I'm a glider pilot, currently flying out of Front Royal, VA with the Skyline Soaring Club. I started flying in July 2006 and I got my private pilot certificate in April 2007. I am currently the part owner of H3, a Schleicher ASW-20C.
This page marks some of my personal records and interesting flights. While I don't expect my achievements to be particularly remarkable to other glider pilots, they make for a nice indicator of my progress.
If you've ever wondered what it's like to be a glider pilot, read my day in the life story. If you've ever wanted to be one, or just want to have a taste of silent flight, check out Skyline Soaring or look at the Soaring Society of America's Where to Fly page.
• Longest flight (time): 3 hours, 30 minutes
• Longest flight (distance): 88.5 nautical miles
• Highest flight: 13300ft AGL (18000ft MSL)
• Highest flight (East coast): 11700ft (12700ft AGL)
• Most altitude gained: 10300ft
• Most altitude gained (East coast): 6700ft
You can also see my list of landouts.
- July 20, 2006 - First flight
- 22 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, Front Royal
- Before I landed I knew I was hooked on flying gliders. I got to practice some turns and speed control and watch my instructor handle the takeoff, tow, and landing.
- July 23, 2006 - First lift
- 30 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, Front Royal
- This was my first soaring flight, where we gained altitude by flying in a thermal. I also had the luck to share that thermal with another club glider, circling with it only a couple of hundred feet below. I also managed to fly a large portion of the tow on this flight.
- September 17, 2006 - First solo
- 20 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, Front Royal
- After a hard day's flying, while we walked the glider back up to the end of the runway, my instructor started fiddling in the back seat and talking about securing the straps and locking the canopy. Soon after, I was sitting on the runway in the glider all alone. It was late in the day, the sun was low, and all the thermals had died, but I spent 20 glorious minutes flying back and forth through the valley all alone.
- September 21, 2006 - First solo in G103
- 1 hour 6 minutes, release altitude 2000ft, max altitude 4600ft, Front Royal
- This was a great flight on a beautiful day. I released 1000 feet early because I saw that the day was booming. Of course, I spent a couple of minutes after release finding absolutely nothing and wondering about the wisdom of my choice before I hit a great thermal at about 1600 feet. This was the first time I ever saw the variometer peg up, when I found a thermal that was at least 1200 feet per minute. I finally brought it back down with spoilers because other people were waiting to fly.
- September 23, 2006 - First wave flying
- 25 minutes, release altitude 2000ft, max altitude 3100ft, Front Royal
- The day was windy, and the takeoff and tow were highly turbulent. Then at about 700 feet everything went quiet. When we released at 2000 feet, the glider was amazingly docile, and the variometer was pointed up at 2-300 feet per minute. We were in weak wave and we rode it around the valley for a while before my instructor made actually learn a few things.
- October 29, 2006 - Extreme turbulence
- 18 minutes, release altitude 2800ft, Front Royal
- This day was windy to the point of nearly shutting the club down before we flew. It was finally decided to fly, but only advanced students with instructors could go. The entire flight was extremely violent. About 200 feet short of our target release altitude it got so bad that I was no longer able to hold tow position and we released early. We spent the next while searching for lift as we got beaten up as though stuck in a washing machine on the spin cycle. The variometer would regularly hunt from peg to peg, meaning we were going between 1200fpm up and 1200fpm down. We tried to keep to the up parts, but it just wouldn't stay. Finally we got too low and I brought it in to land. This was the flight that made me realize my motion sickness problems had been cured.
- November 25, 2006 - First single-place sailplane
- 18 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, Front Royal
- At last I got in my ten solo flights and was deemed capable of flying the club's sole single-place glider, the "Sprite". This is the third type of glider I have flown. When I took my first flight in my second type of glider, it was very difficult to get used to, but I felt right at home in this glider from the start. It's interesting to be flying an airplane which not only doesn't have an instructor but which can't have an instructor. Otherwise this flight was unremarkable, but it must be said that the 1-36's dive brakes are really terrible.
