Glider Rating – Part 1 – Audio Episode Show Notes

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If there’s a 350-hour private pilot out there who has a more diverse logbook than I do, my hat’s off to him or her.  I have everything from Cessna 152s to a DC-3 to the mighty F-16D in my logbook and my certificate reads ASEL, AMEL, and ASES, among other things.  I’ve flown for everything from lunch to competition aerobatics.

The key for me is experiencing the broadest possible swath of what aviation offers.

Coming up on three years ago, I got a ride with Mark Grant in a Schweizer SGM 2-37 motor glider.  The aircraft is one of three operated by the Tuskegee Airmen Glider Club, headquartered at Detroit City Airport.  It’s a beautiful yellow longwing bird and the ride was a lot of fun.

I also met John Harte that weekend, who was flying one of the other club motor gliders and I got good footage of him in a gaggle climb.  John and I have since begun to share an aerobatic instructor and we both fly the Acro Camp Pitts at Berz Aviation at Ray Community Airport.

Fast forward to this spring, when John offered me a chance to go up in one of the aircraft for some giggles.  I climbed in and was surprised to find myself doing most of the flying.  It turns out that the whole thing was part of an evil plot on John’s part to addict me to flying longwing aircraft.

Since then, we’ve flown several more times.  Mostly pattern work and then a two-hour extravaganza of four airports around southeast Michigan.  Later, I accompanied John and Mark on a formation training day that included Detroit Metro Airport (deep in the Bravo), Willow Run, Gregory (home of the Sandhill Soaring Club), Livingston County, and Mason before returning to Detroit City.  I flew a fair amount of formation that day, mostly as lead in cruise and as a target for extended trail.  But I did tuck it up on the wing a couple of times.  I have a lot to learn on the wing, but I think I could make a decent wingman with some more practice.

The Tuskegee team wants to fly airshows soon and is in the process of working on FAST cards.  They’re not going to crowd the Thunderbirds or the Blue Angels off the bill any time soon.  But the display is really, really beautiful.  It starts with a two-ship formation takeoff with an orbit around the airport for a low pass.  At midfield, the two-ship formation breaks left and right.  Wing then turns back into lead with the objective being to end up in a gaggle climb.  In a gaggle climb, the aircraft are banked 45 degrees at opposite sides of a circle and they climb around the center of that circle to altitude.  At that point, they can do whatever they like for the demonstration.  I could see them getting to a few thousand feet, then re-forming, shutting down the motors, and landing in formation engine-off.  It’d be something for early in the show.

The aircraft is really interesting.  The civilian designation is the Schweizer SGM 2-37.  It also has a military designation, and that’s the TG-7A.  If you’ve been a fan of Airspeed for long, you know of my predilection for military aviation, so I’ll refer to the aircraft as the TG-7A.

Schweizer made a grand total of 12 of them.  Six went to the US Air Force Academy.  In 2003, the academy transferred three of them to the Tuskegee Airmen Museum in Detroit and they’re now operated by the Tuskegee Airmen Glider Club.  Assuming that my check cleared, I’m a member of the club.  The club uses the aircraft to give orientation flights to kids from Detroit.  You don’t have to think too hard to understand how much an O-flight might end up meaning to a kid from deep in the D and it’s a really important mission.

The TG-7A is 27.5 feet long and a little over eight feet tall at the tail.  It has a 59.5-foot wingspan.

Max gross is 1,850 pounds.  It seats two side by side.  There’s a cargo area immediately behind the seats.  If you have room in your payload allotment, you can carry up to 100 pounds back there.  It consists of a large zippered bag suspended from the cross-bracing.  For as roomy as the cockpit is (or seems – the bubble canopy makes the cockpit appear really spacious), there’s no place to put anything other than in the bag in back.  If you carry anything outside of the bag and you drop it, it’s going to end up in the tail eventually.  There’s a pouch forward of the stick and behind your calves, but there’s not much room in that for much other than your checklists and maybe a backup radio.

I usually wear cargo shorts.  That usually means that I have a couple of lower pockets for spare glasses, my audio unit, and other stuff.  That doesn’t work in the TG-7A.  If you’re in the left seat, almost anything in your cargo pockets is going to obstruct the speed brake handle to your left or right.  If you have your logbook in your right cargo pocket, it’s going to obstruct your right forearm if you fly with your right hand, like you do when you land.  You can get away with having a couple of things in your right cargo pocket if you’re in the right seat.  But that’s about it.  If you want to carry a water bottle, as I do, it’s going to have to go in the bag.

