Friday, July 28, 2006

Minden, Nevada

Tuesday 7/25: We've been camping at Lake Tahoe, just a short distance from Minden, NV, so I made arrangements with Soar Minden. Weather has been great for soaring: hot and lots of moisture to form CU. I got checked out in Grob 103 (different model from my club's) by instructor 1. I'd been having stomach problems all morning and was feeling kind of shaky and "off". We took a 2000' tow. My takeoff wasn't the best - strayed off to the left before recovering. The tug looked to be a Pawnee, took us up at about 600 fpm. This ship has a turn&bank indicator, the first I've seen. (I didn't really use it, but every time I looked it was centered. It reacts much slower than the yaw string.) The radio has a speaker, so no need for a headset, but it's hard to hear. There's a temporary tower due to fire ops, and this is my first experience with ATC. (Fortunately the controllers are nice - one of them is taking glider training!) Long asphalt runway for landing - I have not landed on asphalt very much. One of my O2 connectors fit, thanks to my quick-connect setup, so I'll be able to use my own cannula and hose! The instructor commented that I lean to the left when flying - others have noticed that too, so I work on it when I remember. It's only 11:00 but there's slight thermal activity.

Their pattern starts at 1300 agl over IP - quite high, so lots of airbrake on the base and final. My airspeed was just a little high at 60 kt on final. Flared high. Touchdown good. Instructor took over to taxi to staging area. He signed off after one flight.

I broke for lunch, got set to fly solo at about 13:30. But my stomach issues were not over, so I cancelled my flight and decided to come back another day. The owner isn't satisfied, says the checkout was not thorough enough, should have included a rope break or something else. When I come back I need to work with an instructor again. That's a bummer... can't just show up and fly some afternoon. And this is going to get expensive. But... they're his aircraft, not mine. And he's fair about the costs, only charging for fractions of hours where appropriate.

Area notes: cold air from Tahoe spills over mountains / down canyons, causing heavy sink below ridge. Pine Nut mtns not steep enough for true ridge soaring. Possible to thermal up high enough to get above mtns and see Tahoe. Forecast is 1100+

Thursday 7/29: checked out again with instructor 2. Solid takeoff this time. 17 min flight, some thermaling. More thorough ground tour of runways, taxiways etc. 2 is thoroughly happy with my flight, especially my semi-slipping turn to final, although I still flared a bit high and touched down a little firm. I just need to take more time to let the Grob bleed off its speed and altitude - don't rush the stick back.

Unfortunately my PDA/GPS locked up as we were getting ready, and would not restart. I think it simply overheated in the sun. I worked on it during lunch, got it to restart but had to reload all the software and files from SD memory card, and my waypoints file won't load. So I have to fly without it. Not a show-stopper, but I'd like to have a flight trace, and it also makes safe gliding distance calculation so much easier!

So I took off at 14:02 and released in strong lift at 2500' AGL. I found very strong thermals right away in an area that had been recommended. 8 to 10 kts up, even above 9000' MSL! Pretty turbulent thermals, too. But around the lift is a LOT of sink. I'm not sure I'd ever seen 10 sink before - but there was plenty of 6 to 10 down! FS had recommended using a glide ratio of 20:1 for cross-country calculation... D had also said to be very conservative. They were right! I went up to 11,500 MSL (new personal record). I could see much of Lake Tahoe, Carson City, Reno, and smoke from a brush fire near Virginia City. I took a bunch of pictures, which at this point is not very easy for me while thermaling. From 11,000 I started to head to the next ridge of hills, to try to stairstep up to Mineral Peak, but every time I headed east I hit sink and needed to head back to maintain final glide distance to the airport. No way I want to land out in a rented ship!

Thermal Hill just north of the airport lived up to its name, taking me back up to 10,200. I tried to head west across the valley toward the Sierras, but the briefings had not been very encouraging about finding lift on that side. I hit sink right away and quickly lost over 1000'. I headed back to Thermal Hill and the Sand Pits and worked back up to about 9000'. At one point I think I found a shear line, which took me up at 4 kts while flying straight ahead! By now it was about an hour and a half of flying, and E had called once, and I was not up to trying to go any distance again. So I just flew around east of the airport, up and down a bit. Lots of minor lift, so I wasn't coming down fast at all. I finally found some mild sink to circle in, over some circular irrigated field, and came down at 1 hour and 58 minutes. I don't think I ever got more that about 7 miles from MEV.

Lake Tahoe visible over the first ridge.

The temporary tower was gone today, so no ATC to deal with. Hard to get a good look at windsocks or wind "T", but it was obvious from my drift and from AWOS that the wind had picked up out of the west. Crosswind landing on runway 30 went well. Long taxi right into the parking area, although as 2 predicted, it gets hard to steer when you get slow and with a crosswind.

New/best experiences:

+ First time at an airport with intersecting runways
+ First time interacting with ATC
+ First use of oxygen
+ Strongest lift I've ever found!
- Strongest sink I've ever found!
+ First use of turn&bank indicator (ball).

So although I never went cross-country, it was still a good experience flying in a new location with very strong conditions.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Booming day! Best flight yet!

