Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stop The Closure of Hemet-Ryan Gliderport

Join SSHT and Write the Supervisor in Charge!

As the first (of possibly many) steps, we need to organize ourselves and communicate to the politicians our displeasure with the closing of Hemet Ryan to gliders. With Oct 1st coming soon this need is immediate, so please do these two things TODAY.

1- Write and encourage everyone possible to write to Supervisor Stone expressing their displeasure with the loss of soaring at Hemet Ryan to the aviation community.
2- For further updates, join the Save Soaring at Hemet Today (SSHT) Google News Group at:

The county supervisor over Hemet Ryan is Jeff Stone, Riverside County Supervisor, Third District. His address is:

Supervisor Jeff Stone
43950 E. Acacia, Suite A
Hemet, CA 92543

Perhaps easier, Supervisor Stone has a website with a “Constituent Assistance Request Form” at

• State that you are against the closing of Hemet Ryan to glider operations in the first sentence.

• Ask that Supervisor Jeff Stone assist in preventing the closure.

• State that in your “pilot’s opinion” from actually flying at the site that the operation of Runway 23 is historically safe and future improvements are easily attainable.

• State there is no acceptable local alternative airport for soaring at Hemet

• If you live in Riverside County, do state that you do.

Who should write? As many as possible…everyone (not just pilots) who wants to see soaring continue at Hemet Ryan.

The SSHT Google NewsGroup is at:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hot and Stable

Although this weekend wasn't as blisteringly hot as last weekend, it was still about 98F and quite humid. The various forecasts predicted possibly good soaring, but it was not to be. I think the main reason was a very strong inversion. As part of my morning weather analysis, I use a little web site from NOAA which provides an interpolated "sounding" plot for most any airport. (You can find it at I use the one for March Air Reserve Base, which is pretty close to Hemet. It showed a very strong inversion at 5,000 MSL, effectively putting a lid on most thermal activity. It also showed an interesting convergence of the temperature and dew point from 18,000 to 25,000. Which means if you could get up high, you'd find thick cumulus clouds. By 10:30 there were already cumulonimbus forming at about 13,000 over the mountains. They overdeveloped and it looked like they produced rain all afternoon.

So I just planned to do another commercial/instructor practice flight in a Blanik. I always hope to find some lift to offset the stalls and slips I'm practicing. A few guys reported some thermals in midafternoon, but due to insufficient tow plane capacity, I didn't get up until after 3:30, and what little lift there may have been was gone. I spent much of the afternoon pushing gliders around, running the wing for others, and waiting in the hot sun.

I practiced boxing the wake, removing slack line on tow, then shallow slow-flight turns, incipient stalls, speed control while entering turns, and a full stall. There was a little zero-sink air and a little strong sink. I flew over the airport to review the pattern for the power runway - the examiner may want me to fly a pattern on the other side with the power traffic, so I plan to practice that one day soon.

As described before, I'm practicing flying the pattern with no drag devices (flaps or spoilers) because that seems to be an item on the commercial practical test. I think my directional control in the forward slip for the full downwind leg was really good, as well as a turning slip to the base leg. And I made sure to be looking for traffic in both patterns the whole time - that's another item the examiner is strict about, but it's always been a good habit of mine anyway.

Once on final approach, it became obvious I was not going to need to reverse my forward slip direction as I had been planning to practice. I was not going to need any slip at all... in fact, I was going to land short. What the...?? Only later when I thought about it did I figure out what had happened and why:
  1. During the 45-degree leg (the pattern entry), for some reason I had a hard time spotting the wind sock. I knew that there had been a fairly strong wind, about 14-18 knots when I took off, and I wanted to be sure to know what it was doing so I could plan my slipping pattern. That turned out to be a bigger distraction than I realized.

  2. I switched over to AWOS to get the wind, and waiting for it consumed most of my 45-leg time, putting me a little behind with my downwind turn, slip setup, and radio call.

  3. So although I got the wind direction right, I failed to adjust my pattern speed for the wind strength. That had little effect on downwind and base, but when I turned final, that insufficient airspeed meant that I didn't penetrate the now-headwind, and I ended up short... and wondering why.
So what I learned is that I should get the wind from AWOS well in advance of entering the pattern, so I'm not rushed. Then make sure to use the "S" for speed in the checklist to choose my pattern speed as well as compensate for the wind direction. That's second nature on a normal pattern, but for this no-drag-device approach, I've been thinking too much about the wind direction for the slip, and not enough about the whole FUSTALL checklist. More to practice! I'm planning to fly every weekend that I'm in town in August and September.

