Saturday, December 31, 2005

Nothing much to say lately...

Don't give up, I'm still blogging - when I have something to say!

A combination of poor weather, illness, and general holiday busyness have kept me from soaring lately. I've only been to the field one weekend out of the last 6, and that day the weather was not worth investing in a tow fee. Today I considered going out... although there was a 50% chance of rain, I thought it might hold out until late afternoon. But the soaring forecast was the worst I've ever seen: 48! And as it turned out, the rain started where I live about noon. Maybe next weekend...

In the meantime, I've been studying. I recently acquired the FAA Aviation Instructor's Handbook and I'm about two-thirds of the way through it.

I also recently purchased a new soaring simulator named Condor. It seems fairly popular - I've seen mention of about 1,000 members on their virtual competition web site. So far I've only had one flight in it. It seemed to work OK. I need to find where the manual and help files etc. are located. I also need to figure out how to make the instruments bigger: they're too hard to read accurately. It does not seem to have the annoying problem I noticed with Sailors of the Sky, which made it hard to fly correctly. SOTS seemed to have an undesirable linkage between the ailerons and rudder on my joystick: using the ailerons always invoked the rudder as well. Condor seems more well-behaved. It does not come with any of the ships I fly, but maybe I can find them for download.

As for blogging: my blog has been receiving unsolicited, unrelated, and often inappropriate comments. In other words, some people have figured out how to post ads as blog comments. I'm not sure why, but I imagine it's a way to get their ads picked up by search engines for free. So I've had to turn on "comment moderation" on my blog. If you post a comment, it won't show up to the public until I approve it. Sorry, folks. I do appreciate the comments and advice people have contributed! But I refuse to have inappropriate ads posted, so this extra step has become necessary.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Stability and visibility

Last Saturday I just had a "sled ride" in the PW5. The air was extremely stable, due to a weakening Santa Ana condition. It was quite warm: 87 F at ground level in mid afternoon - in November! The nam Model Forecast Soundings showed a thick inversion, about 5000' of constant 79F. No thermals seemed to be working at all. One expert pilot got away and stayed up for 2 hours, but all others came straight down. But since I'm trying to build up time and experience, I went up anyway.

I've been trying to get accustomed to my PDA/GPS unit. The biggest problem is that the screen on my HP IPAQ is just not bright enough to see with my AO sunglasses on. I found that Serengeti makes aviation sunglass with gradient lenses, so the bottom part is lighter and should let me see the screen better when glancing down. So I bought a pair and tried them for the first time on this flight. It does seem a lot better, but at certain angles it's still unreadable. I've been using SeeYou Mobile in trial mode all this time, because I don't want to spend the money if it's not going to be usable. But now I think I'll go ahead. I still need to play with it and see if I can get the fonts to be bigger and more readable.

The other thing about the Serengetis is the color and its effect on the contrast of objects in the sky. They are a yellow-pink color, unlike the neutral-gray of my AO's. This seems to help enhance the contrast between clouds and blue sky, by cutting down the amount of blue that is transmitted. Driving around this week, they really do seem to help. The edges of clouds are more distinct than without sunglasses, and the details of cloud structure really stand out more. I haven't tried them head-to-head with the AO's but will try that sometime. The only thing I don't like about them is that the main part of the lens is not as dark as I would like. But it seems OK.

I've started filing the weather forecasts that I print out each soaring day, and making notes on them about the actual soaring conditions I find or that I hear about from other pilots. I plan to look back at them over a long period of time and see how well the forecasts correlate to the results.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

A useful sled ride

The forecast for today was lousy, 250' lift and a 5000' inversion top. No one was staying up. But since I had not flown for a while, and not much at all yet in the PW5, I wanted to fly anyway. With very stable air, no traffic, and essentially no thermals to pursue, I decided to use the time to finally try out my PDA/GPS combo, work with the speed-to-fly indicator, and work more with the radio controls in flight.

The main problem with the PDA/GPS is that the screen is not bright enough to see with my sunglasses on. I kind of got the hang of looking at some of the numbers, such as the AGL, airspeed, etc. (After reviewing the trace on the ground, its recommended speed-to-fly seems consistent with the STF indicator on the vario. But I want to learn more about the flight computer settings for next time.) The numbers for the glide ratio required to reach an airport are WAY too small. So... I think I'm going to have to shop for gradient sunglasses.

Aside from the stuff I was doing with the instruments, it was just pleasant to fly around. In stable air, the PW5 takes only a very light touch on the stick. I found a little zero-sink. A 4200' tow turned into a 30-minute glide.

My landing was straight and very smooth... but short. I think I am using the runway as a visual cue for the landing area, and that is just wrong. I've made a note for next time to specifically look for the landing-zone cone.

I'm now up to 39.5 total hours.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


I picked up a book called Meteorology for Glider Pilots. It's old - 1961 - but it looks really good. The author seems to have been a British professional meteorologist and a glider pilot. I'm about halfway through it. The first several chapters are general meteorology, fairly technical. The latter part is how it applies to soaring. Here's the one thing that has piqued my interest so far.

There's a section on katabatic and anabatic flow. Katabatic is downward flow of cool air through a valley... not terribly useful to the glider pilot but something to be aware of. (See a description of katabatic wind in on glaciers in the popular novel Deception Point by Dan Brown.) Anabatic flow is upward flow of heated air along a slope. If a whole slope of a hill or mountain gets heated, the whole lower layer of air along the slope can "slide" up the hill. Not vertically away from the slope as a classic thermal, but along the slope, toward the top. (Maybe there's no "dripping point" to cause the heated air to break loose from the slope.) I don't think I've seen a description of it in any of the other books I've read. They all talk about thermals, ridge lift (orographic), wave, and sometimes shear lines.

Last year when I flew at Tehachapi with three pilots, we flew up the mountains. At the time I was a bit confused as to the sources of lift we were using. The mountains there did not form a distinct linear ridge, as the classic diagrams of orographic lift show. There were thermals that we used, and sometimes we could see the sources of them (rocky areas), but I could not really imagine a line of thermals coming off of all points of a sloping ridge. Sometimes we were flying right up the "spine" of a sloping ridge, and not in a direction that I could say was within 30 degrees of being perpendicular to the wind direction. So now I'm thinking that maybe anabatic lift was happening on the slopes. And if both sides of a ridge got heated, and anabatic flow happened on both sides, the flows could meet at the top (spine), collide, and be forced straight up. That lift could be twice as strong as each slope's anabatic flow. And unless there was a strong wind to one side, it would not have a turbulent area in the lee of the ridge: the lift is going straight up off the ridge, not orographically being forced up and over at an angle. I think this model explains our mysterious ability to fly up the spine of a ridge all the way to the top of the mountain.

