Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bob Carlton

xxxxxxxxxxxxxBob Carlton with his Jet Salto

Bob Carlton is not your typical glider pilot. He is part mad scientist, part entertainer and part adventurer. When I first started flying gliders, I discovered that there were basically two types of glider pilots: those who just enjoy it as a hobby, and those who are seriously competitive. Bob brings glider flying to a higher level by turning his hobby into a profession. He is a serious aviator who does not compete, but chooses to perform in air shows and entertain people all over the world.

When Bob isn’t performing in air shows he works as a mechanical designer for Sandia National Labs, where he started his career in the machine shop. He had taken machine shop courses both in high school and at Albuquerque’s Technical Vocational Institute (now called CNM), where he also taught while a student. After he graduated, he gave a friend a ride to the state employment office so that the friend could apply for a job at Sandia. While he was waiting, he decided to fill out an application. He ended up getting the job, but his friend didn’t.

Bob is a native of New Mexico. He went to Highland High, which is famous for two of its alumni, Beavis and Butthead. He married another alumnus from his high school, Laurie, in 1983. She is more than a wife; she is also his business partner. Laurie makes covers for his airplanes, assists with the air shows, creates and maintains his air show website, handles the advertising, and can often be seen on the runway watching him test his new inventions.

Laurie is very confident in Bob’s abilities and supports all his adventures. Recently at a dinner, Bob showed me his latest sketch of a new invention he is working on, a flying suit. When I asked Laurie if she was nervous about Bob flying this jet suit, she responded, “No. It’s Bob. He will be fine.”

You can read more about Bob on his website:

Interview, January 2009:

How did you get started in aviation?

My mom says that when I was about 4 she rescued me off the top of the refrigerator. I thought I could fly off. Growing up I was always building models and throwing them off the roof and thinking I could jump off with a bed sheet or something like that. I have sort of had aviation in my blood for as long as I can remember.

When did you actually start flying?

When I was 19 there was an ad in the newspaper for a hang glider for $25.00. So I bought this thing. The sail was sun rotted and all the wires were loose. It was a real mess but I repaired it on my mom’s sewing machine and with whatever hardware I had. And I basically taught myself how to fly it.

How long did you fly hang gliders?

I flew hang gliders from 79 or 80 through the mid to late 90’s.

When did you make the transition into gliders?

I actually got my power license first. Right after Laurie and I got married we lived near the airport and since I worked on base I had access to the Kirtland Aero Club. So I went there and got my airplane license.

Then I ran into Al Santilli and some of the others in the soaring club. It was a pretty straightforward operation. There weren’t a lot of rules and things that you had to do in a military flying club. And that really appealed to me along with the idea that I was getting old enough that jumping off the mountains wasn’t as much fun any more. My knees weren’t in as good shape as they use to be. So I joined up the next week and have been doing it ever since.

You have flown power planes, hang gliders and gliders. Which do you prefer?

There is nothing like hang gliding. Especially some of the places I have flown a hang glider. I have flown off the cliffs in Acapulco, Mexico and ridge soared the condominiums on the beach. There is a certain freedom with hang gliders that is hard to match with anything else. You know as you get older that sort of adrenaline…you just change. You get a little older. So the sailplanes are probably right now my favorite, although I have also been flying helicopters for about the past 4 or 5 years. And I have to say helicopters are an awful lot of fun.

What kinds of planes have you flown?

Of course I started out in a Cessna 150 and 172.
The first aircraft I owned was a Bowers Fly Baby. It’s a single seat, low wing, wood and fabric, pretty slow…65 horsepower engine, no electrical system, no starter. I bought it for about $4,000.00. That was my first excursion into tail-wheel flying. And I had someone check me out for tail-wheel. So I flew the Fly Baby for 3 or 4 years, built up some tail wheel experience. Actually, the engine on that airplane quit on me in flight, so that was my first dead stick landing into a field in South Texas.

Then I had a Skybolt Biplane that I flew in air shows. And odds and ends…a little bit of everything.

Santa Fe Air Show 2008

What got you into air shows?

I saw Manfred Radius fly a glider air show routine at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta sometime in the mid-eighties. That looked like a pretty interesting way to make a living. I also had seen Jimmy Franklin fly air show routines at the Balloon Fiesta for many years when I was a teenager. I couldn’t believe someone could make a living flying aerobatics in an airplane. It looked really easy and I thought I had to try it. Little did I realize exactly how much work it was going to become.

How many air shows have you done?

This is my 16th season and it has to have been 150 maybe? I don’t know.

So what is it that you like so much about air shows?

The air show business is a lot of work. But you show up in a new town, and this is an exciting event for the town. So you are meeting people when they are having fun and they are showing off the hospitality of their home town. You come in as…I use this word carefully, a little bit of a celebrity and people want you to think good things about their town so you meet them at their absolute best. And the people that I fly with in this business are just some of the craziest, most fun people in the world. So just to be able to go around the country or around the world and hang out with people like that and have people welcome you into their homes and their hometowns is just a really fun experience.

Now this isn’t your only job, you also work at Sandia Labs. Do you think you will ever quit your job at the Labs and do air shows full time?

Yeah, my days at the Labs are numbered. When I started at Sandia Labs it was a really fun place to work… but I don’t know if it is just me getting older or if things really have changed, but it seems like there is so much more bureaucracy and we aren’t nearly as cutting edge as we use to be. So I see leaving the Labs in not too many years and making some sort of flying activity including air shows into a full time living.

Mad Scientist in his lab.


You are also an inventor. What are some of things you have designed and how did you came up with the ideas?

I was probably about 9 years old when I designed my first airplane from scratch from scrap lumber and whatever else we had around. It was a model airplane with a pretty good size wingspan but it did fly.

And I remember when I was probably 11 or 12 years old my dad worked in a sign shop. A lot of times on the weekends the guys would go down and work on personal projects.

I had been reading up on boomerangs and I thought I could make one. So I was on the belt sander with a piece of lexan plastic, it had just come out at the time, it was the hottest material on the planet. And I remember that one of my dad’s friends came by and asked “What are you working on?” I told him I was making a boomerang. They thought that was just great sport. My dad came in as they were all making fun of me and says “Well is this going to work?” And I said “Yeah.” Then I explained leading edges and trailing edges and certain angles that cause it to fly the way it does. My dad said “Come outside and fly it.” And I said, “But there are windows and cars and things all around.” And he said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of that.” So, I threw it and it came back.

So anyhow, I have a good touch for mechanical contrivances and was always fixing bicycles and motorcycles and I can’t even name all the weird things I have invented over the years.

Carousal Hangar
How did you come up with the idea for the Carousal Hangar?

The Carousal Hangar started out as a drawing on a bar napkin. I have always been one to try to take an idea and work it into its best form, to optimize it. The standard T-hangar didn’t look efficient because you have to have paved ramps at both sides of it and you’ve got to have a lot of doors. So while it is space efficient, from a cost stand point it is very inefficient. You have to space the planes far apart.

So I started playing with the idea of some way you could get a bunch of airplanes into a hangar and get them back out again from a single door without the building costing a lot. Ned Godshall and I were kicking that around in a bar one night. A couple of months later he calls me and says “You better get to working on that because I just put the down payment on the hangar.”

We started that project in October and the first plane went into it about the middle of December. It went together pretty fast. A lot of it was sort of designed on the fly.

How many gliders does it hold?

This one holds eight. The hangar is 84 x 84 feet, or 7,056 square feet.

Tell me about your first jet glider.

Most of the crazy ideas I come up with I can remember the moment when I saw two particular things and thought this would fit together nicely…but I know Jimmy Franklin’s Jet Waco was absolutely involved in the thought process for the first jet glider. Originally I had plans for a J-85 powered Skybolt biplane, but the cost of that was going to be really high and I just wasn’t sure it was going to be worth it. Somewhere along the line I saw that the model airplane guys were starting to use jet engines. So I called around.

