Sunday, January 11, 2009

Big planes and little planes

Saturday there were Santa Ana winds all over the area. Fortunately, Hemet-Ryan airport is in a protected valley and the winds were light but variable. Weather charts predicted up to 40 knots at higher altitudes. J and I had arranged to fly dual in the Grob 103 even if it meant just doing some sled rides. Because I had to leave by 1:00, we knew we'd be going up before the thermals (if any) started cooking. J wanted to do the takeoffs and landings for currency purposes, which was fine with me. I flew from the back seat.

The first flight was pretty turbulent down low, smoother above 1000' AGL. The tow pilot took us further west than I thought made sense, given the east wind. We headed upwind to get to some low hills that we thought might have some thermals. At one point I looked down at the ground while I was flying at 45 knots, about minimum sink speed, and we were barely moving forward. Have you ever looked up at a bird that was just stationary flying into the wind? Yeah, that was us! The head wind was probably 35 knots or so. So we put the nose down to pick up speed and went off in search of lift. We didn't find much, and we were back down in 15 minutes. But I did get some practice tracking a heading with a strong crosswind.

On the second flight, we were just about 100' off the ground when we nearly passed under a hawk. Then BAM! we flew through a strong bit of turbulence, enough to bang my head on the canopy. I told J we should remember that spot in case we didn't find any other thermals. This time we steered the towplane northward so we would be flying downwind as we looked for lift. (Before takeoff, we had noticed a low-level wind from the south, so with that colliding with the Santa Ana from the northeast, we thought we might find a convergence to surf.) There were just little bumps, not enough to soar on, until we got back over the end of the runway where that big bump had been. Sure enough, we found enough "zero sink" to stretch out our flight for about 7 minutes, and ended up with a 22-minute flight.

So, not great flights, but it was fun to be up in the clear air and fly over the valley for a while.

The reason I needed to leave at 1:00 was to go work the SSA-OCSA booth at the Academy of Model Aeronautics annual convention in Ontario. We bring a glider (and this time our winch) to advertise "full-scale" soaring to the radio control pilots. Many of us glider guiders got our start in R/C, and it's a good source of new members - and a good next step for model pilots to think about. (I resisted the urge to stimulate the economy and buy another project... gotta focus on my Commercial for now!) It's a lot of fun talking with people and answering their questions about soaring and sailplanes.

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