A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Gliding Update

August 27, 2023
Emilie Phillips

Tyson signed up for his glider check ride. He isn’t ready yet, but to ensure he got on the examiner’s schedule he booked it for October 21st. We have spent every weekend since at Sterling gliding. In the evenings at home, Tyson divides his attention between the pile of books I bought last year, an online course, and quizzes from the GBSC instructors.

By now, Tyson has soloed two tandem gliders

  • the SGS 2-33 he started in
  • the L-23 Blanik that’s a little more modern

He has also soloed the single seat SGS 1-26. Total, he is up to 43 flights and 14 hours.

Tyson was hoping to do the check ride in the bulbous 2-33. The FAA developed most of their guidelines back when the Schweizer 2-33 was the standard training glider across America. It has sloppy controls, so examiners tend to excuse imprecise flying. It is slow and easy to slip, both of which make the landing maneuvers easier. Unfortunately, we determined that Tyson plus the examiner are too heavy for the 2-33. The next best (worst?) club glider is the L-23 Blanik. I used the Blanik for my check ride. The downside of check ride preparation is Tyson’s flights have focused on maneuvers. He hasn’t done much soaring. It’s hard to catch a thermal when the instructor pre arranges with the tow pilot to wave you off at 600′ above the runway. Tyson’s average flight time is 20 minutes

I’m not doing much better on flight time. At the beginning of the season, I declared my goal was to earn the SSA bronze badge this year. To get the badge I need

  • two 2 hour flights
  • various spot and accuracy landings
  • written exam

Of these, I decided to start with the two hour flight. The advice I got from other recent pilots was to pick a good day with lots of thermals. Then it wouldn’t matter which glider I took, even the SGS 1-26 could stay up for two hours. By picking the 1-26, I wouldn’t have to worry about another club member wanting it back at the 1 hour default limit. When I formed this plan in May, it seemed eminently doable. Then in June it started raining. Mid July it stopped raining, but stayed cloudy or hazy with Canadian smoke. In August it cleared only enough to make weak and broken thermals. All of my flights have been excruciatingly short. At the end of last year, I was easily staying aloft an hour. Now, I can barely extend the 15 minute sled ride down from tow height. I’ve started second guessing my thermalling skills, second guessing the variometers in the gliders, second guessing what is a good looking cloud.

It’s not just me, though. I looked at the stats for the club. Take the ASK-21. It is our highest performance two seater and generally used for rides. Flights in the ASK-21 are limited by weather rather than instructor shenanigans like early tow releases. On a calm evening with no thermals, Isaac and I flew the tow to 3k and glided down in 0.3 hours. Last year, the average flight length was 0.6 hours. This year it is 0.4. That means people got 3 times more soaring time last year than this year. Another way to look at the bad conditions is the stats on the experienced pilots with their own gliders. These pilots only bother to come to the airport if they can fly the whole day nonstop. If I limit to pilots who average more than 4 hours per flight, last year, they flew a total of 98 flights, this year 68 (extrapolating to a full year). On a positive note, this past weekend conditions were a little better and I managed a one hour flight.

Photos from the past few weeks