Where Did My Engine Go? – First Attempt at Gliding!

Sit tight and grab some popcorn. This is going to be a very long post :).20141011_102914

Imperial College Gliding Club is the oldest and one of the largest university gliding clubs in the world, having started in 1930, with a current membership of about 70 people, and owns 3 gliders. And we get crazy subsidization from the university, so it’s very cheap!

7:30 on a Saturday morning, we departed Imperial on a minibus for Lasham Airfield, a little more than an hour away from central London. It sounds far… and it is, and that’s mostly Heathrow’s fault.

The entire London airspace is class A down to ground, which means all aircraft operating in this area must be IFR (flying by instrument, under ATC control), and since gliders obviously can’t IFR (we don’t even have radio!), we can’t fly in the vicinity of London.

1 hour of bumpy sleep later, we arrived at Lasham amidst miles and miles of farmland! I was especially excited since I haven’t seen any empty space ever since arriving in London about a month ago. London = people + people + people + buildings + people + people.

Lasham is an ex-RAF airfield that is almost 100% devoted to glider operations nowadays, and is the home of Lasham Gliding Society – the biggest gliding society in the UK, and the club with which the Imperial gliding club is affiliated.

They held a morning briefing at the beginning to discuss weather, etc, which is really cool. Apparently weather systems work the same way in the UK as in Canada!

I was a little surprised that they actually set up the launch point on the runway, then someone explained that that’s because gliders don’t land on runways, so the runway is in fact the safest place to be on the airfield. Cool, eh?

At Lasham they have 2 main launch methods – winch and aerotow.

A winch launch is when a winch on the opposite end of the runway pulls in a cable that’s about as long as the runway, attached to a glider on the other end. The glider is accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in about 2.5 seconds (>1g lateral acceleration), and goes into an extremely high angle-of-attack climb to 1000 ft in about 10 seconds (~6000 feet per minute), and the glider releases the cable at about 1500 ft. It’s quite amusing.

An aerotow is exactly what you would expect – a powered airplane tows the glider into the sky, and normally the glider would pull the release and the tow plane takes the cable back. In some emergency situations the tow plane can also release, in which case the glider would have to fly back over the field to drop the cable first, before coming back to land, since it’s difficult to land with a cable attached to the front of the glider. If they both pull release… the cable will fall on some unlucky dude on the ground. Or an unlucky cow. Or something.

On my first day gliding I got to try both an aerotow (to 3000 ft) and a winch. The aerotow is nice because the flight is much longer due to the higher starting altitude, and also because the instructor let me fly part of the tow since I had prior flying experience!


It’s harder than you think. Well, at least it was harder than I thought it would be.

Flying in a tow is essentially formation flying. If the glider goes too fast, there will be slack in the cable, which is bad because when the slack is removed afterwards, there will be sudden stress on the connection point which may break. If the glider goes too slow (high angle of attack), it will out climb the tow plane thanks to the extremely high lift wings, which is dangerous for the tow plane because it can put the tow plane into a nose dive if it runs out of elevator authority.

We also have to stay out of the tow plane’s prop wash, by either flying above it or below it.

They charge us for the tow by altitude, so we can pull the release any time, and the tow pilot will note down the release altitude, and charge us that amount afterwards.

We pulled the release at 3000 ft, since it gives us a nice long fall to the ground, while not being terribly expensive.

As soon as we pulled the release, the tow pilot did a steep descending turn out of the formation and dived straight at the runway threshold, in the opposite direction of the active runway. That’s quite amusing to watch. That guy has clearly been doing this all day for a very long time and figured that’s the absolute fastest way to get back on the ground.

We did some steep turns, stalls, and landed back at the field in about 25 minutes. The glider has a sink rate of something like 150 ft per minute, and you can actually do a steep 360 turn and only lose something like 200 ft. It’s absurd for someone used to powered airplanes.

The glider I flew (Schleicher ASK 21) has a glide ratio of 34:1 at a Vgs (best glide speed) of about 50 kt, and that’s obviously the biggest difference between a glider and a powered airplane, which typically have glide ratios on the order of 7:1.

It’s almost impossible to land a glider without using spoilers or air brakes, since they would just float forever.

