From the Cockpit Part 52: Grob G103 & Schweizer 2-33

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Editor’s Note: This is part 52 of an ongoing series documenting the flights of active-duty US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin on his journey to fly 52 planes in 52 weeks through the year 2017.

For Rankin’s final flights of the year, he reaches back into the history of aviation and comes forward with a pair of gliders—the German-made Grob G103 and the American-made Schweizer 2-33. Conceived before both the airplane and the helicopter, even Leonard da Vinci tried his hand. Though still debated whether or not da Vinci’s glider ever flew, examination of the designs led many to believe that its use would have a negative effect on keeping one’s head attached to one’s body. Flying modern gliders with Roger Hinote of the Coastal Soaring gliding club, Rankin had no such difficulties.

Without an engine, a glider needs a bit of help getting airborne. Typically, they’re towed by another plane. Even then, the glider pilot has to be aware and working the stick and rudder. “You are very much flying the airplane,” says Rankin. “It’s not hands-off.” Because both craft are barreling through the air, tow-line or not, the glider pilot must make tiny movements to stay in line with the aircraft doing the towing. It reminds Rankin of flying a helicopter, or flying formation. When the tow-plane hits the release, then it’s time to glide.

Though technically his first time in a glider, Rankin could hardly be called inexperienced when it comes to gliding. In his time in the Navy, he has performed “engine out” landings before, simulating engine failure or fuel loss and gliding his aircraft to its landing. Still, it felt different knowing there was no engine, like a “one-way ticket,” though not the sinister kind. “All airplanes are,” explains Rankin, in that even the best pilots have to land eventually, “but in a glider, unless you can find lift, it’s just a matter of time until you meet the Earth again.”

Finding lift is an important part of staying airborne in a glider, and largely consists of soaring through and over thermals to let the rising warm air work its magic. Experienced gliders will check the forecast for maximum lift (mornings aren’t great; the ground needs time to heat up) and keep a mental map of reliable locations for thermals, like blacktop parking lots.

What surprises Rankin most, as they try a few aerobatics, is just how agile these gliders can be, though he notes the Grob handles considerably better than the “loose and almost sloppy” controls of the Schweizer. “Just imagine driving a moving truck and then getting into a Ferrari,” he says. “Both have four wheels and a steering wheel, but are way different.”

Back on the ground after a smooth landing, Rankin goes straight to the club and signs up, with plans to get his full glider rating soon. “It’s quiet and peaceful, just you and physics,” he says. “It’s about as pure as you can get when it comes to flying.”

For more about the flight in Rankin's own words and a video of the flight, follow the link below.

Pictured: Ryan Rankin settling into the Grob G103. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

Ryan Flies

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