A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

The check ride gambit

October 8, 2022
Emilie Phillips

After flying every weekend day in September, I got my instructor sign off for the practical exam on October 8th. I would schedule the exam, I thought, practice for a few more weeks, take the exam and then be done. Success. But when I contacted the examiner, the earliest he could do was November 27th, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That was after the club disassembles the gliders for storage and closes up for the winter. I could of course postpone until spring when the cub reopens. I would need a month of flying to get current again. Some past students told horror stories of more than a month. The club does leave two gliders out over the winter, the 2-33 and 1-26. I could switch from the Blanik to the 2-33. That would mean learning a whole new glider. Or I could petition the club board to keep the Blanik out for an extra couple weekends and extend the insurance.

I was burnt out from a month of intense glider practice. I had been really hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel; time to spend with Tyson and Isaac, a chance to catch the end of the sea kayaking season. We hadn’t made it out sea kayaking all summer. October in a dry suit is really pleasant because the water is still warm and the air isn’t too hot.

I debated just putting it off until next year. Ravi, another Sterling pilot, also had his commercial check ride scheduled with the same examiner on the 27th. He decided the odds were too low that we could get the Blanik kept out, have good weather, and enough people to run the ground crew on Thanksgiving weekend. He chose to delay until next year. I discussed with Tyson. He said, after all the effort I had put into getting my rating this year, I should stick with it and get it done. Tyson was willing to put up with more weekends of single parenting, pasta dinners, and the trash piling up because no one had time to take it to the dump.

Towing the Schweizer 2-33A to the grid

The next option was the Schweizer 2-33. This glider was the primary two seat trainer across the US in the 70’s and 80’s. Almost every club has one, and some are still using them as the primary trainer. The 2-33 is a bulbous aircraft with lots of corners where the fabric skin bends over the steel tube frame. The club keeps it out over the winter because its wings are high enough to pass over snow banks. I had never flown it because it looked like the antithesis of the sleek modern composite sailplanes I wanted to fly. Some of the instructors liked it for nostalgia. Others avoided it. The next weekend, I decided I had better try flying the 2-33 to see if I could easily switch for my exam. The problem was, the instructor on duty that day emphatically declared he was not flexible enough to climb up into the back seat, much less survive sitting in it for a half hour. This was before Ravi had decided to postpone until next year, so he was also considering the 2-33. He let me sit in back one flight. I memorized the sight picture. On the ground, I skimmed the owners manual and then got the instructor to sign me off to solo the 2-33. I took it up for one flight. It was easy enough to fly, but it was definitely different than the Blanik. I would need to commit to practicing every good weather weekend day from now until the check ride. I was too burnt out for that.

I do find it amusing that my one flight in the venerable two seat trainer, was a solo flight.

If I was going to stick with this year, that left petitioning the board to keep the Blanik out, keep it on insurance, and not take all the tow planes down for maintenance. I gathered my case. I would organize a volunteer crew to do final disassembly and storage. If weather was bad the weekend of the 27th, I would not request further delays both because of insurance concerns and because it is miserable to disassemble a glider in sleet. I backed up my case with multiple instructors recommending I stick with the Blanik and get the exam done this year when I was fresh. At the next monthly board meeting, I made my request. They discussed it. They generally seemed positive, but they didn’t say yes. They just moved on to the next topic. Cathy later told me that is how the board works. If they don’t say “no”, then it is a yes.

I had a month and a half to study and prepare, and to cross my fingers about the weather.


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