- December 2, 2006 - First flight at another airport
- 1 hour 28 minutes, release altitude 5800ft, max altitude 6900ft, Petersburg
- I went out to a Wave Camp in Petersburg, WV to see if I could get some experience with nice mountain wave. We took an extremely high tow and found a little, but not a lot. We got towed through the rotor underneath the wave, which batted us and the tow plane around like a cat's toy, and often not in the same direction. Once we were in the wave we explored around for a while trying to find the strongest parts, but in the end we fell out of it and came back.
- January 2, 2007 - Winter wave flying
- 1 hour 27 minutes, release altitude 2900ft, max altitude 8800ft, Front Royal
- I went out to the field on one of our ad-hoc winter soaring days with the expectation of finding good wave. And good wave we found. We released at 2900ft in decent lift and made it up to about 8300ft in about 25 minutes. Then we made a try for the next harmonic up the wave which should be stronger (wave gets stronger as you get closer to the source, which in this case was somewhere in the Appalachians miles to the West) but inexplicably the next one was extremely weak. We headed back to the original one with a couple of thousand feet lost, and stuck in it until we hit 8800ft, then headed back. On the way back my instructor taught me some fun zero-gee maneuvers and we did some training maneuvers before I brought it in to land.
- March 22, 2007 - Prep flights
- 30 minutes total, Front Royal
- Before taking the checkride to get a glider pilot license, it's legally required to take three prep flights with an instructor beforehand. These were mine. We went up and went through all of the maneuvers I'll be required to demonstrate to the examiner, and on my second flight I also got a simulated rope break despite the fact that it was very windy with strong gusts. The conditions made the takeoffs and landings more exciting than I generally like but overall things went fine and I'm good to go.
- March 25, 2007 - Most complicated landing to date
- 6 minutes, Front Royal
- I went up with my instructor to do a little slack rope practice. This day had winds from the East, which are abnormal at Front Royal, and so we were taking off and landing on runway 9, instead of on runway 27 like we do 99% of the time. There were also a lot of people out to fly and the airport was a very busy place. When we got to about 1300ft, bang! My instructor had pulled a rope break on me at a high altitude. This gets interesting because there are really a lot of options available for landing. I turned back toward the airport and set up for a left-hand pattern instead of our usual right pattern. As I was in the pattern I looked over the airport and saw that it was a busy place indeed. The runway was blocked by a glider. The taxiway, a useful alternate landing place, was blocked by another glider. I set up to land on the grass at the other end of the airport by turning early and staying relatively high. About when I turned final, the glider on the runway moved, opening it up for me. I immediately put the spoilers all the way out and the glider dropped like a rock right for the very beginning edge of the runway. We touched down on the numbers and I had the glider stopped within a couple hundred feet. This flight made me truly realize just how many options a landing glider has and how flexible it can be when it's needed.
- April 7, 2007 - Turbulence and ice
- 29 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, max altitude 4100ft, Front Royal
- Two days earlier, a guy in Pennsylvania made a 1000 mile flight along the Appalachians, from Mifflin to Knoxville and back. There was evidence of wave all over the sky over Washington. The weather had persisted and so I was hoping to get some nice wave. Unfortunately it was not to be. Conditions had changed and while the winds were still strong and from the right direction, there was no wave in sight. The day was extremely turbulent. It took all of my attention to follow the tow plane, which dropped me off in some decent lift. I rode this up a while, then searched out something stronger. Closer to the mountains I found some very good spots that were at least 1000 feet per minute up, but I couldn't stay in them consistently. Despite all this I managed to ride up to 4100ft, and this was about when my canopy fogged over. It was so cold at altitude that the water vapor in my breath was condensing onto the canopy and freezing. I could still see outside but it was getting harder. The strong turbulence which followed me all the way up combined with the fog was starting to make me a little sick, and I decided to make a quick descent. Sometime during my very fast pattern (later calculated at 90mph ground speed for the downwind leg, as compared to 55mph on a calm day) the fog went away and I made an entirely decent landing despite the conditions. For a more thorough telling of this flight, read Gliders: a Day in the Life.
- April 19, 2007 - Checkride
- 24 minutes total, Front Royal
- Weather, tow pilot, and examiner finally all came together in one spot and I took my practical exam for private pilot. It was easier than expected and everything went just fine. After two short flights, one rope break, an about an hour and a half of discussion with the examiner, I'm now official.
