To Soar on Laughter Silvered Wings
by Rick Hyde & Judy Bogart
A first flight...
Back in April, three months ago, my wife Judy bought me a hang gliding lesson as a birthday present. What a present! Luckily, she had bought one for herself as well, so we're in this together.
Yesterday we called Mission Soaring in Milpitas, CA at 2:00 pm and got the word that the weather was GO for our first hang gliding lesson! We hopped in the car and drove down to a little place in Hollister where a farmer lets the hang gliding school use a hilly field. We found the instructors, Lisa and Tom, waiting for us at the gate and in we hiked (had to leave the cars on the road). As we approached the training area we could see four colorful hang gliders, already assembled by the morning class, arrayed at the base of the hill.
The flying area is like a little amphitheater - three gentle ~75 ft. hills arranged in a semicircle facing an 80 or 90 acre perfectly flat field. The field is studded with flags. As you stand on the hill, you can watch the wind change as it moves across the field by watching the flags move. First the distant flags change direction or speed, then the next rank and the next until finally the change reaches you and you can feel what is happening. Kind of neat - I'd never really looked at the wind that way before.
We introduced ourselves all around. There were two other new students, and a couple of "old timers" who were a couple of lessons ahead of us. It was hard to believe that in just a couple of lessons we might be gliding as confidently as they.
Tom and Lisa, bade us welcome and made us feel at home. They live the life of Reilly, teaching hang gliding when it's warm and skiing when it's cold. I don't think I've ever seen a more cheerful pair.
Hang Gliding school starts out with a lesson in running. You look straight ahead, not down, focus on a distant target, and run with a long smooth stride - no head bobbing allowed. It reminded me of the gait you see samurai using in old Japanese films. One thirty ft. run for each of us convinced the instructors that we were not total klutzes and could probably be trusted to touch one of their kites.
Next we walked over to a big intermodal container that they use to store the gliders and supplies and were issued a helmet and harness each. The harness is not dissimilar to a climbing harness, although it is much more heavily padded since (eventually, someday) you may spend hours hanging in it. We strapped on the harnesses and walked over to the first glider - at 185 sq. ft. of sail area, it is a biggish one. We are given a tour and a demonstration preflight.
These puppies are high-tech! Forget whatever you might have heard about hang gliders in the past - gliders even five years ago are nothing like what the current state of the art is. Rated to take 6.2 positive gravities and 4.6 negative gravities, a modern kite's ability to take punishment exceeds that of the general category aircraft I usually fly. When you turn, the wings automatically alter their geometry to make the turn easier! The fabric on the outside wing tightens and the angle of attack decreases so that wing goes faster - the reverse happens on the inside wing. I wouldn't have believed it possible unless I had seen it for myself. The shape of the wings continuously varies from nose to tip in such a way that stalls are always controllable and spins are well-nigh impossible. All this in a package weighing about 50 pounds. In case you are wondering, all this technology costs about $44 per pound.
Exercise two - on flat ground: The hang glider is supported on a triangular arrangement of aircraft quality aluminum tubes... The glider itself is attached to the peak of the triangle and wheels are attached to the ends of the lower crossmember. You stand inside this triangle, clip in your harness (say "hooked in"), and lift the glider onto your shoulders. When I say "lift", you are not actually lifting the whole 50 lb.. - in fact, with the wind blowing, it's more a question of holding it down to the right place. These things really want to fly!
Facing into the wind, you balance the glider such that the wings are level (which means turning yourself so that the glider is pointing *exactly* into the wind - something you have to feel). When that is done, you call out "balanced", then "clear" and start to run into the wind. As you run, the glider begins to lift itself off of your shoulders and into the air - you can feel it flying above you. As you run faster and faster, the glider, through the harness begins to take your weight.
This exercise is designed to give you some sense of controlling the glider in motion, letting it ride up on your shoulders as you run and then controlling it on the way back down when you slow to a walk - you are not expected to fly - but I'm so light and the glider was designed for a 200 pounder, so a couple of times when I was trying to run the ground just wasn't there for a step or two.
To get back to your starting point, you step out of the rigging, lower the nose, and let the glider tow you back up the field. Here I was, expecting to work hard, and the glider was doing everything for me!
