Alan Daniel in his ASH glider with its motorized propeller preparing for take off. (Photo: Mark Brett, Penticton Herald)
— By Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Penticton Herald
It’s a warm August morning and Alan Daniel is high above the valley in his glider with only the sound of the wind and his thoughts for company. However, this particular aircraft, an ASH 31 Mi is just a little different than the traditional glider — it’s self launching. With a propeller attached to a 60-horse-power, rotary engine just behind the sloped canopy, the bright white plane can take off without the aid of a tow plane.
“Usually you fly out of a club and if you’re not flying a self launcher like this you need a tow pilot and a wing runner, you need a team to launch a glider and I couldn’t fly here otherwise,” said Daniel, a member of the Penticton Flying Club who works as a physician when he’s not in the air. “I’m not a lot different from the power pilots in that I can taxi, I can clear the runway… it’s just when I’m coming in to land I prefer to do it as a glider, it’s just safer for me without the engine.”
To his knowledge there are no tow planes available in the Okanagan and the closest one for public use is at Hope, although the Royal Canadian Air Cadets do have one for their use in Oliver. Daniel purchased the ASH in California four years ago and it’s thought to be only one of two or, perhaps even the only one in Canada. After taking off with the engine and reaching the desired altitude with a flick of the switch the engine and prop begin to fold neatly back into the fuselage and the aircraft’s true potential as a glider is unleashed. It was back in his South African homeland at the age of 16 when Daniel first had a ride in a glider.
“A friend of my father’s took me on a flight and I was hooked right away and it’s become an all-encompassing passion,” he said with a laugh. “I did a lot of windsurfing when I was younger and I was crazy about that. Then I switched to kiteboarding and was just as crazy about it and then this (pointing to the glider) took over and I don’t do anything else. “It’s something you can do until you’re pretty old, you just need a good brain.”
The flights, which only use single-digit litres of fuel generally last several hours, with some exceptions. “I did one flight this year that was about six hours in the Meadow Valley in the Cascades where I got into a mountain wave (of thermals) and spent about four hours between 15,000 and 18,000 feet. He also joked about the joy of finding some uplifting air when getting a little too close to the ground. “Oh yes, finding thermals can be very exciting because sometimes you’re low and when you’re low there’s a little bit of a pucker factor,” said Daniel.
When not in use the glider simply folds up and fits inside a long trailer to be towed wherever he would like to fly next which has included trips to Florida and California. He admits there are purists out there who don’t believe an aircraft with an engine is a glider in any way, shape or form. “And what I say is they’re entitled to their opinion, but they wouldn’t be flying out of Penticton.”