Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The joy, and discipline, of earning pilot's wings

By Drew A. Penner, Comox Valley Echo 

July 23, 2013

The first thing you notice as the glider circles higher and higher behind the Cessna 182 tow-plane is the pervasive brilliance of the deep blue sky melding into the diamond latticework of the Georgia Strait.

The Powell River ferry cuts an angular swath in the aqua carpet below. Time seems to stand still.

Up until now everything has been preparation. Falcon team flight commander Tyler Kragh, 23, inspected the Schweizer SGS-233A before manually taxiing out to the runway at the CFB Comox air force base with the help of exuberant cadets in the midst of a prestigious Transport Canada-recognized glider training program.

The pilot, for his part, had logged over 880 flights and 115 hours of instruction ahead of the trip.

Then, suddenly the command: "Here we go. All out!" Kragh announced. "All out!" came the echo from the wing, as a cadet switched from an arms-out pose to twirling one arm.

And we were off. First two feet, then three feet, then 100... You see the brown, charcoal and yellow hues of summer agriculture, the hearty green patches of forest, the suburban-style housing bounded by the teal tinge of the estuary and off-coast waters.

As the towline is released the glider dips momentarily, before seemingly pausing in mid air in what is best described as pure freedom.

Comox-resident Jared Heavener, isn't quite sure how to put his finger on what that strange feeling is you get when you're soaring. But he likes it.

"When I'm up in the air and I'm moving the controls the aircraft is moving with them," said the 16-yearold, one of just 44 pilots-in-training at Regional Gliding School (Pacific). "It's a very unique feeling. You don't really get that feeling anywhere else."

Heavener has always wanted to take to the skies, and started helping out with the cadet ground crew program to get as close to the dream as possible.

"I would help push the gliders and launch them," he said. "In return I would get some flight time with one of the familiarization pilots. That was pretty fun."

Unlike most of his fellow cadets who come from as far away as Ontario, Heavener gets the added thrill of recognizing landmarks from above.

"I can see things that I'm used to, so that helps with the flying in general," he said. "Looking at the altimeter it doesn't feel like you're at that height. You feel a lot higher.

It's really quiet, which is something that I would never have expected."

Each instructor is paired with up to three cadets.

Heavener's mentor Tori Koelewyn, who hails from Campbell River originally, says she loves to pass on her love of aviation to her students.

"Once they get their license they can fly a glider anywhere in Canada," she said. "It's a once in a lifetime thing. Very few cadets get to do it."

Half the day is spent on the tarmac and then the rest is spent in classrooms learning about air law, glider capabilities, navigation and more.

"They learn the speeds of their gliders, they learn the dimensions of the aircraft that they're flying," she said. "They learn Transport Canada rules. They learn about navigation."

30th Not bad for 16-17-year-olds, especially since many of the students can't even legally drive a car.

Cpt. Tom Kolesnik, of 2 Canadian Air Division Headquarters in Winnipeg, said students are learning how to operate aircraft in a variety of environments.

"Here for example they're operating at a controlled airport," he said. "There's a tower that controls what's going on. At some airports there isn't a tower and people coordinate by radioing each other."

Earlier this year the federally supported cadet glider program seemed to be on the chopping block as NDP defence critic Jack Harris asked Defence Minister Peter MacKay about the possibility of cuts during question period.

In a statement at the time MacKay told the Echo the cadet program is "the best youth development program in Canada" and that the gliders are an important part of it and not going anywhere anytime soon.

Kolesnik agreed with the significance of the engineless flight training and said only time will tell what will happen under Rob Nicholson, the new defence minister.

"Everyone's concerned about programs across Canada when there are cutbacks," he said. "From an air force point of view we see the program continuing."

Catherine Holder, chief flying instructor at Regional Gliding School (Pacific), said taking to the skies in nearly 50 flights teaches the youth more than just how to operate aircraft.

"When they realize they can do it on their own, that's pretty cool," she said. "They achieve something that kind of seems scary at the beginning. They see they can do things that they didn't think they could do before."

Source:  http://www.canada.com