When asked whether there are any drawbacks to the aircraft, I usually point out the lack of cup holders.  I know.  First-world problem.

The wings have a 17.9 aspect ratio.  The aircraft has a glide ratio of 29:1 and a minimum sink speed of 3.16 feet/sec.

It has a Lycoming O-235-L2C engine that develops 112 hp at 2,600 rpm at sea level and a 72-inch fixed prop.  I’m told that the aircraft is essentially a Piper Tomahawk firewall-forward.

The single fuel tank and associated system holds 14.2 gallons of usable fuel.  With proper leaning, at 2,500 pressure altitude, where I do a lot of my flying in the aircraft, the aircraft will do between 97 mph and 103 mph at 65% power (that’s about 2,300 rpm) and burn between five and six gallons per hour of 100LL avgas.  That’s near enough to what you’d expect for a C-152.  I actually plan to take the aircraft cross-country after I nail down the rating.  If you’ve ever thought about flying from, say, Detroit to Traverse City and back, low and slow and enjoying the scenery, a TG-7A would be a great choice.  And, if you’re going to fly low, you have much better glide performance in the TG-7A than you would in that C-152.

Controls include a single throttle, mix, and carb heat control in the center console and a stick and a speed brake control handle on each side.  I’ve flown it from each seat.  If you fly it from the left seat, your hands are bass-ackwards while you’re under power.  Left hand on the stick and right hand on the throttle.  When you pull the power to glide, you move your right hand to the stick and your left hand to the speed brake and things become a lot more intuitive.

You solo the aircraft from the right seat, presumably because you don’t have the hand-reversal thing.  The POH says to solo from the right seat as well.  That might also be because the fuel tank is in the left wing and it’s important to keep the lateral balance when soloing.  And Air Force doctrine requires that all aircraft with stick controls be flyable with the right hand on the stick and the left hand on the throttle.  But there’s nothing important that you can’t reach from the left seat.

The best elements of the aircraft are twofold.  First, it’s a taildragger.  Second, it’s that beautiful military yellow that you’ve seen on some Stearmans and Harvards.  And it has USAF insignia on the wings and the academy logo on the tail.  You can say that it’s not a proper warbird, but I’ve got your not-a-warbird thing right here and I’m lobbing it right into a cocked hat.  So there.

I don’t know much about gliders.  Other than my time in the TG-7A, my only time has been two aero-tows with Mark Grant in CAP’s Schweizer SGS 2-32 and another aerotow at Sandhill in a Schweizer SGS 2-33A.  My landing, thank you very much.

But the aerodynamic profile of the TG-7A seems a little weird to me.  Airspeed in the pattern and on landing is supposed to be 65 mph plus winds, with a minimum of 75 mph and a maximum of 85 mph.  Any bank or turn below 75 mph is prohibited.

The TG-7A stalls straight ahead in a pretty predictable and docile way.  But, apparently, any lack of coordination or any bank in a stall will cause the aircraft to depart controlled flight and it apparently takes a long time and a lot of altitude to recover.  I suspect that this is because there’s so much wing length to stall that, once you’re stalled, it takes a long time to reestablish that laminar flow over enough wing to give you controllable flight.

The POH says that the first and most prominent indication of the onset of a stall is the stall horn.  There’s supposedly some buffet and some oil-canning, but I gather from the POH that the aircraft flies like it’s not stalled until it’s stalled and that there aren’t a lot of audible or feelable warnings of stall onset other than the stall horn.

Stall speed at max gross on the model equipped with wing cuffs (which is what I’m flying) is 53 mph calibrated with wings level, 67 at 45 degrees of bank, and 75 at 60 degrees of bank.  If the speed brakes are out, those speeds are about three mph higher.

The glider club flies all low maneuvers at or above 80 mph.  They train all new guys to assume that they will die instantly if they bank the aircraft at less than 75 mph.  That’s an okay rule for me.  I’ll bet that you can get away with less than 75 mph.  I’ve been in a gaggle climb and seen airspeeds down to 65 mph with no ill effect.   But I have no problem whatsoever with keeping it at or above 80 when I’m in the pattern or in any attitude other than wings-level

The flight envelope extends out to +5.33G/-2.67G.  And there’s a G meter in the aircraft.  My flights so far have all registered within a range of 0G to around +2G.

