Sunday, June 22, 2014

End of an Era: Orange County Soaring Association merging into Cypress Soaring Inc.

As many of you know, Orange County Soaring Association declined significantly in membership and operations after the closure of Hemet to gliding and again after the grounding of the Blanik fleet. I have not written much about this decline in my blog, but frequent readers have probably figured it out by reading between the lines. OCSA has been operating two gliders off and on at Crystalaire for the last several years. In 2013, a decision was made to pursue merging OCSA with another club, in order to preserve the opportunity for OCSA's members and aircraft to fly in southern California. Today we are announcing that OCSA and Cypress Soaring Inc. have signed an agreement which will effectively merge OCSA into CSI, as of August 1, 2014. 

OCSA's Grob 103 and PW5 will transfer to CSI. For the foreseeable future, they will both remain at Crystalaire and will be available for flight by CSI members. Current and former OCSA members may transfer to Cypress. 

OCSA's one viable Blanik L13 and another Blanik fuselage, wings, parts, and trailers are for sale, listed on Wings and Wheels. Contact information is in the advertisements.

As you have probably heard, Krey Field, which had been Cypress' base of operations, has been closed. Cypress is currently operating gliders and conducting instruction at Lake Elsinore, plans to begin operations at Banning, and plans to operate a two-place glider at Crystalaire in addition to the Grob 103.


Information about Cypress Soaring Inc. is available on their web site at http://www.cypresssoaring.org. Contact information for Orange County Soaring Association officers is on their web site at http://www.ocsoaring.org

OCSA wishes to thank all who have belonged to, flown with, and supported Orange County Soaring Association during its 55 years of operation!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Climbing the Sky

It was about 90 degrees F at Crystal today. I launched the in PW5 about 1:30 and we encountered some strong lift on tow before reaching the Second Ridge. I don't often let off tow before getting over the ridge, but this was pretty strong, so I did at 6,300' MSL. I immediately regretted it as I lost 400 to 500 feet before finding any lift. But that thermal lift over the desert was pretty good, and before long I was up to 7,000'. That was enough to get onto the low end of the Second Ridge.

There was another glider flying the ridge lengthwise, and since the wind was from the north I figured that was a good plan - we should find ridge lift. There seemed to be a bumpy mixture of ridge lift and thermals, so eventually I made it to the upper (east) end of the Second Ridge and gained some more altitude, up to about 8,100'. That was enough to let me hop over to a little "third ridge" below Mt. Lewis. It was acting like either ridge lift or anabatic lift, so I was able to work it uphill.

I got over the top of Mt. Lewis and topped out at 9,800', then flew the ridge top and hopped over part of the "bowl" over to Mt. Williamson. Up on top, I seemed to find some lift that was not strictly north-facing ridge lift. The RASPtable map this morning had shown there should be wind from both the north and the south, converging somewhere over the tops of the mountains. Maybe that's what I was finding... it wasn't very strong up there.

Since I was approaching 10,000 feet, at which altitude I always start oxygen, I fumbled around and finally got my Oxymiser on... only to find out I had never turned the regulator on after testing it on the ground! I found that I was able to reach behind me and find the knob - I don't think I have ever done that in flight before. And then of course I never broke the 10,000' layer after all.

I came back down and worked the Second Ridge again. There were a couple of other gliders there, and we shared a thermal for a while - that's always fun. I was able to run the whole length of the ridge and stay at the same altitude, so there was definitely some ridge lift working.

My tailbone started getting a little sore after more than an hour, so I headed back toward the airport. Earlier I had realized I had not done any slips for a long time, so I practiced those a few times. Out over the desert, there was light lift everywhere, so it would have been possible to stay up all day. Another glider was a bit higher than me and wanted to land first, so I was able to just loaf around in lift and stay up while he landed.

Since winds were "light and variable" I had my choice of landing direction, so I chose runway 7 which would let me roll out close to my tiedown spot. Of course there was lift all the way down. By the time I turned onto my base leg, I realized I was pretty high. And I had been too close in on the downwind leg, so the base leg was not long enough to really let me lose much altitude. Full spoilers did the trick, but I was about 1/3 of the way down the mile-long runway before I got close to the ground. Um... would have been a good time to use a slip like I had just practiced - but I didn't think of it! Something to work on next time. One quirky thing about Crystal is that there's a hump just about in the middle of the runway, so just when I was about to touch down I had to hold off a bit. My landing was smooth and straight, and the wind helped me keep good directional control and level wings until I stopped just about 50 feet or so from my parking spot. A far cry from my last landing when the winds were all over the place on both takeoff and landing!

