The Value of Mentoring Groups by Lee Murray
A major concern for our sport is that fewer people become glider pilots and even keeping glider rated pilots flying is an issue. Presently there is move underway to make clubs aware of strategic planning necessary to keep clubs from stagnating and consequently shrinking. This story involves glider pilots who fly at Arizona Soaring Inc. at Estrella Sailport and the Arizona Soaring Association.
At the 2016 Arizona Soaring Association (ASA) general membership meeting, President Joe Silvasi gave a presentation about what to do with the decline in membership. Joe discovered that there are 1300 pilots in AZ with a glider rating which seemed like a much bigger number than any of us imagined. The ASA had a long history of cross country racing and in the past, the club had over a hundred members with a rigorous racing schedule as a preparation for regional and national competitions. Some ASA members felt that the contest tasks were too difficult for low performance aircraft and less experienced flyers. Other members sold their gliders due to family situations or health. Joe speculated that many new glider pilots just got bored flying around the flagpole.
I got serious about soaring following retirement and came to Arizona Soaring Inc. (Estrella Sailport) to get my private pilot – glider rating. We bought a house in Maricopa, AZ so we could enjoy winters in comfort and I would be able to enjoy soaring all year long. Staying aloft and comfortably flying further from the airport were my short term goals. Arizona Soaring’s expertise is basic and advanced training including aerobatics but not cross country flying. A few instructors have had cross country flying experience but currently were not doing much in that area. There were a number of local glider pilots who flew their own gliders and others who just rented. The mix of cross country experiences told me that there was a potential for a mentoring program. We formed a group called the Arizona Soaring Interest Group (ASIG) that meets monthly. There are no dues and no officers. ASA members and Estrella instructors and personnel assisted in getting us going with speakers on topics that inexperienced flyers would need or desired. Joe Silvasi (land out safety, turn point databases), Bob Thompson (aerial photography and weather), Steve Koerner (cross country flying), Eric Redweik (an introduction to the OLC), Paul Cordell (planning before attempting FIA badges) and Pete Rendek who coordinated with La Familigia Restaurant in Mesa, providing AV equipment and presenting talks on ADS-b, weather forecasting, Top Meteo, SeeYou and other topics. I have spoken on trailer maintenance, and using soaring forecasts on the Internet. At times we had outside speaker to tell us about external catheters, how to select them and leg bags; an air traffic controller to tell us how to talk to towers and control centers and even Paul Remde via Skype to answer questions about the avionics products he sells. Pete managed the meetings and announcements in the summer while I was back in Wisconsin.
The e-mailed soaring forecasts go out to more than fifty pilots and also carries information about monthly meeting topics. Members often converge at the airport to take advantage of good soaring conditions and comradery. Several of us acquired gliders including two new motor gliders and some of us have started collecting FAI badges. The best example is David Nelson who was encouraged to start the badge program and in doing so, went from no badges to Diamond and a Lennie badge having flown up to 28,000 ft. MSL all in the space of six weeks. I completed a 320 km declared flight for my Gold Badge and have become somewhat proficient in slope soaring and even experienced wave soaring from the Sierra Estrella Range. Other soaring pilots from the Fault Line Flyers (the Texas Expeditionary Force): Bill Snead, Charley Hill and sometimes Dennis Scheidt come to fly the good condition in the spring before moving their PW-5 to Marfa, TX and finally, Austin, Texas. Bill has a long experience in sailplane racing nationally and internationally…and he is sharing his knowledge.
Here are some objectives of the ASIG group that were set out at the onset which should work for any group of sailplane pilots:
- Notify each other of upcoming good soaring conditions.
- Supporting each other when a retrieve might be required.
- Understanding soaring forecasts and knowing how to use them
- Understanding sailplane avionics, how to use them and select them for your use
- Try team flying to maximize the use of soaring conditions
- Learn to feel more comfortable about leaving the airport
- Seeing more of the great views around your flying site.
- Mentor each other in safety, flying technique, thermalling technique, cross country soaring, SSA and FAI badges and racing for those who desire that.
- Participate in the On Line Contest, a very low pressure way of measuring your progress and comparing it with that of others at your airport, your state, the country or the world.
- Using GPS flight computers and task planning
- Learn about SPOT, In-Reach, Sailplane Tracker, FLARM and ADS-b.
- Promote socialization and fellowship
Arizona Soaring Inc. has become more involved and has begun having monthly socialization and training meetings at the airport on Saturday mornings. Shad Coulson, the Operations Manager, Pete Rendek and Jason Stevens have collaborated to develop a mentoring program. Arizona Soaring Inc. had sponsored the Estrella Cup and Estrella Sprint series of events pilots can enter to do simple soaring tasks developing their skills from May through September. In April, The Arizona Soaring Association had its first two day soaring event of the season at Estrella Sailport. Pilots chose to fly one of two tasks or just collect OLC points followed by a Teriyaki Chicken and rice cookout after flying on Saturday.
Across the country it is becoming clear that socialization is important to soaring. As a result of a trailer tire failure near St. Louis, I spent some time with Gene Franklin and Anne Mongiovi in Illinois. Gene took me on a tour of two clubs he has been associated with. I discovered that the St. Louis Soaring Association which has a healthy cross country participation existed a few miles from the Silver Creek Gliding Club which is more of a family centered club with less interest in cross country flying. If we are to grow the sport, we can’t ignore one of the two reasons glider pilots stay connected to soaring.