„How about you do one test flight and if you absolutely don’t like it, we can still fetch the ASK21?”, my instructor suggested. We were four students and I the only one flying the ASK21. It did not make sense to move three other planes to get her out of the hanger and then to pull her all the way down to our starting position just for me. I knew it. Still I hoped my silence would show my strong discontent. Underneath the sunglasses, my instructor’s eyes were fixed on me, waiting for an answer. “Ok”, I hesitantly gave in.
The (AS)K13 is a previous model of the ASK21. Would she be a person, you could say, she is middle age: 44 years old. With an emphasis on old… Compared to the sleek fine lines of the ASK21 she seemed bulky and clumsy. Thick wings pointing in a forward angle (6 degrees to be exact), her fabric-cover wrinkly over the welded steel structure and all the tubes and cables visible in her bare, uncomfortable looking fuselage.
She had just recently been overhauled completely and after two long years of reworks, she was finally declared fit to return to the airfield. Even before the season had started, my instructor enthusiastically told me that I would love to fly her. I doubted it and so far I been lucky enough to remain on the ASK21 – but my luck was about to end.
As I walked into the hanger, my glance fell on the ASK21 as she stood resting in front of the workshop wall. She was fully wrapped in her the white fitting covers, just the cockpit cloth slightly lifted as one of the other pilots tested her battery. “It feels like a betrayal”, I mournfully told him. He gave me an understanding smile.
She lay on the runway, her canopy wide open, silently inviting me to give her a chance.
“Kristina, are you getting ready?” My instructor’s tone suggested this was not a question. I stepped towards the white and red K13 as she lay on the runway, her canopy wide open, silently inviting me to give her a chance. And what choice did I have? The previous student helped me into the harness of the parachute (a little red package, looking more like a first aid bag than a lifesaving flying device) and handed me the seatbelts (a set of primitive looking grey belts, which were fastened with a metal clip).
My instructor kneeled down next to me and started to explain the differences between the ASK21 and the K13: She would not glide as far. Also, we would sit higher, thus my horizon would look quite differently and I had to pay attention to not lift the nose too much. Her air brakes were more effective (extending both above and below the wing) and she would react more immediately to my manoeuvers, as she was much lighter. “Let’s give it a go. I’m in the controls with you and will help you, when you need it.” I did like being back in the cockpit with him, so I decided to make the best out of my flight.
“Just push the left pedal and control stick a bit. Once we roll straight you can put the side rudder in neutral position again, but don’t raise her nose too quickly.” She was indeed much lighter and lifted faster than I had expected. She was also louder and we released with a hollow sound in 300 metres height.
The K13 had taken me by surprise.
Underneath us, the flat landscape stretched to the horizon. Perfect visibility. I pushed my foot and the control stick to the right and the glider reacted instantly, turning parallel to the airfield. “Keep an eye on the airspeed indicator and be careful not to get too slow.” I had to get used to seeing much more of the ground as I did in the lying position in the ASK21.
I ended my last turn, aligning the glider with the runway and pulled the air brakes. As the ground came closer and closer I drew the control stick, slowly pulling her out of the dive and landing her almost next to the big T, marking the touch down zone. We rolled for a couple of meters and came to a halt. I remained motionless in the seat. Slowly a smile moved over my lips. “That was a good landing!”, I heard from behind. That was an amazing flight! But I was too stunned to say that out loud. The K13 had taken me by surprise.
We took two more turns. Each flight a minute longer than the previous. Each one a bit better. “I can’t believe it”, I finally exclaimed, my smile spreading cross my entire face. “I can’t believe how much I refused to fly the K13 and how much I love to fly her!” In my head I added: I can’t believe how superficial I can be and how surprised I now was to be proven wrong in all my presumptions. It turned out to be a betrayal with consequences, or – would I be more romantic: love at first flight.