Category Archives: Soaring

Intent to win

Top-tier sailplane contest pilots must have ice-cold salt water coursing in their veins.  They fly sleek long-winged engineless ships over courses hundred of miles long above brutally inhospitable terrain.  They race around downdrafts and cumulonimbus clouds and wind shear and everything else the immense engine named weather decides to throw at them.  These guys and gals are seriously intent on competing. That being the case, the Soaring Society of America has announced several contest rule changes in the interest of safety.  Changes include a “10-mile safety finish option” in the event that a really big storm lies over the contest airport.  That’s so pilots aren’t tempted to transit a thunderstorm to win more points toward winning the contest.  And this:  pilots in a midair collision will be scored contest points only to where they hit in order to eliminate the point temptation to keep going.  Yow! Most pilots if we ever had a midair and came away with an aircraft that still worked  would only want to find a place to land land and kiss the ground we landed on and thank our Deity.

Apocalypse Not Yet

I went for a walk on the Braes Bayou trail, and a big green military helicopter flew by overhead, reminding me of an incident at the Soaring Club last weekend. Two (2) of these big green machines thundered through at less than 1000′ of altitude right across our Field.  Club members looked out of hangar doors and up from mowing the grass and over from the sun shelter on the south end of the Field. Fortunately there were no gliders on tow or landing.  The rest of the afternoon people asked each other, “Did you see the Apocalypse Now moment?”

Legally gliders have right of way over powered aircraft. That isn’t much help after a helo or a bizjet turns a sailplane into confetti.  So the soaring community is avidly interested in new cockpit collision avoidance technologies, and especially those that don’t weigh much.  In Soaring Magazine this month it’s mentioned that some people are even developing an aviation collision avoidance app for smart phones!


It’s amazing how a long-winged sailplane gets tucked into a sleek trailer and ready to be towed away in less than an hour. Of course, the pilot/owner gets points for having a state of the art clamshell Cobra trailer with good tires ready to roll.  His spouse/crew/fellow club members appreciate that!

There’s quite a lot of trailering going on in the Northern hemisphere now – it’s the high summer season.  Pilots are rolling to contests; pilots are going cross-country for contests and contest practice; and landouts happen!  May they all be as uneventful as this one was.

Pipistrel’s Taurus

Here are more photos of last Saturday’s visiting motorglider.

While it was parked at the Soaring Club of Houston, our Field Operations Officer of the day pondered it….

In fact it attracted a crowd. 

SCOH and the Greater Houston Soaring Association have a traveling trophy that can be collected from either club from by a pilot from the other club – presuming they arrive in a glider that made the trip as a glider.  The Pipistrel motorglider was flown from GHSA without use of the propeller.   Conditions were weakening, though, as attested by SCOH having two landouts later in the afternoon.  The GHSA pilot elected to extend the propeller for the purpose of getting home.

The takeoff  was remarkable.  Motorgliders with propellers in this position look improbable anyway, and this one leaped into the sky like the proverbial homesick angel.

Pipistrel is a light aircraft manufacturer in Slovenia.   This model of theirs is called a Taurus, and among other unusual features, it has side by side seating and a parachute for the whole aircraft in the event of emergency.

Pipistrel’s logo is a bat.  Pipistrel/pipistrelle is indeed a kind of bat.  Come to think of it, I saw a Western Pipistrelle last fall in Longhorn Cavern State park – a tiny bat that looked like nothing so much as a Chicken McNugget.  Pipistrel bats in Eastern Europe may be a little bigger and more dashing as bats go.  Anyway, as gliders go, the Pipistrel Taurus goes with style.

Crew Duty Day

It was a fine day yesterday at the Soaring Club of Houston – even for the crew who launched and retrieved gliders much of the day in broiling heat.  There were enough of us that nobody got worked to death.  And there were these interesting circumstances:

A very large, very well positioned spider has a magnificent web on the porch of the clubhouse.  She’s been there for several weeks.  She set up shop right in front of the knockout roses where nobody would accidentally walk into her and everybody could admire her.  Her admirers flick crickets into the web, whereupon she pounces on the offering with lightning reflexes.

A pilot came calling from the Greater Houston Soaring Association in a motorglider.  The pilot/owner (pink shirt) attracted a great deal of attention upon landing, while parked on the Field, and when making a takeoff  (a) without need of the tow plane, (b) with an impressive rate of climb.

Lastly there was a landout when a SCOH pilot flying cross-country (in a conventional, motorless sailplane) found himself in weakening conditions and landed at the residential airfield called Sport Flyers.  A couple of us got to go get him by hitching his glider trailer to his SUV and driving to Sport Flyers.  A very nice airport it is.

The landout pilot is the fellow in the bucket hat.

Retrieves are fun when someone  has landed without a scratch on pilot or glider.  And a sailplane and a trailer as well engineered as these make for fast, satisfying work.

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!