Luke & Esther gave me a voucher for a gliding trip for my 30th birthday. I used it yesterday, at Gliding Wairarapa, which is at Papawai, a little east of Greytown. It was a good time. CFI Vern told me that it was in fact the ultimate thrill, and that I was to tell all my friends about it. Because CFI stands for Chief Flying Instructor I thought I ought to follow his instructions. It was a friendly, low key, very New Zild operation. I didn’t know when it would be my turn, or if in fact there would be time for me to have a turn at all. I didn’t have to sign anything. I got to sit in the front. An adolescent student pilot did up my straps and closed the hatch. CFI Vern sat in the back. A kevlar winch pulled us into the sky at 60kph. They used to use one made of high-tensile steel, but it “proved a hazard to onlookers when it snapped”. You zoom up into the sky at what feels like 40 degrees. At 2000ft Vern dipped the glider’s nose forward, which unhooked the cable.
Seeing the South Wairarapa from that height is interesting more than thrilling. I thought about the flying suits in the Mars series. I saw an oxbow lake, formed from what was a tight bend in the Ruamahunga. I saw an apple orchard entirely covered by a white canopy. I saw the Greytown sewerage ponds, and wondered if the green algae growing in them could be turned into biodiesel. We wooshed gently through the sky until CFI Vern spotted a cloud with a dark bottom. This, he told me, indicates lift — warm air is being sucked up into the cloud. Because lift usually comes in narrow columns, gliders have to turn hard to make the most of them. Spiralling up underneath the cloud we gained a lot of altitude. Once we lost the lift, CFI Vern performed some aerobatics for me — snaking up and down through the air hard enough to generate 2 gs (which, I admit, gave my stomach something to think about), and banking really tightly, so that we were almost perpendicular to the ground. Those manoeuvres cost a lot of altitude, and meant that sixteen minutes after we’d taken off it was about time for us to land. Landing seems to involve aiming for the ground at a surprisingly steep angle and levelling off at the last possible minute. You only get one chance in a glider, so it gave me an opportunity to contemplate mortality for a moment — something I’ve had fewer opportunities to do since Aaron sold his car a few years back.
I recommend having a go. The voucher Esther & Luke kindly got me includes six months trial membership, and it only costs $20 a flight for club members, so I hope to have another glide before too long.