Then in the summer of 2001 I was talking with one company that built a jet with about 100 pounds thrust. They were fairly interested in working with me. We set up a conference call so I could talk to several of their people and some other guys that were going to sit with me and help me ask the right questions. We were sort of working a deal on the engine. That was in September of 2001. That conference call was scheduled for September 12th, and of course we all know what happened on September 11th, and they absolutely backed out. Their lawyers got cold feet. They decided it was too closely related to something that might be a terrorist attack. And they absolutely shut down and wouldn’t talk to me. So the project got put on the back burner for a couple of years.

A few years later I met Leo Bennetti-Longhini the Alisport dealer. He and I were sitting in a Waffle House watching it rain and kicking around ideas and we drew up the jet glider on a napkin (again), a Waffle House napkin this time. He said “If you buy the engines I will let you use the aircraft.” That was the beginning of the first jet glider project. That went from concept to first flight in under a year.

Where did you get the engine from? Did you buy it from Leo?

Leo was the dealer for Alisport gliders. He agreed to furnish the airframe and eventually I bought it from him.

The engines came from a model airplane engine manufacturer. They came from a company that was called AMT, Aviation Micro Turbines, but now it is called US Micro Jet.

What was the engine originally designed to do? Fly model airplanes?

Yeah, large scale, jet-fighter looking radio control airplanes.

How much thrust did it have?

I had two engines on the Silent and they had 45 pounds thrust each.

How much does a Silent weigh?

The Silent weighs about 400 pounds with the engines.

Jet Engine from Czech Republic
Then you moved on to a big engine that you bought in Europe?

Well, I have owned a Salto glider for years. That is what I flew in air shows originally. With its V-tail it sort of lends itself well to being jet powered.

The Silent project took off and was working well. So any ideas of using the Salto got put on hold. But a couple of years ago someone sent me an email and asked me if I had heard of this engine that was built in the Czech Republic. It looked like a really nice engine so I called the factory and explained to them what I had done with the Silent. They said, “Oh no, no, no, we know who you are.” So they had heard of me and heard of what I had done and were fairly anxious to have somebody put one of these on something and get out and fly it a lot and give them some feedback on how it worked in a manned aircraft.

That project went from initial contact in about October to the first flight the following August. So that went pretty fast.

What year was that?

October of 2007 to August, 2008.

So you have been flying this for about a year?

I flew it the first time on August 1, 2008.

You did some additional modifications for special effects. Tell me about those.

In the air show business you have to have smoke. So I have wingtip pyrotechnic smoke and I also do a night show with a lot of pyrotechnics tied to the plane. So I basically fly upside down at night with the airplane on fire and get paid for it.

What’s not to like?

The airplane is not really on fire?

Parts of it are. There are an awful lot of pyrotechnic effects on the plane for that night show.

Where did you learn how to do that? Or is it just something you researched and came up with on your own?

One of the good things about working at Sandia Labs is there are a lot of crazy scientist types. A couple of those in particular, whose names I will leave out, have been instrumental in teaching me a lot about pyrotechnics, how it works and how to do it safely.

Your wife travels with you to these air shows and she appears to be someone who gives you a huge amount of support in the stuff that you do. Tell me how she has contributed to your success in your flying.

It’s actually funny. When I first started doing air shows Laurie did not think this was a good idea. The idea of hanging out at an airport every weekend just didn’t appeal to her at all. But we had a show back in 95, in Page, Arizona. It is a pretty interesting area, a lot of pretty interesting rock formations and things. We got an opportunity to do a show with the Canadian Snowbirds on a Tuesday.

The Snowbirds were between shows and they basically called and said if you will put on a show on Tuesday we will come out. I told Laurie, “This will be a lot of fun, We will go tour Bryce Canyon and things over the weekend and then go do the air show on Tuesday.” She replied “No we won’t, we will go hang out at the airport for 5 days in a row.”

So we went to the show and it actually turned out to be a really fun week. We did go see Bryce Canyon and Zion and Lake Powell. We got to the show on Monday and the Snowbirds sort of recognized that this was a test weekend. So they took Laurie and just treated her like royalty. They would let her sit in the jet when they moved from one place to another. Anytime they were going to do anything they would invite Laurie along like one of their crew. She came away that week with a whole different attitude about how much fun it could be at an air show. Ever since then she has been an integral part of the crew and the air show family.

Other than air shows do you ever get to do casual flying?

I use to do a lot soaring but the air show business keeps me pretty busy these days. I don’t get to do a lot of soaring. If I am out here (Moriarty), I am usually working on the planes and if not I am usually on my way to an air show.

I have done a fair amount of helicopter flying these past few years. Hopping rides and helping out a friend of mine, my instructor. That’s been kind of fun. It is fun to get out and fly some other things too.

Do you eventually plan to teach or just keep doing the air shows?

I like to teach people who are already pilots. I like to teach aerobatics, spins, and things the basic instructor just didn’t have time to cover before they got their license and moved on. I enjoy that aspect of teaching people how to fly but I don’t like primary instruction.

I was a hang-gliding instructor for a couple of summers and luckily I got that out of my system. I found out that I really don’t like teaching people the basics of flying. After you have been flying a long time you sort of forget how difficult it was when you first started learning. And you forget how hard it is to push your right foot down while you push your hand to the left. Or to coordinate all these things that seem so natural now.

I have watched a lot of instructors burn out after 4 or 5 years. A lot of them never get to go flying by themselves anymore. They end up leaving the sport. So I never did get my instructor rating. I don’t know if I ever will.

Tell me about the most interesting flight you have ever had.

My most interesting flight? Wow… man that’s a tough one.

It could just be the most memorable.

There are so many fascinating flights, it’s hard to sort of nail it down to one. But, if I go back through I could pick 4 or 5.

In 1986 I flew a hang-glider 102 miles from Sandia Crest to Santa Rosa. That was certainly a memorable flight.

And hang-glider flights down through Mexico, launching off volcanoes at 13,000 feet. And flying out across the top of Mexico was pretty exciting.

I have been 31,000 feet over the Sierras in California.

In a hang-glider?

No, in a sailplane.

And I have gotten to fly in so many places and so many different types of aircraft that it’s hard to go back and pick.

Did you ever have a flight that scared you?

I’ve scared myself a few times.

I remember one hang-gliding flight. I was flying out of Silverton, Colorado and there were a couple of storms coming in. The day before the storms had come in I decided not to fly. I spent a couple of hours on top of a peak above tree line with the lightning crashing all around throwing rocks down on us.

So the next day when the storm started to come in I decided I was going to bail and get back on the ground. I didn’t quite get landed before the storms hit the landing area. It was a very tight landing field and it’s nearly 9,000 feet in elevation. The wind was coming around the mountains and through the passes. I was making 50 foot excursions up and down. I was travelling backward because the wind was blowing so hard. I really wasn’t sure I was going to get on the ground safely that time. Several guys saw me coming in and ran out. On one excursion when I got close to the ground they just yanked my glider and pulled me down to the ground. That was a bit scary.

I have been up a few times where I got myself into a position I wish I hadn’t.

What did it feel like the first time you jumped off a cliff in a hang-glider?

In hang-gliding you don’t just start off jumping off a big cliff. I started on the little sand dunes just south of Albuquerque. I worked my way up to about 100 feet.

My first big launch was probably off of Tetilla Ridge, near Cochiti Lake. Very often in movies they will do a scene where the helicopter flies over a cliff and you just have this huge expanse in front of you and that is what it feels like. The view goes from just being able to see what you see on the ground to being able to see in every direction with nothing impeding. Of course with a hang-glider you hang below the glider so you see everything around you. You can actually spin around and look behind you. It is hard to describe.

Did you have flying dreams when you were a child?

I always had flying dreams, and still do. I dream of emergency procedures about once a week. I will be flying something and it will be in some situation that I have to try to figure out how to get out of.

