Saturday, April 25, 2015


After 12 years of soaring, I have decided to stop, at least for now. If circumstances change, maybe I’ll return, but not in the foreseeable future. I probably owe an explanation to my readers and friends in aviation, so here goes.

No, I haven’t had a bad experience that has put me off flying, nor am I afraid to fly, nor am I having any health issues that make me unfit to fly. It’s pretty simple: soaring is a lot of work, and lately it’s become much less convenient to fly in southern California, and I’ve accomplished all of my mid-range goals. To go any further would involve a lot more time and expense and effort, and it has simply reached the point that the enjoyment is not worth the effort anymore.
I’ve achieved my goals

In 12 years, here’s some of what I’ve accomplished:
  • 328 flights totaling 169 hours. Half the time was in Blanik L13’s, 1/4 in PW5, 1/4 in Grob 103’s.
  • Flown from eight locations in three states.
  • Flown in six models of glider: Blanik L13 (half my flights), PW5 (one quarter), Grob 103 (one quarter; three varieties), Krosno (two flights), PW6 (one flight), Schweitzer 2-33 (two flights).
  • Achieved my Silver badge: 5-hour flight, cross-country flight (31 miles required, I flew 75 miles), altitude gain (3,281' required, I gained 5,700’).
  • Two landouts, both planned: one on a road and one on a dirt airstrip.
  • Aerotow, autotow, and winch launching.
  • A few cross-country flights, including two in the Dust Devil Dash contests.
  • 28 passenger flights, six of them strangers.
  • Learned to soar in many types of lift: thermal, convergence, shear line, anabatic, ridge, mountain wave.
  • Mountain wave flight to 17,000 feet.
  • Flown in rain, hail, and a dust devil.
  • Gained 9,100 feet in one flight. Dang, that’s nearly Diamond altitude!
  • Passed my written tests for Commercial and Instructor ratings. I was two days away from taking my practical tests when Hemet shut us out.
  • Conducted ground school classes.
  • Conducted student flights (not loggable).
  • 321 blog posts.
  • Air-to-air photography.
  • Solo spins in two models.
  • Flown with hawks, vultures, seagulls, crows, and hang gliders. I always hoped to meet an eagle, but never did.
  • Helped promote soaring at air shows and model aircraft conventions.
  • I’ve never had an unplanned landout. Maybe that means I’m too cautious, but it also means I exercised good planning and judgment.
  • Properly handled some near-emergency situations: real rope breaks on aerotow, autotow and winch launches; cloud gaps closing during wave flight, winch engine failure, blocked runways on landing, landing on alternate taxiway due to high winds, collapsed gear on landing.
Soaring has become much less convenient

We lost the ability to fly at Hemet several years ago. Lake Elsinore, the other gliderport near my home, is dusty, run-down, constricted, and I have never had a great soaring day there. Others have, but I’ve never enjoyed it much. Crystalaire is a fantastic place to fly - great facilities, and lots of interesting and challenging opportunities for mountain flying. Read some of my posts, and you’ll see why I like it so much. But… it's an hour and 20 minutes each way, there are usually no other club members there to help share the work, so if the flying is brief, sometimes it’s a whole day gone for a half-hour flight, and that’s just too much.

For the last couple of years I was president of a declining club, and then in charge of merging our club into another. It’s been a lot of work with not a lot of flying.

Now Lake Elsinore is in danger of closing down within the next 6-12 months. Or so they say. I’ve been hearing that for the last 5 years, so who knows. Some folks are optimistic that they will resume flying at Hemet, but from what I’m hearing, little has changed with the County of Riverside. Though some in soaring think they are making progress, to me it appears they are still being stonewalled, and I don’t see Hemet being a good situation any time soon.

Advancing to the next level would cost much more in time and money

I don’t own my own ship, and arranging for cross-country flying in club ships is complicated. Getting into frequent cross-country soaring would require buying a ship and basing it at Crystalaire or Tehachapi. Doing it safely requires ground trips to check out landing spots (I did that before my Dust Devil Dash flights). It requires reciprocal arrangements with other pilots for possible retrieves. As I’ve said, Crystalaire is kind of at my distance limit for same-day flying. The soaring from Tehachapi is wonderful, but it requires a whole weekend.

I’ve done about all I can in local flying. I can’t commit the time and money to XC. Instructing was attractive within my previous club, with Blanik L13’s. Instructing at Elsinore in a 2-33 is not attractive, and I don’t see a thriving club environment at Hemet occurring any time soon. All things considered, I’ve decided it’s time to move on.

