My thoughts recently have turned to teaching beginners Argentine Tango at TLC in Southampton.

Afternoon Milonga

Afternoon Milonga by Pat Murray

In preparing for this I experienced an interesting case of synchronicity as I was reading a book by Massimo Scaligero called ‘The Secrets of Space and Time’. In this book Scaligero talks about ‘true’ movement, an idea that smacked me right in the forehead as I saw its relation to the essence of dance!

Most of the time we move normally without much thought. We think functionally: I want to pick this object up; I want to move my hand to here etc, and our bodies do this for us.

If you wish to truly understand just how much is automatic go and talk to someone with Parkinsons, a disease which afflicted by father. Even now I remember his tears as this once amazing dancer tried to will his body to do the simplest tasks.

During this unconscious movement our bodies move us. But there is a different form of movement where we can learn to be more conscious as WE move our bodies. The former is something we cannot take responsibility for, and cannot truly individually own. The latter is where we can truly express ourselves.

This second form of movement is not purely a physical phenomenon – it has its source in our thinking. True conscious movement is the physical expression of our Thinking – capital T.

Try the following exercise and you might just be able to experience how different this movement is from our normal unconscious mode:

1: Stand up in a space where you have room to stretch your arms straight above you without hitting any ceiling. Stand with you arms down your sides.

2: Raise your arms to the horizontal position as you would normally do – unconsciously, without giving it much thought. You might experience this as a pushing feeling. You should be able to feel that you do not own the movement, just its result.

3: Now return your hands to your sides and imagine that there are infinitely long threads (and I mean infinite!) extending straight out from the ends of your fingertips. Imagine that these threads are raising your hands as they pull outwards and upwards. With your thinking imagine how, as those strings traverse space, you are cutting the universe in half out from your centre to infinity. You may need to do this quite slowly and might experience it as more of a pulling feeling.

This takes conscious practice and requires a disciplined – yet relaxed – imagination. Properly done it will feel totally different to step 2. It will be as if your Thought is moving you, as if the body need do nothing but attend to the Thinking movement you are trying to realize.

This is the essence of the movement of a good dancer

They will be centred in themselves.
They will be poised in space.
They will seem to move with a graceful lack of effort.

They are doing nothing less than touching the infinite with their own Thinking movement as it expresses their individuality into their bodily movement.

They will be collapsing that infinitude to a singularity in their thought and thus, given the relationship between time and space, they can bring us to a timeless point of awareness. According to Scaligero this is the true awareness of space and time and it will take some practice.

Tango Sketch 2

Tango dancers sketch by Pat Murray

Bringing this back to dance, and Argentine Tango in particular where we learn to consciously walk with a partner, it is noticeable how difficult it is to re-learn something we normally unconsciously do. In this case something we learnt in our formative toddler years before our ‘I’ became present (usually around 3 years old).

If we can individually achieve this consciousness and attention it can be very enlightening and life enhancing.

If we can do this with our dance partner then it becomes a truly creative, artistic and sublime experience.

Happy dancing!

Tango Acceptance

I recently attended a weekend tango workshop given at Tango UK in Bramshaw by the wonderful husband and wife team, Daniela Pucci and Luis Bianchi. I do believe it was the best workshop I have attended in the 4 years of tango training I have been doing, concentrating as it did on the internal aspects of the dance – making explicit the actual muscles that were doing the work – thanks to Luis’ background as a massage therapist.

However the reason for this missive is that I am going to reblog a posting by Daniela that is so very much in line with my own feelings about dance. [Many thanks to Daniela for giving me permission to do so] I believe this alignment of feelings is no accident as Daniela also has a technical background and is one of those few perceptive enough to see its flaws.

Daniela’s story is very interesting and relevant to my interests in issues related to science and art. She was a Mechanical Engineering professor at MIT and gave it up to teach tango full-time! In this post she talks about technique and aesthetics and how such an improvisational dance as tango relates all these as well as including the acceptance of the flawed human beings that we are – something that our culture has tried to forget with its pursuit of certainty and the ‘perfect’.

But I shall let her own words speak for her:

“Connection is one of the wonders of Argentine tango, perhaps its reason for existence. Daily life often presents us with situations where the limitations of verbal language lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings; where we are confronted with suffering that makes us feel completely lonely; where our individual paths at times seem so impossibly narrow that we are forced to go through certain stretches completely alone. In the midst of it all there comes Argentine tango, offering relief from the chasm that separates “me” from “you.” It’s intoxicating, really: unexpectedly, we happen upon an instance when the shared experience of dancing seems to take us as a whole, all problems and existential angst be dammed: all of a sudden the movement of one body seamlessly fits with the movement of another, the musical intuitions and emotions of both dancers so attuned that for the duration of at least that one tango, we seem to become a blissful single entity. I’d venture to say that, for a lot of us, the possibility of stepping into such perfect communion is what keeps bringing us back for another milonga, another festival, another trip to Buenos Aires.