The stall and departure numbers get really important in one particular maneuver.  It’s the practice emergency return to the runway.  The maneuver is designed to simulate an engine failure (or, in a non-self-launched gliders, a tow-rope break) immediately after takeoff.

If you have enough altitude (the POH says 350 AGL), you start by pushing for airspeed.  And I do mean push.  Actually, shove.  You should approach zero G or so on the push.  Once you have 80 mph of airspeed, you bury a the upwind wing to about 45 degrees of bank and coordinate with rudder, then pull.  If you do it right, you look down the wing and watch the aircraft pivot around the wingtip until the departure end of the runway appears in your field of view.  At that point, you roll out and land downwind back on the departure end of the runway.

Remember that, at 45 degrees of bank, the stall speed is 67 mph calibrated.  If you push perfectly and get your 80 mph, you’re still only 13 mph above a stall.  This is the most airspeed-critical maneuver that I’ve ever done.  It requires very focused concentration and you have to divide your attention about 70% outside and about 30% inside to make sure that you have your airspeed where you need it.

The emergency return must look dramatic.  This gorgeous yellow longwing aircraft wings-up and pulling through a turn just 250 feet above the departure end of the runway, then gliding gracefully back in with the spoilers out.

Anyway, perhaps the most surprising thing about the TG-7A is that I couldn’t fly it as PIC.  It has wings and ailerons and a stabilator and an engine and a prop.  And lots of other stuff that look pretty familiar if you’ve flown airplanes.  But the TG-7A is not an airplane.  It’s a glider.  A self-launching glider to be sure, but still a glider.  And because it’s in the glider category, I couldn’t fly it as PIC unless I had a glider category add-on to my certificate.

Not one to suffer an ill-conceived and arbitrary barrier to come between me and beautiful yellow aircraft, I rapidly resolved to begin training for a glider rating.

So I began meeting John at Detroit City in the hurt-early hours of the morning before sunrise so that we could launch early and get some quality time in before the workday started.  My early training was largely in the pattern.  Detroit City doesn’t allow pattern work before 0800L so, if you want to fly at sunrise, you have to go elsewhere.  Which isn’t actually a problem.  The guys in the club usually either fly down the Detroit River just this side of the US-Canadian border to Grosse Isle Municipal Airport (KONZ) or up over eastern Detroit to Romeo State Airport (D98) or Ray Community Airport (57D).

Pattern work is pretty straightforward.  Full power with the stick back.  Very shortly after that, you push to get the tail up and accelerate to about 55 mph.  I confess that I’ve never actually looked at the airspeed indicator for rotation speed.  She just flies when she’s ready to fly.

The next phase is very helicopter-like.  You keep the aircraft in ground effect until you have 75 mph.  Then you climb at 80.  That’s a lot of time in ground effect and you get the sense of being in a helicopter skimming the ground for several hundred feet.  Very cool.

We cheat over to the downwind side of the runway as soon as the aircraft is airborne.  If you lose the engine, that’s 50 or 100 lateral feet that you don’t have to angle back.  It also gets you thinking very early about which way you’ll turn if you have to do an emergency return.

You call out landing options as you climb, walking your eyes from vacant lot to parking lot to field until you get 350 AGL.  At that point, if you lose the engine, you’re going back using the emergency return technique.  I start my crosswind turn upon reaching 350 AGL.  There’s nothing ahead of me that’s going to be helpful if I lose the engine, so getting the runway closer to the nose earlier is a good idea.

Crosswind and downwind are like they are in any other aircraft.  We like to pull the throttle back from 2,600 to 2,350 when rolling out on downwind and, if we have the time before reaching downwind abeam, pull the power to 2,200 for the last 100 to 200 feet of the climb to pattern altitude.

Downwind abeam, you become a glider.  Carb heat, throttle to idle, fuel pump on.  Left hand goes to the speed brake down by your leg and, if you’re in the left seat, you move your right hand to the stick.  80 mph over the fence, 80 mph at the numbers, and flare.  The speed brake becomes your throttle.  If you’re low, but the brakes away and extend the glide.

