Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mike Abernathy

Mike Abernathy in his Stemme Motorglider, Moriarty Airport.x

Mike Abernathy is the Martin Scorsese of the Albuquerque glider community. He is a talented pilot, photographer, filmmaker and an avid fly fisherman and hiker. Most of the Moriarty pilots would agree that the best soaring photos they own of themselves are the ones that Mike has shot. Mike is also working closely with his nephew, Matt Murray, to produce a spectacular documentary on soaring.

Mike’s talents are as diverse as his background. He grew up in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California.

Mike is a software engineer by profession. He worked as a Manager and Principal Engineer at Rockwell International for 15 years. Then he started his own company, Rapid Imaging Software, Inc. Mike works and lives with his business partner, Carolyn Galceran, his wife.

I have flown with Mike once and witnessed his enthusiasm for the sport. He made me feel like I was a child seeing the world for the first time. His approach to flying is that of a pilot who enjoys the sport the way a hiker enjoys nature. He seems to appreciate not only the art of flying but also the incredible scenery that is only available from high above the earth.

“If soaring is an intellectual sport then Mike Abernathy should be at the top of the heap.” – Mitch Hudson

How and when did you get interested in aviation?

I was born with it. As a 5 year old all I did was draw airplanes. I wanted to fly since day zero. I was in my mid forties when I realized that it was achievable.

What type of planes have you flown?

S 2-33, G103, G102, Discus CS, T6 Texan Radial Engined warbird, Stemme S10VT.

What type of gliders do you presently own?

Discus CS, Stemme motorglider

What advice can you give pilots about purchasing a motorglider?

Honestly ask yourself before purchase – do I have the discipline to fly a motorglider safely. Am I able to not get low and bet on the engine starting? An MG pilot should never gamble on an engine start without a landing option. If you can handle that, then ask yourself if you can handle the complexity of motorgliders, without loosing the joy of soaring.

What are the pros and cons of owning a motorglider?

Cons: Complexity and cost are significant.

You can fly to anyplace and from anyplace with the right motorglider. So it has many of the benefits of owning a regular power plane. Because of the disintegrating infrastructure of soaring (fewer glider operations every year) a motorglider greatly facilitates soaring safaris. I am doing everything I can to support glider operations like Rick Kohler’s Sundance Aviation, but for long cross country flights, a motorglider helps. Also, you can fly yourself to areas of lift when it is too far or too high for the tow plane so you have few experiences with “falling out.” You can launch between other pilot’s tows (a big plus in 90 degree weather) and, if you are inclined, you can scout lift (under power) for your non motor friends. With an engine restart (even if you have had to land) a lot of the hassle of landing out is removed.

Are you a competitive pilot?

No. The only person I compete with is me. I want to get better and better. Racing is of zero interest. I enjoy the companionship of flying with other pilots, but not competition. Like all glider pilots, I race the sun, competing with the weather to go further and further.

What is it about flying gliders that you enjoy most?

Freedom. In a glider you are free in an indescribable way. A non- pilot lives in 2D. A power pilot lives in 2.5D because they are limited by their motor. But the glider pilot lives in a dimension which they cannot imagine they really live in 3D+. This freedom is for me often a spiritual experience. The cross-country soaring pilot lives in harmony with nature, and that is a powerful communion.

I also believe that soaring is a life-long commitment to learning. Flying is an activity that challenges you to get better and better for your whole life. So you will find yourself staying in shape, exercising, watching your weight, and generally taking care of yourself. You will find yourself reading books about how to be a better soaring pilot. You will find that every year of experience counts, so you will listen to the experiences of your friends to learn from them. You will relive your own flying experiences trying to glean every morsel of education from them.

I am inspired by a man named John Muratore, a NASA innovator who created the X38. He said that our society needs to explore in order to grow, and that without that our society would stagnate. I strongly believe that for these same reasons soaring is good for our society. It gives people an opportunity to learn and grow and to see our world in a whole new way. It is energy efficient and intensely engaging, challenging and fun. It is not too much to say that becoming a good soaring pilot will make you a better person overall, because it requires personal excellence at some levels.

Soaring is the safest and most affordable way to fly, but more important it is also the most fun because the challenges never end. For a power pilot, once the landing and take off and other mechanics are mastered, the learning curve flattens out while more air time is accumulated. As a power pilot once said to me “I have about 400 hours – but really it is like the same hour just repeated 400 times over.” With soaring, the evidence is clear that learning to read the sky is a lifelong quest. I am fortunate to have guys like Billy Hill, Mark Mocho, Jim Cumiford, Tim Feager, Rick Kohler, Brian Resor, and other great glider pilots who share their experiences with me, as this helps one become a better pilot.

