UP IN THE AIR
Cadet helps reporter soar during Summerside’s 53 Squadron Air Cadets’ glider demonstration at Summerside airport
Cadet helps reporter soar during Summerside’s 53 Squadron Air Cadets’ glider demonstration at Summer- side airport
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – A gasp escaped my lungs as the motorless glider dipped suddenly over Malpeque Bay. High above the water, I was flying in a glider, behind a cadet pilot.
I wouldn’t normally climb into a small, motorless aircraft to be towed 1,800 feet in the air and released to fall back to Earth with a 16-year old in charge, but on Saturday, May 25, that’s just what I did.
The glider, a Schweizer 2-33, was at the Summerside Airport for the weekend, taking Island air cadets on demonstration flights.
Little more than two seats and a pair of wings, gliders are built to float gently through the air.
There is no motor, no propeller, just a rudder and ailerons to steer with and spoilers to slow the aircraft as it comes in to land.
I didn’t mean to be so scared to fly, I really didn’t think I would be. I have a private pilot’s licence. I’ve even flown into the Summerside airport myself, albeit 20 years ago.
Warrant Officer First Class Ben Dyment was seated at the controls of the large, yellow glider as I endeavoured to fold my nearly six-foot self into the seat behind the pilot. I carried my camera for photos, my phone for video and my notebook and pen because I’m compulsive like that.
At first, I felt like I was indulging someone else’s children in some playground game. We were two decades apart in age and experience – years that included TikTok, social media influencers and Snapchat.
Not having any kids in my immediate circle, I see today’s youth as alternately scary and entertaining but always separate.
Entertaining because the energy exuded by a group of middleschoolers is infectious.
Scary because growing up, anxiety kept me aloof from most kids my own age. Any efforts I did make to “join in” were painfully awkward.
But in the glider, any of my awkward baggage was taken in stride.
Sgt. Connor Costain leaned in and adjusted the five-point harness that would keep me secure throughout the flight.
“How much do you weigh?” he asked. “We need to know for later.”
I grumbled the number and some ridiculous excuse, the way adult women do.
“It’s nothing personal,” he said. I knew it wasn’t, it had to do with the weight and balance of the aircraft.
Interior checks complete, Costain closed the door and the canopy.
Communicating with his team outside the glider, Dyment signalled with his left hand for the tow plane to “take up slack” in the tow rope. A second gesture indicated the rope was “all out” and we began to roll slowly down the runway.
As we gained speed, Dyment kept the wings level as the glider started to bob along behind the tow plane, a Cessna L-19 Bird Dog
I had let myself trust these kids, the way I couldn’t trust my peers when I was young. They didn’t let me down. Alison Jenkins
flown by Capt. James Harper.
The runway, the grass, the Earth all fell away beneath us as the yellow rope attached to the Bird Dog pulled us higher.
The sun-warmed Earth sent up pockets of hot, thin air which the glider dropped into, only to climb magically out again as the large wings did their job to lift us upward.
Dyment announced there would be a dip as the tow plane signalled a release, but I was not prepared for the sudden weightlessness as the glider nosed over.
The tow plane angled sharply away from the glider and the engine noise fell away. It was just me and the 16-year-old cadet in the sky.
The air rushed past the clear plastic canopy as Dyment piloted the little craft in circles over Malpeque Bay and St. Eleanors with ease.
“This is my favourite runway to use because you can see the whole city,” he said.
The Island was laid out like a patchwork quilt.
After a few more circles, Dyment straightened out to parallel runway 05. He called downwind on the radio.
At the tip of the runway, he turned in for a landing. The rushing wind increased as he side-slipped in past the numbers for a perfect one-point landing.
The glider only has one tire, the nose, tail and wings have small wheels to keep the glider from scraping and we fell onto these as the glider came to a stop. Silence fell for a brief moment.
I think I may have yelled “That was awesome!” to my pilot, grateful and impressed in equal measures.
Before long, a team of cadets ran onto the runway, the glider was lifted level by two cadets, someone held the nose and tail steady and yet another helped me unfold myself out of the tiny door.
I can’t remember much of the next few minutes. I may have snapped a selfie with my pilot. I know I did a lot of smiling.
I had let myself trust these kids, the way I couldn’t trust my peers when I was young.
They didn’t let me down. Before I could recover myself, and thank them all somehow, another cadet was loaded into the seat I’d just occupied and Costain was adjusting his seatbelt.
Warrant Officer First Class Ben Dyment pilots a glider over Malpeque Bay on May 25.
Capt. James Harper, who piloted the tow plane, a Cessna L-19 Bird Dog, is shown with reporter Alison Jenkins.
The Cessna L-19 Bird Dog releases the glider high above Prince Edward Island.
The glider is shown on final approach to land at Summerside Airport on May 25.