Now be honest. Whatever your level of experience or skill, wouldn’t you love to fly with at least a smidge more finesse? Don’t you wish there were some exotic trix to augment control, sharpen technique and stretch your limits? Well there are! And you don’t need to go out of your way or spring for special equipment to take advantage. Say you’re fiddling around locally and there’s more lift than you know what to do with, or you can’t bear any more ecstasy and just wanna get down. Any time there’s no reason not to is the right time for some glider calisthenics.
First, of course, find a scrap of airspace with no traffic, because some of these drills can be considered aerobatic. An established practice area might be perfect, especially if it comes with convenient lift. Also, don’t forget to announce your intentions on the appropriate frequency, then go have fun.
  • A good way to start is turning continuously from side to side like a skier in a slalom. The moment you enter each turn, begin rolling the other way again, in rhythm, and make a point of keeping yaw string centered and airspeed constant all the way through. Then if this seems too easy, just quicken your turns…
  • Leading right into the venerable dutch roll, where you bank from 45 to 45 and back as snappily as possible without yawing, again keeping the string straight and pitch constant. This exposes the indolent response of those long wings, where trying to roll too quick results in more drag and less control. (Shh: the key is leading with aileron ahead of rudder by about half a cycle — but not until about the third reversal, don’t ask me why.)
  • Now see how absolutely slow you can fly while rolling into and out of perfectly coordinated turns, the ickier it feels the better. This amounts to a continuous stall recovery never quite begun. Hint: bring your feet!
  • Next, level up and stay in the incipient stall, then see how quickly and efficiently you can execute a sharp 180 from that position. In this exercise you must not keep pitch steady, or it invites a spin… recovery! (Turning beyond 180 means you failed the maneuver and have to try again.)
  • Then practice slipping at extreme angles, and the full range of speeds from stall up to best L/D, while always holding a straight ground track. Go both left and right, naturally, noting any asymmetrical behavior in the aircraft’s response – or your own – and always try to roll out on some precise visual heading! BTW, for power pilots new to soaring, you don’t need a nose low attitude when slipping gliders; keep pitch somewhere near level and limit lateral stress on your precious tail.
  • So, ready for a real challenge? Try working a thermal with stick only – hee hee hee – and then with rudder only – yuck! It’s terribly awkward either way, but usually possible to at least stay in the thermal, if not actually climb.
Does that leave you feeling like you need a shower? Even if not, these next two rides might, but let’s hope in a good way. Folks I’ve shared them with over the years have all enjoyed them, and no one’s been hurt yet. See what you think.
  • From straight and level, dive to near the yellow arc, then pull smoothly and firmly up, and up — not into a loop, but steadily UP until you’re very nearly out of gas, then eeeze in forward stick at just the right time to prevent stall and follow your nose over the top in several seconds of perfect zero-G. With practice, you can trim airspeed down to ten knots or less without ever exceeding the critical angle of attack! Speed then builds very quickly once you’re pointed down again and recovery can bring you back to the yellow arc in a blink — but no faster if you fly right. (The first few attempts you’ll likely get some kind of half-arsed hammerhead complete with gravel in the eyes as inertia swaps ends, and that’s okay so long as you and all the gear were quite secure beforehand…)
  • Still happy? Add one more dimension. Starting from whatever stable attitude you like, come clear off the controls and let your bird have her head, anywhere she wants to go except straight down. Three-G, negative-G, thirty-degree pitch, eighty-degree bank, your job is to simply ride along and assist coordination with minimal input (mostly rudder), and always these same familiar restraints: keep the yaw string straight, and respect that yellow arc!
Done properly, such exercises are quite safe and tons of fun, more interesting and educational than the routine procedures we perform by rote every flight. They enrich your feel of the aircraft and promote mastery at the edges of its envelope, where mastery is most important. Imagine a world of ways to loosen your bounds and up your game, many still undiscovered. Maybe develop some of your own, and if they work great, pass ‘em on! What better way to spend invest all that free energy?