(April 2011) IT WAS NOT A BIG MISTAKE. I ended up with damage only to my pride and my reputation. But, I took a shortcut, and I learned about flying from that.
I grew up on World War I flying books left in my bedroom bookcase by previous generations. I listened to Dad tell of his Stearman lessons from early 1941. I was mad about flying and desperate to get started.
Sometime around my 14th birthday, in the dark ages of the ’60s, the Cleveland Soaring Society relocated to a field north of Jefferson, Ohio. Within the year an older friend was driving me there and we were taking lessons. Neither of us had much money, so sometimes we just hung around, helped drag sailplanes around or ran with a wing to get a flight started on the single central running gear. Most of the boys I ran with put their money into cars. Bad decision. Cars could be borrowed. Long before I could drive legally, my few farm wages went into flying lessons. Years later I demonstrated to my mother my skill at forging her name when she got around to asking how I got permission to fly.
The flying experiences were priceless. I still remember my first loop and the spin over the feed mill. All motion seemed to stop as the feed mill went ’round and ’round and got bigger. I remember circling in a thermal. I looked up and saw another airplane above me in the same stack. Between us was a hawk, circling with us.
I realize now that it was the sailplanes that got me into trouble later. Landing a sailplane is a skill that does not transfer well to a power airplane. In a Schweizer 2-22E we flew around the countryside at 38 miles an hour, searching for some lift while coordinating our turns by the piece of yarn taped to the outside of the canopy.
We landed by increasing the speed to 50. The sailplane was pointed to the ground and flown into it. At contact we pushed the stick ahead to roll the nose onto the wooden skid, which served as a brake. The wings were balanced with the stick until they stopped flying and settled onto toy wheels at the end of spring steel rods.
We landed long by intention so as to stop a hundred feet or so before the lineup of sailplanes waiting for a tow. Landing short would have seemed judicious but was bad form, requiring helpers to come out and pull you into place. If you were tempted to flare out, you would have ended up in a pile of sailplanes.