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Aug 01, 2020, 07:10 AM
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A Flight With Hal Cohen


A flight with Hal Cohen

If you hang around an airport all day long, every weekend, holiday and vacation day, you find yourself making friends with most of the other airport bums who found a home there.

Hal was an engineer and a pilot who owned his own plane for a bunch of years. Dunno why he sold it but it was gone. It was an Ercoupe, the two seater that had no rudder pedals. I think the Ercoupe was also equipped with castering landing gear so it could be landed crabwise in a cross wind and not suffer any damage. Naturally it had tricycle gear.

I remember a scene in an old movie where a guy lands at a party in a high wind and the guests, all friends, run out to hold his plane down in the wind. All the guys are in tuxes and the women in evening gowns but they’re all airplane savvy and tend to the plane. I don’t remember any more about the film but I loved that scene.

I was a bit of a techie and had read Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated and that pulp, country boy equivalent, Science and Mechanics since I learned to read and only gave them up when I found The Scientific American on a newsstand when I was about eleven. Thus, though I was no engineer I had enough of a background to enjoy talking to Hal about things aeronautical or details about how engines worked and all the etc’s you can think of.

So it was that on occasion Hal was my "passenger" when I flew gliders. Yes, passenger is in quotes. If I flew with a fellow pilot I always shared the flight. I flew with my flying buddy James Kokiadis on several occasions and he probably could have soloed a glider after one check ride. When we flew together in his Luscombe I did most of the navigation. To me, the important part of navigation was the time you made your check points so you’d know your ground speed and could calculate an ETA. That’s important if it’s getting close to sunset. Gas was never a problem. If you start with full tanks in a Luscombe it’s endurance exceeds human sitting endurance by a large margin.

I don’t remember what sailplane we were in. My guess is a club Ka-7 because if I was flying a rented glider I’d have taken a 1-26 or 1-23 and they’re both single seaters.

The tow is long forgotten as is most of the flight. The only significant thing is I found a very choppy thermal and centered in its turbulent core. We went up at a pretty good clip and I maneuvered constantly to stay in it’s core. It’s interesting to note that nobody joined us in our thermal. I had a pretty good idea of what our thermal was shaped like but it was only speculation.

At some point Hal said "if you open up your circle you’ll do a lot better without all the turbulence and tight maneuvering." My response was, "Show me." Hal opened up the turn and in a couple of seconds we were in smooth air descending at about 200 feet a minute. No more thermal. Hal was very surprised and apologetic. I’m sorry to say, I never explained what we were in but my allowing him to open the circle was really to confirm what kind of thermal we were flying in.

We were not just in a detached bubble of lift, we were in a vortex ring. Literally a smoke ring in the sky. I had seen one depicted someplace, probably in one of the many books I read but I think that depiction was very imaginary, I’ve been in several and I have my own idea of the shape.

How do you KNOW you’re in a vortex ring. One of the signs is other pilots may try to enter your thermal but it’s not a rising column so there’s no way to enter from below. The only other thing is experience. This is what it feels like but you can never be sure. My letting Hal make his mistake was really an experiment on my part to confirm what we were flying in.

Hal was quite a bit older than me and I’m eighty-two now so it’s too late to explain it to him and apologize using him to confirm my suspicion. I learned but I should have shared my knowledge with him.

Instead I’m sharing it with you.

The first image is the textbook version of a vortex ring, the second is probably close to what the real thing looks like if you could see it.
Last edited by PeteSchug; Aug 01, 2020 at 07:17 AM.
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