Exercise three - The Hill: After a few runs each on level ground, we move two of the gliders to about the 50 ft. mark on the hill. The drill here is the same - face into the wind, call "hooked in", "balanced", "clear" and start the run - an instructor running on each side of you. keep the nose down, watch your distant target, long strides, then lift the nose slightly, imperceptibly, and...... you....... are......... flying!
You are just a few feet above the ground at first, for a few dozen yards, but you are flying. There is no work, no effort involved. A few fingers on the control bar is all it takes. What an amazing feeling.
All too soon you are letting the kite tow you up the hill for the next person to use. After those first few flights, we kept sneaking the glider up higher and higher on the hill - if the instructors noticed, they didn't say anything :-) On the hill, Judy and I had switched to a smaller 140 sq. ft. glider which is much more manageable for us.
By the end of the day - 6 hours worth, we had made about five flights each. For Judy and I, the last few flights were above and out of the reach of our instructors! What a trip - We'll be back!
We made mistakes, but not many. Judy and I botched one landing apiece and instead of landing on our feet, we re-plowed the already plowed field - but it was a small price to pay for an extra few feet of flight. Judy is a natural at hang gliding - just flying the kite and listening to the instructors. she clearly did the best of the four of us. I did pretty well myself, but I still have a tendency to think and not just do.
As the light faded behind the hills, we broke down and packed away the gliders. The wind had died down and a chill was creeping in. The sunset was glorious out away from the city lights - a perfect ending to a perfect day.
Ground school this Thursday, then another lesson next weekend! We're hooked.
2:00 the following Sunday, The winds are brisk in the San Francisco Bay Area and we're afraid that it might be too windy to fly. We call Mission Soaring and find the morning recording still running - the afternoon is in doubt. We wait a bit and call again, still no news... One last call and the recorded message says "Let's Go!" We're off!
This second trip the one and a half hour drive seems shorter. We must be getting used to this. We arrive a half hour early and find Tom just returning from lunch. A brisk hike into the training area and we see the now familiar field covered with gliders. Again there are introductions all around. We recognize a couple of students from last week and from the ground school three days before. It's beginning to feel like family around here.
As regulars now, we are pointed to the storage container where we find and don our harness and helmets like pros. Out on the field, what is fast becoming "our" glider, a Wills Wings Falcon 140 awaits. I pat the wingtip and we go out for our next lesson from Lisa.
Judy's parents have come along as observers today. In the early days of hang gliding, one of their friends had been seriously injured in an accident. Judy's mother was particularly distraught at the idea of her daughter getting involved in the "dangerous" sport. By the end of the day, their worries were largely assuaged by the attentiveness of the instructors, the quality of the equipment, and, perhaps a bit, by the smallness of the bunny hill. :-)
The winds are still brisk 15 knots, gusting to 25. Definitely not weather for students with our experience to be out in alone, but under Lisa and Tom's watchful eyes we feel comfortable.
Out on the flat field, we take advantage of the gusty winds to practice running with the glider - towing it towards a moving target while keeping the wings balanced. It doesn't sound like much of a challenge, but in the wind it was a real workout. The trick is to stay upright and pull the glider with your hips with the harness straps attached to your back acting as the towrope.
A few towing runs for each of us and we "old timers" graduated up the hill a bit while the newcomers continued running on the flat - repeating our lesson of the previous week. Out of respect for the wind, we start far lower on the hill - We had no desire to sneak higher up the slope this time!
Lisa holds the glider - "harness check", "hooked in", "wings balanced", "clear", hold the nose down, long strides, release back pressure and I'm aloft! The ground comes up, the feet forget what they are for and we plow the field again. The first in a long series of furrows this day.
Judy, as usual, does much better - she too, will plow the field a few times, but her feet seldom forget where the ground is.
The speed of the wind today makes it much more important to keep the nose down. Not only could a stray gust pick it up and flip the glider over, but it is important to not gain too much lift while you are running down the hill. The glider doesn't fly by itself. You're the engine and you have to run to give it the speed to fly. If you hold the nose down, your feet stay on the ground and you can run faster. The faster you run, the farther you fly when you finally allow the nose to lift.
I have to take a moment to talk about our instructors. Lisa and Tom have been teaching hang gliding for six years. They have the agility of gazelles, the patience of Job, the endurance of marathon runners, the watchfulness of guardian angels, and they never stop smiling. They can also shout, very loudly, all day. This is a useful skill when a student is eight feet up, 50 ft. away, and slowly turning out of the wind. I can still hear Lisa... "watch your target... Watch your Target!... WATCH YOUR TARGET!!!". "Oh, OK".
