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first time gliding experience
Bruno Vassel

Saturday June 4th, 1994 was a perfect day in all accounts. The weather was just right for going on a nice few-hour ride on my motorcycle. Jennifer, a recently met friend agreed to ride along. I thought that riding the loop from my home to Lehi, then heading west through Cedar Valley and then up north past Tooele would be just the right distance.

In Cedar valley, we decided to stop at the airport to watch the skydivers and look at the planes. I was probably more interested in stopping than she was. As luck would have it, Chuck Helquist walked up to us and offered us a ride in a glider. I had always wanted to get a ride in a sailplane and Chuck was smart enough not to charge full price for a glider ride since there were two of us. That’s all it took and I was hooked.

Monday June 6th I began training to become a pilot. Let me back up a few years first. When I was two years old, I tried flying by jumping off the top of our basement stairs. That landed me (quite hard by the way) with a chin full of stitches. I guess I thought I hadn’t gone high enough up, so I climbed up on the garage roof and took the leap. The scar on my left eyebrow bears the results.

I was desperate to fly. One of my earliest childhood memories was of taking a bath one night and thinking that if I rubbed soap all over my body and went to bed, I would enjoy feathers when I woke up. I don’t remember how I slipped past my mom and into my pyjamas, but I do remember the crustiness I awoke to the next morning.

I had always known that someday I would learn to fly. I had so much confidence of that fact that by the time I was in 8th grade I had lied to everyone saying that I had already skydived and hang glided. They weren’t meant to be malicious lies. It was just that no one in their right mind would have let a 13 year old do those things. I didn’t experience my first skydive until I was 17 (I lied about my age). My mom watched down on the ground as one of my dreams came true and I think we both knew that I wouldn’t stop there. Thanks to Chuck’s going out of his way to invite us for a ride, my dream of becoming a pilot would finally come to fruition.

My first glider lesson that Monday morning was all it took to convince me that no matter what, I was meant to fly - when I can afford it, I can get the time off work, when my wife lets me. Every pilot knows exactly what I am talking about.

Friday June 17th, a week and a half after my first lesson, I soloed on my 12th flight. It only lasted for about 25 minutes but that half-hour was one of sheer terror, rushing adrenaline, and pure ecstasy. Other times I can remember feeling this way was when I soloed in my first powered plane, got married, or watched my wonderful wife give birth to our kids. I can not help to think about that flight without a grin forming on my face. A side note - my father was good enough to take off from work to watch me do my solo, but I was too impatient and he arrived as we were putting the Schweizer 2-33 I had used away. Sorry Dad!

That summer was one of incredible adventure and I was filled with awe in each new encounter that occurred regularly in almost every flight. Whether it was soaring for the first time in the same thermal as a red tailed hawk, or experiencing the thrill of riding the ridge lines of Lewiston Peak in the Oquirr mountains, I thought I couldn‘t be happier.

I ended up flying a little over 40 hours through October of that year with 20 of those hours being in a Schweizer 1-26 single place glider. I enjoyed flying it because I could imagine myself being more like the other pilots who flew the high-performance fibreglass sailplanes. The performance of the 1-26 was like the 2-33 or the “Flying Cow” as I affectionately liked to call it. Imagining the glider could do more than it really could ended up getting me into trouble on my very first flight in the 1-26.

The day was booming with thermals popping up everywhere. I was excited because this was the first single place glider I had every flown. The tow went well and I felt comfortable with the controls within minutes. I headed over to the Fairfield VOR southeast of the airport and played around for about 45 minutes. I gained enough altitude that I then jumped across Cedar Valley to the Oquirrs about15 miles northeast. I was feeling real confident by then and decided to follow a cloud street (a string of thermals going in the same direction) south and try out my cross-country wings. I kept going south for 40 miles at about an altitude of 15,000 feet until I got to Eureka. I didn’t even know the town existed and thought I was the world‘s most “natural“ cross-country new pilot. Then I noticed a headwind from the north.

For the first time in flying I felt the real kind of fear. Not the adrenalin rush I was used to, but the “Oh crap something bad might happen in the immediate future! I just might not make it back to the airport!” My cloud street had gone away and now I was 40+ miles downwind of my airport. I made it back to about 6 miles of the airport and ended up enjoying my first off-field landing in a field right next to the main road. Even though it was a pain in the butt getting the glider apart, on a trailer, back to the airport, and back together again, the final 300 feet till landing was as big a rush as my first skydive.

A couple of months after I started soaring lessons, I took my final written test and practical flying test and was excited to pass both. I was thrilled to get my glider pilot's official license.