Some seem to equate connection with a certain external form, or aesthetics. A few months ago a relatively new dancer told me he danced exclusively salon because of the connection he found there. In a class once, a student asked me how he could do a certain turn without breaking the connection — I soon realized that, for him, connection meant maintaining his partner’s and his stomachs in permanent contact. Most recently, someone else told me he had objected to the hiring of my partner and me to a certain festival because in past performances we often opened the embrace, and that he had thoroughly enjoyed the connection displayed in our close-embrace performance during that event.

I will not deny that, observed from the outside, different aesthetics definitely inspire different feelings in the spectator. However, my experience is that aesthetics have very little to do with the actual experience of the dancers.

I have danced with milongueros who dug his fingers into my ribs and twisted my right hand. I have danced with milongueros who led me with such gentleness that I could not pinpoint exactly where the lead was coming from other than that it was a pleasurable wave, sending me into tango bliss.

I have danced with salon dancers who had so little sense of timing that they often sent me bouncing against the edges of their stiff embrace. I have danced with salon dancers whose complete control of their body, subtle musicality and yielding, sensitive embrace filled me with awe, sending me into tango bliss.

And probably for the most maligned style of all, I have danced with nuevo dancers who fit all of the bad stereotypes, throwing me around into steps that seemed randomly selected with no relationship to the music and no regard to the constraints of the space, putting me in a permanent alert mode to avoid hitting other dancers. But I have also danced with nuevo dancers who adjusted the amplitude of their movements as dictated by the crowdedness of the milonga so that I never for a moment had to worry, and used the elasticity inherent to that style in open or close embrace to create delightful, dynamic musical interpretations… sending me into tango bliss.

The common point among these delightful dancers across all styles is that they had good technique: good control of their own movement and good understanding of their partner’s movement, so that the lead was gentle and yet clear and precise, consistent with the music and with the space available around us.

Aesthetics is not the same as technique. Good aesthetics will make a dance pleasant to watch. Good technique will make a dance pleasant to dance.

Technique is a wonderful thing: it frees us from concerns of how to do something so that we can fully immerse ourselves in the experience of doing, effortlessly.

And yet, technique is not the same as connection.

I want to elaborate on this but decided to give the sentence above its very own paragraph, hoping to drive this point home: technique is no substitute for connection. Technique is a servant to connection, a means to an end. Technique is a supporting actor, connection is the main actor. I could go on paraphrasing myself and I am sure in some way what I am saying is nothing new, we know this to some degree, but do we — myself included — really know it? And do we act consistently with this knowledge?

Where is our focus as we try to improve as dancers, as we think of a dancing ideal, as we select dancing partners in the milonga, as we go through each tanda?

Several years ago a well-known, top couple was visiting New York. To my surprise, at one of the milongas the leader invited me to dance. It was a fun tanda: he was obviously highly skilled and had a vibrant musicality. But what I remember the most is his dismissive attitude when the tanda ended: he did not even look at me as we thanked each other and parted ways.

Not too long ago I danced with a gentleman who was not as skilled or as musical. He held me with incredible gentleness and made me feel like a treasure. I was overcome by great emotion as we danced in the simplest of ways. That we were dancers dancing Argentine tango was completely irrelevant during those ten minutes: we were two human beings, reaching out from the isolation of our individual paths but for a brief moment, filled with appreciation for the privilege of holding one another.

What do you wish for in your path as a dancer, social or otherwise?

What I wish for is that in each dance — performances included — I may have the courage to present myself with complete authenticity, a flawed human being before another flawed human being, feeling safe in the certainty that I will be fully accepted for who I am. I wish that my partner will allow me to see him in his emotional nakedness, reassured that I will embrace him in his totality. In that moment of exquisite vulnerability when we take each other in the arms, we will make a pact to share our emotions for the next ten minutes. All sincere expression that arises from our encounter will be not only acceptable but, in fact, perfect. We may giggle lightheartedly, inspired by a silly melody and because we are feeling so good to be here right now, all problems left at the entrance of the milonga; we may join each other in a focused physical experience, delighting in the sensory feast of movement and music; we may just be still together, nursing a raw pain that feels too heavy to carry it alone and that doesn’t lend itself to expansive movement, but that feels a bit lighter in the sacred space of the embrace.

This is what I ask from each dance: that you come to me in a spirit of openness and acceptance, and I come to you in the same spirit, and we agree to make the most of our time together. As we share of ourselves generously, we will connect. I won’t require anything more, but won’t accept anything less.”

By Daniela Pucci Original date: 13-Sep-2012
Original found at the Tango Secrets website.

Thank you Daniela – I could not have said it better myself.