You can call it cheating that I’m getting my rating in a motorglider.  But I call speed brakes cheating on any aircraft.  They’re wonderful tools that make the whole landing process so much easier. I wish the C-182T has speed brakes.

The TG-7A is a taildragger, so you want the stick all the way back after you touch down to keep the tail planted.  And, like any taildragger, you fly the aircraft all the way to the hangar with the controls as appropriate for the wind.

Gliding is fairly straightforward in the TG-7A.  Pull the carb heat, turn on the electric fuel pump, and pull the throttle to idle.  Presto!  You’re flying a glider.  The prop is out there windmilling, but your performance isn’t a lot different (for better or worse) than if the prop were stopped.  In fact, the best-glide speed in the POH is 59 mph with power at idle and 62 mph with the prop stopped.

You can also stop the prop entirely as well.  You omit the fuel pump and pull the mixture to idle cutoff.  The prop will windmill, but you can stop that by slowing the airspeed down to about 68 mph.  The prop should then stay stopped unless you get the airspeed back up to around 98 mph.

I’ve flown the aircraft both ways.  Other than the quiet in the cockpit, the sight of the stopped prop in the windshield, and the additional bits of seat cushion I have to pick out of my butt after gliding back to Detroit City Airport over several miles of unlandable terrain, it’s essentially the same thing.

It’s important to remember that the best-glide speeds are much slower than the sacred 75 mph.  If you’re gliding along at 62 mph and you need to turn, you have to push for at least 75 mph and then make your turn.

A glider add-on in a motorglider is amazingly easy for someone like me.

For a private pilot with airplane single-engine land on his or her certificate and at least 40 hours of flight time in powered aircraft, you have to log at least three hours of flight time in a glider that must include a minimum of 10 training flights, 10 solo flights, and three training flights in preparation for the checkride.  The checkride consists of an oral and practical test.  There’s no written.

That’s it!  And here’s the amazing thing.  If you’re flying a self-launched glider, every trip around the patch is a “flight.”  One could knock out all of one’s solo glider flights in an hour in the pattern.  I knocked out all of my dual requirements during the first three or four flights.  I still have plenty to learn about gliders, but I can consume the manuals fairly easily and it then remains only to knock out the solo flights and the preparation for the checkride.

I’d imagine that most glider candidates (here meaning those who aren’t training in self-launched gliders) take a fairly long time to get their flights in.  You have to wait around for a tow plane or winch operator.  You have to position the glider for every flight.  You need other people, like wing runners.  It borders on ballooning in terms of the number of other people that you need to involve before you can fly.  I can see how it might take weeks and months to knock out a glider rating if you went the aero-tow or ground launch routes.

It’s not like I’m antisocial.  I’m definitely not.  But I don’t have that kind of time to chase another rating.  For me, it’s motorglider or no glider rating.

There are those of you who will say that a glider rating in a motorglider isn’t a real glider rating.  Bite me.  You are, of course, right in many respects.  It has the air of cheating.  But you can bite me anyway.  The motorglider makes it so that I can get the rating in the amount of time that I have.  It also adds some level of safety because, if I really screw the pooch and bring it in too shallow, if I’ve left the motor running, I can always just goose the throttle to get me over the trees.  My family likes that idea.  I like that idea.  And it’s not like I’ve never brought it in with the prop stopped.  I have.

It’s mid-May and I’ve flown 18.9 hours this year.  Between the pure motorglider training and the formation work, all but about five hours has been in one kind of glider or another.  There are somewhere around 110 takeoffs and landings in there and, counting some Citabria time, more than 100 are tailwheel.  It’s a genuine stick-and-rudder year.

The glider training has been fun, make no mistake.  It beats work any time.  But, for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been at that mysterious and ugly stage of training.  If you’ve worked on a pilot rating at least through solo, you know what I’m talking about.  You’re picture perfect for a few maneuvers or takeoffs or landings and then you have a moment that makes you wonder what the hell you’re doing within reach of the flight controls.  It’s like being in sixth grade all over again.  And I hated sixth grade.

I’ve added on a multi-engine rating, a seaplane rating, and an airliner SIC type rating. I top-gunned CAP intermediate mission aircrew school for my session.   It’s not like I don’t know how to fly.  But this is the first time since 2004 that there’s been a solo requirement for the rating.