A few more flights and I'm pretty happy with my pitch control - roll control is another matter entirely and I'm going to spend the rest of the class trying to figure it out.
The problem here is that as you get close to the ground, near the end of the flight, you have to raise the nose of the glider. As you raise the nose, you slow down. As the glider slows down it becomes more susceptible to the wind. If you are not pointed right, exactly, perfectly into the wind, the glider will start to turn.
So, here we are today, flight after flight. good run, nice pitch control down the slope, a few moments aloft, we're out over the level field, the ground approaches, raise the nose, airspeed drops off. and the glider starts to turn, and turns, and continues to turn... Arghh! Into the dirt again. My only consolation is that we're ALL doing this today. Comfortable with our launch skills, even in this breezy weather, Lisa goes out on the field to act as a target. By running back and forth in the hot sun she will attempt to keep us flying straight.
My next-to-the-last flight in this series was the most spectacular. The inevitable turn starts - "Not again", I say to myself. "Watch your target" says Lisa, "Watch your Target!". Well, I AM watching the target - but the glider is still turning. Eventually - I HAVE to look where it is going. I hit the ground running, still in a turn. I try to tow the glider as we learned earlier, but to no avail. I continue running, the turn continues, until we finally get turned around 180 degrees and the wind is behind the wing.
As I slow to a walk, the wind catches the glider and starts to flip it over - and here I am, attached to the damn thing by my harness. I was reminded of playing tug-of-war with a very large dog. As long as you pay perfect attention, keep tension on the rope, and don't move, everything is OK, you and the dog are balanced. The moment you waver, the dog pulls the rope another inch., and another, and another. Sweating and cursing I'm being dragged towards the glider, an inch at a time, as the wind tries to roll it over. This seems to go on forever. I don't want to step on the wing, all I can do is lower my weight and wait for someone to come help.
The wing, meanwhile, is shielding me from the view of the other students on the hill - All they can see is Lisa running flat out for the kite. Judy can't see what's happening either, so she starts running for the kite. I'm perfectly fine, of course, but I can't see them, and I'm still being pulled inch by inch along the ground.
Lisa arrives, anchors the glider, and I get unhooked. Judy arrives and is relieved that everything is OK. I'm still pondering what it is I'm doing wrong.
As they do after a mishap, Tom and Lisa let me launch immediately rather than waiting for a full cycle. Getting back on the horse is a good thing, but I wasn't particularly disturbed by the event - it never felt dangerous or alarming.
I did learn one important trick that I was to use on every landing for the rest of the day. If you are running out of control and you don't know what to do - just stop. If you stop, the glider will stop. You don't have to run. Sounds simple - why didn't I think of that? My favorite method of stopping is simply sitting down. You slide to a stop in a cloud of dust, undignified, perhaps, but effective.
The heavier wind allowed us to try a new method of returning the equipment to the top of the hill. With the glider facing into the wind, you grab the two cables nearest the nose and let the wind lift the kite into the air. You can then walk forward, up the hill, with the kite flying above you - the feeling is more like holding a balloon than a 50 lb. sail!
In an attempt to cure my bad habits, I'm strapped into the simulator. The simulator is simply a hang glider anchored to a support about 2.5 ft. above the ground. The support is like a sawhorse or bench, and the glider's basetube is fastened to it securely. The glider is held in flying position by a long tube that holds up the back of the keel.
When hooked in to the simulator, you can hang in flying position and practice moving your weight around in the control frame. This is supposed to give you a feeling of how to move in flight. "Yep", I'd nod my head sagely, "I can feel that".
Back to the bunny hill, launch, start to land, begin to turn, sit down, slide to a stop in a cloud of dust, back to the simulator. "Yep", I'd nod my head sagely...
Sigh, like I say, if other folks weren't having the same problem...
Judy, on the other hand, only turned out of the wind a few times. Her next- to-the-last flight was picture perfect despite the wind, so much so that she almost didn't want to take her last flight of the day and chance ending the lesson on a less-than-perfect note. Well, I'm glad she did. On her last flight, she made a beautiful "S" turn as she came in to a landing and I think that was the key to my puzzle.
As we discussed what we had learned on the drive home, Judy remarked that she wasn't happy about the "S" turn because she felt that she had over-controlled the glider, but in retrospect, it was useful because it let her know that she WAS in control of it. She had been applying significant force to the control bar in order to turn!