- June 10, 2007 - First cross country
- 1 hour 42 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, max altitude 3500ft, from Front Royal to New Market, VA, 26.4 nautical miles
- A cold front passing through two nights before gave us unstable air and made this day spectacular. I took off in late morning with the sky promising lift. This promise was almost broken as my first prospect for a thermal was a dud, and my second prospect was weak and put me low and very distant from the airport. I fought the thermal while practically skimming the treetops of the Massanutten, and finally gained a few hundred feet just as high cirrus moved in and threatened to shut everything down. I headed for the next best cloud and sunlight, which took me south, farther away from the airport. After this first close call everything worked out nicely, and I hit great thermals about once a mile all the way down the ridge to New Market. I flew around the local area a bit, circled over the airport, landed on the runway and taxied right up to the ramp with two guys staring at me as I parked in front of them. To see the approximate route of this trip, look it up on Google Maps. You can also see the trace of this flight in Google Earth.
- June 20, 2007 - Ridge rocket
- 1 hour 30 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, max altitude 4200ft, from Front Royal to Keezletown, VA, 35.7 nautical miles (39.4 nautical miles at the turnaround)
- Another cold front passage brought unstable air and windy conditions. My first attempt had me in the air for about fifteen minutes before I had to land, as the winds broke up the thermals and made them too hard to work. A relight put me back in the air, three thousand feet above the city of Front Royal where a thermal quickly gave me better than a thousand feet more. From there I battled my way upwind towards the North end of the Massanutten ridge. All of the thermals after the first one were weak and difficult, but they helped a little. Arriving on the ridge with little altitude to spare, I was picking out fields to use in case it didn't work out. Very quickly it did work out, in spectacular fashion, and I found myself on a rocket south. The lift was so good I was able to push the glider up to 95 MPH in places without losing altitude. In short order I reached the South end of the ridge just East of Harrisonburg, 45 miles away. Turning back with the goal of returning to Front Royal, I had to make a difficult upwind transition to jump a gap in the ridge. I didn't gain enough altitude before setting out and found myself too low on the ridge to recover, out of the spectacular lift that had taken me this far. In short order I chose a nice-looking hay field and landed in it. The farmer was friendly and no damage was done, so it was a successful flight all around. The approximate route of this trip can be seen here. Or use Google Earth to see the flight in 3D.
- October 4, 2007 - The cornfield story
- 25 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, from Front Royal to Signal Knob Farms, 7.1 nautical miles
- This was a pretty unremarkable flight. A bad decision on which way to fly had me going into the blue, and I fell out pretty quickly and landed in a corn field, a section of which had been cut to short stubble making a perfect runway. What's remarkable is how a few minutes after I landed, a police car, a fire truck, and two ambulances showed up, because someone had seen me land and called 911 to report the "plane crash". Hot on their heels were two reporters from the Northern Virginia Daily who, after getting over their disappointment at not finding the field strewn with blood and guts, ended up writing a great article about my flight.
- October 20, 2007 - Out and return
- 1 hour 6 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, max altitude 4000ft, from Front Royal to the the south end of Mount Jackson and back, 44.2 nautical miles.
- Another fantastic ridge/thermal day showed up, but found me on the ground debating whether or not to fly. The wind was a little too southerly, and I didn't know whether the ridge was actually working or not. After "the cornfield story" and another landout in that area a week later, I was reluctant to add a third cow from Strasburg. But after a fellow club member took off and reported that the ridge was "fantastic", I quickly changed my mind and joined him. It was indeed fantastic, and I quickly made my way to Mount Jackson, halfway down the Massanutten ridge. There I met up with my fellow club member, and a friend of ours who had flown up from Waynesboro. They passed below me as I was hanging out on Mount Jackson, two modern fiberglass gliders flying a quarter-mile apart making for a beautiful sight. At this point I turned back home, eager to make it back for once. The trip back was even easier than the trip out, and as I crossed over the twin ridges west of the airport, I found myself with a great excess of altitude. I decided to see if it was possible to make it into the landing pattern without turning, so I pushed the nose over, pulled the spoilers out, and did a full slip. At the peak, I was descending at over 20 knots vertical speed, and doing about 80 knots through the air. The answer to my question was that yes, I could make the landing pattern without turning, but just barely. After just over an hour I found myself back where I had started, a personal first. View this flight in Google Earth.