That does a couple of things and both of them make the solo a big hurdle.  First, the IP is going to want to be absolutely confident that you’re not going to bend your aircraft or yourself.  For the multi and the seaplane ratings – and in lots of other cases – you’re not going to solo.  At most, you’re going to fly with an examiner in the aircraft and, if you do anything stupid, the examiner will probably be able to save your bacon.  Not so where there’s a solo involved.  So the IP will pay very close attention and make sure that you’re more than ready before cutting you loose.

Second, I don’t fly solo much.  Tim Brutsche told me one that it’s a sin to fly an aircraft with an empty hole in it.  Flying is a social thing.  I like having company in the cockpit and making it a shared experience.  CAP aircrews are the best company there is.  I’ve also flown my mom, my dad, and my brother.

It’s not like I need someone in the aircraft to save my bacon.  (If you’ve ever met my mom, you’d know that she would be exceedingly unlikely to save anyone’s bacon in an aircraft.)  I like to keep a patter of conversation going in the aircraft.  I talked at length in the First Solo episode in October of 2006 about that bag of anxieties that I carried around.  I still take it with me on every flight.  It exudes various noises and vaguely reptilian smells.  It’s a huge help because it keeps me from doing anything stupid.  But it almost kept me from becoming a pilot.

You know how they say that engines make funny sounds at night or over unlandable terrain?  The engine’s just fine, but you care a lot more about it under those circumstances and you’re liable to her stuff that’s not there.  That’s how solo is for me.  Sitting there all alone in an aircraft allows opportunities to think about – well – sitting there all alone in an aircraft.  The anxiety bag squirms around there in the back seat and makes the usual noises and gives off the usual smells.

In private conversations over the last six years I’ve come to understand that I’m far from the only pilot bothered by that.  I’m one of the few pilots I know who’s not afraid to have brought it up and talked about it frankly.  And that has allowed others to talk to me about it.  If you’re more comfortable having another person or two in the aircraft than you are all alone, you’re in excellent company.  You and I might even be in the majority.  Not many talk about it.  I’m perfectly happy to talk about it.  More of us should.  My little anxiety bag is a perfectly appropriate thing to have, along with my headset, my E-6B, and my first-aid kit.  It’s simply something that keeps me safe and, if the cost associated with that is that a flight now and then is less pleasant than it might be with company, it’s more than worth it.

So I’ve got a duly attentive IP and I’ve got the mild discomfort of flying a new category of aircraft all by myself for the first time.

A session in the aircraft last weekend with lots of VFR navigation, nonstandard procedures, and other work was valuable.  But it didn’t do anything for my confidence in my skills.  I got a good look at some of the other elements of the envelope of the aircraft.  But it touched off another round of those moments when I’d swear that I had no business being at the controls.  I soldiered through it.  I’ll be a better glider pilot eventually because of it.  But it was a long drive home from the airport that night.

I made arrangements to meet John at Detroit City at dawn on Friday, which is around 0630L this time of year.  I arrived at around 0530L to preflight and position the cameras.  I like to fly four or five interior cameras, plus an audio system.  It’s a good thing that I can set up the cameras in the dark, because I couldn’t find the light switch in the hangar.  There are plenty of Frankenstein-style switches and breakers in the 1940s-style hangar, but I don’t like throwing Frankenstein-style switches or breakers when I’m not absolutely sure what they do.

The hangar faces to the east and I finished setting up the cameras as it was getting light.  I rolled back the big hangar doors and preflighted in the growing dawn.  Full fuel.  Five quarts of oil.  Every caselated nut checked and every piano hinge scrutinized.

John rolled up, we pulled her out, and we started her up.  We departed from Runway 33 and flew north for Romeo.  I’m slowly rediscovering VFR pilotage and there’s a power line with a green strip on either side that basically runs straight to Romeo.  And staying close to it keeps you away from Selfridge ANGB to the east.

Romeo State Airport (D98) has a 4,000-foot north-south runway.  It used to have a 1,500-foot east-west runway that was good for teaching short-field technique.  Romeo and Lapeer (D95) each tend to attract non-local traffic when people are looking for (or trying to avoid) crosswinds elsewhere.  But, with the winds out of the north, it ended up being pretty much perfect for what John and I wanted to do, which was beat up the pattern.  About four miles out, I pulled the carb heat and the power just to get another experience of guessing glide distance.  I needn’t have worried.  We got to the airport with a thousand feet to spare.