All of a sudden, I realized what I had been doing. Somehow, don't ask me how, I had been assuming that watching the target would somehow turn me towards it without further action on my part. This is particularly amazing when you consider that I'd been actively controlling pitch all day without thinking much about it. It's even more amazing when you consider that years of Aikido training has conditioned me against making movements in the direction I'm looking simply because I'm looking there. I was just hanging, centered in the harness, watching my target intently until an overpowing urge to know where I was about to impact caused me to look away.
Now I can't wait to get back on the hill and put my theory to the test! Unfortunately, today's lesson has been canceled due to adverse flying conditions - the temperature is predicted to go well over 100 degrees in Hollister today!
For those of you who are reading this for the first time, I'm chronicling the experiences of my wife and myself as we study the mysteries of hang gliding. We've chosen Mission Soaring in Milpitas, CA in the South San Francisco Bay area as our school. - If you want to fly, give 'em a call. It's a shameless plug, but we're having an enormous amount of fun with this and the instructors are great :-)
Saturday afternoon. We've got the trip down now to an hour and fifteen minute drive. It would be shorter, but there is always this inexplicable traffic jam on highway 101 north of Morgan Hill. Sure, the freeway goes from three lanes to two there, but it's not congested a mile further south and it IS a weekend for crying out loud. So far, the freeway is the most dangerous part about learning to hang glide.
We've each bought a five lesson plan. We're determined to get our Hang II rating and buying lessons in bulk saves some money - kind of like Price Club, but they only sell the one thing. You can save even more money if you buy your own glider, but we're not ready for that yet. (I do keep looking at the truck and imagining ways to mount a rack to the top...)
The "Hang" ratings are standard ways pilot skills are characterized. You need to have a particular rating in order to fly at a particular site. The hang gliding organizations, notably the US Hang Gliding Association (USHGA) have set up this rating and approval system in order to make the sport safer and more acceptable to the folks who own or control those neat hills we jump off of. Here is a brief rundown of the basic ratings:
Hang 1: Beginner. Can set up a glider,
preflight it, run it down
a training hill, fly a few seconds and land it. In towing,
can handle a tandem towed flight, possibly with turns.
Hang 2: Novice. Can handle all the basic
skills of hang gliding:
Launching, landing, turns. Has progressed to the point
where mountain flights are done, possibly with soaring.
In towing, can handle solo towed flights, possibly with
Hang 3: Intermediate. Can handle all the
basic skills of hang
gliding, including soaring flight.
Hang 4: Advanced. Skilled at all aspects
of hang glider flight,
including knowledge of airspace regulations (in case of
cross country flights).
Hang 5: Master. Highly skilled at all aspects of hang glider flight.
So, here we are: helmet, harness, glider, hill. We greet some friends, are introduced to a number of new students, and get ready to fly. One practice towing run on flat ground and we move halfway up the hill for the first flight of the day.
More and more of the basic operations are now left to us. We make sure our harnesses are set up correctly and perform the "harness check", "hooked in", "wings balanced", and "clear" ritual almost without thinking about it.
A short run and we're flying again... for a bit... Now Lisa and Tom get to really earn their keep.
At first, it seems like we've forgotten what we've learned in the previous two lessons. The first few flights today we repeat almost everything we did wrong last time. We hold the downtubes too firmly, we pull down on them, we don't keep the angle of attack set properly during the takeoff run. It's frustrating - and harder work than last time. Nonetheless, we get off a few good flights and more often than not, UNLIKE last time, we land on our feet!
Lisa and Tom do their best to help us correct our mistakes in-flight by running alongside and shouting up at us. I'm reminded, however, of the Gary Larson cartoon entitled "What humans say, What dogs hear". It is a drawing of a guy lecturing his dog and you can read what he is saying. The dog is alertly listening, and what the dog hears is: "Blah-blah, blah, GINGER, blah, blah, blah-blah, blah, GINGER, blah, blah".
For your first flights, brief as they are, your mind is completely taken up by sensation. If you are lucky, you can remember to do one or two things, but mostly your brain (at least my brain) acts as a recorder. observing, but not yet correcting, everything that is happening. Much of the input Lisa has given me while I'm aloft seems like: "Blah-blah, blah, RICK, blah, blah, blah-blah, blah, RICK, blah, blah". It is good advice - but my brain just isn't in sound receive mode yet.
