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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm Flying!

Well today was as good as any to test fly one of my sailplanes. I asked Erika if she would assist me and she agreed…without any complaints. The huge field near our home (where I fly) used to be used for grazing cattle. Now, the field is used to grow grass that’s later harvested, rolled and bagged, and stored to be fed to the cows during the winter months. The field is overrun by ticks, bees, and an occasional snake…mamushi to be more specific. Mamushi is a pit viper and something that could ruin your day if it were to bite you. With this in mind, I told Erika to wear her boots and to use insect repellant. Amazing…she still didn’t complain. So off we went into the Tsukahara wilderness to fly my sailplane.

It didn’t take long before I heard my first complaint. “Do we have to chase the plane around the field?”
“Yes, dear. I’m test flying the plane to see if it will fly straight.”

I kept reminding Erika to look down and keep an eye out for snakes. She was calm and patient while she followed me around the field. She was in charge of photography and snake patrol. After I was confident that the plane would fly straight, it was time for the hi-start. A hi-start is a very long rubber tube (100 feet) attached to a monofilament line (400 feet) and a parachute. The line is stretched like a giant rubber band. About 800 feet later, the sailplane is attached to a ring on the parachute and then to a hook that’s mounted to the underside of the plane. It’s vital that the hi-start is pulling the sailplane against the wind. If everything goes as planned, the sailplane is gracefully launched high into the air.
As I unreeled the hi-start, Erika kept saying,”That’s far enough!” She was unaware of how a hi-start needed lots of room in order to work properly. I finally staked the line at one end and headed back towards Erika. I was trying to count my steps to keep track of the distance, but Erika’s colorful comments made that impossible. When I finally had enough tension on the line, I asked Erika to bring the sailplane. She wasn’t happy that she had to carry the plane and climb a hill. “Did you know that there are a lot of bees out here?”
“Yes, dear.”

“It’s too dangerous to do this in the summer. This would be better if we were in the snow.”

“Umm, I can’t fly with snow on the ground. There are no thermals. I need lift so the plane will fly.”
“Sorry, but you can’t come out here in the summer. There are snakes and bees.”

We stood waiting for a headwind so that I could launch the plane. As we waited, a deer decided to run across the field. We thought it might get tangled in the line. Fortunately, the deer stayed clear of the line. We waited a few more minutes. A slight breeze could be felt. I decided to let Erika hold the plane while I controlled its flight. She did a great job of launching the plane. Erika was surprised and thrilled to see the sailplane climb up to the clouds. It was exhilarating to see a twenty-five year old plane being gracefully towed upwards into the Tsukahara sky. I dipped the nose of the plane as it reached the top of the arch to release the parachute. The plane disappeared into the low clouds.  I quickly did a shallow spin to lose some elevation. The plane reappeared and it flew overhead as I tried to find some lift along the ridge we were standing on. Later, Erika was excited and happy to see the plane land safely.
I was ready to try again, but Erika insisted that it was getting too dark to fly. “Rats! I was just getting into it.”

“ You’ll  get to fly again in October when it’s safer.”
“Huh? October? But, I was having so much fun.”

“Yeah, but it’s too dangerous out here.”

“I guess…I know you had fun, too. I heard your excitement when the plane went up on the hi-start.”
“Yeah. That was pretty cool.”

I have some ideas about modifying my ASW22 and installing an electric motor. If I’m successful, I’ll be able to fly from the safety of my yard. Stay tuned…

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