Monday, June 22, 2009

Above & Below the Clouds

On Saturday I shared a flight in a Blanik L13 with another pilot. The weather was much worse than expected... nearly overcast until about 2:00. When it finally broke up there were still some little cumulus clouds that looked like they could be useful, but not very high - ceiling had been reported to be 1900' AGL. I planned to practice incipient stalls, so we took a tow up to about 4000' AGL to buy some time. He flew the tow then handed it over to me. As we climbed, we passed those CU's with cloudbases about 2200' AGL, so we knew that was as high as we would ever get back up. But from 4000' we had a nice view of the tops of the retreating overcast to the south. We rarely get to see the tops of the clouds on glider flights.

I did some straight and turning stalls, some incipient stalls during slow, shallow turns, then when we got below cloudbase I gave the glider back to him. Although there were a few little CU right around us, they were pretty ragged by the time we got there - already dissipating. He and I took turns trying to work the weak lift we found - no more than about 150 feet/minute in places.

Pretty soon we were back down to the pattern altitude. Since I'm working on my no-flaps approaches and my precision landings, we had arranged that he would do the tow and I the landing. Although I made a couple of mistakes in the downwind leg, my speed control and glide slope were good in the base and final. With about a 14-knot headwind, my landing and rollout within the first target box were really good. I continued to fly the wings level whole he opened the canopy and got out of the glider... finally setting the wing down to push back. Our total flight time was 27 minutes. Pretty short, but not bad considering the altitude I lost doing four stalls.

Later in the day the club operation switched to winch launching:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Class on PDA, SeeYou Mobile, and Volkslogger

Because I've been using soaring software in the club ships for a while, some folks in the club asked me to run a little class to help them get started. Now, I'm not an expert, but I have worked out how to use SeeYou Mobile on a Pocket PC, and to use it either with or without the Volkslogger (a secure flight logging device that the club owns). So I agreed to do it. And as usually happens when I prepare to teach something, I learned a few things, too! I see I have written a bit about the topic a few times, but not a comprehensive article about my hardware and software setup, so maybe I'll blog on that soon. It's not hard but not exactly simple... you need to understand the wiring, the options around where the GPS information can come from, and where and how it's recorded.

The main topics were:
  • Brief intro to the PDA
  • How to use most of the features of SeeYou Mobile
  • How to upload a task declaration to the Volkslogger with ConnectMe
  • How to download flight traces from the VL
I found a cool way to conduct most of the software part of the class. Naviter offers a PDA/SeeYou simulator program that runs on a PC. So I put that on a laptop, hooked up an external monitor so more people could see it, and zoomed up the screen resolution to make the PDA image bigger. This way up to about 8 people could look on, much more than would be able to see the tiny screen of a real PDA. As it turned out, we had four people plus myself, so it worked out great.

I loaded up a flight trace from the local Hemet area, which included some thermalling, and played back various parts at different speeds to demonstrate all the important features. I also prepared a four-page cheat sheet full of notes that they could take away with them as reminders (and which I used as an outline), and some diagrams showing the flow of information between the various hardware and software parts.

I felt it was important to demonstrate nearly all the screen features, navigational indications, and the main ways to customize the display. It's very important to spend some "quality time" to become very familiar with the device and the software on the ground so you're not trying to learn and/or configure it while you're flying. You don't want it to be a major distraction that pulls your head down into the cockpit too much... you still have to fly the glider, after all. Hopefully this gets them off to a good start and can save them a few hours of figuring out what's where.

The classroom part took about two hours, and then we also spent maybe 20 minutes actually hooking everything up in a glider and demonstrating downloading a flight trace. That part went OK but because of the sun glare, no one but me could really see the program on the PDA.

Most of the participants were flight instructors who, although they've flown huge numbers of hours, and may have used GPS's in other situations, have never delved into soaring-specific software. Everyone seemed pretty pleased with the class. Now that I have the materials, I could run it again when more pilots get ready to use such systems for cross-country soaring.