Once I'm down on the ground, I can remember and understand what she has said. It is not yet something I can really act on in the air. I can only try to store it away and try to apply it to the next flight. Perhaps one day I'll have enough free mind to actually hear and act on what Lisa is saying.
Finally we settle down and get back in somewhat of a groove. The glider really wants to fly, and if you keep your clumsy hands mostly off of it, fly it will.
Mid-afternoon, Tom has moved his beginning students up the hill a bit and he gives them the perfect demonstration of this principle. He hooks his harness to the glider, runs a few steps, floats aloft, and lets go of the control bar completely. He just hangis from his harness, touching nothing, and the glider floats down the hill with him - very much like a dandelion seed. Out over the flat, he reaches out, grasps the control bar, and steps back to earth. Very nice.
Two weeks ago, almost every landing was a bad one, and I couldn't make the glider turn for the life of me. On the drive home, I had decided that I had just been hanging in the harness, hoping that watching the target would be sufficient to make turn me towards it.
Now I can put my theory to the test! The next run is perhaps my best launch of the day. Once aloft, instead of trusting the glider to go where it wants, I deliberately shift my weight to one side - sure enough, the glider starts to turn that way! I shift back, and the glider turns back. All right! At last I'm beginning to acquire some control of this beast.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this lesson is the fact that I've finally become afraid of the glider. Not an Oh-my-god-I'm-between-a-bear-and-her-cubs kind of fear, but a "top of the ski slope", or "leading a 30 ft. pitch up a climb" kind of fear. A mild adrenelin rush coupled with the knowledge that you are not quite in control of an airborn, still unpredictable vehicle. Both Judy and I experienced this and I think it comes from a growing familiarity with the feeling of hang gliding flight and the process of launch, glide, and land. Our first few flights were too overwhelming to worry about - even when fairly high in the air. You are hanging from the harness, not providing much input, and the glider carries you along. All you can really do is trust it - like a roller coaster at the park. Now we have the time to say "Hey - look how far up we are... and we're moving and turning, Hmmmm!"
All in all, it's a good sign that we are developing some control and awareness.
I'd say our performance so far is pretty average. The first lesson was spectacular, the second was pretty bad, but this one felt comfortable. Both Judy and I now have enough experience to begin exerting control of the glider, but not enough experience to be authoritative about it - perhaps next lesson. On my last ground loop I had enough presence of mind to keep the glider spinning through 360 degrees to get the nose pointed back into the wind. Judy is doing some nice "S" turns and never allows the glider to turn away from her desired track. She has a nice rainbow bruise on one knee from a rough landing and I have some nice bruises on my forearms from balancing the glider in gusty winds.
Another lesson learned is "Trust thyself." That's you holding that glider up on that hill. Take counsel from the instructors and possibly your fellow students, but don't let their suggestions or encouragement allow you to take a step you are not comfortable with. Pilot-in-command means as much to a hang glider pilot as to a 747 captain. If a decision not to launch at a given moment is in truth unwarrented, you have lots of time in training to work it out. I made one launch into conditions I wasn't happy with - the flight was OK, but dealing with being uncertain about the specifics of that particular launch took time away from the skillset I was working on.
The last lesson, and second only to "trust thyself" was to trust the instructor. I may not always understand what the are trying to tell me, or agree with their assessment; however, I can see that they are often right about the other students (who may also disagree with the assessment!), so I have to assume that they are right about me as well. They have the training and experience to conduct the class in a safe, efficient, enjoyable fashion - might as well enjoy it!
It certainly hasen't come to this, but I'm reminded of one of my primary flight instructors, Helmut, who insisted that I do landings time after time, criticizing a 50 ft. deviation in altitude and a 2 knot deviation in airspeed. I'd come home night after night grumbling under my breath and consider switching to another instructor. Somehow I never did, and when I finally met his expectations, I knew I didn't just do landings, I did great landings. To this day I cannot enter downwind at an airport without hearing his voice calling out airspeed and altitude deviations.
If only that translated to landing a hang glider! :-)
One more week to lesson 4.
Morning at the bunny hill. We're back for our fourth lesson. It's early yet, but the temperature is rising and it is going to be very hot today. This is our first morning lesson and it turns out to be a very interesting one for a number of reasons.
