Rick Kohler, President of Sundance Aviation, Moriarty, New Mexico
Rick Kohler grew up in an aviation family. His Uncle Ray was a captain for American Airlines and both his Aunt Emmy and Uncle Charles were a private pilots. Rick’s father was also an aviation enthusiast and took him to several air shows. As a child Rick would drive his mother crazy by running around all the time with models and toy airplanes. Rick was introduced to gliders by Tom Holloran, friend of Rick’s father who was a glider pilot. Tom owned a farm with an airstrip and provided Rick with several rides.
Rick took his first flying lesson at age 16. An injury and afterwards college forced him to take a break from his aviation activities. He earned his undergraduate degree in 1974 in English Literature. Then went back in 1975 – 77 and studied voice and Opera at the University of Cincinnati College conservatory of music. During his music career Rick performed with the Cincinnati Opera chorus.
Today Rick runs a successful glider operation in Moriarty, New Mexico. He owns a Schweitzer 2-33, two Grobs, an LS-4, a Pawnee and a Callair. He also shares a Maule with his girlfriend Aimee. Aimee and Rick take their vacations in the Maule and recently went to Michigan to obtain their seaplane ratings.
Hours: Total time in power planes, 2,500 hours. Gliders, over 10,000 hours.
You are both a power pilot and a glider pilot. What did you fly first?
I started with power planes. My first lesson was in a Citabria. I soloed in a Piper-Cub. I went on to get my glider rating in 1980 and my instructor rating in 1986. I started flying gliders at Caesar Creek Soaring Club in Waynesville, OH.
What made you decide to become a full time glider instructor?
In 1982 I went to work as an aircraft tech. Did that for a year. Then took a sales job for four years, 1983 – 88. I hated sales. I had been doing gratis instruction for the soaring club. Then I answered an ad as an instructor for Estrella sailport in Maricopa, AZ. I was there for a year then I went to Bolder, Colorado for five years and worked for Cloud Base Soaring Inc. From there I came to Moriarty and started Sundance Aviation in April 1994.
Have you ever flown with difficult students?
I had one guy in Arizona who was a licensed glider pilot and he wanted fly a high performance glider. I don’t think he was in full possession of his marbles. In fact, I don’t think he had enough marbles to play jacks. He was disoriented and was obviously confused. Who ever signed him off on his check ride did the aviation community a huge disservice. I had to keep taking over the controls, he got disoriented and couldn't find the runway.
He was flying a ridiculously long downwind and I told him to make a right turn, we were a mile and a half out at 500 or 600 feet above the ground. He opened the air brakes all the way at which point I said, "I am taking the controls." He replied, "No Rick, I am making this landing." He was a pretty big guy and would not let go of the controls. I asked him for the controls three times and three times he refused. Every time I tried to take the controls he would push the nose down more and open the dive brakes more.
Finally I told him, "If you don’t kill us on this landing I am going to kill you when we get on the ground." At which point he relinquished the controls. I dove it into ground effect to get it over the fence and we just barely made the runway, rolled out and stopped a little bit short. After we got out of the glider, he said, "Wow, I am really glad you took it I really learned a lot." My response was, "I don’t care if you learned anything I will never fly with you again. Do yourself and everyone a favor and find another hobby."
Another time I had a Japanese student with whom I was practicing stalls. He became terrified. He held the stick close to his chest and wouldn't let go. I ended up having to tap him on the back of his head to get him to release. He threw up his hands and started yelling stuff in Japanese. He was so scared he never came back.
What was your most memorable flight?
My very first flight as an employee with the chief pilot at Estrella. It was a really good soaring day. There was great lift. We got as high as 12,000 feet at one point. We were soaring over the Estrella ridge and after a couple of stalls and what not my instructor said. "OK, show me some spins. So I did a spin entry to the left and recovered after about half a turn. Then I did the same thing to the right.
Then in a fairly thick Hungarian accent he said, "Now I will show you how to make the glider really spin." And he did, except that after about ¾ of the first turn the glider went completely flat. We were not wearing parachutes. The first thing he did was to use all the standard spin recovery techniques. Rudder opposite the rotation and full forward stick, nothing. Then he tried opening the dive breaks which in the Grob have a nose down pitching tendency, nothing. Then he removed his shoulder straps and leaned his body forward, nothing, and then he said release your belts and come forward. I was ahead of him and was already on my way into the front cockpit, nothing. It stayed flat for about another 4 or 5 turns. We had lost about 4,000 feet at this point.
Finally he put everything into the spin, stick all the way forward and to the left and full left rudder. At that point the nose began to pitch down and come back up again. With each rotation you heard a big swish. After about two rotations of pitching up and down again we recovered. He was a very skilled pilot, he got us in and he got us out.
Upon landing and walking back into the operations office he made the following authoritative announcement, "We will no longer spin the Grobs!" That was the most scared I have every been in an airplane.
What is your most memorable land-out?
It was July 7th, 1992 when I made my first attempt at the 500 K diamond distance flight. The route was from Boulder to Eleven Mile Reservoir (which is just west of Colorado Springs) then on to Laramie and back to Boulder. It was a good flight but I just didn't make it.
What happened during that first attempt?
I had turned Laramie and was on my way back to Boulder. It was around 6:30pm. I was at about 15,000 feet MSL when I left Laramie and the cloud base was about 20,000 feet. There were plenty of clouds and I was about 20 miles from the mountains. However, I did not find one thermal between Laramie and the mountains. I ended up landing in a cow pasture at between 8,500 and 9,000 feet about five miles NE of Red Feather, CO.
How was the landing?
I ended up coming in too fast and touched down about 1/3 of the way into the cow pasture which was about 800 to 1000 feet long. I got on the brake, which lived up to it's reputation of being a suggestion of stopping rather than an actual device used to stop the glider. I went through the field, bounced across the county road on the only point on that road for 100 feet on either side that the shoulder was shallow enough not to damage the glider. I ended up rolling 20 feet up an embankment. I was amazed that the glider actually stopped and didn't roll back down the embankment. None of this was skill but pure dumb luck. I got out, walked to the top of the embankment and saw a 600 foot shear drop which really got my knees shaking. At that time I didn't know where I was. I went back to look at the chart and saw that the town of Red Feather was about five miles away.
Were there any people around to help?
I saw some dust coming down a country road, it was an older man, his wife and his 10 year old grandson in a Ford pick-up truck. The old man said, "You look like you could use a cold one." I replied, "That would be nice but what I really need is a telephone." He said, "Phone, what’s that?" Then with a chuckle he handed me a very modern cell phone (this was back in 1992 when not that many people owned cell-phones.)
I contacted my crew who started the long drive to this remote location. After calling my crew I found out that the old man owned the entire top of the mountain. He had a well house and a beautifully manicured campsite. I spent the time waiting for my crew riding around in ATV’s and doing target practice with his grandson. He fed me copiously. When my crew arrived he provided light for the de-rigging of my glider and then fed my crew copiously. I ended up mailing the family certificates for glider rides.
My crew did mention on the way up that he noticed there was nothing but trees, rocks and winding roads through many hills. He couldn't believe I found any place to land.
Three weeks later I made the same flight but I was at 16,500 ft over the cow pasture with final glide back to Boulder.
For Lessons or Glider Rides contact Rick at Sundance Aviation, 505-832-2222 or you can visit their website at: http://www.soarsundance.com/