It was my final solo flight after sixteen seasons soaring daily in jolly old New England. Several friends were up chasing each other around the local wave, three had been my students at different times and there really was the feel of a going-away party. That was our excuse anyway for more chatter than usual, but as evening approached even 123.5 went quiet.
The wave was itself ho-hum, such that no one ever got much above six thousand AGL. Operating in a slim band of altitude only makes things more interesting — if you can see well. It’s too interesting when you can’t and there’s traffic, and pointing straight at a hazy sunset to maintain position in the wind doesn’t help.
We all knew the regs about flying after dark of course, and eventually that topic bubbled up on frequency. What followed became an impromptu game of slo-mo chicken (“No, you go first”), but with six players instead of two, each coyly daring another to be last to land.
This kind of stupid game gets more stupider the longer you play it. Soon no one could see traffic more than half a mile away and we all wanted to land immediately, but that would never work. Next came the clumsy sorting out process that should have begun much earlier, who’s where, how high, and who’s not. Who should go in first while others wait. And where’s the guy we’re not hearing from?
Found out later he’d already landed, our resident genius.
One by one the gang spontaneously regrouped after landing to watch their next incoming bird appear on mid-final. When all were down it was so COLD our feet were numb, and everybody had to pee. And there was only one toilet.
What you would have seen through growing dusk was several middle-aged guys bent at the waste from compressed bladder syndrome racing each other on stiff ankles, hoping to not be last to reach that door!
Too much competition for me. I pulled to a stop and let them all hobble ahead. Alone again, I looked around and decided what the hey, it’s a perk of grass airports after dark… As some might say, ‘Ahh p-ss on it!’
Or is it Ground Hog Day? We ask that because, just like last week, temperatures will be dropping through the weekend. It should remain sunny before, during and after passage of a front, with moderate thermal activity leading to unseasonable WAVE on Sunday.
SEE YOU SOON
I’d never actually seen a Diamant for real. In photos it was the hottest sailplane of that era, bullet-nosed outline easy to recognize even a thousand feet up and a mile away. Everyone else gone for the evening, perfect time to observe a tenacious struggle, edging ever closer to the airport as the sexy bird surrendered height. If it lands I’ll get a peek in the cockpit, but I’d rather watch it disappear!
Must have come from brand-X, silver distance to the south — or perhaps somewhere in Canada? Lift at our place was so weak, on three different rides hours apart I never maintained an inch of altitude and spent most of the day mowing ten acres of grass.
Then from down around five hundred feet off the north end it began to creep higher… Twice in fact, with the same result. Third time was only half an hour before sunset, leaving no choice but to come on in.
I ran alongside, proudly caught a wingtip and helped the pilot push off. Peeved at coming down so far from home, he was in no mood to chat. That’s alright, but he also made it obvious he was too superior to be chumming up with a grimy lowbrow like me.
Though still new to soaring, this was not the first time I’d encountered a pilot more full of himself than necessary. Don’t they realize it diminishes only them? The way I saw it, someone had just finished TLC’ing the beautiful strip he landed on, someone was handy to help him pull clear without a tail dolly, and soon he’d be wishing someone would let him in the already locked office to call home (this was long before cell phones). In each case that someone happened to be me, and unless he wished to wait outside until next morning he’d do well to tolerate some respectful dialogue.
All I wanted was to know how he got there, but first I extended a smiling hand, “Hi, I’m Dale.”
That’s when he chose to remove his parachute, staring beyond my ear for signs of human activity at our little terminal building. Crickets, as they say.
Big letters on his tail declared who he was, a household name in that soaring region that if I were anybody I’d know already. And I did, but his manner made the name irrelevant. While he’d had the fortune to squeeze more goodies from that day’s sky, I at least understood how to enjoy soaring — and share it. Maybe Mr. Fabulous could learn something from me.
While he was busy watering a stray bush I trotted quietly over to my bike and saddled for home. Pedaling down the driveway I heard him over my shoulder, finally finding voice, “Hey! Hey uhh, Dale!”
Sorry pal, maybe next life.
Dear soaring friends, please don’t do this to yourself. No matter how slick your ride or the number of badges on your hat, there’s never any point in going all Fabulous. Hail the schmuck who helps you as a welcome ally, not an odious minion. Especially if you’ll be needing things and there’s no one else around.
Full disclosure, the office key was in my pocket. Don’t tell, okay?
All midweek we’ve seen the best thermal conditions this year so far, with clusters of teensy cumulus above 14,000 feet. Yes but that’s scheduled to change, with a definite cooling trend through the weekend. Look for wave on Saturday and possible showers Sunday (don’t hold your breath for that part). Worst case, somebody will have a chance for some legitimate crosswind practice!