Do you always get out of them in your dreams?

I am still here.

In your dreams.

Of course, in the dreams sometimes I actually come up with interesting ways to get out of a situation. Sometimes I magically move things…it’s a dream.

Are you rated in helicopters now?

Yeah, I have my commercial helicopter rating now.


I am proud of that one. It is a hard one to get.

Are helicopters harder to fly than airplanes or gliders?

Helicopters are not harder to fly but a helicopter can think of 1,000 ways to kill you that an airplane never dreamed of.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stan Roeske

Stan flying his LS3, Moriarty, NM

Stan Roeske can be described as a “Jack-of-all-trades”. I have never seen him sit still for more than a short moment. He is constantly doing something like making minor repairs on a glider, flying the tow plane, teaching someone how to fly a glider, mentoring new club members or even burning weeds in front of the club hangar.

Stan began building airplane models in 3rd grade, but didn’t experience flight until he was a junior in high school with the Civil Air Patrol (which is where he met his wife Carol.) He started flying lessons after high school, and in 1961 after 2 years of flying on and off he earned his pilot’s certificate. He then took some time off from flying to attend college. He became a member of the Albuquerque Soaring Club in 1974 and earned his instructor rating in 1993.

Stan has just under 1,000 hours in gliders- almost 2,000 flights. He also has another 800 or 900 hours in power-planes, which amounts to 1600 or 1800 tows and about 2000 flights. He has flown several kinds of gliders including the 2-33, 1-26, Lark, Blanik, Grob, 1-34, Libelle , LS3 and the Twin-Astir. He has also flown a number of power-planes including the J3 Cub, Cessna 140, 150, 172 and 182, 90 & 180 horsepower Super-Cubs, Tri-Pacer, Pitts, Decathlon, Citabria, Piper Seneca and Pawnee. Presently he owns an LS3 glider and a 1947 Aeronca “Chief” restoration project.

Stan is a kind hearted soul who has helped many people, including myself. One experience I will never forget is a day when I had a botched take-off in the Grob. I took off too early and found myself in ground effect with little control of the glider. I released and bounced away into the field next to the runway. Before I knew it everyone on the ground ran over to me and told me I need to fly again right away. I was pretty shook-up and not convinced that I should fly. Then Stan rode up on his motorcycle like a Knight-In-Shining-Armor and said “Let’s go fly.” After about an hour in the sky with Stan my confidence was restored.


What kind of work did you do? Were you involved somehow in aviation?

No, I wanted to be but I was in electronics. My degree is in electrical engineering. The closest I got to it was in the 1960’s during the period of time when I wasn’t flying. I was going to college at night and was working at Sandia Labs as an instrument tech at their wind tunnel. They have a supersonic and hypersonic wind tunnel. That was really interesting stuff. That was probably the most fun I had in the almost 40 years that I worked at Sandia.

When did you take your first glider ride?

My first glider ride was with the Albuquerque Soaring Club in 1961. The club had a Schweizer 2-22 that they were keeping at 7-Bar. They had somebody with a Super Cub that was providing tows for them. They were flying off a deserted airstrip called El Rancho. It is up on the bluff in Petroglyph Park; about a ½ mile from the radio-controlled airfield.

The fellow with the Super Cub flew in and was looking around. I was the only one there. He told me that they were flying gliders and they were shorthanded. They needed someone to run wings and attach tow-ropes. I told him I didn’t have anything else to do, so he put me in the back of the Super Cub and flew me out to El Rancho.

I helped him for the rest of the morning. They said, “You have been working and helping us, would you like a glider ride?” I told them, “Yeah, I would like that. That would be neat.” So they put me in the back of the 2-22.

Herman Wente, a former member of the glider club, was my pilot. So we flew back and forth over the bluff there to see if we could find some ridge lift. We didn’t find much and landed. They put me back in the Super Cub, hooked the glider up, towed the glider and then flew me back to 7-Bar. I sort of forgot about it.

In 1974 I joined the club and had my first instructional flight with Herman Wente. We caught up 13 years later. I flew with Herman, with Al (Santilli) and two other instructors in the club to add the glider rating to my power rating.

Did your parents fly?

No. In fact my step-dad thought I was nuts. He said “Why would you want to be involved in flying? That’s silly, that’s nonsense. Go on and do something serious with your life.” He and I had a disagreement about that since before I was in first grade.

I remember going to the news reels with my parents. This was right at the tail end of WWII. You would go to the movies back then and in between the double features you would get the news reels. And here were these pictures of the war going on in Europe with fighter planes and bombers. Boy that was cool stuff to this little pre-first grader.

That was in Chicago. When we moved out here we lived under the landing pattern for Kirtland/Albuquerque International. My dad swears that I wore out two or three screen doors because every time a plane would come over our house I would be out the door to see what it was. That was in the days when I was in grade school and the National Guard was flying P-51’s, retreads from WWII. I remember watching the air-guard move from the P-51’s to the F-80 Jets and on through the entire sequence that they had.

You instruct and you are also a tow-pilot for the club. Do you ever get to fly your glider?

Rarely. That is probably the most popular joke amongst me and my friends. The LS3 has not been out of the hangar this year. It flew once last year. My partner Harry Saxton flies it less than I do and I only flew it once.

What was your most exciting-scary flight in a glider?

Probably the one exciting-scary flight, and it is just that it sticks in my mind, was one of these funny days. We actually had thermals, scattered cumulus clouds and the cloud base was about 10,000 feet (MSL.) I worked my way up to cloud base and went over to South Mountain and all of a sudden there was this big hole right there. And I wondered if there was a wave working. So I noodled out in there and there was a weak wave and I got up to about 16,000 feet (MSL.)

So here I was up at 16,000 looking down at the clouds. That was cool. I headed south down towards Estancia then turned East to head back towards Moriarty. Then I hear jet noise…and I am saying to myself, “That’s awful loud, that’s awful close. Which way do I go?” I don’t see anything. Well, it was a 727 and it was only about ½ mile away and above me. But I was where he would have least expected me to be, several thousand feet about cloud base, out there all by myself. That was a little scary.

Did you have a transponder?


Do you have one now?

No, but I am saying to myself, we really need to put one in the LS3. I think transponders are needed.

Of course the new technology, we are talking about the ADSB system, the electronics in the airplanes talk to each other instead of talking to center. Which I think is better. But we’re not there yet.

Yeah, I think you need some kind of active collision avoidance.

If somebody were to give you the money to buy any plane in the world, what would you buy?

An Aviat Husky (2nd choice a Citabria) AND a Salto.

What do you think is the difference between flying a power plane and flying a glider?

The analogy that I have used is it is the difference between jumping in a ski boat and driving across the lake and jumping into a sail boat and looking at the weather and working with it to get yourself across.

I find soaring much more fun and challenging than power overall. You’re always flying the airplane. I am terribly impatient and I get bored easily. I enjoy flying power planes, I’ve got around 400 hours and something like 1600 or 1800 tows in the club’s old Super Cub and both our Pawnees. That’s fun because you’re doing something constantly. But to take a 172 and go cross-country is okay. I enjoy the views as they go by. But it doesn’t have the challenge that soaring does.


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxStan and Mary Hawkins

What is it that you enjoy about teaching?

I find teaching rewarding. I like to coach new pilots and offer them some of the things that I have learned. I see them improve their skills to the point that they don’t need me along.

I enjoy the one-on-one interaction. I enjoy sharing something that I do with someone else. And it really gives me a sense of satisfaction to see someone else develop those skills. And maybe I did something to help them along that road.

I am a facilitator. Teachers don’t teach. They provide the information and they provide an environment that makes it possible for that person to learn.

What is the most exciting-rewarding flight you ever had in a glider?

To me the most rewarding thing is the flying I have done working someone up to a solo. That is exciting and rewarding.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Stan congratulates Cliff after his solo.