With air brakes, it sinks like a rock just like a powered airplane, but using air brakes is pretty tricky, since they require the use of elevator at the same time to maintain approach speed. It’s called elevator-spoiler coordination. They must be used at the same time, just like ailerons and rudders. Definitely something I have to work on.


Besides spoilers/air brakes, another major difference between gliders and powered airplanes is the use of rudders. Gliders need much more rudders to coordinate turns thanks to the extra long wings. That said, I didn’t really find it to be a problem. Definitely more rudder than on Diamonds, but only about the same amount as Citabrias (and probably other tail draggers).

Controls are much more sensitive at low speed (50 kt), obviously since this glider is designed to fly at low speeds most of the time, though some competition gliders do go quite fast. On a DA40 for example, at 60 kt you would need pretty much full control movement to make it do anything. Not the case for gliders. I wonder how sensitive the controls will be on a glider in a high speed dive.

The cockpit is also much simpler –


The major instruments are all the same.

Airspeed indicator is slightly simpler since there are no flaps and no Vx or Vy. Vgs is marked. We really only care about Vgs and Vne for the most part.

One interesting instrument is the variometer. It’s kind of not really the same as vertical speed indicators, in that they do indicate vertical speed, but only as a result of air movement, and not control input. It compensates for control input, so if you just put the glider into a climb by pulling back on the stick, the variometer won’t actually go up.

And the most important instrument is a piece of string taped to the windshield, for turn coordination. Not sure why they don’t use a regular turn coordinator.

I didn’t get to do the landing on this flight, but it’s interesting that we can pretty much just pick anywhere to land on the field, as long as there is grass…


(Picture from Wikipedia since I forgot to take one)

On the next day, I got to fly a motor glider, the Scheibe Falke SF-25C to practice circuit planning, since that’s probably the hardest part of the conversion from powered airplanes to gliders, since glider circuits are slightly different.

Yes, we actually turned off the engine after takeoff.

We usually start the circuit on the upwind side at about 800 ft, fly a fairly standard downwind and judging glide slope using a strange method, and do a diagonal leg between downwind and base, where we can adjust if too high or too low, then finally landing with speed brakes or spoilers.

I haven’t been flying for about 3 months now, so the first few landings, while definitely survivable, weren’t exactly like butterflies gently planting their feet on the petals of a flower. Need to get my flying skills back!

I am starting to get the hang of glider circuit planning though!

From now on, I’m planning to fly every other week or so, and hopefully get my glider license in a few months. Knowing how to fly an airplane definitely helps a lot, but there’s still quite a bit to learn.

Quite a change to switch to the most basic form of flying after having flown airplanes that cruise at 140 kt with full glass avionics and 2-axis autopilot coupled with nav computer, but I’m loving it!

… my wallet is loving it as well. It doesn’t even want to think about renting a powered airplane in London. Cessna 152s here cost more than G1000 DA40s back in Canada. Crazy. Also doesn’t help that all airports charge landing fees!

Next up: archery and SCUBA diving. Yeah, I’m probably going to fail my degree.

London Part III – Chips? Crisps?

This is something that has always worried me a bit before I came, but as it turned out, it’s really not that bad. Most of them just takes a little bit of getting used to, and some of them I have learned after some confused looks… though I haven’t been thrown out of any establishment yet, so I guess I’m not doing TOO poorly?

Of course, I am talking about cultural differences. Many of them are just single word replacements, but some are a little more elaborate.

Here is a list of things I have learned, in no particular order (by US I mean US and Canada, since the difference between them is much much smaller than UK to either) –

  • chips (UK) = fries (US)
  • crisps (UK) = chips (US)
  • rubbish (bin) (UK) = garbage (can) (US). Apparently they also say “refuse”, which I haven’t heard anywhere else.
  • garage (UK) = garage (US). But different pronunciation! In the UK it’s pronounced gay-ridge, and in the US gah-roj.
  • chemist (UK) = pharmacy (US). Though they also use ‘pharmacy’. I’m not sure what the differences are, yet, or if they are equivalent.
  • underground (UK) = subway (US)
  • maths (UK) = math (US)
  • aeroplane (UK) = airplane (US)
  • bill (UK) = bill (Canada) = check (US)
  • surgery (UK) = clinic (US)
  • queue (UK) = line (US)
  • toilet (UK) = washroom/bathroom/restroom/WC (US). What do they call the actual thing you sit on to poo? I have no idea.
  • lift (UK) = elevator (US)
  • university (UK) = (sometimes) school (US). They never call universities schools. Schools = primary and secondary school, and something called Sixth Form, which apparently is some kind of pre-university college people can choose to go to instead of last year of secondary school? I have no idea. It’s complicated. It seems like most people who end up in universities have done that.


