Personal Reflections of John Ryan


From Nancy Hume


Because John Ryan's accomplishments were many and varied, there was not enough room in the May issue of Air Currents to reflect on the personal side of this very talented man. I am pleased to have been asked to "pull together" this part of John's story. Other people, without a byline, have contributed to the overall written remembrance of John, namely Harry Robertson, Judy Lincoln for SSA, Ruth Petry and Mary Flasphaler for the National Soaring Museum.


I did not discuss soaring with John Ryan. Back when I was a real greenhorn, good sense prevailed and I somehow knew that I, who thought the green on a sectional meant a nice green landing field, who thought that blowing into the pitot tube was a quick-dust trick and who did not under-stand that playing a hand of bridge (particularly a slam) took precedence over receiving land-out instructions from the pilot, could offer anything in the way of constructive soaring conversation to a true pro like John. I did know John as a generous and very gracious host. Together, he and Mary Ann, entertained in a most lovely way, be it in their home or on the desert or at a soaring site. I always felt that Mary Ann should be my soaring crew chief role model - she did it all and she did it right.


From Bill Ordway:


"One weekend in the late nineteen sixties, ASA members were flying with the Tucson club at their Ryan Field site, several years before their move to El Tiro. On Sunday John Ryan and I decided to fly back to Deer Valley, and the crews (Mary Ann for John and Nancy for me) would meet us there. John was flying his Phoebus as I recall, and I had my BG-12.


We started out together with John giving me some good tips on speed flying, but about 25 miles on course Mary Ann called John to say she was hav-ing car trouble around Rillito. John left to fly back and circle overhead until she got matters straightened out with some local mechanic help, and I continued on course. Because John was delayed for quite awhile, I flew to Wickenburg before heading for Deer Valley. John and I kept in radio touch, and I knew that he had finally continued on and would land at Deer Valley 20 minutes ahead of me.


As we intrepid pilots know, the usual and much appreciated crew greeting after a long flight is a cold beer. Since Nancy hadn't arrived yet, I knew I'd have to wait for that sacred event, but lo and behold, John and Mary Ann saved the day - but not with beer. As I opened the canopy, John walked up with a big grin on his face, congratulated me on the flight and handed me a MARTINI - in the proper glass, of course. That's real class - and typical John Ryan!"


From John Baird


"When people become free of the world much is written about their accomplishments which tend to be in their noted specialty and are like historical events. This does not disclose much about the person.


I worked for John at Rainco for several years and got to know him a bit more than from contact at soaring contests. In addition to his being a soaring great, he was a warm human with a fabulous inquiring mind who studied everything, giving amazing energy to his study.


He sampled activities other than soaring including mountain climbing of the type involving ice, rocks, ropes, steel pins that are driven into rock cracks on which you hang while you are driving the next pin so you might sleep while waiting for daylight and at very great vertical distances. He, with a climbing party, evidently got caught by a storm on a very steep face and was pinned in place. There were high winds, hail and electrical potential gradients so high that he could feel the location of all of the steel inserts in his shoes through the bottoms of his feet. While contemplating the possibility of the voltage gradient increasing to the point where there would be ionizing and he would be vaporized, he decided enough is enough!


John didn't sample soaring - soaring captured him. He seemed to be close to that part of a persons being that was engaged in soaring. Since he felt that soaring provided continuous learning, if one claimed or even thought he knew it all, John believed that person had really quit soaring. He was humorous about his own learning. We were having a contest at Hailey A/P at Sun Valley, Idaho, and it was very difficult to get away in the morning. It was so difficult that there was a thought there would be a point bonus for the pilot that could get away with the least number of tows. The traffic on the low hills near the airport was exciting too. At one of the pilot meetings during take-off time selection John said when his number was called, 'I'll take two take-off times'.


On another occasion the entire fleet of planes was off and milling around the contest site at Minden, Nevada. It was not possible to get to gate altitude but no one was landing. This went on without any change for close to an hour. John said in a quiet voice on the radio, 'we're wearing out the air!'