I would welcome other pilots (and meteorologists') comments and experiences!

Grounded by a stupid mistake

Today was forecast to be a moderate day, soaring index about 440. Early flights indicated 400-600 was happening. I got set to take off in the PW5 about 1:30. Two guys were up in the Grob, the instructor and a student were up in the Blanik for quite a while... A new student helped me push out and I got set to go. In the ship, on the runway, tow plane parked in front... I went to adjust the rudder pedals and pulled the canopy emergency release instead! Since it was in the open position (the PW5 canopy is hinged at the front), it fell immediately, landing on the runway and putting a nice 1.5" chip in the rear rim (the white part, not the transparent part).

We looked at it for a moment and realized it was not obvious how to put it back on. So we pushed the glider off to the side and looked some more... still not easy. Hmmm... all the experienced club members are in the air... Aha! Look at the manual! No, it talks about lots of things but not how to put the canopy back on its hinge. I know, wait for the instructor to get back! "No, I've never even flown that model..." After messing around for a while, I got it figured out. By then it was 3:00, the weather was so-so, and I was not in a mood to try again.

Other members tell me I'm not the first to do that. One pilot pulled it in flight, but fortunately in the closed position the two rear latches hold it on. Others have done it on the ground but I'm probably the first to have it drop and cause damage.

What contributed to the mistake? (Not making excuses, just examining the situation to see how to improve.)
  • Inexperience: I've only flown the PW5 3 times. But the canopy release is bright red, and the pedal handle is dull red and down low. Should have been obvious.
  • Distractions: Answering a student's questions while preparing for flight. I don't think this was a big part of it.
  • Rushing: The tow pilot had started her engine as soon as the previous glider took off, and I had already given her the "kill" signal once. I knew I had several steps to go to be ready: belts, pedals, positioning my GPS, water tube, radio mic. The belts were all twisted up... I know it's up to me to do all my steps regardless of the tow pilot - no one was behind me waiting - but it still annoys me when they're ready to go and I'm not.
Next time...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Two passengers

Saturday I took two friends for rides in the Grob 103, M and his son K.

K is a 13-year-old who goes to my church and is somewhat interested in aviation. He'd been waiting all summer for our schedules to coincide. The day was hazy and about 75-80 degrees, a cold front having just gone through. Wind was about 12-14 kts at 45 degrees to the runway, and I decided it was OK. (Later I checked and that works out to a 9-10 kt crosswind component. I was comfortable with the wind, and it did not cause any problems on takeoff or tow.) Lift was forecast at 250, and it that's about all we got. We took a 3800' tow, nearly to the top of the haze layer and a bit below the few clouds that were around. About 5 minutes into the flight, I noticed I had no yaw string! K was OK with the flying and turning, so I went ahead and worked some of the weak lift and zero sink, and we got a 31-minute flight out of it. The crosswind was still present at landing but not a problem - I even got a compliment from someone on the ground about my nice straight landing.

I had tried to take M before in the Blanik L13, but since he's 6' 7" he was too tall. But he fit in the back seat of the Grob just fine. He gets motion sick but has been soaring once before and wanted to go again. I promised to take it easy. The wind was still about the same, brisk but not too strong. (This time I added a yaw string! I think we should put that on the daily inspection checklist.) We again went to 3800' and let off in light lift which promptly disappeared. We flew around a while and found less lift than last time. I think the haze/smog was inhibiting the heating of the ground, and the wind was blowing out the thermals. M had a good time looking at the nearby lakes and finding the route we had driven in on. There wasn't much lift to work with and M started to feel slightly ill after about 20 minutes so we came down, making it a 26-minute flight.

I was high on late downwind and base leg, so I used a turning slip to bring us down, which worked quite well. Landing in the crosswind was again OK - I seem to naturally find the correct slip angle for a straight approach. But I let my speed get low at the very end and probably stalled at about 3" to 6" above the ground - a bump but not too hard. So that's on my things-to-practice list... I have never done that in the Blanik or PW5, so maybe it has something to with the apparent attitude from the cockpit, or the effectiveness of the spoilers... I need to watch the speed more closely after the flare.

Another thing to remember with the Grob: an instructor pointed it out and I have noticed it too. The Grob rolls into a turn rather slowly, so you need to start the turn from base to final just a bit earlier than you might think, or you overshoot the approach and have to make a more-than-90-degree turn to final, which is NOT a good thing.

I'm up to about 39 hours of logged time.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Third flight in PW-5

The weather reports and the soaring forecast did not predict a good day today. A low pressure system was centered right on the local area, and the air was very stable. But since I had not flown for a while I went anyway. As expected, there were very few ships flying... one or two very experienced pilots staying up.

J took a 4000' tow and only got 22 minutes out of it, reporting one area of weak lift right near the Initial Point, at pattern altitude, therfore hard to exploit. I also took a 4000' tow. I should have let off at about 3700' because we went through some OK lift. After I released I went back to that spot but could not find anything.

This was only my third flight in the PW-5, as I've been flying the Grob 103 lately. My takeoff was fine but on tow it seemed a bit squirrely, and I had to make an effort to stay slightly above the towplane. Not too bad, but something to work on. Using a lighter touch on the stick seemed to help.

Off tow, I found it very comfortable to fly. My other flights in the PW-5 were on stronger, turbulent days and I got bounced around pretty well. Today was (unfortunately) quite smooth. I finally did find a bit of lift at about 1500' AGL but only worked it up about 300' before losing it all very quickly to the sink monster.

Pattern and landing were good. Light crosswind from the left. I got a little slow after the flare, but because I had stalled a landing some weeks before I was prepared. I adjusted well with elevator and spoilers and had a smooth, straight touchdown in the box and great rollout.

I had been hoping for a fairly relaxed, satisfying flight and I got it... but short, only 30 minutes since I couldn't find much lift.

Just before takeoff, my PDA/GPS combo got into some sub-screen of SeeYou Mobile that I could not get out of. I didn't want to delay takeoff, so I put it away and ignored it. So I still have not had an opportunity to try it out in flight.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

More thoughts on landings

The last post was basically a description of the weekend's flights. But what did I learn? What do I think?

Out of my approximately 130 flights so far, only 7 or 8 landings have been on an asphalt runway, although we have one at my home field. I think our training should include runway landings, but it doesn't. That's partly because my local field's rules require students to land in the dirt, and only private pilots and the commercial pilots of the FBO may land on the runway. I think we should address this with our club board and the gliderport operator.

Thermal soaring at Tehachapi

The club took a field trip to Tehachapi over the holiday weekend, bringing along the PW5 and the Grob 103. I've flown there before with other pilots in a Blanik, and this time I was looking forward to flying solo over the mountains or maybe flying cross-country with another pilot. It didn't quite work out that way but I had a good time and learned quite a bit.

