Friday, May 31, 2013

The Mallettec Mini Vario

"What's that thing on your hat?" people occasionally ask. It's the Mini Vario from Mallettec. I've had one for a long time - I'm not sure just when I bought it. I'm writing about it today just because I finally had to replace the batteries after 6 or 7 years.

It could not be much simpler. It has a small but mighty clip on the back, so you can just clip it to the edge of your hat next to your ear. There's an on-off switch on the back. There's no volume control.

The unit beeps to let you know when you are in rising air (i.e. air pressure dropping). The rate of the beep varies with the rate of pressure change. It is silent in sink (pressure rising). It is so sensitive that it changes if I hold it in my hand and raise it over my head. There's a very tiny adjustment screw, in case the beep rate is too fast or slow, but I've never had to use it.

I originally bought the Mini Vario when I became aware of the safety benefits of audio varios, and I was flying a lot in Blaniks with no electric devices at all. I still use it as a backup or a cross-checking device.

One of our ships has an audio vario system but the static plumbing is sometimes flaky. We have not been able to find the problem, but I suspect it has to do with moisture in the lines. If I don't believe what the vario is telling me compared to the altimeter changes or the feel of the air, I turn on the Mini Vario to break the tie.

I really believe in having backups for systems, because they have saved my neck a few times. In my first contest - one of my first cross-county flights - the battery totally failed, and that ship only has an electric vario. So the Mini Vario really saved the day.

My only complaint is I wish it were a little louder, or had a volume adjustment. If the wind noise in the glider is loud, it can be a little hard to hear. Other than that, it's a terrific little device and I almost never fly without it!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Back in the Air after Refinishing

I have not posted since early March because... I have not flown since then. Our Grob 103 Twin Astir has been out of service in order to have the top surface of the stabilizer and elevator stripped and refinished. It was peeling very badly, so we took it out of service between the late-winter BFR season (it seems several of us have our BFR dates in January-February), and the start of the good soaring season.

The stabilizer was peeling, but that's not quite the right term for what happened to the surface of the elevator - disintegrating is more like it! Over this winter, the surface really just started crumbling before our eyes.

We chose a shop in Tehachapi to do the work. Getting the stab there and back was a bit of a trick, because it is is 10.8 feet wide. That's too big to fit in my full-size pickup bed, which Pythagoras says is 8.9 feet diagonally. Letting it hang out over the tailgate or stick up over the cab seemed like a recipe for disaster. So one of our club members put it in his camper, which allowed it to go over the cab and be protected.

To bring it back, I decided to put it in the glider's trailer, since there's a nice padded pair of brackets for just that purpose. From home to Crystal (to get the trailer) to Tehachapi, back to Crystal and back home is about 320 miles, so retrieving and installing the stab a couple weeks ago was an all-day affair. It looks great! As it turns out, the surfaces had been reworked but not stripped before, so this time two or three layers of material were removed. The elevator is now measurably lighter, so it should be somewhat more responsive.

Then the ship was due for its annual inspection. Fortunately nothing else major came up, so last week it was signed off as airworthy again. This Saturday several of us spent the morning lubricating all the control linkages, washing the ship, putting a coat of wax on it (gotta protect that new finish!), polishing the canopy, and doing general maintenance required for a ship that sits out all the time.

Since significant maintenance had been done, a solo test flight is required before any passenger flights would be allowed. That job fell to me, so I took it up to 1,000' AGL for a quick checkout. On takeoff, I  PIO'd it a bit, recovering after the second oscillation - maybe the lighter elevator made it react more quickly? Or maybe it's just that I haven't flown for a month and a half...

One of the fellows who came out this weekend is a former club member who is looking to rejoin. Recently he has been signed off to fly in high-performance gliders and at Crystalaire, so now he will need to get a checkout in our Grob 103. I took him up for an orientation flight so he could start to learn the specifics of this ship. I let off tow in lift over the "second ridge", and between us we took it up to about 8,700' MSL a few times. We landed after exactly one hour.

Another club member who hasn't flown much lately wanted to get some practice before tackling his BFR, so we went up again. This time we got a-l-m-o-s-t to 10,000' MSL. We headed over the the area near the top Mt. Lewis, expecting to find some thermals popping, or wind blowing up the sides of the "bowls" between the mountains. Nothing. It was weird - way calmer than we usually would find up there.

Back down below the second ridge, we found some more lift, but not quite as high, and then out over the desert we found some marginal wave lift. There was a fairly strong wind out of the west, and weak wave had been reported there a couple of hours earlier, and sure enough it was still there. That gave us enough time for him to practice stalls, slow flight, etc. which might be requested during a BFR flight. We came in after exactly 90 minutes.

So... I flew for 2 hours and 40 minutes, but since I let the other pilots do much of the flying, I only get to log 50 minutes. But it was really great to be back in the air again!