Thursday, August 28, 2014

A few stats from my logbook

I just completed selling an old Blanik L13 for my club. This particular ship had been crashed, and totaled by the insurance company, but was really not damaged very much. As I wrote the final email to the buyer I mentioned that I would miss the ship, having made 75 flights in it.

That made me wonder just how many flights I have made in which ships. So I ran some stats from my electronic logbook. My flights turned out to be surprisingly evenly distributed. Check this out:

Blanik L13 #178
Blanik L13 #275
Grob 10373
Blanik L13 #317
Other Grob 103's5

Sunday, August 17, 2014

First flight in Krosno

Those of us from OCSA who have become members of Cypress Soaring (CSI) have to get instructor signoffs to fly each category of Cypress' gliders. The starting point is the Krosno trainer. I'd seen the Krosno many times when both clubs operated at Hemet, but I had never even taken a close look at it until this weekend. Between my schedule and theirs, this Saturday was the first time I was able to book the first of two checkout flights. It was about 102F for much of the afternoon at Lake Elsinore.

I had of course read the flight manual, so I was familiar with most of the features of the glider. OCSA used Blanik L-13's for trainers, so here I'll list a few similarities and differences between the two.
  • Both are all-metal ships, with fabric control surfaces.
  • Both have forward-swept wings. As I understand it, that places the center of lift very near the center of gravity, so when the instructor gets out for the student's first solo, the flight characteristics hardly change at all.
  • The Krosno has a T-tail. Just ask my forehead!
  • The Krosno only has instruments in the front cockpit. The instructor has to look around the student's head to see them.
  • It has a main wheel, a non-castering tailwheel, and a nose skid. I'd never flown with a nose skid before.
  • Its airbrakes are retracted automatically by springs - you have to hold them open.
  • Its rudder is medium-sized, which takes more effort.
  • Its wheel brake is activated by a handle on a cable, not a lever. It's not very effective, so the nose skid is the main brake.
  • This unit has wingtip wheels, so it can do wing-down takeoffs easily (which we did).
  • It has bolt-in ballast on the front cockpit floor.
  • It has a handle on the tail, which makes ground handling pretty easy.
  • It has NO pockets or storage in the front cockpit. Fortunately my little water bottle fits in my cargo-shorts pocket, and my radio clips onto the harness pretty well, though it would not be very secure in turbulence.
The flight went fine. It seemed to me that the ship wanted to yaw to one side, and took a bit of both aileron and rudder to get the yaw string straight. (One of our Blaniks used to fly that way - we called it "right-wing-heavy" and eventually installed a little trim tab to even it out.) Or maybe there was a crosswind on tow that was causing it, but I don't think the wind was from that direction. It was not a big deal, but it meant always flying a little off-center, and it's farirly heavy on the stick.

The still-air sink rate seemed a little high at about 200 feet per minute. I'd have to check my records, but I thought the Blanik was more like 160. We found some broad lift of about 2-3 knots and I was able to climb a few hundred feet. The Krosno seemed pretty easy to control in a medium-banked thermaling turn. Part of learning the quirks of each new ship is finding just how steep and/or slow you can go in a thermal before it wants to stall out of the turn.

I did a couple of straight-ahead stalls, which were quite gentle and easy to recover. It had no tendency to drop a wing, which surprised me since I had had to hold some aileron and rudder in straight flight. Maybe that effect is more pronounced at tow speeds... in any case, it had no tendency to fall off either way in the stall. Then I rolled in and out of some steep turns. It definitely takes a lot of rudder pressure to stay coordinated coming out of turns, which will be something to work on.

The biggest difference for me was using the nose skid for landing. We discussed that I would do a "wheel landing" and then let the nose down to brake to a stop. I put the nose down quite early and then when I realized we had a lot of runway left, it would not come up again. So we stopped quite short. That's another thing I'll have to work on: keeping it balanced on the main wheel longer, until I really want to stop it.

So, one signoff is in the book. One more to go for that level. Then it will be on to the PW-6.

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 Contact information for Orange County Soaring Association officers is on their web site at

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.