Sunday, July 15, 2012

I soared like an Eagle...

This weekend I went on a real adventure with my friend, Pete.  He took me on a sailplane ride in Beloit, WI.  For those of you who know me, I am not a 'flyer'.  I am typically uncomfortable on planes and mention this often throughout the flight.  Nonetheless, I decided this would be an opportunity to do something I otherwise wouldn't seek out to do by myself. 

A sailplane is a type of glider aircraft used for soaring and gliding.  There is no engine and performance is measured by the glide ratio and experienced glider pilots, who know how to read thermals can stay soaring for hours.


The instruments:  Altimeter, compass, airspeed indicator, variometer and sometimes, an emergency postion-radio beacon to aid in search and rescue (gulp).  I was to sit in the front.  I should mention Pete bought this adventure as a lesson.  I was being taught how to fly this thing.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that the simple fact I was even getting into this tiny aircraft was going to have to be good enough.  Baby steps to attacking fear in the face.  

We spent some time in the 'classroom' and then Scott, our instructor (white hat), spent time showing us the controls and all the instruments we would need to use to fly.  Pete was so excited...I, on the other hand, was trying to figure out the best time to tell Scott...he would be flying while I repeated a silent prayer of sorts until we got back on the ground.

One of the most common methods of launching sailplanes is by aerotow. That is correct.  The sailplane is towed by a powered aircraft, seen above, by using a rope (not a strong, unbreakable cable as one might think) but a rope about 60 meters long...which appeard to be unraveling.  That was my observation and I may have suggested to one of the handlers they should consider an alternative tow chord...even if it was to simply put over-active minds at ease.  The glider pilot releases the rope after reaching the desired altitude. 

Pete and Scott are ready to go.  They are about to attach the rope and take off.

And this is how you get in the air.  


That is Pete being towed by the tow plane.  I will apologize now for the poor quality of photos.  I will blame my nerves on not being able to focus on the camera settings and just taking pictures to get my mind off of the fact, I was next.

Back on the ground and he loved it!  

My turn and here I am getting the instrument walk-through.  I have not told Scott yet, that I am really hoping he isn't planning on letting me take the stick.  

I'm about to tell Scott...and he takes it well.  He says I can still pull the release chord once we get to altitude...at the last minute I decline...as you probably knew I would.  
Here is a shot from inside the cockpit (although terrible) of us getting towed.  I was actually doing okay until the tow plane started to corkscrew us up towards one of the darker clouds.  I might have started to panic and told Scott to cut us loose as fast as possible.  It felt wrong.  I wasn't ready for acrobatics and so we cut ties and soared left while he went right.   


Without a motor you can imagine the silence and peacefulness that followed.  We were soaring...gliding!  Then we hit a little pocket and as calmly as I could, I asked how soon until we were headed back to base? I lasted about 30 minutes.  The landing was my favorite part!  Not because I was about to be back on the ground but it was amazing to see the runway coming at me.  It's different being on a commercial aircraft looking out the side window.  Right in front of me, there we were chasing pavement.
The final approach... feels indescribable.   My once in a lifetime, front seat view from the cockpit landing an aircraft. 

Here is my log book.  I earned hours, or minutes in my case, towards my pilot license.  This is not a joke.  I plan on keeping this treasure...never forgetting this adventure...and reminding myself to do things that scare me.  

We grabbed frosty's at Wendy's (D E L I C O U S) and dipped fries (A W E S O M E combo) in it as we told eachother how we felt about the experience.  I admitted to being more of a passenger than a student and he told me how he may look into more lessons! 

We headed back to Chicago and stopped for dinner at Bob Chinn's seafood house and had crab and oysters.  As we wandered back, we toured through Wilmette and Kensington and dreamed about all of the amazing homes on Lake Michigan and which ones we were planning on buying...someday.  We saw the Ba'hai Temple where I would really like to go back and spend some time. 

It was a wonderful day.

Sometimes.  You need to step outside.  Get some air, and remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be. 

Thank you Pete for sharing your day with me...for offering me an unforgettable experience and for challenging me to get outside of my comfort zone.  I won't ever forget it.


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