a quarter mile short, but I’d rather almost anything than scar that lovely meadow with wheel marks. No, this golf course below suddenly looked like the finest landing site on earth, offering a wide, if weird choice of strips from which to quickly (and pray wisely) choose.

I’ve put myself in pecks of pickles before and since, but this was the only time I’ve eyed an 18-hole golf course knowing I would land on one of those fairways in mere seconds, without time to pick the right one. While all were inviting, each offered reasons to choose another. None quite straight, nor flat, several with people in the way — fancy that. And what about access? Assuming an aero retrieve was off the table, from where could the trailer pull in?

Every question a good one, all too late to ask. Rarely in these decades of unforced errors have I felt less lucky, and had to pull that danged lever anyway. With most of a minute to fill while extemporizing an approach, I scrabbled through my bag of verbal acrobatics (BS) to delay these folks’ turning on me until afterward. One nugget of good luck, they were in such a yee-haw mood, an unscheduled landing came as some kind of bonus and the fools were back there yukking it up!

Down over an elliptical green, between amoebic sand traps and by a small duck pond, I eased soft as possible onto the turf, aerobraking with the skid up while taxiing tippy toe across the rough, to stop gently in a shaded wide spot as far as could be from action behind us. While the victims celebrated I got busy on my newfangled cellphone and walked our path back to the touchdown point, finding no divot and only a faint track that would disappear after the next morning’s dew. Mad as I was at myself, I had to be happy with that.

As embarrassments go this could have turned out much much worse, so why might such a comparatively innocuous screwup rise sink to the level of my second dumbest ever?

Well, only that week had I hauled myself and all my stuff 800 miles north to join a new friend in a glider ride outfit he was starting from scratch. It would be the two of us, him in the tow plane and me in the 2-32. I’d been flying mostly Grobs and DG-500s recently, and not a ’32 for several years, but knew well to account for the difference in performance — and then failed to actually do so. Can’t deny it, I screwed the epigrammatic pooch. And here’s what’ll raise a brow for anyone who doesn’t know me. Not only was this our first day of operation ending on the tenth fairway, it was in fact our inaugural flight! Numero uno. Shoot, I was so new there I couldn’t even say which golf course we were on the tenth fairway of!

My new friend was furious before he hung up the phone, fuming dread of costly repairs or even reparations, plus having to cancel the rest of our debut, while he hooked up his glider’s trailer and wound slowly through the maze of residential roads to find us. What may have saved me from public strangulation was the relief he felt when he rounded a turn and saw his new investment parked sexily in the shade, center of attention, with folks partying beside it like in a TV ad.

And yes, as already confessed, there was damage… In haste to secure the bird and get us out of there, I managed to pinch my forearm between a wing root and some very sharp part of the trailer, drawing enough blood to ruin my brand new company shirt. As it should be, don’t you think?

HAPPY OFFICIAL SPRING!

During this very wet week on the coast we even got some rain up here in the desert, believe it or not.  Now things will change again, with sun predicted for Friday and well-marked thermals on Saturday.  Sunday may be noticeably cooler again, but don’t be surprised by more thermals.  And after that, serious springtime conditions should kick in for good.

SEE YOU SOON!