Being interested in many things and reasonably good in a few, I always secretly wish that I might find my true calling, a real talent, when pursuing a new hobby.. Flying is certainly not amongst these – as a crash landing clearly and ruggedly showed this weekend.
No worries: nobody was injured (except for my pride), the sailplane took no harm and my flying instructor dared to climb into the cockpit once more after the incident. But under many circumstances, this could have been the end of my brief and unsuccessful flying career. So why wasn’t it?
Because someone did everything right in the moments I did everything wrong.
The day in the cockpit started off terribly. Had I just a few weeks ago believed that I remembered everything I had learned last year, I quickly came to realize: No, I did not. The previous instructor had just helped me a lot. So here I was, dancing along the cable as we launched, lifting the plane’s nose while turning (and therewith destroying much of the so vital speed), flying to close to the airfield, making a nice and well sectioned approach impossible – in short, I pretty much made every mistake you possibly could within a three minute flight.
By the time we touched ground, I was frustrated, to say the least. I felt a bitterness raising, an anger towards my inability. I – mentally – slapped myself. Was this not the instructor I had bragged about how great and comfortable it felt to be back in the cockpit? How foolish, how stupid, how embarrassing! I kid you not, I was close to tears and utterly thankful for my sunglasses.
I don’t know if he sensed just how frustrated I was, how little it would take to make me turn to never return.
“Do you want to say something about the flight first?” – No, thank you. Patiently and unexcitedly, the instructor analyzed my mistakes, made suggestions and even found a thing or two to praise (something along the lines: well, at least you did not pull the red handle and throw off the canopy).
“Now, let’s try to find some thermal winds, so we can stay up and have some fun.” I don’t know if he sensed just how frustrated I was, how little it would take to make me turn to never return. A hateful thought to be so transparent and at the same time I was grateful. He knew how he had to handle the situation. I probably just was a standard case one studies during flight instructor courses. Yet, I felt understood and that was all that mattered at that time. So I climbed back into the glider.
He helped me to smoothly raise the ASK21 into the air and to turn in a constant speed. Then we set out to find some thermals. We gained a meter here, lost one there. But my instructor was persistent. Slowly we worked our way upwards from a 300 meter release hight. Again and again he encircled an invisible column of raising air, left the circle and entered it a couple of meters further to the left or right.
My maneuvers were tolerable, I think. Until…well until I crash landed the plane.
“Now you fly.” My grip around the control stick tightened, while I tried to relaxed my shoulders. We were up here to have fun, there was no need to tense every tissue in my body.
We continued circling in the airspace above the airfield and climbed up to 900 meters. He made me change circles, fly towards a set of windmills at the horizon, roll along our axis and look for my own thermal winds. As we landed after an hour, I was exhausted, but also happy again. I should have stopped there..
But I did not. After a short break we were back on the runway. My maneuvers were tolerable, I think. Until…well until I crash landed the plane.
We were approaching the runway, but still were considerably high. So my instructor initiated a slip – a position, in which the nose is pointing in the opposite direction to the bank of the wings. An inefficient way of flying, but very efficient in terms of reducing height quickly.
My head hit the canopy and I don’t even want to imagine how it must have felt on the instructor’s seat closer to the impact point.
Once he diverted from the slip, he handed over the controls to me again. I aligned the sailplane to our landing position and held it off too early. Instead of slowly approaching the grass and touching down gently, I lifted her nose, killed the speed and made her slump from a meters hight to the ground. You might imagine a rather ungentle landing – to put it positively. My head hit the canopy and I don’t even want to imagine how it must have felt on the instructor’s seat closer to the impact point.
He could have yelled, scolded me – and I would have fully deserved it. But he did not. He just calmly stated that this was not the first time and certainly not the last that the ASK21 had to suffer from the incompetence of a flying student. Actually, he did not even speak out that last bit.
“Come on, we can do better than that. I won’t take such a landing. Let’s take another turn.” I could have hugged and slapped him. Of course: If you fall off a horse you need to get back into the saddle. And if he were not so hesitant in accepting a compliment, I would thank him again for doing everything right in the moment I did everything wrong. For making me wanting to return to the airfield again.