First solo in a glider

First solo victory picture

On the 4th of May, 2024 I performed my first solo in a glider. I’ve been training at Denbigh airfield for the past few months mastering the handling of the Twin II Acro.

It’s safe to say that I’ve learned more as a pilot in the last few months than I did in the last few years doing powered flight.

Before I took up gliding I’d never experienced aerobatics. I’ve now done that two or three times. I’d never flown in formation, now every takeoff is a formation flight. I’d never practiced spins, now I’ve spun a few times and recovered. I’d never done an engine out landing, now every landing is an engine out landing. I’ve really developed as a pilot.

I find the experience just fundamentally more enjoyable. It strips flying back to its fundamentals. Stick, rudder and making proper use of what you have in the atmosphere.

Today’s lesson was quite fast-paced. It consisted of three parts.

First we tackled launch failures, looking at what happens if we have to disconnect the tow early for safety reasons. We disconnected at around 500 feet and I demonstrated I could land the plane on the runway but in the opposite direction from which we took-off. I also did a couple of launches to tidy up my foot-work on take-off. My instructor wanted to make sure I nailed keeping behind the tow plane on the take-off roll.

In the second phase we did some circuit practice. This is the standard maneuvering you do around the airport before landing the aircraft. I took the tow up to 1,500 feet and then practiced getting the glider in to the proper position for landing.

We positioned around what’s called the “high key.”

The high-key is a marker you establish on the ground to begin your down-wind leg to the runway. It’ll be different for different runways, but for this runway there is a useful roundabout that serves as a marker. The rule of thumb is that you should pass over this, heading down-wind, at around 1,000 feet.

The instructor made a joke about giving way to traffic on the right. I was concentrating too much to catch the joke!

On the first attempt I was a little higher than I should have been. I didn’t sort this out early enough and ended up quite high on final approach. This mishap was fixed with the air-brakes but as we landed we came towards the end of the runway a little bit too fast.

On the second circuit, the instructor went completely quiet. He didn’t say a word for the whole flight. I lost a little too much height, coming on to the down-wind leg of the circuit at around 800 feet. However, I handled this challenge well by getting closer in to the airfield. I arrived high on final approach but I maintained the proper speed. The landing was the best I’d ever done. I landed smoothly and cruised to a stop at the end of the runway.

When the glider came to a stop, the instructor said: “Do you want to have a go by yourself?” This came as a shock, but I was up for the challenge.

The take-off run was okay at first. There was a shaky bit mid-way through the take-off roll just before the glider took to the air. I managed to use the rudder to centralise and up she went. I tucked behind the tow plane and the rest of the tow was uneventful.

You can see the take-off run here:

I disconnected the tow at 1,500ft, and then just flew the glider around the high-key.

The winds were very light and the reduced weight made the glider perform better. I decided to make the target height 900 feet. I looped around the high-key a few times and then started to head down-wind for the landing.

I realised, even with this correction, that I was still too high on the approach. I used the air-breaks periodically to lose some height. I completed my pre-landing checks, which for this aircraft is as simple as just checking your straps. I also thought about the cross-wind from the south and how that would push me in towards the runway.

I then positioned for the final approach and made sure my airspeed was 60 knots all the way down. I opened the air-brakes further and descended nicely towards my aiming point half-way down the runway. I rounded out nicely enough and touched down.

However, at this point I made a mistake. I retracted the air-brakes. I think this was probably because I relaxed when the wheels touched down. The correct thing to do would have been to leave the breaks fully open as this takes away all the lift. Closing the air-brakes caused the aircraft to start flying again and led to a few bounces down the runway. There was nothing unsafe there, it was just a bit untidy. I rolled to a stop and that was the end of the flight.

You can judge the quality of the landing yourself, here:

A day to be remembered and hopefully the start of much more fun in the glider as I work my way up to a full glider license.

  1. 2024-05-05 08:39 GMT
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