Today you were able to solo someone. Tell us about it.

Cliff Goldman. Cliff has been fun to fly with. He is power rated so I jokingly said that the thing we have to work on is un-learning some of those bad habits he learned flying power planes. And that is sort-of true. That is sort-of tongue in cheek but there are some very serious differences that you have to instill in a person so that they can fly a glider safely.

Cliff was a delight to fly with. He has been a good student and actually we probably could have soloed him last weekend but there was enough cross-wind that we said no, let’s wait.

You have soloed three people this year?

Well within the last 12 months, yeah. Cliff, Mary Hawkins and Kevin Bielek.

How old is Kevin?

We soloed him on his 14th birthday.

Stan with Kevin Bielek after his first solo.

This is the second time I had a teenager solo on their 14th birthday.

The first one, I hadn’t been instructing that long and I was still learning how to be an instructor. We had a young teenager who was brought out by a mutual friend, a power pilot. She got involved with the glider club very shortly after her 13th birthday and we soloed her on her 14th birthday.

A mutual friend, Phil Philips (a pilot and realtor in Albuquerque) had the media out here. It turns out it was the same day that John Glenn flew the shuttle for his second space flight. That evening on the news they talked about John Glenn making history going into space, the congressman and former astronaut doing it again. Then they said we have another story here of a young lady making her own history here in aviation and they showed footage of her flying her first solo flight out here.

How cool!

That was cool. To me that probably was the most exciting thing relating to gliders.

Has a student ever scared you?

Actually no.

Once or twice with a student I have had to grab the controls and say “I’ve got it.”

Once one of our club members who was a rated pilot but who was terribly rusty flew with me. He wanted to give a ride to a friend but he hadn’t flown in months. So we were going to do three pattern tows together. I wasn’t happy with his landing so I was suggesting that he do his pattern a little different.

On his second flight he overshot final and started to pull the Grob too hard. If you have ever done any spin training the airplane does a funny thing. It is like you are sitting on a chair and you are about to fall off the side of the chair. If feels like you are on the verge of falling off. Here we were at 300 feet and he was trying to suck the thing around because he overshot final. I had the controls faster than I could say “I’ve got it.” I straightened it out a little bit and then said “It’s your airplane, finish the landing.” That really startled me. It was partially my own fault because I wasn’t expecting it.

Spin Training

Back when we had the Lark I offered spin training to anyone who wanted it. The Lark was an honest airplane, it would spin. It was recoverable, well behaved and very predictable.

I had taken one of our students up. What we would do is climb up high, 12 or 13,000 feet. We did a lot of briefing ahead of time. I would demonstrate a one turn spin and then I would let them try it. Then we would head back to the field. On the way back to the field I would have them slow the airplane and keep the wings level while purposely feeding in rudder. I wanted them to feel what it is like just before a stall when the plane was getting ready to spin. And that had worked well with a number of students.

On this particular flight I did a spin. He did the second one and when he stomped opposite rudder and relaxed back pressure on the stick the canopy popped open. That was exciting. Fortunately the canopy lanyard caught it and I was able to grab it and pull it back down. But it got sprung so we couldn’t latch it. We just had to hold it all the way down. The first reaction was, “Well you guys must not have locked the canopy properly.” We got it into the shop and the mechanic looked at it and said, “No, it wasn’t their fault. Those latches were pretty badly worn.” It was just the inertia of the spin. You would go ahead and spin that thing and when you put in opposite rudder and relaxed pressure on the stick, it would stop (Stan click’s his fingers) almost like that.

You mentor just about everyone who joins the club. What is your advice to new club members?

Wow, I didn’t realize I was looked at as a mentor. To me that is one of the highest compliments that you could pay somebody. I enjoy doing that.


You have to be patient. You are learning a new skill. It’s like the difficulty you had when you were a kid trying to learn how to ride a bicycle. You have to have patience and you have to stick with it. You have to have confidence in yourself that this is something you can do.

You have to invest the time and energy into it. Learning how to fly a glider is basically pretty easy. Learning to fly it well is a challenge.

I make the comparison to learning how to play a guitar. Yeah, learning to play the guitar is pretty easy. Learning how to play it well…it can be one of the more difficult instruments.

Learning to soar is pretty straight forward, it’s easy.

Bill Hill, Jim Cumiford and anyone you read about in soaring magazine that are national champions like Chip Garner, could reach that level because of a tremendous amount of dedication and practice.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Connie Buenafe

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxConnie Buenafe in her Salto

Connie Buenfe is an active presence at the Albuquerque Soaring Club. She is on the Board of Directors, schedules the operations assignments and often fills in for people who cannot fulfill their ops duties.

Connie commutes most every weekend from her home in Santa Fe. She has worked for Honeywell for the past 12 years. Until recently she worked out of Los Alamos. Now she is stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, right next to the runway.

The first thing you will most likely notice about Connie are her amazing blue eyes and warm smile. She is a down-to-earth, no-nonsense person who can hold her own with the other pilots. Both quick-witted and sharp she doesn’t frazzle easily.

How did you get started flying gliders?

Well actually my husband decided he wanted to fly gliders. He came down to Moriarty and decided he was going to take lessons with Rick at Sundance Aviation. He was going to come down on Wednesdays with a friend of his to take lessons. They were going to fly down in his friend’s airplane. Then he decided to join the Albuquerque Soaring Club instead. I said, “Okay, this sounds like a good thing we could do together so I will join the club too.” So I came down and I joined the club. After about 3 or 4 lessons my husband decided he didn’t want to do it. And that was the end of that.

Now he didn’t want to do it but you continued?

Well we took power lessons when we were first married. Both of us did but he actually got quite a ways. He had done several cross country flights. But at that time we were young and poor and had a kid. It just got too expensive so he didn’t quite finish it up.

I had only taken about 4 or 5 lessons. I scared myself pretty good and I quit. So when he was going to join the soaring club I decided that I was going to get my license even if I never set foot in a glider again afterwards. I was not going to quit until I got my license. It took 2 years but I did finally get my license.

What year did you get your license?

Don’t ask me any questions with years in them. I have the lousiest sense of time. It has probably been at least 10 years. Maybe more like 12.

When did you purchase your glider?

It was about a year after the convention. If you let me look at the calendar…about 2001.

What type of a glider do you have?

I have a Salto.

Salto’s are specifically designed for aerobatics, is that right?

Well they are an aerobatic plane but it does have a pretty good glide ratio. The main reason I got the Salto is because it is small and easy to put together. It has automatic hook-ups so I am not likely to forget to hook something up. It doesn’t have water and it doesn’t have a retractable gear so I thought it was simple enough that I could actually learn how to fly it and not kill myself.

Since you bought your Salto have you flown anything else?

I fly the Grob and 1-26 occasionally and I have flown the 2-33 on very rare occasions. I have never gotten into the Libelle, which I probably should do in case sometime my glider is down and I want to go fly. Mainly I fly my glider now.

Who else in your family flies?

My husband flew for a while. He still flies models but not as often as he used to.

My brother and my sister both have their (power) pilot’s license but neither of them have flown since they had children. I guess they figure it is much too risky, although I am not sure why. Either that or much too expensive.

My parents both used to actually fly gliders when they were in England at Brize Norton Air Force base. The RAF (Royal Air Force) had an operation there and they started letting Yanks (as they called us) into the classes. The Yanks, maybe for insurance reasons, were not allowed to aerotow, so they had them do the winch launches.

My mother is 5ft tall. She had polio as a child so she has one leg shorter than the other and so on and so forth. But she actually learned how to fly. I think they flew Grunau Babies. She never got her license but she did solo before they left England.

When they came to the States they actually bought a partnership in a glider for a while. But my dad wrecked it and they decided they couldn’t afford that anymore. He had his power license for a while.

Did your parents ever fly with you?

