National Geographic : 1967 Jan
National Geographic, January, 1967 feet, I made the routine radio request for clearance. "Elmira Tower, this is sailplane Five Eight Romeo on downwind leg." The reply stunned me. "Can you hold, Five Eight Romeo? You're third to land after the two airliners." I tried to comply, but the altimeter needle continued its inexorable sweep toward zero. As I watched it, my urge to cooperate fled before something close to panic. "Elmira Tower, this is Five Eight Romeo on first solo-coming in!" One airliner lumbered patiently out of the Stuffed into the cockpit, Richard Delafield lies down to fly a Swiss-built Diamant. Wife and crew chief help him prepare for a flight at the 1966 national meet at Reno. pattern to circle again, but the other was already on final approach. As I glided toward the grass strip beside the runway, my radio crackled with reassurances from the tower operator and warnings to the airliner to watch out for that little glider. I touched down then, and a giant silver wing tip flashed by less than 100 feet away. Bernie chuckled as I chronicled the great adventure. "Legally, gliders have right of way over everything but free balloons and aircraft in distress. But airliners use up fuel and schedule time when they have to break out of the landing pattern to circle again. Next time, check the field traffic while you still have a few hundred feet of altitude to spare. Then I won't have to watch you make forma tion landings with Viscounts." Forgotten Barograph Spoils a Flight Flight 34: Duration, 52 minutes-a glorious thermal flight right up to cloud base. Since the cumulus clouds and I had met at last, I could put things on a first-name basis. Soar ing people call them "cu" (pronounced cue). By now I was flying a Schweizer 1-26, a single-place intermediate sailplane. Its clean shape and 40-foot wingspan gave it a gliding ratio of 23 to 1, and a sinking rate of only 21/2 feet a second. I had already qualified for an "A" badge and a "B" badge, the first for soloing, the other for proving myself ready for cross country flights. This thermal flight gave me the right to wear a "C" pin on my jacket. The "C"... the Silver Badge... the Gold Badge ... the Diamond Badge-those suc cessive proficiency ratings give soaring one of its big appeals. Pilots the world over must meet identical tests to qualify for the last three ratings. The coveted, elusive Silver Badge. I need ed three things to earn it: an altitude gain of 1,000 meters (3,281 feet), a cross-country flight of 50 kilometers (31.1 miles), and a duration flight of five hours. Flight 42: Duration, nine minutes. That one could have been my altitude gain, for the thermals were booming-if I had remem bered to switch on my barograph before I took off. Unforgivably, I didn't. A thousand feet up, still trailing the towplane, I remembered. That spring-wound machine should be tick ing away, scratching a record of my altitude onto smoked foil. But it was silent!