Fledgling

Today, we drive up to Lookout Mountain.  It’s my 4th attempt at my 1st mountain launch and the wind looks promising.

When the glider is assembled, I do the pre-flight check of my life.  I check every nut, bolt, wire, and thread as if my life depends on it.  Oh, that’s right, it does.

Shortly after 8AM, I am standing on the launch, ready to go.  I am having progressively more difficulty breathing.  I take a few deep breaths.

Alas, so does the wind, and in the wrong direction.  I sit on the ramp and we wait, hoping the wind will settle.  It doesn’t.  I back up off the ramp and set my glider down.

Three of us wait for our virgin flights.  We’ve been there 2 hours when at last, it happens.  The wind dies and starts to come in as a slight headwind.

I watch my 15-year-old fellow student launch like a pro and then step up for my turn.  I remind myself to breathe.  The instructor reminds me to breathe.  I stand ready.  I call clear and start my approach.  My eyes are on the horizon; I don’t see the ramp at all.  I have no sense of falling, but I’ve made a major mistake–I’ve let the nose of the glider pop up during the approach, which means I am, in fact, falling off the launch for a split second.

Thankfully, due to the design of the glider, I’m not in serious danger as the glider will recover on its own.  Even better, I realize the nose is high and pull in quickly, making the recovery almost instantaneous.

Surprisingly, I am not scared by this mishap.  I go through the checklist:  1) Fly away from the mountain.  As I look around and try to decide what the definition of “away” is, I am overwhelmed with giddiness–I am actually flying.  I cackle with glee.

Then, I move on in my checklist:  2)  Check your speed.  I look at the speed indicator and I am flying nearly 25 MPH.  I ease out a bit, take a deep breath, and remind myself to relax.  That’s about as far as I get before it’s time to start the box pattern around the landing zone.

I can only judge my altitude when I am level with a landmark; I completely lose track as I begin the final landing pattern.  I cut the approach pattern short when I realize how low I am.  I pull in for speed, begin the round out, and then suddenly go into brain freeze when my feet drag the ground.

Proximity to the ground does not determine when you flare and I know this.  I flare anyway.  I balloon up and then, even worse, I let the nose drop.  I try to flare again, but this never works.  I land hard on the wheels. I am unharmed but the left down tube breaks.  I get up, unhook and feel grateful for modern engineering.

To Be Continued . . .

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