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True Confessions: I Crashed the Club's Schweizer (not Schweitzer) 2-33 Glider (Sail) Plane

Updated on November 2, 2013

July 4, 1984

For Jaspal, who wanted to know all about my adventures in flying gliders at the Boulder, Colorado airport and even commented on what I had to say.

The Denver Soaring Club Schweizer 2-33
The Denver Soaring Club Schweizer 2-33
Me and a couple of the guys in our club t-shirts
Me and a couple of the guys in our club t-shirts

My first mistake

The sun rose with a vengeance on that fateful day, as if determined to suck the life right out of me.

In all innocence, I rose with a smile possibly as bright. I was with my favorite buddies from the Denver Soaring Council- evidently renamed The Soaring Society of Boulder- and it was my turn to soar the friendly skies of Eagle Airport.

By now I had logged nearly 100 solo flights, most lasting 30 minutes following my release from our Piper Cub Tow plane. The club operated out of Boulder, Colorado where the altimeter was set at 5300 feet- 5288 to be exact. A tow would take about 20 minutes and then I was on my own, searching for pops of lift to extend my flight time.

I'd flown summer camp flights at Buena Vista and Kremmling as well as Salida and even experienced a 3000 foot climb in altitude on a one hour flight out of Westcliffe, where the lift was strong as an elevator.

I always got stomach butterflies before a flight. My gruff and dear instructor Bill Williams assured me that I had an instinctive ability to fly, which he attributed to my sex. The guys are more calculating, he would say. Jack might know all the technical stuff, but you fly intuitively.

Jack was my boyfriend. He and I drove to Boulder every Saturday and Sunday when the clouds weren't overbuilt and spent the day flying or hauling gliders onto the runway so that others could fly. We lived and breathed gliding. I tried not to be competitive with Jack. He was a dedicated and determined pilot.

Jack wasn't with me on this particular Fourth of July. His little sister was coming out at Central City Opera House and I hadn't been invited to the ceremony. I was not a favorite of his parents. Something about being too common...

Eagle Airport sits at 6540 feet above sea level. The runway is a mile long. But sitting behind a towplane working through the checklist, its expanse of concrete doesn't feel intimidating. It feels like an opportunity come knocking.

A special crush of mine, Jeffry Ohmart- winner of the 1978 Kolstad Scholarship for Glider Pilots- was already up in his family's single seater. He was hovering above the runway somewhat anxiously, watching my flying companion Fred Pool climb into the cockpit. Fred was not an instructor and was therefore the Pilot in Command; I had yet to take my glider license test, though I had enough hours and had passed the written.

Fred was renowned in Aspen, an experienced glider pilot in his 60s who had written an article in Soaring Magazine titled Noise makers for safety, May, 1978. In 1994 he, along with the Denver Soaring Council would be awarded the Colorado State Soaring Society Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Soaring Movement in Colorado. Fred was a legend.

I felt honored and somewhat overwhelmed that Fred would want to go up with me. It wasn't really recommended. In fact, it was probably illegal to have a student fly with someone who was not an instructor/pilot. If Bill had been along, he would never have allowed it.

However, I trusted Fred's judgment and so I climbed under the yellow wings and into the pilot seat beside this white haired sage, excited to be in a position to learn from his vast experience.

Second Mistake

Fred was determined to teach me about coring a thermal. The mountains around Vail-Eagle Airport inspire lots of lift. We didn't have a sound variometer, as you hear in the video. So he had me focus on the instrument itself, noting when it popped upward. The upward movement indicated that we had found a thermal.

All of this intellectual activity kept me focused. I maneuvered the stick obediently as I watched the needle move. And held the plane in a tight turn to catch the rising wave of lift. We were up for an hour, and I worked hard the entire time. I didn't mind that I was not really in charge. I listened to Fred and did as he said. I was learning.

