Sniper at 12 O’Clock!

Last weekend I flew a glider for the first time in a long time.  (In 2007 I  had to go inactive in the Soaring Club of Houston and hadn’t flown for a while even before that.  It was a long hiatus due to having a novel published, writing two more novels, having a parent diagnosed with Alzheimers and then relocating out of an apartment complex being sold to developers.  Life happens.)

So I went up with a glider flight instructor and did better than I thought I would.  I flew two flights from tow to full stop,  without the instructor having to take the controls except when I forgot to plant the tail wheel after the first landing.  They say it’s like riding a bicycle – you get rusty but you probably won’t crash into a tree if you haven’t ridden a bike in forever.  Likewise flying skills stay with you even though finesse definitely does not.

The instructor gave me some memorable landing advice.   He reminded me to pick a landing spot to aim for, then once in ground effect – a wing length or so above the ground – to look at the end of the runway.  Like a lot of other things, landing an aircraft is done best when your attention is not overly immediate.  You need to be taking in the whole view of the runway;  it’s vital.  The instructor said, “Pretend there’s a Nazi sniper in the trees at the end of the field and look for him!”

Pretend there’s a sniper in the trees at the end of the runway. I won’t forget that.  It’s the best kind of flight instruction admonition:  pithy and funny enough to stick in a busy brain and be recalled when it’s needed most.

A couple of days ago I discovered the origin of the word sniper. It was in a recent re-edition from Oxford University Press of a classic cookbook written for British housewives in 19th-century India. (!)  Snipe entered in as wild game that might end up on the dinner table.  They are wary marsh birds.  A sniper is a hunter skilled enough to shoot a snipe.

OK, that makes a memorable lesson and a half.  Look for the sniper in the trees to make sure your eyes are where they’ll do you the most good in the last moments of a landing.  And practice toward a snipe-hunting level of accuracy!

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