The winds were not favorable much of the weekend, south or north at 10-15 kt much of the time. At Tehachapi, a south or north wind (a) makes for crosswind landings, (b) blows out the thermals, and (c) does not favor shear line formation.

So I didn't fly Sat. - hardly anyone did. Sun. was better, so I did what I thought would be a checkout flight over the mountains with an instructor. (I have my cert, but club rules require an instructor checkout for new environments in club ships.) It turned out that the lift wasn't working over the mountains so we thermaled over the valley for about an hour. We spent quite a bit of time working on getting the most out of the best side of a thermal, and tighter control of speed and bank angle. We had up to 5 ships at a time in the same thermal, and unlike other gaggles I've been in, we were often at nearly the same altitude. So I got some good practice at spacing and speed control and lookout.

My landing was good but my rollout was terrible. Unlike Hemet, where we land in 800x300 feet of dirt, Mountain Valley Airport has two asphalt runways, one for power and one for gliders. I don't know how long the glider runway is - maybe 3000', but only about 8 feet wide! Think about that - an 8' wide runway to land a 50' wide aircraft! Last year I had landed there 3 times, and I think some of them were on the wider power runway, and in the Blanik, which has a swiveling tailwheel. The Grob has fixed wheels, so steering is harder. I was all over the place and, sincer there were gliders staged in the center of the runway for takeoff, I was concerned about running into them, so I braked too much and stopped way short. So... It wasn't unsafe, but it certainly wasn't pretty! After that, I knew I'd need some more flights with CFI before I'd get signed off to fly the Grob solo here. The wind came up again, so no one flew very late into the afternoon.

Monday morning was pretty calm. Several of us did pattern flights. I did two, and both were good landings and good rollouts, much straighter and rolled nicely back to the starting line, stopping perfectly level! So CFI signed me off for solo. Unfortunately the lift got a late start, and the crosswind returned - not strong, but definitely cross. A couple of us were going to fly again but with the late start and marginal lift and knowing we had to tear down both gliders and drive home, we gave up and stayed on the ground.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Spins in the Blanik L-13

I should have done spins a long time ago, but for various reasons I never got to them until now. The FAA does not require spins as part of the PPG practical test, they just require that you demonstrate awareness of them. I had done a lot of reading about them, and had done them a number of times on my simulator (Sailors of the Sky), so I felt if the situation came up I would know how to react. I know, I know: that's not the same as having training... so this weekend I arranged it with an instructor.

My biplane ride (see last week's entry) included a 2-turn spin, so I knew what I was in for. The downward part was not bad, but entry was kind of extreme: it seemed to me that the nose was quite high and we winged-over, like entering the spin from a chandelle. Maybe that was intentional, since it was a "thrill ride".

We took the L-13 up to 4000' AGL and the CFI demonstrated the first one. Then I did two myself.

You really don't have to nose up much, only about 30 degrees. Then when it stalls, kick in the rudder. The nose drops, and then it starts turning as the nose points to the ground. I know it's not vertical: according to the Blanik specs the nose is only 60-70 degrees down, but it sure feels vertical. But there was none of that wing-over effect, it just smoothly went down and started turning. With a turn rate of about 3.5 seconds, it was not at all disorienting or dizzying.

Full opposite rudder, push the stick to about the center position, and it comes right out of the spin after just part of a turn. CFI emphasized not pulling out of the resulting dive too sharply.

I think both of my spins were about 1.0 to 1.5 turns. I earned a "very good" in my logbook. People on the ground said it looked like fun - and it was!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

First aerobatic powered flight

I spent a week vacationing at Pismo Beach, CA, which did not lend itself to soaring (well, not full-scale anyway). But right next door was the Oceano airport, and there's a fellow there who sells rides in a bright yellow 1943 Stearman biplane. I've never been in a small power plane, so I thought it would be fun... and why just do a scenic flight? So I went for the "thrill ride" aerobatic flight. I've never done any aerobatics, not even spins (I know, I know, I need to do spin training!). But I've never been airsick with steep turns, stalls, etc., so I figured I'd probably do fine with a little aerobatics.

After a quite steep takeoff, and a short flight to gain altitude and waggle our wings at a shiny twin Beech, it was time to crank up to 140 kts and do the aerobatic sequence. First a loop, then a "hammerhead" (technically a chandelle, I think), and a "barrel roll" (technically a snap roll?). The loop was cool - part of the way I looked sideways like I do on looping roller coasters. I was surprised that the G force was not very strong. It felt like less G than some of my early stall pullouts. The hammerhead is definitely a zero-G maneuver: the headset cords were floating up in my face for quite a while. Then the roll, which seemed to have a spiral component, not just a roll around the longitudinal axis. Lots of fun!

Then we flew around a bit and he took it up to about 2300' and did a spin. The tip-over into the spin was a little disconcerting, but then the spin itself was much tamer than I imagined. The world goes around, but not really very fast, so not very disorienting. Two full turns and then we were out of it. So now I'm a little more enthusiastic about doing spin training in gliders - probably next weekend.

We flew around the beach and the sand dunes a while, checking out the ATV riders from about 500' AGL. Then out over the ocean to spot humpback whales! We saw two from maybe a quarter mile away, but each time they stayed down when we got closer, so no really good looks. Maybe they could hear that noisy Stearman coming! Flying along the ocean at 100 kts and 200' AGL was pretty cool, too. I did notice (as I have read before) that the ocean waves give very poor clues as to your altitude. The altimeter said 200' but it looked like we were less than 100' high. Very deceptive - it would make landing on water tricky.

Next week - back to silent flight!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Deciding NOT to fly

Sometimes a pilot needs to know when NOT to fly. Sometimes in a club you spend your time pushing other pilots' planes around and not getting to fly. Today was one of those days.

The weather has been hot and rather humid, with a high pressure system pushing tropical air northwestward and causing thunderstorms. Some days have flyable and some have been blown out. Today was hot (108 in the shade at noon). We could see a storm to the east over Mt. San Jacinto, but it did not seem to be coming our way. Checking the radar map on from my Blackberry, I saw storms near Palm Springs but nothing near Hemet (more on that later). Others took instructional flights and BFR's in the morning but no lift was happening until after 12:00.

We saw haze patches form up into nice little CU's north of the field, and still no T-storms approaching, so I got my stuff together and we pushed out the Grob 103. A few things started to not feel right:
  • The wind started to pick up - not too strong, about 10-11 kt, pretty much aligned with the runway, but too steady to be simple thermals going through.
  • The AWOS was not much help - many parts were missing or just plain wrong.
  • A metal glider came in to land and I could see he was fighting the wind.
  • A little power plane took off and his ground speed looked about 25 kt. So obviously the wind was even stronger in the air.
  • The little CU's were quickly developing into big CU's.
  • We started to see blowing dust from the southeast.

