Sunday, January 21, 2007

Good January soaring

A cold front went through on Thursday, and Saturday's forecast looked pretty good to me. Cold air aloft, clear skies and probably heating to 10 degrees above the trigger temp, only a weak inversion forecast at 6000' or so. Driving in, there were some clouds at about 6000' in some valleys, but the Hemet valley was clear. Later I spotted some very concave-bottomed little clouds over "the mesa". Later they looked really choppy, and some people thought they were rotor clouds, as there was supposed to be some strong wind higher up, and we could see lenticular clouds southwest of the Big Bear area. But eventually they formed into full-fledged cumulus. And as the afternoon progressed, nice CU formed in and around the valley, up to about 50% coverage. They just weren't very high - some people said about 4500' MSL.

I took up the PW5 about 2:00. At 3000' AGL I was in clear blue, so I hung on for another 200' and let off nearer to clouds. Sure enough, there was good lift under all the clouds - just needed to find the best parts. I went down a ways and then made it back up to my release altitude. I flew around for my allotted hour and eventually got up to 5000' MSL, and the cloudbase was probably 500' higher. Finally I just sped up to 60 kts to reduce my L/D, and flew around for a while to lose altitude. I landed with a 1 hour and one minute flight. Not bad for January!

Several other ships were in the area. As someone put it, "Not a good day to get very far from the airport." At one point I shared a thermal with a Discus. At another time both of the club Blaniks were circling below me, and I took a couple of pictures of them. Not the best shot, but at least I got them.

It's really hard to fly smoothly, turn to stay centered in a thermal, keep a good lookout, and take a picture! With my digital camera, if I use my left hand, I can't see what I'm shooting. If I use my right hand, I have to fly left-handed, which works OK in a Blanik, but is hard in the PW5 because it's so sensitive.

I mentioned using the Outside Air Temperature display to watch the gradient during tow... I did remember to look at it a time or two, but not often enough to be useful. Maybe next time. I did check it up at 5000' MSL, and it was 3 Celsius. AWOS was reporting dewpoint as 2 C, so since I was just below cloudbase that made sense. That's 37 Fahrenheit - cold up there! I spent just a moment looking at SeeYou Mobile to see if it could display the OAT. I don't think it can, although the data is supposed to be in the feed from the Volkslogger. More to check out.

I plugged my PDA into the Volkslogger, and that worked OK for a while. But halfway through my flight, the PDA shut off. I turned it back on but it never synced up with the VL again. Maybe a setting related to external power. More to check out...

The latest SeeYou Mobile has a thermal strength display when you're circling. It's not clear to me how to use the display... there's an arrow and circles of varying size representing relative lift strength. I'm not sure if the arrow means the compass direction, or the nose of the ship. More to check out... If anyone's used this, please comment.

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