One day in the spring when we were getting the equipment ready for the new season and the rust from our attitudes, we all got to the Estrella Sailport to get over ground sickness. We had an informal task to Ryan Field and back and everyone milled around the field for a long while sampling the hills and the farm fields, and waiting for the real soaring day to begin. It never did and so people started drifting south in the hills which seemed to be best. John and Mary Ann arrived when the rest of the gliders were about 40 miles out and off to the west of the hills. John assembled, got a tow, climbed in the usually good thermals at the sailport and left along a straight line to Ryan Airport. His altitude vs. distance also made a straight line from the last thermal at Estrella to where he hit the ground on a course line to Ryan Field. Mary Ann retrieved him and when we were all together at the end of the day, John had the best time explaining how Mary Ann scolded him for his performance. All of us have made flights like that and know its just part of the continuous learning that makes soaring a life-long sport. And Mary Ann had earned the right to scold. She could pack the big station wagon they used for soaring contests with everything needed, with all stowed so that it stayed in place and she could quickly retrieve any item. People who can do things like this to make life for another at the contest trouble-free, have wings of their own!"


Space does not permit inclusion of the many more remembrances of John. One fact is an absolute given - the sport of soaring as it is today, is a direct result of the positive influence of John Ryan - on the local, national and international levels. He was indeed a giant in that sport of the ever-present challenge with nature. N.H.



Soaring In Columbia

submitted by Ruth Petry


(In the mid-60's Air Force Capt. Don Harrell was given a crash course in Spanish and sent to Colombia, South America, to train helicopter pilots. Here is his rather hair-raising account of a soaring operation in Colombia, taken from the October 1966 issue of Air Currents. - RP)


After many inquiries I had decided there were no sailplanes in Colombia and quit asking. Then several weeks ago, during a short vacation at the beach, I was watching the gulls and trying to pick up a few pointers. One looked vaguely familiar and seemed to be doing quite well without any noticeable wing movement.


After a short sip of rum and coke this gull took on sailplane characteristics. One more quick sip and it became, of all things, a 2-22! This called for another sip, a little squinting of the eyes to make sure, and then a quick trip to the local airport. By the way, that word "airport" is used rather loosely here. Any patch over 700' long and 50' wide and devoid of all but small boulders can be an airport. It really shouldn't have more than 10 degree slope and is almost always open at one end.


Anyway, the airport looked like a gypsy camp except that the covered wagons had turned into airplanes and the tents were brightly colored deluxe jobs. I was welcomed in four languages, offered a beer, and informed that my arrival was just in time to help retrieve the "planeador. It had just made a landing three miles downwind from the field. It had made a landing - NOT the pilot. Here, a pilot is kin to God hence makes no mistakes. Especially the sportsman pilot, because only the rich-rich can afford to fly. And nobody insults a rich man by insinuating he erred. Nobody that is, except an ignorant gringo who hasn't caught on to all the customs yet. Have you ever heard of anyone releasing two miles downwind at 1000 ft. when the wind is blowing at 15 - 18 k and the thermals aren't breaking?


However, they forgave my indiscretion since the 2-22 was three miles away and there wasn't even a cow path between it and the field. Every muscle - no matter how small - was needed to carry it back. So carry it back we did, and all in one piece, too! Soaring here is D I F F E R E N T! "They had air-towed 90-some miles over mountains and valleys that make the stretch between Phoenix and Prescott look like a pool table. I very seriously doubt if there is one spot in the entire distance where a sailplane could be landed safely, "The club normally operates out of an 8700 ft. field (that's altitude - not runway length). The length isn't published but I timed one of my tows - on takeoff roll to be exact at one Minute and twenty-one seconds behind a Super Cub. Seventeen minutes average to gain a thousand feet!


"Dodging between fence posts and trees markedly improves ones low level flying techniques. Actually with a 75 ft. tow line, following the tug is greatly simplified. If he doesn't hit anything you can be relatively sure you wont either.


Even if he does hit something you, as sailplane pilot, can't be blamed. This type of thing also shows that the pilot is a brave person and not afraid of anything.


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