Weekend in Solvang

Jesse and I spent this weekend in Solvang, CA. Solvang is a little Danish town in central California, just a bit north of Santa Barbara.

On the way in to town, we noticed the Santa Ynez Airport and a sign for glider rides. We talked about it, and it sounded fun so Saturday morning we drove on over and checked it out. The place is called Windhaven, and they’ll take you up for a while so you can really check out the Santa Ynez Valley. Jesse went up first and came back with a smile on her face. You’ll have to ask her for details of her flight. I went up next.

You start out by climbing in the front seat of the glider, and the pilot climbs in the back. They strap you in and explain what controls do what, and what not to touch. Then, they hook up the tow rope and before long, the plane in front of you is pulling you along the gravel and onto the runway. I was really surprised by how quickly we got airborne.

After gaining a little altitude, we made a left turn for the mountains. Before too long, the pilot asked if I’d like to take the controls. We’d talked about me being a student pilot and that he’d let me try flying, but I wasn’t expecting to fly while we were still being towed. It was the first time I’d used a stick to fly (besides on computers), but it was pretty easy to get the hang of it. Keeping the tow plane right in front of us was the tricky part. Gliders are very sensitive, and you usually only make very small corrections. I think I was starting to get the hang of it (except maybe for the turns), and the pilot told me to pull the yellow handle to release the tow rope.

I hadn’t really noticed the force of the plane in front of us until it was gone all of the sudden. It felt like we were just hanging there in mid air. I was told to try to keep the glider right at 50 knots. In theory, it’s not too hard — if you’re going to slowly, just push forward and go down a bit, and the reverse if you get going too fast. The tricky part, at least for me, is that the bottom edge of the windshield was a lot lower than what I’m used to in the Cessna. I kept feeling like I was diving, so I kept wanting to pull up. Before long I was able to keep it nice and level.

Turns were another tricky part. In airplanes, you have to use a little rudder pressure in the directions of your turns to correct for adverse yaw (a twisting motion that you get in turns). In gliders, the effect is a lot stronger, and you really have to be on the rudder for even the slightest turn to keep things coordinated. It was really good practice and I think the time I spent in the glider will make me a better pilot. Whether you’re a pilot or not, I highly recommend soaring in a glider at least once.

So, back to Solvang. We walked around all afternoon and checked out the shops. There had been frost on the ground when we woke up, but by three o’clock, it was well into the 80’s. We got a good night’s sleep and had a wonderful breakfast at the Solvang Restaurant this morning (with aebleskivers of course).

All-in-all, the trip was a lot of fun and very relaxing. If you live in Southern California, and want to get out of town, be sure to remember Solvang.

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