Thursday, June 18, 2009

Glider Rating for Power Pilots

Several of the new ratings that I picked up last year were glider ratings. I added private, commercial, and glider instructor ratings to my flying portfolio. My first flight was a demo flight with one of the club members at the Sylacauga Soaring Society. It was a pretty short flight and we did not find much lift to play with, but I was effectively hooked. The glider we flew was a Blanik L13 which is a two place tandem ship. Gliders are not big inside, but I haven't felt cramped, and I have taken several of my larger friends up with ease. If fact, the front seat of the L-13 feels much like the cockit of a fighter jet. No not the high tech part... There is no engine out front and the nose of the plane just drops away leaving you an incredible view.

These planes are very easy to fly and since every landing is "dead stick" it makes you a better and safer pilot in many ways. The most scarey part for most people is the whole tow plane experience. There is really little to fear. We are in constant contact with the tow plane via radio and there is a set of visual signal should that fail. . If we have a rope break below 200' agl then you simply land straight ahead. We have the ability to get the glider on the ground quickly and land in a very short distance. If the rope breaks above 200' we have the altitude to get back to the airport. Being towed is pretty simple as well. During the take off it is important not to climb the glider too quickly in order to keep from pulling up on the tail of the tow plane. Once established in the climb, the glider pilot just mimics what the tow plane is doing and stays pretty much directly behind the tow plane. If the towplane makes a 15 degree bank then the glider must make a 15 degree bank. Once we get to our desired altitude we release the tow rope and the glider banks right and climbs while the tow plane, which can feel the glider release, banks left and decends.

The glider then starts looking for lift. The bumpier the day the better. Once we find a thermal we can circle in it to climb as high as the thermal goes, which is usually to the bottom of the cloud deck if there is one. We also watch for soaring birds since these guys do it for a living tbey are really good at finding thermals. The feeling of climbing without and engine is really exceptional. Once we decide to land or we run out of lift we head back to the airport.

The L-13 glider has a glide ratio of 28:1 so we just need to head back soon enough to make a pattern. As long as we get to downwind with around a thousand feet, we are in good shape. We fly a normal pattern with a downwind entry if abeam the numbers instead of a power reduction we add some spoilers. The more spoiler we add the more we decend. If we take them out then we float. Most gliders only have only one main wheel and a tailwheel. You would think this might be wierd, but it is really much easier than most three wheeled tail draggers. There is just not much to mess up. The L13 is landed in a very flat attitude in order to not hit the tailwheel really early. Once we hit the ground we have a very effective hand brake and the spoilers. We just need to keep the ailerons active to keep the wings from hitting the ground too fast. The wings usually have skids or rollerblade type wheels so it is okay for them to touch the ground once the speed is minimal.

The glider rating is easy to pick up and will expand your horizons as a power pilot. It will also give you some flying capabilities should your medical become a problem and you are still safe to fly. There is no FAA written for current power pilots. You will have to fly with an instructor for a while and get a solo endorsment (which requires a pre-solo written test). You have to accomplish ten solo flights and get the proper endorsements from your instructor to take the private checkride.

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