After last week, it was time for an adventure. So my friend Chad and I drove out to the Fault Line Flyers air strip and got a ride in a glider with our pilot friend, Gonzo.
It was a beautiful day so we decided to ride there on Chad’s motorcycle. It was way better than taking my car, but let’s just say the right half of my body is now tanner than the left half. Pesky sun.
The club is at a small airport in the middle of nowhere. The last few miles were on old county roads north of Austin.
When we got there, Gonzo showed us his fancy racing glider. He’s been installing some new instruments as he prepares to compete in Nationals (!) near Dallas this summer. This glider has a wing span of around 65 feet. He can easily stay aloft for 5+ hours in this thing.
The first Saturday of every month, Fault Line Flyers hosts a Demo Day when the public can come for rides with a commercial pilot. They have several gliders and pilots available for that and there are also single-seater private gliders which belong to club members, like this pretty blue and white one.
Gliders, as you may have figured out, don’t have engines. To get up into the sky, we were towed by this old crop duster, the pilot of which looked like he was having a great time all day long.
The glider is connected to the tow plane by a rope and then the plane takes off with the glider bouncing — and then flying — along behind. This is the bumpiest part of the ride, mostly because the plane goes faster than gliders typically fly.
Oh, and because that really is the “runway” it’s sitting on — a field.
We went up in this Schwietzer 2-33 glider, which handles like a dream. It’s an older model, but sturdy and reliable. The wings are metal and the body is a metal frame with fabric covering. The hole in the front is a vent. Gonzo equated it to flying a picnic table.
When we reached 2500 ft above ground, I pulled a red knob which released the tow line and we were on our own. Or as Gonzo jokingly announced, “so this is engine failure.” Even sans engine, we found a thermal column of rising air and quickly gained another few thousand feet. Apparently Central Texas has world-class atmospheric conditions for gliding. The 2012 World Championships were held in Uvalde, TX near San Antonio.
About 5,000 ft up, Gonzo let me try the controls. It was surprisingly easy to handle, although I wasn’t doing any of the rudder work. I was able to keep it straight and level and even make a few turns. It’s the small things.
It was fun knowing the pilot and he was sure to demonstrate all the best parts of flying gliders. First was the fact that you can open the window and stick your head out. (Apparently there’s a contest in the fall when pilots throw pumpkins out the window at a target. )
He also demonstrated how easily the aircraft recovers from a stall and pointed out how a junk yard can generate a great thermal because of the heat reflecting off the metal below.
We stayed up in the air easily for about 30 minutes and only came down because it was time to give the next person a go. This was a really fun experience and I’d be happy to take anyone who visits me in Austin on a Demo Day!