A Family Adventure

in the mountains, ocean, and air

Windy practice flights

July 30, 2022
Emilie Phillips

I had to be patient to start my plan for soloing. The weekend of July 24th, I sent Isaac to sleep away camp, and we packed Tyson for his flight to Alaska. That left me only one weekend to solo. My preferred instructor would be teaching on the very last Sunday. If the weather went bad, if I needed more practice than I thought, if everyone else showed up Sunday, if, if, …

To give myself every chance to succeed, I decided to go to Sterling on Saturday and practice with whomever was instructing. Hopefully I could fly twice and feel current in the Blanik.

Friday evening, I reviewed the Blanks specifications and my answers in the pre-solo written test. Saturday morning, I got up and finished calculating my minimums. I reviewed all the weather forecasts. It was going to be windy, 15kts gusting to over 20kts straight down the runway. I couldn’t solo in those winds, but they seemed ok with an instructor in the back seat. My flight to Sterling in the RV-4 confirmed the strong wind from the west. I had to crab sideways during the flight. Once in the pattern, the downwind zoomed by and final needed lots of power. What with all my planning, I didn’t get to the field until 10:15 AM. That was almost a critical mistake.

When I checked in, I found one pilot was already signed up for two flights in a row in the Blanik with the instructor. Another pilot was signed up for an instructional flight in the Puchacz. I added up how long I would have to wait and realized that with no tow pilot signed up for the afternoon, I might only get one flight in.

After the tow plane lifted the Blanik off for its first flight, I wandered out to the three high performance gliders on the grid. I asked the pilots how they planned to handle the strong 30kt west wind aloft. They each had a different plan, but each one had a plan B and C. Phil showed up as the fourth high performance glider in line. He was clearly focused on his own flight planning. I let him know as politely as I could that I wanted to solo the next day; rather presumptuous of me actually. If you search the internet for stories of first solos, they usually start with

“I thought it was going to be a normal flight, but then my instructor hopped out and told me I was going up on my own.”

Phil just smiled in his usual quiet way and didn’t say no.

The Blanik returned from the first flight. The pilot was actually a licensed pilot, but he was working towards a no-altimeter spot landing that’s needed for his next badge. He had come in too low on final to qualify this time. With the winds, today was going to be a tough day to get a spot landing. The instructor and the Puchacz launched. Bill, a frequent instructor showed up, but was already committed to flying a paying ride in the ASK-21. The first two high performance gliders launched. When the tow plane came back to land, I heard it save the landing with a burst of full power.

Getting gusty, I thought.

Instead of towing the third high performance glider, the tow plane taxied over to us at the picnic table and parked. The pilot got out shaking his head. I didn’t quite catch the story. Either he had dropped the rope and then had to do an emergency go around, or he had failed to drop the rope and had to go around with it. Either way, he wasn’t flying again until the gusts abated. No one questioned his decision. Things weren’t looking good for me to get any flying in at all.

We all retired to the picnic table. Bill agreed to review my pre-solo written exam. So at least I got that done. Then the wind picked a wing up on the tow plane, shifted it out of its chocks and sent it rolling. There was a scramble to secure the plane better. I checked on my RV-4.

Finally, the winds died down and the second shift tow pilot arrived. We were good to start operations again. Bill’s passenger decided to wait until calmer winds Sunday. That left Bill free to instruct in the Blanik. I had been hoping for a silent instructor who would let me make all the flight decisions without coaching. Bill isn’t quiet. I offered to Bill that I could do all the talking. He was ok with trying that.

I kept up a running monologue on first tow to 3,500ft and Bill managed to stay quiet. I utterly failed at catching lift and we ended up back down at pattern altitude in no time flat. The downwind zoomed by, just like in the RV-4 that morning. I tried to estimate where to turn base, but Bill did not like my decision. We were far too low and needed to take immediate action to shortcut straight to the runway, skipping a proper base and final.

After we landed, I discussed with Bill and decided on the next flight, I would move my aim point farther along the runway. That way if I did end up low, I had plenty of margin. For the second tow, we released at pattern altitude. I felt very hurried trying to get through the check list in time. Then I noticed rising air. So I did a 360 upward for the fun of it, and to give myself a little more time. The second pattern and landing went really well. Now I was feeling confident I could fly the glider.


Phil stayed out with his glider during the gusty period. I hadn’t considered it until the towplane moved, but someone probably should have stayed out with the club gliders too. They had been left with the spoilers open. I assume that’s to increase the airspeed needed to lift a wing.

No photos or GPS track this time. As always, check out the rest of my glider training posts.