Well, the moment has come. You’re sitting (well, lying down actually) in the front seat of an aeroplane with no engine… a parachute on your back and your knees are brushing against the sides of the cockpit, seemingly in danger of fouling the levers and controls. The canopy is open, and the glider has its left wing lying on the floor – the right wing sticking up in the air at about thirty degrees. Someone is fiddling around you, getting your straps ready; which are coupled up and pulled very VERY tight. Meanwhile, the instructor in the back is calmly talking you through what’s going to happen. You don’t hear a bloody word of it.
Then he/she seems to go into ritual mode; reciting something. “CONTROLS” they say (the stick and pedals start waggling around alarmingly in your cockpit as the instructor tests them) “…full and free. BALLAST – weights are already checked and within limits. STRAPS – are your straps tight and secure?” You suddenly realise you’re involved and answer “err… yeah *weak smile*”. There are a good few more checks then someone puts down your canopy with a “Clunk”, reaches through the window and pushes the locking levers. Then a lever on your left moves backwards and the check is “airbrakes”… you see a couple of red-painted planks stick out of the wings, go half way back in, and then close with a BANG.
Then things start to happen. The left wing is picked up by someone who seems to have appeared from nowhere, the guy in the back shouts “Cable on please!” and someone rummages around under the glider and shouts something while you can hear metal rattling. There’s another clunk, the guy underneath gets up and says “Cable on and secure!” pulling the cable hard as if to show you. He gets away from the front of the glider, and stands to the side, watching expectantly… and then you see the cable move. Slowly but surely it pulls tight – the drogue chute on the cable rolling across the ground… and then…
EVERYTHING happens at once… the glider leaps forward like a scalded cat – rumbling along the ground for less than two seconds before it lifts and all goes quiet – just a whistling noise. Less than a couple of seconds later, the glider tips slightly to the left and you feel a little bit pushed into your seat as the nose comes up… up… up to an almost unbelievable angle. (it’s actually only 30-45 degrees but feels incredible). It’s fast, rushing, pulling, a bit bumpy – and perhaps even a bit scary. The nose starts to come down, as if of its own accord – but you can start to hear a moaning, groaning echo of engine noise from below as the winch strains to keep pulling. Then suddenly, all the tension releases… the glider seems to float. There’s a little “Chink” sound as the instructor releases the cable… and you’re free.
The gentle whistling is back; there’s a gentle breeze on your face from some as-yet unseen air vent, and you start looking around. At a height of about thirteen hundred feet (about a quarter of a mile) the world is spread out below you – the instructor is calmly chatting away, directing you to familiar features as they gently turn the glider around and around. Then you realise that actually it’s quite bumpy – the glider alternately pushing up into your back and then pulling down away from you – with accompanying rushing sounds. The instructor is changing the glider’s attitude; pulling, pushing rolling and pitching the glider. You’re told you’re in a thermal and start to notice the glider is climbing, and you can see more and more of the world as the little puffy clouds in the summer sky get closer. You feel motion in true 3D for the first time ever – and can see other gliders above you, below you, to the sides. Their motions seem odd – seeming to slice across the sky, move up and down in unexplained ways and coming towards you and away from you at unaccustomed angles.
All too soon, it’s time to go back; other people need their turn at flying too. There’s a “CLONK” as the airbrakes come out again – you can feel the glider descending and the instructor points out the airfield ahead of you. The nose of the glider gets lower and lower – and at some point the instructor has put away the airbrakes without you noticing and tells you that you’re now travelling at 130mph! The noise is loud, rushing, roaring but nothing like you would expect for that speed. You can still hold a chat! Then he pulls the glider into a steep climb… you’re pressed heavily into your seat as the glider climbs and gently slows back to “normal” speeds. There’s where you launched from, just down on your left hand side; it’s going past at what seems a high rate because you’re heading downwind – not to mention that the glider seems to be going a bit sideways! Then you turn left… and keep turning… and keep turning… and suddenly you’re pointing at the piece of grass you left, just half an hour ago. The airbrakes CLONK again and this time you can SEE the descent as well as feel it. The landing point seems to stay in exactly the same place in front of you and slightly to the right of the nose… except it’s getting closer and closer. Then all of a sudden, you’re flying along the ground… when did that happen?! The nose of the glider lifts… there’s a little “BUMP” and then rumbling as the glider rolls gently to a stop…. and the left wing again gently touches the ground. It’s over… and you are completely hooked.