Flight Of The Glider
The bus ride was about half an hour long, full of wind from the open windows and old hand-me-down military songs being belted out by the more senior air cadets, none of which I know the words to. It’s not the first time that I am making the trip to Base Borden; I was there years before with my parents for air shows and visits to the military museum. This time the trip is different though. Among all the songs and laughing, I quietly contemplate if I am going to have the courage to step into that glider, or if I will turn back at the last moment too afraid to fly for the first time at thirteen years old.

As the bus pulls into a vast, empty parking lot, I can see the few gliders lined up along the side of the airfield and the officers doing pre flight checks on the tow plane. It is not even noon yet and already the parking lot is starting to wave and shimmer from the hot late summer sun. Someone makes a comment about how it will be a long day and a sergeant turns to me, “that heat off the parking lot is what creates the rising thermals that help hold the gliders up there” he says. I continue to wait in the shade of the bus watching new friends head to the airfield wondering if they feel as nervous as I do. Glider after glider follows the tow plane into the sky and I venture out into the sun for a little while to throw a frisbee with kids still full of adrenaline from their first flights.

Then it’s my turn. I gather with the four others whose names were called at the entrance to the field. The officer gives us a few quick instructions about airfield safety which mostly just equates to “stay on this side of the pylons”. An older cadet comes towards me to lead me to the glider that is being wheeled into position for takeoff. I pass the other cadet who just landed; a huge smile on her face. It is hard for me to smile back with my heart in my throat. As I reach the glider I realize that the pilot is just a kid himself, not yet 18, but fighting back my fear, I put my trust and faith in the group of older cadets around the glider giving me instructions and attaching the tow rope.

As I get in the glider, the seat is fairly uncomfortable, on the floor of the plane, no cushion and a barf bag on the back of the pilot’s seat staring back at me tempting me to grab it. Then the cab is closed and the other cadets outside lift the wing off the ground. Gliders only have one main wheel under the cab and three smaller wheels; one at the tail and one at each wing tip. When the glider is not moving it leans on one of the wing wheels. Outside the cadet at the wingtip is making a small circular motion with his forearm signaling the pilot of the tow plane to take up the slack on the tow rope. Pilot says “here we go” and then we’re moving. The faster the glider goes, the louder and rougher the rumbling from the wheel on the grass field below gets. Then it stops and all that is left is the loud whooshing of the wind over the cab and empty air beneath my hard seat. Being so much lighter, our glider actually takes off before the tow plane does. I watch the tow plane lift off in front of us and then try to keep my eye on the horizon as we climb. 500 feet, 1000 feet, 2000 feet, we finally level off at about 2,800 feet. The houses and buildings below look so tiny beneath the blue sky and bright sun. I can get used to this I think to myself. Then the pilot tells me to watch my knee as he pulls a lever back releasing us from the tow plane. There is a sickening lurch and my stomach jumps to my throat as the glider drops a few feet from the sudden deceleration. Now I am gliding, no engine, no gas, no exhaust, just the wind and the rising thermals beneath us.

I can’t let go of the “holy shit” handles on the inside of the cab. But it is the most sensational white knuckle ride of my life. We make a couple of turns, a couple of gut turning dips, and before I know it we are on our final approach. We come in for a landing without a hitch, a bounce or two on the ground and the rumble is as loud and rough as it was on takeoff yet does not last nearly as long. I thank the pilot for returning me safely while the ground crew opens the cab and helps me out. As I walk back on shaky legs to the parking lot with a huge smile on my face, I pass another cadet on his way out, smiling back at me. He must have flown before. The rest of the afternoon is not the same as the first half of the day. As the bus leaves the parking lot I start to wonder to myself, when will I get to glide again?
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copyright © Anthony T. Mulders, 2012