No. By the time I was flying my dad had Alzheimer’s and emphysema. The environment of the glider would have been very difficult for him.

As my mother got older she didn’t have the physical strength. I am not sure we could have got her in and out of the glider. Rick probably could have picked her up and put her in…but no, neither of them have ever flown with me.

What about your kids?

Well Kevin actually came out and took lessons for a while. He also took some power lessons with me for a while. And he enjoyed it but in the gliders he tended to get a little air-sick. He enjoyed the power more. But not enough to get out of bed and drive all the way down to Santa Fe. We were living in Los Alamos at the time. I was really hoping he would get into it.

Michelle hasn’t flown with me but she flew with Al Santilli. One year when she came back from college her and her boyfriend both went up with Al.

Several of my relatives have flown with me. My niece and nephew, brother and brother-in-law all flew with me. But none of them appeared to be terribly interested in it.

What is your fondest memory of flying?

My fondest memory of flying? Well I have quite a few. The first year we went up to Air Sailing for a Women in Soaring seminar. I enjoyed that a lot. And taking my brothers and sisters up for a ride when we were in Minden, which was enjoyable. I don’t know, I just always enjoy it.

What is the scariest flight you have had?

Actually I don’t think I have ever seriously scared myself. Which is a good thing. I have had some anxious moments.

I have a friend who is about 20 years older than I am and one of my 1st passengers was her father. He was Al’s (Santilli) age and he was German. Al was out here the day he came out and since Al spoke flawless German they got along. He used to fly before WWII. He hadn’t been up in a glider since then.

He came out and I took him up in the 2-33. He was only the 2nd passenger I had ever taken up. My husband was the first. We were flying east of the airport, which normally in the 2-33 I would try to stay west of the airport. We were sort of scratching around and all of a sudden I looked back at the airport and we seemed to be a long ways away. So I started flying back towards the airport. I was looking at every field we passed thinking, “Can I land there? Can I land there? Can I land there?”

If we hadn’t hit about a mile of zero sink we would not have made the airport. As it was, probably from about 5 miles out we did a straight in glide, I didn’t touch the spoilers once, we rolled up to ops, I never touched the brakes. It was a beautiful landing but it was spoiler-less, no brakes and very, very close.

Where have you flown other than Moriarty?

I flew once at Hollister (California). I have flown at Air Sailing (Nevada) and at Minden (Nevada). I went to a Women in Soaring seminar in Avenal, California. And I have flown in Taos.

How are the Women in Soaring Seminars?

Those are a lot of fun. First of all, it is mainly women. Men are only there to make it easy for the women to fly. Sometimes there are a lot of women who are fairly new to soaring and sometimes there are women who are out to get their diamond badge and stuff like that. It depends on the location.

When we went up to Air Sailing, which is in the similar area as Minden, there were a lot of people there who were trying to do cross-country, so it was a more experienced group. When we went to Avenal, where there isn’t great soaring, it was mainly women and students who hadn’t been in soaring for very long. They usually have a number of instructors there. They usually have a young person there that they give a scholarship to so they can come to the seminar. It is a lot of fun.

How many women usually show up to these events?

I would say between 15 and 20.

Were there many women in the Albuquerque Soaring Club when you joined?

There were probably 3 or 4. Not very many. Most of them were far more experienced pilots than I was. Many of them had been flying for many, many years.

I am sort of used to being the only girl in a crowd of guys. Even in High School, in my physics and math classes I was the only girl. In college I went to Socorro which had a 4 to 1 ratio of boys to girls. And where I work it is often the case where I am the only woman in the room. So it wasn’t terribly intimidating for me to be the only woman here.

Have you had any mentors along the way?

Oh certainly, Jim Weir and Stan Roeske of course mentor just about everyone who joins the club. And they have certainly been mentors to me. Bob Carlton has been kind of a goad. It’s like, “What? You haven’t spun that Salto yet?” That being said he did give up his hangar space for me. That has made flying a lot easier. And Mocho, for all his gruff demeanor has been a great help. He rebuilt my trailer and is always willing to help out. There have been quite a number of people who have encouraged and helped me along the way.

What is it about gliders that you like better than power planes?

I don’t know…first of all they’re less expensive.

I am actually trying to get my power ticket now.

Gliders are less complicated than trying to fly a power plane. Especially out here where you don’t have a tower. When you are flying a power plane you are normally taking lessons out of a towered airport. And you have the power settings to worry about. And you’ve got the radio to worry about. It is just more complicated. There is a lot more to remember and a lot more to do.

On the other hand when you are flying a glider you are really flying. But when you are flying a power plane it is like driving a really complicated truck. It’s just different.

You have been flying for 12 years now. How many times have you landed out?

Just once. It happened about a month ago. Normally I have turn-back-itis, but for some reason that day I had get-there-itis. I knew that Brian Morrison was going to try to make it to Mountainair. I actually passed him coming back as I was going out and I assumed he made it. And I thought, if he can make it…I can make it. Of course he had turned back.

Truthfully you know I was under this big huge cloud and the first half I was sort of in lift and then I started getting into sink and more sink. I kept thinking if I just get beyond the edge of this cloud and out into the sun I will find lift again. Well of course it didn’t happen that way.

By the time I was in any kind of trouble I was within easy gliding range of Estancia and Mountainair. I was never worried about having to land in a field.

I ground away out there. I would find these little narrow thermals that I would be flying half a circle in lift and half a circle in sink. Then I would claw my way up a couple hundred feet and then I would fall out. I must have done that 5 or 6 times before I gave up and landed.

What was landing on the runway in Mountainair like?

Well I had been out last year to look at that runway because I thought I might try to do a silver distance and that is the preferred place to go. So I knew the runway was very soft dirt. Once I landed my tail-wheel actually dug in more than it rolled. I didn’t need to use the brakes. Fortunately it wasn’t raining or anything because it gets pretty muddy there too. But other than that, I had landed on dirt before because the runway at Avenal is dirt. Although it is hard dirt, more like what you see at Estancia, rather than soft dirt.

It probably wasn’t my best landing, but I got it down and I got it stopped. Then I tried to call the field but I couldn’t raise them. Fortunately there was a power pilot who relayed messages back and forth. Once I got down I had Robert Mudd’s phone number in my cell phone because he had done some work on the glider. So I called him and he went out and talked to ops (operations) and gave them my cell phone number.

The main thing is that I had to sit on this hot runway for an hour and wait for someone to come get me.

Coming back there was a big cell of thunderstorms to the east and we got the blow-out from that. And of course there was a crosswind. We drove pretty slow coming back because I didn’t want to drive fast in a crosswind with that trailer. Other than that it worked out pretty well.

Who came to get you?

Colleen and Mark.

That’s great. Do you have a land-out check list for your crew?

Everything is in my trailer. Which is good. They brought my wing dolly and my tail dolly which they really didn’t need to do. That made it a bit snug coming back because I had a bunch of stuff that I bring with me in a big laundry hamper. I had some tow ropes and my land-out kit and I brought a bucket and some stuff for washing the glider. All that was in the trunk. And I think I brought a cooler that day for some reason. So when they added my wing and tail dolly and then I had my parachute and that stuff…it was pretty snug coming back.

I might leave a note on my steering wheel next time that says; “You don’t need to bring my tail dolly and wing dolly.” Other than that I usually keep everything I need in the trailer so it was not a problem.

You are in charge of scheduling ops (operations) for the glider club. Do you want to talk about what that is like?

Actually it is pretty easy. Especially since Brian Resor has set up everything online. He gave me a spread sheet with all the names on it and I just usually go back to the membership roster online and make sure I pick up any new pilots.

The main issue we have is when people leave the club because we tend to schedule for two or three months out. And then when they leave if they have been scheduled for ops during that period of time we have holes. I don’t like to go back and schedule people for ops after it has been posted because I think they may have already looked at it and figured that they don’t have to look at it again. So sometimes that can be a problem.