We rocked out 15 landings at Romeo.  Left traffic and right traffic.  All kinds of configurations.  On the last one, we even pulled the power and did an emergency return, landing downwind on 18.  There was hair on a couple of the landings.  I got a little side load on the first two and I let myself get pushed to the downwind side of the runway.  John suggested that I artificially narrow the runway by staying on the left half.  After all, I had done fine on Brighton’s 24-foot runway a couple of weeks before.  That did the trick and I was soon keeping it within a very narrow lateral area.

I also got the chance to dial in my base and final.  It was pretty calm down near the ground, but there was a reasonably brisk crosswind from the west beginning at about 500 AGL.  Flying both left and right traffic gave me a chance to turn harder on the left base and pay more attention to preserving the glide on right base.

We left Romeo and went to Ray (57D) the site of last year’s filming of the second Acro Camp movie.  I hadn’t been to Ray since last August, when construction of the taxiway had begun in earnest.  We did a full stop with taxi-back on 27 and then put it on the grass on 36 before pulling up to the ramp.

By that point, I think I had a pretty good idea of what was coming.  When John asked whether we ought to get gas at Ray or head back to City, that clinched it.  Even though the TG-7A sips gas, you can’t get from Ray to City without leaving noticeable room in the talk.  When you carry only 14.2 gallons usable, you fill the tank to the top every time.  John offering the option of fueling at Ray meant only one thing.  I was going to solo when we got back to City.  A few minutes later, he confirmed it.

We hung out and talked to Todd Yuhas and some of the locals for a few minutes, then started up, departed on 27, and pointed her at Detroit City.  Upon arriving, we went twice around on Runway 25.  On the second one, John had me talk through the entire sequence out loud as I flew the pattern.

“Okay.  Full stop and taxi back to the hangar.  Got your logbook on you?”

I taxied back and handed John my logbook.  He climbed out, buckled his harness, and took his flight bag out of the back.  He shook my hand and I taxied out.

I was pretty well relaxed.  It was a perfect day.  I had just knocked out something like 20 landings.  Even the first few at Romeo had been to PTS or better.

The wind was pretty much right down 33 at around four knots.  Not much other traffic.  It was only about 1000L and maybe 65 Farenheit, so no real convection yet.

I called for taxi, then for takeoff.  I rolled out onto 33, talking the pre-takeoff checklist as I did.

[Audio 01]

Unlike any solo before this, I was confident.  This wasn’t a grand test of the spirit.  This wasn’t a lifetime gut check.  On my first solo, the outcome of the flight itself was never in doubt.  Even then, more than 10 years ago, I was flying the aircraft very competently.  The only question then was whether I had the guts to actually firewall the throttle and rotate.

Here and now, with the sun streaming down through the canopy, the sky a painful cobalt blue, and the canary yellow of the wings in my peripheral vision, there wasn’t any doubt that I’d firewall the throttle.  I was looking forward to it.

Don’t get me wrong.  Any first solo in any new kind of airframe is a majestic thing.  It’s what we all owe our ancestors of 10,000 years who knew that flight must be possible, but who didn’t know how to do it.  It’s one of the most magnificent things that a human can do.

[Audio 02]

I got five trips around the pattern.  The absence of John’s 180 pounds made a big difference.  Climb rate was excellent.  I turned crosswind before the numbers at the other end.  Every landing was beautiful in its own way.  I flared high a couple of times.  But the aircraft didn’t seem to mind.  As long as I got it into a box near the numbers, it was like there was an invisible funnel waiting for me that took me into landing attitude right at the touchdown point.  Only one landing was anything other than what I’d call a greaser.

On the third or fourth time around, I heard an airport truck calling the tower or ground about a truck parked near the gate.  I think that ground and tower was combined, so I’m pretty sure that I was hearing ground.  The controller called the airport police to send someone over to investigate the truck.  I kept flying.

