Saturday, January 30, 2010

Good flight under cloudy skies

Midday today brought some good-sized cumulus clouds to the eastern edge of the Santa Ana Mountains. Another pilot "T" mentioned he had not yet had a chance to work lift under CU (fairly rare where we used to fly), so we went up together. He also wanted to get some experience in the back seat of the Blanik, so I flew from the front seat.

We had a little trouble with the airspeed indicators on both ships, probably due to some water in the static lines. Mine was showing about 40 knots on tow, which obviously was not correct. By the time we got to about 1,000' AGL mine was about right, although the back one was still a bit off. I think the water dried out or the dirt or whatever moved on. It was not a problem for me for the rest of the flight.

We let off tow at 4200' MSL in light lift that stayed good and got even better. We traded flying duties several times and were able to reach 5600' once and 5200' several times. We could not go any higher without getting into the clouds that seemed to be at about 6000' or so. The lift was commonly 200-400 feet per minute and occasionally up to 800. Not bad for a cool day in January! The NWS forecast was for 65F maximum, lift 350' to 5400', the inversion was forecast for about 4-5000, and my thermal forecast for 60F was to 5000'. I think the ground temp was in the high 60's so the forecast was about right... a little under what we actually got.

There were as many as four gliders in the air at the same time, and we thermalled with one or two at a time. It's good to fly with two pilots - you can share the work and keep a good lookout.

The lift was best on the sunny edge of the clouds. The sun was warming the top of the ridge, and the breeze was from the valley direction. so I think the heat and slight shear made the clouds work. If we got too far east under the darker parts of the clouds, we could feel the air get noticeably cooler, and then it would start to sink. Certain areas were just continually generating lift. We went further westward over the mountains than I have gone before, but still not very far - the ceiling was fairly low and we needed to make sure we had altitude to get back over the ridge. It was easy flying - the first good soaring day I've had since we moved to Lake Elsinore.

We flew across the valley to the Sedco Hills, as much to kill time as for anything. There was a little weak lift but not enough to sustain us. We could have gone back to work the "Old Faithful" lift some more, but we'd had enough. We ended up with an even hour and a half.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review of 2009

It's been another good year of soaring. I made great progress, but my goal of becoming a flight instructor has still eluded me. Here are some highlights.

I had a total of 33 flights, 4 more than in 2008:
  • Fourteen flights with instructors
  • Five flights with other Private pilots
  • One flight with a student pilot
  • Four passenger flights
  • That leaves 10 solo flights, most of them preparing for Practical tests
  • No cross-country flights
I worked hard toward my Commercial and Instructor ratings, consciously deciding not to work on cross-country:
  • In January, I passed my Commercial Pilot Knowledge Test with a score of 95%
  • In March, I passed my Fundamentals of Instructing Knowledge Test with a score of 100%
  • In August, I passed my Flight Instructor Knowledge Test with a score of 85%.
Along the way, I did have some fun and some other accomplishments:
  • I crossed the hundred-hour mark (including instruction... still need a few hours to have 100 as PIC).
  • I had one of my longest flights, 2 hours and 40 minutes to 13,300' MSL over Tehachapi.
  • First solo spins in the Blanik L13. And for the first time had fun doing spins! This was a huge breakthrough and confidence-builder for me.
  • Conducted a couple of ground school classes (same as in 2008).
  • Learned to do no-flap landings (slip the whole pattern, and transition between left and right slips).
  • Got my biennial Flight Review via winch launches, and ticked off some instructors in the process.
  • Prepared and conducted a class on PDAs, SeeYou Mobile, and the Volkslogger.
  • Got a field checkout for Skylark Field at Lake Elsinore.
And some bad news:
  • On one of our field trips, we saw a private jet crash while preparing for an Independence Day demonstration.
  • Our club's home airport was closed to glider operations, ostensibly for "safety reasons" but actually because of the greed of the airport management and county government. This is a huge loss for soaring - gliders have been flying there for about 50 years. Our club is pursuing a complaint with the FAA, and we have reason to believe we might win.
  • My plans to take my Commercial and Instructor Practical Tests in August were derailed at the last minute by the closure of the airport and the complicated airport management situation. I plan to take my tests in the next couple of months at Lake Elsinore.
So... a mixed year. But I continue to fly a lot, even when the weather is not conducive to soaring. Just being up in the air is so much fun! I'm really looking forward to completing my Commercial and Instructor tests this spring, and flying even more in 2010.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Comments and visitors

Comments: I've always encouraged comments from readers of my blog. Unfortunately the "blog spammers" eventually found me and I had to turn on "comment moderation" some years ago. That added a bit of delay - comments don't show up until I approve them. Annoying, but no big deal.