On the plus side

Learning to fly has been a great experience. I learned a lot about many topics:
  • Flying (obviously).
  • Aircraft - this is a very hands-on kind of flying. I now know what all those thingy’s do on an airliner, and I thoroughly understand those numbers on the wall inside a C-141.
  • Weather - wow. You can read in my blog posts how I learned to analyze the ups and downs of the atmosphere we fly in. I wrote extensively about one of my best and most interesting flights in this post It’s Complicated, including pictures and diagrams. I’ll always look at the clouds and think about how I would fly them.
  • Risk management. Flying for fun safely requires making wise decisions - every time. For example, I remember pulling a Blanik off the runway because something in the cloud pattern told me a thunderstorm was approaching.
  • Aviation politics and business. I learned some very ugly things about local and state governments and politicians. The glimpses I got into the FAA were generally all positive.
  • Discipline. Flight training involved some early mornings, some cold and wet days, some blisteringly hot days on the runway and in the greenhouse cockpit of a Blanik. I improved my health and fitness and diet, and reduced my use of medications. I basically gave up watching television when I studied for my written and practical tests.
If you’re thinking of learning to fly, may I suggest that you will learn a lot about yourself. I learned that I could do this! Taking another human up in an airplane and safely back down - and showing them a good time and making them want to do it again - is a huge responsibility. I learned to face fear: first the all-knowing Flight Instructor, who is simultaneously your best teacher and your harshest critic; the all-powerful FAA Inspector, who grills you for hours in words and in the air; the fear of actually screwing up on your own. I must say that putting a glider into a spin with no instructor behind me was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done - and one of my proudest accomplishments. Very little in everyday life scares me anymore, after learning I could face that fear.

I hope new soaring pilots will continue to find and read my blog, and gain some knowledge and inspiration from what I have written. I don’t know that I will write any more here, but if anyone writes comments I’ll certainly see them and respond.

Thanks for reading this blog over the past several years, and thanks for the encouragement along the way. I hope everyone who wants to soar finds a good situation in which they can have a great experience.


Rick Sheppe said...

Roger, thank you. Your blog is quite valuable because it is a complete and accurate account of a soaring career.

Your reasons for this hiatus make perfect sense to me, and I hope that your circumstances change in such a way that you can resume participation in our wonderful sport.

Anonymous said...

I hear you. I've been on an eight year hiatus myself, due largely to child-rearing. I used to own my own ship and do X-country, mostly out of Warner but also in the Sierras and Great Basin in the summers. I had awesome experiences I will never forget, but it is a huge time commitment that would be hard to go back to now. It's been sad to watch what soaring infrastructure there was in the region crumble during the intervening years. If I ever return so soaring I would probably have to go the self-launching route. Best of luck in your future endeavors.

Larus Pacificus said...

Dear Roger,

Thank you. I've enjoyed reading your blog ever since I found it 5 years ago and I would definitely say it played an important role in getting me gliding and helping me though the 18 months of training and the may hurdles and concerns I faced. I am not in a dissimilar position to you with a 2-hour drive each way to my club, no ship of my own, and generally poor soaring conditions for 10 months of the year. So in my 2 years post license I have manged only 11 hours. This year I have joined another club that offers more soaring opportunities (ridge and wave) but almost no X/C. I'm hoping this will reignite my passion for the sport but will reassess in another year.

All the best with your future endeavors and I do hope that circumstances improves so that if you wish to take up soaring again in the future that option is there.

One idea I had toyed with was taking my annual investment and each year treating myself to a week of flying somewhere spectacular - Minden, Marfa, even if most of it was dual; that may be the way I end up in a few years....


Anonymous said...


I’ve been a lurker and following your Adventures in the air for a while. I am saddened to read that you are going to be stepping away but am glad that it is your choice (sorta) and not due to health or other commitments.

I hope that you will find something else that ignites your passion and that you would write (blog) about your new adventures. Your writing style and content were/are excellent and I see no decline in these skills since OHS. I was always captivated by your presentations during Humanities.

Thank you for a great read.

Ken K.
OHS Class of 1977

Tom said...

Roger - I understand why you're stopping but sad that you are. I found your blog posts to be so very interesting and a window in to Western flying for an East coast pilot. I could empathize with many of the challenges you faced and learned quite a bit from your posts.

Perhaps circumstances will change for you - I hope so. If you're ever in the Harris Hill area, let me know. I'll fly with you anytime and you can add an ASK-21 to your list.

christopher morris said...

Its tough to give it up. After my early years I stopped flying due to family and economic reasons.
I now love to get the occasional soaring flight at any nearby airfield. The last being at Montbugny near Moulins in central France. Still find it a thrill.
Enjoy life.