Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why is soaring like fishing?

One of the comments fisherman often hear is "You shoulda been here yesterday!" One of the comments I'm hearing lately at the gliderport is "There was wave all week!" This Saturday was pretty much the same as the last time I was at Crystalaire: northeast winds from the desert causing Santa Ana winds where I live, and really strong through the passes that lead into the high desert... but nearly calm at the airport and the adjacent mountains. We could see wave clouds about 40 miles to the east and 20 miles to the west, but nothing at Crystal. And the thermal forecast was dismal - very warm air aloft, NO chance of thermal formation although the surface temperature got up to the 70's (welcome to December in the California high desert).

So although no other gliders were staying up, I flew anyway just for the practice. My first flight at Crystal was an orientation with an instructor, and my second was with another club pilot who has flown there a lot, so I needed to get in the air by myself. We towed the glider to the west end of Runway 07... seemed like I walked a half a mile holding the wing. Oh, wait... it WAS a half a mile: that runway is 2600' long. Soaring does involve a bit of walking!

I was going to get a 4000' tow to the mountains and look for ridge lift. There was nothing over the "Second Ridge", so I hung on to 4700' feet AGL hoping to find something... ANYthing. I eventually pulled off and went back and forth over Second Ridge and got nowhere. At least I was not hitting any sink, so I didn't come down very fast.

I did encounter a little turbulence, so thinking that there MIGHT be a little wave action forming, I went back and forth through the valley between the ridges. Nothing.

I tried up and back over the First Ridge. I did encounter a narrow little bump. When I went back over that same spot and bumped again, I tried circling there but again found nothing.

Back out over the desert. Nothing but smooth air. No sink, so at least I was coming down at the normal sink rate for the Grob 103, which is about 15o feet per minute or so. I was back down on Runway 07 after 36 minutes. Pretty much a sleigh ride. But good practice, searching the ridges and learning how high I need to be at different points in order to maintain a safe final glide slope back to the airport. Now if a friend wants to go for a glider ride, I'll be comfortable taking them up from this airport.

I sat down with the Chief Instructor and worked out a plan to resume my final training and signoffs for my Commercial and Instructor certificates. Regular readers will recall that I was just days away from taking those test when all soaring was shut down at our home airport in Hemet. Since then I've been trying to work out the combination of aircraft, gliderport, instructor, and inspector that will let me successfully take those tests without breaking my soaring bank. Now that we have the Grob stationed at Crystal, I think it's feasible. I hope to complete these within three months. I'll continue to blog about how that process goes.

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