I would suggest looking at her interview on youtube:

GLIDER CHRONICLES 2011 – September 16th : Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

There are some times when I wonder if I will ever feel “grown-up”. The flying on this Friday provoked such a reaction, for during the 92 minute flight I was to come close enough to a buzzard or two that it left me speechless – which I made up for with childish glee during the rest of the afternoon by telling every other club member I met about it!

Luckily I was able to get a few photos of our feathered friends.

The Decision
The background to the day was as follows: During the week there had been two great flying days which I could not attend due to work commitments, and I knew that the weekend weather was not looking good. I turned up on Thursday evening hoping to at least hangar fly one of the gliders, but alas, I was too late and they were too busy to fit me in. On returning home I reasoned that since I had finished some work on Thursday ready for the weekend, I could afford to take the Friday off for flying, although it was only expected to be a marginally good day. Well – it made sense to me. So I set the alarm for an early rise in order to be there for the ballot of the single seater gliders at 8am.

The morning arrived with the bleeping of the alarm. Is it just me or are early morning decision processes tricky? I thought that as you got older it should be easier to get up early! Outside it was overcast and I almost decided to give up flying and go to work anyway, thus saving my holiday for later in the year. However in the end I did go to Lasham, though I could not get myself up early enough for the 8am ballot. Lazy, lazy, lazy. I know. But as it turned out it was not to be a problem.

Early morning skies showing the extensive top cover.


So up and prepped; NOTAMs checked; weather checked; and it was off to the club. Only one other person was there to grab a single seater so my early morning “lazy” decision was vindicated. After a “proper” breakfast and the morning briefing it was out to the hangar.

Explanation: NOTAMs
A NOTAM is a “NOTice to AirMen” and is essential reading for any pilot planning a flight. It is administered by NATS and is part of their Aeronautical Information Service, or AIS.

As of today, 18-Sep-2011, the definition of a NOTAM on this site reads as follows:
“Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) cover short duration or temporary changes or short notice permanent changes. They contain information concerning the establishment, condition or change in any aeronautical facility, service, procedure or hazard, the timely knowledge of which is essential to personnel concerned with flight operations.”

Don’t you just love those long sentences? But they are important long sentences and many a pilot has to get used to such language to get through the inevitable paperwork and exams related to flying.

The above items might, for instance, cover operations such as The Red Arrows, or any other flying display; Parachuting; Balloon flying; or even filming where the film crew don’t want little aircraft buzzing around ruining their period costume drama! It does happen.

Discus or Grob? And a Man with a Plan
When deciding which single seater to fly, I had made another “lazy” decision to take SH7, the baby Grob, since I knew it would be rigged. As it turned out it was buried at the back of the hangar so I decided to rig one of the “Modern Beauties“, Discus SH3 as I expected this would be less of a chore to get ready for flying. There were 6 other gliders in front of SH7 in the hangar and a definite dearth of helpers.

The conditions were not looking good as a lot of high cloud was present from the night before. It was going to be a case of waiting for it to disperse, which thankfully it duly began to do during the morning as you can see from the early photos.

The early reports from the initial K13 training flights were that no lift was around, so I decided to take an exploratory winch launch to see what the conditions were like. I expected this to be a short flight that would also get me “rolling” for the day. The plan was then to take an aerotow.

Ahh. Plans, plans, plans – they rarely survive contact with reality.

Getting SH3 rigged

View into SH3's trailer

SH3 rigged, cleaned and ready to go out to the launch point

Up and Away – but only just
By the time I had the Discus rigged, cleaned, over to the launch point, and sorted myself out – it was 12:15 and the conditions were just starting to get going. There was a medium strength southerly crosswind and we were launching on runway 09 towards the east.

I queued up, got strapped in and waited for a cable. The winch launch was unremarkable, though only a 1300ft launch height – I am still not getting good launch heights with the single seaters. However it was enough for some minutes of bimbling around and I decided to go upwind to the south of the airfield. This was to cause a few problems later but did result in finding some lift.

I flew around and did not manage to pick anything up until eventually I saw another glider coming in below me to join the circuit from the south-east and I decided to follow it in. I was pretty high as I began my circuit, and as part of the pre-landing checks put the undercarriage down.

All was going fine and I was expecting, as planned, to take an aerotow next. But then at around 700ft on the downwind leg I got the most amazing kick up the pants as I hit a 4up thermal. I am afraid I could not resist it since (a) I knew I had enough height and (b) knew there was no-one else in the circuit. After just one turn I knew I had a good one and put the undercarriage back in its box.

So all was going well and I climbed up to 1000ft but the next problem as alluded to earlier was that I was now drifting close to the launch area. I could also see that they were getting ready to launch a glider so I had to leave my beloved 4up thermal and go further south, upwind and away from the launch area. The waiting glider below was now being launched, but I had lost the “biggie” and was only getting weak 2up thermals, though enough to keep me at my height.

