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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Axis of Evil

About the same time that I was visiting Iran, our president delivered his now famous “Axis of Evil” speech.  I once read the author Al Kentawi’s comments that to label someone or an entire people as “evil” degrades their character to a sub-human status – it is easier to hate someone or something that is “evil” than something that has similar values to your own.  I wonder, if when President Bush labeled Iran as “evil” if he painted with too wide a brush?  Perhaps the government has bad qualities, but is that enough to condemn an entire nation of people?

And so, I was curious to know about these “evil” people.

I suppose that I should start off with my guide and driver, Mohammed.  This man was courteous, polite and treated me like family.  When it came time for lunch, he invited me to his home for a meal.  I met his wife and young daughter and the family brought me into their home like an old friend.  Mind you, this is someone who I had just met a few hours earlier.  I cannot imagine a New York cabbie inviting anyone home for lunch.  Certainly does not sound “evil” to me!

Mohammed drove me all around to see the sights in Kish – not too difficult to do; while there was much construction on the Island it seemed as though not much of it was finished.  It seemed as though everywhere we went there was a new building being constructed.  Maybe Iran has a grand vision for this island and I am curious to know if it will work out considering the competition from its neighbors who do allow alcohol sales.

I told Mohammed that I wanted to go shopping and he took me to one of the main intersections in town where a newly constructed mall was located.  At the intersection I noticed that there was additional construction taking place on the far side.  The streets, lights and gardens looked relatively modern but there were no people, no traffic, nothing much going on.  It reminded me of that Kevin Costner movie, “build it and they will come.”  I wonder if the Tehran planners had a similar vision?

As I walked into the mall I noticed that there were many political banners along the sidewalks.  I can’t imagine President Bush using tax dollars to fund posters of himself to hang all around every town in America.  I’ve noticed that you only see posters of political leaders in countries that lack basic freedoms and civil rights – I can’t imagine a free people standing for their tax dollars to be used for such wanton propaganda.  We do have government sponsored propaganda in America, it is just more subtle.  Seeing the Ayatollah sort of just “jumps out” at you when you walk by!

Or maybe this is an election campaign banner?  Anyone who speaks Farsi, I’d love to hear your comments.

I made my way into what looked like an average two-story mall – one that you might find in mid-America.  I walked in an found that half to two-thirds of the store fronts were empty and the bars pulled down over the empty cement floors.  And of the remaining stores that had merchandise, about two-thirds of those were closed and their glass doors locked.  I only found about a dozen stores that were open and doing business.  I almost felt like I was in one of those postapocalyptic movies where most of the population had fled or been killed off.  It was like walking in a ghost town.

The few stores that were open were a vitamin store (selling mostly herbal remedies and supplements) and a children’s toy store.  I went up the stairs (no escalator) to the second floor and found that even fewer stores were open on the top level.  Eventually I found a restaurant and decided that I might have a snack.  I walked up to the front doors and opened them to find a small fourier and a host standing behind a greeting desk.  I greeted him in English and he beamed back a large smile.  He enthusiastically welcomed me and ushered me towards the door leading to the restaurant.  He knocked boldly on the door and a moment later a narrow panel slid open near the top of the door behind which I could see the eyes of another man.  The panel looked rather stout much like the firing port on an armored car or the viewing port in a prisoner’s cell.

After a moment, the man behind the door closed the viewing port and then I could hear him unlock the door and pull – what sounded like – a security throw arm.  I felt as if I was entering a drug house or an illegal casino.  When the door swung open I was quite surprised to see a lively lunch-time crowd of men and women sitting at tables eating and chatting and – get this – drinking beer and cocktails.  And so the “heavy” front door with its viewing slit began to make sense: this restaurant was a bit off of the approved government Sharia law.

I was seated at a nice table with a view of the town and soon I found the proprietor of the restaurant standing at my table greeting me (in English) and asking if he could have some food or a drink brought.  He made sure to let me know that he had beer in stock and asked if I wished for a cold one.  I browsed his menu and saw that he had Heineken and asked for one and soon it was delivered, the bottle open served with a tall beer glass.  I looked over by the front door and saw on the coat rack burka after burka hanging on clothes hangers.  I looked around the room and saw so many beautiful Iranian women all dressed in tight and short skirts and cocktail dresses.  I almost couldn’t believe it.  Just outside every woman is covered head to toe save for her face and in here I thought I could be in a New York night club.

The owner asked if I was hungry and I told him that I wasn’t as I had just eaten at Mohammed’s house.  He insisted that I try some appetizers and I thought I would have a go.  He called to the waiter and said something in Farsi and the waiter scrambled off.  He asked if he could join me at my table and I agreed.  He began asking me where I was from, what I was doing here, how long was I visiting and how I was enjoying Iran (so far).  I told him that I felt quite welcomed and that I was a bit surprised at this restaurant with the beer and dress and all.  He explained that  in much of Iran there is alcohol and disco clubs and parties but that it has to be kept out of public view.  He said that the Mullahs even knew about much of this activity but they did not care so long as they could maintain power.  In a sort of a quid pro quo attitude they keep and maintain power, keep the appearance of Sharia and in return the people don’t complain too much or try to change the government.

He also explained that 80 or 90% of the people want a free and open democracy but they want to evolve to this on a slow and peaceful path.  The restaurant proprietor (whose name I have failed to mention intentionally) had great admiration for Turkey and its secular government.  He said that most Iranians would love to have a similar form of government in Iran.

