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.