After the fifth landing, I taxied back to the hangar.  It turned out that the truck by the gate was John’s.  He had pulled up to the entrance to the ramp so that he could sit in his truck and watch me while making a few calls.  He didn’t have airport credentials with him, so the airport police were giving him the hairy eyeball.  John drove back to the hangar with the police car and the airport security vehicle in tow.  It seems that the fact that I treated John like he was supposed to be there had something to do with the hairy eyeball being turned aside.  It’s not that I had airport credentials for Detroit City Airport. But I had better.  I had an aircraft.  And an aircraft beats credentials every time.

Being that the day was pretty much perfect and that I only needed another five trips around the pattern, I asked whether John needed to be anywhere else for the next 30 minutes and, when he said that he didn’t, I jumped back in the aircraft and banged out the remaining five takeoffs and landings.

We put the aircraft away.  Afterward, I reviewed John’s endorsements in my logbook and then added a an entry of my own.  My first PIC time in the glider category.

So now it’s on to the checkride.  I have an oral and a practical test to look forward to.  I have some more to learn about the soaring elements and some other glider lore that I’ve been able to avoid learning up until now.  We’re going to get up to altitude and probably do a little more soaring and engine-off work.  And I’ll figure out what I need to know for the oral.

I understand from John that the commercial glider checkride isn’t that much more demanding than the private.  So it looks like I’ll be upping my game in at least one additional way.  I’m shooting for a commercial pilot certificate.  It’s going to be a weird-looking certificate, with commercial pilot on it, but ASEL, AMEL, ASES, IA, and DC-3 limited to private privileges only.  But that’s fine.  My path through aviation has been anything but standard.  A weird-looking certificate is just fine by me.

And I guess that that’s another thing about aviation.  When I set my goals for the year, I wanted to, among other things, get my commercial certificate, but thought that it would be ASEL initially.  And I had no idea whatsoever that I’d be adding a glider rating.  Planning is good.  If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  But you need to be flexible enough to pursue great opportunities when they arise.  And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

And, in addition to the glider element, I’m flying formation with a team that’s going to be appearing at airshows as soon as this summer.  I have some way to go before I get a FAST card and get formation qualified to do what John and Mark do.

But here’s the thing.  This year has kicked off a series of experiences for Airspeed centered on being behind the scenes at airshows.  I’ve already embedded with one airshow team this year and I have several other opportunities in the works, including a possible narrator gig at at least one show.  Now, I’m training – in the aircraft and at the controls – with a team that’s about to make its debut on the airshow circuit.  It’s not inconceivable that I might end up one of the demo pilots for the team at some point.  At some level, I began Airspeed as a way of understanding what it’s like to be an airshow performer.  Imagine how cool it would be if I ended up becoming an airshow performer.  It’s at least partially hyperbole for the moment.  But I’ve started with even greater hyperbole before.  And you know what happens when I start something.

The TG-7A is a gorgeous bird.  Did I mention that it’s yellow?  Like Stearman and Harvard yellow.  I defy you to land it at an airport and not draw a crowd of locals asking what the heck it is and how one gets to fly something so beautiful.  I challenge you to post pictures of yourself on Facebook flying the aircraft and not get lots of questions and interest about it.

I have more to learn, as I always do.  But that’s as it should be.  I expect to take a few more steps back among the forward steps.  But, for now, and for the areas of operations involved, I have demonstrated that I am the obvious mater of the aircraft.  And, not trivially, of myself.  And, if aviation is about more than that, it’s not much more.

Stay tuned.  There’s more yellow longwing to come!

About Steve Tupper

Stephen Force is the superhero alter ego of mild-mannered tech and aviation lawyer, commercial pilot (glider, with private privileges in ASEL, ASES, AMEL, IA, and DC-3 (SIC) type-rated), and Civil Air Patrol lieutenant colonel Steve Tupper. Steve writes, records, and brings you the inside story about everything that really matters in aviation. He's flown with the USAF Thunderbirds, he's and airshow performer and air boss, and he's one of only five pilots ever to earn a FAST card in the glider category. Follow Steve's ongoing quest to do all that is cool in aviation at or on Twitter as @StephenForce.


  1. Howard Morris says:

    Read every word, Steve. Brilliant! Would love to share that cockpit with you sometime.

    Now I can sleep. cheers!



  1. [...] in the TG-7A motorglider to add a glider rating. In May, I soloed the aircraft for the first time. Part 1 covered events up through the solo. On to Part [...]