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.