Thursday, October 16, 2008

Citius, Altius, Fortius...Swifter, Higher, Stronger

The Olympic motto takes on new meaning when I think of flying a sailplane. Since this oydessy began more than two years ago I have learned to fly faster, higher and with more courage than ever. In my case the last word of the motto should be Virtus, or man of courage.

When I first started flying gliders I was amazed at how dynamic the air is. Sometimes the thermals are like a gentle push, other times they are like a kick in the seat of the pants. Wherever there is lift there will be a proportionate amount of sinking air nearby. Where there is really good lift you can bet there is exceptional sink. The solution? Fly slower in the lift and faster through the sink. I’m used to flying between 40-60 knots (46-69 mph) and the wind going past my canopy makes a gentle whisper. Flying through sinking air I’ll speed up to say 80 knots (92 mph). The wind sounds like it’s roaring. I wonder what the sound is like at the 142 knot (163 mph) redline of my plane.

I love being high above the ground in my plane. (It’s ironic that I don’t like getting up on the roof of my house.) The world looks different the higher you go. Everything looks friendlier. After a flight the euphoria slowly wears off and I see that the only that has changed is me. The world is still the same.

I’ve heard that it takes a certain amount of courage to fly away from your home airport for the first time. I am just starting to test the limits of my courage by flying further away from the airport. On one flight I was talking with another pilot who had flown his sailplane from Idaho Falls and was circling over Logan and was getting ready to head back. He said the air was great and I should consider flying north to where he was. I told him I was a relatively new pilot and I still had chicken feathers growing out my rear end. He said, “It’s time to pluck those feathers.” Indeed it is.

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