In my twenties, I used to fly a glider. A typical flight was something like this. The glider I usually flew was the H23B, a basic tandem trainer owned by the Japan Soaring Club of which I was a member. The club’s airfield is located at Itakura on the riverbank along the Watarase river, Gunma prefecture. After preparing for the take off in the cockpit, I radioed “Go” and with a jolt the glider was pulled into the air by a wire stretched some 1,000 meters to a powerful winch which stood at the end of the runway.
The steep climb continued for some seconds at a speed of 70kms per hour until the glider reached an altitude of around 300 meters high. Then I released the wire and I was free and alone in the sky. If there were no strong updrafts, my flight would last for only 3 to 4 minutes, simply because the glider descended at the rate of 1 meter per second.
What are the draws to a glider? First and foremost, it has no engine. Many glider pilots say that a glider is much safer compared to a small plane with an engine. You don’t have to worry about the fear and vulnerability of a fuel cut, or an engine fire as well as sudden loss of power due to an engine failure. Secondly, a glider is best suited to catching updrafts in the air, providing altitude and flight time to go wherever you’d like if in the hands of an experienced pilot. In this instance, you can become a flying bird.
My most memorable flight was my first solo flight. I do not remember the flight itself now except that I managed to land safely after all. At the end of the day, I bought beer for everybody at the club’s hanger.
Were there any dangers? Yes, indeed, twice I had narrow escapes. At one time, I misjudged allowable altitudes at certain points and I came in far too low for the final approach, almost smashing into the ground. The second time was a landing against a strong headwind. It is a correct procedure not to use a spoiler, which functions as an air brake, for the final approach in such cases. But I forgot to open it after the touchdown, so the glider went up into the air about 2 meters high and then hit the ground, bouncing up and down until it finally came to a standstill. Fortunately, the whole incident did not damage the glider.
Do I want to fly a glider again? Well, why not!
There are some well-designed motor gliders (with single engines), which are ideal for practicing basic air maneuvers as well as “touch and go”. By using a motor glider for my refresher courses, I could eventually go on to a high-performance glider, a dream of any glider pilot.
At Itakura airfield by K.Shimada
How far can a glider travel? The world record according to the FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale) is 1,731 km achieved in New Zealand in February 2020 for “Free out-and-return distance” category. What about height? Incredibly, it’s 22,657 m recorded in Argentina in 2018 by the Perlan 2 pressurized glider sponsored by Airbus. This is a scientific project; from its Perlan Project website, “The Perlan 2 will fly to 90,000 ft at the edge of space to explore the science of giant mountain waves that help create the ozone hole and change global climate models.”
Photos of gliders from my album (taken at Itakura airfield from 1974 to 1977)
1. A H23B glider is preparing for takeoff, attaching tow ropes.
2. A winch to tow a glider.
3. A glider is being towed, keeping a particular angle of accent to maintain a speed of around 70 km.
4. A Super Cub airplane is about to tow a glider.
5. A high performance glider is about to be towed.
6. Towing a glider as seen from the back seat of a Super Cub.
7. Showing an air-tow.
8. A glider flies over a runway which spans about 1,000 meters along
a river. It also shows a hanger.
9. A high performance glider waiting for takeoff.
10. A two-seat trainer called Blanik made then in Czechoslovakia.
It’s an all metal (duralumin) glider, smooth and quiet in the air like a comfortable limousine.
11. Because of intermittent gusts, each glider on the ground is seen with a weight on one of the wing tips to avoid overturning.
12. A privately owned glider, a German Cirrus, is being assembled.
13 & 14 A German motor glider called Motor Falke.