- November 15, 2007 - Out and return, part II
- 1 hour 52 minutes, release altitude 3500ft, max altitude 3900ft, from Front Royal to Massanutten, VA, 88.5 nautical miles
- I awoke to a dark and dreary day. We had convinced a tow pilot to come fly, but conditions looked bad and it wasn't sure if they would get much better. After a great deal of indecision, a fellow club member finally convinced me to come out. And I was sure glad he did! The winds were howling and I hit my head on the glider's canopy several times during the tow, as we fought our way through the vicious rotor coming off the ridge. But once I got on the upwind side of it, that ridge created pure soaring heaven. The cloudy sky and mottled red and yellow landscape on the mountains created an unusual view from the air as I zoomed fifty miles to the ski resort east of Harrisonburg. After a quick look at the valley beyond I wasted no time in turning for home, as I was starting to get really cold. The wind was still howling and it was no trouble keeping plenty of altitude. I flashed past the gap which had defeated me the first time I had run the ridge, and even the fearsome gap on the southern end of Mount Jackson gave no trouble. By that time, the cold had really got to me and I was shivering constantly, but I pressed on and was soon safely back on the ground at Front Royal. I was so cold I could barely get out of the glider, and I couldn't get it off the runway without help, but I had the satisfaction of finishing a truly amazing flight. View this flight in Google Earth.
- January 20, 2008 - Cross country in the Minden wave
- 3 hours 12 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, max altitude 13300ft, Minden, NV
- After attending the MacWorld expo in San Francisco, I took a couple of days to drive out into the Sierras and fly the Minden wave. The day started out full of promise with lennies all over the sky, and that promise held. With instructor in hand, I towed into the rotor and the instructor showed me how to ride it into the wave. After 45 minutes of slow climb we finally hit the wave proper and were able to start cruising. In two and a half hours of cross country flying we were able to fly 148 nautical miles up to Reno and south down the Carson valley at an average speed of about 60 knots. Breathing oxygen the whole time, the major challenge was staying under the class A ceiling at 18,000ft. Watching airliners fly by underneath as they let down into Reno was surreal, as was starting a 25-mile final glide and having to pull spoilers for several minutes to set up for the pattern entry. View the video I made about this flight.
- February 18, 2008 - Flying on top
- 1 hour 15 minutes, release altitude 5000ft, max altitude 11700ft, Petersburg, WV
- I once again attended the annual Petersburg wave camb. This time I went with a friend who had never flown in wave before, and we agreed to fly together. A flight earlier in the day resulted in nothing much interesting, as cloud cover hemmed us in and conditions weren't any good. But the day improved as time went on, and finally everybody was launching into the wave. When it was our turn, the tow pilot took us right into a small hole in the clouds where there was known wave, and the last 30 seconds of the tow gave us two thousand feet of altitude as we swept through strong wave lift. Releasing at 5000ft AGL I maneuvered to keep us in the wave and clear of the clouds, a bit tricky in the small hole I had to work with, but we quickly climbed above the clouds and had greater freedom of movement. The wave got weaker as we climbed but we still managed to top out at 12700ft MSL after quite a while climbing at an average of around 200 feet per minute. The clouds quickly broke up behind us but in front, to the west, was a vast unbroken expanse of clouds as far as the eye could see. I felt like an airliner pilot, cruising above a solid overcast in perfectly smooth air. My friend was exhilarated to finally experience the wave and the cloud cover made this a truly memorable flight. View the photos we took on this flight.