Thermalling on the south side of the airfield. The launch point is on the left hidden by the glider


At last another good thermal came along and I took it, beginning the inevitable drift back over the launch point as I circled. This time, however, I could see that they were not ready to launch so I called up and asked if I could overfly the launch point. Luckily this was allowed and I happily continued thermalling from the south of the airfield to the north without disturbing their operations, gradually climbing from 900ft up to 1500ft.

Being on the north of the airfield allowed me to check a bit of theory about thermal formation. I had heard that one should look for places where you would get differential heating. I reckoned I could see one where there was a wood on the south side of a brown stubble field. I was hoping that the air just on the north of the wood would be sheltered from the wind, allowing a big enough bubble of warm air to form which would later get detached due to the windy conditions.

Enlargement from previous photo of the view north. The red rectangle shows the wood and field described in the text where I found a thermal.


I was absolutely open-mouthed when I found this actually worked! It was not the best thermal of the day, but the theory did seem to work. Fantastic! With this thermal I managed to get to about 1800ft, at which height the lift seemed to “top out”. This was to be a consistent feature of the day’s lift.

It was shortly after this that I had my first encounter with a pair of buzzards.

Words fail to put over the feeling when encountering these wonderful fliers. I am not so deluded to think that I am anywhere near as good as they, nor can I claim a close kinship – the best I can say is that I felt linked to them in some small way. Yes – the word is “Participated”. I participated in their world and felt awe at the effortless connection they have with the aerial habitat. I also felt very lucky that I was able to fly with them for the small time I did.

Of course due to my higher speed, I could only fly around the outside of their circles, and as you would expect it was almost a guarantee that wherever they were – there was rising air. I was gratified to see that they were not at all bothered by my presence, being quite happy to pass within 50 metres of the glider, although I was careful to make sure I kept far enough away so that neither they nor myself would be disturbed.

By now I was back on the south side of the airfield where the air was moving in decidedly strange ways, definitely not in nice circular thermic bubbles. I decided to try and sort of “wind-surf” by flying to and fro rather than staying in circles. This seemed to work for a while but “needs more research”. It was at this time that I came upon another buzzard and managed to get some photos which I hope you agree are pretty amazing. Apologies for the angles since they were definitely “action” shots with one hand flying the aircraft and one hand on the camera.

Circling near a buzzard

Emulation is the sincerest form of flattery


The time was now around 2pm and I was getting quite tired as it was proving to be a tussle to stay airborne. I flew around to the west of the airfield as I could see ground movement of the launch point as the operation moved onto runway 23. This coincided with hitting some really strong sinking air going down at 600ft per minute just as I was on the downwind leg of the circuit. I almost thought I would have to turn in early and land crosswind but luckily came out of the sink and found some lift and carried on to return to a normal landing.

I opened the canopy and just stayed in the glider resting and contemplating my experience while I waited for the retrieve buggy. I had just completed a 92 minute flight, I believe one of the longest of the day, and had managed to fly with the birds. Definitely one of those “self-actualising” experiences as Maslow would say.

A day for the birds. Photo of a red kite taken later from the ground near the threshold of runway 23.

Bird of a different kind, but still beautiful.
SH3 waiting to be put back in the trailer.

Late afternoon sun.


And so it was time to go home and Reflect upon the day’s experiences. I hope you enjoyed my Rambling here and that I did not Rumble too much!

Until the next time…

GLIDER CHRONICLES 2011 – August 11th : Feeling Connected with the World

I have just been watching yet another TED talk about the disconnect between humanity and the world. The speaker was quite angry at times and, as usual, I found myself feeling uneasy about such one-sided anger. However later in the talk she also pointed out that the good and the bad go together, which showed she had a more measured response, and I felt her anger could then be used in a positive way. Until we get the disconnect in ourselves dealt with, it is difficult to make much progress with our disconnect at a local level, let alone a global level.

Since I had just returned from the flying club this weekday evening, my thoughts strayed onto my flying – of course! This evening I don’t have any photos, just my thoughts. It was just one glider flight. Only 6 minutes. Overcast conditions. Winch launch to 1300ft, followed by some bimbling around before getting into the circuit and sideslipping down on the approach rather than just simply using the airbrakes.

After having left home at 7pm, I was back by 9:15pm, and then took the dog for a walk. On the walk I was looking at the cloudy sky, which by now had some lovely red in it as the sun set, and I spontaneously started laughing. This was just like I have done when flying on one of the longer daytime flights, and it surprised me. What on earth was going on?

