I got to fly a glider!! (2004-06-09 - 6:43 p.m.)
Got to try something really cool last Sunday - learned to fly a glider! A glider (for those not in the know, and I had to ask the first time I heard about this) is a plane without an engine. John belongs to the Queens University Gliding Club though he had only been once. They normally go out on Sundays, so he talked Brian, the president, into letting me come along for a flight (even though technically you're supposed to be a Queens student).
We went out Sunday morning at 9:00. Brian drove the two of us plus a Malaysian student up to the coast - the airfield is up by Portrush, at the very north of Northern Ireland. It is right across the Lough from Co. Donegall and is in a beautiful area - lots of hills, lots of trees, lots of sheep. I felt right at home (except for the sheep part!) It was an hour and a half drive, which is insanely long for Northern Irish people but nothing at all to Albertans. The airfield is right between the lough and a huge cliff, which makes it perfect for gliders trying to catch an updraft.
There was an airshow on at Portrush that day, and all the aircraft gathered at the airfields in the region, including ours, before taking off for the airshow. Brian was in heaven, rushing around taking pictures of the various aircraft (some dating back to the World Wars!) This meant we couldn't go for a flight right away, so we drove down to watch the airshow instead. It was quite good - much better than the one at Southend - and even better since I'd just seen all the aircraft up close! Even met some of the pilots. My favorite part was the Utterly Butterlys (guess who sponsored them??), two blue-and-yellow planes complete with wingwalkers. The wingwalkers were two girls who spend the summer climbing out of aircraft while in flight and standing on the wings! Very cool, extremely neat to watch. They were taking applications, and I thought about it for a moment...
Down on the ground, the airshow was much more laid-back than Southend as well. There was a little fair, so lots of stuff to look at and greasy mini-donuts to eat. As it turned out, though, we shouldn't have left the airfield. When we got back we got our own private show! The cloud cover around Portrush prevented the airplanes from doing parts of their routines, but since there was very little cloud cover over the airfield, they came back and did amazing spins, dives and rolls just for the eight or ten people standing there. It was something else.
While I was waiting my turn to go up in the glider, I got into a conversation with a couple of guys (retired-looking) who had large cameras. (I started talking to them because they had an Edmonton sticker on their camera bag). Turns out they spend all their time travelling around the world, visiting airshows and photographing vintage aircraft. Must be a heck of a way to spend the year! They told me there's apparently a whole aircraft-photographing subculture, complete with magazines. Huh.
The glider flight itself was incredible. I went up with an instructor, of course, and he was very good (and very calm). We got pulled up by a little tug plane and then let loose on the air currents, right over the cliff. There wasn't much of an updraft due to the cool weather, but the flight still took nearly 45 minutes. I thought I'd be scared but wasn't at all. My main trouble was trying to concentrate on flying, and not just watching the view!
Of course I didn't get to do anything too complicated, but I did learn how to turn the plane with the rudder and stick, while NOT doing a nose-dive. I got the concept right away but the execution was much more difficult (probably easier if I spent more time playing videogames!) I did finally get it, though, and the instructor said I did a good job ("and we don't just tell everyone that, it's not fair if it's clear they didn't understand it properly!")
It was a very cool feeling swooping over the people walking along the cliff, and even more so controlling the plane (even though the instructor was ready to take over at any moment). If I spend any more weekends in Belfast, I can go again anytime for just £10. Seriously considering it!!
So that was definitely a highlight of the weekend. I've always liked heights (comes of being so short) and this is one way to get extremely high up - and with no engines to pollute or make noise. I loved it.
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