Waiters in the UK are paid at least minimum wage, so tipping is not required at low/mid end restaurants, unless the service is exceptional, in which case, 10% seems to be appropriate (usually that’s about £1).

In Canada, I would only not tip if the service is absolutely terrible (and I am fairly well-tempered, so that happens extremely rarely!). In the UK, people only tip if service is absolutely phenomenal (or if they are trying to flirt with the waiter?!)

Some restaurants include 10% or 12% service charge. Not 20% like in the US/Canada.


Not really a cultural thing, but almost all posted prices here include VAT (20% sales tax), so what you see is what you pay. No difficult mental math(s) like in the US.

Talking to Strangers

People don’t talk to strangers nearly as much, and especially not on the tube (underground/subway). Apparently that’s to avoid really weird people. I have no idea. Haven’t met a weird person on the tube, yet!

Talking on the phone on public transit is also considered rude. Well, it’s considered rude in Canada, too, but many people don’t care.

Stand on the Right… or Not!

Stand on the right and walk on the left on escalators. Yes, this is the same as in Canada, but I expected it to be different, since people drive on the left here! It just doesn’t make much sense.

I heard it’s London-specific, and other parts of the UK aren’t as much into this.

Walking in places like parks, etc, you see people trying to stay on their right side, and people trying to stay on their left. I walk down the middle :). That could just be because London is incredibly multi-cultural. Maybe it’s more consistent in other parts?


People get offended if they are Scottish or Northern Irish and you call them English.

If you are not familiar with the UK, it’s an umbrella country made up of 4 constituent nations – England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

3 of the 4 parts are part of Great Britain – England, Wales, and Scotland. Northern Ireland is part of the Irish island (what is it called again?). Why is NI not part of Ireland? I have no idea. There is probably a long story.

In London, calling someone British is USUALLY safe, if they don’t have an Irish accent, since there are many Irish people here, too. I imagine the situation is a lot more complicated in Northern Ireland… I’ll just not go there :). Though London has tons of people from western Europe, too, so maybe it’s not safe to call anyone anything. That said, you can usually tell by their accent if you have been here for a little while (apparently 3 weeks is long enough?).

German and Spanish accents are pretty easy to recognize. I am still working on the others.

Then you have people like yours truly.

A few people have tried to guess where I came from, and Canada is usually somewhere around 20th-30th guess. A girl actually guessed Ireland before Canada.

London is a very interesting place. Only about 15% of people I’ve met are British. Most of the rest are from western Europe, and there were also a few eastern Europeans and Asians (quite a few, but not anywhere near as many as in Vancouver).

That’s it for now! I’ll try to add to this post if I discover more peculiarities :).

All these are from my 3 weeks experience living in London. It’s likely that other parts of the UK (especially outside England) would have different peculiarities!


London Part II – South Kensington, Imperial College London


My first week in London was spent buying the necessities, and I was busy being deathly sick for most of the second week, so it wasn’t until now that I had a chance to actually explore London a bit.

Sorry for the lack of blogging!

London is a very old city with some very interesting stories – Knights Templar, Freemasons, kings, queens, dragons, William Shakespeare, churches, etc, but that’s for another time.

This post is about a fairly new area called South Kensington. It’s fairly new by English standards – most of the iconic buildings in this region were built in the latter half of the 1800s.

Why South Kensington? Because that’s where Imperial College is, and I had a chance to walk around it this afternoon and snap a few pictures, thanks to the generosity of the people in Department of Computing responsible for arranging schedules.

It’s quite an interesting area, with various museums, one the most famous concert halls in the world, various embassies, various colleges, and quite a few billionaires.


Beit Quadrangle, our student union building that’s apparently also a hall for undergrads?