A Schweizer 2-33 is a two seat glider. Kind of a workhorse of a glider, though on the tubby side. It doesn't hold lift like a sleeker one seater does. It's not a high performance glider and doesn't offer ease of steering. My arms were pretty dang tired by the end of the hour- even trembling a bit. Working out wasn't on my weekly list of activities and like many women, my arms were weaklings. Still, I pressed on, as I didn't intend to humiliate myself with Fred.

I was mostly learning to ignore any physical sensation in my body telling me I was in lift. Telling me anything at all, in fact. I was learning to listen to Fred without relying on my instincts.

Final Mistake

When glider pilots land, we fly what is called a landing pattern. We fly across the runway, crossing where we intend to land, and check traffic, wind and obstructions on the runway.

After crossing the runway, we turn left and fly along the runway to its end, gauging what we need in the way of landing space depending on the conditions discovered in the checklist.

We turn left again at a right angle to the runway until we reach its middle point- or what will set us down in the middle of the runway, again depending on revealed conditions. Then we turn left to final and adjust our position so that we land in the middle of the runway and roll out-- hopefully to the take out point where friends wait to help get the glider off the runway.

The Vail Eagle Airport runway was one mile long. I was still flying and needed to get myself into landing mode, but Fred kept asking me, "Could you land now?" I guess he was playing what he thought was the instructor role but what was happening was not instruction. I was being distracted. I was acting as Pilot in Command but my head and body were not in the game.

We flew along the right side of the runway and my stomach began to get flutters. I was not comfortable with what Fred was wanting from me. He evidently expected me to do a full pattern at the end of the runway but I felt too low. I felt like I needed to land NOW! Still, he was the expert and so I continued to follow what it was I thought he wanted me to do, which was continue to the official landing location.

All of a sudden, he freaked out and shouted, TURN IN! TURN IN! WE ARE TOO LOW!

I startled and made a left hand turn towards the runway, at which time he grabbed the controls and we dropped. The rest of the landing is a blur to me. Suffice to say we hit what Fred later said was strong sink.

I'm not convinced. We were low on approach and I should have ignored him and crossed the runway immediately upon feeling the urge. I could have flown a full pattern had I listened to my intuition.

As it was, he twisted the plane into a very quick right turn of landing pattern legs known in layman terms as a circle at less than 200 feet above the ground. We hit the runway diagonally and hard, skidding across it into an embankment of ground perhaps set up to keep planes from going over the edge. The plane lay there like a crushed Chinese New Year's fish kite.

Fred climbed out of the plane absolutely livid and red-faced, muttering as he limped past fellow clubbers rushing to our aide.

Jeff observed this from where he thermalled above the airport and landed in record speed, taking me into his arms, trembling. I hugged him back, cherishing his tensed jaw and snappish observation of events. He believed in me and was furious with Fred.

I am forever grateful to Jeff for helping me survive comments made by members who blamed me and vilified Fred. I did fly again, after the glider was repaired. Fred was forced to accept responsibility, as I was a student pilot. I'm thinking he never spoke to me after that. Bill was furious at him for taking me up at all, as it proved to be an illegal choice.

I am not blaming Fred.  He was trying to do what he thought best for the situation.  I blame myself for not being strong enough to take control and act in our mutual best interest without worrying about what he was thinking.  I failed to trust my self.

Jack and I named our first dog Schweitzer!

Final Flight

On my last solo glider flight as pilot in command, several years after I totaled the Schweizer, Jack and I headed to a summer camp event held out on the eastern plains in a town called Limon.

By now, we were married and appreciated being able to spend an entire Memorial Weekend away from our respective jobs.  Despite my usual butterflies, I climbed into the cockpit of the Club Blanik with anticipation.  I was looking forward to a summer of soaring discovery.

The towplane released me and I was off seeking thermals.  But something was different.  I felt queasy.  Had the accident made its final claim on my nerves?  I felt nauseous in fact.  Perhaps I had caught a bug.  The thought of landing, covered in vomit, did not appeal, so I fell into the landing pattern and touched down exactly right where I intended.

