Sunday, November 23, 2014

Back in the (small) saddle

Due to the transition into the new club, I had not flown the PW5 since June. First I needed to get checked out in the club's "A1" level ship, the Krosno. Then I needed a ground checkout with an instructor to be able to fly the "A2" level (single-seat) gliders. That was more of a formality, since I am very familiar with the PW5 and wrote up a document about it for the other club members. After getting the signoff, getting a free weekend, and taking care of a parachute repack, I was finally ready to fly this week.

The weather looked OK for Friday: a relatively clear day between the passing of a minor front and then the arrival of Santa Ana winds. The forecast was for northeast winds, which aren't really good for either thermal flying or wave lift at this location, but it looked like ridge soaring might develop.

As it turned out, the winds were very light and variable all day, and the early clouds gave way to clear skies and ground temperatures into the high 60's. So thermal activity, though not very strong, was present all over the place. The tow pilot reported that the low hills were working better than the mountains (though one pilot got skunked a while before I flew). Due to needing to do some maintenance in the PW5, I didn't get to take off until 2:00. But the tow pilot was right, and we found decent lift over the golf course not far from the airport. I let off at 2,400' AGL, which is pretty low for me. I've been fooled more than once into letting off low, but this time it worked out well enough. The lift looked to be about 5 knots when I let off, but that was a fluke. The rest of the day I never found more than 3 knots, and often less than that.

The lift wasn't terribly strong, but it was wide enough and consistent enough that it was fairly easy to center. Since it was weak, I worked on staying as coordinated as possible, and finding a bank angle that balanced between turning steeply to center it, and not turning so steep that I needed to speed up and get into the drop-off section of the PW5's polar curve. I really paid close attention to the two varios and the physical sensations, and found that perfectly coordinated flight really helped with the lift rate - the difference between "zero sink" and actually climbing. Flying that carefully in weak lift takes a lot of attention.

I worked a couple thermals up from 5,800' MSL to 7,300' MSL. Nothing to brag about, but I was happy to find enough lift to stay up. I got high enough to try the Second Ridge, but there was nothing working there, and by that time all the cloud markers were gone. I had planned to perhaps do some spins (since I have not done them in a while), but since I had to work hard to gain altitude I was not willing to throw it away so easily. I'll spin another day.

When I was at about 6,000' late in my flight, I spotted another glider maybe 1,000' higher and to the southwest of me, and thought I'd try to follow him up. But I lost him in the sun after a few turns, and could never find him again. I decided it was not wise to fly into his space if I couldn't see him, so I headed back toward the airport and decided to call it a day since the lift was starting to weaken.

I ended up with an hour and fifteen minutes, and a really smooth landing. It was nice to be back in the PW5, and I'm looking forward to the wave season starting up. I need one more check ride in the PW6, and then I'll be able to give rides to friends, and maybe do some dual wave flights with club members.

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