- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Now, how does one keep a towrope taut? When I saw a little slack develop, I nosed up. Sailplanes, I learned, are sensitive. My nose-up became a small zoom, and to my horror I saw that I had caused the towplane's tail to jerk up. This pointed his nose toward the ground. I quickly dove to snatch his tail back down where it belonged. The rope sagged; the tow-plane, momentarily relieved of its load, leaped ahead in a great, joyous bound, then was brought up shuddering at the end of the line like a fish hooked in the tail. It dawned upon me that I had more positive control over the plane ahead than its pilot. Poor devil.
In a series of jerks and snaps we got up to around 2,000 feet, whereupon the towplane waggled its wings. Paul told me this was the signal to pull the red knob on the instrument panel that released us from the rope. The mother plane shook its tail feathers in a relieved sort of way and headed for home with its rope trailing behind.
The first thing that hits you is the silence, which is deepened rather than interrupted by the whisper of wind around the canopy, and the occasional "oil-canning" (from the identical sound made by a container of 3-In-1 when you squinch its sides) of the long, graceful metal wings flexing in the summer turbulence. The next thing you notice is the quality of the turbulence itself. In powered flight it is a vicious hammer beating at you. In a sailplane it is a friend trying to lift you. Now you're using nature's forces, not fighting them.
I'm afraid I didn't use them very well. With beginner's luck, I stumbled into the only really good thermal for miles around. Then there was a little bumpiness, and our rate of ascent slowed.
"Don't lose it! Circle in it!" Paul is a quiet man, but there was an urgency in his voice. "Bend it right around! Thermals will always throw you out if you let them."
My trouble is that I am a very sedate airplane driver, having had more than my share of rides in the past with hot-rock pilots. I rolled the Schweizer into perhaps 20�, when what we needed was more like 45� or 50�, and in no time at all we were thrown completely cut of our magic column of rising air and were floundering around like everyone else.
"Come on," Paul coaxed from the back seat, "You can find it again."
By golly, I did, and this time I turned the beautiful bird over on its wing tip with a fine sense of derring-do, applied a bit of back pressure on the stick and waited for the resultant G-force to pin me gently down into the seat. Instead, there was a sickening feeling of sliding sideways. I looked at the little skid-and-slip ball on the panel and saw that I had almost hurled it out of its curved glass tube.
"Sailplanes," said the patient voice from behind, "are very responsive to coordination." What a tactful way to tell a pilot he's forgotten how to use his rudder pedals! The average-powered plane today handles so nicely with ailerons alone that you get into the habit of tooling along with your feet on the floor. As I slopped around, the thermal threw us out again; once again we found it. We sailed exhilaratingly on up a mile or so high into the clear Nebraska sky until the climb needle told us we had reached the top floor of this particular ride.
Wings level again, we started gliding back toward the base. Under no-lift, no-wind conditions the average sailplane can traverse more than six miles for every thousand feet of altitude. Paul took the controls as we entered the airport landing pattern. I used to think that soaring must involve some continual anxiety about where you're going to land. Now, as Paul gently and gracefully touched down, I discovered that you really don't worry at all.