Most of the time it is not a big deal. People are responsible for finding their own subs. So actually it is a pretty easy gig.

I started out trying to call people to remind them that they had ops. But trying to find a time when I could call and when they would be home that wasn’t too late…and a lot of times they weren’t home. Or I would get a spouse or someone and I was never sure about messages. So I just decided I wouldn’t do that anymore. I just do email and that seems to work really well.

I also noticed that you post on the website who has ops for the next week.

Well that is Brian Resor. Brian has done a wonderful job with the website and he had set that up.

I need to talk to him because I think he could write a program that could do all the scheduling automatically. Then I wouldn’t have to do anything.

I see you out here working ops a lot. It seems like you often fill in for people.

I do. Everyone who comes out tends to fill in. Even when the people who are responsible for ops are here. For example, today Mark Hopkins and Bob Hudson have been helping out. People tend to help out a lot when they are out here. That is one of the nice things about the club.

When there is a serious problem, like someone has dropped out of the club and I can’t find a replacement I will often fill in. But that’s okay; I am usually out here most weekends whether I am flying or not. So it is not a serious imposition most of the time.

What kind of advice would you give new club members that are just learning how to fly?

Well they should probably fly a lot more often than I did when I first started.

A) We had kids at home and

B) I had a two hour commute from Los Alamos.

I think I would have progressed a lot faster if I had flown more often.

Even now I don’t fly enough to be really proficient like some of the guys out here. I keep hoping I can get my life re-arranged so that I can come out and fly more often…but it just doesn’t seem to work.

The other is just keep with it. I think the guys used to laugh at me because every time we would hit a thermal I would go “Woo!” Jimmy used to give me back rubs when we were flying and tell me; “Relax, you can calm down.”

Just keep with it. It is scary when you first start. Some people take right to it, but for me flying isn’t a natural act. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn. But it is worth it, it really is.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Paul Briggs

xxxxxxxxxxxxxPaul Briggs, ready for take-off, Day 1. Parowan

Paul Briggs is a friendly, easy going man who is eager to learn. He works at Brycon Construction as a Project Manager. The owner of Brycon is one of our club members, Bill Lemon.

Paul was born in California, grew up in Maine and moved to New Mexico 7 years ago from Colorado. He has been married to Patricia, a native of Sante Fe, for the past two years.

Paul started in aviation by flying paragliders 7 years ago. He was on a Mount McKinley climbing rescue team at the same time a French group of paragliders attempting to bag all the highest peaks in every continent. He saw them soar off the mountain and through the clouds. He decided that was cool, and thought flying paragliders would be a good addition to climbing at the time. Ten years went by before he took paraglider lessons. x

This interview took place in Parowan, Utah at the Region 9 soaring contest. Paul has been a sailplane pilot for only two years yet he bravely entered the contest. His experience is worth reading for both neophytes and seasoned pilots.

Parowan, Region 9 Contest, June 22, 2008
Day 1. x


Paul, how did you get into flying gliders?x

I was flying paragliders for 5 years and I had an accident, I broke my back, not too badly but I couldn’t fly paragliders and really wanted to fly. My mother was driving me around because my back was so messed up. My paragliding guru said, “If you want to fly, it is hard to fly paragliders in the summer here. If you want to fly anything in New Mexico, sailplanes are the thing to fly.” x
So I went to see Rick at Sundance Aviation. I looked at the cockpit of a glider and I said, “With my back messed up, I can get in but I don’t think I can get out.” I told Rick that I would start lessons in a couple of weeks when I was able to get enough mobility that I could sit in the cockpit. I started lessons 2 years ago.x

Is this your first glider contest?x

This is my first glider contest, though not my first contest. I flew paragliders in contests down in Brazil and also in Mexico.x

How does this compare to paraglider contests?x

They are very similar, of course the starts are on a hillside with a paraglider and everybody gaggles up and you’re basically hanging in a lawn-chair and you can yell at somebody if they get too close. Here you are flying at 60 miles an hour or more and it is a little more intimidating because you have blind spots in a sailplane that you don’t have in a paraglider. x

The tasks are similar, but in paragliders you don’t have the multiple choice tasks (MATs) which are extremely challenging to figure out. And the glide ratio in a paraglider is 5 to 1, while a glider is 40 to 1. That’s a big difference.x

This is Day 1 of the contest, what is some of the advice you have been given?x

Some of the rules, I mean they tipped me off to a bunch of the rules. Although I read the rules over and over again and thought I understood them. When you actually come to pay attention to them and have to fly to them there is big gaps between what you read and what you remember. x
For example, 17,500ft MSL is the maximum height you can fly. I did not remember that so I would have busted that repeatedly along with the start cylinder. x

Some of the advice I got about how to handle the start cylinder was coming out the top or staying within the lower level for 2 minutes and then coming out the side. There are a bunch of strategies. I spend a bunch of time in the beginning just getting comfortable with the day and am not flying as well as I do later in the day. So knowing the start cylinder is really important.x

How does it feel in the beginning when you are waiting for the start and you are in a gaggle?x

You know that is not too bad for me. I thought it might be a little intimidating but once I get into the cockpit I am pretty focused on the tow-plane and my flying. My world becomes my world and the rest of the distractions don’t matter to me. Once I am in the plane I am ready to go.x

I have heard a lot of pilots say they tried to leave a thermal at 17,200 ft but were pushed up to over 17,500 on the way out. What is your strategy for staying under 17,500 ft MSL? x

I start looking at it early on and judge the lift. And try to time my circle so that when I come to the back side of it I can really plant my stick so that I can pick up all the energy I possibly can coming out the front side where I know the sink is going to be so that I am already plowing through it. x

What is the difference between a MAT and a TAT?x

(Laughter) You better ask somebody who knows what they are talking about. That’s classic, because that’s the thing, I have an idea what the MAT’s are and I know what the AAT’s are, I mean I have read this stuff, but to actually go out and fly it… I am basically trying to figure it out as I go. x

You can’t just read how to do it, you end up making mistakes. For example, you are up in the air and you are trying to get the multiple choice turn-points. How do you figure that out? You have a PDA where the screen is so small, you zoom in and there’s about 1,000 turn-points. So you look at your chart and you really don’t have a good sense of it. There are a lot of challenges that way with the MATs. x

So far, what is the most intimidating part of this contest for you?x

Probably it’s being around the big guns. The guys who really know what they are doing. And feeling like you could just disrupt the whole operation by screwing up. That’s probably the biggest thing.x

What types of things are you thinking about when you are starting to come back from the task?x

That is another trick. I think in the middle of the task flying fast is pretty easy in Parowan because of the terrain. But the start is difficult and the final glide seems to be critical in sailplane contests. Figuring out how to burn up that altitude or not land out 2 miles away is a real trick. x

How important is it to have a crew person at a glider contest?x

With all the little tricks to come set up I think it would be crazy to come without the support of crew. For example, the last minute, 5 or 10 minutes before launch you have little wishes that you need to take care of to get rid of your nervousness. If you have a good crew, he takes care of it. He may give you a chart that is better than the chart you have in the cockpit. It is very comforting. x


DAY 2, June 23, 2008.x


How do you think your day went?x

Today I started off a little sloppy. I almost made another beginner mistake by coming out the wrong start cylinder but realized that and went back down. x

When I started I hit some severe turbulence and my back-up PDA fell out of my pouch and went down below my feet and I couldn’t reach it. So I was afraid it was going to jam the rudder. But after I got that all settled I started to feel comfortable. After about an hour my flying started to improve. x

What do you think your average speed was?x

I don’t know, I think somewhere in the 90’s (kilometers), a lot slower than yesterday. The lift seemed weaker and I didn’t seem to be as aggressive.x

How was the final glide today?x

I didn’t know how to handle the final glide. Our minimum task time was 3 ½ hours and because I didn’t go deep into the cylinders in the beginning and the later ones just dumped you off in the blue sky. So you would dodge out in the blue sky and then come back into the cloud. x

