FAST Formation Ground School

You’d have to have worked pretty hard this Sunday to beat my Sunday.  I kicked it off with the FAST formation ground school at Detroit City Airport (KDET).

The Formation and Safety Team (FAST) is a worldwide educational organization dedicated to teaching safe formation flying.  FAST is made up of 16 signatory organizations whose mission is to support education in the restoration, maintenance and flight of their members’ aircraft.  FAST does not itself promulgate standards that reach into the cockpits of the individual formation ships.  Signatory organizations take the core FAST materials and customize them to their aircraft-specific missions.

This specific session was hosted by the Tuskegee Airmen Glider Club, a club that operates three of the remaining nine Schweizer SGM 2-37 motorgliders, all surplus from the USAF Academy since 2003.  The club wants to be able to fly the gliders in formation in waivered airspace at airshows, which requires that the pilots have the appropriate FAST cards.  The ground school is the beginning of the process, so they hosted one. [Read more...]

Video Episode – CAP Glider Sorties

Airspeed – VIDEO – CAP Glider Sorties from Steve Tupper on Vimeo.

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These are the show notes to a video episode. If you want to watch online, please use the direct link below.

Here’s the video from my first two glider sorties. I went up during the Oakland County International Airport (KPTK; “Pontiac”) Open House 16 August 2009 with Mark Grant.

These were CAP sorties with CAP equipment both towing and towed. And we were in some pretty busy Class D airspace, as you can hear. Great experience. I need to get out and get some stick time as well. Maybe a project for next summer.

BTW, I’m a CAP major and member of CAP’s Oakland Composite Squadron in southeast Michigan. That’s how I got access to these great rides. I also volunteered at the event, handing kids and adults into and out of the CAP aircraft.

I put this footage up in and Airspeed episode because it was a great experience and because I promote CAP to anyone who’ll listen. But you should know that CAP doesn’t endorse or promote Airspeed. Fair enough?

First Glider Flight

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or links to show audio? Please check out the other posts.

It was a pretty eventful open house at the Oakland County International Airport (KPTK) today. After the motor glider flight, I got up twice in a Schweizer SGS 2-32 glider.

The GSG 2-32 is a two- or three-place glider with all-metal semi-monocoque construction and cantilevered wings that span 57 feet. The wing aspect ratio is 18.05 and it boasts a max gross weight of 1,349 pounds and a max glide ratio of 33:1 at 52 mph.

This particular aircraft, N99859, was manufactured in 1966 and it’s among 65 registered in North America out of the 87 that were made. The model flew at the Air Force Academy as the TG-5. Civil Air Patrol now owns this glider and the Michigan Wing uses it to train both cadets and senior members.

We launched from the big runway at KPTK (27L) with all kinds of traffic on the parallel and in the airspace above us. CAPFLIGHT 2029 towed us up to around 3,500 feet and we then circled the airport for about ten minutes before landing back on 27L and running her off at taxiway R.

Here are some frame grabs from the video that I shot on the two rides. Watch for the video episode in the feed sometime soon.

Pushing the glider out onto 27L. Kind of weird to be standing out there on the approach end of the runway when I’m used to seeing it only from a cockpit.

Two of the Oakland Composite Squadron’s finest cadets helping to position the glider for the tow. I’m strapped in and taking stills until Mark gets in.

Loading in the rest of our two-man crew. Mark Grant up front. Mark was on the aero-tow from Owosso earlier in the week and flew both these glider sorties as well as the motor glider sortie an hour or so before.

Heading up on the tow. Now that’s formation! Enforced formation at that. A 200-foot tow rope connects the aircraft.

A great view of the open house ramp as we come in over the airport.

Westbound over newly-extended and painted 27L with the ramp on the left.

An idea of the wing shape from the back seat. The lens bends it a little, but you can clearly see the aspect ratio of the wing.

It’s really peaceful up there at 50-55 mph with the wind pretty quiet and the bubble canopy and commanding view. You’re really up there in the air and, during these steady moments just floating around at the minimum sink speed, it would be easy to feel like you were ruler of all you surveyed.

Mark briefs the approach as we head in from the north.

The turn from base to final.

This is one of my favorite shots. In this aircraft, you feel as though you could reach out and touch the runway. Visibility is excellent and Mark is the obvious master of the aircraft – landing it precisely, hitting the called taxiway, and bringing it in to the ramp to stop exactly where the cadets are waiting to take it back to the static display.