I realised I felt more complete, more connected to the world by having had that 6 minute flight. From the ground I was not just looking up at the clouds as I would normally – I had been up there! I had seen their shapes, experienced their air currents, flown around their wispy fingers. I had connected with the air currents that had started thousands of miles away, no matter how mundane they may seem when they arrive in this country.

I felt I had launched myself into the air and touched the world.

This experience – this connection – turned what was just a normal, “standard”, day into a beacon in my memory.

As I reflected after watching the TED talk by Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues), my mind returned to a chat I had with someone who had returned to gliding after having been doing a lot of sailing. He said he liked gliding better because you had only yourself to blame if you didn’t gauge the weather well and didn’t complete a cross country flight as planned.

To be a good glider pilot you need to train, but you must also connect with the sky and its variations. And when you make this connection, you get the chance to feel complete, because after all you are a being of this world.

No wonder I was laughing! I felt part of the world, and know I will sleep well tonight and sigh contentedly as I lower my head to the pillow.

Once again, a happy man, and feeling lucky to be alive.

Good night.

GLIDER CHRONICLES 2011 – July 23rd : Gliding with Seagulls

The previous weekend had been a real stinker as far as the weather was concerned with rain and more rain in the middle of July. So I was glad on Friday 22nd that the forecast for the Saturday said it would be soarable. I set the alarm the evening before and even missed out on going to a party because I knew I would be up early and flying the next day – such dedication. A shame as I enjoy a good dance and later heard it was a good shindig.

An early start the next morning getting to the club for the 8am glider ballot with my eye on the retractable version of the Baby Grob – SH7 – which I had flown the previous time and really liked. As it turned out there were only two of us each having a choice of three gliders so no need for drawing lots and we put our names down for our respective aircraft.

Then I noticed an even earlier riser who had put the very first, and lonesome looking glider on the grid. I had to have a photo of that and it turned out there was a small tale to this glider. The pilot launched at about 11am and didn’t get back until about 7pm, calling up on the radio in the evening when I was running the launch point for the Lasham Youth cadets. Hats off to the pilot who I believe is the BGA chairman – well, he is down as the owner. I can only aspire to such an accomplishment at the moment.

At the morning club briefing the forecast was good although with some overcast spreadout later in the day. Once again I could see that even at 9am the conditions were developing quickly. I was so impatient to get flying that I forgot to put on sun tan cream – which with a fair skin like mine is bad omission.

08:05 : The lone first glider on the grid in the morning.
Is the owner a physicist by any chance? (Zoom in to look at the registration)

08:47 : Morning clouds starting to build as the launch point vehicles get their DI (Daily Inspection).
The clouds got larger and I got impatient.

Explanation: Post-Launch and Pre-Landing checks – or its TUF crying WULF.
The post launch checks are important since if you forget to raise the undercarriage after launch it is possible you will raise the undercarriage before landing because you will be out of sync. This seems crazy – of course I know which way the lever should go! – but landing can happen under pressure so mistakes can easily be made.

Post-Launch checks mnemonic is TUF for:

T – Trim.
Adjust as required for the flying conditions.
U – Undercarriage.
Raise the undercarriage.
F – Flaps.
If fitted set them as required for the flying conditions.

Pre-Landing checks mnemonic is WULF for:

W – Water – Dump the water ballast.
This can take a good number of minutes, the Baby Grob manual says it needs 3 minutes. The Discus needs 5.
U – Undercarriage – Lower the undercarriage.
The important thing here, apart from remembering to do it, is to make sure it really is locked. SH7 has had some landings where the undercarriage “collapsed” because the lever had not been moved far enough forward to lock it.
L – Loose articles; Landing area; Lookout.
Loose articles includes the pilot! i.e. Check your straps. Check the Landing area for obstructions etc (though there is a whole another mnemonic for field landings), and Look out. At Lasham the latter is drilled into you since it can be very very busy in the circuit.
F – Flaps.
Set flaps, if fitted, to their landing position.

The Lasham manual page for these is here.

WULF, U/C, plus the QFE and QNH pressure settings.

What I did remember to do was stick a piece of paper on the instrument binnacle to remind me about lowering the undercarriage before landing. In this case there are apparently two sorts of pilot, those who have landed with the undercarriage up, and those who have not – yet.

The first launch of my day was off the winch and I only got to 1200 feet. It looks like I need to talk to an instructor to get some tips. Although I did connect to some very weak lift I decided to go off in search of better air and failed miserably to keep flying – I came down within 8 mins! Later in the bar I was roundly ridiculed by a fellow member of similar ability because I did not stay in the weak lift – fighting to climb away from the winch for half an hour like he did. So…

Lesson 1 of the Day:
Must try try harder from winch launches and not give up so soon.

Not that I am worried about my credibility in the bar you understand!

