My first time gliding

On the 27th of January, I went gliding for the first time. I decided I wanted to give gliding a try as it’s a cheaper alternative to flying the PA28 and it’s also a way to develop and expand my flying skills.

It was an amazing experience.

The day started with the drive to Denbigh airfield. It’s located near the small town of the same name and close to a series of hills and ridges. It’s about an hour away from my house.

We started with a straightforward pre-flight briefing. I was told that the mountain-waves were in full force and that it was possible to get to 8,000 feet.

Mountain-waves form when wind hits the side of a hill or mountain. The wind gets pushed up and creates an area of lift on the side of the mountain facing the wind. Once the air crosses the peak of the hill or mountain, it sinks back down on the other side. Therefore, it is essential to remain upwind of the peak!

As it happens, 8,000 feet would be an altitude record for me. I typically don’t fly much higher than 4,000 feet in my PA28. This is mainly due to the airspace restrictions that are in place around the country. However, the airspace at Denbigh has special provision for gliders to fly as high as 20,000 feet.

Once I walked to the glider, I helped wheel it in to position. It was quite light and easy to maneuver on the ground. I then put on a parachute and got in to the aircraft.

The instructor said that if I needed to bail out, not to pull the rip cord to the side like in the movies, but to instead pull it downwards - hard. He said that gathering the required strength to pull the rip cord would be no problem because the adrenaline would likely be free-flowing anyway.

I asked why we needed the parachute. This is not a silly question as, in general aviation, we don’t wear parachutes. He said that because gliders are known to thermal in the same parcel of air, the risk of collision is higher. If you collide, the airframe is likely to be compromised. The parachute acts as the last line of defense. The last roll of the dice.

With the brief complete, I jumped in to the plane. You can see the inside of the cockpit here:

Picture of glider cockpit

Once I was properly seated, the instructor got in to the glider and the tow-plane you see in the image took up the slack. Soon after we shot down the runway and got in to the air.

When we were low down in the valley the air was incredibly choppy. You could tell that it took the instructor’s considerable skill to keep the glider in the right position behind the towing aircraft.

Eventually we climbed up to about 2,000 feet and we detached from the tow-plane. The instructor then steered us nicely in to the mountain wave.

Suddenly the glider was climbing and it was climbing very quickly. At one point it was climbing at nearly 800 feet per minute. The climb performance of my PA28 is only about double this at max rate of climb. To be able to climb this quickly with no engine at all was impressive.

It was at about this point he transferred the controls to me. It was a completely alien experience. The glider wanted to yaw enormously whenever I made the smallest of inputs. Every movement of the stick needed to be matched with an equal action with the rudder. I found this quite hard to do consistently.

However, with my instructor’s help I managed to stay in the lift and climbed the glider to 8,000 feet. You can see the view in this image:

The glider at altitude

We did a bit of air-work. I was okay trimming the glider for a fixed airspeed and maintaining that, but my turns were pretty un-coordinated and felt strange. It’s going to take a few lessons to really get a feel for how to control the glider properly.

Eventually, I managed to do a reasonably decent turn. I centered the controls properly as I entered the turn. This established me on a nice gentle bank to the left. I then did the same exiting the turn. It still feels really weird to stamp on the rudder as hard as you do in the glider.

Eventually, as the lesson drew to an end the instructor asked if we should have a bit of fun. There was a glider lower down climbing up in the mountain-wave below. He asked if I wanted to fly in formation with this glider.

The instructor took the controls and swooped down towards the other glider. This really showed me what the glider was actually capable of in practice. The maneuver was nothing like anything I’d done in powered flight, it felt more like the sort of thing you’d do in a fighter jet.

We then flew next to this glider for a few seconds:

The glider in formation

The views were as stunning as it looks.

The glider in the picture was a better model than ours and we had to break formation as it was becoming hard to keep up.

After breaking away, the instructor had one final surprise for me. He asked me “Do you want to do a loop?”

There was only one answer of course: “Yes!”

He accelerated the glider to 120 knots and then started pulling back on the stick. You could feel significant G and then after a few seconds, the ground was above my head. I got light in my seat and then started coming back around.

It’s a real shame but I don’t have a video or photo of that particular experience. That was my first time doing aerobatics of any kind and it left me with the taste of wanting more.

Finally, it was time for me to end my lesson. We then entered the circuit for Denbigh’s landing strip. This felt pretty much like a standard circuit in powered flight. It was the same sort of picture when landing at a small airfield in the PA28.

The instructor showed me the use of the air-brakes to control the rate of descent on approach. He said it behaved similar to applying or removing power to control the sink-rate on final in a powered aircraft.

He made what looked like an effortless landing. He even judged the energy so that the glider stopped right where we originally turned it around and took off from. That meant we didn’t have to retrieve it from the other end of the strip.

This was the story of my first glider flight. It became clear afterwards that this is something I want to pursue. The mission for 2024 - and perhaps beyond - is to get my gliding license!

  1. 2024-02-03 23:25 GMT
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