Saturday, September 16, 2006


Our club ran an internal contest today. Each flight competes for duration, distance, altitude gain, timing, and spot landing. To keep it fun for all, students can participate because they can fly with an instructor. This was my first time.

Soaring conditions were not forecast to be great. So the timed goal was a 30-minute flight: whoever comes closest to 30 minutes, from start of takeoff roll to first touchdown, wins. Since a "sled ride" from 3000' takes about 17 minutes, some soaring would be necessary. The spot landing involves stopping coming as close as possible to a cone (measured from the nose of the plane) without going past.

Some people found decent lift and got altitude gains of 2000 and 2700 feet. I never got above my release altitude. No one went very far from the airport, so the distance part will not be so hot.

My flight was 28 minutes and 30 seconds. At least two people were even closer. My landing was 7 feet from the cone and again, at least two were better. Lots of people rolled past the target.

The timed flight was interesting, since I had not tried to do that before. I estimated how long the pattern and landing would take, worked backward to what time I needed to enter the pattern, then arranged to bleed off altitude so I entered the pattern at the right time and the right altitude. Not too hard. But I overestimated how long the pattern would take. I guessed 4 minutes, and it was more like 2.5.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Thinking about my first XC flight

I know it wasn't a very long flight, as cross-country flights go: about 62 miles round trip. And I know many glider pilots start XC much earlier in their flying careers. And I know it was a really easy day to fly, because of the excellent conditions. But in some ways that first flight away from the airport - farther than I could glide back - was just as exciting as my first solo flight, my first 10,000' flight, and getting my private certificate.

Right now I'm flying in an MD80 from Montreal to Chicago, and reading a little book about using imagination to shoot for far-reaching goals. Below us is an unbroken flat deck of clouds as far as I can see in all directions. Such a flight is obviously completely dependent on navigational instruments: GPS, VOR, compass, who knows what else. It somehow made me think of my flight northward from Cache Peak toward Walker Pass, over terrain I'd never seen before, partly guided by the "task" line on my GPS... but also guided by the planning and thinking I had done before the flight.... unable to see the airport from which I had come. A cross-country flight, knowing I need to use all my skills to find lift to get me home, is a big step and an exciting one. 

I'd been planning for it, training for it, and I finally did it. I know I'll go on to more distant and more difficult flights, but I'll remember this one for a long time.

I think every glider pilot should be proud of what they've learned. I did the math once, and I estimate that only about 1 in 10,000 people in the U.S. can do what we do!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

First true cross-country flight!

The club is on a weekend campout to Mountain Valley Airport in Tehachapi. Yesterday I had a 1.5 hour flight in the PW5, my first time flying solo at Tehachapi and my first time flying the PW5 anywhere but Hemet. Good strong lift under CU clouds. I got to 12,800 MSL, my highest ever. I did not leave the valley area, because I had not done enough planning yet, and because H was to fly the ship after me. I ended up with 1:35 total. Strong day! Lots of ships following obvious cloud streets to the north.

Today L gave some of us some route and waypoint and landout site pointers using the relief map wall. I plugged some informal goal points into my GPS database. The weather was just as good as yesterday! H flew first and got to 12,500 easily. Because of timing, equipment (Volkslogger was left at Hemet) and not wanting to push too far, I did not declare the flight. But I had Silver requirements in mind.

I found good lift on tow at 3000' AGL but was lower over the Tehachapi mts than I liked. So I held on and again got good lift at 4000' AGL. That thermal took me up to over 12K MSL. I followed my plan and followed decent lift under CU along the ridges at the east end of the valley. When I found lift over Cache Peak (already the farthest I'd been from MVA) I knew I was on my way.

I followed the cloud street, between 12K and 13K, along the east side of Kelso Valley. At one point I was down to 8500 MSL and had to backtrack to lift. I found the Rockpile and a good house thermal. I rode that up to over 14K and fairly near the clouds. That enabled me to head north toward Walker Pass. I got about halfway there and decided to turn back due to lack of lift.

Back at the Rockpile I found the same thermal. Looking up I saw a glider circling about 3000' above me. I took that one all the way up to 15,100 MSL (just 500' under the clouds), my highest ever! Rather than try Walker again, I set up for a long final glide back to MVA.

All the way southbound, I was in nearly zero sink. Very smooth. I had time to play with airspeeds and resulting L/D, comparing the speed-to-fly recommendations of my GPS and the Borgelt in the ship. When I got back to the Tehachapi valley I had about 5000' to spare! After burning up that altitude I ended up with a 2:17 total time.

The only bad part was that my landing was not great. I got a little off on my direction while floating in ground effect, didn't notice my airspeed while correcting, and stalled it at about 1-2 feet, landing with a thump. Rollout was kind of wandering, due to a bit of crosswind and the small rudder of the PW5. But I ended up rolling off in just the right place.

Reviewing my map and GPS navigation, it looks like a 31.2 nm distance - just over Silver distance! And certainly my altitude gain was over Silver, too. So if I'd declared it, I'd be 2/3 of the way there!

Not bad for a first XC venture.