Monday, April 18, 2011

Thermal Season Begins with Passenger Flights

My cousin R and his wife J have been wanting to go soaring for a while now, and I've been waiting for the thermal season to begin so I could give them more than a "sled ride". Well, it's been warming up in the high desert, and reports out of Crystalaire have indicated that the thermals were popping the previous weekend, so things were looking up. We headed out there on Saturday. (The forecast high temperature was 87F.) As it turned out, no one else in the club was planning to fly the Grob that day, so I was able to take my time and show them all aspects of the ship as we washed and inspected and prepped it. Both had been in small planes before, so they were interested and eager.

The Grob had had some maintenance done on it earlier in the week, so I took it up for a checkout flight to pattern altitude before flying with passengers. Although it was well before noon, there were little bumps on tow, so it looked like things would heat up. I tried for a precision landing right on the numbers, and bounced the landing - haven't done THAT in a long time.

We had lunch and waited for a few others to stay up so we'd be pretty sure the thermals were working. J and I took off about 1:10, took a 3,000' tow and let off over the Second Ridge (there were some decent bumps on tow). We didn't find much there over the hills, and I'm new enough to this area that I didn't want to get too low, so pretty soon we headed out over the desert.
We found a couple of other gliders that were climbing, so we slipped in underneath them. I had explained earlier that this was one of the fun aspects of soaring: flying in a "gaggle" with other gliders. We worked it for a while and were able to gain a thousand feet. I kept checking to see if J was OK with the circling, and she was doing just fine. This thermal seemed to top out at 6,000' MSL, so we went looking for others. Didn't find any... came back to this first one... and it was no longer working. I never did find more lift in the region, so we came back in, for a total flight time of 42 minutes. That's probably about right for a first glider flight anyway. This time my landing was smooth, that is until turning off the runway into the stopping area. Wow, that dirt area is rough!

R was up next, and we took off just about one hour after the first launch. Things had heated up, and we felt a bit more turbulence on tow, but not bad. R video'd the takeoff and tow. This time I held on a little longer, and we towed further up the Second Ridge until we found some good lift. This tow was about 3,500' AGL. We immediately climbed about 500' in 2-3 knot lift. Not bad, but nothing spectacular. It seemed kind of disorganized, and I couldn't find more than 1 knot over the hills after topping out that first thermal. Not much over First Ridge or the punchbowl either, so once again we headed for the "house thermal" west of the airport. There we met up again with two other gliders, so R also got to fly in a gaggle, and was a great help keeping the others in sight. R also was not bothered by the circling. (I've written before about how passenger flights are sometimes a difficult balance between circling to stay aloft, and trying to have a gentle flight to avoid causing airsickness.)

We were working the thermal pretty well, when suddenly my portable radio "jumped" and landed down by my foot. Since I was flying from the rear seat to give my passengers the better view, I could not use the glider's built-in radio (there's only a boom mic in the front seat), so I was using my handheld, my headset, and my Velcro-attached push-to-talk switch. I have a wide Velcro strap that goes around my leg, and the radio's belt clip goes on the strap. Well, the belt clip on the newer, larger battery pack is a little smaller and does not clip firmly on the strap. It's never caused a problem until today, when it crept off the strap and fell down in the footwell. As soon as this happened I straightened out and left the thermal to deal with the radio. It was j-u-s-t out of reach - you can't lean forward in a four-point harness. Fortunately gliders can fly pretty well by themselves for short periods of time, so I trimmed it for minimum sink speed, leveled the wings, centered the rudder and went hands-off and feet-off. Also fortunately, there was no traffic in the direction we were gliding, but I still had to keep a lookout. I was beginning to think I was going to have to unstrap, when I finally got it by the antenna. By the time I got it back in place and plugged in, and dealt with another couple of distractions, we had lost a few hundred feet out of this already fairly weak thermal.

We cruised all around the airport area, even tried to poach off another glider, but he wasn't climbing either. We didn't find any more lift, so we came in for a smooth landing at - how about that? - 42 minutes, same as the previous flight.

Once on the ground, I checked with a few other pilots and several said the same thing: we found one good thermal to keep us up for a while, then nothing.

So, all in all it was a fun day. Both of my cousins enjoyed their intro flights, and we were able to thermal long enough for them to get some idea of why we crazy sailplane pilots keep coming back for more.

1 comment:

Larus_p said...

Great Video Roger; I can really see how this kind of technology can help you remember many detailed aspects of the flight - wonderful way of helping re-live the enjoyment! Also a great learning tool I imagine - I was watching the trace of the vario as you circled (lovely even turns!) and drifted, kind of "painting" the the edges of the thermal itself - amazing!