On the other hand, my study and practice tests for the CFI written tests are going really well, and I plan to take the test within the next two weeks.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Personal Breakthrough with Spins

The instructor I've been working with on my Commercial and Instructor training was not available today, so I planned to make this a practice day. Tops on my list of things to work on were spins and slip transitions. I was hoping for good thermalling conditions so I could regain the lift that I planned to lose. If not, I'd do a couple of high tows to get in some good practice. The weather forecasts I use did not agree, and it looked to me like it would be stable with little hope for soaring high. All I could plan on was that it would be HOT. By 10:45 it was already 101F. With few people at the field, I decided to take a flight fairly early and then another one after a lunch break. So I launched with a wing-down takeoff at 12:15 when the dust devils started popping.

I've had spin training with two different instructors (blogged here and here), and I have done a few solo spins in the PW5, but have not done solo spins in the Blanik. Looking back at my blog entries, I said my spins with instructors were not really scary, but that's because the instructor was always there. Before (and between) my first solo spins in the PW5, I was really nervous. But on this flight I really didn't think too much about it. After getting off tow (which included boxing the wake) at 4000' AGL, I cleared the area and went right into the spins, not wanting to waste any altitude.
  1. The first spin entry was amazingly easy and gentle. Not much sensation of the nose dropping, it just felt like turning left and turning down at the same time. Getting established in the spin was easy. I just remember thinking "hold it in... hold it in...". Watching the ground go around seemed perfectly natural, and it was even easy to count my turns. I felt no inclination to get out of the spin, as I had felt with my first solo spins. After a turn and a half, I recovered from the spin with the usual sequence of control inputs, and pulled out nice and smoothly. I remember thinking "Wow - that was really easy." Period - not exclamation point. It was just... easy and natural.

  2. For the second one, I had to cruise a little to get out from over a hill (I'd rather have all the absolute altitude I can get.) Again, the spin entry was really gentle. I counted one and three quarter turns and then recovered. This time I think I waited a bit too long before pulling out of the resulting dive, and I remember seeing 100 knots as I pulled out, which I think was too high, and I felt more G force than before. But again, it was not scary at all, it was - dare I say it? Fun! I think it was on this spin that I looked at the altitude loss, and it was about 300 feet. I remember thinking, "I can now see how people can say they enjoy spins." Before today, I could not say that.

  3. I had enough altitude to do one more. This one went just like the others, easy in and easy out. I remember that it seemed that the speed of the spin varied a little bit, and it seemed to smooth out when I ensured that the rudder was all the way to the stop - maybe I was letting it up a little? This time when I looked at the airspeed after recovering, I was going 70 knots which I thought was much better. I checked the manual just now, and it says the spin recovery speed is 87 knots, so maybe I looked at it after climbing a bit.
What a better experience than my first solo spins back in April! I remember some time ago seeing a book titled "At Home in the Sky". That's become one of my goals: to be at home in the sky, to be totally comfortable with whatever maneuvers I need to do. I think my experience today was a major step toward that goal.

I found no lift, but I had enough altitude left to practice switching from a left forward slip to a right one. This kind of transition may be needed when turning from the downwind leg to the base leg to the final approach, depending on the wind conditions, and I needed the practice. In today's pattern, the wind was from the southwest (across an east-west runway), so I needed right forward slip downwind and on base, and then left slip on final. I worked on keeping my ground track straight and doing a smooth slipping turn to base leg. By the end of the base leg, I had lost enough altitude that I needed to get out of it before turning final and establishing the left slip... I know my instructor had wanted to see a smooth transition from one direction to the other, but if I had done that I would have been too low.

It was so blasted hot that I decided not to fly again in the afternoon. It had been 108F when I took off, and up at 4000' AGL it was probably still 90. The highest temperature reported by AWOS was 111.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Training in the Heat

It was 105F in the shade today. Unfortunately, many of the activities of soaring do not occur in the shade: assembling gliders (we put the PW5 back together), washing & inspecting, pushing out to the line, and back from the landing zone. "But it's a dry heat!" Actually, that's true, and after doing this for 6 years, I'm pretty well acclimated to it, up to about 110F. Unlike some very hot days, the atmosphere was somewhat unstable and the lift was working. Several students had some pretty long rides, and even though I launched at 4:15 pm, we found strong stuff to work, but only up to 5500' MSL where the inversion seemd to top out.