Due to a delay with the winch queue, for the next flight I decided to take an aerotow up to 2500ft which enabled me to learn the foibles of SH7 and also find decent lift. Not only was there some good lift, but there was also a copious amount of fast sinking air. I have not previously experienced such extensive downdrafts as strong as these – you rejoice on climbing up 500ft, which can be a struggle, and then to lose it in 1 minute because you hit some fast sinking air is depressing both psychologically as well as in height terms. However I did manage a 2 hour flight this time.

If you don’t know what QNH and QFE stand for I have put an explanation at the bottom of this post.

12:25 : Lasham from around 3500ft.

12:26 : Picture taken towards Odiham of a "working" sky.

12:27 : 400ft/min going down. Ouch. Struggling to find the lift.

Today was an object lesson about how thermals are not always circular. We get all this training about how to circle in a rising bubble of air, trying to centre in it properly, but now I am finding that the lift is anything but circular.

Lesson 2 of the Day:
Lift is not always circular.

The best time of the flight came when I spotted some seagulls as I was circling in some mediocre lift. As there were no gliders nearby I decided to try and circle underneath the birds. There have been a few other times when I have managed to do this and I always find it to be a wonderful experience. This time I found that in order to follow the seagulls my circles were very irregular, however I did manage to stay in the lift and gained some useful height. Unfortunately this only lasted for a short while before the seagulls disappeared, but it still felt great to be “flying with the birds”.

Lesson 3 of the Day:
Birds are smaller and more manoeuvrable than gliders and you cannot keep up with them.

After the flight it was a landing further into the airfield (called landing “long”), to park up by the hangar for cleaning duty. After this was done I helped the other early rising club member from the 8am ballot to de-rig the Discus. I was anxious to help out since I need to learn how to do this myself. Luckily it was not too hard, but will need someone to help. I am hoping to talk more about these lovely looking gliders later on in my flying development, once I am cleared to fly them. Hopefully before the end of the year.

14:15 : SH7 retractable Astir cleaned up before being packed back into the hangar.

Shot of SH7's cockpit after the flight.

Explanation: Cockpit Contents.

You can see here a shot of the roomy interior showing the items I usually take.

Items going clockwise from the bottom centre, including the easily visible control levers, are:

– One parachute – of course. Only the best dressed pilots have one, it does wonders for the look of your trousers when walking around outside the aircraft!
– One bottle of weak elderflower drink. I can’t stand having just water so I always add a bit of taste in, which also seems to help stop leaching salts out of me. My medical knowledge on this may be suspect, but I do notice the difference. One of my next todo items is to get a backpack drink system because it is too much faff to get the bottle out while you are trying to chase seagulls in a glider!
– One aviation map. Due to force of habit I always carry this with me, even when going for local flights. I also like to have the latest MemoryMap map in my phone since they do the proper aviation maps and it is always good to get confirmation by GPS, although I don’t rely on it.
– Green Trim Lever.
– Blue Airbrake Lever.
– Yellow Cable Release Handle.
– Joystick. Definitely need one of these.
– Silver Undercarriage Retract Lever. Forward all the way for down.
– Red Emergency Canopy Release Lever.
– One handheld radio as a spare. Always good to have a spare radio in case there are problems with the on board setup, say like a flat battery. Though the on board radio is going to be more powerful than my handheld one. From this you can start to get the idea that I might be a control freak!
– Microphone for the on board radio.


After my day of flying, it was time to get ready for the youngsters turning up for their evening training. So back to the clubhouse for a scone and a cuppa and then over to the launch point.

As you can see from the first of the following photographs, it turned out to be a beautiful evening. There was plenty of enthusiastic help to run the launch point and we even had enough winch drivers to have both winches working, so our launch rate was prodigious! We had a total of 40 launches done before the end of the day – many thanks and well done to all the youth, parents and instructors who helped.

Then later, as usually happens, one of the instructors starts touting for ballast – sorry passengers – towards the end of the evening to see who wants to come and partake of some aerobatics in a K21. There is never a shortage of takers.

In a future post I will use the winch photographs to help describe how we handle bringing the cable back from the winches to the launch point.

19:33 : A silver lining in the evening.

20:02 : Picture showing the twin winch operation of the evening youth group.

20:16 : John can never resist the late evening aerobatics before putting the K21 away.

Altimeter in SH7 showing a height of 2760ft.
Pressure setting is mid-right of image and is set to 992, the QFE at Lasham.
Adjustment knob is bottom left of image.

Explanation: QFE and QNH Pressure Settings.
The abbreviations in the caption of the previous photograph are part of the Q Code from the early days of radio. Although I will not go deeply into the subject here I just want to highlight that the Altimeter in an aircraft is simply a barometer that measures the ambient air pressure. As you go higher the air pressure falls because the air gets thinner. This happens in a regular way so that it is possible to make such an instrument that usefully shows you your height – certainly at the altitudes recreational pilots usually fly. The altimeter has a knob to set the reference pressure setting at which it will indicate zero feet. That is what is shown bottom left of the altimeter photo here and you can see that it is calibrated up to 20000ft. The altimeter pressure setting is in millibars, where 1000 millibars is 1 bar, about 14.5psi.

