GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Grob at eight thousand feet

When I first saw The Thomas Crown affair--the real one--I became interested in sailplanes. The aerobatics that the McQueen character performed in the movie were daring and exciting and seemed to combine the best elements of auto racing and sailing--two of my passions. It wasn't until I met Pippa Scott, an actress turned producer, that I decided to take the plunge and actually go flying. Pippa had seen one of my (Interview) segments, with me as the 'author' for once, and we met for dinner where we both expressed a fascination for sailplaning. We agreed to go out to the desert to a glider port and get our wings. It wasn't long before Kathi Carey, an actress and writer/director in my organization, also began making the trek to the desert with me and took to the air.

Flying the German-made Grob was great fun and seeing the world at eight thousand feet through a clear canopy was a lot different than the view through the window of an airliner. "Be careful of the military jets," we were told. "They like to come in along the top of the mountain range." We weren't too far from Edwards Air Force Base. One morning, I looked off to my left and saw a C5 Galaxy at my altitude not more than two or three miles away. It looked huge.

One day I arrived at Chrystal to find that there had been a fatal accident. A sail plane had gone down. No one asked if I wanted to fly under the circumstances. Pilots fly. Once airborne, we flew over the crash site and circled to look at it--confront it for all that it signified--because pilots have been taught, or understand by instinct, that danger is best met head-on like the time I heard footsteps running towards me as I was about to enter my house. I pulled the door closed, turned the key to lock the deadbolt securing my children inside the house and turned to walk toward the man who was running at me with the gun. Semper contendere.

The best part of flying was performing aerobatic maneuvers. Wing-overs were fun--an airborne rollercoaster where you dive to gain airspeed and then pull back on the stick and fly straight up into the sky. At a certain point, the sailplane will lose speed and almost come to a stop. At the peak of the climb, one makes a turn to the right or left and the plane goes nose-down. You then dive straight for the Earth and when you have sufficient airspeed, you pull up and head, once again, straight for the sky.

The last maneuver I learned (before life and schedule demands kept me from my twice-a-week visits to Chrystal Soaring) was the stall spin. I was asked to deliberately stall the airplane--slow it until there wasn't sufficient lift to keep it airborne--which would cause one of the wings to drop and, more quickly than you can think it, the plane is in a spinning dive toward the ground. Interestingly, I had no sense of the plane spinning. It was more like the desert floor, which was coming up at me very fast, was rotating. A little left or right rudder to stop the plane's rotation, then neutralize the rudder, pull back on the stick and we are in business again. Elevation is your friend.

I've thought many times over the years about going back to Chrystal Soaring, if it is still operating. There is something about piloting that affirms faith in one's convictions. The dynamics of flight cannot be seen but they can be believed.


Anonymous said...

wow beautiful; I was "there." Let's go up!

TomG said...

Thanks, Stephen.

Mike Gulett said...

Sounds like great fun.