A week ago I was given the unbelievable opportunity of Jonny Durand Jr. driving pour moi as I fly a topless glider for the first time, a Moyes Litespeed RX 3. It just so happened that Jonny was in town and Kraig Coomber, our Moyes USA representative who I’ve been in contact with about flying the demo (Thanks Butch for connecting us!), set Jonny up to show me the wing.
I’ve had my Sport 2 for a year and have about 100 hours on it, but I’ve been hesitant to make the jump straight to the topless wing. Despite some very trustworthy pilots and mentors reassuring me that I have the skills, the opinions I’ve received from a larger sample pool are all over the board (as one can imagine). Moreover, access to a more advanced intermediate glider for my weight has proved difficult. That opportunity will come, but this one was here and now.
When Kraig contacted me the day before to see if I could fly, and that Jonny would be there, seriously, how could I pass up on that opportunity? Sure he’s a legend, but more importantly if you could choose anyone to coach you on your first high performance glider flight, he’d be a top choice.
We arrive at launch and the wind is blowing in smoothly about 15-18 mph. A little strong Jonny thought, but the forecast was for the wind to back off, which it seemed to as we took our time evaluating the conditions. Also with us was my instructor, and another legend of the sport, John Heiney. I think I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Standing at launch I’m nervous. Not only am I making the leap to a much higher performance wing, but I’m also flying Crestline which can prove challenging on approach—at least I’ve heard and read about enough topless gliders overflying the field. Crestline (i.e. Andy Jackson Airpark) requires a low turn to final and I knew I’d likely have little to no wind at the LZ, a combination setting people up for failure. I’ve flown there a lot, but I’m stepping into the unknown. I knew all this though and prepared mentally. Still, I’m nervous. Did I mention that I had two legends watching me?
Finally, after what seemed like 30 minutes, I took the leap. In a few seconds I am in the air, the smooth, dreamlike air. No turning back. I make my first turn. I do not feel much lift, likely because I’m giving the mountain a wide berth in case the glider chooses to surprise me. I love how smooth the glider seems to turn. Yes, it takes more control bar movement to bank the glider, but it feels effortless. A few passes later I’m a few hundred feet below launch and ready to head across the gap toward the landing field. Time to feel what the glider can do with full VG. Pull, pull, pull, pull….pull. I think it’s all on. Never before have I felt more comfortable gliding over the gap. I’m really going somewhere.
Out in front of the Marshall launch I cruise back and forth on the ridge hoping to find something going up. But it’s 7:30pm and only very light puffs could be felt. I circle in whatever I think might help me resist gravity. Being a test flight, I took time to simulate approaches on the down tubes, and also pull full VG on and try adding speed. In all the aspects of flight I felt comfortable. Before too long I’m ready to set up my approach—forced may be a more appropriate word than ready.
Circling over the field to lose altitude, I enjoy the sunset and take a moment to soak in what I am doing. Never can I forget what it is just to fly, whatever the glider. A higher performance glider is just icing on the cake.
My approach went well. Although at one point on my base leg I felt a little high, I pulled in and cautiously checked my glidepath as I descended toward the field. I could have circled again, but found that unnecessary. With a smooth turn onto final I was setup to nearly hit the cone. “Focus on the flare timing” I thought to myself. I chose wrong. Just a hair late in the light wind conditions I tried to run it out. The glider charged ahead of me leading to a light whack (but oh so close to the cone). Oh well. Good launch, good flight, good approach. I’m happy with that.
I can’t wait to get time in soarable conditions.
Setting up amongst two legends