Swish

By

SWISH. Nothing else. No engine puttering in front, no propeller churning the air into a turbulent mass of noise. Just the swish of air across the airframe. Even that is somehow different. When one glides a light airplane, the wind roars and rushes across the wings and hammers the fuselage, but here, in a glider, it just swishes past, smoothly. Somewhat reminiscent of the sound made by sea gulls. Yes, sea gulls do make a noise in flight, if you can get close enough, but then isn't this glider I'm flying similar to a sea gull? Both designed to soar and float on the thermals, both having long, slender wings and a streamlined fuselage. For a power pilot, the experience is unsettling. During the launch the noise and rushing air caused by the Piper Cub in front kept me in a familiar environment. Once we released the rope and he dived away, I felt distinctly insecure. My first reaction was to look down the left side of the craft for a landing field, but our rate of descent is only 200 feet a minute, giving at least 10 minutes before landing.

So enjoy it. Fly!

The voice behind says, ``You have control.''

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``I have it,'' I reply and take the stick. How do you hold a stick? I'm more used to a control column. Never mind, left hand on stick, right hand on throttle, yes, well, right hand on knee will have to do. Straight and level, or rather straight and descending slowly. What a beautiful light, responsive plane. My heavy-handedness has the speed leaping around the gauge until I get the feel of the controls.

It's not an easy bird to fly, but then there are distractions. With the wings behind me and the cockpit tapering to a point in front, the view is almost unlimited. Purple, heather-covered mountains blend with the ragged blue and gray of an autumn sky above. How can you concentrate on flying here?

Turning. I bank to 30 degrees with the usual touch of rudder and aircraft continues straight on, the only difference, it now roars instead of swishing.

``More rudder,'' the voice behind instructs. With almost full rudder the plane swishes around a graceful, tight turn, which has to be experienced to be fully appreciated as the hills roll swiftly past the nose.

``Keep turning,'' says the voice, and I see our descent has stopped. A thermal, but not enough to take us up.

More practice turns prove bad enough that we are soon down around 1,000 feet and time to land. We break for the circuit at a faster speed that, together with the use of the air brakes to steepen our descent, finally stops me looking for landing fields, as the roar is back. Steeply down the final approach for a good view of the field, positive landing, and the roar dies away as we slow. For a fleeting moment I thought I detected a swish just before we stopped.

So now, little gray sea gull, I know your secret. All I need is a sailplane with which to navigate the waves of the sky, to soar and glide, to swoop and turn in unison and harmony with our home, the sky.

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