Just in case you get confused about the usage of words like height or altitude, they have specific meanings in aviation. Height is how high you are above the ground, and Altitude is how high you are above sea level, and I will use these meanings in the rest of this explanation.

For the altimeter to show you your height, you need to set the reference air pressure at the reference point on the ground. This is where the Q code word QFE is used. “FE” stands for “Field Elevation”, i.e. the altitude of the airfield, and the QFE is the pressure setting at this altitude. By setting your glider’s altimeter to this pressure setting it will show you how high you are above the airfield. Just what you want for local flying.

You can also do it the other way around which is what I do before launch. I set the altimeter to read zero feet while on the ground and then I read off the pressure setting, which is the QFE figure. This is the first figure I write on my piece of paper.

So what is QNH? Here “NH” stands for “Nautical Height” and, as you might guess, is the pressure setting at sea level. If you set the altimeter to the QNH setting, it will give you the altitude of the aircraft above sea level. If I know the altitude of the airfield above sea level – for example Lasham is 620ft – all I have to do is adjust the pressure setting knob until the altimeter shows 620ft, and then read off the pressure setting. This will be the QNH and is the second number I write on my piece of paper.

Measuring the pressure settings when the aircraft is on the ground is a good idea, because when I am flying I can then adjust the altimeter pressure setting to those numbers without having to think too hard and the altimeter will show how high I am above the ground if set to QFE, and will show how high I am above sea level if set to the QNH.

I need to know these numbers because the aviation maps will usually show altitudes of not just ground features, but also airspace. Another set of numbers the map shows are “Flight Levels”, but that is for another time because my brain hurts and I bet yours does too. If you get a chance to go flying ask your instructor to allow you to play with the altimeter setting and explain to you what is going on.

Suffice it to say that before every flight I fiddle around with the altimeter and write down both the QFE (Field Elevation) and QNH (Nautical Height) pressure settings. If I am not at Lasham my aviation map will show me the altitudes of all the airfields so I can easily find out the QNH.

21:38 : Glider tucked up in bed for the night. The next day was going to be really good - but I wouldn't be there. Shame.

All in all a long day for yours truly from 8am to 9:30pm, but once again a very rewarding and content feeling as, back at home, my head hit the pillow and I went straight off to sleep.

Night night, sleep tight…

GLIDER CHRONICLES 2011 – June 30th : In the Calm of the Evening

A short posting here about an unexpected end to a normal working Thursday. My Sony HX100 camera was new and gleaming and just waiting to be taken out for a spin! So I popped down to the flying club to see what shots I could get and – in all seriousness, honest – do some test shots with different settings.

The unexpected occurred because as soon as I got to the launch point, one of the K21 gliders was free and I was asked if I wanted to fly it. I initially demurred, saying that I had not “got my head into it” since I had not prepared myself mentally for flying. I have now realised that I usually plan my flying at least 24 hours ahead and so mentally rehearse the prospective activity. However this time it took me about 20 minutes to get my brain up to speed and realise that – Yes! – I would love to go flying, even for a couple of short circuits.

The next unexpected thing that occurred is that a fellow club member offered to take some shots and he created some beautiful ones that I have now had printed and framed. I don’t know his name but he obviously knew what he was doing – so many thanks to you, mystery photographer – whoever you are.

Shots from the evening follow with some of me for a change – so get yourselves ready since I am not very photogenic.

This first shot was me playing around with the camera at high zoom (30x) and pleased with the result. If you zoom in you should be able to see the detail of how the cable attaches to the glider. A shot that was helped a lot by the camera’s image stabilisation.

Distance shot of K13 on launch. You can see detail of how cable attaches. Bottom right is the folded parachute.

In this next shot you can see the “retrieve truck” with the two cables attached behind. If you zoom in and look carefully you can see where the cables are crossing the small runway behind the truck.

Retrieve truck pulling back the 2 cables from the winch.

Explanation : Retrieve Truck.
The Winch has 2 large cable drums each with at least one mile of steel cable so they are heavy and have to spin down slowly. After both cables have been used to launch the gliders the Retrieve Truck goes back to the Winch and the driver hooks both cables onto either side at the rear where there are special attachments. It then slowly pulls away and drags the cables back to the launch point – all in second gear – at no more than 25 to 30mph.

During the journey back to the launch point there must be no gear changes or sudden speed changes because the cable drums can overrun and cause a birds nest at the winch. Big direction changes are also out otherwise the cables can cross each other. Other folk need to give the truck a wide berth to make sure that nothing gets in its way, since it is the winch that controls the braking, again to stop the drums overrunning.

