First Flight for new owner of HP16 N3943A

By Craig Jungers

I thought some readers of this list might be interested to hear about the experiences of a power pilot in the land of Minden (Nevada) where I bought Tim Kurreckís HP16/18 and then spent the next six days getting my glider rating from Tony and the crew at Soar Minden.

Since my home is now only 50 road miles from Wenatchee and 30 from Ephrata in Washington State, and my son is moving through his student trials, I started to get the itch to have my own glider. Perhaps buying a glider and then getting a rating isnít the normal way of doing things but all middle-aged men reserve their own mid-life crisis criteria and Timís HP16 was cheaper than a Harley and MUCH cheaper than a 20-yr-old girlfriend.

For me, the HP was an obvious choice for a glider. In terms of "bang for the buck" they are unbeatable. But since my son will also be flying whatever glider I buy (not immediately, but soon... heís 15 now and almost ready to solo), I wanted a glider that has good performance and stability coupled with strength and an economical price. The HP16 was exactly the glider I had been thinking of and Tim and I managed to iron out a deal within a few hours of my sitting in the glider for the first time.

The following Monday I presented myself to Soar Minden and was introduced to my new instructor (Joe - perhaps the youngest 71-year-old instructor in the world) who shoveled me into a Grob 103 for my first flight in a glider in more than ten years. (I should explain that Iím a lapsed power pilot with something over 1,000 hours in tail-draggers.)

With my first two glider flights under my belt I felt like a real fool. I had bought a glider but was clearly never going to be able to fly one. After only two flights I asked Joe to let me stop for the day and get my wits together. I went home (to my camper parked next to N3943A) and lay awake a long time pondering what Iíd done to myself. How would I explain to my wife that I had bought a glider I couldnít learn to fly? There was no answer to that, I just had to continue on.

The next day my first flight was much better and I had a total of 8 launches that day. Over the next few days Joe did everything he could to make a glider pilot of me. By Friday he told me that although there was a lot more to do, he was too tired to do it and recommended me for my flight exam scheduled for the next day.

My check ride was not without incident, I am told. Fortunately for me, itís almost a total blank. I have a piece of paper which alleges that I am a Private Pilot with a glider rating, so I must have passed. The next day I checked out in a Grob 102 and flew it for 30 minutes in no lift. Then Joe and Darren (a Soar Minden visitor from England) and I went out to assemble N3943A and perhaps fly it that afternoon.

Since Timís shoulder was broken when he showed me the glider, this was my first look at putting an HP together for flight. We had a few glitches but after only three hours (it turns out that Joe can swear fluently in Lithuanian, a talent that only raised him even higher in my eyes) the glider was assembled and taped and I was exhausted. Only a fool flies when he (or she) is exhausted but Joe and Darren restrained me admirably, and we formulated a plan for the next morning.

October 12, 1998 dawned cool and cloudy at Minden with high winds and wave predicted for that afternoon. Our plan didnít include high winds or wave, so I poked my nose out of my sleeping bag early enough to get a bite to eat and go over our cunning plan before the winds came up. Our intentions were to use the longest runway at Minden (runway 34 which is 7700 feet) instead of the more typical glider runway of 30 (about 5,000 feet) for both takeoff and landing (although we used the intersection for takeoff).

Winds were calm when Joe connected the tow line to N3943A about 10am. The tow pilot (Mike) had conspicuously crossed himself as he passed me on his way to hook up (Iím not Catholic but I did it too... what the heck). Joe lowered the left wing, and I waggled the, um... rudder? Just to be safe, Joe gave the ground handlerís sign for takeoff, and Mike towed me down the runway.

My first impression was "hey, this isnít so bad". Then I dropped my left wing, over corrected and almost dropped the right wing, lifted off and ballooned to about 15 feet before coming back into position, then drifted left and right behind the tow plane until, at about 500 feet, I finally had a good feel for the controls. At 8700 feet I released (a 4,000 foot tow), turned away from the tow plane, did a clearing turn, did an approach to a stall, then a full stall and looked at my altimeter... I had lost only 100 feet. Boy, this glider likes to stay up!!!

With gear retracted I did another series of stalls, then extended the gear and added flaps to get an idea of the attitude of the glider when set up for final. We had pretty much decided on only using 45 degrees for this first landing, so I tried to simulate a landing at 8500 feet. This went ok and I had a lot of altitude left (but very little lift) so I retracted the gear and raised the flaps and flew it around a while just having fun circling in the few bumps I could find and prolinging the flight.

What a joy this glider is to fly. Itís light and quick yet gives no feeling of being unstable; in fact, just the opposite. And a low sink rate that should give us plenty of time to look for lift before we have to call it a day. The only thing that gave me pause was the certain knowledge that, sooner or later, I would have to land this flapped beast and stories from other HP owners at the airport had not given me a lot of confidence in this maneuver.

Nevertheless, when I had flown around enough to squander 3,000 feet of altitude I headed for pattern entry for runway 34. Again, this bird does not want to come down and that, coupled with the lift from the airport (naturally, once youíre in the pattern you find lift) made me add flap early and extend my downwind a little to help lose the extra height. On base leg I knew it hadnít been enough so I cranked in 45 degrees of flap and lowered the nose. Oops... too far... speed up past 70mph... the HP wants to go fast when its nose drops. A little more flap on final (I have NO idea how much) and I was soon skimming the runway and then settling onto the surface.

I had used up much of the runway before touchdown bleeding off excess speed and still stopped only a hundred feet or so past the intersection where Joe was waiting with a golf cart to tow me back. We took the glider back to my camper and dissected my takeoff and landing.

We had installed skateboard wheels on the wing skids that morning and I was thankful for that, since my left wing had touched the runway on takeoff. Controls on takeoff were much quicker than I had been used to in other gliders (Grob 103 and 102) but the glider isnít as fast as a Luscombe so my old instincts possibly saved me from over controlling there.

A lower pattern than 1000 feet would be wise for this glider, I think, but this is standard for Minden. Certainly, I could have used 90 degrees of flap but there was a lot of runway there and not much likelihood of overrunning it. The biggest problem was letting the airspeed build up on final and Iíll have to be more alert for this in the future.

Since I had to head for home after my first flight, Joe and I disassembled N3943A and put her back in her trailer, I said my good-byes to the rest of the crew at Soar Minden, and we headed for home some 800 road miles north. When my son came home from school today, he got his chance to sit in the cockpit of our new glider. By the time heís ready to fly it sometime next year or so, I should be able to help him be safe in it.

So, a brand-new glider pilot can fly an HP and live to savor the experience.