Friday, August 31, 2007

Preparing for my first contest

The Dust Devil Dash is an annual contest that starts in Tehachapi. It's a straight-out contest: furthest landing point wins, after applying a handicap based on the glider model. I've flown cross-country in that area before, but not beyond Silver badge distance, so this will be a challenge, but I think I'm ready for it. There's a lot to do to prepare. Here's some of what I've done. Some of this may be overkill, but I want to be safe - I'm doing this for fun!
  • Crew One of my fellow club members, N, will be the retrieve crew. I was hoping to get two, but the contest is the weekend right after a club campout, and few are willing to go out two weeks in a row. I worried about this for a while, but N and J assured me that we should be fine with 1. The PW5 is light enough for two people to disassemble.
  • Navigation I've loaded up my PDA with the latest airspace and map files, and loaded waypoints / airports / landout sites for the region. The region 12 web site has a list of landout sites contributed by pilots, so I've pulled a bunch of those too. Then I have built a task consisting of the sequence of waypoints and landout sites I am likely to use.
  • Backup Since I don't want to be totally reliant on the PDA, I have prepared printed info on each of the landout sites, with runway info and aerial images from Google Earth. I'll take them along on a kneeboard in case I need them. Copies of them will be in the truck as well. Also, I got sectional charts for the rest of the area where I'm likely to fly.
  • Communication I got more familiar with the radio in the PW5, since I may need to get on various frequencies for different airports and AWOS's. No one in the club had really programmed its memories. I'll take along my handheld radio as a backup. N will take his handheld in the truck, and I'm getting a magnetic-mount antenna for the roof.
  • Emergency comm I've bought a 406 MHz Personal Locator Beacon, the smallest I could find. It'll strap onto my parachute.
  • Ground navigation Last year I got a very good, large-format road atlas that even shows dirt roads. I've marked some of the landout sites on it - need to do the rest.
  • Landout/emergency kit I think I talked about this before... I have a bag with a lot of survival gear, along with stakes and ropes. It fits under the seat and weighs about 3 pounds.
  • Water I had a 1.5 liter Camelbak, but I have found that I can go through that in a 2 to 2.5 hour flight. So I just got a second one that's 2 liters.
  • Badge planning I should certainly be able to do Silver distance and altitude, possibly duration as well. I need to do a little more planning to make sure my likely distances and elevations are acceptable. Gold distance is not a possibility this time - I'm not planning to go past Bishop, and that's not far enough.
  • Equipment and supplies I have an extensive checklist of stuff to take, so I don't forget something dumb like chargers for my radio and cell phone.
  • Preparation I plan to take a couple of days off before the contest. Thursday I plan to drive to many of the airports and landout sites along my route. Friday I plan to fly in the local area around Tehachapi just for practice and familiarity.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Air-to-air photography

One of our club members, J, just bought an ASW-20. Since it was a pretty good day for soaring, we decided to try to take some pictures of his first flight. I've taken some general scenery shots with my digital point-and-shoot camera, but it doesn't zoom close enough for really good images. And managing my digital SLR is not something I want to tackle when flying. Flying formation to take pictures really takes two. So L and I teamed up in the Grob 103. I flew from the front seat, and L was in the back with my camera.

We launched about 13:15 and I let off tow at 2300' AGL (3800' MSL) in some OK lift. It wasn't really strong - about 2kts, enough to sustain - but it was small and hard to work. L took over for a while and demonstrated that I need to tighten my bank to work smaller lift. I was only banking about 30 degrees, and not staying within the thermal. He worked us up a ways and then I took over and flew the rest. Later, in another thermal, we found some really good stuff, I think up to 6.7 kts. We got as high as 7000' MSL, went over to the "S" ridge and found nothing, came back and got set to take pictures.

We took a few of what we thought was J's glider - we didn't have good radio contact yet - from some distnace away. My radio stopped working (I think the rechargeable battery is bad), and I could not hear L's conversations. Later we met up with T in one of our Blaniks, and got a few decent pictures but not from really close up. I don't think T was on the radio, so we kept our distance since we were not really coordinating our directions.

It's challenging to try to maneuver my glider into a good position for the photographer to get a good angle, and keep a safe separation, and work the thermal so we can stay up, and keep a good lookout. In the case of the Blanik, our speeds were often quite different. I imagine that in a pair of power planes this would be a little easier because you could fly straight and level for longer periods. It worked out pretty well after a little practice and thought. Sometimes we would have to turn away in order to work lift, and come back later for another set of pictures.
Our Grob 103 has a new canopy which is tinted blue. That affected many of the pictures. Eventually L pointed the lens out the vent and took most of the pictures that way. (That's got to be hard - the vent is pretty low. I need to ask him about that.)

J finally launched, and I was wondering where he was... remember I did not have radio. Suddenly L said something from the rear seat about him being above us, and I was surprised to find that I had not seen him. Maybe he came in from behind at a higher speed? Anyway, there he was, and I kept a close eye on our separation from that point on.

We circled together for quite a while, and L took lots and lots of pictures. I had set up the camera with the basic 28-80mm lens and a 2x teleconverter, so he had some zoom to work with without getting too close and shaky. (Autofocus sometimes has trouble with my bigger lens, and I wanted to ensure we got some decent shots.) And here's one of the best:

We came back to join J again and found that there were two hang gliders in the same thermal. We flew with them for a while and took a few pics of them... nothing worth posting. Then we flew over the airport to watch J land. That was interesting... he and a 2-33 got into the downwind leg at the same time, just about parallel to each other. J extended his downwind to give the 2-33 room to land first, then came in and landed on the runway to avoid a conflict. No big deal, but not something that happens every day. We cruised around to lose altitude, and then ended up with a total flight time of 1 hour 52 minutes.