After my having demonstrated that I could successfully tow with the Falcon, Mark and Spinner suggested that I should take the next step and try a double-surface glider. They had a Northwing Liberty 148 available, so in the morning we put the Falcon back into the storage trailer and pulled out the Liberty. I didn’t have a manual, so I guessed my way through the setup process, getting some help from George with the tip wands (I had never assembled a glider with curved tips), and I had Donnie look everything over before I did my preflight. We also attached a tailfin to mellow out the handling on tow.
The first couple of pilots who went up had pretty active air near the ground, so I sat tight for a while, and when things looked like they might be better, Jonny went up for a little spin in the Dragonfly and came back saying that it might be okay, which I took as a signal to be wise and wait a bit. When another couple of pilots went up and it looked smooth, I decided I was ready and went down to the south end of the field to wait my turn (there were also some tandem flights happening). I was a little apprehensive, both because the more advanced glider was likely to be more challenging on tow, and also because unlike the 10+ year old big floaty wing that’s nearly impossible to land badly, this was a nice shiny new glider that I could very well whack on landing. Fortunately, the reality was much milder than the fears. Going up was absolutely fine, and although my flare was very weak, I was able to run out the landing. The second flight was even better, and I got the flare timing right. Grazi was there with one of his dozens of cameras to catch the launch and the landing on that one.
Cross your ankles, bozo!
A third flight just like the second, and I took Mark’s advice to remove the fin and see how that felt. This was late afternoon, and the air was smooth, exactly what I needed. I managed to entertain the crowd with what was clearly the worst tow that anybody did all week. I was okay for maybe the first 500 feet, then I lost it and was all over the place. Intellectually, I knew exactly what was happening and what I was doing wrong, but there’s a different between that and actually having a feel for it and being able to pull out the right control reflexes. I was within a second or two of grabbing the release because I was close to lockout, but I got it back on track, and was following the tug smoothly for the last 1000 feet or so of the tow. For anybody reading this who hasn’t experienced towing a hang glider, this isn’t as scary as it might sound; although I was swinging all over the place at the end of the tow line, I had the option at any moment to hit the release, which would put me into normal gliding flight and I’d just set up a routine landing. I knew this was the last flight of the day, and of the year, so I went a few places I hadn’t been before and flew slowly, taking in the view and savoring it, before another fine landing. A bunch of other pilots flew, including George, Grazi, Stefan, Jamie and Danielle, some folks I didn’t know, and also Mitch S, who got a high tow so that he could drop in on the party at Wallaby.
Kim cooked up a great New Year’s dinner, and George and I had fun playing guitar into the evening to provide some party entertainment. And we’ll leave the party report at that, because what happens at Quest… well, what happens at Quest ends up on Facebook, but what happens at The Quahog stays there. 🙂
We had some thoughts of getting up in the morning to start off the new year with some airtime, but the forecast called for it to be rainy in the morning, and sure enough, there was a low cloud deck and the nighttime rain resumed, so I took care of the written test for my AT rating, said my goodbyes, and headed off to the airport to fly back to the (quite literally)(very) freezing temperatures of New England, just ahead of the oncoming blizzard.
I was perhaps long overdue for learning to aerotow, but now I’ve got enough of a foundation in the basics that I can continue the learning process in the springtime. I have to say, this trip turned out pretty much exactly as I had hoped. For me, it made sense logistically to take these lessons by making a devoted trip to a flight park, and after hearing advice from various people, I picked Quest Air, and I’m completely satisfied with that choice. It might not be the best fit for everybody, but it was the ideal place for me. The instruction they provided was tuned to my existing skill set, and they understood my objective, to learn as much as I could about towing in the available time, and to get as much experience as possible. Specifically, regarding the people I dealt with the most:
Jonny, flying the tug for most of my tows, was much more than just a driver. He offered advice on conditions, made helpful comments on how I was doing, and was suitably patient with this beginner. As a bonus, we had time for idle chat on other topics during the downtime, and it turns out that we have a friend in common, a fellow I worked with on human-powered airplanes 25 years ago and haven’t seen since, but who later took up hang gliding and Jonny knows him from Kitty Hawk. I also had a couple of tows with April, which were similarly positive experiences.
Spinner has the ideal temperament for doing tandem instruction and discovery flights. I both flew with him, and watched him preparing to take passengers up. Incredibly friendly and accommodating, but most importantly, he’s one of the most mellow and soft-spoken people I’ve ever met, instilling incredible confidence. I can just imagine him with a tandem passenger if the glider were to disintegrate, calmly saying (as he tossed the reserve), “OK, things are going a little differently than we planned, no big deal, see, the parachute is already open, now just relax and enjoy the ride down…”. All of his instruction was straightforward, to the point, and easy to follow.
And Mark, running the show as well as doing a little bit of everything, is a wonderful host. From the initial email of inquiry to the good-byes this morning, he made the whole process go smoothly, answered all of my questions, and made me feel at home. And I really mean that last part, I felt like I fit in at Quest at least as much as I have anywhere in my nearly ten years of flying hang gliders. Thanks to all!
flights: 4, airtime: 1:00