So... an hour and 41 minutes and 4,000' of altitude gain after a low release. That's one of the most satisfying aspects of local flying: really climbing the sky. This was one of the first times - if not THE first time - I have been able to climb all the way from the desert to the top of the mountains.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Numerous Cumulus (not just a Few CU)

Last Saturday was one of those lift-is-everywhere days at Crystalaire. Oddly, there seemed to be more moisture in the high desert air than in Orange County south of the mountains... or maybe just more uplift due to surface heating. The forecast called for north winds, which were present upstairs but not so much on the surface.

When I arrived, I found that the PW5 glider was not exactly where I left it, though I was pretty sure no one else had been flying it. The knots in the tie-down ropes were not mine, and it was about two feet further east. Hmm... Then I found that on the nose tie-down, the knot on the ring had come loose, which allowed the glider to yaw with the wind. Tracks under the wheels showed that it had "walked" the two feet, including dragging the main wheel over a sizable rock. The wing tie-down ropes had been on the ground cable, and had slid along it. Some good Samaritan had later moved the wing ropes to staked or concreted chains, which stopped it from walking any further. Mystery solved!

I only had to wait a short time for a tow. As soon as I lifted off, the tail yawed about 15-20 degrees to the right, and the glider drifted over the right edge of the runway. No amount of rudder would counteract it. (The PW5's rudder is really tiny.) As the chief instructor later noted, it was the kind of thing which would cause a new pilot to release and land straight ahead on the runway, which I did consider, but as it was not getting any worse, I decided to stick it out. As we gained airspeed, I gained more rudder authority, and all was well.







Since the best lift was reported to be over the mountains, and I kind of got skunked last time, I took a high tow and let off in good lift. It was all uphill from there.










I spent most of the next two hours between 8,000 and 10,000 feet under and between these nice cumulus clouds. Figuring out which ones were building and which were dissipating was the biggest challenge of the day. Great fun!












I tried to get over the top of Mt. Lewis, but the margin between the mountaintop and the cloud base was a bit too narrow. Maybe next time.









There was indeed a strong north wind at altitude, and if I did not pay attention to it while thermalling it kept drifting me south toward the mountains. Outside air temperature was about 0 to -2 Celsius, but only my feet got cold, and only after about 90 minutes.
Steep turns

Approach and landing were... interesting. The ground reported the wind as being from the northeast. When I got low enough to see the tetrahedron, it indicated wind from the northwest. I decided it was not strong enough to change landing directions from runway 25 to runway 7. Then on final approach, my airspeed increased quite a bit, so it seems that the wind had diminished, leaving me with a lot of kinetic energy. That energy turned into quite a long float before touchdown (which was not at a high ground speed, so it's not like I had a tailwind). By the time I stopped rolling, the wind socks were all straight down - dead calm! So it seems that I had the bad timing to approach and land as a thermal passed through, which caused complete rotation of the wind direction over the course of a few minutes.

All in all, a fun two-hour flight with challenges at both ends.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Is California City the new Hemet?

I have only been to Cal City once, have never flown there, and don't know any of the people involved in the shutdown saga. All I know is what I've read in the Tehachapi group on Yahoo. But I was somewhat involved in and deeply affected by the Hemet shutdown, and some commentators have compared this to Hemet, so let me offer a few thoughts. Keep in mind that much of this is speculation. The chain of events are somewhat similar… maybe the underlying causes are similar too.

It is not really about airport safety. If it was about safety, then airport officials would work with the various aviation groups at the airport to effect improvements. Attempting to address safety issues when they are not really the issue is pointless. At Hemet, the officials refused to meet. Then when they lost the decision on our FAA complaint, they refused to negotiate in good faith. County officials chose to ignore CalTrans citations and recommendations for years until they could use them to their advantage. This appears to have happened at Cal City as well.

It is not really about airport growth. If it was about airport growth, there would be studies and consultants and estimates to support it. The airport officials would develop an airport plan which could be responsibly implemented. At Hemet, the airport officials published a sham plan which ignored the history of soaring and the huge fraction of airport operations which were due to glider operations. The plan postulated growth in other operations which were totally unsupported by any studies or statistics. The plan was developed with no input from airport users, and published silently with no notice to the public to invite comments.

