Dartmoor Gliding News-My First Solo by Dave Downton

I do not normally mention my achievements, but on this occasion, I feel the need in order to say thank you to so many generous people.

As you may be aware I flew my first solo in HXP on Sunday afternoon (20/11/16), twenty months and 198 flights after I first came to the club on the 19th of April 2015 for a one day course given to me by my wife and children. Thanks to Roger for the introduction to gliding. It has been a long road, but my determination to achieve this milestone at our airfield had something to do with that, and my age may also have had a part to play.

As an ex-instructor in a past life (in other disciplines) I am all too aware of the burden of responsibility which rests on the shoulders of our instructors. Sending someone out on their own for the first time, hoping that they remember and do all that they have been taught and waiting for them to return safely, knowing that you are unable to influence the outcome, can be a little daunting.

Martin took the decision to do just that after 105 flights together. On our return to the launch point Martin said “That was good do you think you can do that on your own?” to which I replied, “I think so.”

That was how I found myself sat alone in the cockpit running through my pre-flight checks as I had done so many times before. I looked to my left to see Martin staring at the ground and thought that he looking as apprehensive as I feel.

Ready for first solo. Instructor Martin Cropper inspects the cable.
I asked for the cable to be attached and waited for the all-out which seemed to take an age.
Then I saw the cable move. “Cable live!” came the cry followed shortly after by, “All out, all out”. Suddenly at 14:46 I was moving along the ground and everything went into auto. Up I flew thinking of nothing but the job in hand, a beautiful launch (thank you Barry). I released a little over 1000 feet, settled down to 45 knots and trimmed just as I had done so many times before. This was about the time when I heard that familiar voice in my head, keep an eye on your speed, watch your attitude, keep that yaw string straight, stick and rudder together; Martin was definitely there in spirit if not in body.

I flew over the church where a little over 71 years previously my parents were married. I wondered what they would of thought of their son floating above in a plane without an engine.
I headed for my high key area and then started my downwind leg. Once in my low-key area, I increased my speed to 50 knots, set the trim, then that voice returned, ‘don’t let the speed drop, not too much rudder, don’t let the speed increase’. My base leg and final turn drifted into one manoeuvre and with my eyes on the reference point it was air brakes open as I began my descent. The speed started to increase, so it was nose up, I should have increased the air brakes, but forgot that so I touched down gently but long. I came to a stop and sat there for a moment feeling relieved and thinking, it wasn’t perfect but it felt safe.

The retrieve arrived in the shape of Martin driving the quad and Paula sat on the front. Paula shouted well done and Martin said that wasn’t a proper base leg you had better do it again (I think secretly he was probably as relieved as me).

Ready for flight two
On our way back to the launch point, Heather and Colin passed us in the cable retrieve towing a single cable and waving enthusiastically.

We arrived at the launch point to calls of well done and handshakes.

The second launch felt easier, although a clunk from the tow hook saw me instinctively dipping the nose thinking the cable had released, however, I soon eased the stick back as the glider increased speed. Another circuit and landing this time really long, not intentionally, I came around with too much height and speed, I am still very wary of the trees at the east end.

Back in the clubhouse Dave Downton (right, with Coke)
celebrates going solo with Instructor Peter Howarth.
I owe a great debt of gratitude to Martin for all the time and patience that he has invested in me, also to Ged and Gordon with 47 and 26 flights respectively. I would also like to express my thanks to the club members who it seemed, ran the airfield solely for my benefit, Heather and Barry for retrieve and winch, Paula, Peter, Robin and Colin for running the launch point and retrieving me. And thank you all for the enthusiastic congratulations which you all afforded me.

And finally, a big thank you to my family for starting this off with the present of that wonderful, One Day Course.


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