- Zohaib Rauf
I joined my local soaring club around March last year, right before the club had to close due to COVID. I've been waiting to have the club opened, which it did this summer with limited operations/instructions. I was able to get few flights in but due to limited availability of instructors, weather and just life/work making things slow, I decided to go to Arizona to complete my glider add-on rating. I went over to Arizona Soaring in Estrella and went through training for 5 days and had my checkride completed on the 6th day. It was a great facility with great staff so would recommend them if you decide to go this route to get your glider add-on rating.
Last year I decided that I will join my local soaring club to get the glider rating. I went through the process of joining and joined the club around early March. As I was about to start the training the club had to close due to a reason we all are aware of (hint, COVID). For the next year I just waited calmly for the club to open so I can start my training. The club did open around June and I started with few lessons but its hard to get a lot of lessons in a a single day and life also just came in the way of scheduling it every weekend.
I decided to take some vacation time to go to Phoenix and go through the accelerated training to get my glider add-on rating at Arizona Soaring near Maricopa. The training was composed of 5 days for ground and flight training and then the checkride was on 6th day. Before I went there, I started doing some ground studying by going over the Glider Flying Handbook so I can be better prepared for the actual training.
Day 1 - (5 dual)
My first day was with the instructor Frank and the training started at me getting there at 9am and we directly went into flying. I had some glider experience (approx. 6 flights in L-23) but Frank did the first take off and have me follow the controls. The flight included some turns to heading and going back to landing, which he performed and I shadowed. In subsequent flights, he gave me the control of the takeoff and landing and was on controls to assist where I need along with that we practiced stall recovery, boxing the wake, steep turns. In the afternoon we were able to get some thermals and stay in flight for approx. 30mins, by gaining some altitude but mostly just maintaining our altitude using some ridge lift. This was the first time I experienced some lift and was fun practice. The day ended with gaining more confidence in my take off, landings not so much due to not building enough intuition of glide scope.
Day 2 - (7 dual)
The second day my primary instructor came, who was going to get me through the rest of the training, Dak. We went through multiple flights with me mostly on controls as the goal was to get me to solo as quickly as possible. The day was a bit windy and ridge lift was much better and we were able to get approx. 4.5 NM away from the airport and got up to 5500ft. This was really interesting as I never experienced that much lift before so experiencing how to find and use lift with just a variometer (not even electric) was super interesting to learn but I think requires a lot more intuition. By the end of the day I was mostly ready for solo but we deferred it to next day as fatigue was creeping in.
Day 3 - (2 dual, 4 solo)
On the third day, Dak and I just did 2 flights together, one of which included him releasing the tow at about 300ft which meant we had to land downwind. That took me by surprise and was a good practice in downwind landing, though he assisted me a bit in that landing. After that Dak signed me off for my solo flight. Like anyone doing solo, it's always a nervous movement, where you have adrenaline rush but you know that it shouldn’t be much different from what you have been doing. The other thing that help calm my nerves is that part of Arizona is pretty flat so if I need to do outfield landing in case of emergency it shouldn’t be a big problem. My solo went pretty decent where I got to about 3000 ft AGL and did some maneuvers before going back for landing. After that it became much easier and I got total 4 solo flights in. In one of the flight I found thermal near the airport and stayed in it for a good 15 mins between 1200 - 1500 AGL. 10 solo flights are required so I was planning to spread it out in next two days.
Day 4 - (0 flights)
On fourth day a cold front moved in and it became a lot more windy so we couldn’t fly, at all. We decided to just complete our ground for rest of the time we were there and go back home early. We mostly went over the FAR and things that were unique to glider.
Day 5 - (3 dual, 6 solo)
The fifth day was the most intense as I needed to complete my 3 checkride prep flights with Dak along with completing my 6 solo flights to meet the requirement. I definitely didn’t want to push myself into fatigue but I was expecting 9 flights should be doable. We started with 3 simulated checkride flights where I practiced boxing the wake and getting slack out of the rope while towing. In the getting out of slack maneuver I may have yanked the rope too much that it snapped, but gladly we were at high enough altitude that we continued with rest of the maneuvers. The rope snapping was a good experience in terms of the sound and the surprise you get. Later I did my 6 solo flights which included doing all the maneuvers required in PTS and also practicing my landing. The landing included normal landing which meant I need to stop before the midpoint of the field and spot landing which meant I had a distance of 400ft from touch down point to stopping. The spot landing were the hardest and it took me a little while to get them (trick is to adjust your aim point accordingly). By end of it I was done with my solo and had enough confidence for the checkride.
Day 6 - Checkride
The sixth day was the checkride which started at 7am. My DPE was Tony, who was a super nice guy and started with explaining me about checkride, what will be considered disqualified and what he is looking for (primarily safety). We went over the documents, the regulations, performance of the glider, cross country planning as part of scenario based testing. The scenario also made it a fun exercise instead of just going through checkboxes. We also went through weather, some aerodynamics and other things in the PTS. It went well and then we were ready for the flight part of the checkride. We had total 2 flights. The first one, I was more nervous than I was anticipating so my take off wasn’t as great as I hopped for but my boxing the wake went pretty well which brought up my confidence (just reminding myself I know what to do). We went over maneuvers e.g. slow flight, slow flight turns, steep turns, stalls, turning stall and then landing within the 400 ft window. The only thing that didn’t go as I was hoping for was the getting the slack out, but it was within the required proficiency. In second flight we went up. I was anticipating approx. 1500 AGL but then Tony just pulled the release around 900 AGL to simulate a tow brake so I just directly headed to downwind leg of the pattern. This landing was normal landing so it went fine as well, the only issue was that when the tow was released I didn’t immediately pitch for glide speed (50 MPH), which meant I lost more altitude to airport than needed and hence a much more tighter pattern, making things slightly more complicated. At the end he congratulated me and we went inside to do rest of the paper work.
There is still a lot to learn and practice such as thermaling, cross country flights etc. and I’m hoping to get more into this activity as a sport.