This story sent by Gary Smith to the CHGPA listserv on 05/01/2000

Back To First-Flight Tales

What I did for my summer vacation and why I had to drive home with the windows down.

By Gary Smith

Yesterday was a day I will never forget. Actually this weekend was a weekend that I will never forget. Got up early on Saturday to start work on a deck at home and had so many problems with the tractor and posthole digger thoughts quickly turned to flying. Called John M. at 9:00 AM and he said let's meet at Smithsburg so I packed up and headed on up to Smithsburg. I knew it was going to be a bad day when I arrived and the "Closed to HG" sign was up. I waited 15 min. and John showed up and we decided to head for Long's hill in Luray two hrs. south. We departed after another student by the name of Dan Smith showed up 1/2 hr. later.

Long drive to Long's hill to discover crossing winds from the NNE. Bagged flying there and headed north to check a couple of promising new training hills. One secret hill has a swimming pool at the top and the location can be had for a nominal fee. I think this day comes out on top for the worst driving/flying ratio I have experienced yet. I forgot to mention that John's muffler fell off on one of the many back roads we were driving. On the road again with a coat hangar repair job. Headed home for a beer and to commiserate about the long process of getting a H2 sign off.

Work on the deck on Sunday quickly faded away with the rationale that whatever was wrong with the tractor would require parts to fix and these parts could only be had from an implement dealer who is always closed on Sundays. Damn!! Alternate plan "B" let's go flying. Talked to John at 9:00 and we decided to meet at Long's Hill for another go at it. John broke his Cardinal rule of "two students per class" and drove all of the way to Luray for a one student class. Thanks again John. I took four flights from the top of Long's hill in an attempt to hit my required three consecutive spot landings. Missed the first one after coming up short in sink but made the next three. John took a flight and nailed the bulls eye. I couldn't believe it when John said "throw your glider on top of my truck, we are going to Woodstock". The adrenaline started pumping when I realized what this meant- that I was now facing "the ultimate challenge". A year before I can remember standing on the Woodstock launch telling my wife that "I would like to take up the sport of HG but I could never launch here". Looks like it's time to eat my words.

Another fast run up route 81 to drop my car in the LZ. Walked the LZ and went over approaches and put up a larger wind sock than the one that was there. Headed up to the "big training hill" as this was how I could make this leap more doable in my mind. Wire crewed for five launches prior to John saying "get your harness", you are up next. I tried to stay calm and focus on all of the pre flight details I learned on the "little training hill". Somehow it worked. I was able to keep a clear head and think rationally. More convincing argument that the many flights and all of the repetition on the training hill was paying off. Asked a dumb question (yes there is such a thing as a dumb question)of John before I launched; "what happens if I launch and start going up"; Duh, Duh tripple Duh; dumb question. John looked at me and smirked and replied "that's what we want you to do, that's what we call lift".

Waited for a calmer cycle, kept my nose down and ran like hell. Well I did go up even while pulling in on the bar with what seemed to be excessive pressure. Next thing I knew I was level with the ridge, then above the fire tower. I just don't have the words to describe this sensation. I was flying fast and "way out front" out of a fear of stalling or getting blown over the back. I had to turn my radio up to hear John and Christy so it took a few minutes of fumbling with the volume control before I could hear them clearly. Time to calm down and enjoy this new experience to it's fullest. Still fighting the bar; "shouldn't be this hard" I was thinking. "Relax, relax", I kept repeating to myself. Finally I released my death grip on the bar and started to enjoy myself. At first I turned parallel to the ridge to the north for a mile or so at 800'-1000' over and then south of the tower for a mile or so. I was not paying attention to my vario at first because I was in "survival mode". When I tuned into my vario I was able to use it to turn into the sweet spots. I was able to gain 1800' over in the first thermal before I lost it. I sank back to 800' over and started thermal snooping again. I already was addicted to the altitude gain after one ride up. The second good thermal brought me to 2200' before I settled back to 1000' or so over. I was having the time of my life. Here I was, a very very lucky man; H2 in the morning, first mountain flight in the same afternoon, soaring consistent ridge lift and learning to thermal all on day one in the mountains. As the late, master of poetry and guitar, Jimmy Hendrix would say "xcuse me while I kiss the sky".

The third "good" thermal was the best of the day for me with a trip to 3020'. Thought I was in heaven. I was in the air for close to two hours when I noticed a glider in the LZ that looked Like John's (Orange leading edge)so I headed over the LZ to begin my decent so as to not to keep him waiting. Took a few minutes to circle down to the LZ and to set up an approach. I kept expecting to hear someone on the radio but suspected that my batteries were dead as I didn't hear a peep. All was well until I misjudged my altitude and thought that I might have enough altitude for one more trip around the "block". "NOT" I soon realized that I was going to have to turn into the field and get my wing on the ground before I ended up in the trees. To make matters worse I could not get my landing gear down (my two left feet) because I had forgotten to unzip my brand new pod harness which I had only flown with once on the training hill. By the time I realized what was happening it was too late. I performed a perfect skidding belly flop onto a still steaming brown field grenade which was probably just left for me five minutes earlier by the biggest 10 stomached cow in the field. The damn thing exploded upon impact. What a way to end the perfect day. I was covered from parachute to pinky in brown stinky slime. I had to drive home with the windows open and you should have seen the look on my wife's face when I told her I was going to wash my harness in the tub that night.

I realized after I stopped sliding that the only thing hurt was my pride. Man was I sore though!!! Not from the botched landing, I guess I have never used "soaring" muscles before.

I was thankful to all of the pilots in the LZ who restrained themselves from rolling on the ground in uncontrollable laughter. I did hear a comment though, from Jose, the next pilot to land that he could hear Christy laughing while he was still 500' over the LZ. Ha Ha. I am thinking to myself; Self "it's a darn good thing that no one has a camera". I also felt better when someone offered the words of sympathy. "Any landing that you walk away from is a good landing" Amen brother.

A lot of valuable lessons learned on this flight; but even more to learn from the adventures ahead.