Right across the street from the college (and Royal College of Music) is Royal Albert Hall, one of the most famous concert halls in the world, where the Queen goes to watch performances.


Royal College of Music, sharing the same block with Imperial College


Imperial College geoscience building (I think?)


National History Museum, just south of the college.


The other side of Royal Albert Hall, from Hyde Park. Not pictured, but to the right is Royal College of Art – according to Wikipedia “the world’s most influential art and design institution”.


Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, across the street from Royal Albert Hall.



Hyde Park.

Hyde Park is the site of The Great Exhibition in 1851, where inventors from many nations were brought together to showcase their inventions. Surplus from the exhibition funded all 3 museums in this area – Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, and the National History Museum (according to Wikipedia). The Exhibition essentially kickstarted the development of this area.

Nowadays it’s a lot more humble. It’s just a very big open space with a big pond for the most part, which is actually quite nice, in the most expensive area of London where every square metre of land probably cost more than any house I have lived in.

It’s pretty cool that Imperial College is in such a cultured area, and my daily commutes take me through all these sights people come all the way to London to see, though the school kids in long lines do get annoying sometimes… and it’s a little inconvenient that we don’t really have any off-campus dining options, since anything in this neighbourhood is probably £20+ per meal.  Maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough?

Democracy vs Mob Rule

This post is obviously motivated by the recent happenings in Hong Kong, but something very similar happened in Taiwan a few months ago, and my view on that is the same.

First of all, I do support their cause. They are fighting for what I personally believe is the best for them, and the central government has broken their promise to them.

I am agnostic towards the method they have chosen to voice their concerns. There is a point at which legal options become insufficient and one must resort to illegal options. I do not know enough about Hong Kong politics to have an informed opinion on whether the civil disobedience (and all the damage it’s causing, will get to that later) is justified in this case.

What I have never been under the illusion of, is that what they are doing is legal.

It is illegal to disable a city just because you have something to say, no matter what that something is.

It is illegal under the laws of Hong Kong, and it’s illegal under the law of any democratic country I know.

Some people are mis-interpreting the constitutional right to assemble and the freedom of speech to justify the legality of the movement. I’m sorry, that’s not how democracy works.

You are reading my blog because you want to listen to what I have to say (thank you :)), but that choice is absolutely yours. You could have, of course, chosen to not click on the link on my Facebook page (or elsewhere), and there is nothing I can do about that. It would be illegal if I hacked into your computers, to forcefully show my blog post to you, just because I think what I have to say is very important, and you NEED to read it.

Freedom of speech means you are free to say anything you want, and give people the option to listen to what you have to say (with restrictions on slandering, etc). It does not give you the right to force people to listen to what you have to say.

And it especially does not give you the right to break into someone’s house and cause monetary damage to force them to listen to what you have to say.

Yes, the occupy central movement is peaceful and they are not doing physical damage. But that’s just good PR. They are absolutely doing tons of damage on the businesses there, by disabling the entire transportation system. That damages businesses monetarily probably more than any physical damage a more violent group would have done.

They are polite, peaceful, and doing a lot of damage.

And that is absolutely intentional. That’s how they are forcing people to listen to what they have to say. They are essentially holding Hong Kong hostage, and saying they will continue to peacefully cause damage until someone listens.

If they assembled somewhere else, and not cause significant damage, people would be able to just not listen to them.

They are causing damage to force people to listen to them. Stabbing someone is usually a good way to get someone’s attention.

Are the actions of the police justified? Of course they are.

They have a SOP of increasingly severe measures to disperse illegal assemblies, and they are just going up the ladder because none of the lower severity measures worked. What else are they supposed to do when tear gas didn’t work? Give up and allow people to continue causing damage to all the businesses there, who pay taxes partly for order?

If the group is campaigning for marijuana legalization, would people still think the police’s actions are not justified? What if it’s global warming or something else? Should everyone be allowed to disable the city and cause damage to say what they have to say?

If someone tries to occupy downtown New York to say whatever it is that they need to say, the police there would have done the same.

Should the police enforce the law in some cases but not others according to their personal beliefs? Or should they uphold the law with impartiality just like how judges are expected to interpret the law with impartiality?

I support what they have to say, but there is nothing legal about the way they are saying it.