John D. Ryan 1925-1997

by Kimberly Heidt


John D. Ryan, former SSA President, long-time SSA Director, and 1962 National Soaring Champion, died of a respiratory illness on March 18, 1997.


Born in New York City in 1925, John began his soaring career shortly after moving to Phoenix in 1958. He had earned his private pilot's license at Dartmouth College before transferring to Montana State, where he graduated in 1949 with a B.S. degree in Commercial Science. John joined the Arizona Soaring Association (ASA) in December 1958. He quickly obtained his private glider pilot's license and rapidly improved his soaring proficiency while also serving as a tow plane pilot for the club. By the end of 1959, John had purchased his first sailplane. a Schweizer 1-23G, in which he made most of the flights for the FAI Gold and Silver badges he earned that year. He also completed Diamond goal and distance legs in 1959, and was on his way to an illustrious soaring career in which he competed in numerous Nationals beginning that year at Elmira, earned four nationally recognized trophies, competed on the U.S. Team in the World Soaring Championships, and was inducted into the Soaring Hall of Fame.


John became an integral part of the ASA, loaning his aircraft for glides and tows, showing his sailplane for the club at airshows, and participating in many club competitions and activities. He completed U.S. Diamond badge #16 (World Diamond #140) at Bishop, Calif., in April 1960, with an altitude of 35,100 feet to wave, and attributed his success to the efforts and support of the club members. He was elected ASA President in October 1960 and served in that office the next year. In 1961, he was awarded the Barringer Trophy for achieving the year's longest straight-out distance flight in the U.S. at 454 miles. This flight was made in his beautiful Sisu 1 purchased from Len Niemi in 1960.


John was also elected Region 9 SSA Director in 1961, beginning a long commitment of SSA service which did not end until 1978. As an SSA Director, John shared his knowledge and experience with others in the soaring community through many articles and letters published in issues of Soaring magazine over his 17 years of service to the SSA


Flying his Sisu 1, John won the 1962 National Championships in El Mirage, Calif. In a Soaring article entitled. "A Straight Line Isn't...," John wrote the 1962 Nationals were unique in that "not a single competitor completed all of the speed tasks." John finished first on the first day of competition with a total distance of 446.8 miles, the first 236 completing the assigned triangular course and the remainder as optional free distance - the famed Bickle Basket." He kept his standings consistently in the top seven places through all eight days of the contest, winning his first and only National Champion title. He was awarded the Richard DuPont Trophy that year as the winner of the 1962 Open Class Nationals.


John served as SSA Vice President from 1962-1964, during which time he still held his position as Region 9 Director. He also became Chairman of the SSA Government Rules and Regulations Committee, and wrote several articles published in Soaring regarding the issue of airspace regulations, both warning pilots to know the Law," and urging the FAA to permit glider operations in Positive Control Areas. In 1963, John competed with the U.S. Soaring Team in the World Soaring Championships held in Jun, Argentina


Although John did not win the 1964 Nationals, placing fifteenth out of 48 entries, he did walk away with two other honors: he won the Lairs Stroukoff Trophy for flying the fastest triangle in the U.S. Open Nationals, and was elected SSA President for the 1965-66 term. In his first "President's Message" column in the January 1965 issue of Soaring, John praised the volunteer efforts of the SSA Board and Committees, and encouraged SSA members to contribute volunteer hours to the organization. "Working for SSA can be a very rewarding experience," John wrote. "A few hours spent in furtherance of the Society's objectives can be as exhilarating as a good thermal!"


John was awarded the Warren E. Eaton Trophy in 1965. This is SSA's highest award, granted for service and/or notable achievement in the sport of soaring. The next year, in 1966, the SSA Board of Directors conferred on John the prestigious honor of induction into the Soaring Hall of Fame in recognition of his long-term service and achievement. Although John was honored by the Society with the highest honors barely seven years after his first glider flight, he did not stop giving to SSA, in both time and money. After his term in the presidency, John remained in service as an SSA Director-At-Large from 1967 through 1969, and returned to his old post of Region 9 SSA Director from 1970 through 1978.


Although John spent the equivalent hours of a second job in his SSA volunteer duties before, during and after his presidency, he kept his powered and soaring flight skills sharp. He continued to fly powered aircraft mostly for business reasons as his "day job" was running Rainco, a company John established in 1964 which served the soaring community for many years, offering competition sailplanes, and a wide variety of instruments, radios and replacement parts. John also worked as a consulting engineer in the field of radio communications. He continued to compete in local and National contests until the late 1970s, placing third in the first U.S. transcontinental sailplane race, the Smirnoff Derby," in 1972, and participating in ASA and SSA Region 9 competitions through the end of 1978.


