my first glider flight

As an aspiring pilot, when I learned that glider lessons were being offered here I knew that I had to give it a try.  I pointed to the tourist brochure that I’d taken from the hotel and told Mohammed that I wanted to give it a try.  He took me to the airport and I met the glider pilot (also named Mohammed – yeah, what are the odds, right?) who explained how it all worked.  Mohammed was an Iranian Air Force Officer and pilot who hasn’t flown in years due to the lack of aircraft parts (American embargo).  To maintain his love for flying and to make a few bucks on the side, he and a few other pilots pitched in and purchased this glider which then had shipped to Kish.  He said it came in parts and they assembled it here.

Mohammed told me that we would climb to altitude, sail around the island a bit, do some manuevers (he made sure to find out if I was susceptible to motion sickness – I”m not) and then come back in for a landing where we took off.  I looked around for the tow plane that would take us to altitude – there was none.  I asked him how we would get the bird up and he pointed to a long (very very long) bungee cord that was coiled next to an old Nissan pickup truck.  One end of the bungee cord had a long I-hook and the other end was tied to the trailer hitch on the back bumper of the pickup truck.  He explained that we would tie onto the bungee cord, put on the glider’s brakes, the truck would drive to the other end of the field (stretching out the bungee cord) and once our brakes were released, we would accelerate and climb.

Hmmm…. what if the bungee cord fails to disengage from the aircraft?  I could picture us nosing over quite quickly back down into the pickup truck and runway.  “Think pleasant thoughts,” I told myself.

Mohammed went over some emergency procedures and soon we were stapped in and ready to depart.  The flight assistant closed our canopies and secured them and then went to one wing to lift it level.  The glider was now balanced on the nose and tail wheels and the wing tip by the assistant.  Another assistant boarded the pickup truck, started it and began driving down the runway.  I watched as loop after loop of the bungee cord popped free of the coil and as the last one came free and the cord straightened out I could feel the nose of the glider tug as the cord began to tighten under the load.  The truck kept driving and driving and I could hear little creaks and moans from the nose of the glider until – rather suddenly – the glider started sliding forward, the landing gear making a “screech” sound.  Mohammed raised one hand and as the assistant simultaneously let go of the wing, he released the wheel brakes.

I have never driven in a top-fuel dragster before but I think that this glider flight may match the g-forces that a funny car pulls at it accelerates.  I could not believe how quickly we accelerated!  I was pinned to the back of my seat and before a second had elapsed we were climbing ever upward – it felt as though I was in a rocket taking off!  I looked out the side window and saw the acute angle of attack (nose up attitude of the glider) and snapped a quick photo (below).  And only a few seconds later I heard a “snap” as Mohammed released the pin that secured us to the bungee cord.  We were up and moving fast and still climbing.  By the time we began to lose momentum, Mohammed nosed the plane over into a slight nose down attitude and pointed the glider into the prevailing wind.  As Kish is an island it has an almost steady breeze blowing over it, at altitude this breeze is a fair moving wind and the glider capitalized on this as lift and we began climbing ever higher and higher.

Once we were up a few thousand feet, Mohammed began making some slow and lay orbits pointing out the different sites of the island; the football field, the port, government buildings and the hotels and malls.  I was amazed at how quiet it was inside the glider.  I’ve flown in many small aircraft (and large commercial) and the engine noise and wind is so loud you need ear plugs if the aircraft is not pressurized.  Aside from the wind blowing over the canopy the glider was completely quiet.  If you had earphones in, you could listen to your favorite music at a low volume setting and hear it perfectly.

We orbited around for 10 or 15 minutes soaking in the view.  The ocean’s blue and green colors looked splendid from so high up and I could see the island from end to end at this altitude.  Inside the harbor the cargo and small cruise ships looked like little toys and while there were few cars on the roads, the few that I saw looked like toys as well.

Mohammed asked me if I would like to do some acrobatics and I enthusiastically said “yes!”  He nosed the glider over to pick up some speed and then pulled back on the stick; the glider climbed hard out of its dive pressing me low into the seat.  I could feel the blood pull out of my brain and down into the seat of my pants.  I felt as if I weighed a thousand pounds.  The glider’s nose rose as we climbed trading our speed for altitude and just as if I felt I would pass out, Mohammed eased back on the stick and then pushed it forward.  The plane reversed its upward direction and began falling towards the ground giving the sensation of falling – just like a roller coaster as it drops off of one of the hills – and I felt the butterflies in my stomach and the sensation of weightlessness.  A few pebbles that were on the floor and my camera case that was sitting in my lap floated effortlessly in front of me as if we were in outer space.  I heard the air rushing past the canopy as we began to build up speed and then Mohammed pulled back bringing us level again.

He looked over his shoulder to see me smiling ear to ear and knew that he had done his job well.  He went into another manuever this time rolling the bird over and bringing the wings almost perpendicular to the ground.  Looking straight out of the front windshield the entire left side of the view was sky and the entire right side was earth.  I looked out the right window and I could see the wing pointing almost straight down towards the runway (photo below).

We made a few turns – each one tighter than the last.  To maintain altitude during the turn (an aircraft loses lift the more its wings are from level to the ground) Mohammed had to pull back on the stick and in doing so he increased the g-force load making me feel super-heavy again.  It was quite a roller coaster ride and I thought that (I’m showing my age here) this is one “E-ticket ride!”  Most roller coasters cannot compare to an aircraft when it comes to the feeling of g-forces, turns and weightlessness.  I quickly fell in love with the idea of the glider and vowed that some day I would own one.

After we had performed a few manuevers I noticed that the ground was rising to meet us; we had traded altitude for speed and lift in order to get the adrenaline thrills of this flight.  Mohammed flew the bird over to the downwind side of the runway and began setting up for an approach.  This aircraft was not equipped with spoilers (devices that allow a glider to lose altitude) and he had to side-slip the aircraft in to approach at the correct altitude (photo below).  A glider usually approaches at a higher than needed altitude and then once it is a safe distance from the runway, excess altitude is bled off using spoilers or a side slip method.  In this case, the aircraft (while maintaining a heading that is parallel and in course with the runway) flies with its nose pointed left of direction and  its right wing down (to counteract a left slip course movement).  As you can see in the photo below, rather than fly straight and true with greatest aerodynamic effectiveness, the aircraft is (literally) flow sideways creating a massive amount of drag that causes the bird to sink and enter a proper angle on final approach.

Once Mohammed knew that he was going to make the runway, he straightened the nose out and we flew in with a perfect one wheel landing.  After we rolled a ways, the tail wheel touched down and just before we stopped the right wing fell over and skidded harmlessly on the runway.  The assistant popped our canopies and helped me remove my harness.  I climbed out with a big smile, gave Mohammed a big “high five” and then shook his hand and thanked him for the remarkable flight.

Who would have imagined a glider ride in Iran?


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