Come Soar with Me
I shut down the computer, grab my GPS, flight bag, and parachute, and head to the Ann Arbor Airport. Small puffs of clouds are already starting to form on the horizon. I roll the fuselage of my glider out of the trailer and attach the wings and the tail.
"UFO" (Uniform Foxtrot Oscar) is a single-seat, German-made Ventus 2CXM. It's a graceful white bird, with a narrow fuselage and slender wings. I inspect it, put on my parachute, and climb into the cockpit; my body rests supine, my feet almost level with my hips. I methodically go through the checklist: spoilers locked, flaps in the take-off position, battery switch on, engine circuits on, engine up and primed. The 55-horsepower engine is located behind me on a swiveling arm. When it starts, it's very loud inside my cocoon, until I put on the noise-canceling headphones. The control tower gives me taxi clearance, and I carefully maneuver UFO'S long span to the runway threshold.
Noon: Cleared for takeoff, I rumble down runway 12 and lift off. Free of the earth and climbing, I bank into the northwest wind toward the base of the nearest well-defined cloud. The best ones have dark, flat bottoms and billowing white tops. This one looks inviting. The escalating beep of UFO's audio variometer, like a musical Geiger counter, indicates that the air under this cloud is rising rapidly. I roll the left wing down while stepping on the left rudder to initiate a climbing turn. Established in a rising "thermal," I stop the engine and press the button that retracts the arm and propeller deep into the UFO's sleek fuselage. The engine's shriek is instantly replaced by the wind's whisper.