What is your most memorable flight?

September 11, 2004. I declared an out and return to San Luis, CO and back. I was joined traveling north by Mark Mocho, Billy Hill, Howard Banks, and Al Whitesel. We all went different ways at different speeds but basically went up the Sangre De Cristos. It was my first declared 500km flight and moment of profound pride and a day of unbelievable natural beauty. It was such fun. Just the memory of days like that will get you through a lot of ground-bound days of winter. Cloud bases at 20000 feet plus and 10 kt thermals. Absolutely awe-inspiring. Below us the mountains were changing color with the season so they were green, yellow, orange and red.

Your hangar is often the hang-out for several glider pilots after a long day of soaring. What is one of the funniest stories you have heard during the "pilot cocktail hour"?

It is a great blessing to have the companionship of so many skilled, yet giftedly-humorous, pilot friends visiting our hangar. Billy Hill and Mark Mocho have made me laugh so hard that I lost my breath many times. It is hard to pick which story is best.

One afternoon we were all flying an “iffy” day and Billy had gotten low and radioed that he would have to land-out at Mountainair. Mark Mocho couldn’t resist ribbing him, even at such a tender moment. “You should thermal above your ego!” Mark suggested. As I drove off to pick up Billy, I saw that Mark himself had been forced to land-out at Estancia! The next time Mark was at the hangar with us I asked him what happened to him after such hubris.

He just looked at me and said “Those whom the gods would land-out, they first make proud.” This is a variation of a very ancient Greek proverb. I still laugh about that, and I still believe it is true.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Jim Cumiford

Jim Cumiford in his ASW 27-B on the runway in Moriarty, New Mexico.

Jim Cumiford could be best described as an overgrown Teddy Bear. He is a tall drink of water that walks with a rolling gate, (hence the Teddy Bear reference). He’s easy going and ready to lend a helping hand which might include driving to retrieve a fellow pilot who was not able to make it back to the airport of origin.x
Jim can be found at the Moriarty airport most weekends. He is usually one of the first to bring his sailplane down to the staging area in order to be one of the first airborne when conditions permit.

As a kid growing up in Chula Vista, CA he built and flew small model airplanes (U-Control) and occasionally would send them off on a "free flight". He was known to sit and watch general aviation planes coming and going from Brown Field airport for hours. x
He started flying gliders in December, 1975 with Pegasus Aviation. Pegasus was located at the old Coronado airport in north Albuquerque.

He has been a member of Albuquerque Soaring Club since 1995 and served on the board four consecutive years, the last as "Y2k president". Jim met his wife Leslie in 1999 at the glider club while she was learning how to fly.

When did you get interested in aviation?

I guess I've been interested in aviation since my first memories. I earned my TWA Wings at the very young age of 4-weeks flying from San Diego to Albuquerque.

My first real memory of flying was around the age of 5-6 in my grandfather's Luscombe. He kept the old bird at the "TWA Airport" located near the intersection of Route 66 (Central Ave) and Coors Road (if my recollection serves me right the old TWA airport was moved to the Sunport and closed to build a drive-in theater).

Were you ever a military pilot?

As a young high school student (near the end of the Vietnam era) my draft lottery ticket was next to be drawn. I had high hopes of becoming a fighter pilot so I tried to enlist with the Navy but the physical revealed color vision trouble (red & green deficient) which meant no flying or aviation anything back then. Instead, the Navy tried to sell me on subs as a sonar technician. The offer didn't sound very appealing and while I was considering it the Vietnam war was ended and so did the draft.

Did you start with gliders or power planes?

Technically I started flying with my grandfather and friends in power planes and have since logged something over 40-hours of motorized instruction time.

My instructor at Cutter Aviation once told me to quit shooting holes in the sky and go take the written exam so he could recommend the check ride but at the time I had a girl friend that took up most of my time and all of my money. I never made it back to the field to finish up my single engine rating but I still intended to do so someday.

Where did you learn how to fly gliders and who taught you?

I learned to fly gliders at Pegasus Aviation which operated from a dirt cross-wind runway. My instructor, Mike Keller would sit in the back seat crunching his corn nuts while I ridged soared the rugged Sandia Crest range.

The first glider I flew was the Schweitzer 2-32, a three seat glider able to carry two small passengers in the rear seat. x
During my first solo in a glider the Piper Super Cub tow plane experienced a serious power loss just as we cleared the end of the runway, which is just at the top of the cottonwood trees on the revers edge airport.

