Saturday, December 12, 2009

A short flight under lowering skies

Last Saturday, the weather looked there might be a bit of an opportunity to soar. A cold front was moving in but was well to the north. We could see some lenticular clouds about 15-20 miles away that indicated winds coming our way. If the winds ahead of the front were strong enough, ridge soaring might work. If the sky remained clear, and the wind was NOT strong, some thermal soaring might be possible. A special event going on at the airport meant that we couldn't launch until about 1:00, and this time of the year the sun goes behind the hills about 3:00, so the window would be narrow.

In the morning some of us spent some time talking with a pilot who's flown at Elsinore quite a bit, and observing the sky. The wind was coming in from the ocean side, causing some cumulus clouds to build on the west side of the coastal hills. If they came far enough east we might be able to get up underneath them. As the first launch time approached, they were getting closer and some had concave bottoms indicating lift.

I was about third in line to launch. As we got up to 3000' AGL over the hills, about the typical altitude to release, we were nearly up to the base of the clouds, and the clouds were much grayer and more widespread than they had been just a half hour before. I found a little lift as I released, and a little zero-sink for a while. But the clouds were within about 1000' of the top of the ridge, which left little room for hunting for any lift. Before long I had to drop off the ridge onto the side of the hill, and from the on found nothing but moderate sink. I knew that was a possibility, because if the wind was still coming over the hills from the ocean, it'd be spilling down into the valley.

With a few minutes of slight lift and zero-sink, and then some moderate sink, I ended up with just an 18-minute flight. When I got out of the cockpit after landing, the cloud cover was about 65-75% and the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees. If there was a window of usable lift, I had missed it. The only other private pilot who took off that day got skunked too.

That's OK - I was glad to fly for even a short time, as I'm still focusing on learning the area, getting used to the runways and operations, so I can start planning to take my Commercial practical test at this location.

No comments: