My first loop was on the day of Scott “Loop It” Jewell’s service. He was loved by so many, and as such his service was very well attended by pilots from near and far. It was also forecasted to be a classic flying day in Ellenville.
It was a perfect impromptu memorial fly in! And it felt so right to do my first loop on this day.
I had been practicing, training, and incrementally working up to it for a long time already- but still it felt like a big step, if only mental.
At the end of the day, when I knew the air was still and smooth, I made sure I was as high as I could get and headed out over the LZ. On the glide out I had plenty of time to mentally rehearse. As I saw the bullseye come beneath me, it was time; deep breath, slow the glider down, and ease the bar back. I balled up to get more weight forward, and a few more MPH of entry speed. The wind noise grew to a roar as the bar pressure built. At max speed I ever-so-carefully let the bar move back toward trim- and I began to climb…
I knew that, to do really straight loops in a weight shift wing, I had to keep my head straight. At those speeds, the glider is so sensitive it’s about impossible to look out the side and not roll to that side. So I kept my eyes on the horizon, watching it drop out of view as I continued to pitch up. After losing the horizon, I was into the blue. No clouds. No gliders above (that I saw anyway). And no reference. Where was I in the loop?! Time seemed to crawl as I felt the G’s decreasing. I tightened my grip on the base bar in preparation for <1, weightlessness, or seeing Scott a lot sooner than I expected. I pulled in slowly, and waited... waited... waited for SOMETHING to happen. Then I saw it: Earth! I had made it around, and the horizon was now coming back into view. I flew through the exit of the maneuver and returned to level flight. HOLY $#!+ I just looped! I hadn't told anyone of my intentions, so there were no cameras pointed my way. I'll remember it forever. But the loop isn't what stuck with me, it was the silence and terrifying uncertainty at the top that's always with me. One other pilot did see my first loop, Pete Johnson saw it from above, and said it looked "perfect". I completely trust him, but it didn't matter... I knew what I felt... and I wasn't ready for looping yet. I put in another full year of training towards looping. I also switched from a U2 145 to a new U2 160, feeling safer and more confident on the newer and bigger wing. I made absolutely sure someone got my second loop on video so I could study and review it for myself - thanks Des!
The second one felt just like the first, including time standing still at the top, but without the fear. This time I knew what it would feel like, with speed and G’s decreasing at the top. But again it felt a bit lucky- like I was doing the right motions and getting the desired result, but I wasn’t flying the glider through the maneuver. It felt like being a passenger, not a pilot.
So I trained a few years more, and also moved to Utah for more consistent training conditions… but that begins a whole different story…