Because Glider – Audio Episode Show Notes

2-33 on Runway 02

This is a two-part presentation, but I wanted to keep everything in one place.  Accordingly, I’ll put links to both audio parts here as they’re released.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Because Glider: Being an Account of One Man’s Path to the CFI Certificate by Way of Uncle Ernie’s Holiday Camp, a Couch at a Radio Station, &c.

If you follow me anywhere on social media, you’ll know that I recently completed the Herculean effort of becoming a certified flight instructor (or “CFI”) in the glider category.

I first started flying gliders in 2012 when my friend, and later instructor, John Harte, invited me to go fly a motorglider after a haircut that I had scheduled in Detroit one Saturday. By the second time we flew, I was training for the rating. Four months later, I was a commercial glider pilot and, six months later, I flew my first airshows as a performer in the same aircraft. Since then I’ve logged more than 200 hours in motorgliders, more than half of that in formation.


Winter in the ASK 21

Through the kind efforts of Mark Grant, Chris Felton, and others in the Civil Air Patrol, I even added an aerotow endorsement so that I could fly gliders that had no onboard powerplants. I earned that one after about 20 tows, most of them conducted in Owosso, Michigan in single-digit Fahrenheit temperatures where you had to close the canopy and hold your breath until you had airflow through the window on takeoff so you wouldn’t completely frost the inside of the canopy. If you earn an aerotow endorsement in Michigan in the winter, you have well and truly worked for that endorsement.

And then, like the urge of Ishmael to get to sea, I began to feel the urge to do the next big thing. Certainly, there are plenty of challenges that could have been that next big thing. I really ought to add both single- and multi-engine airplanes to my commercial certificate.

But a number of things pushed me to go for the CFI. I’m very broad in aviation, but not very deep. Until I started flying gliders, I could fly a lot of stuff, but only with private privileges. I did my glider checkride at the commercial level simply because the practical test standards are about the same for private vs. commercial and the only other requirements are the knowledge test and a more comprehensive oral during the checkride. (Written test and comprehensive oral? Oh, please don’t throw me in that briar patch!) So the idea of taking a single category of flying all the way to CFI appealed to me.

I have a son who was getting close to turning 14 at the time. His name is Nicholas, but most of you know him by his callsign, “FOD.” He has about 30 hours bumming around in the TG-7A with me, most of it sitting there in the instructor seat while I fly. 14 is an important age for someone who flies gliders because that’s the age at which you can solo. And it doesn’t matter that the aircraft has an engine and a propeller. If it’s certified in the glider category, you can solo it at 14. I decided that it was not enough to just fly around with him or teach him without having the CFI in my pocket. I wanted to take him to a real CFI for the solo and the checkride.

Lastly, I had always thought that instructing would be fun and that I’d become a much better pilot if I did it. During the DC-3 rating, I had the chance to sit in the back and watch somebody else fly under circumstance where I could just watch and think about flying. That was one of the most productive experiences I’ve ever had in flight training. I couldn’t help but think that being able to really observe and critique would make me a much better pilot.

So, last spring, I decided to go for the instructor certificate. This is the story of that journey.
[Read more...]

Inside Airshows – Part 3: Tuskegee 3 – Audio Episode Show Notes

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here:  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

If you want to understand a subculture or an experience, a great way to do that is to take an outsider and plunge him into the place you want to know about, wait awhile, then drag him back to the surface and wring him out to see how it changed him.  It’s even better if you can get the guy to wring himself out.  You begin to realize that not everybody who writes about the majesty of flight does it because he’s a fighter pilot.  Some of us write because we’re not fighter pilots.

You also need to talk about the world in its own terms, using the lexicon of the world, sometimes without explaining the vocabulary to the uninitiated, except maybe through context.  If you’re a pilot, you’ll understand most of this.  If you’re not a pilot, that’s okay, because you’ll feel a little of the strangeness of this world and you’ll put it together in context and in realtime.  Just like I did.  In some ways, you’re in for a better ride than the pilots.

There are three things you need to know about me.

First, I’m a pretty average Joe.  I’m 46.  By any reasonable estimation, my life is more than half over.  I live in the suburbs.  I have a wife and two kids.  I run the rat race every day about as well as the next guy.  You wouldn’t recognize me if you ran into me in the grocery store.

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Second, I always wanted to be an astronaut.

Third, I realized a few years ago that it was entirely up to me where between that baseline and that dream I would live each day of the rest of my life.


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Listen to this.

[ICAS hall noise.]

This is the sound of a magical zone in spacetime.  It’s a room with about 60,000 square feet of floor space.  It’s at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I don’t know what happens in that room for the other 361 days each year.  I’m not even sure that this room  exists for the other 361 days of the year.  But, for four days each December, it’s filled wall to wall with just about every airshow performer who’s active anywhere in the us and Canada.  This is the exhibit hall at the International Council of Air Shows annual convention.

Standing at the back of the hall facing the doors way across the room, the Thunderbirds and the other Air Force TAC DEMO and static display pilots and leadership are off to the left against the far wall.  The Blue Angels and the rest of the Navy and Marine Corps contingent are on the opposite wall.  The Snowbirds are in the middle on this side.  Sean Tucker, Mike Goulian, Skip Stewart, Patty Wagstaff, Bill Stein, Rob Holland, Billy Werth, Greg Koontz, Kent Pietsch, Andy Anderson, Bob Carlton, Gene Soucy, Scooter Yoak, Team Aerodynamix, John Klatt . . . every one of them is in this room right now.  Hanging out.  Booking next year’s appearances. Swapping stories.  Doing whatever superheroes do when they get together each year between seasons. [Read more...]

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...]

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!