So I was not getting that warm-and-fuzzy feeling. Correction: quite warm, not so fuzzy.

By the time I was ready and the towplane was back from a high tow, it was about 1:30. It all added up to a T-storm approaching from the south, and not a lot of open sky to the north by those local CU's. I had seen this happen before, with an instructor present to help explain all the signs. So although I was on the runway, next to take off, and the towplane was pulling up in front of me, and someone else had just taken off 10 minutes before, I cancelled my flight. I'm glad I did! By the time we had the Grob tied down, the wind was 90 degrees to the runway and dusty. Had I launched any time in the preceding half hour or so, I would have had a bad time landing.

Other gliders started landing as quickly as they could. I think one glass ship landed crosswise to the runway, which would be into the wind. I think so - I just heard it, didn't see it land... but it either cross-landed or weathercocked very strongly. Everyone tied down quickly and compared notes to see who might still be up... It turned into quite a dust storm, but did not start raining before I left. Pilots on the radio were commenting on the dust obscuring the field and discussing landing other places. Last I heard, AWOS said the wind was 23 kts gusting to 28.

Now I realize that although we have a good view in most directions, the south view is largely blocked by nearby hills. So a T-storm can come from that way and the first warning is the wind.

I checked the Wunderground radar as I drove away, and it still showed nothing in that area. So apparently whatever radar they use has a big blind spot! Now I need to search for another PDA-friendly web site with better radar. 15 miles away, I drove into a torrential rain.

So it turned out that there was only about an hour of good soaring, and I missed it. As I mentioned to a new student, no sense in flying when it's dangerous. Remember, we're doing this for fun, not to prove anything.

Your experiences and comments are invited!

Friday, July 29, 2005

First remote field checkout

I achieved another goal today: renting and flying a sailplane at a gliderport where I have never flown before. Business took me to Orlando, FL, so I found the closest gliderport and made plans to fly there. Seminole-Lake gp is near Clermont, just 20 miles from where I was staying. They have a Grob 103 and some Blanik L23's. We decided the Grob was the best choice even tho I only had 6 flights in it, one solo.

So, this was my first "field checkout". We went over the airspace (they're in Class C and near B), and an aerial photo with their patterns drawn out. Runways are 18 and 36, grass. Due to the choices of emergency fields available, they take off to the north (with up to moderate tailwinds) and land to the south. This is a huge expanse of green grass, mowed pretty short, with a few humps and mild swales.

Their Grob 103 seems to be a later model than ours. I preflighted it mostly by myself and noted the following differences:

* fixed gear
* elevator trim is a tab, not a spring
* stab attachment is different
* control linkages are different, and don't have safety pins
* wing attachments
* harnesses
* canopy locks
* airbrakes don't protrude much when first opened, so their effect is more linear

This was good experience to see how other locations operate. Several differences in field and tow methods.

Since there was no one to run the wing, we did a wing-down takeoff - my first! Very easy, since it's off grass.

It was HOT and HUMID! About 90 degrees and 85% humidity. There was lots of lift, marked by nearly 50% CU cover, but in a narrow altitude band. Cloudbase was about 2500' AGL, and SLGP has a lower thermaling limit of 1200'. Field elevation is 120'. So... Not able to go very high that early in the day (11:00).

We turned a 2000' tow into a 25 minute flight. Lots of narrow thermals. Vultures and other birds helped. I still need some work on coordination and speed control, but after a few minutes I had it working pretty well.

One of my concerns was terrain recognition. That turned out not to be much of a problem. Although it's a sea of green, there are several roads and some distinctive lakes that served as excellent landmarks.

I had a smooth landing, shorter that the instructor would have liked, but nearly in the middle of this 3000' field. Then I found out why he recommended the spot he did: instead of stopping as short as possible, as we do at home, we just closed the brakes and rolled - and rolled - and rolled - what seemed like 200 yards or so back to our starting point. The Grob on short grass feels like it has an engine!

So then he made a couple observations and signed me off. We turned the ship around (you can do that with 1 person on grass) and I took off again. I let off at 1800' in lift, and worked it up to cloudbase at about 2350'. It felt no cooler up there, due to the high dew point and obviously 100% humidity at cloudbase. I was dripping! Then I could not find any other usable lift and at 1200' got ready to land.

My landing was in a better spot this time but I had some excess speed and bounced it a bit. Not bad, but I need to be smoother opening the brakes when floating. I rolled it back to the takeoff point. After pushing the Grob off the field mostly by myself (heavy, but it can be done - on grass), I was done for the day. I was hoping for more than a 17 minute flight, but was too hot to consider flying again.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Flying by the seat of one's pants

I've read about it, I've flown with people who tried to teach it, and I've felt hints of it before. But yesterday in the Grob was the first time I've clearly felt the lift of a thermal more consistently than I could detect it on the variometer. And yesterday's lift wasn't all that great.

The varios in the Grob are not as straightforward to use as the ones in the Blaniks. There are two: one directly connected to the static system, and one electric. The electric one is (at least yesterday) very "nervous", jumping up to 4-6kt for just a half-second, then back down to 1-2kt just as fast. I found it hard to use for centering a thermal. The direct one is less jumpy, but much slower to react. OK for gauging the strength of a thermal over time, or the strength of a shear line. But not useful for finding the center of a small or weak thermal.

Since I'm still getting used to the turn and rudder characteristics of the Grob, I spent a lot of time looking at the horizon, yaw string, and airspeed indicator. Then sometimes I would feel a silent "whoosh" upward, check the vario, and sure enough I was in about 1-2kt lift. Very cool!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Weather & other prep info

For every soaring day, I prepare by getting as much info as I can about the conditions. Here's what I usually look at:

For non-weather stuff:

I'm now starting to save the things I print, and make some notes on them at the end of the day. I'm hoping to review them over time and see which products are the best predictors.

First solo flight in the Grob 103

I went on Sunday hoping to have longer access to the Grob and maybe get more than an hour’s flight. Fortunately one other club member was there – no way I could push a 973-lb. glider by myself! Unfortunately the conditions were not favorable. Although it was hot – high 90’s – a moderate breeze at the ground level seemed to be killing the thermals. The ADDS forecast winds changing about 90 degrees at 4000’, so even if thermals got through the low winds they’d be subject to a shear. And an inversion would cap them, too. There were very few private pilots flying. But about 1:30 I gave it a try, for practice if nothing else. I let off about 2900’ AGL and didn’t find any lift until about 1400-1700’ AGL. I got a 40-minute flight but never above 1700’. I think that was the longest soaring flight of the day. It was rather bumpy, esp. on tow. So I basically practiced turns and scratching for thermals in this new-to-me ship. It’s nice, but the rudder is really sensitive. A little is too much.

