Flying has fascinated me for as long as I remember.
I must have been about seven or eight years old when I took a piece of string to strap an old ironing board onto the back of a kid’s tricycle. With this contraption I raced down a small hill in our neighborhood in an attempt to take to the air. Today, I am thankful that this endeavor didn’t work; but also, that I wasn’t discouraged.
I recall folding paper gliders, experimenting with different designs to suit different purposes: gliders that could fly the fastest, gliders that could do aerobatics, gliders that would fly slowly and and stay up the longest. I even remember organizing a paper glider competition in school: our classroom was on the top floor and it was winter. In a break we would run down the stairs and open the windows in the classrooms below. Then we would run back up and launch our paper gliders out the window and see whose gliders could soar the longest. And it worked: the warm air, escaping the classrooms below, rose in the winter chill, and with it the gliders that we had carefully designed to fly in circles. I remember our excitement when several paper gliders rose high above the school building and eventually disappeared over the roof. Although we could not identify a winner of the competition, the experiment itself was a huge success.
I must have been eleven or twelve when I began to build radio controlled gliders. There was a nice steep ridge not too far from where I lived. My friend and I strapped our gliders onto our bicycles and pushed up the hill to reach our slope. The ridge faced in a westerly direction – perfectly suited for the prevailing winds. We had many long flights on that slope – sometimes several hours until our fingers would get stiff from the cold wind. We also learned some important lessons: about the difference between air speed and ground speed when the winds were so strong that a glider heading away from the ridge could actually move backwards towards it; about the dangers of ridge flying when one of our gliders was pushed into the trees in heavy turbulence; or about excessive load factors when a glider broke apart in midair during an overly aggressive aerobatic maneuver.
And then, in 1983, just a few days after I turned sixteen, I began my flight training to become a “real” glider pilot.