…three, two, one, BLASTOFF

It was supposed to be your usual short double ride, five minutes towing up, ten gliding back down, and a few more in the pattern. Top priority, staying awake. Then maybe eight hundred feet up a dust devil erupted between us and the towplane, throwing it hard left and us hard right… No choice but immediate release.

My knee-jerk one-eighty kept us in the devil, which gave it time to nearly double our height — so now we had no need to land! Some things your mind doesn’t see coming but your brain knows what to do. Even after we were ejected by the devil’s violent core, leaning steeply toward it had our sticky altimeter jumping to register a 3000-foot gain in four quick circles! All just that much further to dive back down, passengers whooping both ways. The hard part was making myself open those spoilers.

How high might that gusher have carried us? Well, imagine releasing at four hundred feet for standard emergency training and stumbling into, not a devil per se, but the pillowy genesis of what would become a huge blue boomer. No wild action, simply everything swelling up and out like a swiftly inflating balloon. Here too doubling back doubles your height, so you have the student hold that attitude, and with a very few tweaks in the next five minutes, parlay your separation turn into an honest (if unverifiable) gold altitude climb straight up off the runway. That may never happen at many gliderports, but here at Crystal I’ve enjoyed more such rocket rides than I remember.

On a rare solo, the climb in departure was exceptional and felt uncannily solid, so I pulled off at… call it pattern height, and dug right in. Again, the harder I cranked the faster I rose. The tow pilot, meanwhile, was failing hilariously in his effort to land. He needed three tries to get wheels on the ground, by which time I was climbing through 11,500. That’s a seven thousand foot gain in the time it took to land a Pawnee!

You think I’m exaggerating? Consider pattern practice one spring with a genuine old-timer we’ll call Amos. He’d been a student pilot for three presidential administrations, so there was no rush. Pattern tows in dead air usually yield about a six or eight minute turn around (if you land short that is, and have a skookum ground crew), but the air this morning was far from dead. By the time Amos completed his landing checklist we were already hundreds of feet higher than release and drifting away from the entry point. “Better go full spoilers if you want to get down,” I warned.

He preferred to take his time, which was fine with me, but that got us back where we started even higher, and in even stronger lift. No landing anytime soon, so I switched back to critiquing his general airmanship, “Try not jerking the stick so much!” as if it would make a difference. Half an hour later, still meandering over the airport, we had fallen upward a vertical mile when I mentioned the spoilers again. This time Amos agreed.

Back down at pattern height, he closed them to resume standard procedure — and the whole process began again. Inadvertent climb number two seemed sure to waft us every bit as high, but by then, mercifully, my next student was waiting.

Landing practice? From a very short tow and more than an hour in the air, yes, Amos did manage to squeeze in one landing.