First, after three lessons in which we dismantled gliders in the evening, we finally got to set one up and pre-flight it. As expected, setting up a glider is pretty much the reverse of taking one down. Forgive me if I don't describe the procedure here. I tried typing it in, but when I took my hands off the keyboard to wave them around for the third time, I knew there was no hope of putting it on paper without pictures. It is a simple procedure, almost magical; but you just have to see it.
Second, there is no wind in the morning. None. Nada. I've spent the last three chapters celebrating the "aliveness" of the glider and how it wants to fly. Well, not today. Without wind it is a 40 lb. wheeled cart that you drag up the hill by it's tail... and the wheels are not very good by vehicular standards.
Each trudge up the hill made me feel like an "extra" on one of those old biblical films, hauling blocks for the pharaoh's pyramid. Oh well, I can use the exercise.
Now I think I know why the experts all fly without wheels - they make up fancy aeronautical explanations, but I think the wheels just remind them too much of pulling gliders up bunny hills!
Without wind, lifting the glider prior to beginning the run is like lifting a 40 pound pack to your shoulders (60 lbs for the big glider!). The takeoff run is like, well, running with a 40 pound pack on your shoulders. As compensation, with no wind, the glider is easy to balance and tends to fly very straight.
Eventually, the glider does lift off of your shoulders and begins to fly, but not nearly so far nor so well as with a wind. Actually, it was nice having the quiet conditions while we went though our usual process of making all the mistakes we did in the previous lessons. Each lesson we make all of the same mistakes, but we also re-learn more quickly each time. I guess that is called progress.
Judy and I both get in some good runs before the wind begins to pick up and the real learning begins.
My next two flights end in the usual ground loop. I can tell I'm improving because I start cursing myself and the glider earlier and earlier in the process. Since these flights start from lower on the hill, I am traveling slower and can usually get my feet under me in time to walk the glider to a stop instead of dragging behind it like a sea-anchor in the dirt.
Next I make a compound error. I get a bright idea, and I don't tell Lisa about it. Actually, that was part of the problem, the bright idea came to me in-flight, so to speak, and I just let it happen. I couldn't have told her if I wanted to.
During my next takeoff >
This time, instead of letting the control bar float out and the glider take to the air, I deliberately hold the pitch angle such that I'm still running down the hill with my feet mostly touching the ground. This time, something clicks and the glider and I behave as we should. I feel and can control the turns that occur during the run. At last I've had a flight where I felt good from top to bottom. Lisa and Tom think so too as they congratulate me for the run. I'm concentrating so hard on my next run, I don't remember if either of them said anything about my pitch angle, but I doubt if I'd have heard them if they did.
Next flight seems to me to be a duplicate of the first and I'm *very* pleased. I'm willing to spend the whole afternoon doing this, since it seems I've finally integrated hips and glider into something that works together! I'm not in a hurry - we can fly more next time.
Unfortunately, from Lisa and Tom's perspective, I'm sure they saw something like this: An average student, perhaps promising, certainly not exceptional, suddenly forgets everything he has ever learned about pitch control. Not only does he fail to fly on a very promising run, but he does this twice in a row! And now this recalcitrant student want to make the same mistake a third time!
Lisa wants me to fly at "trim" speed - essentially the speed at which the glider flys "hands off". I want to practice a few more of these newly controllable runs. Lisa promises that "trim" will result in more air time (which it will). I, inexplicably, counter with the statement that I don't want to fly right now.
So we are at somewhat of an impasse. I clearly don't have the proper words to explain what it is I'm trying to do and Lisa knows what the next logical step should be in my training.
I'm also aware that the instructors often see quite clearly what students fail to see. - I've watched one student push out on the control bar for an entire flight, and then state, emphatically, that he had been pulling in on it (despite Lisa running along underneath crying "Pull in, Pull In!"). It is not hard for me to believe that I'm blind to the proper course of action here.
In the end, I fly the next few rounds at trim speed and do not do too badly. I'm not entirely happy with my control, but I manage to avoid another ground loop.
Later in the day, I finally found the words to explain what I was doing. I was practicing the "towing" lesson that we had started training with. The difference was that I was doing it on the hill and at flight speed. For me, it made a big difference in understanding how my movements and the glider's were interrelated.
