One endless day in May we flew 200 miles straight-out from Crystal after a 3:35 launch, despite cooler heads insisting it was already way too late. They weren’t entirely wrong, nor exactly right either, for this day had already shown itself to be one of that year’s very best. Twice, midmorning and again after noon, I had taken students southeast far beyond Baldy to where we ‘never’ go, then west along the 210 freeway between a cloud street and Pasadena, running hard at fourteen thousand to LAX’s Mode C veil, then diving twenty miles back to Crystal. That’s something I’ve been able to do only one other time in eighteen seasons here, so with still another four hours of daylight left I had a sense of what we might get away with.

Rather than starting in the mountains as usual for a high climb, we towed northwest to a dust devil on course, cutting ten miles off the distance and saving most of an hour. Normally we’d make this departure so high and so early that thermals over the flat desert wouldn’t yet be of much use, but instead of descending several thousand feet on the long crossing to Rosamond, this time we actually gained height! Way too easy.

Even in ‘perfect’ conditions, the neighborhood around Mojave is often a puzzle to solve, but all we did there was shift into higher gear. My only worry now was that the lucky feeling I’d had all day might suddenly fizzle, though gradually it continued growing stronger… Gotta be a limit somewhere, right?

Out of curiosity I counted thermal climbs along the way, amazed at how few were needed. We stopped to climb only ten times on a four-hour run to Bishop, and arrived there so high we could have glided down another thirty miles further, and thirty back. But nah, happily we pulled full spoilers and started talking about dinner. Granted, the horizon around Bishop is a lofty one, but by the time we landed the sun had fallen behind it.

So that was plenty satisfying by itself, but the flight back would prove even more so.

Early next day we towed to the foothills west of town in order to climb sooner on sunlit slopes and skip having to cross the valley later on. Our initial climb came quick down low, but once we had snow under us the air was dead and each time we started to move the cold would pull us down again.

Eventually we abandoned that idea and retreated to the valley, having fiddled away more than an hour of precious game time. Oddly though, even low again near the airport, that lucky feeling from the day before persisted…

Finally, east of Bishop we stumbled into a nibbly shearline, began tiptoeing south, and soon one obscenely generous thermal gave us height to gobble fully a quarter of the distance home. After that, I’m almost ashamed to say, our luck just kept improving, even into a steady wind. Grand total, we needed only four thermal climbs – plus four very convenient shearlines – to complete that 200-mile return flight, arriving home about same the time we left the day before.

Ah, that lucky feeling! Too bad we can’t store some in a time-proof bag for October.


Many times over the years we’ve pointed out that Crystal offers soarable conditions every single day from mid March to mid October, and guess what? October is half gone as of this weekend and we will have blue thermals — of the sustainer variety. Wind will remain light, and if northerly enough may support better lift in the mountains, but climbing higher than, say, 8000 feet will require holding your tongue in just the right place…




Like most primary students I was in a hurry to get past the private pilot check ride ASAP. Summer was almost over, and after all the yakking I’d done at home a long winter without that paper in my pocket would have been unbearable.

Was I ready? Well, what I read on slips and skids left me confused, and when I asked about it the answer was, “Ah, the Blanik doesn’t slip well.” So much for that then. Other basics? I’ve already admitted, in these pages recently, to having zero emergency training. What does that tell ya? All I wanted was the sign-off, and that’s all I got.

On the big day, if there was an oral evaluation it was too short to remember. No mention of cross-country flight or a multitude of other essentials. It was 1975 you know.

In the air, when the DE called for a slip I glibly repeated, “The Blanik doesn’t slip well,” causing him to bark, “BS!” or words to that effect. And then, bless his eternal soul, quite contrary to PTS criteria he taught me slips so we could finish the check ride.

Back on the ground, he made an obvious point of deliberating whether to pass me or break my heart, and when he did hand over the white slip, said sternly, “Now I want you to get more instruction, soon!” Not exactly a backslapping attaboy.

In fact I had already planned to take a lesson from my instructor’s instructor that very afternoon, and it was he who instilled what I preach to this day. I was unconsciously moving the stick far more than necessary as if that had some positive effect on control. “Hold it still.” he pled, “and let the bird fly!” Bless his soul too.

Days later, first flight with a passenger (also confessed in these pages some time ago) I managed to both terrify and nauseate a personal friend. And next season scared even myself so badly, I outright quit for two full years. No really, it was that bad. Even so, first thing each morning I’d peek out a window to see what the soaring might be like. Daydreams continually fondled soaring’s unknown joys and possibilities, then increasingly night dreams too. There was no choice, I had to come back.


Then, typical fool, I fell into the same rush for a commercial rating before taking time to learn some things first. My excuse was no one around to learn from, meaning no one to tell me I was over my head. And boy was I!

Hook or crook, I wrangled an endorsement for the commercial written, then showed up after a 150-mile drive without proper ID. Somehow they let me take the test anyway, which I promptly flunked. The good thing, now I knew what to study! It is only high school level material after all.

On that check ride, still knowing next to zilch, I actually made the DE laugh at my ignorance and scream at my methods (also detailed previously in these pages), yet he passed me anyway because I was with his operation — and on the same day he failed a more capable candidate from our competing outfit. I sat in the shade and watched.


CFI? Oh sure.

Still no one around to learn from, so this check ride became a sweaty nightmare without ever leaving the ground. This DE, a nationally known contest pilot, saw right away that I was unprepared, and would spend the entire day indoors proving it.

He was also a contributing author of that era’s principle text, the SOARING FLIGHT MANUAL which of course I had never heard of. That evening he kindly lent his personal copy full of scrawled notations, and gave me five days to read it before we met again.

Take two started later and we still had to finish the oral. It wasn’t much easier but at least I knew some of what he was talking about, and by then he was every bit as eager to get this over with. Then the flight portion began with his grounding our glider because of a bad screw on the instrument panel, something I wouldn’t have noticed in a year of preflights. By the time we procured another ship and went through its paper work, evening had come again.

I had fifteen minutes to teach him towing and basic maneuvers plus the landing. That actually went smoother than expected, or seemed to, and I climbed from the cockpit feeling pretty good about myself.

But no. The DE said he’d made clear an hour beforehand that one thing he could not tolerate was any skidded turn, no excuses. I must have been distracted; maybe he should have said it twice. Anyway, while acting as student he intentionally skidded his turn to final and I didn’t call him on it, ordaining yet another bust.

Time wounds. ALL heals. Expect delays however. Who knows, that disappointment might have saved a life.

Ultimately, clearing the CFI hurdle was little more than hasty formality on a day embroiled by a conflux of frankly more pressing issues we needn’t go into (an altogether different bag of yarns). A battlefield commission you might say. One more bullet dodged, justly or otherwise.

And the rest is mystery.


If nothing else, I’m living proof of the ‘Peter Principle’, that we all rise one way or another to a level where we’re incompetent, and hang there until succeeded by someone even more so.


Thermals this coming week will definitely be of the autumnal variety, meaning half strength to maybe mountaintop height.  It’ll remain sunny each day though, with mostly lite winds, and once again the warmest should come on Saturday.  We’ll have a chance of classic wave on Sunday if it’s southerly enough, and a better chance of bow wave on Monday if it’s northerly enough.