Recently I accompanied my friend Ellen up to Connecticut to help her buy a new car - a metallic green Nissan Xterra. In this case, one of only two green Xterras for sale on the East Coast. After buying the car, we convoyed back down to Blairstown, New Jersey, a small township roughly 60 miles West of New York City. Blairstown is home to Blair Academy, a prep school, and Blairstown Airport, a single runway public use airfield that is a base for Jersey Ridge Soaring, a glider business owned by Ellen's parents.
It's long been a dream of mine to get a pilots license and learn to fly an aircraft recreationally. I flew twice that day; my first flight was scenic, and the second was an actual flight lesson where I was on the stick most of the flight - my first time actually flying an aircraft!
Without further ado, I present to you a short film I assembled from the bits of footage I gathered that day.
For months Ellen has been begging me to come and try flying in a glider, and for months I've told her, "aircraft are supposed to have engines." I've been in small aircraft plenty of times; mostly helicopters, but even a hot air balloon, which of course isn't powered. If anything, I finally realized gliders are safer in that you can actually steer them.
My first flight was scenic, encompassing the photos and video footage you see here. My second flight, after gaining just 500AGL, I was told, "Ok, follow the tow plane!" Basically as soon as we were off the ground I was given control of the aircraft. There were only two instances where it was a bit too much and I gave back the controls (beyond departure and landing); once while getting kicked around during towing, and once when a thermal became a bit too strong for my (lack of) skill level.
I'd managed to find and get centered in a 400ft/min thermal, gaining over 1,000 feet in altitude, before the updraft mixed with the crosswind was getting too dicey for my own inexperienced comfort at the controls. That's a pretty solid thermal to latch onto, and a far cry from the first flight, which hardly had any thermal activity, lending itself to a short, ~40min flight. The second flight was a little under an hour long. What threw me off the most during my stick time was the lack of feedback through the stick, as well as how much movement it had available; at some points it felt as if my legs were in the way of the stick. Also, there was the slight delay for inputs which also befuddled. I found it interesting that the gliders' airspeed is in MPH instead of knots. Both flights we were towed up to 2,500ft before releasing, and reached a max altitude of ~3,500ft on the second flight.
Glider aircraft are also called sailplanes because of their similarity to sailing a sailboat; wind currents are your friend, but you must know how to use them. Flying in the sailplane feels like flying in a sky kayak.
I skipped over it, but immediately after buying Ellen's truck, we all got dinner at a Texas Roadhouse in Connecticut - Alyssa had driven over from Woonsocket, Rhode Island to catch dinner with me and my friends (you should have come flying with us!). After dinner, we departed for Blairstown for a weekend flying, which you just read about.
Gliders are definitely something I will be doing again, though I find it ironic that I still have not been up in a single-engine airplane. I can't wait to get more flight time in!