The forecast was awesome: 1143 fpm to 15,000'. I've learned to take these with a grain of salt, but the trigger temp was 82 and the forecast high 102. This week has seen CuNim in the mountains, but they've been settling down. So it sounded good. A and K flew the Grob before me, about 12:00, and got an hour+, getting up to 9000' or so. Others were up to 11,300'. I planned to try for the "S" ridge and beyond, if possible (I've only been there once), and if not, then repeat my XC practice triangle and try for my second 2-hour flight. I planned to take all my gear along, to practice XC conditions. But my oxygen tube had a leak, so I left it out. Temp on the ground was 106.

From the ground we could see a clear shear line due to the different colors of the air masses. Just before I took off, it started forming some tiny CU. Over the mountains, it still did not look overdeveloped, although some reported rain. It did not look dangerously strong.

I took off at 13:55. Good lift on tow, I let off at 4500' MSL and found a little lift right away over the low hills. After a couple turns, I spotted a huge dust devil down in the valley - big, but the dust only going up about 300'. I found great lift over it and rode it all the way up to about 9000'! The wind drifted me partway to the S ridge, so off I went.

I made my way over toward Mt. San Jacinto and started working thermal and orographic lift. Nice lift kept taking me up toward the clouds. I worked it up to over 10,000' a couple of times. One time I went right up a ridge, using what must have been anabatic winds. Max alt according to my GPS was 11,000. A couple of times I felt the lift was getting pretty strong (but no more than 800fpm) right under the clouds so I headed out from under the weak "anvil" formation and into clearer sky. Whenever I found sink, I turned away from the peaks and headed down the valley until I found lift again. My GPS always indicated that I was way above the required glideslope to reach Hemet, so I was always safe. It also indicated 3000'-4000' above ground level at all times. Great practice for the Sierras when I go to Minden in a couple weeks.

I could see over to the windmills along I-10... I could see Hemet Lake but did not go that far. At one point I was exactly even with the top of the peak but still some distance from it (later measured as 3.75nm away). I estimated that to try to get on top of the peak would put me too close to cloudbase, and I got sprinkled on one time, and from under the cloud I could not tell if it was overdeveloping. So I never reached the peak.

Fun stuff along the way:
  • A paraglider at least 3000' higher than me (when I was still over the valley)
  • A hawk above me at about 9000'
  • A CDF firebomber passing at least 3000' below me

Un-fun stuff:

  • Radio not transmitting. I think I had the push-to-talk button wired in wrong. Fumbled around with it while thermaling left-handed. Gave up, pulled the plug, and pressed the handheld PTT when necessary.
  • Taking pictures. I've resisted taking along my camera, not wanting the distraction. But I need to learn to take turnpoint pictures. That's hard... my scenic pics came out but my turnpoint shots did not.

Eventually, with about 10,000' in the bank, I headed across the valley toward Diamond Valley Lake. I've skirted it before but never gone beyond it (partly because it's usually downwind of home). This time I had enough altitude (and favorable winds) to go across it and over to (what I now know is) Lake Skinner. I could see all the way to the Palomar observatory! I also spotted French Valley airport.

Still lots of altitude... head northeast past the dams to see if there's more lift on the way back. Ah yes, the shearline! I'd heard guys on the radio using the shearline/cloud street to go across the valley. By now, those little CU's were nicely formed, clearly pointing out the line. Once I got in it, I had 600 to 800fpm to take me back to the valley - without even circling!

Back to the IP area, more than two hours logged, and still 3000' excess altitude. So I did a couple of stalls, then eventually pulled the spoilers just to lose altitude. (The pre-stall buffet in the Grob was VERY rough and noisy - I've never heard anything like it!) Pattern entry was weird... just as I turned the to the 45 leg, my yaw string was way off to the right although I was turning and ruddering left. I think it might have been stalling and falling off... maybe caught a gust? I nosed over and ruddered harder and it straightened out. Definitely something to watch out for. Landing was fine. Back on the ground, it was 106F again... and no one else from the club left at the field. With the wingwheel, I can push the Grob by myself, but it's pretty tough.

Net result: my best flight ever!

  • Longest: 2 hours 24 minutes
  • Highest solo: 11,000' MSL
  • Farthest: 15.7nm straight-line distance from the airport (that doesn't sound like much now that I say it), 65.6nm total distance

That's the second of the two 2-hour flights I need for my Bronze badge.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Planning for Minden

I'll be in the Tahoe area in late July, so I'm planning to fly at Minden one day (more if I can work it out). So I'm doing some planning and preparation:
  • Soar Minden has some great on-line prep material. I've read it and need to study it in more detail.
  • I've previewed the area in Google Earth to get an idea of the terrain.
  • I ordered a sectional chart of the area. It just arrived today, so I need to spend some time with it.
  • I've flown Sailors of the Sky a number of times, and it's based on Minden (at least the basic map that comes with it is). In the past, I just used it for basic soaring, spin, and landing practice, never paying attention to the terrain. Recently I've done a couple of sim flights looking to go places. It's useful to get some idea of the mountain heights and distances, but the terrain graphics are not all that great, so it's not good for familiarization. GE is more helpful. I may try it again.
  • I've emailed SM to start talking about what kind of instruction and field checkout I should get.

Since I have just a few hours in mountain soaring (to 12,300' over Tehachapi) and never solo in high terrain, I may end up just getting instruction and maybe soaring over the valley. We'll have to see.

Any readers have any advice or feedback about Minden and the mountains?