John was a tireless volunteer in the aviation community. He had over 12,000 hours logged in powered aircraft and over 4000 sailplane hours logged by the time of his death. His ratings included Commercial Single Engine, Land; Multi-engine, Land; Single Engine, Seaplane; and Glider Instructor. In addition to his SSA service, John also served as a Director of the National Aeronautic Association; was a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association; and served as a delegate to the CVSM Committee on Gliding and Soaring of FAI, attending the 1964-65 meetings at Tel Aviv and Munich.


The John D. Ryan wing of the National Soaring Museum Library in Elmira, N.Y., will always stand as a testament to the selfless dedication and service John gave to the soaring community. His memory is kept alive by his wife, Mary Ann; two daughters, Sally and Betsy; grandchildren Ryan and Blake; and those in the soaring community who remember John at his finest.



Hartmut Karmann Killed in Ridge Crash

by Paul Dickerson


On Saturday, 22 MAR, Hartmut Karmann, a friend of many Arizona soaring people, was killed in a glider crash on a ridge near his winter home in New Zealand. His wife, Gesila, told me that the cause of the crash, which was observed by several people, was not yet known.


I met Hartmut on the ramp at Estrella in 1973. He and Gesila and their young three boys had moved from their home north of Hamburg to Glendale for his tour as the director of the Lufthansa primary training school at Litchfield. Hartmut had sent his ASW-15 to Los Angeles on a Lufthansa B-727 freighter. Our first flight together was on 29 JUL 73 from Turf. We flew along the edges of several thunderstorm cells between Lake Pleasant and Carefree. We flew together many times together during the next few years at Estrella, Turf, Ryan, El Mirage, Prescott, Willcox, etc. The Karmann’s became close friends with many Arizonans including the Dickerson’s. Our last flight together in Arizona was on 17 AUG 75.


After they moved back to Germany, we maintained the friendship with visits both ways. On 29 OCT 88, Hartmut arranged for me to fly the new ASW-24 prototype at the factory at Poppenhausen which is adjacent to the Wasserkuppe. Our last flight together was on 1 JUL 95 from his favorite sailport at Frohenbuhl, 50 km north of Nuremberg. I flew his Ventus B and he borrowed a Ventus B configured exactly as his for our flights that week. By coincidence, his Ventus was a carbon copy of mine - 17.6 m tips, same Zander computer, stand-along GPS, etc. We launched about 1300 each day and team-flew until about 1800 at which time the beer colors were run up. On one flight near the Chech border, a sudden change of weather forced us to land at Bayreuth, the home of the Wagner opera festivals - Wagner’s hometown I presume. Hartmut quickly arranged tows for us but in the mean time, the ceiling and visibility had collapsed. There was zero lift. I voted for an undignified auto retrieve but instead, we towed to a height from which we could glide home while navigating with the GPS. The entire sailport population was startled to see us descend out of the mist and land as if Wagner himself had decreed it. We never told anyone about the Bayreuth relights and the flat glide home.


The airport was on a 200 m high limestone mesa about five km in diameter with lots of natural caves around the edges. As anyone who has spent time around a German sailport knows, the Germans, especially the German soaring pilots, have learned what to do with these cool, damp limestone caves. They drag a few picnic benches up under the trees and install a few barrels of beer and boxes of sausages, hard bread and awful pickles into the caves and declare it a beer garden. It turned out that Hartmut and his friends knew where ALL the near-by beer gardens were and we were honor-bound to establish a patron’s level of trade with each one - so as to "not show favoritism" he often said. At about 2200, still not quite totally dark at 55 degrees north in late June, we would walk (stumble) or ride our bikes back to the motorhomes and tents for a few last tales of soaring wizardry and then sleep. The next day, we would do it again. If the weather was bad, defined as cloud base below 200 m and the Harris hawks walking, we would all ride our bikes to the nearest village, castle or what-have-you, for a day of ground-bound entertainment, stopping for refreshments at the out door restaurants along the way.


Hartmut and his gang of about five or six other pilots and families have been spending many of the summer weeks for several decades at this wonderful old glider strip. He was their leader. I wonder if they will continue without him.


He was perhaps the finest competition soaring pilot that I ever knew because he was at once more conservative than almost everyone, yet always placed at or near the top. During his many years of flying with the ASA, he never landed off of an airport. He told me once that he never allowed himself to get in a position where he might have to land off-field. He flew many German regional and usually flew in the German nationals.

During his last years at Lufthansa in 1996, he was a senior 747-400 captain flying the Frankfurt to Pacific Rim routes with an occasional flight to Los Angeles. On the LA flights, he would call on 123.3 and 123.5 when he was in range of Sedona on soaring days, but we never connected. He took early retirement last year. Several years earlier they had bought a winter home in New Zealand adjacent to a dirt strip at the water’s edge.

