first time gliding experience
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.