I also futzed with my new GPS setup. It records OK, but is hard to see. With sunglasses off it would be OK, but I can’t fly without sunglasses. I’m experimenting with different screen glare films, maybe one will work. Otherwise I may need to look into some different colored glasses.

My Plantronics mini headset plus into the Grob’s radio jacks but doesn’t work, so I’ll need to research that… schematics, impedance, etc.

I used my Camelbak for the first time. There's plenty of room for it by my shoulder but I need to find a simpler way to strap it in. Lesson: put it in at the last minute - the water gets hot.

So, lots of new stuff today. I was cautious to not focus on non-essential distractions during flight.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Checked out in the Grob 103

Today I had a couple more instructional flights in the Grob. I needed to practice energy management during the approach, so we did pattern tows. My speed control was much better than last time - when it crept up a little bit I brought it back down within seconds. My landings were right at the beginning of the box, where they should be. A brisk wind helped stop the ship just at the end of the second box... without a wind, the Grob just rolls and rolls.

On the second tow, there was a bit of turbulence and I got a rather big loop of slack in the line. I yawed the ship away from the center of the turn and pulled it out very smoothly, and lined back up perfectly with absolutely no recoil or overshoot. Instructor B was very impressed.

One surprising thing about the Grob is the abrupt effect of the spoilers. Once you crack them out of the locked position, there's a very noticable drop. Then extending them is pretty linear... but that first increment is really big. Even though I was rather high, I never really extended them to the recommended halfway position during the base leg (the wind probably helped). The good news is that closing them and opening them actively after the flare really gave me good control of the float, allowing me to set it down right where I wanted (because my speed was well under control).

After the second flight the instructor said he didn't need to see anything further, and signed me off to fly the ship.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Sharing the fun

6-18-2005 - One of the most fun things about being a soaring pilot is introducing soaring to a new person. Today I took a friend-of-a-friend for a ride. The only passengers I'd taken before were my daughters - never a stranger. This was a 19-year-old named Nathan who's entering the US Air Force Academy in a few days. The Academy uses Blanik L-23 gliders to train cadets, not unlike our L-13. He'd been in a small aircraft once before, a four-passenger power plane, and enjoyed it. So he was pretty excited.

We went up about 11:00, before the thermals were really working, early enough that it wouldn't be too turbulent. We found some zero sink and a few 1 to 3 kt areas, just enough to turn a 3000' tow into a 30-minute flight. He was perfectly fine with circling and had a great time looking around and learning about the instruments.

At one point I saw a shadow cross directly below us, so we quickly scanned around to see what traffic might be near. Nathan spotted a hawk circling about 100' above us. After a few turns he was next to us, then I finally saw him about 50' below. Apparently a Blanik outclimbs a hawk! Then he was gone... Very cool.

Before the flight, an instructor mentioned that the rear ASI was underreporting, and that I would have to watch the front one. That works OK but it's annoying and makes it harder to keep speed constant. But I dealt with it OK. CFI didn't say not to fly or not to take my passenger - he just expected me to deal with it. That felt good. I’m also perfectly comfortable flying from the back seat now… no visibility or control issues at all.

The lift wasn’t strong enough to sustain us very long. When we got down to about 1400-1500’ AGL and it was time to head for the IP, I was further away than I had realized. I had to tiptoe back at exactly the best L/D and hope for no sink… I angled toward the base end of the field rather than the IP in case I needed to use an abbreviated pattern. Fortunately we found just a bit of lift and so we entered the 45 a bit downwind and at just about 100’ less than usual, so it all worked out… but I do need to watch my position better during the last 1000’ before pattern entry. Then we found lift on downwind, and ended up at about 600’ AGL turning base, so go figure. We had a nice, steep final and a perfect landing right in the box.

I had hoped to either fly the Grob with the instructor (still getting checked out) or the PW-5 (and try out my new GPS system) but neither worked out because it was quite a busy day for the club. Next time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

GPS gear

Now I have my GPS system just about ready to go. I have an HP iPAQ 2215, an extra-large battery, and a Transplant CF GPS receiver with WAAS. The Transplant took some weeks to arrive.

I've downloaded three software packages to try before buying, but only two of them can run in demo mode with GPS input. I have not flown with any of them yet.

So far I really like SeeYou Mobile. Nice mix of terrain or plain, nice big buttons, well organized. It has lots of features but you don't have to use them if you don't want. As a programmer, I'm really impressed by this software!

Now I just need to work out the mounting of the unit. In the PW5, we have a bracket for mounting one's GPS or nav device. The iPAQ-GPS combo is tall enough it will block an instrument, so I don't think I can use the bracket. I would have to get a suction-cup mount or use a leg strap. At the moment I'm trying to work out the leg strap idea. I cannot find a ready-made soft case for the iPAQ with the extra battery. I found a company that will custom-make one, so I may go that route.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

More Grob

Two more flights with instructor B. in the Grob 103. Good takeoff, OK on tow, but not as good as with the other ships. It's harder to coordinate turns than the other ships. The rudder is big and powerful (has to be, because of the long wings), and very sensitive. I'm OK in shallow turns but still need to work on rolling in and out of steeper turns.

My first landing was a bit short, because I didn't think to close the airbrakes and just let it float. The second was better. Need to work on speed control in the pattern - it was good most of the time but crept up by about 5kt a couple times.

I would have liked to take up the PW-5 too, because a convergence came in that was generating some CU. But we were working on repairing the battery connector wires, and it wasn't ready to go until quite late in the day.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Some FAA benefits

I went to an FAA-sponsored seminar this week at the local airport. It was on the legal and liability aspects of being a pilot, owner, or operator. The main speakers were two attorneys who deal with aviation accidents, one on the plaintiff's side and one on the defense side. Both had excellent experiences to share about how liability lawsuits work, which parties can be sued, and what kind and amount of insurance is helpful. They also touched on various asset-protection methods and estate planning methods, although they did not have a lot of time to get into those aspects. Very good!

I picked up a copy of a bimonthly magazine named FAA Aviation News: Aviation Safety from Cover to Cover. Lots of good articles - I'm going to subscribe! Check this out: full back issues are available on line in PDF format at

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Looking instead of flying

Camping at Big Bear Lake this weekend... The soaring forecast for the local field was for thermal tops to be over 10,000 ft and over Big Bear to 17,000. I know some of the pilots go from the valley up over the mountains, so I thought maybe I'd see someone soaring. Sure enough, while we were out on a boat in the middle of the lake, I spotted two: one north of the lake and then one just south, nearly at cloudbase. Very cool... a goal to look forward to someday.

