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Friday, March 16, 2012

run for the border and back: part two


jacumba and the surrounding areas may be in the desert, but – and those of you familiar with most any desert – will know that it is not always a place of intense heat as most non-desert people think. the nights were chilly and the mornings were cold, but the days were mostly sunny and warm, making it possible for me to come home with a little color on my face and arms.

yeah, it gets cold in the desert, too.
shot outside the bunkhouse door.

i spent most of the day towing the club’s schweizer 2-33 sailplane from where it landed, back up to the eastern end of the dirt/gravel runway, where it was staged for take off using the roman wrosz winch positioned at the far western end of the landing field, which is about 3000 feet in length. Fred and the other pilots were learning (or, in fred’s case: relearning) how to launch from a winch and how much more effective roman’s winch is compared to winches used in the past. Others, including fred – who was doing double duty, were learning how to “drive” the winch.

fred and alasdar on another training flight

it was a long and dusty day, but i enjoyed every minute of it, especially after agcsc president, bud robinson, informed me that i might get a ride for my efforts… maybe this afternoon; maybe tomorrow.

fred and alasdar on a launch

as the day progressed well into the afternoon and the shadows began to lengthen, i was beginning to resolve myself to the idea that my first ride in a sailplane might have to wait until tomorrow.

fred and alasdar on their way up

that would be ok. if you remember: i was going to just hang out in the dez for a few days, which is what i was doing here on the landing strip anyway. so, i was happy and having a great time.

i was even happier when i heard that my ride would, indeed, be this afternoon and that the pilot who would take me aloft would be our bunkhouse neighbor, alasdar mullarney.

as i got into the schweizer 2-33, i felt a bit like getting into my firesuit and helmet and climbing into the redhead steamliner for the first time. despite the bulky appearance of the 2-33, i had a difficult time trying to find a place where i could put my feet and legs so alasdar could work the controls without me interfering with the plane’s operation. the back seat, which is from where alasdar flew the glider, looked even more cramped. fred helped me with my belts, which are very similar to what we used in the ranchero and gave me some advice on being prepared for the aggressive launch from the winch.

ready for my first glider flight

“winch: stand by.”, alasdar announced into the radio from the backseat as my heart rate surely began to increase.

“winch standing by.”, came from the speakers inside the cockpit.

standing by for launch with alasdar mullarney

one of the members of the ground crew – maybe fred – declared: “the pattern is clear.” meaning: there were no aircraft in the immediate vicinity.

landing gear (aka: wheels) on a glider are not like those on a powered aircraft, which generally are a tricycle layout, or one under each wing with a caster wheel under the tail. gliders generally have one and sometimes two wheels, but they are inline in the center of the fuselage. so, unless they are tied down on the apron, gliders rest at an angle on one of the wingtips. to aid in the takeoff procedure, ground crew support and balance the wings and push off from the tail, not that it appeared the tail pusher really needed to help the sufficiently powerful winch.

“wing and tail.”, alasdar said, and the ground crew leveled the plane and were ready to aid our launch.

“winch: take up slack.”, alasdar requested over the radio.

“taking up slack.”, came from the radio’s speaker and i could see the extra cable and leader begin to slowly shorten. as soon as all the slack was taken up and i could feel just the slightest tug from the winch over ½ mile away, alasdar said into the microphone: “go. go. go.”

before the third “go” came from alasdar’s mouth, i was laid back into the seat like i was in a top fuel dragster and about a second-and-a-half later the schweizer was airborne. as soon as we were high enough, alasdar began to rotate (pull back on the stick) and stood the plane on its tail, which intensified the sensation of being pressed against the seat.

i have to admit that all this happened so fast that i neglected to attempt to read any of the instruments to determine just how fast we were climbing. i, however, did look out the window to see the ground quickly getting farther and farther from beneath us as alasdar announced our speed so the winch drivers could keep us at the schweizer’s target speed: “5-5 (55 mph)… 5-8… 5-2… 5-5… 5-2… 4-8… 5-2…”

from the speaker i heard, “winch powering down.” “cable drop.”, was alasdar’s reply and he pushed the stick forward to increase our speed and keep us in the air, which was a little bit of a surprise to me, as the winch crew radioed back to us: “it’s a clean break.”

the view from the front seat

suddenly the aggressiveness of the launch turned into something much more sedate. since the schweizer is an old design (i believe i heard somebody say that the 2-33 was first made in the 1940s) and constructed out of aluminum instead of fiberglass or carbon fiber, it is a bit noisy, but not nearly as loud as flying a powered aircraft.

view to the north as we soared to gain some ridge lift

pulling the stick to the right, alasdar made a 180° turn and we headed over to the hills to the east of the runway to grab some “ridge lift” to keep us aloft and, hopefully, take us even higher. within a short period of time, we crossed high over the border fence and i became an international soarer as alasdar expertly chose where to point the glider to grab every bit of lift we could to keep from having to land sooner than we intended.

over mexico and looking north across the border
notice the 1/4 mile gap in the fence.
what's that about?

on a couple of occasion, we flew to one end of the ridge and just made tight circles that, when i looked down, didn’t look as though we were making any forward motion; just graceful pirouettes. “this is what you see hawks doing.”, offered aladar.

yeah. i was having a good time!

it was sublime!

eventually, as alasdar pointed us away from the ridge lift for the last time, he said, “be ready for this!”.

oh shit, i thought, not knowing what to expect, as he put us into a dive to gain airspeed, pulled back on the stick – almost putting us into a stall and dipped the left wing down in a maneuver known as a “wingover”.

mexico directly below us with the border fence
and the good ol' u.s. of a. in the distance

in very short order, alasdar had bled-off enough speed by weaving back and forth for us to land.

i think i was high from that for the next 3 or 4 hours.

after securing the 2-33 on the apron, bud invited me and fred for another dinner of steak, potatoes and corn, which i gladly took the duty of again turning the potatoes and corn.

back at the ranch, fred and i were showered and in our beds before alasdar, chuck or our new bunkhouse mates – alan and ron, returned. the change to daylight saving time dictated that the morning would come an hour earlier on sunday and neither of us were getting a whole lot of sleep in the unfamiliar setting.

to be continued…

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