Dances with Vultures

This weekend I soloed a glider for the first time in eight years and loved it.  For way too long, I’ve had to concentrate on other things, but now I can fly on my own again.  First I had two flights with the instructor for a review of airwork  – slack towline corrected with yaw or spoilers;  boxing the towplane wake; slow flight; stalls; side-slip left and right.  And a lot of steep turns in the form of thermalling at a 45-degree bank angle to cling to narrow thermals.  That technique worked great and the first flight lasted almost an hour and a half.   Part of the time we were in thermals with vultures.  They are lovely flyers, and they gravitate to thermals, and if a glider circles the same way as the vultures, they take it for a big white bird and don’t mind.  The species called black vulture has distinctive white patches at the end of their glossy black wings.  I could see individual flight feathers on some of the birds.  It was a very hot day but distinctly cooler under a nice cloud.  It was a fine day for thermals and vultures and glider pilots.  Other pilots in my club got up into the air and scattered.  One pilot radioed in from the vicinity of Giddings, Texas (75 or so miles away) as he made his cross-country-contest-practice rounds.   Another pilot had a unwanted but safe landout away south of  Highway 290.  A fellow club member hitched up his glider trailer and trundled off to retrieve him.  The day’s thermals were tricksy – narrow and quick to dissipate.   If soaring was predictable it wouldn’t be a sport.  And if the instructors were predictable they wouldn’t be worth their salt.  My second flight with the instructor was extremely brief with a simulated tow-rope break (i.e., he suddenly pulled the towline release at 500′) followed by me flying an abbreviated landing pattern on the side of the field opposite from the usual glider pattern.  In other words the instructor gave me a wringing workout after which a simple solo flight felt easy.  Independence Day!

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