First a little background. Back in 1993 I moved to Colorado from the east coast. A few months later I was driving through Golden and I saw a hang glider or two flying over Lookout (it’s actually Mt. Zion). That was enough for me. I went home, dug out the phone book (pre Internet) and found a listing for “Golden Wings” in Golden, CO. A week later I was on the training hill. My first lesson was June 5, 1993. I got my H2 on August 31, 1993 after a combination of 58 foot launches and dolly tows. I flew the next 4 seasons and took my last flight on October 18, 1997. I managed to rack up a very meager 32 hours over 131 flights post H2. Flying in Colorado is challenging for a very conservative H2.
I gave up hang gliding for lots of reasons. I burned my self out – going too often on days that weren’t flyable. I have issues with motion sickness. There were a few other small factors too. In the end they all added up to moving on to other things.
In March of 1999 I starting training for a private pilots license which I got in August of 1999. I’ve since logged about 325 hours in small planes.
Now let’s jump ahead to April 14th, 2007. A buddy of mine, John, called me up. He was going hang gliding the next day (he’s been flying gliders for well over 20 years.) with two other guys and they needed a driver. I decided to tag along. We went to a site I had never been to before – Villa Grove, CO. Launch is at 9,600′ in the San Luis valley along the Sangre De Cristo range. It’s a beautiful site. Well, after watching the three of them fly for a few hours several thousand feet above launch I really started to recall how much I loved the idea of flying.
A few days later I contacted my former instructor, Mark Windsheimer. Golden Wings shut down many years ago but Mark has been teaching in one form or another all along. He’s doing it solo these days. It was great to talk to him again. I told him I wanted to get back into the sport. I had dreams like I could just run off of a mountain like I had just done it a week earlier but I knew better. I wanted to start all over and do it right.
Due to my schedule the first lesson I could attend would be over the weekend of April 28 and 29, 2007. That was 11 days away. I couldn’t wait. So I filled the time doing what I could. I dug out all of my old gear. I still have my harness (a custom made pod made by L/D), a 20 gore 1979 vintage chute, a transceiver, vario (Ball M-19e), and helmet. I donated my previous glider (a WW EuroSport 167) to the “Wings Over the Rockies” museum. I believe it is still hanging from the ceiling.
By Friday the 27th I was like a kid on Christmas eve. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. The plan was to meet at the towing site at 11am. The site is a farm about 35 miles northeast of Denver. Mark does a lot of scooter towing at this site. It’s actually a huge field used by some ultra lights with three crossing grass strips. The forecast was looking pretty good. Clear skies all day, 75 degrees, and light winds out of the south east.
I arrived right at 11. Mark showed up a couple of minutes later with all his gear. In the end 5 other people showed up. One was a first time guy (essentially, he took a lesson or two 20 years ago). Another guy is real close to getting his H2. The other three were “real” pilots who hadn’t flown since last fall and wanted to shake off some rust.
We spent the next two hours getting all the gear setup. This included Mark working with Dave (the new guy) and I doing a very detailed setup of a glider. I remembered a lot of it but it was a great reminder of all the details. The wind was about non-existent at this time.
Dave and I took turns doing some ground runs with a Falcon 195. No harness, just a helmet. Boy, am I out of shape. I’m glad there were no hills. It was enough work running on flat ground. Boy was I rusty. I ended up doing about 7 ground runs with no harness. Each was getting better but I was tired.
Soon I put on a training harness and hooked in. Dave and I then took turns doing runs hooked in with a harness. Mark did a quick demo. Amazing. He took half a dozen steps and let go of the glider as he kept running. The glider flew perfectly as he ran along – hands off. Needless to say I had to work a lot harder. In the end I did about 4 or 5 more ground runs with the harness. I was getting real good at it. Eyes on the horizon, walk, jog, run. Long strides. Hips to the base tube. Good angle of attack. Good flare.
The winds were getting a little better as the day wore on. All the other guys were getting some nice scooter tows. The better pilots were getting towed up about 300 feet or more. Enough to release, do a standard pattern and land.
After a while Mark said to get ready. Oh yeah! My first scooter tow. I was hoping this was going to happen. We spent a bunch of time going through all the procedures and commands. Mark is very safety conscious. He really knows his stuff. He has a lot of control with the scooter tow setup. The plan was to launch just like all my runs so far except the tow line would provide enough speed to lift the glider. The flight was to be short. Launch, keep the wings level, keep the speed up, then settle down and land. Don’t mess with the release, don’t try to turn.
I was quite excited. After a practice tow (Mark simply holding the line and pulling me) I hooked in for real. We connected the bridle to the weak link and Mark sat at the controls of the scooter tow. The wind was straight in at about 5 knots. I lifted the glider and got it balanced. I yelled “clear” (command 1). I yelled “slack” (command 2) and Mark pulled the line enough to remove the slack. I took a deep breath and I yelled the 3rd and last command – “tension”. At that time I started to walk and Mark turned on the tow. Walk, jog, run. Eyes on the horizon. Speed building and I’m quickly off of the ground – yipee! I expected a ten second flight being my first one. But I was doing a great job (if I do say so my self) keeping the glider level and in a straight line. Seeing this Mark decided to let me keep going a bit. I reached about 60′ and was in the air for 30 seconds. It seemed longer I felt Mark release the tow and I glided toward the ground. I kept my speed up and got into ground effect. As I slowed I did a flare – too soon. I relaxed a second and finished the flare. I did a couple of running steps and stopped. Outstanding. I was psyched. What a great first tow after a nine year break from flying hang gliders. I walked back (long walk with the glider) and I had a serious problem with permagrin
Mark and I talked about the flight. He was really pleased but not nearly as much as I was. I was so happy.
After a break and a few other tows from other guys I was up again. It was getting late. It was almost 7pm. I was to be the last tow. Mark and I discussed the next tow. It was to be just like the last one but a bit higher and further – assuming I was doing well. I was to also release the tow line this time. But I was still to just glide and land straight ahead. No turns. OK, works for me. Same as before – clear, slack, tension, walk, jog, run. The launch wasn’t quite as good the second time. I let the glider get ahead of me just a bit but I got off OK and flew perfectly straight with level wings. Mark towed me up to about 100′ feet and I was up for 40 seconds. I released the tow line when Mark dumped all the pressure. I then did a nice little glide down to a great two step (Ok, maybe three) landing. I let out a big howl. I was stoked. What a great way to end the day.
We broke down and then Mark went around the group talking about everything that happened that day. He talked with each pilot about the good and not so good things they did. Mark is awesome about talking about what each person did. We all learned a lot just discussing it all. By the time we left it was getting dark.
I was so happy but I was wiped out. Like I said, I’m not in shape. My legs were tired, my arms were tired, I was tired. And I need to be back the next day for more fun. It hurts to even look at my arms where the downtubes rest. What a great day. I made some new friends and I got to fly. Does it get much better than that?
To be continued . . .