I dodged into the hillside at Cedar City really low expecting that I would get out of there but I couldn’t go any deeper into the turn cylinder or into the final turn cylinder so I came back with a half hour left to go. I knew you got dinged a penalty for that. I didn’t know if it was all the points or not, I know now. So I got stinking high on top of the ridge with 20 minutes left to go to the minimum task. I was so, so high! I just floated around an extra half hour up there. When I did come in it was bubbly.x

What is the penalty for coming in early?x

I will have to check for sure but I think it is that they take your time and speed and divide it by the minimum task time. So if you had a screaming speed today and finished in 1 hour they would divide it by 3 ½ hours anyways.x

Were you at the minimum altitude for your final glide today? Were you at least 500 ft AGL?x

I was at 5,000 feet! I was so high I had my airbrakes on for 20 minutes. I could have flown over to Cedar Breaks. I could have flown all over the place. x

How did you feel about the tail-wind when you were taking off this morning?x

I don’t feel comfortable with a tail-wind and a downhill runway. The Pegasus has very poor aileron control until it gets up and running. It is worse taking off downhill.x

I seem to be getting the same damn tow-pilot. He comes out and hooks up to me, puts a slack in the rope of about 5 feet and then jerks me. The people trying to run my wing get it jerked out of their hand.x

What did you learn today?x

I learned a bunch! This vario-task stuff is so tricky because you have a radius and you can just tag the way-point and then leave. Or you can go to the actual center which is the way-point or you can go that radius difference beyond. If you don’t do that and get distance in the beginning there is no way you can make it up in the end. So you almost have to take a little bit of a risk in the beginning, go deeper in there so you can hedge your time. x

I came out 30 minutes too early today. If I had gone into the first turn cylinder a lot further…I would have burned up that task at top speed and would not have come in so early. But, the turnpoint area lift looked kind of dicey and I wasn’t flying as confidently today. x

June 24, 2008. Day 3.x

Paul, how did day three go for you?x

Today was fantastic but challenging. x

I had another downwind launch and take-off. I find those disconcerting. We scraped along the ridge for a little while. That was hard. But once I got up high it was a beautiful day. It was just fantastic flying.x

What do you think was the most difficult part of the task today?x

The difficult part was when the cloud streets ran out. x

I was a little nervous coming onto the final turn-point, because the cloud street ended quite a bit sooner than the final turn-point. But I had enough altitude saved up that I could make it into the cylinder about 3 or 4 minutes before turning out. It turned out pretty good.x

How was the gaggle in the beginning?x

I felt comfortable because RX was in there. And BG which I know is a real good pilot. I was probably the weakest of the 3 pilots in the gaggle. I knew they were probably watching out for me. I feel pretty comfortable with gaggles. I checked in with RX and he said I did OK.x

How many people are in a typical gaggle in a paragliding contest compared to a sailplane contest?x

There can be up to 60 people in a paragliding gaggle. It is so deep that you are only paying attention to about 10 people.xx

How many people are normally in a sailplane gaggle? x

So far, the most I have been in is maybe 5. But again, two of them may be really low, two may be really high, so you are really just flying with one person.x

What do you think your average speed was today?x

I think it was substantially slower than even my practice day. Because I was out there fumbling around trying to get high, making a jump at the very end. And it wasn’t necessary, there was a consistent lift and I just botched it by spending too much time floundering around in the beginning. My speed was probably in the 80’s or 90’s (kilometers.)x

What did you learn today?x

My PDA went on the blink and I couldn’t figure out how to punch the MacGready in there. I will have to take it home and figure out how to do that. It just fritzed out on me. What I could do yesterday I couldn’t do today. x

This is the third day of the contest. Do you think your skill level is increasing?x

You know I am getting really comfortable with the glides. I look forward to the glides, so I think yes, my skill level is increasing. It has probably doubled from what it was a week ago.x

Did you have a good time today?x

Incredible! Yep. I did not put as much pressure on myself. I think it is just a matter of staying consistent. I botched the first day so I am really out of the running and can’t hope to achieve much. I can just be consistent.x

June 25, 2008. Day 4.x

Paul, how do you think today went?x

It went very good. Except for the fact I didn’t know how to push the stick forward very well. I was catching thermals in the blue areas by reading the terrain below. I am pretty happy about that. But I stayed in the ratty thermals too long. I wasn’t willing to make leaps out into the blue space without getting as high as I possibly could, which meant I spent way too long in ratty thermals.x

So the blue skies are a little bit intimidating?x

Not too bad…because early on I got a good sense that there was going to be a bunch of thermals. And to the north you could see the cumulus developing so you had to assume that the thermal activity was as good down south, it just wasn’t reaching dew-point. It wasn’t too bad.
Again, reading the terrain around here makes it a little easier because you can follow the ridges and you have to believe that things are going to bubble up the ridges.x

What was your lesson for day 4?

Fly faster! Do not stay in ratty thermals. If it is not going up, or it is starting to fall apart, get out of there. I stayed in it way too long so I had the slowest speed of the entire race so far.x


June 26, 2008. Day 5.x



Paul, tell me how day 5 was different from the other days.x

It was a blue day and it was extremely difficult flying conditions for me. After seeing the other flights it seems that other people had better flights and did a better job than I did. x

I had a real difficult time getting away. I got off tow and I couldn’t get high. I just bobbled around 10,000 feet. Sometimes I got up to 12,000 feet, which is the top of the start window and then I’d just get slammed back down. x

About 45 minutes after start I got as high as I thought I could get, which was something like 12,500 ft., and started off down course. x

I headed off down course and immediately found nothing. I kept getting flushed, and had to spill off the ridge over towards Panguach airport. I was thinking I was going to land at the Panguach airport right after start which was really discouraging. I dodged it to the cliffs and found lift and wind. The whole day went just like that.x

Two of our club members landed out today. Did you come close to landing-out?x

A couple of things happened that were pretty new to me. I found myself following a plane across the valley. I followed him to what might have been a good idea of going into high terrain but in the back of my mind I knew it was leside. I got over there and I got hammered. I kept trying to follow the mountain around in 600 to 800 ft/per minute sink down hoping to round the terrain into the lift. x

I kept following it around and started to chant “I’m backing myself into a corner, I’m backing myself into a corner.” Again, I had to turn and follow the terrain down towards the fields.
I got so damn low that my only safety was to dodge into a field. I was aiming for some hot rocks and I caught a little altitude that brought me right over this little tiny ranch airport that was hardly discernable from the air. You could just tell the grading in the ground that it was a ranch airstrip. I circled around it setting up for a landing. I was so damn low I could see the backyard of the ranch and the BBQ. It was bad, I was probably at 8,000 ft MSL (about 1,000 ft above the ground.)x

In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently?