The truck driver has to slowly reduce speed as they get to the launch point which signals to the winch driver that they are about to stop – then s/he can just drop the clutch, letting the winch pull the truck to a stop. S/he should then keep the brakes off until the cable has pulled the truck back even further, thus releasing the tension. That way the person detaching the cables from the truck doesn’t risk getting hurt by any “ping back” of the cable as it is released from the truck.

The next set of 4 photographs were taken by the “mystery photographer” and you can see the difference. I particularly like the second one. It is notable that I have not done any colour processing or cropping of it. I have just reduced the resolution for the web.

As is usual at this time of day, the evening air was very smooth and calm, which fostered a quiet and reflective mood. Though no lift was present, it was still memorable because of this graceful peace which gave me a sense of completeness about the flying. A definite breathing out after the hiatus of the workaday.

Ken looking bored on the wing while waiting for me to launch. Notice the lensing of the trees in the rear canopy.
Time for me to have a new haircut!

Lovely shot taken by a fellow unknown club member. I am gently bringing the glider into the full climb.

Second shot of me further up the winch launch into the full climb.

Almost full airbrake coming into land.

Later in the evening we had this following example of an old motor glider from the 60s. Basically a single seat Slingsby T31 with a VW 1600cc engine on the front. Cheap flying.

Slingsby T31 Motor Tutor.

And then later in the evening there was a beautiful sunset. A lovely ending to a workday evening filled with pleasant surprises.

Evenin’ All…

Theory Meets Practice – and saves lives

On Feb 15th I spent some time at Lasham where I fly gliders, helping out with the Lasham Cadets. Unfortunately the weather was not good enough for flying so we had some talks. The cadets had to give a talk about various aspects of the theory of flying gliders, whereas the adults gave a mixed set of talks about work they have done.

I want to focus on a particular talk given by one of the parents who is a professional in the aviation industry, previously having been a pilot, now also flying gliders. He was making a point about the importance of being able to link theoretical knowledge to practical application, in this case about the theory of flight and saving lives.

The subject he chose was the accident at Heathrow on 17th Jan 2008 where a Boeing 777 lost power before landing and just managed to touchdown inside the airport but short of the runway. He was particularly highlighting the actions of the captain and the effect it had on the outcome.

As a preamble it is worth noting the layout of the ground on the runway approach in question, 27L. From the airport boundary fence there is about a 1700ft gap before the runway paved surface starts. Here is a detailed map for the flying nerds among us. Just before the airfield fence you have the main A30 road which is a very busy highway. According to the AAIB report S1/2008 the aircraft touched down “some 1000ft short of the paved runway surface”, so there was only 700ft or so between the touchdown point and the road.

However, the key statement is in the interim report on page 4 where is says: “At 240 ft the aircraft commander selected flap 25 in an attempt to reduce the drag”. According to the person giving us the rainy day talk at Lasham, this action is not mentioned in any training, although it will be known by pilots because the effect of flaps is a basic theory of flight item.

Some Theory of Flight
So what are flaps and what do they do? On an airliner they are like big barn doors that, when down, extend from the rear of the wing. They allow the pilot to increase the lift from the wing at slower speeds. Depending upon the aircraft and their setting they also adjust the angle the aircraft flies at so that visibility is usually better for landing. In this case they had 30 degrees of flap which will have given them a slow flying, high visibility approach. Since with physics, you never get something for nothing, the down side will have been the high drag. In this case the autopilot will have been countering this drag with more thrust from the engines because at 30degrees the flaps were giving more drag than lift.

Handling the Emergency
Looking at the approach graph, when the engines gave up, although the glide angle was fairly constant, the airspeed was fluctuating and falling rapidly at some points. This could only go on for so long before the aircraft would have slowed down too far and fallen out of the sky, quite possibly onto the A30 dual carriageway. When the commander selected 25degrees of flap, although the glide angle steepened temporarily, it reduced the drag so that the airspeed stopped falling and the aircraft was able to glide a bit further than it would have done with the 30degrees setting. This would have taken courage because just after reducing the flap there was less lift from the wing so the aircraft lost some height before it stabilised on a better glide angle.

In any pilot’s training the effects of controls like this are covered. It is something that is relevant regardless of the type of aircraft you are flying. It works just as well for a glider as it does for a 200-400 seater airliner. Luckily what happened here was that the pilot had internalised the theory of flight enough to make the right judgement in an emergency, even though the initial response of the aircraft was going to be losing more height, something he would have known.

He managed to make that important link between theory and practice.

The Moral
Although technology can be made to work well a lot of the time, when an emergency occurs you will be vulnerable. A successful outcome will depend upon making the link between theory and practice. It will not be an academic exercise.