My spring break started out pretty normal as far as Riddle-kids go. I slept in a little, I read a few hundred pages of Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis”, and I took pictures of airplanes. I was satisfied with my quiet spring break, but it got much better on the Thursday of that week when a few good friends of mine from the Sport Aviation Club (SAC) called me up. ERAU students Matt Colan and Billy Janus invited me to join them and a few others at Pierson Municipal Airport (2J8), a 2,600 foot grass strip located on the OMN VOR 260 radial at 18.4 miles. They needed a cameraman for some aerial shots they were after. Folks in aviation say, “It’s good to know people”, well that came true in a rather modest way that day. It was a perfect day to play in the sky, one of those days that you live in Florida for. Let me put you there:
The winds are westerly at 5-7 knots; a refreshing breeze is satisfying under the 82 degree sun which warms your skin. Above you, clear blue sky arcs in all directions with some wandering lines of clouds. The smell of freshly cut grass hangs in the air, reminding me of the football field. Oh yes, this was a good day.
For the flight we would have a Piper J-3 Cub flown in by Mike Breshears, and an ASK-21 glider trailered in by Martin Hollatz. Both of these aircraft are owned by Eagle Sport Aviation (ESA), a flying club based in Deland. A PA-25 Pawnee was also present, the Pawnee is the tow-plane for the gliders based at Pierson. An old cropduster, the Pawnee is basically the equivalent of an airborne tractor. After unpacking the glider, we had a careful discussion of the planned formation, as well as what photographs we’d like. We take safety seriously, even in simple operations.
When everyone was happy with the plans, it was time to go fly! I got to cram myself into a Cub for the first time ever, and it was also the first time I’ve been in a tail-wheel aircraft. Getting in a Cub requires gymnast-like precision when you’re 6’4”. I’ve been pretty fond of the aircraft for some time, so it was a proud moment. Earlier last year I had helped put some of the coating on the fabric of that very aircraft, while SAC and ESA were recovering the wings. The Piper Cub is a simple aircraft, and one of the things it lacks is a starter for the engine. This means the prop must be pulled through for the engine to start, which is called “hand-propping”. With a yell of “contact!” and a quick pull the 65 horsepower engine churned to life. We lined up on runway 5, and Michael pushed up the throttle. A few hundred short bouncy feet later we we’re aloft. The Cub’s door is located on the right side and is removable, so it was kept off for best photography results. Martin and Matt were in the glider, so we communicated over a transceiver to coordinate our formation as well as a photo pass at high speed. We spent about an hour in the air, and Michael even let me take controls for a bit. The Cub has a stick rather than a yoke, and it felt light in my hands. I thought of Lindbergh, Bleriot, Saint-Exupery, Amelia, and other early aviators who often flew with a stick at aviation’s dawn. The words of the poem High Flight, by John Gillespie Magee also came to mind as we soared through the morning air. I also relearned the importance of rudder for coordinated flight; we’re pretty spoiled with these Cessna Skyhawks. The flight re-invigorated the part of me that wants to get a tailwheel endorsement; it’s been dormant for quite a while. Does anyone know a good instructor? I’m a firm believer that it would make me a better pilot.
After the Cub flight it was time for the Yellow friend to head back to Eagle-Sport Aviation at Deland Airport (KDED). So I took a few more photos of Mike taking off again to head home, what a great time it was! Matt Colan had brought one of his RC planes, an Extreme flight Edge 540T, so he flew it around a little while and I took some pictures of aerobatic maneuvers.
Then something pretty cool happened, I was offered a ride in the glider as well! I had never been in a glider either, and I proved this fact when I asked Martin if I needed a headset. He looked at me funny, because you see, the thing is, you don’t need one for intercockpit communication in a glider. It’s quiet, there’s no engine, go figure! Billy cranked up the Pawnee again and we hooked up the ASK-21 with the towrope. The jolt of the glider (or Pawnee) starting it’s roll caught me by surprise, the canopy was closed around me, and I felt a bit trapped. But that passed quickly, because once again, I was in the air. It was impossible to feel trapped in the wide blue openness that was aloft that day. We we’re towed to about 2,000 feet before Martin released the towrope. I didn’t even notice, I was too busy looking all around me.
Sailing was another vastly different experience. I felt more ‘In-tune’ with the sky then I ever have. Glider’s depend on thermals to climb. Thermals are like wide pockets of warm rising air. An instrument in the cockpit called a Variometer shows the rate of rise or sink of the glider. It’s similar to a rate-of-climb instrument in powered aircraft. We spent an hour and a half aloft, used no gasoline, and lost no altitude. We sailed up to 4,500 or so on the backs of the thermals, and went North of Pierson past lake George and to the southern shore of Lake Crescent. I took around 700 pictures that day, and was able to share them with the guys that flew me around. A fair payment I think for services rendered! It’s a delight to see others enjoy your work and a greater delight still to spend a day in the sky.