Saturday, August 06, 2005

Deciding NOT to fly

Sometimes a pilot needs to know when NOT to fly. Sometimes in a club you spend your time pushing other pilots' planes around and not getting to fly. Today was one of those days.

The weather has been hot and rather humid, with a high pressure system pushing tropical air northwestward and causing thunderstorms. Some days have flyable and some have been blown out. Today was hot (108 in the shade at noon). We could see a storm to the east over Mt. San Jacinto, but it did not seem to be coming our way. Checking the radar map on from my Blackberry, I saw storms near Palm Springs but nothing near Hemet (more on that later). Others took instructional flights and BFR's in the morning but no lift was happening until after 12:00.

We saw haze patches form up into nice little CU's north of the field, and still no T-storms approaching, so I got my stuff together and we pushed out the Grob 103. A few things started to not feel right:
  • The wind started to pick up - not too strong, about 10-11 kt, pretty much aligned with the runway, but too steady to be simple thermals going through.
  • The AWOS was not much help - many parts were missing or just plain wrong.
  • A metal glider came in to land and I could see he was fighting the wind.
  • A little power plane took off and his ground speed looked about 25 kt. So obviously the wind was even stronger in the air.
  • The little CU's were quickly developing into big CU's.
  • We started to see blowing dust from the southeast.

So I was not getting that warm-and-fuzzy feeling. Correction: quite warm, not so fuzzy.

By the time I was ready and the towplane was back from a high tow, it was about 1:30. It all added up to a T-storm approaching from the south, and not a lot of open sky to the north by those local CU's. I had seen this happen before, with an instructor present to help explain all the signs. So although I was on the runway, next to take off, and the towplane was pulling up in front of me, and someone else had just taken off 10 minutes before, I cancelled my flight. I'm glad I did! By the time we had the Grob tied down, the wind was 90 degrees to the runway and dusty. Had I launched any time in the preceding half hour or so, I would have had a bad time landing.

Other gliders started landing as quickly as they could. I think one glass ship landed crosswise to the runway, which would be into the wind. I think so - I just heard it, didn't see it land... but it either cross-landed or weathercocked very strongly. Everyone tied down quickly and compared notes to see who might still be up... It turned into quite a dust storm, but did not start raining before I left. Pilots on the radio were commenting on the dust obscuring the field and discussing landing other places. Last I heard, AWOS said the wind was 23 kts gusting to 28.

Now I realize that although we have a good view in most directions, the south view is largely blocked by nearby hills. So a T-storm can come from that way and the first warning is the wind.

I checked the Wunderground radar as I drove away, and it still showed nothing in that area. So apparently whatever radar they use has a big blind spot! Now I need to search for another PDA-friendly web site with better radar. 15 miles away, I drove into a torrential rain.

So it turned out that there was only about an hour of good soaring, and I missed it. As I mentioned to a new student, no sense in flying when it's dangerous. Remember, we're doing this for fun, not to prove anything.

Your experiences and comments are invited!


Anonymous said...

Multiple pilots from Warner flew up to the Mojave that day and passed over Hemet on their way back. I heard them commenting on the developing dust storm over Hemet and saying "I hope we don't have to land there". Good times.

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