We've camped up here a number of times. I bet there have always been sailplanes above us and I never even knew it.

Let's see... 17,000 ft * a conservative 25:1 glide ratio / 6020 feet means you could glide 70 nautical miles...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Comparing three gliders

Now that I've flown three different models, I find myself comparing them. I'm sure I'll think of more aspects, but here are several:

Weight: Empty, PW5 about 440 lbs, Blanik about 650, Grob about 880. So PW5 with one person weighs about half the Grob with two. This all affects the feeling of inertia and stability. Rollout distance is influenced greatly by the weight.

Wingspan: P < B < G. Noticeable effect on roll rate! Will have to remember that when trying to enter a thermal in the Grob.

Attitude: B seems to fly level (or maybe it just feels more "normal" since I've flown it so much more. P seems nose-high: if I fly it "level" it's really nose down and flying too fast. G (only once so far) seems nose-low: I had to push it over to get it to fly fast enough.

Roll-out: B is a taildragger with rotating tailwheel. It'll go where you want it on rollout: for example, you can steer it to a desired point to ease the next takeoff. P is a nosedragger with non-turning gear. Once on the ground, it goes in a straight line. G is a taildragger with non-turning tailwheel, also tarcks straight. P and G: better get 'em straight before touchdown!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

First flight in Grob 103

5-7-05 First flight in the Grob 103, a two-seat fiberglass ship. The club recently reactivated it after having put it in storage for about a year. Since it’s bigger, heavier, and flies differently from the Blaniks, the club rules require additional training, so everyone is clamoring for instructor time in it. The weather was mostly cloudy. There was lift around – several glass ships were staying up – but not really a very strong day. So I flew one 18-minute flight with a CFI. The way it’s built gives it a much more solid feel than the Blanik – none of the rattles etc. The long wings and greater inertia make it roll slowly. But it’s very slippery – it floats forever after flare and before touchdown. We did a few stalls, straight and turning. This ship will hardly stall at all – a lot of buffeting and then a VERY gentle stall. I bet it only loses about 10 feet of altitude.

My flight was fine, my landing fine, except that I misunderstood how the wheel brake worked and reached over to grab the trim handle thinking it was the brake. Later I learned from other pilots that the wheel brake is not very effective in the Grob, so I probably couldn’t feel it grabbing even when I was pulling the right handle. I figure it will take about 5 flights or so before getting signed off in the Grob. It will be a much nicer ship than the Blanik for giving passenger rides.

Aside from flying, it was a very busy day on the ground. That’s part of being in a club – everyone has to share in work. Most of the club is going on a campout next weekend, so some people disassembled and trailered the PW5, others packed up gear for it and a Blanik. I helped T and N get the pitot-static system working again on the Grob. I also helped transfer a half-mile of steel cable (used for auto-towing) from one spool to another.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

PW5 second flight

An interesting day, weather-wise. Rain a couple of days ago, so it wasn't exactly a post-frontal day. High cirrus until about noon, then that cleared out and the sun started heating things up. We could see CU in the distance, but all clear air at our field. Early landers said there was a lot of lift but a lot of sink too. When I went up, it took quite a while to find ANY lift but I eventually kept finding decent stuff. (Hard to tell how strong it really is - the vario in the PW5 seems really nervous to me - big swings up and down. I don't think I'm flying in and out of it that badly. But maybe that's just a result of how light the ship is compared to the Blanik.) I was up about 5800' MSL when CU started forming right where I was, and it just got more and more puffy over the next hour. I topped out at 6300' MSL. Up in the 5-6 range there was lift all over the place - but BUMPY! Bounced me around pretty good - I'll just have to get used to that, since the PW5 seems to react really fast. I stayed up an hour - that's our club's time slot size, and I thought another guy was going to want to go up again. (I should have checked by radio - he had already left!)

VERY smooth landing, right in the box. Having two inflated tires instead of a hard tailwheel makes it much nicer. It was so smooth and quiet that no one from the club noticed I had landed.

Some dual glass ship joined me in a thermal for a while. He was higher, so it was easy to keep an eye on him. I've gaggled before, but this time I think I was climbing faster than he was, and he was making a bigger circle, so I tended to climb up inside him which made me a bit nervous. I lost sight of him a couple of times but we were never quite at the same altitude so it worked out. He eventually headed away before I topped out.

I also shared a thermal with some seagulls at about 4000' AGL.

Next time I definitely need to try the Camelbak. A water bottle just doesn't fit in the PW5's pocket.

I practiced again keeping track of my location with a map. We have a topo map that's been conveniently marked with names of local landmarks. (I haven't gone far enough yet for a sectional to be useful.) I spent a bunch of time thermaling over a little lake with a campground, and realized I had camped there with my parents when I was about 10! At the time I had no idea where we were... but the name on the map and the layout of the lake matched my memory.

At the end of an hour I was pretty well done anyway. The PW5 takes a little more concentration than the Blanik, especially for speed control.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

GPS and Navigation

A couple of months ago I realized that when I start flying a higher-performance ship and start learning to go cross-country, I should get a GPS system and/or navigational computer. At first I thought I wanted a little handheld GPS, like a Garmin. I got some recommendations from club members and RAS members. I priced Garmin and Lowrance units that seemed popular. But they don't really have any features specifically for soaring, and the screens of the low-priced ones seem too small to be useful.

I thought about PDA-based nav computers. I decided against Palm OS devices. I have a Palm and I love it, although I don't use it much anymore now that I have a Blackberry from work. But I've had my Palm crash enough times that I don't trust the OS for flight duties. Plus they just are not as powerful CPU-wise as Pocket PC's. I was skeptical of Windows-based devices because I have a lot of experience with Windows on PC's and servers. But the best soaring software seems to be written for that platform. No one seems to be complaining about stability. I have decided that it will be more stable if I don't load a bunch of other personal software on it: it will be a dedicated navigation tool, not a PDA.

There seem to be some very nice slot-based GPS receivers that integrate well with the pocket PC platform. It's no longer necessary to run a cable to a standalone GPS box: the GPS becomes part of the handheld. 

So at the SSA convention I attended a session comparing features of soaring software. I remember narrowing in on one of the programs, although at the moment I don't recall which one I liked. I don't need all the racing features at this time.

I read lots of opinions on RAS about screen legibility. It's not perfect but some are pretty good.  Cumulus Soaring has a great rundown of devices and packages. So I settled on the HP ipaq 2200 or 2215. With a Transplant CF GPS and a big battery, it can run for many hours. Only problem is: it's not made anymore and it was expensive ($600 new). So ebay sounded like a good option.