I had a single 45-minute training flight with the instructor I've been working with to prepare for my Commercial rating. Quite a bit to do on these flights: box the wake, slack line correction, steer the towplane, multiple stalls, multiple incipient stalls, slow-flight turns, steep turns, thermalling. Fortunately we found lift to recover the altitude we lost with stalls. Flying the pattern with no flaps or spoilers, which means slipping the entire pattern in order to get down, and only using spoilers in the last 100' above the ground. I got a lot of pointers and will need to work on my accuracy with some of these during my solo flights. Plus I need to do more spins, up to 1 and a half turns.

And now I have a deadline! We just found out that our gliderport is closing on October 1. The county (or the airport) wants to close the glider runway as of that date. The owner of the glider operation is the local FAA "designated pilot examiner" and I've been planning to take my tests with him. Trying to take my tests anywhere else (Warner Springs, Crystal, Tehachapi, or wherever else there's a DPE) would be a logistical nightmare! So after consulting with my instructor, we decided that I will try to complete both the Commercial and Instructor ratings before he leaves. I had been planning to do the Commercial by about that date, and figured the Instructor would take quite a bit more training, but we think (hope) I can get this done. Many of the requirements are very similar, so lots of people do both very close together. I have about half of my specific "preparation" flights logged, but of course those are just minimum requirements: I need to do as many as it takes to show my instructor that I'm ready. It'll take some coordination, especially since I have a two-week trip planned in the middle of all this. I'll keep this blog updated as I go along. If any readers are CFIs, I'd welcome comments about how you went about your Commercial and Instructor ratings.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Short Dual Flight at Tehachapi

Friday's weather was terrific for soaring. Saturday's was significantly drier - no CU at all but still decent lift in the valley. Some pilots got 2.5 to 3.5 hour flights - I didn't fly, just helped launch and gave a briefing to a pilot G who was new to the PW5.

Sunday was also dry but was even weaker... very few flights. But G was able to stay up for a while in the PW5, so C and I decided to give it a try in the Grob 103, knowing it would not be great. But I had a couple of things I wanted to work on. My last approach and landing at this airport (back in May) was not so hot, so I wanted to give it a shot from the front seat where the forward view is better.

C did the takeoff, tow, and the first half of the flight. As expected, we only found about 1-2 knots of lift in a narrow band. It may have been a weak shear line, but the wind was only 8 knots at 8,000' MSL, and I'm not sure that's enough for a shear.

I took over after a while and went looking for thermal lift. I did find a bit, but again only 1-2 knots for a very short time. I was wishing for flaps like we have on the Blaniks. (If you pull Fowler flaps halfway out, you can get increased wing surface area without much drag, and sometimes that makes all the difference in weak lift.) Pretty soon we were back to the airport and down to pattern altitude. Too bad - it was a nice clear day and I would have liked to fly for more than 35 minutes.

I'd had time to analyze why my last landing in May was so ugly, and made a number of corrections. My pattern planning and my approach glideslope were much smoother than last time, and my speed was right where it needed to be (we only had 8 knots of wind, straight down the runway). Final approach was straight and level, flare was at the right height, touchdown was not rushed and so it was very gentle, and the rollout was perfect. It made me feel much better about landing the Grob at this site.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Things Flying Fast and Low - Some Good, Some Bad

The Good

Sitting under the trees at the Mountain Valley Gliderport, I heard a "whoosh!" and quickly looked left. A small, fast-moving blur just a few feet to my left. Faster than any radio control plane I've ever seen. It zig-zags between some of the trees, and I catch a glimpse of a darkish bird with pointed wings. It must be a peregrine falcon! It's banking and swooping like a TIE fighter in Star Wars, probably after some of the blackbirds and larks that are flying around. In less than 2 seconds it's past the other end of the glider parking area, about 300 feet away, and then gone. I do the math... it was flying at 80 to 100 MPH at 3 feet off the ground. Amazing!

The Bad

Our morning pilots' meeting is interrupted a few times by the roar of small jets... and by pilots getting up to go watch them. It's a flight of three L-29 trainers, the kind that are often privately owned. We assume they're in town for an Independence Day exhibition, though there's no real "air show" listed in the local paper. They fly around the valley a few times, sometimes in a delta formation and other times following each other. Though we're glider pilots, we still love fast and noisy things flying low!