As we talked I asked him a few questions including, “If the people want democratic change, why don’t they protest or agitate for it?”  He laughed and said that the Iranian revolutionaries had all the guns and if anyone stepped outside of the “approved” party line they found themselves imprisoned or worse.  He told me of the recent elections wherein many moderates were elected to congress and 3 or 4 of the most outspoken liberals all died mysterious deaths.  He told me how political dissidents might be run over by a car, drown or be killed in a “mugging.”  He said that the Mullahs were sending a message that political dissent was punishable by assassination or imprisonment.  He said that most of the Iranian people were moderate and liked America and the West – they were in a precarious position and had to be careful to not upset the ruling party (the men with the guns).  One point that he was emphatic about, he said that the Iranian people very much like America and its people, they just weren’t particularly happy with our current government.

We chatted for about an hour and when we were done he called for the waiter and spoke again in Farsi.  The waiter brought over his business card and he flipped it over and wrote 30% discount and signed his name.  He asked me to tell other western travelers (word of mouth only) about his restaurant and encouraged visitors.  He said that any western visitor who came to his restaurant would receive a 30% discount and all were welcome.

I thought about the “Axis of Evil” speech and then thought about the warm and friendly people I had met here and I thought how we are not so different from the Iranians.  I could smell revolution in the air – the way the people talked.  I wonder how long the Mullahs can hold power here before the people throw them out – whether it be at once or a more moderate and slow replacement through political attrition?

As I walked out of the mall I saw another banner and it made me wonder how nervous the Mullahs must be do put up such propaganda…


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Greek tanker

After my visit to the cistern, Mohammed drove me all around the shoreline of Kish Island so that I could see the views of the ocean.  I was really impressed with the beauty of the water – not only was it crystal clear but it had a beautiful blue-green color.  The beaches were all white sand and it made for a pale light blue-green just off the water’s edge.  In the photo above, if you look behind me you can see the Iranian mainland.

Considering that this island is supposed to be a tourist attraction, I was surprised at how few people were here.  But then again, alcohol is strictly forbidden in all parts of Iran, Dubai has nicer hotels and more attractions, so why would anyone come here?  I suppose that it would be a nice destination for some Iranians who can’t get a visa to leave the country but I don’t see it attracting any business away from Dubai, Qatar or Bahrain.

As we drove around I looked out across the Island and saw that it was as flat as a pancake.  The ground was coral chunks, coral pebbles and white coral sand.  There were occasional scrub plants and nice ocean views but aside from that (and a few villages here and there), there isn’t much on this island.

We arrived at the north-west end side of the island and Mohammed took me for a short walk along the beach.  The pristine shoreline was really quite beautiful – I’ve read that Kish has some of the most beautiful beaches in all of the Persian Gulf.  There was not one speck of trash or pollution and the water was very clear; aside from the surf I could see into the water to some depth.  As the waves crashed against the rocks I looked to my left and to my right and I didn’t see anyone to the horizon.  I suppose that if a couple came here they could rent a car and find a private beach to have all to themselves.  Of course, the woman would have to be clothed from hair to toe in a burka, and the man in long pants so getting a tan might be out.  I’m told that there are bathing suit allowed beaches here but they are surrounded by a 3 meter high wall (10′) to prevent lascivious viewing and of course, they are strictly segregated by gender.

I wandered around for a while enjoying the sound of the crashing waves and the fresh sea air.  I noticed that there was quite a large amount of coral on the beach and I could see how sand is made as the coral pieces rolled back and forth in the surf grinding and churning against themselves.  As I looked closely I could see – despite the bleaching effects of the sun – that some of the coral was blue, some red and some yellow.  Considering how much coral is washed up on the beach I can only imagine the coral colonies under the sea and I can only imagine that there must be some spectacular reef diving here.

Growing up in Los Angeles I rarely saw any sea shells as a kid as the beaches were picked clean by the millions of tourists.  When I looked down at this beach I saw thousands of shells and like a little kid I started picking up some of the prettier ones.  I had about a half-dozen in my hand when I felt one of them moving and upon closer inspection I found that each of them was inhabited by a small animal.  In the photo below you can see the little crab or similar creature – it has its claw or some hard surface of its body blocking the opening to protect it from predators.

Mohammed finally took me to the grande finale of the beach and sea shore trip – a huge Greek ship that ran aground some time ago.  I copied the text on the sign at this site and I’ll let the Iranian tourism board explain it:

The Mysterious Greek Ship In The Coral & Beautiful Island of Kish

On a hot summer day, native people of Kish Island saw a gigantic ship stranded near Baghoo village.  After many years it is still unclear why the ship stranded.  The Greek steamship of 7,061 tons gross, 447 ft 6 ins in length is built in 1943 by William Hamilton & Co. Ltd, at port Glasgow, Scotland and on 25th July, 1966 after her sea voyage from Iran bound for Greece was ran aground here.  Several unsuccessful refloating attempts were made and the crew forced to disembark since the salvage was not economically feasible.  This ship was originally named “Empire Trumpet,” then “Naturalist,” “Persian Cyrus,” “Hamadan,” and finally “Koula F” at the time of her loss.  Watching the sun behind this Greek ship, which slowly sets in the blue waters of the Persian Gulf is an unforgettable & everlasting memory.

 - Public and International Relations of Kish Free Zone Organization

If you look at the ship just above the waterline you can see that the constant bombardment of waves has eroded just above the waterline faster than the rest of the ship.  I suppose that eventually it will eat through the hull at the water line and the upper decks will collapse down the height of the wave cycle.  I sat back and admired the view.  You wouldn’t think it but an old rusted ship made for an interesting view – I don’t think that it detracted from the beauty of the Gulf and the beautiful blue-green waters.


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