I had a wonderful belated birthday gift today (which ended up much better than my previous birthday experience last month). Petr Pojar, a colleague of Andrea’s, is part-owner of the local airfield here in Most; he’s an avid amateur pilot (thousands of hours in the air over the span of 30 years). We are beside a mountain range here and there is a lot of hang-gliding, parachuting, etc.; several months ago, Andrea and I saw a sail-plane in the air and I mentioned this is something I’ve always wanted to do. So, she arranged a flight with Petr (which I did not know about till this morning)!

We flew in a Czechoslovak Blanik L-13 glider. It’s a somewhat compact (for a glider) two person plane (a bit less room than economy class in Lufthansa, but the view was amazingly better). We were towed up by a single engine prop plane (also Czech made—in 1949) from a grass runway. At about 3000 feet, Petr released the tow cable and we were gliding—and, except for the sound of wind rushing by and the mechanism of the controls, there was no noise. In some ways, it sounded like the stroke of oars on a boat skimming over water (the plane doesn’t weigh much more than a small boat anyway; it’s 292 kg or 643 lb empty).

Several times, Petr dropped into a sudden dive (a free fall like this gives the impression of zero gravity) then pulled up into a wild arc (which, of course, pulls down several times the force of gravity and pinned us to the seat). The plane must not stall easily; it seemed, at the end of the arc, we were pointed straight up and would fall out of the sky! That was also the point, at the peak of the plane’s recovery, where there was absolutely no noise; we were thousands of feet in the air in absolute silence. I’ve heard pilots say that gliding is almost like a meditation and can understand why. Rather than tearing through the sky with a big engine, one must learn to read clouds and ride the winds.

We had a terrific view of the city and surroundings (unfortunately we had a great view of what happens when there is extensive surface mining for coal; the past fifty years of industry haven’t been kind). After about a half hour, Petr spiralled back down toward the airstrip (which, rather disconcertingly, has a big pond at the head of it…which he seemingly dove straight down towards before pulling up and gently landing on the runway). The glider also has a very short landing distance; I think it was less than a hundred feet or so.

And then we went and had a beer; which is the way to finish off all things Czech.

There was also a parachuting competition today—that’s something I’m not sure if I ever want to do.