Within a few days I discovered I was pregnant.  I never flew again. 

© 2009 Barbara


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    • LongTimeMother profile image


      5 years ago from Australia

      Oh, what a beautiful story.

      I lived close to a gliding club some time back and used to watch the gliders, holding my breath for them as they landed. There was one fatality, involving an experienced pilot. So glad you both survived.

      I thought for a moment your special crush might have featured in the end of the story, but no. I trust Jack's parents have warmed to you by now. lol.

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      WillStarr, we will eventually get it out of you... beware, lol! Thanks for enjoying mine.

    • WillStarr profile image


      7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Great story, and all pilots have one. I won't admit to my own bad judgements! :-)

      Up and awesome!

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      OMG Steve! You are the first to notice this blatant error, lol!!! Thank you. It most assuredly does NOT have a stick. I haven't flown for 24 years... am I forgiven???

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Steering wheel? The 2-33 doesn't have a steering wheel.

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      8 years ago from UK

      As a pilot myself, I FEEL everything you wrote :-)

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Well you are a fine one to talk, ahorseback. I will not climb back in the saddle since I was bucked off as a young girl and saw those flashing hooves above my head. Well, I have ridden plugs... lol. Thanks!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Storyteller, You should be really proud of who you are , and what you have done ,I was spellbound reading this, gluiding is an old interest of mine . However, I commend you for your bravery and personal strength.

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Haha Jane, well I only remembered it because a hub friend asked about it. I guess I mentioned flying gliders somewhere else and he was curious for the whole story! Gliding was something I am very happy I experienced. It was like you and Ride the Rockies: great memories on the shelf.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Well, you amaze me again. You are braver than I. Thanks for sharing this adventure with the world. I might be inclined to want to forget it. Cord talks about gliding some day, so maybe I'll get to experience it with him. Never by myself, however:-} I'm not as brave as you.

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Thanks Tony! I look forward to reading that hub!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Great story. I've actually always wanted to glide but just never got the opportunity. May I still will!

      Thanks for this great Hub.

      Love and peace


    • profile image

      some guy 

      8 years ago

      That's wack that you never flew again. That's not the right thing to do.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Such a good story just about this topic. That’s realizable to search for the term paper writing service that will do the essay writing and custom writing. Moreover, I should choose essays writers.

    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 

      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Sad you don't fly anymore, but it sounds like you were listening to your gut when you decided to quit. Great story. I would blame Fred for the most part if I were you, just as a matter of practicality.

      That Piper Cub in the video was cheating a little wasn't he? Sounded like it was windy and he landed uphill and took advantage of the updraft at the top when he took off. Still incredibly impressive. I went for a ride in a Cub with floats, it took of in about a hundred feet I think, I couldn't believe it. Thanks for the story.

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Hello dear brother mine! I am glad you finally read the story. I guess I didn't talk about it much, did I?

      As to payment, the club had insurance and I had to contribute towards the deductible, along with Fred. It seemed like a lot of money at the time, but I truly cannot remember the amount- a couple hundred dollars I suppose. I was working at Green Mountain Geophysics and had a decent salary... for a change, lol.

      Yes, a little stinker pie whom I adore caused the end of this adventure! Never looked back, either.

    • profile image

      Craig Shirley 

      9 years ago

      After all these years, I finally get to hear the actual story!

      As traumatic as this was for you, and even though you had to deal with many layers of emotion, it was a great delight to read this!

      Who pays for the plane repairs in this kind of situation? I can't imagine insurance would be cheap for a plane like this.

      A bit of a surprise ending too! Silly Cassie!

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Glad you liked it Jaspal, as it was for you! I think there are other intriguing challenges left in life. This one has been put to rest.

    • Jaspal profile image


      9 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Thank you Storytellersrus! This is such a great story, of an event that would have really shaken you up like nothing else did either before or after it!

      I think it is gracious of you to not blame Fred. And it was very courageous to be flying again such an accident. Maybe you should again get back to soaring in the skies! :)


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