“No, we’ll be winched up.”
“There’s cable attached to a V8 motor a mile down the paddock.”
Strapped into the glider, we sped down the grassy field, pulled along by the distant motor whirring at full throttle.
October 1990: As the acting sports editor on the Goulburn Post newspaper in regional NSW (200km south-west of Sydney) I was actively looking for new stories that would get me out of the office.
While phone interviews were the easy option, I preferred to meet people on their home turf. Or runway.
“We haven’t done a story on the local gliding club,” I decided, picking up the phone. “I’m going flying.”
It was one of the perks of being a journalist.
I arrived at the designated ‘airfield’ about 18km out of town, carrying a notebook, camera and portable tape recorder.
I was moonlighting at the local community radio station as a volunteer and arranged to do an audio recording of my historic flight in a two-seater glider.
Close inspection of the tiny aircraft confirmed there was no engine, while a cable trailed out of sight across the uneven paddock.
“How exactly are we going to take off?” I asked the pilot, Jim.
How to launch a glider into the air
1. A conventional powered plane tows the glider using a long rope. The glider pilot releases the rope at the desired altitude through a quick-release mechanism located in the glider's nose.
2. An engine powers a winch on the ground. A long cable is connected to the glider, which is then pulled along the ground toward the winch and takes off, climbing rapidly.
The second option was our method of take off:
Staying in the air without an engine required some help from Mother Nature:
1. When the air near the ground is heated by the sun, it to expands and rises, creating thermals. These can be found in locations such as fields and rocky terrain, newly forming cumulus clouds, or large birds flying without flapping their wings.
2. Ridge lift is created by winds blowing against mountains, hills or other ridges, causing the winds to be redirected upward.
3. Wave lift is created by winds passing over the mountain instead of up one side.
My pilot Jim circled within the thermal columns until we reached the desired altitude, then left them to resume our flight over the Goulburn district. While our ascent was quite steep, the ride at 1200 feet was rather smooth - well, at least most of it was…
Fortunately, there were no pilot cameras in those days to capture the green tinge on my face following that gut-churning stunt!
The rest of the flight continued without incident and after I recovered, Jim let me fly the glider for a while. This was relatively simple, compared to learning to drive a manual car – there’s no clutch, or gas pedal and you don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic.
Safely on the ground
Our landing approach was not as steep as our earlier take-off, as Jim smoothly guided the aircraft back onto the paddock.
It was an exhilarating flight and quite amazing to have a close up view of the landscape below, something you don’t appreciate when flying at higher altitudes in a Boeing 747.
I’ve had other opportunities to soar skyward in small (claustrophobic) aircraft in pursuit of a news story:
· Flying over a bushfire devastated district in a four-seater plane piloted by the Mayor.
· Aerial inspection of power lines in a helicopter.
I’ve even had a harrowing take-off in a 20-seater, twin engine plane bumping along a 500m airstrip halfway up a Himalayan mountain in Nepal.
I’m not yet convinced the adrenalin rush makes up for the sheer relief of making it back to the ground in one piece.
In 2006 I decided to further test my fear of heights on a helicopter joy ride over the Twelve Apostles, located along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.
The tiny chopper hovered over the ocean, providing a stunning view of nature’s iconic rock formations - there are some things you just can’t appreciate from ground level.
And while I enjoy the relative comfort and safety of larger airplanes, I’m much happier when I’ve got both feet back on the ground again.