The motivation is probably personal gain, not the public interest. People do not resort to underhanded tactics for honorable goals. At Hemet, the county made a deal with the FBO to help get rid of the commercial, club, and private gliders. The county put pressure on other FBOs to not deal with the gliders. The county insisted on applying FBO standards to clubs. The county refused to offer leases to clubs, insisting on month-to-month rentals but requiring renters to invest in infrastructure, which they could lose on 30 days' notice. The county ignored strong cautions in the environmental impact study they themselves commissioned. The county was willing to place turboprop aircraft operations within 100 feet of residences. They were clearly highly motivated to get rid of the gliders and pursue other changes at all cost. Our task was to figure out why.

The airport officials may not be aviators. They do not know what works for aviators, and may not care. They have other motivations which we do not understand. They may be judged by how much they increase revenue or reduce costs, regardless of what that means for aviation. They may not remember or understand the obligations that came with FAA improvement funds they received in the past.

It may be based on completely unrealistic expectations and ego. People in power convince themselves that something is possible and desirable. Even when it is obvious to others that the idea will not work, ego prevents people from backing down. At Hemet, there seemed to be two stated goals, neither of which was realistic, and only one (or neither) of which may have been the true motivation.

- The county wanted to keep CalFire operations at Hemet, and expected the state to pay for improvements to CalFire facilities, ignoring California's fiscal situation which precludes such investment. Why was this believed to be so important? Because by building new CalFire facilities in the space occupied by the gliders, they would make room for redeveloping the older section of the airport.

- The county said they wanted to attract more jet traffic to Hemet, and expand runways to accommodate it. Really? Who needs to fly jets into Hemet - or into California City? Neither is a hotbed of industrial activity, or the home of wealthy people with private jets. Was this a diversion?

At Cal City, the history of infrastructure changes that did not work out, and escalating efforts to make them work, may also have been motivated by ego.

It is about money and power. Someone has a lot to gain, or already is getting a lot and is aiming to protect it. It may be about power, but more likely it is about money. If you can figure out who stands to gain and how, you may be able to come up with a counterstrategy. This can be difficult to discern because of secrecy. 

- At Hemet, the best theory seemed to be that elected county officials would gain political contributions from construction companies seeking contracts for the proposed redevelopment. 

- At Cal City, I have no idea whether the official in charge is elected, so the financial motivation may be different. To figure this out, one needs to keep asking "Why?" until one gets to the root cause of the behavior. Follow the money.

It may involve corruption. At Hemet, we could not prove anything, and did not even really look into this aspect. But the day some glider people went to meet with county officials, they had to wait in the lobby while the FBI conducted a raid on the county offices. And a careful reading of CalFire board meeting minutes reveals a sudden reversal of their position, violating their own process, after they met with Riverside county officials. If corruption is involved, honest organizations will always be at a disadvantage, because the corrupt ones will always be more highly motivated.

It can be nearly impossible to counteract a highly motivated person who already has power. At Hemet, we eventually realized that the only way to even attempt to counter the situation would be to (1) get involved in county politics (a county where few of us reside), and (2) spend large amounts of money on the political process. We did not have the desire or means to do either.

FAA and CalTrans cannot force airports to make improvements or spend money. They can do passive things such as withholding funds, revoking or refusing to renew permits, etc. FAA cannot force an airport to produce an airport plan that is fair or realistic. At Hemet, one option would have been to make the lights on the main runway flush to the ground to make towplane operations easier. Another option would have been to reconfigure the glider runway. The county chose to do none of these, chose to avoid working on an operating plan, and chose to wait for the gliders to leave due to intolerable conditions. The only leverage we have is that FAA may withhold future funds if they find the county violated the ruling that they handed down regarding the gliders.

Back in the Saddle

I finally got to go flying today, after a gap of two months. I know, lots of people in many parts of the country have to take much bigger vacations from soaring due to the weather, and those of us in Southern California are very lucky to be able to fly all year 'round. December and January were just very busy times for me with family activities, a couple of camping trips, and some weekend projects. Last Saturday the weather didn't look good... this Saturday it looked like the wave might be working, and warm enough that thermals might work if the wave didn't.

Driving to Crystal, the weather was beautiful. There were lennies all around, but none right over Crystal or the closest mountains. I prepped the PW5 as usual, and polished the canopy, and lubricated all the control joints. By the time I was finishing, little wave-generated clouds were forming within reach. I could see two or three gliders very high over the mountains. I took a high tow over the top of Mt. Lewis, but alas I did not connect with any wave. I didn't even see any more wave-generated clouds while I was up. I did find some weak lift lower down, probably convergence, at about 7500' AGL near the Devil's Punchbowl, and exploited it by flying at minimum sink speed. It really just amounted to "zero sink", as did some thermal lift over the wash west of the airport. I ended up with a 47-minute flight - and a really good landing and rollout.