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Breaking the Apron Strings: Soaring Cross Country
Author's Notes by Phil Petmecky
It took me over two hours to get there. I was only lost four or five times. I worked every cloud that had ½ knot or better lift. I only got low once, right after release from tow. I arrived over what I hoped was my goal at 4000 feet AGL. I won't talk about my first landing on a paved runway in a glider, except to say I missed all the runway lights.
Needless to say I was not prepared to make this flight. I now have been a glider flight instructor for over eight years. In my first few years as an instructor, the students I turned out usually reached my level of ignorance on cross country flight by the time they were rated. One good thing that I can say about myself during this period is that I knew my weaknesses and constantly worked to improve myself. Slowly over the years I have developed a cross country training syllabus that I use with my students. I know that they are much better prepared to break the apron strings than I was.
One of the problems I had in teaching myself to fly cross country was that I read everything I could lay my hands on and tried to use it in flight. I found myself overloaded with information I did not thoroughly understand. Much of what I read was really written for contest pilots and not applicable for beginner cross country pilots. The approach to a Silver Distance flight is much different than that for a contest task. For example, on a Silver Distance flight speed should not be nearly as important as altitude. There is no additional reward for finishing the task in less than an hour. Once we have successfully done our Silver Distance we will then begin to work on improving our speed during cross country flights. Every local flight should have several goals laid out prior to flight. I like to work my way upwind as far as altitude permits and practice final glides back home. I frequently set a short task and try to fly it as fast as possible.
My preflight planning was never adequate and consequently my in-flight decisions were poor. Even when I made a good decision the time it took to make it was so long that I frequently lost large amounts of altitude in the process!
One of the first things I tell my students about cross country flight is that the better prepared they are prior to flight, the more likely they are to have a successful outcome. They begin carrying, and using, a sectional chart early in their training. As soon as they develop decent control of the glider I begin their pilot-in-command training. They must constantly be aware of their location and altitude, and be able to get back to the pattern entry point with as little coaching as possible.
This manual is designed to give beginners the information they need to break the bonds of the local gliderport. I hope this book can help you become more confident when you take that first big step away from your home gliderport.
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