We occasionally soared over Coronado in mountain wave generated from the volcano mesa plateau (uplifted from the shallow Rio Puerco valley). x

On days when the soaring weather didn't cooperate Mike would take me up in his Stearman PT-13 biplane.

I arrived one day for glider instruction in the Schweitzer 2-32 only to find a "closed" sign in the office window which ended my career before I could solo.

When did you get back into soaring?

I began soaring again in 1982 with Gregg & Glad Lill at the Mid Valley Airport south of Las Lunas along the river.

After a short flight and four hours of grinding around in the sky, I struggled to answer questions I was never prepared for but in the end Al Santilli signed me off. That was a very special day in October 1983. I've never flown a 2-33 since.

Do you fly in soaring competitions?

I flew in my first regional contest in 2000. I actually won the first day of my first contest; the entire pack landed out that day and I landed out the furthest ;-)

Do you consider yourself competitive?

I've been involved in competitive sports a good part my life; motocross & desert racing, shooting, softball, now soaring.

I don't feel any of the competitive pressures or stress associate with soaring competition that I once felt in the other sports. Soaring is enough of a physiological and mental challenge in itself without being judged against the other pilots.

When you are flying a glider in a contest it feels just like soaring back home only there are a lot more gliders in the air with you and less radio chatter. All of the same rules still apply.

Mostly the competitiveness occurs on the ground which may involve:
· your ground crew
· preparing yourself physically and mentally
· staging and griding
· knowing the task area such as where the best lift might be found
· where not to land out
· task planning and so on.

You can usually find most of the pilots gathered around the score keeper’s office at the end of a long task waiting on the day’s results to be posted. This is where the real racing is done! You'll hear beer drinking liars (like me) telling stories like; “Gear down I made a low save over Death Valley when I spotted a hawk circling low on the ridge.” or “I would have won the day but there was a mountain in the way on final glide; and did you see that 18-knot thermal?”

What kind of glider do you own?

I sold my Ventus-A to my partner and purchased an ASW-27B in December 2006. The previous owner, Ray Gimmey (7V), had won the 15-meter nationals that summer so I knew the ship was capable...Ray certainly is.

I bought the 27 because I like to go far and fast and so does this glider!

What is your most memorable flight?

They are all memorable but I suppose the best are the ones with long fast high cruises along our powerful New Mexico cloud streets.

Billy Hill and I made a really nice 700-800 km flight this year in convergence lift to Culebra Peak, Colorado. Brian Resor later analyzed the flight and told us we had flown well over 300 miles without making a single climbing turn. We turned in OLC speeds near 100 mph that day. That was pretty cool!

The year before during a Taos event the whole bunch of us made long flights in convergence lift along the beautiful Sangre de Cristo range across the border into Colorado and back a few times. I was flying a borrowed LS-4 and I think all of us struggled to stay below 18000 feet. We still talk about that day.

Then there are the retrieves when a pilot lands away from the home airport (Howard Banks). They’re fun too!

Have you ever flown with eagles?

Yes. Majestic birds of prey, feathered warriors, and they don't seem the least bit frightened by our size. I might also consider soaring with hawks and eagles a sacred moment.

What do you like about soaring?

· The graceful freedom
· mental challenge
· the excitement
· the surge of energy in a strong thermal
· speeding along at cloud base or just above the trees along a ridge.

In a sense soaring is a spiritual experience me....the clouds are like angels guiding the way. I might be a bit of an adrenaline junky too. Traffic conditions permitting; a fast low finish can be an exciting and graceful end to a long task.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Mitch Hudson

xxxxxxxxxMitch flying his Discus on a "blue day"

Mitch standing next to his Discus
Mitch Hudson is a member of the Albuquerque Soaring Club. He has not spent a lot of time in Moriarty the past few years due to logistics. His service in the Air Force required him to live in Texas and he recently was transferred to Oklahoma.

Despite not being able to be here very often, everyone knows him. He has an outgoing, charismatic personality and a down-to-earth demeanor that attracts people. Mitch is a kind-hearted soul who is extremely generous. He has been known to lend his Discus sailplane to several young pilots for competitions or training.

How did you get interested in aviation?

Like most kids of my generation, I watched the movie "Top Gun" and was fascinated by it. I just knew that's what I wanted to do. To date myself, I was about 13 when Top Gun was released. I told my parents that I wanted to learn to fly. They, of course were looking for anything to help their hyperactive, dyslexic kid who was not doing too well in school and did not have many friends.

I happened to live in the downwind pattern of the local airfield in Indiana where gliders flew. We had about an acre yard, and it was tradition that when Dad and I got done cutting the grass, we would strip down and jump in the pool naked. Inevitably, we would hear the "Creak, groan, creak" of the 1-26 flying overhead right about the time we chose to do this.