- October 18, 2008 - First soaring flight in the Open cirrus
- 3 hours 30 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, max altitude 5300ft, Front Royal
- My club recently acquired use of an Open Cirrus. I had flown it twice earlier in the week, but it was a completely flat day. Great for getting to know a new plane, but impossible to stay aloft. As the weekend approached, the forecast looked mediocre, but it showed enough to stay up in. A friend offered me a ride out, so I decided to take advantage and try out the Cirrus in better weather. It turned out to be much better than I thought it would be. I assembled and launched a little after 1:30PM. We flew through some strong lift on tow but I took the full 3000ft. I released and immediately started to work a weak thermal. After a few minutes of barely holding my altitude, I noticed the club's ASK-21 circling nearby and climbing rapidly. I went over to join him and found a great thermal, reaching cloudbase at over 5000ft in a short time. From there I set out to roam the valley. The Cirrus's great performance let me explore with ease, losing little altitude between thermals and easily staying within comfortable gliding distance of home. I stayed south of Front Royal, going out to about 10 miles and then slowly coming back. Initially my goal was simply to stay up for at least an hour, but I met this goal quickly. My next goal became two hours, to satisfy a requirement for the SSA Bronze Badge. This too came pretty quickly. I then decided to simply stay up as long as the weather allowed, and set off to explore to the north and west. Another pilot had reported a cloud street running west from the airport, and it was still there when I went looking for it. I entered it just west of Front Royal at 5500ft MSL, and exited it just short of the first ridge of the Appalachians, at least ten miles distant, at 6000ft MSL! Not wanting to get farther from the airport but not ready to head for home, I instead headed north and east toward Winchester. I finally stopped short around Stephens City, as conditions seemed to be weakening as the day went on. I was also starting to get pretty cold at this point, and finding the best lift was taking second place to staying in sunshine. With the lift weakening, I decided to head for home. By now my goal was to break my previous record for longest flight, at 3 hours and 12 minutes. Back in the Front Royal area I found weak lift, but it was inconsistent and I found myself losing altitude. I was pretty sure I had my previous record beat even without lift, simply because of the amount of time it would take to descend. As I passed through 2000ft AGL I decided I would be landing soon, called the airport to check on winds, and asked the ground crew to bring my jacket when I landed as I was getting colder with every minute aloft, even at this new low altitude. But soon I found yet more lift, just small thermals topping out at around 1500ft AGL. I worked these for a while, and even found a long line of something curious which kept me in steady 1-2kt lift for two or three miles flying straight. Finally these all gave out, and I touched down a little after 5PM, three and a half hours after takeoff. I was cold, my feet were sore from bending to reach the rudder pedals, and I had handily beaten my previous longest flight. It was truly a wonderful day!
- November 16, 2008 - Silver Distance attempt
- 1 hour 35 minutes, release altitude 2500ft, max altitude 4200ft, 44 nautical miles, Front Royal to Harrisonburg, VA
- The wind was howling when I got to the airport, and it just got stronger with altitude. The tow was like flying behind a helicopter. I reached the 200ft "decision point", normally something that happens well off the end of the runway, before we had even reached midfield. I asked the tow pilot to keep me low to reduce the distance required for my Silver Distance badge, and I released at 2500ft just off the end of the ridge. I dove for it and found the ridge to be working great. It was a really busy day on the ridge, with numerous visiting pilots from M-ASA flying out of Front Royal. Aside from the extra traffic, it was an easy run down to the Massanutten ski resort at the other end. By this time I was freezing cold and so I ran right off the end, searching for either a thermal or a landing spot. No thermals were around, so I ended up landing in a nice cut corn field. The only trouble on the whole flight was when I took the barograph out and discovered that it had stopped turning before I had even taken off. With no way to prove the flight, there was no way for me to claim my silver badge, despite my flight being well beyond the required distance.
- November 23, 2008 - First flight in my own plane
- 26 minutes, release altitude 3000ft, Front Royal
- I had recently bought into a Schleicher ASW-20C but weather and paperwork kept me from flying it for a couple of weeks. Finally it all came together. It was my first flight in a flapped glider, and only my fifth in one with retractable gear. It was a wonderful flight, and the new machine handled smoothly and responsively. I took two more flights that day, one of them an hour long on a day when nobody was staying up over 25 minutes. A wonderful experience!
- January 24, 2009 - Ridge running video
- 1 hour 12 minutes, release altitude 3700ft, 24 nautical miles, Front Royal to Woodstock, VA and back
- This day was a surprising and pleasant mixture of calm and wind, with enough wind at altitude to make the ridge work really well but very little turbulence or ground wind associated with it. I took my new glider down the ridge and back again, and then played around for a while before getting cold and coming back home. This was my first true soaring flight in the new machine, and I had a grand time. I also brought along an HD video camera mounted to my seat, and I made a video from it. You can watch the video on my site.
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