"Are you ready?" says Gary from the back seat.
"I'm ready!" I say.
"I'm going to point the nose down and gain some speed, then four g’s and pull her up over the top!" he replies.
The nose points down and I can hear the noise of the wind rushing louder and louder as we gain speed. The view of the landscape nearly fills the windscreen as we approach 90 knots. I’m a bit nervous, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for!
"Four G's!" says Gary.
I take a deep breath to help hold myself still and straight. Then I feel the pull of the g’s. The nose rises quickly until the blue sky fills the whole windscreen, then I feel the force of gravity reduce as Gary relaxes the stick. The horizon comes into view upside down! We slowly arc over the top and start the 2nd half of the loop, I feel the force of gravity come on stronger and stronger as Gary once again pulls on the joystick.
"How does that feel?" asks Gary as we pull out of the bottom of the loop.
"It feels beautiful!!" I reply with enthusiasm, amazing!
"Okay we’ll go around again then!"
We have lots of speed coming out of the first loop, and Gary easily takes us through a second one!
"Look to the right!" says Gary.
Gary moves the stick right and we roll inverted, then he pulls back to perform a split-s maneuver, ending with us straight and level.
This was one of the things on my bucket list! Way back about 100 years ago when I was a teenager, I had the privilege of flying a Citabria to take aerial photographs. At the time I didn’t know any aerobatics, but I did like to do spins and wing-overs a lot. I searched around for an instructor at the time that could get me going on the basics like loops and rolls, but didn’t find one, and all too soon my days of playing with that airplane were done. I remember learning wing-overs in a mountain flying course, and practiced in a Piper Arrow rolling inverted and pulling out the bottom with very little g-force. It had always kind of bothered me that I never got to experience real aerobatics back then, and to this day hated having to admit that I have never experienced a loop. Now I am a quadriplegic due to an automobile accident, and aerobatics have since seemed out of reach.
I have been flying gliders with the Edmonton Soaring Club for a few years now, and I find that my arm strength is not good enough to do the very intense maneuvers, and my lack of stomach muscles made me concerned about passing out during high-G maneuvers, so I have been content to putt around and look for lift. I worry that it is boring for the pilot in the back seat, since I fly like an old tea granny, but I suppose at times they need some sleep! I got talking to Gary Hill earlier in the year as he is an aerobatic instructor. He had flown with me a few times on my long and boring "see how long you can stay in the air" flights, and was great company. I asked him if he thought it was feasible for me to experience a loop, and I reminded him that I have no control over my legs or trunk muscles. We would have to be careful to make sure we don't do any negative G’s since we want my legs to stay where they are supposed to be.
"Let me know when you want to, I think it would work out fine." he replied.
“Okay,” I say, “Maybe later in the year when my stomach is stronger.” The first flights of the year seem to make me queasy.
Then one day I show up at the club when I know that Gary was instructing, and it was a day where there was very little lift potential.
"So, what are you doing here on a day that there is no lift?" asks Gary with a grin, knowing full well why I was there. I guess I am getting a reputation of showing up on the good soaring days so they don’t expect to see me on poor ones LOL.
"I thought if you had time I could finally do that bucket-list loop!" I said.
"It’s club policy that you put a parachute on for aerobatics, so go find one and let's go!" he said.
The rest is history! We found a parachute that fit me, got me strapped into the glider with the help of the lift and several club members, and away we went!
Back to the flight.
"How was that?" he asks.
"I tried to follow what you are doing but couldn't," I say.
"I've got another one here for you to figure out!" says Gary, grinning I am sure.
He points the nose down and we gain some more speed, the wind is rushing by once again. I feel a sharp tug and the nose pitch up, followed by an immediate fast roll to the right! Then Gary pulled back and we came out the bottom level.
"A half-snap-roll to the right!" I say. This is a fun game!
"Half snap roll followed by a half loop!" exclaims Gary.
He finished off the session with a hammerhead followed by 2 more loops, then a half roll and half loop out to level. Incredible!
"You have control now." says Gary.
I fit my cuff over the stick and take control, we are now getting a little bit low and the odds of finding lift before we get to the airport are fairly slim. I aim back towards home, looking for any sign of a thermal that will take us back up so we can play some more.
There is nothing, we’re now down at circuit height joining downwind. Gary does the pre-landing checks while I fly the circuit. I line up on the runway, Gary runs the speed brakes and we float down to the runway. I gently pull back and round out, the grass touches the wheel and I hear it spinning. We are once again on the ground. The crew pulls us back to the club members waiting at the shack. Gary opens the canopy and I see a lot of smiling faces.
“Well Gary,” I say loud enough for all to hear, “don’t get too discouraged, one of these days you will get a handle on that straight and level flying, just keep practicing!”
“I am having trouble with that straight and level,” laughs Gary, “I need to work on that!
It is so humbling to realize the work and dedication that these people do to keep a gliding club running, and the effort they make to help me fit in and enjoy this great sport. Thanks Edmonton Soaring Club, and all of the great soaring people I’ve met, it’s a blast hanging out with you!