Friday, July 29, 2005

First remote field checkout

I achieved another goal today: renting and flying a sailplane at a gliderport where I have never flown before. Business took me to Orlando, FL, so I found the closest gliderport and made plans to fly there. Seminole-Lake gp is near Clermont, just 20 miles from where I was staying. They have a Grob 103 and some Blanik L23's. We decided the Grob was the best choice even tho I only had 6 flights in it, one solo.

So, this was my first "field checkout". We went over the airspace (they're in Class C and near B), and an aerial photo with their patterns drawn out. Runways are 18 and 36, grass. Due to the choices of emergency fields available, they take off to the north (with up to moderate tailwinds) and land to the south. This is a huge expanse of green grass, mowed pretty short, with a few humps and mild swales.

Their Grob 103 seems to be a later model than ours. I preflighted it mostly by myself and noted the following differences:

* fixed gear
* elevator trim is a tab, not a spring
* stab attachment is different
* control linkages are different, and don't have safety pins
* wing attachments
* harnesses
* canopy locks
* airbrakes don't protrude much when first opened, so their effect is more linear

This was good experience to see how other locations operate. Several differences in field and tow methods.

Since there was no one to run the wing, we did a wing-down takeoff - my first! Very easy, since it's off grass.

It was HOT and HUMID! About 90 degrees and 85% humidity. There was lots of lift, marked by nearly 50% CU cover, but in a narrow altitude band. Cloudbase was about 2500' AGL, and SLGP has a lower thermaling limit of 1200'. Field elevation is 120'. So... Not able to go very high that early in the day (11:00).

We turned a 2000' tow into a 25 minute flight. Lots of narrow thermals. Vultures and other birds helped. I still need some work on coordination and speed control, but after a few minutes I had it working pretty well.

One of my concerns was terrain recognition. That turned out not to be much of a problem. Although it's a sea of green, there are several roads and some distinctive lakes that served as excellent landmarks.

I had a smooth landing, shorter that the instructor would have liked, but nearly in the middle of this 3000' field. Then I found out why he recommended the spot he did: instead of stopping as short as possible, as we do at home, we just closed the brakes and rolled - and rolled - and rolled - what seemed like 200 yards or so back to our starting point. The Grob on short grass feels like it has an engine!

So then he made a couple observations and signed me off. We turned the ship around (you can do that with 1 person on grass) and I took off again. I let off at 1800' in lift, and worked it up to cloudbase at about 2350'. It felt no cooler up there, due to the high dew point and obviously 100% humidity at cloudbase. I was dripping! Then I could not find any other usable lift and at 1200' got ready to land.

My landing was in a better spot this time but I had some excess speed and bounced it a bit. Not bad, but I need to be smoother opening the brakes when floating. I rolled it back to the takeoff point. After pushing the Grob off the field mostly by myself (heavy, but it can be done - on grass), I was done for the day. I was hoping for more than a 17 minute flight, but was too hot to consider flying again.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Flying by the seat of one's pants

I've read about it, I've flown with people who tried to teach it, and I've felt hints of it before. But yesterday in the Grob was the first time I've clearly felt the lift of a thermal more consistently than I could detect it on the variometer. And yesterday's lift wasn't all that great.

The varios in the Grob are not as straightforward to use as the ones in the Blaniks. There are two: one directly connected to the static system, and one electric. The electric one is (at least yesterday) very "nervous", jumping up to 4-6kt for just a half-second, then back down to 1-2kt just as fast. I found it hard to use for centering a thermal. The direct one is less jumpy, but much slower to react. OK for gauging the strength of a thermal over time, or the strength of a shear line. But not useful for finding the center of a small or weak thermal.

Since I'm still getting used to the turn and rudder characteristics of the Grob, I spent a lot of time looking at the horizon, yaw string, and airspeed indicator. Then sometimes I would feel a silent "whoosh" upward, check the vario, and sure enough I was in about 1-2kt lift. Very cool!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Weather & other prep info

For every soaring day, I prepare by getting as much info as I can about the conditions. Here's what I usually look at:

For non-weather stuff:

I'm now starting to save the things I print, and make some notes on them at the end of the day. I'm hoping to review them over time and see which products are the best predictors.

First solo flight in the Grob 103

I went on Sunday hoping to have longer access to the Grob and maybe get more than an hour’s flight. Fortunately one other club member was there – no way I could push a 973-lb. glider by myself! Unfortunately the conditions were not favorable. Although it was hot – high 90’s – a moderate breeze at the ground level seemed to be killing the thermals. The ADDS forecast winds changing about 90 degrees at 4000’, so even if thermals got through the low winds they’d be subject to a shear. And an inversion would cap them, too. There were very few private pilots flying. But about 1:30 I gave it a try, for practice if nothing else. I let off about 2900’ AGL and didn’t find any lift until about 1400-1700’ AGL. I got a 40-minute flight but never above 1700’. I think that was the longest soaring flight of the day. It was rather bumpy, esp. on tow. So I basically practiced turns and scratching for thermals in this new-to-me ship. It’s nice, but the rudder is really sensitive. A little is too much.

I also futzed with my new GPS setup. It records OK, but is hard to see. With sunglasses off it would be OK, but I can’t fly without sunglasses. I’m experimenting with different screen glare films, maybe one will work. Otherwise I may need to look into some different colored glasses.

My Plantronics mini headset plus into the Grob’s radio jacks but doesn’t work, so I’ll need to research that… schematics, impedance, etc.

I used my Camelbak for the first time. There's plenty of room for it by my shoulder but I need to find a simpler way to strap it in. Lesson: put it in at the last minute - the water gets hot.

So, lots of new stuff today. I was cautious to not focus on non-essential distractions during flight.