Saturday, April 03, 2010

Gremlins and Gotcha's

I guess I really wasn't meant to fly today. A long series of mechanical and electrical "gremlins", and logistical "gotcha's" made for a not-so-successful day at the airfield.
  • I bought a new battery for my handheld radio a few weeks ago, because it seemed that the battery was not holding a charge very long. I usually put it on the charger about 24 hours before I'm going to fly, and I check the battery voltage with a voltmeter on the morning of the flying day, so if it didn't get a full charge for some reason at least I know and I can use alkalines instead. This morning the new battery was dead as a doornail. Zero volts. The charger is putting out, so I'm not sure what happened, and will have to test it this week. At our old field the radio was mostly a convenience but at Elsinore it's a necessity. I'm going to change my routine and charge the radio as soon as I get home, and check it promptly, so I'll have time to charge again if necessary. And now that I think of it, the new battery is significantly bigger than the old one, so it probably needs more than 24 hours to charge anyway. Gremlin #1.
  • This morning the club was breaking in a New Tow Pilot. That's a good thing - they need more of them. I think he was already qualified as a glider tow pilot, but was just new to this type of airplane and new to this club's location and operating procedures. Along about 10:00 they started preflighting the tow plane, and it seems that NTP needed to do 10 (count 'em - 10) takeoffs and landings to be qualified in this type. So glider pilot #1 sat for about an hour while NTP did about 7 cycles. Another tow pilot eventually jumped in and launched a few gliders. Later NTP did about 3 more cycles and then started towing gliders. It was interesting listening to the lead tow pilot coaching NTP over the radio. Apparently only one towplane was available for use today, so this caused a big delay in glider ops. I don't think the first glider took off until about noon. Gotcha #1.
  • I recently got a new SUV which I can use to tow glider trailers. I have not towed anything with it yet, so I planned to hook it up to our PW5 trailer and see how level it sits, and tow it around a bit to see how it handles. The hooking-up part was fine - the weight of the trailer caused the vehicle hitch to drop less spend a quarter inch. But the trailer had a completely flat tire, so no opportunity to actually tow it around. Gremlin #2.
  • Since our club instructor had about three people to fly with, I decided to fly the PW5 instead of a Blanik. We recently relocated it here to Lake Elsinore, and I have not flown it yet. The day was shaping up to have some OK lift, with some CU clearly marking it. So after a quick lunch I started prepping the PW5. The battery was not on a charger as I had thought it might be (the PW5 had been flown once since moving here). So I checked the battery with my voltmeter and it looked good. All went fine with the preflight except that the nosewheel tire was low - VERY low. Gremlin #3. No problem, I now bring a compressor to the field. Except... the little hub crowds the valve stem. There's NO way to get a connector onto it without a valve stem extension. At Hemet, we kept some of them in the flight shack. At Elsinore... well, most of our gear is currently elsewhere. I asked one of the LESC leaders - nope, they don't have any. Ask the guy with the repair shop. Hello? Hello? No one there. I'm not going to poke around in his shop. Any auto parts store nearby? Yep, right after you get into town there are two or three of them. OK, hop into said new SUV and head to town. Don't see any auto parts shops... all the way thru town... finally spot one on the way back, run in, buy a pack of 4 extensions, scoot back to the field. Lift is still working, four gliders clearly having fun under a CU. Let's go for it! With the extension in place, pumping up the tire is easy. Takes about 7 seconds - it's a REALLY small tire!
  • While driving back, I get a call from a CFI on my cell. What the heck? Bluetooth system in said new SUV doesn't pick up, and I have to hold the phone to my ear - not kosher in California. Huh. It's always worked before. Gremlin #4.
  • Now it's after 3:00. Push out to the line, I'm #4 for takeoff. This will take a while. Gotcha #2. Glass ship #1 takes off. Glass ship #2 takes off. NTP is getting into a groove, and the tow-and-landing cycle is getting shorter. Schweitzer 2-33 backs out of line, I'm next! Lift is still working - there's a line of clouds marking the top of a shear line.
  • But the tow plane needs fuel, and that takes a while since NTP is new to the operation here. The clouds are starting to move farther away and get farther between. Gliders are no longer hugging the bottom of the clouds... they're lower and closer to the IP. Gotcha #3.
  • Tow plane is back, I'm ready to go. It's now 3:50 and the clouds are gone. Gotcha #4.
There's quite strong turbulence all the way from 50 feet AGL up to about 2000' AGL. That doesn't qualify as a Gremlin or a Gotcha, but it does make for some interesting flying on tow. I never got any major slack, much to my surprise.
  • The variometer needle is going nuts! Swinging widely from 10K of lift to 8K of sink - still on tow! I've seen this before, when the battery died on me out of Tehachapi (see my Dust Devil Dash post from September 2007.) Check the voltage: 12.4. That should be fine. Huh. Faulty vario? Water or dirt or bugs in the static lines? I do remember I thought I might have gotten a drop or two in the TE probe socket when washing the plane - could that cause this behavior? Gremlin #5.
  • NTP has taken me up to 3000' AGL, and instead of turning to head parallel to the ridge, he keeps heading deeper into the mountains. Gotcha #5: we're at cloudbase and he's still heading away from the field, beyond my comfort zone. I move out to the side to ask him to turn - no result. I remember that the practice here is that tow pilots don't respond to that signal, but they're on the radio and I could ask him to turn. But what the heck, we're high enough and not too far into the mountains, and there's a cloud to my right, so I just release.
The vario is still not right, showing 6 to 10 knots of sink although the altimeter is only going down very slowly. Fortunately I have my clip-on mini-vario, and it's blipping slightly telling me there's a bit of lift, so I just ignore the Borgelt. Unfortunately, the lift is weak and scattered, way too little to keep me up in the air. The shear line stopped working 5 minutes before I took off! Very soon I'm heading for the IP.
  • At the Initial Point I make the usual call on the radio. Abeam the end of the runway, I can see a towplane getting into position with a glider. Since we take off and land in opposite directions on the same runway, the procedure is for the wing runner and tow pilot to keep an eye on the pattern, and hold the takeoff if they judge that there is not time before the incoming glider would be in the way. (Even if they did take off, the glider could always turn final early, parallel to the runway, and land in the green area to the side.) So I fly a normal approach and keep an eye on the tow plane.
    Coach to NTP: "Hold on, there's a glider in the pattern. The guy didn't make a call."
    Me to the world: "The guy did call at the IP."
    NTP to Coach: "I heard his call."
    Gotcha #6: Due to an odd airfield sharing arrangement, glider pilots are discouraged from making any calls other than the first one at the IP. At other fields we call the IP, downwind leg, base leg, and final leg. That way is safer - Coach would have had four chances to hear my position. I don't like this procedure, but that's the way the owner prefers it.
So, after all that, a 17-minute flight, mostly a sled ride. Glass Ship #2 that took off just before me got skunked too. We were just a bit too late.

But at least we got to fly, right?


smith said...

Haha - me too Roger! And I learned something new - I'm now googling for a mini-vario.



Roger said...

I bought the Mini Vario from:

P.O. Box 15756
Santa Ana, CA 92735


smith said...

Thanks Roger. Looks like there's a few versions available in Australia, used mostly by paras. Does it work well inside a cockpit?

Roger said...

It works well, very sensitive. It tones when ascending but is silent when descending. Not sure why the designer made it that way. I wish it were just a little louder, and it's not adjustable. But it is small, light, and it has seriously saved my neck at least once. The PW5 has only an electric vario, so if the battery dies you have nothing.