Thursday, October 6, 2016

A very special surprise

Luckily they are usually passed by within 24 hours unless they downgrade to a tropical depression and stall over an area for a couple of days, which can lead to flooding.

Some of the things I love are my wife and kids, our RV life, motorcycles and airplanes.

My favorite airplanes are the ones without an engine. After all if your plane has an engine and it fails you are in deep trouble. If you're flying a glider then that's the way it was designed!

I started gliding when I was about 13. I joined the Air Training Corps (ATC) in UK (The equivalent of the Civil Air Patrol in the US). One happy day they announced we were going flying at the weekend. We took a train then a truck to what had once been a huge US Air Force base called Burtonwood in Lancashire. Part of it was now an RAF gliding school. I remember it being a cold damp drizzly day, with low grey clouds scudding by. We sat around not knowing what to expect, hopes were not high for suitable flying weather.

Suddenly everyone around sprang into action and we were led one at a time out onto the airfield where an open cockpit silver glider sat.

In a daze I soon found myself strapped into it with a pilot sitting behind me talking about controls and me not touching any of them. More importantly, if I felt sick I was to hang my head over the side and not throw up in the aircraft.

A winch sat a long way away across the airfield and before I knew it we were being launched into the sky on a cable. A little like running holding a string to launch a kite, except I was in it.

The wind whipped my face and drops of rain stung me like bee stings, we had no goggles or helmets. As the glider cast off the tow line everything went quiet. Just a breeze whistling in the structure of the aircraft disturbed the silence. You could hear people talking 1000' below!

I was awestruck looking down at tiny houses and cars below. I'd never flown in any kind of airplane before.

All at once we leaned over and there infront of us was the airfield. We bumped onto the ground and rolled to a stop. Somebody reached in and undid my straps and I was hastily removed from the glider and replaced by a fresh passenger.

I spent the whole of the rest of the day and the next day in a trance. I had flown in an aeroplane.

Fast forward 3 years and the same ATC sent me to the local gliding school in RAF Sealand on the Welsh border and taught me how to fly! After several weekends of instruction I solo'd just after my 16th birthday.

I didn't follow up on flying after that, although I did sit the tests for entering the RAF and was accepted as a pilot or navigator. At the time I had also started work in the shipyard and so I never did take the RAF up on their offer.

Before we left for the US I took a 1 week gliding course at the York Gliding Club in Sutton Bank Yorkshire. Although I was there a week the weather was unflyable for 6 days! (Good old UK summer!). I did get to fly in a couple of gliders and a powered glider though on the one good day.

Years later I was on business in Honolulu, we had the weekend off so I drove around the island of Oahu. On the very northern end of the island I found a glider field. I pretty soon worked out that by skipping a few meals I could afford some glider time and I got to fly along the sharp ridge that bordered the airfield.

Oahu with the ridge in the background

Aero Tow with the ocean to the left

We flew formation over the ocean with another glider

It all came flooding back to me, I took the controls and immediately felt at home. With the instructor in the back seat I flew it for an hour, with the blue/green ocean on one wing then the other as I chased up and down the ridge with the ocean winds keeping me aloft.

A couple more business trips thru the years let me repeat the experience.

When we moved to San Diego I went to a famous gliding site, Torrey Pines. Situated at the top of a cliff it was blessed with perfect weather and winds for paragliding. After watching for a couple of weekends I jumped in with both feet and started taking lessons. Pretty soon I bought my own paraglider (wing) and earned my license.

Me at Torrey Pines "Kiting" the paraglider

Me leading the pack at Torrey

Concentrating for a landing
Pictures by Elaine Butler

I flew pretty much every weekend for a couple of years but then got into motorcycles more and stopped flying.

Today we were “Leaf Peeping” in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The trees are in full fall colors. Breathtaking. As we cruised along near Franconia the road suddenly widened and a sign said “Glider Rides”. I stopped to take pictures then a lady asked of I wanted to take a ride. I looked at Barbara and she nodded (Bless her).

It was obviously meant to be. They only took cash or checks. We didn't have the checkbook with us. When we emptied our two wallets we had the price of the ride and $5 left over! And the instructor was an Englishman, Andy. He learned to fly at the Cambridge Gliding Club.

Blanik glider

Andy in the back seat
This flight was an Aero Tow. The glider is towed behind a powered airplane on a long rope. We released the rope at 6000' which was 5000' above the airfield. We were over a ski resort looking down on the top of the ski lift. The Franconia Notch stretched off to the south and all around for miles and miles were the fabulous fall colors. 
Towing into the mountains

Looking down on the ski lifts

Fall colors from the air

Although there was no lift to allow us to gain height we had enough altitude to float blissfully around the sky for a half hour. My camera was going constantly and Andy and I compared careers and lives while we flew. We both agreed that that we loved the USA.

Then suddenly the aircraft leaned over and there ahead of us was the airfield. We bumped down and ran to a stop. Only this time I took a breath, before opening the close fitting canopy, undoing my own straps and stepping out onto the ground again.

Suddenly the airfield was ahead

I think I'll dream of this flight for a long time, it was visually stunning and filled me with a warm happy feeling of satisfaction.

The end.


  1. Brian, Never knew that you flew. I use to fly Piper Cherokees with my dad. We use to fly all over Northern California. Since arriving in Florida, we have survived both hurricanes, Hermine and Matthew.

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