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Day 3 from John Good

Another useful soaring day at Perry: blue and on the windy side, but offering good lift and decent speeds to pilots using the right mixture of care and boldness.  That’s not to say it was easy: the Retrieve Office stayed busy, and of the many motor-equipped gliders here more than a few used an “iron thermal” to get home.

I’m crew for Dick Butler, flying the mighty 28-meter Concordia.  This remarkable aircraft, built over 8 years by Dick (with formidable design help from Loek Boermans, Johannes Dillenger and Gerhard Waibel) has since it first flew in 2012 been the highest performance glider in the world. The thin, narrow, extremely long wings are undeniably beautiful, but - with an aspect ratio of 57:1 and a thickness near the root about equal to the length of a credit card - seem to defy physics. One interesting fact we recently calculated is that the ratio of the wing area to that of a Schweizer 1-26 (wingspan = 12.2 meters) is 0.88.

You’d assume that getting it ready for flight would be a daunting task, but once you adapt to the plane’s ways it goes rather smoothly. Each wing consists of 4 pieces: inner, middle, outer and winglet.  The first two must be handled carefully and aligned precisely, which is done by means a wheeled rigging aid with a manual crank that allows fine height adjustment. The outer two pieces can be managed by hand, with care. Here at Perry on the practice day we had all pieces in place and secured (some with small bolts or set screws) in 50 minutes.

But that’s not the whole job - lots of taping is needed to fully seal all gaps, covers and fittings. I did a careful survey and counted 55 total pieces of tape.  Adding waterballast is another involved task, but one we skip here at Perry: towing fully ballasted Open class gliders off a sandy and occasionally soft runway is not something typical towplanes are up to, so the rules here specify no disposable ballast in Open class.

Disassembly is just the reverse, with all parts fitting neatly into a (large) custom-built Cobra trailer.  But as you might guess, we don’t go through this full process every day.  Instead, we tuck Concordia in bed with a full set of waterproof cloth covers, then tie it down for the night.  Around 8 am we tow it out to the runway with covers on, which dry in the morning sun and are removed around noon, leaving the plane ready for flight. It’s a noble sight as it rumbles down the runway, wingtips rising steadily until at last the full glider rises off the ground.

One landing complication is worth noting: the tail parachute. Dick deploys this about 15 ft above the ground; it pops out just behind the main wheel, and adds considerable drag to the normally very slippery Concordia.  It has proved quite reliable, and is a big help when a short landing is needed.  It takes just a couple of minutes to re-pack it and stuff it back into the fuselage, ready for the next landing.


John Good

Posted: 4/24/2019