In the age of steam every boy wanted to be an engine driver. In my boyhood this desire became a fighter pilot and in modern times it might be an astronaut or a pop star. The nearest I got to being a fighter pilot was to sit in the cockpit of a spitfire and press the firing button. Then came the jet age and we aspired to becoming test pilots.
Then, seventy years later, I was to be a test pilot. A group of us had bought a new glider, a top of the range Duo Discus XLT with a 20 M wingspan.
We had brought it back from the German factory and assembled it on Lasham airfield. All the necessary paperwork, there are volumes of it, was in order. It was time for the maiden flight. We carefully did a ‘daily inspection’ which all aircraft must have before they fly.
We registered the glider as G-RAPL, there are already G-RIPE and G-RIEF registered gliders on the airfield. I wanted G-SPOT but my wife vetoed it. She said I would never be able to find the glider, can’t think why.
Were the wings fixed on? They are held by a single ‘pin’ which has sometimes been forgotten about leading to disasters. Is the tail plane fixed in positions? Another important pin must be snapped into position. Are the controls connected to the control stick? That is quite important. All seemed in order and we signed the DI book.
A friend and I, the Duo is a two seater as the name implies, donned our new parachutes and climbed into the cockpit. We strapped in and sat for some time to make sure we could reach all the controls and read the instruments. Then we did the familiar cockpit checks which precede every flight in any glider.
Ready to go. The tow plane manoeuvred in front of us and the wing man attached the tow rope. He held the wings level and I gave the thumbs up sign. The tug plane moved slowly forward until all the slack in the tow rope was taken up. ‘I have control.’ I told my colleague in the rear seat. It is important that one of us is in control and that we should know who it is.
‘All out. All out.’ Crackled the radio. The launch controller instructed the tug plane. The engine roared and the tug began to move and accelerate. I was ready to pull the cable release if there was any problem. The main one is that one wing will drop to the ground as gliders balance on one central wheel.
Wings straight, there is enough speed to keep them straight now. The tail wheel lifts off, speed is building and at about 45 knots (50 mph) I had that wonderful feeling of lightness. You just know that you are airborne. Antoine de Saint Exupéry claimed to feel it in his kidneys. John Gillespie Magee explained how he had ’slipped the surly bonds of earth.’
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee (1922-1941)
Now we were climbing. If the tow rope breaks, what shall I do? Soon we were high enough that we could turn back to the airfield if there was a rope break. I began to relax. It was easy to maintain position behind the tug, if he turned, I turned.
At 3000 ft I pulled the release and watched the tow rope snake behind the tug. Now, get the wheel up. That was easier than expected. Trim for level flight at 55 knots, that was easy too. What happens if I take my hands off the controls – nothing, it just continues in straight and level flight.
What should you do on a test flight? The glider has passed the test so far. Can the pilot pass his tests? Check the stall speed – the speed which is too slow for the wings to develop lift, it is 42 Kts. If you stall, will the glider go into a spin? Yes, very steeply nose down and fast but easy to recover. As you pull out of the spin the g forces drag at you. Will the engine work? There is a small two cylinder two stroke engine hidden behind the cockpit. It comes up on a pylon and, with the correct manoeuvres, it starts.
With the engine stowed away we tried a few turns. How steeply can you turn without stalling? How quickly will it roll into a turn and how stable is it once in the turn? All’s well, so stable in a turn that you could eat your sandwiches while turning.
With the help of a few thermals, we flew up to Greenham Common and back with height to spare. Now it was time to show off to our friends on the ground. We put the nose down and accelerated, 70, 90, 100, 120, up to 135 knots and zooming at treetop height over the clubhouse. Then pull up and convert the speed to height and turn in to land.
There are landing checks. Most important is to put the wheel down. How fast to land? Better to be too fast than too slow. How would the landing flaps alter the flying characteristics? We made some important discoveries about the use of landing flaps and airbrakes that were not obvious and had not applied to other gliders we had flown.
There are two emotions on landing. Elation that you have had such a good flight and disappointment that it is over. Now the difficult part is getting out of the cockpit.
Value for Money?
Was it worth the money? The glider did everything we asked in a precise and elegant manner. There were no difficulties or surprises in handling but we need practice with landings. We now have that sorted out; it is easy once you understand the aerodynamics of it.
The cost was divided between a group of 5. We owned our previous glider for 9 years and sold it for about as much as it cost. This one we bought in euros when the euro was 1.41 to the £. Looked after and well maintained, it should return most of our money when we come to sell. In the meantime, we are fitting an oxygen tank before going to the Pyrenees next month. We also have 2 ELBs, Emergency Locator Becons. If we crash it sends a message to say where we are and please come and get us.
How long can you fly for? Officially from dawn till dusk. The longest I have done is eight and a half hours, mostly above 10,000 ft. We landed because we were too cold to carry on. Highest I have been is 21,000 ft but the gliding record is about 35,000 ft. Lowest, I suppose landing on a field near a supermarket in Spain while our friends looked on from 7000 ft above. Furthest – my ambition is to fly 500 Km but so far only managed 425 Km.
- Certificates needed
- Certificate of Non Registration – the glider has not previously been registered.
- Certificate of Registration – Officially registered as G-RAPL
- Certificate of Airworthiness – Proof that it will fly
- Airworthiness Review Certificate – To be renewed annually, like an MOT
- Certificate of Insurance – Fully comprehensive, like a car.
- Certificate for the Radio
- Official Logbook – to note any modifications or repairs
- Certificate of Airfield Rental – cost of facilities at Lasham Airfield.
- Plastic work – G-RAPL decals on wings and fuselage; D66, the racing number on the tail.
- Insurance cover note, laminated and stuck in cockpit.
- Limitation placard – Max speed allowed, weight, ballast and details of pilot weights all noted on a card in the cockpit.
For the Tekkies
- Seat: 2
- Wingspan: 20M
- Stall Speed: 42 Kts
- Max Speed: 142 Kts
- Max all up weight: 750 Kg
- Engine: 2 Stroke, 30 bhp, folding propeller.
- Fuel: 16 l Petrol or aviation fuel
- Range: 120 miles approx.
- Best glide angle: 45:1 (If you were a mile high at Eastleigh airport you could glide to Didcot, or Swanage or Shoreham)
Note: Click to read more articles by Mike Sedgwick on Chandler’s Ford Today.
Post Series: Gliding Holiday in Spain, by Mike Sedgwick:
- Holiday – No Holiday?
- Sharing The Sky With The Vultures
- Soaring The Pyrenees
- Not Only Gliders
- Gliding Holiday Costs
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