Like many of us, many interests have expressed themselves over the years–compartments of life that consume time and provide enjoyment. While flying has been the most powerful , others have held sway as described below. And now, if there’s one thing I would love to be, it would be a missionary of rationality: basing our life on the best available, most reliable knowledge.
Well, this certainly became the biggest deal. An obviously latent fascination with flight got triggered when my brother brought home a booklet that included two short articles on soaring. One was on hang gliding which, in the 1970s, was killing its participants at a mom-numbing rate and glider flying which was relatively safer. I was mesmerized.
That story is here in My History.
Fleecing air of its heat energy started long ago as described in my history. Even after I went to powered flying, I kept up with freeflight. Periodically, anyway.
Summer breezes seem so gentle, so unpowerful, it’s surprising how easily they can lift a thousand pounds of glider and occupants thousands of feet. Those beautiful summer days with puffy white clouds are a dream for glider pilots–portending all day flights if their bladders can endure.
This is how I got my start. Flying gliders at Marion, OH airport. I took to thermalling because it was the only way to extend flight time. What a motivator. That’s probably why I got reasonably decent at it because I was willing to concentrate on even the smallest, lamest lift as long as I could stay within gliding distance of the airport. I never wanted to land out so I’d avoid getting very far downwind of the field and thankfully never did land out until getting into cross country. You plan on landing out then.
Imagine my surprise after taking up paragliding to find that thermalling was the same as for sailplanes. Of course I had to get over the fear of heights first. The first time running into the abyss was freaky. You’re hanging from this harness as the ground plummets away below, leaving you all vulnerable feeling but still in control. It’s a bit like peering over the edge of a precipice, but thankfully, the feeling quickly recedes as control confidence builds.
When Jeff Williams took me for those first high flights at Marshal (near San Bernardino), and I started working the lift, thermalling came back immediately. The process is pretty simple: mentally map where the best lift is and try to circle in that. It doesn’t matter whether you’re going 20 mph or 40 like in a sailplane.
Afterwards I was describing my elation to Jeff and he bristled at the idea a bit “well it IS the same thing” he countered. True. But to me it felt like there would be some fundamental difference, like you wouldn’t have to circle, of you wouldn’t feel the lift in the same way, I don’t really know.
He told me how you could soar without a vario. “Nonsense” I said. There’s no way you can tell if you’re going up or down. It wouldn’t until a few years later and a lot of experience that I realized he was right. Mostly you can tell when you’re closer to the ground OR the clouds. In mountainous areas it was much easier because ridges would rise and fall behind closer peaks. Overall that has been a fun discovery.
My first foray into hang gliding came around 1988. A friend, John Gijsen, and I decided to go for an introductory lesson up in Whitewater, WI. We flew up there in my mighty Cessna 150, N1723Q from Clow International Airport, a 1-strip pony with visions of grandeur.
Our first sorties were morning runs down a small training hill with the instructor running beside us, coaching and possibly holding the wing’s support wire. HE would then carry the glider back up. I thought that was pretty high end. They were trying to preserve us to make signing up for lessons more appealing. Smart thinking.
Then in the afternoon we did aerotow tandem flights—in my case with Jeff Nielsen, a tall fellow who was a doctor in real life. He let me fly quite a bit of the tow and was, overall, a gem as trainer. Prior aerotow glider towing probably helped in some amount because I flew a lot of it. Nice. It’s challenging since both pitch and roll are backwards (there is essentially no yaw) from everything else I had flown to date. No doubt that caused some drama although I don’t remember any.
My first flights flying a powered aircraft came in Malcolm Green’s Luscomb 8A. Somewhere along the way I built a balsa wood scale model of his airplane in exchange for 3 hours of flight time. That was awesome.
Airplanes for Fun
Airplane flying began in earnest when I reached 17. I took my private Checkride in Galion, OH and began flying anything I could get my hands on. One fun time builder towing gliders in a beefed-up Cessna 150. They normally had 100 hp engines but these were upgraded to 150 hp. Yehaa! Once I was checked out, I would tow until it was time for fuel, my turn in the glider, or if someone came and said they wanted to tow. Eating and the bathroom could wait.
I flew my parents places, I flew high school friends, I flew for fun as money allowed.
Airplanes for Work
My first paid flight was instructing in a Cessna 152 with Milo Churchin. That was eventful (story is here) but turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable 3 years of experience. It was interspersed with some other jobs along the way but I have very fond memories of the whole experience, and an awesome employer, Kevin DeTray of DeTray Aviation. I remember a time when I was filling out my job history that he was the only one still in business. And as of 2019 he still is! He primarily does aircraft sales and pilot services.
In 1997 I had upgraded to captain at Southwest and realized that I could now afford to satisfy a longstanding desire to try flying a helicopter. Just a discovery flight, mind you, to see what it was all about, knowing that I would have great suckage.
My high school started a radio station in about 1975 I thought that would be really cool so I signed up. Helping set up and then learning how do radio was a blast. I took to the announcing enough that after a year I was able to get a job on one of the local AM/FM radio stations working on the AM side. Mind you, this was strictly small time, but it was still dang cool that I was getting paid to be a DJ. I could do time, temp, weather and basic DJ decent enough. After a year or so I graduated to running off-peak shifts on the WCLW-FM. I really enjoyed that job.
When I went to college in FL I got a job at radio stations in the Daytona Beach area, working between 20 and 30 hours a week. It was a busy time because, during that time I discovered a computer programming. More on that later. Building and flying R/C aircraft only piled on to that busy time. I was burning the candle on both ends when I sold software to a local hotel which had me lighting the candle in the middle. It also all-but got me fired from my radio job.
Burning the Candle’s Middle
While keeping this insane schedule, I was asked to do an overnight shift on Friday night. “Sure” I said. This problem with not saying “no” often enough has landed me in trouble on a few occasions but on this occasion it doomed to a few too many sleep-deprived days.
The shift went well and I made it to 5 AM which left me relieved, thinking “OK, I’ve got this” and turned up ABC news for their 4 minute newscast. I put my head down on my arm to rest my eyes. 15 minutes later I awoke to the horrifying realization that the network feed was playing hard rock music on this conservative religious station and my life was about to end. My boss, the program director, was following me on. This is a studio, there is no ringing telephone, but the red flashing phone light was sure going full tilt. When he stormed into the studio there were no pleasant words to be had and, of course, I couldn’t blame him. Two days later after he’d cooled down, he was actually surprisingly understanding but I had my schedule drastically reduced.
Each year I had to leave with no guarantee of a job at these radio stations but they always found room for me which I was grateful for. For the last two years in Daytona, though, I worked at a station in New Smyrna Beach with a routine that worked extremely well for school.