On my very first flight lesson I got a half hour of solo time before receiving any dual… honest!  It was too windy at first so my instructor settled me in the front seat and showed what the stick and pedals do, then said, “Don’t take off without me,” and walked away.  In those precious minutes of ‘wind jamming’, I gained valuable experience before ever leaving the ground.  

The idea was to ‘fly’ that wing into the wind and keep it level, which is surprisingly easy given sufficient air flow.  At first I moved the stick too much, naturally, and pedals too little, like everyone else in the known universe.  Once I gave my feet a chance, the Blanik’s castering tailwheel allowed exploration of yaw as well as roll, but that complicated things.  I would turn too far and immediately ‘crash’, after which the bird would weathervane into the next gust and we could start over.  

Hauling a downed wing up off the ground was hardest, and quite by accident I discovered that cross control, or ‘bottom’ rudder helps — a trick which only works on the ground believe it or not.  It’s so simple, I’m ashamed to admit several seasons passed before I finally paused a moment and thought this through.  Say you’re on the ground, parked into the wind with the left wing down.  You’ll need right stick of course, but odd as it sounds, a secondary effect of left rudder imparts a torsion that twists the fuselage clockwise and adds to the rolling force of the right-deflected ailerons.  (In the air it’s a slip, as you know.)  

Gradually I learned to avoid that crash by feathering the controls and swinging back the other way.  My conceptual grasp was near zero, but I began to anticipate what would happen and articulate my influence on the result like a toddler learning to walk.  

When my instructor returned I proudly rocked the wings, then froze them neat and level.  Unimpressed, she stepped upwind of one wing and with a cynical smirk stretched out her arms along the leading edge, stalling it to the ground without touching it.   

After that we went up to see how different everything feels when the wheel is not on the ground…  

I’ve done this same exercise with many first-timers over the decades since, and recommend it.  Always makes everyone smile.  There’s more to say however, before we put this topic to rest.  

One thing, where possible, leave the tow hook secured to the ground, especially if your solo artist is light of weight!  In a two-seater, start by demonstrating from the back seat, and have first timers cycle spoilers, making sure they’re ready to use them if a rogue gust makes that necessary.  (When the wind is strong, leave spoilers out for the whole drill.)  

And what about the canopy?  In hot sun you may need to keep it securely open, somehow, and if closed it’s gotta be locked.  Any first timer alone in the cockpit should understand this — and it wouldn’t hurt to hover nearby just in case…  

Now just for poops and piddles, consider this.  In actual flight that secondary effect acts against the other forces generating a turn.  It must be very minor but it’s there.  (Adverse roll?)  So, what if we had the rudder below the fuselage, like on boats, duh?  Wouldn’t that put its twisting force in service of the roll rather than against it, requiring less aileron and improving efficiency?  

Perhaps, but then every landing would bust the rudder again, and that could get old.  Maybe those original designers had it right after all.   


This coming weekend’s weather will be standard issue for early spring, which is to say changeable. Expect nominal thermal conditions on Friday and Saturday, then clouding again, and breezier. Third week in a row for wave on Sunday? Perhaps, but only if the wind swings back around to South…


Ever since the popular advent of bungee jumping, many who inquire about gliders seem to equate these entirely unrelated activities as similar ways to fling themselves into space and take their chances.  Some also needlessly fear both games, exposing fundamental misunderstanding of each.  Hair-raising as bungee jumping might be, it’s safe enough provided certain conditions are met.  After the jumper decides to GO, little more is required but some degree of, shall we say, personal fortitude.  Soaring demands fortitude as well, and can reward it royally, yet involves so much more!  It’s a process where seas of challenge and dilemma open out in every dimension, expanding beyond your personal event horizon – potentially all day long – until quickly narrowing to zero just before the end.  Like life itself. 

Soaring pilots set our own agendas, choosing what to do and where and how to do it, consciously accepting or rejecting various kinds of risk, and defining for ourselves the meanings of failure and success.  Each tick of the wristwatch renews an intensely mental creative venture, all outcomes affected by deliberate yet tentative decision making, or a lack of it, in evolving circumstances which are never entirely understood.  And never knowing quite how any of this will work out — that’s much of why we love it.  

Every moment of every flight is unique, and in many ways self-determined.  With thermals, we float in unseen bubbles of gas that only try to eject us (always resist).  Running a ridge can be like cruise control on the freeway (stay in your lane), or depending where your are, scrambling through the woods naked (watch for snakes).  Riding shearline is like following a foot trail that’s not always marked (don’t get lost).  Soaring in wave?  It’s surfing in heaven, slo-mo, on breakers ten thousand times larger than those at the beach (do remember Icarus).  And the most important part of any flight, landing, can never happen until all other options are exhausted.  (In the sweetest of finales, you feel grass drag your wheel into motion two heartbeats before touchdown, but now I’m getting unnecessarily personal.)  

All of soaring’s many forms bear a deep vein of Zen.  In this sense it’s more akin to rock climbing than the bungee thing.  Scaling stone barriers, whether with fingers and toes or prosthetic wings, can be unspeakably satisfying, and perfectly safe if sound choices are made – then executed.  In either of these two proactive sports, you should be always able to withdraw from even the most imposing difficulty to the safety of level ground, but that part will be up to you.  

Otherwise, one infinitesimal moment of human stoopitude can lead abruptly to grave consequences.  Those prone to getting trapped where they can neither go safely back nor forward may jeopardize more than just themselves…  They should stick to bungee jumping.  


A recent period of darn good thermal weather will be interrupted this weekend by unusual cloudiness, with highs around 80, and cooling slightly each day.  Good chance of WAVE, especially on Sunday, leading to a day of belatedly answered prayer, with… RAIN on Monday!