I've made a deal with myself. I'll continue to fly at trim until and unless I start ground looping the glider again. Then I'll let Lisa know what I want to do and practice a little more towing on the hill... If it doesn't work, I'll have wasted some time - but I have a lot of that :-)
Another interesting lesson for the day: Lisa and I were standing at the top of the hill watching "cycles" of wind come through and waiting for the right moment to begin the run. Suddenly, she says "Hold on, here comes a dust devil". I look... Dust devil? I don't see anything. She keeps pointing out it's progress through the field and I still can't see a thing. We've spent perhaps a minute at this do far and I'm beginning to think I'm in the movie "Harvey" where Jimmy Stuart has a giant, invisible rabbit as a companion. Finally, far down the slope, I see a piece of brush make a 1/4 circle and stop. A few seconds later and the weeds directly in front of the glider begin to tremble in a circular fashion - in all this time it is the first I've really seen of the thing! Lisa's appreciation for micro meteorology really impresses me. The dust devil hits the glider square on causing it to shimmy in a peculiar fashion, then it's gone...
There is not a lot more to say about lesson four. I had one spectacular flight that went, oh, maybe a hundred feet. It was perfectly in line and I was correcting properly for pitch and roll. - I'll be very happy when I can duplicate it.
Judy did very well also (she doesn't think so), but neither of us were ecstatic about our progress today. It was another step in the path to hang glider mastery.
Fifth lesson - Yes! - breakthrough time!
Judy and I have returned from two weeks in Seattle and Canada. With schedule conflicts and all, we've been away from hang gliding for 5 weeks. After our last, somewhat disappointing class, both of us find ourselves kind of reluctant to go back.
Saturday afternoon crept up on us, the temperature crept up, and the wind speed crept up. With all the creeping going on, neither of us much felt like driving for an hour and a half down to Gilroy when we could spend the day laying on the couch and reading. After some serious discussion of forfeiting the $50 penalty for a late cancellation, we decide to make the drive.
I've procrastinated about leaving, so we get underway 15 minutes later than usual, we run into heavy traffic South of San Jose, and then I decide that I *must* eat lunch. Altogether, we arrive at the training hill a half an hour late.
The wind is really whipping along and our spirits brighten at the prospect of the class being canceled due to wind. In fact, as we near the hill, we can see that none of the kites are assembled from the morning class - it looks like they are being put away! Perhaps we can spend the rest of the day in Monterey.
As we hike down the dirt road to the hill, two more cars pull up to the gate - It looks like the traffic caught some more folks - we are not the latest by far.
Out at the hill, we find Tom, Lisa, a couple of advanced students, and a gaggle of new students setting up the gliders. Some random quirk of scheduling caused the morning class to be empty - this explains the lack of assembled equipment. The wind is indeed too strong to fly right now, but it is constant and Tom promises good flying conditions in a half hour or so. It is good to see Tom and Lisa again - we catch up on the events of the last few weeks and then go retrieve our harnesses and helmets.
Still not overly enthused at the prospect of climbing the hill all day, we finish assembling the gliders and begin the traditional towing runs across the level field. The wind is so strong you only have to take a few steps and the glider rises off your shoulders and flies overhead for the rest of the run.
Boy, that extra wind sure makes a difference in performance. Judy and I both begin to perk up a bit as we remember how much easier the gliders handle in a bit of wind.
In no time we are halfway up the hill and preparing for our first real flights of the day. Tom is handling the "advanced" students today instead of Lisa - I imagine they have some sort of rotation arranged, but this is the first time we've had Tom alone on the hill with us. One interesting thing about hang gliding as a sport - where else can you feel like an "advanced" student by your second or third lesson?
There are two folks more advanced than us here. Both will declare for and receive their Hang 1 ratings today. Sharing the Falcon 140 with us is an enthusiastic woman named Shirley who goes sea kayaking at night in her spare time. Judy is particularly glad to have another woman to work with - a relatively unusual experience. It is Shirley's second hang gliding lesson and she does very well. It is interesting to watch her go through many of the same physical and emotional stages that we did not too many weeks ago. She is excited by good flights, critical of every wrong move, and impatient with her progress - Judy and I smile at each other from the enormous perspective of our five lesson experience :-)
Judy is first on launch - harness check, hooked in, balanced, CLEAR, and off she goes. In contrast to our last two lessons, this flight goes smoothly despite the gusty conditions. Judy corrects nicely for a wind induced turn and walks to a stop. My first flight goes similarly. I glide down the hill, sensing and correcting for turns, and run to a controlled landing.
