Excerpts Published in Soaring Magazine | March 2013
It all started with a birthday glider ride in April 2005. My family drove out to Blairstown, NJ with Yards Creek Soaring gift certificates to get my brother, Michael and I glider rides. My brother just turned 18 years old and I was to turn 11 in a couple of days. We had little understanding of what a glider really was, other than a poorly modeled Schweizer 2-32 in Microsoft Flight Simulator. However, starting this faithful moment, we were to embark on two different spectacular aviation journeys. My first two flights that day were fascinating, especially when my instructor, Bob Cook let me handle the controls. A couple months later, Michael started to come out to Blairstown regularly to take lessons. I tagged along and had a blast just being at the airport, watching all of the cool airplanes and gliders. Eventually, I started to help out by ground-handling the gliders, waxing and wing-running and occasionally receiving a glider-ride from a good-willed member of the club. That year, I also started flying the simulator, Condor which has consistently entertained me for the past seven years and eventually prepared me for my soaring endeavors.
The rules at Aero Club Albatross stipulating how to become a cross country pilot are very simple: Get your Silver Badge in a club 1-26 with all the legs done solely on thermals and you are free to fly cross country in club equipment. I badly wanted to fly cross country and which is why I set my sights on the Silver Climb/Endurance from the moment I soloed in September 2009. Almost every single solo flight was done with the intent of staying up as long as possible, to keep pushing the last endurance record to keep chipping away at the goal of staying up for five hours. I flew every chance I could get, but most of my flights in 2010 amounted to sleigh-rides or short, frustrating soaring flights in marginal weather. Only three flights exceeded 1.5 hours and it looked very bleak if I could ever attain my goal. To make matters worse, the winter of 2010-2011 was one of the worst in the Northeast over the past 30 years and I did not fly for four straight months as the operation was bogged down by rain, snow and the eventual inundation of the field by the spring thaw. In March of 2011, I was happy to just get into a glider and do a 20 minute sleighride, let alone attain soaring flight. From that moment on I guess either things “clicked” in my mind or the conditions overall improved and I was able to progressively improve my flight durations.
Finally, on July 16th 2011, I determined that the day was “five hourable” and my brother dropped me off at the airport in his recently purchased Mooney M20J and flew away to his idea of a perfect time: seafood and an outing in Newport, RI. I quickly got Sweet Red, the club 1-26E ready to fly, but then I patiently waited for the right time to go up: If I were to tow up too early and fall out, then it would be too late to go up again and if I were to tow up too late, then I were to run the risk of falling out in the evening. I kept an eye on three cumulus clouds developing over the ridge and at 12:30AM, I took off to the beginning of an incredible soaring career. The flight itself was great for the first three and a half hours, getting incredibly high under beautiful cumulus clouds and I was simply having a blast that the day was working out. However later the day dried out and I was working 0+ lift just to wait it out for the last hour. Every couple minutes I was checking my watch wondering when will this ordeal be over! Finally the five hour mark passed and not being one to simply pull the spoilers and go into the pattern, I sped up to 105 mph in the almost still evening air and blasted across the airport at 750ft, creating such a racket that was probably louder than any glass glider going VNE near the ground. I pulled up, went into the pattern and landed, and as the wing gently touched the ground, I was greeted by the congratulations of Aero Club Albatross members as they ran out to shake my hand on a job well done!
After successfully completing my Silver Duration and Climb in July, I set my sights on the now even more challenging goal of Silver Distance. The weather conditions again soured and the Northeast had a record amount of rain in late July and August. However, August 12th seemed to be a workable Silver Distance day and Steve Lenter, an ACA club member, graciously agreed to drive me out to the airport and crew for me. Steve works in Newark, NJ, so I took the subway to Manhattan, where I transferred to the PATH train and later arrived at Newark Penn Station. Afterward, Steve met me at the station and we drove out to the airport with the whole “commute” lasting nearly three hours. I had always wanted to fly to Middletown, NY on my Silver Distance since such a flight earns the “Boomerang” traveling club trophy. After spending a week pondering where it would be easiest to fly to in order to have the highest chance of success, Ryszard Krolikowski told me the wise words, “Go where YOU want to go!” As a result, I saddled up and decided to head to Randall Airport, even though I had planned the flight to go to Warwick airport, which would have given me more of a tailwind component. After I released, I slowly climbed up to 5500ft, which I defined as my minimum altitude to go cross country. This would give me 5000ft AGL over most of the flight and this was expecting the clouds to progressively lift higher as the day wore on. Little did I know that I would never get as high as my start ever again during the flight. Three times I got down to around 2000ft above the ground where I was seriously considering eventually landing in the fields near me. The lift was generally weak, with climbs averaging between 150-200fpm. However, I hung on long enough to each thermal to connect all of them together and made it to Randall Airport as the sky started to decay around me. The flight was a success and my Silver Distance was complete! But what was much more interesting and amusing than the flight was the retrieve!
After waiting for four hours on the ground, my crew finally showed up along with another crew for a LS4 that also landed out at the airport. At this point, it was already starting to get dark and none of us had a lot of experience taking apart a 1-26. (One of the things about depending on someone else for transportation is that you have to abide by their schedule and as a result, I was never able to participate in a retrieve before my first cross country flight.) Finally, at 10:30pm, we got the glider on the trailer, but could not find the bolt to secure the wingroot safely! We left the glider at the airport with the intention to come back in the morning. The next day, equipped with Bobby Templin and a proper toolkit, we finally secured the glider and brought it back to Blairstown safely. I got back home at around 5:30pm bringing the whole Silver Distance experience to 36 hours!