Those that were fortunate enough to know him and his family will agree that he will be sorely missed. If you would like to send Gesila’s a note, her address is:


Flottkamp 114

2358 Kaltenkirchen




Safety Gator

by Doug Bell


The subtitle for this article could be "The One Time It Does Happen", with the "It" being an abnormal event. In this case, It happened to me on the second contest day at Estrella this year.


I was the third to take off on a day that hadn’t really begun to generate well organized lift. As I passed 1000 agl, I saw PT and 2B, the previous two launches, circling at about my level. Not a good sign. Upon release, all I encountered was heavy sink (5.8 knots on the barogram) down to an altitude of 1000 agl while running toward PT and 2B who were now climbing out.


I scratched trying to make the most out of 4 knot spikes on one side of the circle. After a few minutes of this, the spikes disappeared and only sink was encountered. Like the previous day, I was down to the point where I had to commit to a landing. I was really frustrated at having to make a relight two days in a row.


As I flew base leg, I have to admit that I contemplated the possibility of landing short and rolling up near the back of the line for a relight. Fortunately, training and good sense prevailed and I landed on the center runway. This is when It happened.


Wanting to stop as soon as possible to minimize the push to the back of the line, a started applying wheel brake. On the second good squeeze, the brake handle became limp and went full back against the dive brake handle. Complete brake failure! All of a sudden I felt very helpless. I was just along for the ride now. The slow motion effect kicked in and I remember being aware of all the gliders waiting for takeoff pass by on the left one after another. It seemed like a much longer rollout than it really was. Finally, the right wing dropped and the left hand, out of reflex, attempted to squeeze the lifeless brake. The wing tip touched down, a 30 degree pivot to the right, all stop.


The event was over. No damage, no split second decisions, no evasive maneuvers, no panic. This was the first time I ever experienced a brake failure. It may well be the only time I experience a brake failure. But allowing for such an eventuality should be a part of the planning in every landing. For all the landings I have made considering the possibility of a brake failure and it not happening, the one time it did happen, the training and discipline really paid off.


Whether it’s rolling up to the back of the line, or "taxiing" off the runway to the tie-down area, don’t assume that you can always stop on the spot because you’ve always been able to hundreds or thousands of times previously. For the hundreds of times it does work out won’t be worth it for the one time it doesn’t work out as planned.



Unpublished Phone No. / Address


If you do not want to have your phone number or address published as part of the club roster, remembering that the roster is available to anyone that has a web browser, contact Bill Bartell @ (602) 580-9270 or Likewise, if you do not want this information published in Air Currents, contact the editor.



New Arizona State Altitude Record Claimed


On April 1, Jonathan Tappan completed a flight in the Tucson Soaring Club’s 1-26 for which he has made an Arizona state record claim for absolute altitude in the 15 meter and Standard classes. Flying out of Ft. Hauchuca, the two hour wave flight achieved a maximum altitude of 31,125 ft. The previous record of 29,490 ft. was set by R. Link, also flying a 1-26, on March 25, 1985.


At the time of this writing, the record has not yet been approved pending approval of the Diamond Altitude claim by the SSA.



ASA’s Newest Private Pilot


Next time you see her, congratulate Susan vonHellens on her recent certification as a Private Pilot, glider. April 14 was the big day when she passed both the oral and practical tests. I don’t know who was more proud, Susan or Bob. She reports that she has been enjoying flying 244, and may start to venture away from the nest after practicing her turnpoint photo technique in the local area. Better fly that Discus as much as you can while you still have the chance, Bob.



The "Woody" Head East

by Doug Bell


Yes, it is true. KD has been sold. It’s headed for greener pastures in Wichita, KS. After spending 1600 hours over eight years building it, and logging nearly 300 hours flying it, it was hard to let it go. We had some great flights together including diamond goal, three Arizona State records and a first and second place finish in the ASA contest series. Of course, there was also the eight and tenth place finishes in the ASA series as well as some not so good times with various repairs and maintenance tasks.


Overall, the little ship served me very well during a time when I was raising a family and changing careers. It helped me learn a great deal about soaring and how to make the most out of what I had to work with. It provided me an introduction to cross country and contest flying at a very economical cost. It gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of great people in several states. Yes, I’m sure going to miss that little Duster… right up to the first flight in my own glass ship!


I just want all you water bombers out there to remember; you won’t have KD to kick around anymore.



SunTiger Tinting Availalbe

by Bill Bartell


SunTiger tinting of your glasses is still available. This is the famous orange tint you have seen competition pilots using. SunTigers increase cloud

definitions and enhance traffic. This is accomplished by filtering out the blue end (ultra violet) of the visual spectrum. This end of the spectrum causes eye strain. There is some change in the way the world appears.


If interested, provide CR-39 (most commonly used in rx glasses) plastic lenses to Bill Bartell (602-580-9270) for tinting or more information. This process etches into the lenses, so no coatings or such is allowed until after the tinting process. Cost is $30.

Return to ASA Home Page