(Note to my readers: the first part of this tome is just below) *** So here I was in Slovenia, unable to fly and three more days before I could return to my wife in Hamburg, unless I wanted to pay another $200 to change the flight. Modern air travel, what a concept. *** Undaunted and determined to enjoy my first visit to this lovely country after two days in bed with a virus (the physical kind, not the airplane), I crawled back into the light and joined up with Rand for a thoroughly enjoyable factory tour, courtesy of Ivo’s daughter Taya (she’s also a partner in the firm), who speaks very good English indeed and gave us a very informative and enjoyable peek at how the company does it’s day-to-day.And what a factory! High tech geothermal heat, solar power (enough to run the entire factory year round, and sell excess back to the grid) and open, sunny, airy spaces all make for a wonderful working environment. *** Then Ivo invited Rand and me to join him and the entire Pipistrel crew for a “team building” weekend trip. We followed the bus jammed full of Pipistrelians east for a couple hours and found ourselves in the middle of one of those ropes course-like facilities meant to scare the bejeezus out of people. It’s a fair-weather season facility that lives atop a ski area in eastern Slovenia. *** Now remember, I was just out of a sick bed and still pretty wobbly. And when I saw that the first task my teammates and I would have to perform was climbing up a 10 meter wooden pole (that’s 33 feet, folks), lumberjack style (albeit safely belayed by ropes carabinered to a body harness), and then stand up on top of said pole, I got a tad wobblier. *** The flat top of that pole was about as big around as a medium-sized pancake, maybe 9″ in diameter, 10″ at the most. *** Are you kidding me? *** After attaining that precarious perch (and not everybody did), to get max points for the team, we then had to gingerly pussyfoot our feet around on top of the pole until facing in the opposite direction. Then we could take a leap of faith into space, expecting/trusting/hoping like hell we’d be safely arrested and lowered to the ground by our teammates who held the lifeline ropes. *** Let me tell you right now: a 33-foot tall pole is an excellent harmonic device for magnifying the timid, overcorrecting uncertainties of your thigh muscle/knee joint mechanisms. *** Let me say it another way: the more you shake, the more that damn pole gyrates at the top, like a plate spinner gyrating a plate atop a long stick…and you the plate! *** So brother, you haven’t lived until you’ve stood on top of an oscillating pole, willing your legs (unsuccessfully) to stop quavering and unsuccessfully trying to convince your body to believe what your mind knows: that you’re safely backed up by the rope harness…and that your teammates are paying attention. Looking down from almost forty feet (bugged-out eyeball elevation) to see your big boots completely eclipsing that pancake-sized pole top and, in the vast distance beyond those boots, the foreshortened bodies of people’s little white heads as they look up at you to shout encouragement (in Slovenian), is one of those “WTF am I doing here?” moments in life that shouldn’t be missed. *** The purpose of the weekend trip of course was to give people who work so diligently together a chance to share some bonhomie away from the factory, which no one seemed to have any problem with at all. The Pips are a very friendly crew indeed. Traveling out of country is great…even when you don’t get to fly a single minute. And spending that day with the crew, facing some other fun team challenges together, knocking back more than one glass of blueberry schnapps, sharing meals and tasting wine, feeling the warmth, good cheer and open amiability of all, watching groups at different tables at an ancient Slovenian winery dinner burst into song, made me wish for a spirit of nationality and camaraderie that seems missing on the American scene these days. *** Anyway, no, I don’t yet have a single Pipistrel flight story to share (other than the Virus I wrote up after Oshkosh which should be out in the mag very soon.) *** But I do plan on getting my Private Pilot motorglider rating this winter, and escape the New England snows in the process: Rand and I hope to enlist Jim Lee of Phoenix Air USA, who impressed everyone with the Phoenix motorglider’s 47 mpg performance at the GFC on conventional fuel power, to take us through the training down in Florida. We’ll fly Rand’s 40-foot Sinus Touring Motorglider and I for one, shoveling the wet snow from our upstate New York Halloween porch just a few days ago, muttering “disgusting” to myself the entire time, can hardly wait to head south and strap on that sleek, beautiful airplane. *** Meanwhile, keep your eyes on Pipistrel. They’ve got a lot of excitement coming down the taxiway. *** En route, I’ll be looking at the virtues of getting your private pilot glider rating down the road too, since it automatically removes a lot of the Sport Pilot restrictions (10,000 altitude max for instance) with very little additional effort…and you don’t need a medical to fly a glider either…even a motorized glider with retractable gear. Not a lot of pilots are fully aware of that, so we’ll be kicking it around once I start my training. *** Meanwhile here’s Jim Lee’s treatise on how to fly a glider without a medical certificate…or even a driver’s license! Of course as always, and as Jim notes, we want to be sure we self-certify that we are indeed fit to fly.
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