Since the flights I completed for my Silver Badge, I have flown far and wide. Over the winter, thanks to Intis Dzenis who drove me out to the airport almost every weekend in a similar arrangement I had with Steve Lenter, I was able to build the time necessary to fly the ridge cross country. In January, I declared a Century I badge 100km Out and Return on the ridge, but flew all the way to the end of the mountain and back in a challenging 189km flight. The high that day was 20 degrees Fahrenheit and when I started my return leg, I ran into some serious trouble. I lacked the altitude necessary to cross an unworkable section of ridge and spent over an hour trying different strategies to find a thermal. Luckily, I managed to climb out and avoid landing out on such a cold day. My next major flight earned me the Gold Distance and Century III badge. It was done on the SE ridge in March and was a flight in which I pushed my margins too closely and one that has taught me many significant lessons. On April 7th, I completed a Diamond Distance/Goal and Century II flight on the NW ridge, flying almost 120 miles away from the airport in eight and a half hours. At this time, I was also actively preparing for the 1-26 championship at TSA. Ron Schwartz graciously offered to fly team with me after I earned my Silver Distance the year before; an offer I wholeheartedly accepted. In preparation for the contest, I flew multiple thermal cross country tasks, although only one was truly successful. This was a fun 150km FAI triangle in which I was finally able to experience what it was like flying fast in a 1-26 on thermals. The contest worked out way beyond our expectations with Team 428 placing first cumulatively and receiving the First Place Team Trophy, among several others. I was fortunate to win two days and place second on the first day I flew, all of which was made possible by Ron Schwartz’s excellent mentoring and the support of the 1-26 association.
While it has been a thrill flying distances of 500km and winning days in my first contest, I believe that my biggest accomplishment will always be attaining the Silver Badge. None of the subsequent achievements came to me with nearly as much difficulty and necessity in perseverance than the coveted Silver. The elation upon completing the flights, the support by my fellow club members and the relief felt when the flights were accepted by the Badge Dude made the whole experience one that defines my soaring to this day and one that forms the basis for all the accomplishments that came afterward. I am proud to wear my FAI Silver Badge and I am honored to have joined 6841 other pilots who preceded me in accomplishing this goal. I am glad that I can share a similar story and be part of the elite group of people who can call themselves cross country soaring pilots.
I have flown in a variety of different sailplanes, but most of my experience has been in a Schweizer 1-26. I love this glider as it has taught me how to thermal and offers a unique challenge to soaring which I enjoy. Otherwise, most of my training was done in a Schweizer 2-33 and I have flown in a SGS 2-32, SGS 1-34, Grob 103 Twin Astir, ASK-21, LET L-13 and LET L-23.
I have been honored to receive certain club soaring awards and achievement trophies at the 1-26 Championship. Here they are listed as follows:
Aero Club Albatross 1-26 Jack Greene Memorial Trophy (Most memorable 1-26 flight)
Blairstown-Middletown Boomerang Contest Trophy
1-26 Championship Awards:
President’s Trophy (Fastest Flight)
David Johnson Trophy (Highest Average score for a first time contestant)
John Greene Trophy (Highest Average for a contestant under 30)
Robert McNeill/ Fred Cuny Memorial Team Trophy (Team 428)
SSA Badges, FAI and FAA Licenses
Silver Badge #6842
Century Badges I, II and III
Private Pilot Glider
Involvement in Soaring Club, School and Community
Over the past seven years, I have been active at the airport, helping out in a variety of different ways. When my brother was taking lessons, I was instructed how to drive the club tractor, helping ground-handle the gliders on the field. Among some other tasks the club members have taught me were waxing and sealing the gliders, wingrunning, mowing the grass, among many others. Since starting to fly a club 1-26, I have been taking care of it as my own glider and have become its official “Godfather”. It has become important for me to feel sentiment for the glider I fly, so I do my best to take care of the glider so it looks as beautiful and flies as quietly as possible. If there are any more serious problems, I direct them to club members who are able to resolve them in order to keep the glider in airworthy condition. I have made it a habit to come out to the airport early as to always improve something every time I am fortunate enough to make it out to the field.
Present plans for further education and eventual vocation
As of September of 2012, I am a freshman at Pace University in New York City. My major is in Business Management, although I have yet to determine a specific vocation. Luckily, there are two years left to resolve that issue! One of the major reason why I remained in New York for college is so that I could continue flying at Blairstown, NJ. Also, having grown up in Brooklyn, I am well aware of the tremendous vocational opportunities New York offers, which I hope to take advantage of in the near future.
Future in Soaring
Over the next couple years, I am interested in expanding my soaring pursuits in a variety of ways. Next year I would like to fly to the exotic Tuscarora mountain range and eventually accomplish a 750km diploma flight. I would also like to participate in an inter-club competition called the Governor’s Cup and join the few who have completed the task in a 1-26. Next year, I would like to compete again in the 1-26 championship, but this time as an individual. Francois Pin, the 13.5 meter national champion, graciously offered me and any other youth to compete next year with the 13.5 meter guys defraying the contest costs either partially or fully with the intent of attracting more young pilots to the contest and perhaps recruiting them eventually to the US Team. I am very interested in pursuing either the 13.5 meter or Junior Worlds and would be honored to represent the United States at a world level. When it comes to personal flying, I intend to stick with the Schweizer 1-26 until I start competing in competitions which require other gliders. However, I will always return to the 1-26 since in my opinion there is no more fun and rewarding sailplane. Once a 1-26er, always a 1-26er, no matter what I fly!