The Tale of an Almost Glider Pilot
When I was working for Jim at Brewer Aviation, he decided it would be fun to buy a glider so we could give lessons and rides. This was pretty typical of Jim, we always looking for ways to get people excited about flying.
So not long after that discussion, Jim found a nice Schweizer 2-22 trainer for sale down in North Central Texas at a place call AeroCountry (T31). So we flew down and Jim cut a deal. All of this sounded good, but none of us had any glider time and none of us had a tow plane endorsement. Jim had purchased tow kit for our 1965 C172 with it’s super-manly 145 hp engine – that would later be switched out to a C182 for obvious reasons.
The plan was to me and Jim to our towplane endorsements and then I would solo the glider so we could ferry it home. Once that was done, I would practice and take my commercial glider add-on and then glider CFI.
So we made several flights down to Texas to train. It was a blast! Aerocountry is a privately owned, public use airport that is a sport aviation mecca. They had all sorts of cool stuff going on down there. Their tow plane was a L-19 Bird Dog, flown by a really young part-time Lear pilot. I always remember he would run a fuel tank completely dry before switching, the engine would quite on takeoff and he’d just quickly flip the valve – didn’t seem to bother him or the Bird Dog.
Training was really fun and I learned a lot. At the time I was a CFI and doing a great deal of flying, but soaring really added to my knowledge and skill – I highly recommend it even if just a few lessons.
So once I had enough dual instruction to satisfy the commercial glider add-on requirement and I was solo’ing the glider, it was time to take it home. Since we didn’t have trailer, we decided to tow it home with our anemic 172 tow plane. That turned out to be a near-mishap. We just took off with Jim flying the towplane and me in the glider and just barely cleared the power lines on the south end of the field. I had my hand on the rope release – that’s how close it was, figuring I could break away if Jim wasn’t going to make it over the lines. I later found out that Jim was doing the same thing in the towplane – hand on the release lever, gritting his teeth as he cleared the lines!
Towing cross-country is not an easy thing. The glider is completely out of trim for the speeds you have to fly to keep the 172 from overheating so it was a handful the whole 100 miles home.
Once back home I practiced for the practical test and we arranged for glider examiner, Paul McClaskey, to fly down from Stillwater to do my checkride. Paul is related to one of the local pilots, Charles Whitfield, and was happy to fly down and do the ride. All was well the morning of the checkride. We had the glider out warming me up and it was setting down on the south end of the field in the grass between the runway and taxiway ready to go. Unfortunately, the wind picked up and we didn’t moore it, so as my dad and Jim were heading down on the golf cart to secure it, the glider took off. It levitated about 5 foot off the ground and then came crashing backwards damaging the elevator and the right aileron. We called Paul on unicom and turned him around – no checkride today.
This really took the wind out of our sails, because we were already lamenting about how much man-power it takes to run the glider. You need a glider pilot, a towplane pilot, and at least one or two ground support people – it was pretty labor intensive.
So the glider languished in the back of the hangar for several months, before Jim repaired it and put it on the market. I fellow drove down from Illinois with a trailer and took it home.
It was kind of a bummer for me, since I got all that training and experience and never acquired my license, but it did produce some great memories which will almost certainly get me back into a glider some day….
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