Later that day, we see them take off again, one after another, from the municipal airport a few miles away. They make a turn around the valley and form up again, no more than 2000' above the ground. We see a tow plane and glider at a higher altitude than the jets, but not really close to them. We hear some chatter on the radio but don't know that it's the jet pilots. I look away to watch a glider coming in for a landing. Among the chatter on the radio we hear "Abort" a couple of times, and wonder if it has something to do with the glider that's landing. When I look back west, there's a dense cloud of black smoke just over a ridge, just a couple miles away. Smoke appearing that fast can only mean one thing, and it's not good. The smoke rises and dissipates quickly... this is no brush fire. We see no parachutes. On the radio we hear pilots talking about looking for "number three", going around the valley again, and eventually going back to land. Then nothing more.

Later in the day, the news comes in. The jet crashed on a road just south of town, fortunately missing houses. There are no survivors. The pilot was the Tehachapi Municipal Airport manager; the passenger is not identified. One of the glider pilots/tow pilots here knows the guys that fly the jets.

Glider pilots who were in the air at the time later relate that they saw the jets and later the smoke, but had no way of knowing they were related. Some of our wives were out for the day, touring the valley and visiting produce farms. We learn that they were on that road about 15 minutes before the crash.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Tehachapi Valley

Our club is flying at Tehachapi (Mountain Valley Airport) this weekend. We have the PW5 and the Grob 103. There are only a few club members here, so long flights are possible. For several reasons, I did not plan to do any true cross-country soaring, so I juat flew over the valley and the immediately surrounding mountains.

It turned out to be a great day for thermal soaring! Lots of cumulus clouds to mark lift, but not enough to block the sun; no overdevelopment, and not much wind. I let off at 3000' AGL (7200' MSL) and hooked a good thermal right away. Although there was plenty of lift to be had, there were still several challenges. Some CU that looked to be developing (e.g. concave bottoms) never panned out. Some were ragged and I think indicated rotor rather than lift, though the wind was only about 15 knots. There were some VERY rough areas near the Tehachapi Mtns. I found quite a number of thermals both under CU and in the blue, commonly getting up to 12,500' MSL or so. The highest was 13,300', for a maximum gain of 6,100'. I found lift of up to 700 ft/min sustained, and it got really strong just under the cloud bases. I also found some serious sink (900 ft/minute for 2-3 minutes). And sometimes entering thermals I hit the biggest bumps I've ever encountered - knocking me way up out of my seat although my belts were as tight as possible.

I went as far west as the Tehachapi Loop (a somewhat famous railroad circle), as far east as the end of the valley, and as far south as the top of the Tehachapi Mts. Since I wasn't planning to go anywhere far, I used the opportunity to explore and compare SeeYou Mobile with the Borgelt B50 Super Vario that's installed in the ship. For the first half of the flight, the audio Speed To Fly correlated very well with the STF on SeeYou: when I sped up to the SeeYou STF, the Borgelt "faster" tone shut up. (That is, after I set he correct polar: SeeYou was still set to a Grob 130. Oops.) But after an hour or so, the B50 was always saying "faster" no matter what the lift was doing. This was really annoying, so eventually I quit using "cruise" mode and stayed in "climb" mode while flying straight. This made the display a simple vario, which was fine, but gave no STF audio. I've looked at the B50 manual to see if I was doing something wrong, and I can't find anything. I can only conclude that it was a malfunction, and will watch for it to happen again. I have suspected for some time that the vertical gauge that is supposed to show STF was not working, but assumed it was just the meter. Now I'm thinking that maybe it's the computer. If it happens again I'll power-cycle it to see if it resets.

I also used another feature of SeeYou Mobile. The Thermal Assistant gives a visual indication of where in your circle the best lift was found. It also gives an audible tone a couple of seconds BEFORE you get back to a good spot, and it seemed to be really accurate. This is another great feature for helping you keep your eyes outside the cockpit instead of looking down at the display. I wasn't aware of it until I prepared for the class I recently taught... I found it to be helpful.

I thermalled for a while with a 1-26, which was a little tricky because our speeds and glide ratios were different. We "poached" off of each other for quite a while.

The lift today was so strong I had to use spoilers to force the glider down to pattern altitude. I could have stayed up for a lot longer but decided to come down after 2 hours and 40 minutes. It would have been a great day to try for my 5-hour Silver Duration flight, but alas the Volkslogger did not come along on this trip... and it's a real pain to document a duration flight without it.

Tomorrow is not forecast to be as strong, but still probably a good soaring day. I'm trying out a new online soaring forecast site called XC Skies. So far I like it a lot! It pretty well nailed today's weather at this location. I'll have to see how well tomorrow matches its predicton, and try it out for my home field at Hemet.