Head in the clouds

I was lying in bed and I could hear the rain through my open window. A soothing background sound while still half-asleep on an early Sunday and the perfect excuse for a slow morning. Yet, I had no desire to let the day pass by, nestled in my soft warm sheets. I was keen to get to the airfield, back into the cockpit of the ASK21 – but at the moment the weather did not necessarily promise any good gliding conditions.

The alarm shook me out of my drowsy thoughts. It was 7 a.m. Time enough for a 30 minute workout, shower and a hearty breakfast, before I needed to be at the train station. And another hour before the rain was supposed to stop if I chose to believe the weather report – and what choice did I have?

By the time I left the house, the rain had indeed stopped, but the sky was grey, covered by dark clouds and a strong wind blew from northwest. Good gliding weather looked different. My fellow gliding students must have had the same thought. Unlike me, however, they had decided to stay in bed.

I had not travelled 45 minutes to return home without even opening the hangar!

So there I was. Me and the gliding instructor, and after a while three of the more seasoned pilots. They brew coffee, read the newspaper and halfheartedly glanced at today’s weather report. No good gliding weather. Besides we were too few to set up flight operations.

I had not travelled 45 minutes to return home without even opening the hangar! “How about an airtow?”, I suggested. Shrugging shoulders. Sure, why not? It’s expensive though to get the motorized Falke to tow the glider up in the air. At that stage I did not care. I had come out to fly, one of the few days in the coming weeks I had time to do so and I wanted to get uo in the air. So we checked if the airfield had been soaked during the night’s rainfalls, but the ground wasn’t too squishy and it was decided to get the planes out.

I am not particular fond of air tows. That said, I just had one before (followed by a looping in 1200 meters hight – a memory, which might contribute to my queasy feeling). Although the start is much smoother than at a launch with the winch, with a slow and shallow take off, I remembered having difficulties in elegantly following the towing plane and we ended up dancing along the rope behind the Falke. Especially unpleasant as the towing pilot is (put nicely) not very forgiving towards untalented flying students.

My head was up in the clouds!

My instructor, however, did not even give me the chance to embarrass myself. He flew the entire tow. Half relieved, half disappointed to miss out on the training (not disappointed enough to complain though), I leaned back and followed by instructor’s maneuvers by keeping my hand on the control stick.

We followed the orange-colored Falke in a towing rope’s length. It’s landing gear was our point of orientation, while flying in wide curves our nose pointed towards the tip of its outer wing – in order to not cut a corner and overtake our towing plane.

We were climbing, but the air was stirred and my stomach jumped every time we unexpectedly lost height. I had to remind myself to breathe deep and slowly to calm myself down. However, soon our wings would gently touch the low-hanging, wispy clouds and attract my attention. My head was up in the clouds! Literally.

If you asked me for things that make me feel completely alive, this would be one.

We are not supposed (and actually not allowed) to fly in or above clouds. We depend on a full visibility of the ground, otherwise we might soon lose our orientation. Yet, the almost transparent aerosol streaks would do no harm (note: the featured image is taken out of an Airbus on my way to Washington, not from the glider today). And as soon as we released our glider from the tow in 3000 feet, I was thrilled to soar in between them.

These are the moments I recall when I am back on the ground and my gaze wanders towards the sky. To be up there and to encircle the clouds – if you asked me for things that make me feel completely alive, this would be one.

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Learning to fly

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