My buddy Chris is working on a glider rating down in Pierson, Fla. The place is a little grass strip in central Florida known for a fair amount of glider activity. There are two clubs and about 15 gliders based there. On the weekends, it’s a busy place with the Pawnee tow plane working all day.
About a month ago Chris was down at Pierson in the middle of the week. He was surprised to find a group of very bright high school students mixed in with the regulars. After asking around, it turned out that the students were from a number of different Florida high schools, and they were getting exposed to all different aspects of the aerospace world to encourage them to seek out degrees in aerospace engineering. Chris said they were very bright and easy to be around, obviously outstanding kids. It is the kind of program that anyone who loves aviation likes to see, but we might not be the first in line if they asked for volunteers to devote a lot of time to it.
Chris struck up a conversation with one of the adults in the party, a nondescript guy wearing a polo shirt with a name tag that just said “Rich”. The guy said he really liked doing something positive if he could, and the thought of coming out to fly in the old Schweitzer 2-33 seemed like a lot of fun.
A 2-33 is the Cessna 172 of gliders. It has absolutely no bad habits, and it is the ubiquitous trainer that almost everyone starts in. Like a 172, the plane doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Advanced glider pilots can be terrible elitist snobs about the machines they operate, and many of these guys will try to tell you how cool their European glass sailplanes are by contrasting them with rugged old 2-33s with their metal wings. All types of flying have a minority element that practices this sort of bull, and you have to learn to ignore it when you run into it. For the most part, the people who practice it are pretty harmless, but as a Schweitzer owner, I will attest that some of the most vociferous elements of the glass glider people are refered to as “the wine and cheese crowd.”
While Chris and this guy Rich are talking and waiting for another round with the 2-33, a well-meaning and extroverted member of the glass glider people came over to welcome them to Pierson. The guy wasted little time in getting to the real public service section of his monologue, that flying any metal glider was hardly worth the tow plane’s gas, and perhaps it was a big mistake to expose the kids to the 2-33 because it was going to turn them off to sailplanes. Chris said the guy went on for a while with this angle.
At some point, this guy Rich said that he thought that metal gliders were just fine. He had flown one from the 1980s, and it worked for him. Chris said this really set the glass guy off, and Mr. Glass said a couple of things like “When you know more about flying, you will realize….” and gave a long-winded explanation of the L/D ratio. In the middle of this, Chris leaned over and asked Rich quietly what make the glider he had flown was. Rich, who was smiling and nodding like he was listening to Mr. Glass, quietly answered Chris with one word, “Rockwell.” Evidently the glass guy never heard this and kept right on going.
When Chris got home he looked at the computer to confirm what he suspected. Turns our that Rich’s last name is Searfoss and he has some very interesting glider experience working for NASA.
Above, Astronaut Richard Searfoss, veteran of three space flights, one as shuttle pilot, one as mission commander.
Above: Chris Welsh and I in my workshop in 2008. In Chris’ hand is a photo, reproduced below. I’ve known Chris since 1990. We were roommates at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. He is an expert in heavy aircraft. His job is working as a structures guy for Grumman on E-2Ds and F-5s. Since graduating from Riddle with an A&P license and management degree in 1994, Chris has worked a number of interesting jobs as varied as DC-10 cargo conversions and instructing at Colorado Aero-Tech.
Blast From The Past circa Winter 1993: Look closely at the photo: It’s Chris with much longer hair. At the time, his daily driver was a ’67 Beetle. He’s holding its hood ornament in this photo. In the foreground, a corrosion damaged Corvair case roasts in a roaring fire. I shot this photo in the backyard of 1235 International Speedway Blvd., a 1907 two-story coquina stone house that a number of us rented during our five years at Embry Riddle. It was the end of a semester, and we were blowing off steam with a backyard party highlighted by a bonfire fueled by Corvair magnesium blower fans. The case and a pile of heads ended up as a little puddle by daylight. You can’t judge what people will do in aviation by the length of their hair when they are 20.