After two tries I found a good deal on a (I hope) lightly used ipaq 2215 with lots of memory and the big battery. It's coming to me via UPS as I write. I hope I'm not buying someone else's problem device, but the refurb units from HP are too expensive.

Now I need to order the GPS unit. And I need  to dig thru my notes to refresh my memory about software, and get that on order.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Endorsements and Documents

After having to postpone my Private Pilot practical test once due to a couple of missing endorsements, I did some research and came up with 15 (yes, fifteen) required endorsements and documents. This list is for Private Pilot - Glider with no previous ratings, as of November 2004. This may change, and may be different if you're adding Glider as a rating to your existing certificate. As you prepare to take your practical, show this to your instructor(s) and see if they have anything to add or subtract. Better yet, fax this and copies of your docs and endorsements to your examiner in advance of the test, and make sure HE/SHE is happy with it!

1. Part 61.31(j)(ii) requires a logbook endorsement for aerotow in order to be Pilot In Command using aerotow. (You need an endorsement for whatever type of tow you will use in your test, because you are acting as PIC for the flights.) The SSA logbook (even the new one) does not have a preprinted spot for this.

2. Part 61.35(a)(1) and 61.105(b) requires an endorsement for aeronautical knowledge.

3. Part 61.39(a)(1) requires passing the knowledge test within 24 months of the practical test.

4. Part 61.39(a)(6)(i) requires training time within 60 days of the application, in preparation for the practical test.

5. Part 61.39(a)(6)(ii) requires endorsement that the applicant is prepared for the practical test.

6. Part 61.39(a)(6)(iii) requires an endorsement that the applicant has demonstrated satisfactory knowledge in the areas missed on the knowledge test.

7. Part 61.39(a)(7) requires a completed application.

8. Part 61.87(c) requires pre-solo flight training.

9. Part 61.87(n)(1) requires an endorsement on the student certificate (not logbook) for the specific make and model.

10. Part 61.87(n)(2) requires an endorsement for solo every 90 days.

11. Part 61.105(b) requires ground training for aeronautical knowledge.

12. Part 61.107(b) requires ground and flight training.

13. Part 61.109(f)(1) requires 10 hours of flight in a glider.

14. Part 61.109(f)(1)(i) requires 20 flights in a glider, including 3 training flights in preparation for the practical test within 60 days of the test.

15. Part 61.109(f)(1)(ii) requires 2 hours of solo time and at least 10 launches and landings.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Here's a list of the stuff I take along for a day of local soaring in club ships at my home airport. If you're just starting out you might not think of some of these items. There's a lot MORE stuff I would need for cross-country soaring!

Flashlight A little Maglight for looking inside the wings and fuselage during preflight inspections.

Multitool The first time I went on a club trip, when we started to assemble the ships, everyone had a Leatherman on his belt, so I figured I better get with the program. I always used to take it off before flying (just more junk on my belt), but then I read accounts of in-flight emergencies wherein the pilots had to use pliers to crimp a wire, or a knife to cut something that was jammed, so now I leave it on.

Stopwatch I got a cheap digital stopwatch for timing my flight. Then I learned that cheap digital stopwatches black out when they get hot, so I wear it on the inside of my wrist to keep it shaded.

Sunscreen There's no shade at our field!

Ziploc bags Airsick bags. I've never needed them but passengers have. Get the kind with the slide closer, so if you do need one while flying it's easier to close with one hand on the stick.

E6B electronic flight computer Used more during training and the written test than in real life.

Hat Sorry, I just can't do the "bucket hat" that seems to be so popular with soaring pilots. I like the AOPA's baseball cap because it has NO BUTTON on top. These are really hard to find elsewhere. In a tiny cockpit, a button is a real hazard to your skull and the canopy!

Radio Our trainer doesn't have a built-in radio, so I got an ICOM IC-A5 handheld. Also handy on the ground for accessing AWOS, learning communications techniques and keeping in contact with local pilots.

Radio gear:
  • Headset I cannot hear the handheld with the wind noise, so a headset is a must. I got a cool little earpiece-type that clips onto my sunglasses.
  • Push-to-talk switch This has velcro so you can stick it to the stick.
  • Patch cable This ties the radio, PTT switch, headset, and mic together. Also makes for quite a tangle in the cockpit.
  • Velcro strap So what do you do with the radio in the cockpit? Stick it in the dumb little pocket where you can't reach it? Get a wide velcro strap and clip the radio to your right thigh. It's visible and within reach but out of the way.
  • Battery pack The ICOM NiCd only lasts so long... I got the extra pack for alkaline AAA's.
Log book

Notebook To keep all my training materials, glider manuals, sectional, plotter etc. in one place. I got the view kind and I stick the Soaring Forecast in the front and the wind forecast map in the back and leave it out so others can use the info.

Personal soaring notes I have a "cheat sheet" on which I list things I need to work on or remember. Once those things have become instinctive, I drop them off the list. Actually, this is a note in my PDA so I can jot things down as I think of them wherever I am.

Pen For the preflight checklist, aircraft flight log, and my log book.

Plotter Cheap plastic one.

Sectional chart Current!

Lunch If I have time to pack one.

Snack In case I don't.

Spare contact lenses

Eye drops

Soaring Flight Manual Gotta have it.

Soaring forecast Our local NWS office produces a daily soaring forecast for the whole Southern California region.

Water bottles A little twist-top one that fits in the cockpit pocket. A quart one that I freeze so it lasts nearly all day.

Camelback water pack I got one of these 'cuz it looked like a good idea. It doesn't work out in the Blanik because of the cushion shape, but I think it'll work out in the PW5. Try out every model you can find because they vary widely in capacity, comfort, and the location of the tube can interfere with radio etc.

Wind forecast I print the winds aloft map from ADDS (See the Java Tools tab at ).

Coat or sweatshirt


Sunglasses This is a whole subject in itself. I use American Optical's FG-58.

Handkerchief For cleaning my sunglasses.

Digital camera Since I write the club newsletter, I need to take pics of members, activities, etc. It would also be important to have a camera in case of an incident or accident.

Cell phone

PDA Several soaring-related things in my Palm. I'm going to change from a Palm to a Pocket PC with dedicated soaring software and a GPS.
  • HandyShop is a program intended for shopping lists, but makes a great checklist tool.
  • Weight and balance calculator You can use your e6B for this, but a dedicated program lets you store the moment arms for your particular aircraft. You can buy/download these. I wrote my own in a database called HandyBase.
  • Soaring notes mentioned above.
  • Phone numbers of club members in case of a land-out!

