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NEW SAILPLANE - Academy gliders offer some safety advantages

The Air Force Academy’s first TG-16A glider, replaces the TG-10C after arriving at the Academy July 8. The new fleet of training and aerobatic gliders is valued at $4.8 million and includes five new aerobatic gliders and 14 basic trainers. (photo by James Stafford)

The Air Force Academy’s first TG-16A glider, replaces the TG-10C after arriving at the Academy July 8. The new fleet of training and aerobatic gliders is valued at $4.8 million and includes five new aerobatic gliders and 14 basic trainers. (photo by James Stafford)

The TG-10 gliders were used for 140,000 flights and flew at 24,000 feet They had a record flight duration of 6.1 hours. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Sarah Chambers)

Replaced by the TG-16A glider, the TG-10C was used for 140,000 flights and flew at 24,000 feet They had a record flight duration of 6.1 hours. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Sarah Chambers)

UNITED STATES AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) -- When the TG-10C glider that has been the Air Force Academy's sailplane of choice for basic and aerobatic training for the last decade ascended for its final flight in Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, it ended one era and ushered in another ... one that includes a plane that should be even safer for the pilots.

The TG-10 trainer, which has been replaced by the new German TG-16A model, was flown for the last time on academy grounds by Cadet 2nd Class Kurt Luithly, who flew the plane as a check ride to upgrade as a cadet instructor pilot. His evaluator, Lt. Col. Jeff Riddlebarger, an Air Force reservist, said it was one of the best check rides he'd seen.

"Luithly was very successful due to excellent discipline standards and leadership," said Lt. Col. Richard Roller, commander of the 94th Flying Training Squadron. "That's what the soaring program is all about: discipline, enthusiasm and teamwork."

Twelve TG-10 planes were brought to the academy in May 2002, and used to give cadets firsthand experience flying an aircraft. The planes are no longer being manufactured, but can still be flown and were transferred to the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol.

"They were used for 140,000 flights," Roller said.

The TG-10 flew as high as 24,000 feet and had a record duration of 6.1 hours. It also had an excellent safety record with only one Class A and one Class C mishap in the past decade.

And the new sailplane -- the TG-16 -- should be even safer.

The academy received 15 TG-16s and will import four more. Five are smoke-capable and can perform aerial demonstrations. The remaining 14 are non-smoke capable and will be used for training purposes only. It also will include some features that enhance flight safety, according to Capt. Charles "Bowie" Frost, 306th Flying Training Group chief of flight safety.

"The G-Logger in the new plane provides post-flight recall of aircraft performance in relation to limitations," Frost said. "Also, TG-16 wing spars and connection to fuselage is much stronger providing better structural integrity over the life of the aircraft."

But even with an upgraded sailplane, there is still a learning curve that can't be ignored.

"Our formal transition syllabus is very rigorous," Frost said. "After completion, each cadet instructor pilot is briefed on the differences in aircraft responsiveness and the effects on adjusting individual limits."

Having to learn to train in a new platform hasn't dampened the spirit of the pilots, who are excited about the new aircraft.

"I'm really looking forward to training cadets again with the TG-16 as well as taking it on the road to air shows and hopefully football games," Roller said. "It's a great recruiting tool for the academy."

Roller said the TG-16 is aesthetically pleasing and white instead of yellow. It also features a lightning bolt symbol similar to those on the Falcons' athletic gear.

"It's a good-looking glider," Roller said. "These gliders are a brand new look for the academy, a new face to the soaring program and are made of fiber-glass instead of sheet metal. It's leading-edge soaring equipment."

In addition to the safety enhancements, the TG-16 is an overall upgrade because it's a newer product, can soar faster and has an extended service life, Roller said.

"The TG-10 had a 28 to 1 glide ratio, and the TG-16 has approximately a 42 to 1 ratio," he added.

The biggest challenge with the new model has been getting cadets qualified in time to fly the TG-16 and get through the program, Roller said.

"Due to the use of a new airplane, a new technical order had to be written and cadets will have to restudy and relearn how to fly the airplane," according to the commander. "A lot of work has taken place behind the scenes to transition to this new model. There is still a lot of work to be done to reach top airmanship, leadership and victory."

The TG-16s were first tested at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to ensure Air Force regulations were met before they were shipped to the academy.

Roller said new cadets began to use the new plane July 16. He said the core of the mission is for cadets to be leaders on the airfield and run the program on their own.

"We have the youngest instructor pilots in the country and train the most inexperienced," Roller said. "These young men and women are making life and death decisions flying solo in these planes. Our goal is to develop leaders of character, and I think these new airplanes will help achieve that. I'm looking forward to them excelling in this model."
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Tim Barela with Torch Magazine contributed to this article