by lunarg on September 29th 2007, at 13:59

Last weekend was another edition of Schempp-Hirth day. Schempp-Hirth is a German builder of gliders, and for several years now, they lend us some of their machines to get a feeling of the latest innovations and a bit of the future in the gliding world...

This year's machines were most interesting, to say the least:

The DuoDiscus XL is the bigger successor of the DuoDiscus X, a flyer for two, with a wing span of a dazzling 20 meters. The XL has all the aspects of the X, but its cockpit has grown significantly in size, allowing for larger persons to fly in it as well. Several other improvements have been made for a better flying comfort.
The XL we had is currently the only glider of its type in existence: this prototype had its maiden flight in July of this year. Our club is the first one to fly with it, outside of Germany, and without the attendance of a company instructor.

Next up is the Ventus 2cxT, which was here for the second time. It's a one-person glider, has a wing span of 18 meters, and a with turbo prop present (hence the T in 2cxT) to get it through a tight spot.
This particular machine is actually owned by the Schempp-Hirth's second in command, and therefore only the most experienced pilots were allowed to fly with this baby.

And finally, there was the ever graceful Nimbus 4DT, a two person flyer with a a whopping 26.50 meter wing span, and makes this one the King of the Skies.
This particular glider is owned by the CEOs of the club (Jan and Ken Evens), which allows me to fly it on other days as well, and not just this one day. While I was invited by Ken to fly with the Nimbus, I had to pass because of the rather tight schedule, and of course, because flying the DuoDiscus is not something one would be able to do every day.

A bit to my surprise, it was no problem for me (as an apprentice) to fly with the DuoDiscus XL - remember: at that time, it was the only one on the entire planet. There was a long line before me to fly the thing. There was a total of 23 starts on that thing alone, which is next to impossible: a very short flight (without looking up any thermal whatsoever) quickly takes up around 20 to 30 minutes; we started at crack of dawn, and went all the way on til dusk (see the photo).

Sometime in the mid-afternoon it was my turn to start the dream... I already had two flight lessons with the Yankee Fox, a 40-year (give or take a few) old Schleicher Ka-7, and was very eager to experience a new one. Those before me already described it as a one-in-a-lifetime experience, which only peaked my interest even more.

Getting into the cockpit was not the most easy job: the glider weighs down on its tail and lifts the nose up a bit. Luckily, the sides of the cockpit are firm, and it's possible to lift the instrument block to get in easier. Once buckled up, and waiting for the tow plane to winch us up, I noticed how comfortable the cockpit was: cosey, and easy sitting comfort, but without actually being crammed up.
The start of the flight was pretty standard, a bit bumpy because of the field, yet quite different from a Ka-7. Luckily, I didn't have to worry about that part, as my instructor did the start and the landing (for quite obvious reasons, no?).
Once in the air, and during the tow, it was my turn. With the two flights of that day with the Ka-7, one of the things I learned was to know what to do in a tow, so it would normally not be a problem. Unfortunately, the handling of the DuoDiscus and the handling of the Ka-7 are worlds apart: with a Ka-7, the stick movements are fairly outspoken, whereas the DuoDiscus was very agitated and responded to the most slightest change in the controls. Needless to say that I did some pretty funny things, so my instructor had to do the rest of tow.
Disconnection of the cable occured neatly at 600 meters. From there on, it was my turn again to fly. This part went a whole lot better, even better than with a Ka-7: all of a sudden the gliding became a dream. A very smooth flight, and the plane responsed very neatly and correctly to everything I did. A turn to the left, to the right, flying straight on: everything went with so much ease - I almost flew like a real pro, and with very few stick and foot pedal movements.
About halfway, the instructor took over to show me a bit of what this thing can do. At 400 meters altitude, he increased speed up to a near 200 km/h, with a neatly dive, then pulled back up, and end up making a serious high turn. I was enjoying every second of it: while feeling a bit of the G-forces, it all remained very comfortable in there; quite the contrast with a Ka-7 or a Twin. What even was more impressive was the lack of altitude it lost during the dive and high turn.
After that, it was back up to me to run down the remainder of the altitude, and hit the start of the landing circuit at 200 meters. It again took some doing to get there: while a Ka-7 can lose altitude quickly with every turn, the DuoDiscus manages to keep its altitude pretty well. Once in downwind, the instructor took over again, and started on the landing circuit.
Just my luck: as soon as turning in final (the last straight bit before hitting the ground), some ULM was heading in for final as well, totally against the rules (a glider always has higher priority than a motorized plane). My instructor had to steer to the right side of the field and luckily no accidents occured, but still, it goes to show that in aerospace, there are also people that don't know the rules...

Anyway, the DuoDiscus XL flight was wonderful, and I sure hope I'll be flying it again some time. For now, it's back to the Ka-7, and hopefully manage to get my first solo and after that, my gliding license...

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