It’s the “Guest Blog” at Casey Aviation featuring “Notso”, an officer/pilot and brand new Commercial Glider Pilot.
From Notso…So there I was, strapped into the front seat of a Schweizer 2-33 on a picture perfect 80 degree day on the beautiful north shore of Oahu getting ready for takeoff. Before takeoff checklist was complete, tow plane was in position, tow rope connected, airspace was clear, and as I closed the canopy I noticed that I was sweating more than usual. Was it the magnifying glass canopy causing me to sweat? Nah, I had just closed and locked it. I had on my obligatory floppy glider pilot hat on to keep the sun off of me so that wasn’t it.
The trade winds were kicking as usual and they were keeping me plenty cool before I closed the canopy. So why was I hotter than usual? Well, I have to be honest here and say it was a little bit of nerves.
The funny part of the story is that I consider myself a pretty experienced pilot and didn’t even think I would be nervous before soloing. I’m a commercial pilot that has flown over 2500 hours in jets, props, single engine, multi-engine, super cubs in the back country of Alaska, and seaplanes too. But what is unique about most of my flying is that I hadn’t solo’d in over 13 years!
In hindsight, it was probably a good thing that I had a little nerves and my body was telling me to be on my toes.
Takeoff and climbout to 1000 feet AGL was uneventful until the moment that I pulled the handle to disconnect the tow rope…CLUNK…towplane dove down and to the right and the rope was clear. So good so far right? Well it just so happened that right when I disconnected I was heading westbound and caught in an extremely strong downdraft along the north peaks of the mountain on the south side of Dillingham airport. Before I knew it I was down to 750′ AGL. Bad news for me since I was 50′ below pattern altitude and I was about a mile from the normal pattern entry point. Time to fall back on my instincts and do some of that pilot stuff. At this point I had two options to choose from: either make an immediate right 90 degree turn, deploy spoilers, descend, turn 90 degrees left and full slip to land opposite direction with a tailwind or I could skip the normal box pattern and instead turn 45 degrees right and aim for the spot where I would turn left base for runway 8. I chose the latter option because I knew I had a little tailwind component to help me get in position and it also gave me more time to fly a stable approach and land with a headwind. I flew to left base at best glide speed and made an uneventful landing with minimal use of the spoilers since I was low on energy.
Besides being an embarrassingly short 5 minute solo flight, it was also a memorable flight that I won’t soon forget because it reinforced two very important lessons: it’s good to be on your toes at all times and it’s important to be trained by an excellent flight instructor (JOE!). But more on that in my next story.
About “Notso”…We met while I was in Hawaii for my Army Reserve Annual Training and became quick friends as we share many common passions…aviation being at the top of the list. “Notso” (his pseudo-name used at work) is a veteran who has an abundance of neat aviation stories. He’s a gifted pilot who really picked up glider flying easily, went straight for his Commercial Pilot Glider License, and is now conquering the skies over Oahu at Dillingham Airfield on a regular basis.