Look for the video episode soon. Additionally, you can bet that I’m going to be heading back for more glider training soon.

First Motor Glider Flight

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or links to show audio? Please check out the other posts.

I’ve always thought that motor gliders are cool. Really long wings. Crazy glide ratios. And engines.

Yeah, the purists probably have their issues with the motors, but not me. It a motor in the froint is the price for not having to have a tow plane, tow pilot, and at least one wing runner in order to go soaring, I’m good with it.

Crazy-skilled glider and powered pilot Mark Grant flew the demo. He has access to the two Schweizer SGM 2-37 motor gliders owned by the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum and we went up as lead in a formation of two.

The Schweizer SGM 2-37 is a two-place, side-by-side, fixed gear, low wing, motorized glider. These two represent a sixth of the total production run between 1982 and 1988. None of them saw service with the Air Force Academy, which flew them under the designation TG-7A until 2003.

It’s about 28 feet long, 57 feet wingtip to wingtip, and eight feet tall at the tail. The Lycoming O-235-L2C engine puts out 112 hp, plenty to get us up to 3,500 feet above the airport.

We launched as a flight of two and flew a loose right echelon for the first thousand feet or so. Maybe 200-300 feet of clearance between aircraft.

You solo the SGM 2-37 from the right seat and that’s where Mark was most comfortable, so we flew the right echelon for his visibility and because we were going to make right turns in the climb. Here’s a show of the other aircraft in the formation.

Above about 1,000 feet AGL, Mark accelerated his right turn so that we ended up climbing in a large circle, wingtip to wingtip. You can see the other ship pretty clearly in this shot just before we got to 3,500 MSL.

Here’s a good shot of Mark and the landscape just after we cut the engine and went into the glide phase of the flight. We stayed in a roughly circular rotation over the airport until we descended to pattern level (about 1,800 MSL) and then entered a left downwind for 27L. We lead and the other ship followed about a half mile behind.

Here’s the view as we rolled onto final. A formation of five T-6’s did two or more sorties consisting of low passes with smoke on. We coordinated with the tower and glided in behind them. Kind of cool to see the smoke down the runway from this perspective.

I gather that a lot of gliding is understanding the sight picture, being able to judge your sink rate, and having a good stick-and-rudder feel for the aircraft. Once we shut down the engine, I felt pretty good about the glide. It was stable and the maneuvering was a lot of fun.

But then I had that immediate power-pilot urge to turn directly for the airport and set up for a huge slip to get it down on the big runway. Gliding is hanging it out there and knowing what kind of ground the aircraft will cover given the winds, density altitude, and lots of other factors. I’m sure that that will come with experience. You just have to know the sight pictures and develop a new set of decision points to assure that you can make it to the airport and land gracefully when you get there.

Motor gliders have some of the best of both worlds to offer. In any case, it was a great transition to flying something with no engine at all.

Which, by the way, was the very adventure that I had (twice!) within the next few hours.

Stay tuned to the feed for video and audio from the flight!

Glider Ops with Aviation Wunderkind Tony Condon

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We interview pilot, CFI, CFII, MEI (add additional initials until your fingers hurt from typing) Tony Condon. Tony (whose shadow appears in the foreground above) hangar-flies with us to talk about glider operations and his philosophy of flight. He’s based at Ames Municipal Airport just south of town in Ames, Iowa, from which he flies and instructs. We caught up with him Wednesday evening and talked for about an hour.

More information about Tony and his really well-written accounts of his glider flights at

In other news, I got to join the panel in the virtual hangar over at Uncontrolled Airspace to talk about instrument flying, instrument flying, and why you should file a flight plan when you’re going cross-country in the winter. I also got to bask live in the aura of Jack, Jeb, and Dave. How cool is it to listen to your favorite hangar-flying podcast and actually interject from time to time? And you get to hear the podcast a few days early. In realtime, in fact!

I managed to follow through on my personal game plan of shutting up and listening whenever Jeb and Dave hit stride, but was pleasantly inpressed by their willingness to let me rattle on a little as well. And Jack is a master moderator. These guys are mensches in a community of mensches. Subscribe to UCAP through iTunes or your favorite other podcatcher or listen directly to Episode 54, Back Course Approach, at

The book is coming along! I’m presently experiencing a poetry block and having difficulty finishing the last piece, but will try to finish it off this weekend. It doesn’t help that work is kicking my ass, but that’s me in November and December. Hard to say I didn’t see it coming.

Stay tuned!