Where is the Engine?

Aviation leaves many vivid memories.
A first airplane ride, solo, Private license, seaplanes, cross country trips,  etc… etc..
Last Saturday on the North Shore on Oahu, Hawaii, I added a few more memories..

On a previous trip to Hawaii several years ago, I managed to do the basic glider air work of stalls, spins etc.,
but the weather and schedule did not leave sufficient time to complete a solo flight.

So, this year, I was fortunate to find an instructor, Steve Lowry, willing to hit the gliding hard on Saturday PM following a couple hours of intense refresher ground school from the owner of Soar Hawaii, Mark Griffin. Instead of leisurely towing to 3000 feet and soaring, we focused on repeated tows to just 1000 feet with pattern work, emergency procedures, approaches, and spot landings.
On a few flights, we were getting just a pittance of ridge lift and soared for an extra 20 minutes!
Precise speed control and coordinated turns allowed a minuscule 50 feet per minute of lift.

On one circuit we climbed to 1300 feet (with no gas)!!

For most of the next several hours (10 tows) we watched a weather cell slowly move closer from Sunset Beach about
15 miles off the take off end of the runway at Dillingham Field.

Then, around 5 PM, the instructor said I was ready for solo, (hurrah!) but, he wanted to do one more simulated rope break from 200 feet and another recovery from a simulated bounced landing.

After two more 20 minutes tow cycles, about 6 PM, Glider Instructor Steve completed the FAA paperwork and hooked the tow rope to the Grob 103. After wagging my rudders as a ready signal, the tow planed gunned his engine away I went!  Mission accomplished! After over 4000 hours of powered flight, I was alone in the air for the first time with NO engine!

However, after turning a right crosswind behind the L-19 Cessna “Bird Dog” tow plane, I began to pick up moderate rain from a combination of that first weather cell that was now merging with another cell boiling over the ridge line!

While never losing visual, the gray L-19 was beginning to blend with the precipitation. The bright orange tow rope provided a reference point through the rain pounding the plexi glass. I seriously considered releasing early if the visibility deteriorated, and then doing a hard 180 turn and landing downwind on the runway similar to the rope break procedure. We proceeded around the traffic pattern…

Then, the rain began to diminish as the tow plane and the Grob continued turning and climbing onto the downwind leg. I released the tow rope at 1000 feet of altitude, and after a steep dive, the L-19 speed back to the airport.  While tempted to try soaring the ridge, I decided to pull the dive brakes for an early decent.  After establishing a 270 overhead approach with another right turn across the runway and out over the edge of the ocean, and then, guess what?  There was another ——- weather cell just a couple miles from the approach of the runway!! 20 minutes ago that whole side of the airport was clear.

Despite the little extra speed on approach from my own adrenaline, I managed to make a B landing.
And within two minutes of rolling off the runway, it was raining hard!  As they say, “timing is everything”!


With aviation gas almost $4 a gallon, the idea of a “power glider” is intriguing. These sailplanes use a small engine instead of a tow plane.  After obtaining the desired altitude, the engine is shut off for soaring. Under ideal conditions, it is possible to stay aloft for many hours….Soaring is quiet and appears much more relaxing than power planes in GOOD weather!

Mark Lindberg is a resident of Mountain View CA resident and a mechanical engineer in the commercial building (HVAC) industry. A part time power plane flight instructor and an avid history buff, he writes and speaks on a variety of subjects.