Recently, I flew my glider, a high performance single place ship ASW-19B, over the mountains near Mnden, NV at 12,500 ft. For experienced cross-country glider pilots, this may seem to be a trivial stepping stone to a 700km flight. For me, it represented overcoming fears and regaining my love for soaring.
I started flying gliders at 19 years old near the town where I grew up – Harris Hill in Elmira, NY. My first flight in a glider was my first time in any aircraft. I immediately enjoyed both the challenge and beauty of flying gliders. Unlike airplanes, gliders have no engine. Gliders rely on sources of rising air to stay aloft. Rising air can come from the thermals breaking away from the ground below. At times, they are marked from building cumulus clouds. Rising air can come from winds that are oriented perpendicular to ridges. These are typical sources of rising air in NY. Out in the west, we get mountain wave which allows glider pilots climb to 30,000ft. and beyond. As you might imagine, glider pilots are aware of the environment and often fly in turbulent conditions. I became hooked during my first solo in which I climbed thousands of feet above the airport seeing further and getting higher than I had ever been before.
My love of soaring was overshadowed by the fear of dying after learning of a woman pilot, who I had befriended and seen days before, died at the airport I had been flying out of. Upon landing, she stalled and spun into the runway. She died upon impact. I continued to fly but always had this concern in the back of my head- this could be me.
A few years later, while working on my private pilot rating in airplanes, I was in an airplane accident. Upon landing, the gear leg of the airplane I was landing broke. Next, the wing fell, the propeller hit the ground and then the airplane ground looped and finally stopped off the side of the runway. We crawled out uninjured but were shaken from the experience. Upon later analysis, the accident was due to the rare case of mechanical failure. This experience reinforced my fears.
Since receiving my glider (a wonderful wedding gift from my husband), I had heard many stories about problems on aerotow and landing with high performance gliders. Given these stories and my mounting fears, I became too afraid to fly this wonderful gift. I also feared I was disappointing my husband. However, I knew that I have lived my life by not letting fear stop me and this was to be another mountain to climb. This year, I decided to fly my glider.
In June, we parked the glider in Minden, NV where I did some transition training in a high performance two-place glider. After passing an inspection, Jeremy flew the ASW 19b glider and gave me some tips on it’s flying characteristics. I memorized the position of the controls in the cockpit. I developed my own pre-flight checklist to make sure I would minimize surprises when flying (e.g. a huge spider in the cockpit). When deciding to fly it, I was nervous but prepared. It was time to not let fear stop me.
During my first flight, the takeoff and aerotow went very smoothly. Once getting off tow, I truly fell back in love with soaring. The glider fit me like a glove – the fuselage curved to the shape of my body. The controls to turn were effortless allowing me to find and stay in rising air without much effort. On my first landing, I floated a ways but stopped well before the end of the runway. Once the glider came to a stop, I realized that I didn’t let fear stop me and my world reopened to the best sport and experience I have ever known. In soaring, as with other challenging experience in life, you prepare for what you can but you have to be willing to act in the face of fear. After completing my ninth flight in gliders this past weekend, I realized that I no longer feared what might happened but look forward to all the great flight I have ahead of me.