Well, the spammers are attacking me again, this time with comments that almost look human-created, but upon a second look are so generic that they're useless. It's become a daily occurrence. So now I'm trying another method: "word verification". If you add a comment, you will have to read a word graphic and enter the word. An annoying step, I know, but I'm sure you've see it in use on other systems. On the plus side, I'll turn off comment moderation, so your comment will show up immediately.

Sorry for the inconvenience. Please keep the comments coming! If there's an aspect of soaring that I haven't written about yet, feel free to send me topic suggestions.

Visitors: In case you're curious:
  • About 175 to 240 individuals visit my blog in a typical month.
  • Over the last year, over 1,900 individuals visited at least once.
  • Usually the day after I post an article, about 20 people visit, and then fewer each day in between posts.
  • The average visitor reads 1.4 pages, which means most visitors only read one page, the most recent post.
  • The most popular posts for returning visitors have been Weather and planning for soaring and Class on PDA, SeeYou Mobile, and Volkslogger.
Thank you all for your interest!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Clear weather - new terrain - but no lift

We're experiencing some gusty winds from the north as a result of high pressure building up after a front went through a few days ago. The direction looked good for producing ridge lift in the "bowl" near Lake Elsinore. And the ADDS wind forecast predicted about 15 knots at the altitude of the top of the ridge. If the orographic lift didn't materialize, there was still the chance of thermal lift. The calculated trigger temperature was 74F. The maximum ground temperature forecasts were all over the place, from 67F to 80F. But at Lake Elsinore, the wind ranged from zero to about 5 knots - usually about zero. It started to heat up fairly well, probably to the mid-70's. (I don't think there's a thermometer out near the flight line - maybe I'll bring one out.)

The local club pilots know that we're new at this location, so they kindly offer suggestions. Several pointed out that it would be better to head for the "Sedco Hills" to the east because of the sun heating up their west-facing slopes. They also pointed out landmarks where thermals can sometimes be found.

View Larger Map

This sounded like a good idea. I had not flown that direction yet, and one concern was that it's a bit further away from the Initial Point for the landing pattern. There are some restrictions at this site about where you can and can't fly, and returning from the Sedcos means you have to traverse more of the no-thermaling area. That means leaving yourself more altitude for the return flight - which means less altitude for hunting for thermals. One pilot suggested that, depending on the wind direction, one could need 800 to 1000 feet to get from the hills to the IP, so that's what I planned on doing.

I let off at 3200' AGL and flew back and forth over the hills a few times. Due to the clear air, the views were terrific, but the lift was nonexistent. I did have time to take a few pictures.

"blip"... finally my audio vario came to life indicating some weak lift. But it died after a half turn. I could find a few blips every time I went around, but not enough to take me upward. Unfortunately it was right over the I-15 freeway, which is the border of the no-thermaling skydiving drop zone. So I could not explore over the flatlands to see if the lift would pick up. Too soon, it was time to head west to the IP.

Well... I could tell visually that it was not as far from the Sedco Hills to the Initial Point as I had thought. I consumed only about 400 feet of altitude getting across the valley. I can see how if the coastal wind is coming from the west it could take more altitude, but for normal flying I don't think it will be a big deal. I got back over near the IP with about 600-700 feet to hunt for more lift. I found a few more blips but nothing strong enough to work.

My pattern and landing were very good. I'm learning to do a "wheel landing" in the Blanik, because of the long, soft dirt runway. That means keeping the glider level on the main wheel after touchdown so the tailwheel doesn't dig in and stop the rollout right away. Quite a contrast from the extreme short stops that we always performed at Hemet. My rollout was nearly all the way back to the taxiway... I just forgot about the light crosswind at the last minute, so I wasn't perfectly straight.

Now the problems began. We're having a problem with the tailwheel on the ship I was flying. It digs into the soft dirt and doesn't roll! I don't think it's the bearing - the wheel rolls fine if you pick up the tail and spin it. And it casters (turns side to side) OK. We think the problem is that the rod it's mounted on is able to twist, so the wheel lays over on its side a few degrees instead of castering into the direction of the turn.

This makes it nearly impossible for two people to push the glider around. It's constantly digging in, and it's as if the brake is being applied.