At any rate, I found that I was not old enough to fly power planes yet, but could fly gliders. So as a 14th birthday present, I went out to the airport and started to learn how to fly!

Does anyone else in your family fly?

My mother and my father both went out and learned to fly with me. We all learned to fly together as a family thing. My grandfather also took me for my first airplane ride.

What events prompted your enlistment in the Air Force?

The gliders did not help out much with my school, as a matter of fact in High School I missed MORE school because of them... But hanging out at the glider port was always much more educational than any school could ever be, I think. At any rate, with my blistering 1.7 High School GPA, college just wasn't in the cards, so I joined the Air Force, as this allowed me to be around airplanes, even if I was not flying them.

I wanted to be a Jet Engine mechanic and stationed in New Mexico (because I knew of the great soaring here) but ended up a ground support equipment mechanic in Florida. Go figure! Some people dream of being stationed on the beach and I was miserable.

I got out of the USAF after my first four years and went back home to Indiana where I ran a custom hay bailing company and tried a year of school at Purdue. I quickly got sick of not having any money, so I went in to see if I could go back into the USAF. Sure enough, they were in desperate need of people at that point, AND had a slot out in Albuquerque. I asked "Where do I sign"? And I was back on active duty. The rest is history, I think... I finished college and am now a commissioned navigator on AWACS planes at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma.

What type of planes have you flown?

I love to fly and will go up in anything that I am able to anytime I am able to.

I have flown all kinds of sailplanes, from a Discus II to an open cockpit primary trainer.

I have flown all kinds of power planes from a T-6 Texan II Military trainer to a 1937 Waco Bi-Plane. I have even have an hour logged in both helicopters and the Goodyear Blimp.

If you could purchase any plane in the world, which one would you choose?

I'd have to go with a brand-new LS-8-18 sailplane.

You started flying at a young age, did you have any mentors?

I have had many mentors, and continue to do so. I believe there is always something to learn in flying, and always someone who can teach you. If you think you are too good to have a mentor, you're doomed to fail in this game.

How have the mentors in your life helped you?

I went from a shy, introverted only child to the outgoing guy you see today. I was raised by guys at the glider port and continue to learn a lot from them today. My social formative years were spent with Farmers and Doctors, Mechanics and Airline Pilots and everything in-between. All who shared a common love of flying... I would not be close to the person I am today with the accomplishments I have made without the "Fly daddies" who helped me get here.

What type of glider do you own and why did you purchase that particular glider?

I own a Discus fiberglass racing sailplane.

I flew a 1-26 (Kind of the go-kart of racing sailplanes) for many years. Then Jim Miller let me take his Nimbus II for a flight. After I was able to run up to the mountains without even thinking about it, I just knew I had to have a "Glass slipper" instead of my old metal and fabric 1-26.

I got a great deal on this Discus and could not pass it up, even though I couldn't afford it. When I was enlisted, paying for it took about 1/3 of my monthly pay check, so I ate a lot of Mac and Cheese and made a lot of cut-backs so I could have that beautiful glider.

As Mark Mocho says "You can live in a glider trailer, but you can't fly a house". I have adopted this phrase as my personal mantra.

What type of power plane do you own and why did you purchase that plane?

I have a 1946 Cessna 120. I bought it because I wanted a tail dragger that was easy to maintain. There is nothing that can break on that plane that I cannot fix, and I enjoy flying it quite a bit.

What is your most memorable flight in a glider? / in a power plane?

In a Glider, I'd have to say it would be a combination of any flight in the Discus that I took over the Mountains. Running up to Colorado and turning around is like viewing the world from an easy chair...Nothing is wrong down there, and it's just gorgeous! *Sigh* I can't describe it the way I want, but anyone who has been there knows what I'm talking about.

Power planes are a means of transportation. It's flying and I love it, but it's all about the same. I'd have to say it was a flight in the 120 down through the mountains in TN with the fall colors, and a great friend and one of my mentors flying with me. That was by far one of my most enjoyable flights.

Have you ever participated in a glider competition?

When I started flying gliders I always said "Ill be moving on to power as soon as I am old enough". I said this for most of the summer until one day, on of my glider daddies came whistling down above our ops tent in Indiana at about 10 feet dumping water and at redline. He pulled up into the pattern, finishing up a successful race day. I said "I want to do that" and was never the same again. I didn't learn to fly power for another 14 years. I was addicted to gliders!!

I have flown in many competitions and they are what I live for. They are very stressful but very rewarding at the same time.