On my first visit to the gliding club with Lola II and Mr M, we were very much the honoured guests. We weren't made to do any work, we could sit around in the clubhouse or outside, enjoying the warm day and chatting to various people who wandered past and introduced themselves. This time, I was advised that I really should turn up at the start of the day and put my name on the list to fly and attend the morning briefing. So that's what I did.
Getting there at 9.30 I was among the last to arrive - many had already been there for more than an hour. They set up the airfield layout (which depends on the wind direction), sited the winch half a mile away across the field, got the planes out and checked them over, and probably did a load more things I'm not aware of. I was wearing trainers and it was strongly suggested that I'd need more waterproof shoes, so after the briefing I nipped home and changed.
I understood about half of the briefing - the bits where people volunteered for jobs and verified that they'd done the necessary checks and visitors were introduced and specific requests were made for assistance and people were asked to pay fees they owed. The technical stuff went right over my head - weather and wind forecasts and likely thermal activity and some more information that I have no idea about.
I was looked after by Phil, who is a most congenial character, and didn't hesitate to share the most scurrilous gossip about other club members. Like why the catering we had enjoyed at my last visit had changed to basic self-service - it was because of an argument about cake (yes, really) but nobody liked the member who had made all the fuss so nobody minded that the committee had judged him to be at fault, and his wife had withdrawn her catering services in a huff.
I was the only woman there except for a lady in the office who didn't seem about to do any flying. All of the members were extremely welcoming, and told me all sorts of stories at the drop of a hat. Some of them were decidedly peculiar (the people not the stories), but I'd rather feel welcome in the midst of some peculiar people than be ignored (cf. local Diabetes UK group). I found out a great deal about the technicalities of flying, including the advantages and pitfalls of using a winch for launching, a bit about how people are taught to fly, how instructors are trained, how the cables for launch used to be steel and are now synthetic, what can happen if the cable breaks during launch, and some safety procedures. I also found out a great deal about the personal lives of some of the members, local politics on motorised gliders, and how to acquire a large amount of wood for a Guy Fawkes bonfire.
When it was my turn to fly, Phil did a quick recap of the instrument panel and reminded me how to bail out, and we were off. The launch was as quick and violent as I remembered, and my stomach lurched ominously, but once we were up I felt fine, and was able to do a lot more this time. A couple of times Phil let me have full control, only taking control back when it was clear I was having a bit of trouble coping with the many different streams of information from the attitude of the plane to the instrumentation. As I said when we were back in the clubhouse and someone asked me how I got on: "I seemed to manage OK, and nobody died."
Conditions were not brilliant. The weather was grey, the wind was gusty, and Phil said that it was a difficult day for flying. Nobody was up for very long because there was no thermal activity at all. My first flight was ten minutes - the previous time it had been thirteen - and Phil gave me a chance to have another go but we only managed eight minutes airborne, mostly because he was letting me do a lot more of the flying that time and it takes more expertise than I possess to actually stay up for very long.
After the flying, I went down the field and had a look at the winch working, and then to the control tower (actually a computer on the top deck of a stationary double decker bus) where everyone's flights are logged. Nobody that day had flown more than 15 minutes at a time, so I didn't feel too bad about my efforts.
Although they all hoped I'd be back, I won't be returning, because there's just no time in my life for the commitment. It isn't the sort of hobby you can do in less than a day at a time, because there are a lot of jobs that need to be performed in order to allow people to fly safely, and it wouldn't be polite to turn up and expect to fly and go home again. Apart from all the setting up at the start of the day, there are at least five people needed for a launch: one to signal, one to hold the glider horizontal, one in the control tower/bus, one at the winch, and in my case, an instructor too. Someone also needs to drive the truck to bring the cable back after a launch and drive out to a glider once it's landed to tow it back to the start. Then all the kit and caboodle needs to be put away nicely at the end of a day.
It was a very interesting day, learning all about the technicalities of flying and many things I hadn't even considered before - trim, air brakes, flaps and rudders, wind speed, air speed and ground speed, waves and thermals. Maybe when I retire I'll come back to it.