Gliding at Lasham
May 11th, 2002
A copy of "Sailplane & Gliding" - huh?
On my way out of my flat to go to work one day just before Christmas 2001, I found a puzzling thing on my doormat. Someone had sent me a copy of "Sailplane & Gliding" magazine. I thought they'd just got my name from some aviation-related mailing list and were sending me a promotional copy, so I just stepped over it along with all the other junk-mail. It wasn't until I got home that evening and found there was nothing on the telly that I decided to flick through it, and out fell a card containing a ticket for a trial gliding flight at Lasham.
The covering letter was from my sister Catherine, who must have heard me say that I'd always fancied having a go at gliding, so she and her partner Alan had decided to buy a trial flight for my birthday. The ticket was valid for 12 months - just as well given the pants weather that was prevalent at the time, and Catherine's letter explained that it was essential that she and Alan, and my mum and dad, were present as witnesses on the day. Eventually, when the weather began to improve in the spring, I rang up the Lasham Gliding Society to arrange an appointment - and so the date was set for Saturday May 11th at 14:00.
When the day arrived, I discovered that they don't make Lasham airfield especially easy to find by road. Coming up the A339 from the south, I tried a couple of roads labelled "Lasham - village only" - which I soon realised is a coded way of saying "you can't get to the airfield this way". Eventually I followed a sign for Lasham that was about the size of a small envelope (tough to spot at 60 mph!) which didn't mention the airfield, but it was becoming obvious by the steady stream of Robins and Pawnees trailing long lengths of rope on short finals that I was getting warm. Actually, I found out later that if only I'd taken the next junction then it would have been a piece of cake. Oh well!
Having arrived and signed in, I sampled the rather excellent catering while waiting for everyone else to arrive. And after a brief wait, we were all lead by an instructor up to the launch point, a bit like a mother duck leading her brood to water!
On the way up to the launch point, I mentioned to the instructor that I was a PPL, because I hoped he might let me take more control of the glider than he would for a complete novice. There was another chap with us who was having a trial flight as well, so the instructor briefed us both together. I was a little disappointed when the instructor said he wasn't going to let us use the rudder, trim and various other controls - but in fact the first thing he said to me later as we took off was "you'll find this needs a bit more rudder than you're used to".
The glider I was in was a fairly standard wooden training glider (a K13 so I'm told). Very sensibly, its fuselage was painted bright red - why aren't all aircraft painted like that so you can actually see them easily? In fact, a few days later I bought a copy of the June edition of "Today's Pilot", and was surprised to see a picture of this very glider in an article about the new chart symbols for gliding sites.
Having got ourselves almost ready to go, we all had to clear everything off the runway. Why? Because there was a 727 about to take off for a flight test. So we all had to wait at the side of the runway while it trundled noisily to the end of the runway, turned round and took off.
Right - "Golf Juliet-November's ready for departure."
As far as I can make out, Cougar is an aircraft leasing company that operates a handful of aircraft for passenger and cargo use. This one is a 1978 Boeing 727-225RE, and I believe its registration is G-OKJN. It's painted with a very pretty picture of a cougar's face on the side of the fuselage.
Left - As he climbed out, I couldn't help thinking to myself: "I'd rather him than me, taking off into uncontrolled airspace in that thing." Mind you, I also pity any hapless PPL who meets him - coming face-to-face with heavy metal like that is sure to make you reach for your map to check you're not busting CAS!
Once we'd got him out of the way, the noise of three jet engines and the smell of burnt avtur gave way to the sound of the birds, and Lasham returned to a much more civilised form of aviation!
Right - After once again pushing the glider into position at the launch point, we strapped into our parachutes and climbed in. Glider pilots wear parachutes as fairly standard practice, as a precaution against the extremely unlikely event of having to bail out of a stricken glider.
Left - "What's your name, sonny?" - If you look very closely in this picture, you can see two pieces of red wool attached to the outside of the bubble canopy. These act as a very simple but effective slip indicator - showing whether the airflow is correctly aligned along the glider's fuselage during a turn. Maintaining proper turn coordination is especially important in a glider, where excess drag will shorten your flight.
Right - My trial flight gave me an aerotow to 2000 feet. The aircraft giving me my tow was a Robin DR400, registration G-BSFF
Left - There were various tug planes operating on the day, including a Pawnee with the great registration G-TOWS (but surely the ugliest aircraft ever designed?!).
Below - With the canopy fastened, we waited for the tug plane to take up the slack...
... and then the tug pilot opened the throttle, and we were off down Lasham's immaculate tarmac runway.
The glider lifted off after a very short ground run, leaving us waiting for the tug plane to get airborne. It was a strange sensation seeing another aircraft taking off and flying only yards in front of us.
After about five minutes or so, we were up to about 2000 feet and the instructor released us from the tow rope.
We glided over to the other side of the airfield and found a fairly decent thermal. By this point we were down to about 1500 feet, but the thermal soon took us to nearly 3500 feet. Once the instructor had demonstrated the tight turn needed to keep us in the thermal, he handed over to me. Once I'd got the feel for the thermal, it was a case of maintaining a mental picture of where the middle of the thermal was. It was reasonably easy to keep the rate of climb at about 400 feet per minute.
As I'd hoped, the instructor let me take all the controls of the glider. I felt fairly comfortable with the controls, despite the fact that this was the first aircraft I'd flown with a stick rather than a 'yoke' style control, like you find in many light aircraft. The glider was very sensitive in pitch, but its roll rate was fairly slow - I suppose the big long wings give it a lot of inertia. At one point, the instructor suggested I adjust the pitch trim, which I did after first checking whether it was the green knob or the red one. (The red one, as I had correctly remembered, was the emergency canopy release - worth checking I thought!)
We glided for about 20 minutes or so before heading back to the airfield to land. The instructor took control back for the turn onto final approach, dumped on the speed brakes and down we came.
And at the end of the day, I had a groovy certificate to take home with me...
Picture credits: Dad, Alan.