Dartmoor Gliding News-Mike's First Solo

The ramblings of a fledgling glider pilot by Mike Bennett

I clearly recall the day that my wife slid a DGS one day course voucher under my nose, a rather special birthday gift and something I had wanted to do for a number of years. I warned her that there was a good chance that I might 'get the bug'. She smiled and reminded me of the fact that she had been an activities widow for the last 25 years what with caving, rock climbing, mountaineering etc. etc So nothing new there!

My first flight happened on the 13th June 2015, a rather overcast, windy day not suited to flying. I met up with my pilot, Rick and he explained that the conditions were anything but ideal but we would give it a go. I sat slightly bemused in the front seat trying to take in the brief he had delivered when suddenly we were propelled along the ground and into the air, a somewhat violent process!

"How I done it" Mike with Instructor Rick Wiles
At the top of the launch we released, it went quiet and for the first time I began to see the attraction of unpowered flight. Three minutes later we arrived back on terra firma, with a bump, not Ricks' best landing, he would admit later. No more flying that day but the damage was done. Like Toad of Toad Hall on first seeing a motor car I was left dazed but desperate for more.
Over the course of the next 17 months I clocked up 138 launches, mainly under the tuition of Ged and Gordon, gradually building up my confidence and experience. I would be the first to admit that I am not an instinctive pilot and it has taken a lot of persistence and patience on their parts to help me to progress.

Saturday 26th November 2016, Wind ENE 10 kts, Cloud base 1000ft above airfield. I met up with Gordon and he suggested that we do six flights in close succession to get me up to speed. He was to act as a passenger and me the pilot only stepping in if absolutely necessary. First flight saw low cloud base and an early release leading to a short flight and uneventful landing. The next five flights followed in a similar vein but thankfully the cloud base lifted slightly allowing full height releases.

Launch 145

At 1600, having done six flights he suggested one more and asked me to run through my checks whilst he went to the loo. Checks complete I sat waiting for him wondering what the hold up was. He ambled across sans parachute and said " I cannot teach you any more, fancy trying it on your own?". Yes please was my reply. I had been waiting for the chance for the last few months!!!!

Checks redone I looked at the placard, minimum front seat weight 75kgs, whoops!,, Im only 73 kgs inc. chute, quickly out and 15 kgs of ballast strapped in. So 88 kgs, inside placard limitations- a lesson I will not forget.

For the third time, checks done and ready to go!

Am I ready this time? Mike in K13 G-DDMX
Sitting watching the cable pay out I felt a moments hesitation. Am I ready? Too late now. As soon as the all out, all out came those thoughts disappeared and I launched, as if in auto pilot. Top of launch saw me at 1100ft and I lowered the nose and released gently. Wings level I re-trimmed, 45 kts, and took my hands off the controls to check stick neutral. Flying up wind away from the release area I settled the glider down and mentally ran through my priorities, lookout, airspeed, proximity and angles.

Mike nicely in circuit on his first solo
I banked the glider over and turned back towards the airfield to check my bearings just as the vario started to moan, sink! The moan became a continuous babble , sink, sink, sink! Ok so what have I been taught? Lower the nose, close with the airfield, turn downwind, check those angles, reference point clear, nail the approach speed of 55kts. All too soon it was time for final turns, diagonal then base leg and I was there looking at the reference ;point. Having turned slightly too late and not wishing to undershoot I deliberately left the air brakes alone and flew forward- gotta clear the cross track!!! Ok, half airbrake, check ASI 55 kts and losing height I attempted a fully held off landing. Touch down, not perfect but safe.

I sat in the cockpit awaiting retrieve and a big grin came over my face. Done it!
In the end the experience was uneventful. Just as my instructors would want I suspect and also a testament to their professionalism. I cannot thank them enough!

A somewhat bemused Mike with Instructor Gordon Dennis
Looking ahead I see so much scope to improve and develop and my enthusiasm is renewed.I am lucky to have the opportunity to progress within the sport, surrounded by like minded, friendly club members.

I cannot wait for my next flight!

Mike Bennett


Rich Roberts said...

Fantastic mate well done. I get the feeling we will see another new glider on site in 2018!!!!

Caitlin said...

wow this looks amazing and what a wonderful location for learning to fly! Darrtmoor lends itself to being to an ideal location for people who love the outdoors and its beautiful landscape means it never gets tiring exploring such a scenic location.