I think we were both kind of surprised - and suspicious. The previous lessons were so out-of-control that we're wondering what sort of accident led to these two good first flights. It FELT like we were in control. Naw, couldn't be.
Judy's second flight was spectacular - one of those long floaters that glides down the hill and well into the flat - the kind that only comes with smooth control on pitch. She hikes back up the hill glowing. My second flight wasn't as good as hers, but I'm certainly much more in control than I've ever been previously. In fact, I'm overcontrolling, recognizing the fact, and correcting for it. Wow - we're really flying. :-)
I think, for me, the most important part of this lesson is gaining in-flight awareness. As I attempt to turn, I cross control, *notice* that I'm cross controlling, and correct the problem - next step is not cross controlling to begin with! Judy notices the same effect when gripping the downtubes during a turn. She starts to grip the tubes, the glider drops, she opens her hands and the glider resumes trim speed. We both bob down the hill like jackrabbits - but hey, it's fun!
Each flight brings some new perspective. We are both becoming increasingly proactive in controlling our flight - sensing turns before them become large, slow and out of control. We correct almost instinctively, but often too aggressively. Still, we've lost that feeling of not being in control - of being carried along by the glider to a fate not entirely of our own choosing. I expect we will continue to make mistakes, but this time we'll learn from them on a conscious as well as an unconscious level.
One of the advanced students makes a mistake today - I think he pulled in on the downtubes abruptly during a landing - and his glider dives nose-first into the ground, luckily from a very few feet. One of the downtubes crumples in the impact and the other one bends. The pilot is unhurt - demonstrating that the glider is designed to fold itself up and absorb the energy of an impact while protecting the pilot. 15 minutes later a new downtube is installed and both pilot and glider are back in the air. Tom says it has been an unusually good year for downtubes. This is the first damaged glider this season. Last year, eight downtubes bit the dust with no student injuries.
We have a small advanced class today, so rotation on the hill is frequent. We all get into the swing of moving the landed gliders out of the way of the next student, and then hustling up the hill for the next flight. A glider is in flight almost every moment. Tom seems to take on the role of an Air Traffic Controller as the afternoon wears on. We are launching from the very top of the hill - pushing the gliders as high as then can go in order to get a few more ft. of ground run. Altogether, we make 8 flights each. This lesson, both Judy and I are signed off on windy setup, steering, and open hands landing.
Both of us are now confident of our launches and no longer need the instructors nod to know when conditions are right to go. I expect that by next lesson, both of us will be launching without instructors running beside us. We are already flying alone.
We're both enthused about hang-gliding again and very happy that we decided to fly today. On the other hand, I'm not sure that this is good... Once we get our Hang 1 rating, we will move to a hill at Ed Levin County Park for the next phase on our training. We will have to leave our favorite glider behind for others to use - there is no Falcon 140 at Ed Levin. and THAT means we are one step closer to buying our own kite. Watch out, pocketbook!
As we break down the gliders in the twilight, Lisa gives us one last demonstration of "pendular action" Vs "cross controlling". While hanging in the control frame of a glider on the ground, she has a hefty student pick up one wingtip. She turns her body in the harness - and obviously has no effect on the glider. Next, she shifts her weight to the high side of the frame using the proper technique, the wingtip suddenly became too heavy for the student to hold - an impressive lesson on proper control and the size of the forces involved. I'm afraid I was too tired at the time to appear very alert - but the lesson did sink in.
In retrospect, I think that a big factor in today's success was visualizing each flight before it happened. Both of us are dreaming hang gliding and reliving each past flight multiple times. This has the effect of multiplying our air time and helps hone our responses to the actual flights. Can you log dream air time?
If we can just remember what we've learned today during our next lesson or two, we'll start work on flare landings. Flare landings are perhaps the prettiest part of hang glider work. In a flare, you push out briskly on the control frame at just the right moment during landing. The glider noses up, loses airspeed and gently drops you to the ground, on your feet, with zero forward momentum. I think, perhaps, a good flare is the first step in real mastery of the art. We can't wait to start work on them!
Well be back...
But we didn't go back. It was an exhilarating experience while we were doing it and we wouldn't trade the airtime for anything, but it just wasn't the long term sport for us. Judy went on to get her Private Pilots license and we motor around in the air together trading legs as pilot in command.
Now those paragliders sure look interesting... ;-)