I think the only thing I could have done differently is not back myself into a corner by walking around the edge of the mountain. I probably shouldn’t have gone across. I knew the ridge was working well and I had already flown up it, I could easily have gone down it. I found myself coming too close to backing myself into a corner, leaving me no options. I was ground skimming and could see each individual sagebrush. That was too close.x

June 27, 2008. Day 6.x

AM. What is your strategy for today?x

Today they predict blue skies. I am just going to start the day as a new day. I am not going to look back on the other days. I am not going to say, “Well, I am going to modify my strategy to make it different from yesterday.” I am just going to go up, I am going to try to do the same thing I am suppose to be doing. I am going to get up, stay high and go far.x

PM. How did the race go today?x

Today was fantastic. It was predicted to be a blue day and it was not. There were nice beautiful cumies up by Bryce or Wayne's World, whatever it is called. x

I had a good start and I stayed high the whole time. I got to fly a little faster and never had the worries of landing out. x

How fast do you think you went today?x

As far as the rest of the guys, not real fast, but for me, faster than I had been the past few days. Well, maybe not as fast as the practice days. x

I noticed you made it back in good time. Were you able to complete the task?x

I completed the entire task and I really watched the computer this time. I am not sure if I came in under or maybe a few minutes over. Figuring it out on my watch I should be plus or minus 5 minutes. I will be disappointed if I blew the time.x

What did you learn today?x

When you are having a good day and the thermals seem to be popping up you need to change gears and push even harder. Billy told me that if you are on final glide and you’ve got a little lift don’t try to pull up at all, push forward and just burn it up. I did that on the way home and it was great fun screaming across the ground. x

What are your predictions for tomorrow?x

I think it is going to be fantastic! We had cumulus clouds and moisture moving in this afternoon. We weren’t supposed to have any. Tomorrow might start with more cumies. It will make for a real easy flying day so we can go far and fast. x

How do you like the classes they have every morning before the meetings?x

I was just telling my crew John about that. That is probably the most valuable part of the day for me. I get to go out and practice what I heard the first half hour of the day. There are so many little tips that you just would never stumble upon in a million years. It just seems to be common tribal knowledge among these guys. A lot of it was exposed this week. I can’t wait until next year to try it all again. x

How do you feel about the learning curve in a contest like this?x
(Laughter). I thought it would be a sharp curve and I thought I would be at the beginning of it, but I realized that it is way sharper than I expected. I have got a long, long way to go. There is so much to learn. It is so complicated that this is going to be fun for years and years. Aviation is like that.x

June 28, 2008. Final Day. x
(Paul landed out and did not make it back to the airport for the final interview. This interview took place in Taos on July 11, 2008.)x

Tell me about your last day in Parowan. How did it start?x

I felt really good about the day. I thought I was going to be tired but I woke up and felt full of energy. x

I had a great start. I had great thermals. I watched the time. I came out of the start cylinder probably two minutes after it started. x

I got sky high and went off. I stayed high. Hit the first turn point and felt like I was flying really fast. I was following the textbook, going through the lift band, hitting 11,000 ft and getting back up again. I did that over and over again. I was very happy because I wasn’t stopping in any garbage thermals like I had been this week. x

I started heading down towards the second turn point and realized it just didn’t seem right. It seemed as though the PDA was not sending me to the right place. I couldn’t see the PDA very well so I put on my cheater bifocals and looked at it and thought, “Son-of-a-bitch! I have yesterday’s task in there!”x

Oh No! What did you decide to do after that?x

I was already into the task an hour and 15 minutes. I plowed into what I thought was the first turn cylinder. I was thermalling really well, centering really easily, and then things fell apart. Then the radio started to blink showing me I had a low battery. So I turned the radio off.
I changed PDA’s. I found out that I had set up the backup PDA just like I did the first. I spent a lot of time looking. I spent too much time in the cockpit. Then all of a sudden I lost my thermalling ability. I was down south and it wasn’t quite as good. I pulled back and said, “Screw it, the day is over.” I decide to just finish the rest of the task as if I just started it. I just manually punched the turn points into my PDA.x

Do you think that realizing you plugged in the wrong task affected your ability to soar?x

I am still thinking about that. Because I think, yes, initially I was upset and I thought, “Damn-it, this would have been a good day! “ Then I said to myself “Put it aside, move on. You’ve already blown the contest on the first day. You are going to do everything you possibly could well. Do it well from this point on.” x

Then I tried to refocus but in the back of my mind I was wondering, have I lost focus because I am not thermally well? x

Then when I went to zig across back to what would have been the third turn point in the real task and I fell out of the sky. I couldn’t find lift. I did search patterns like I had normally done all week, got through them and moved on to the next one. All of a sudden I kept getting lower and lower. Then I landed out.x

Where did you land out?x

I landed out in what I call the dead airman’s field. I was supposed to be Bryce Woodlands, but when I landed there the guy who came up and helped me, Jim, said no, that was three miles away. It was Crystal Springs RV Park and airfield. x
Did you land on a runway?x

It was difficult to tell. I was coming in and I could see a vague outline of what might be a runway. I kept saying to myself, “Maybe the road is better than this runway.” When I got closer and closer you could tell the runway hadn’t been used for years. I later found out that the guy who had bladed off the runway died 5 or 6 years earlier on an approach to this runway. It hadn’t been used since. x

How long did you have to wait for your crew?x

It was clockwork. I hit the help button on my SPOT and then this guy Jim in a Suzuki drove me up to a place where I could get cell phone coverage. John had already gotten the SPOT message and had the coordinates punched into his GPS. He was assuming he would hear from me, which he did. He got on the road and it took about hour and a half to get me. x
As soon as I hung up with John my wife happens to call. I said “Whoa, you got my SPOT message!” She said, “No, I am just calling.” I said, “I landed out.” She asks if I was OK. I said yes. Then she said, “Oh, by the way, I am at the mall…” She went on talking about shopping and didn’t seem to care that I had landed out. (Laughter.)x

How do you feel about the SPOT?x

It is awesome! It is invaluable. I bought it for my motorcycle and for my fishing. For the glider I have to set it up so that it is sitting on my parachute now. x x

The SPOT works flawlessly. If your crew knows you need help, or if your wife supposedly knows you need help (chuckle), you just push a button to get a retrieve. The GPS in my glider did not give correct coordinates for my car GPS, but the SPOT did. x

Do you have a land-out check list?x

No. That was one of my other beginner mistakes. I went to Parowan with 3 or 4 check lists in my computer. The goal was to laminate them and put them in the trailer, the car and the glider. They never made it there. x

Before I left, Howard Banks told my crew, John that it was likely that I would land out. So don’t forget my wing stands, which I think Mitch’s crew did. That turned his retrieve into a much longer retrieve. With a check list I suppose they wouldn’t have forgotten their wing stands.
There was a day I forgot my cell phone at the cabin. If I had a check list that wouldn’t have happened. x

After flying in a contest for 10 days, you may think you are feeling pretty crisp but you are definitely wearing down. You can make mistakes. Check lists are imperative. x

Your crew member is your brother-in-law, John. How did he do?x

As a beginner you have to have a really good crew. It takes so much stress off from the competition. If you have somebody who doesn’t have a thick ego and is willing to help you out and go the extra mile, it makes the whole contest a joy.x

So he was awesome?x

He was better than awesome! He really was.x

Now that the contest is over and you have a few days to think about it, tell me about your overall experience. x

I have a couple of thoughts that go through my mind. It was an incredible learning experience. It was totally different than what I had expected. It was not a competition, my sister came up with the word, it was a coopertition. The people were real cooperative. A beginner should go to something like this because they will learn so much. x

If you don’t go there with the idea that you will whip yourself into being in the middle or top of the pack, and just go to learn, it is incredible. On the flip-side, being a competitive person I think, well, next year I will have learned from all these mistakes this year. I won’t duplicate them. I know just seeing a little inkling about what racing and this competition is about I can tell that next year will probably be a whole new set of issues. You have to go with the same idea, just go with the idea that it is going to be incredibly fun and do as well as you can do against yourself and the other people are just there to fly with.x

What is your advice to new students/pilots that want to go to a contest for the first time?x

That’s a tough question because there are so many variables. I think the first thing is going with the right attitude and understanding that people are going to support you. It is going to be a lot better than you could even imagine. x

Go in with the right attitude, be real gentle with yourself. Don’t think of it as a competition against anybody else, just against yourself. Take notes, put things in the back of your mind and use it. Because every minute of the time you are flying you’re learning something. x

You learn from the people you are sitting with and talking to before the flight and after the flight. The minute you start flying new things that you would never have to confront in normal day to day flying situations hit you. x

In a competition the rules change. For example, the tow-plane takes off whether you’re ready or not. That never happens at the airport back home. So you better be prepared and you should always be prepared at home. But we get lax, even as a beginner you get lax. You have to be right spot on when you are flying in a competition.