Monday, April 11, 2005


Books I have read over the last two years:


The Art and Technique of Soaring by Wolters
Very good

Glider Flying Handbook by the FAA
Very good - goes into much more depth than the FAA standard Soaring Flight Manual

Going Solo by Piggott
OK - not really about going solo, just about soaring in general.

The Joy of Soaring by Conway
Very good as a training book. Now rather dated.

Learning to Fly Gliders by Bob Wander
Not so good. It's a syllabus with not much real info.

Soaring Accidents that Almost Happened by du Pont
Very good, lots to learn from. Don't show this one to your spouse.

Soaring Flight Manual by the SSA
Good, the standard manual used by instructors and referenced by the FAA tests.

Transition to Single Seat Made Easy by Bob Wander
Very good workbook

With Wings as Eagles by Halacy
Wonderful!! One of my favorites. The first chapters are a great non-technical, inspirational intro for non-pilots.

Aviation in general

Aerodynamics of the Airplane by Millikan
Very technical, tough to get through

The Art of Instrument Flying by Williams
Good, assumes you are working with an instructor. I haven't finished this one yet.

Private Pilot Test Prep by ASA
Very good practice material

Congested Airspace: A Pilot's Guide by Garrison

More with Less by Ciotti
Bio of Paul MacCready, very good

Pilot's Guide to Weather Reports, Forecasts & Flight Planning by Lankford

The Proficient Pilot by Barry Schiff

Simplifying the FAR/AIM by Guilkey
Bad. doesn't simplify or explain anything, just quotes the FAR/AIM

Stick and Rudder by Langewiesche
Wonderful!! This one tells you how an airplane really works.

Understanding Flying by Taylor

Weather Patterns and Phenomena: A Pilot's Guide by Turner


This blog will focus on the sport and art and science of soaring - that is, sailplanes and gliders. I hope this will be helpful to other student pilots... and maybe fun for others as well. (When I started out, I found a wonderful web site about a student's experiences in Aboyne, Scotland. It's offline now... if anyone knows where it's available, please post! This won't be nearly so organized... )

I got my Private Pilot Certificate - Glider a couple of months ago. It would have been good to blog from the beginning, but I was too busy at the time. I did keep a journal, tho, and have posted all of it here. So the past is in reverse order from here down.

Because my experiences may reflect on other pilots, instructors, examiners etc., I won't use their names and for now I won't post much that will identify me and my club...

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Finally into the glass ship!

4-9-05 First flight in the PW-5 single-seat glass ship (first in ANY glass ship). I had been signed off many months ago, but weather, scheduling and focusing on the PPG prevented me from ever taking it up.

I had worked through Wander’s book on transition to single seat, and J went over many aspects of it with me, so I really wasn’t nervous or worried. Well… I did fail to finish the pre-takeoff checklist, so I wasn’t perfectly focused, but it really did go well.

Wind was from the left quarter about 5 kt, no bother on takeoff roll but did push me sideways a bit after liftoff. Climb was really fast compared to the Blanik – I was at 500’ by the time I’m usually at 200’ (maybe the wind helped, too). But I seemed to be below the ideal position for about the first 1000’ of altitude. I finally got up where I should be.

I let off at 4500’ MSL and tried out turns, slow flight, near stall, and spoilers. First time using an audible vario, so I had to get used to that a bit. The PW5 has a bit of a nose-high attitude compared to the Blanik, so it kept fooling me into flying too fast: the pitch that felt right went about 50 or more, but the min sink is 40 and the best L/D is 44. Finally I trimmed back a notch and that helped.

VERY responsive. It also overbanks a bit in 45 degree turns, so I need to remember to use top aileron next time.

Lots of lift – a post-frontal day about 68 degrees with lots of CU. Turbulent but not bad. I thermaled up to 5300’, just below cloudbase. A little jet went by me about a quarter mile away and 500’ above. Some turbulence over the hills but not a lot of wind that I could tell, although it was a windy day elsewhere. Lots of sink, too, so I headed back to the IP area. At 1100’ AGL (or less) I found some lift, at first 100-200’, then stronger and stronger. I ended up about 4500’ MSL again. With so much sink around, I did not go far. In the last 500-800’ before reaching pattern altitude at the IP, *LOTS* of sink, 800’ to 1000’ DOWN! I got to the IP at 1000’ AGL, but was worried about sink on downwind. Fortunately that never materialized, and the PW5 is efficient, so I was OK and actually used spoilers on downwind and then on base.

Final was pretty good – I experimented with spoilers and found they are very effective and immediate. Pop them out, go down steeply. Push them in, float for a long way. Cool! I did end up just a bit short but no problem. Nice smooth landing, and Dave later complimented me on it. No bounce or balloon. Rollout was not quite straight, but not bad. 46 minutes total.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Second passenger - great thermal flight

3-20-05 Long time no fly! Weather, camping, weather, SSA convention, etc. have really gotten in the way.

Today, the day after a minor storm, lots of little CU marking lift of up to about 350 fpm. Daughter N’s first flight. I let off at 5300’ MSL, or 3800’ AGL, just about cloudbase. She was OK on the tow and the first bit of flying around (lots of 400-500’ sink!), so when we hit some lift and she insisted she was fine, we worked it. One or two thermals got us back up to 5300’ so we could cruise around. Lots of fun.

My radio quit after just a few minutes. I had charged the NiMh battery the night before, so maybe I have a bad pack. Not much traffic to worry about, but we did get to see a couple other gliders in the area. Didn’t find any more significant lift, so we came back in, ending up with a 50 minute flight.

Landing critique: the wind sock seemed to indicate crosswind, but our thermal drifting indicated more of a headwind. On final, the headwind component really took over and I ended up landing steeper than I expected. Looking back, I should have tightened up the base leg a bit. With the field all covered with flowers, I couldn’t spot the lines so I ended up landing (quite nicely) in the rough and just stopping at the start of the box. Need to look at the paved runway for reference next time.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

First passenger

1-30-05 M and I went up for a flight, a nice clear day with light breezes and 625 lift forecast. No one seemed to be staying up long so I opted for a 4000’ AGL tow. She was OK with the flying around, but got sick after just a few circles (and my banks weren’t very steep). After throwing up she was better, so when I found some lift we worked it back up to 3500’ AGL and then gently flew around. I think the lift was a shear line because it was very spread out.

We saw a hawk at about 2500’ AGL.

I flew to the north end of R canyon and then when I got there started hitting some sink. Nothing too hard, but it made me really nervous about getting back to the field. I ended up at the IP with about 300’ to spare, but that’s closer than I would have liked – much more sink and we would have been sunk.


1. I can’t fully engage the flaps from the rear seat – it’s too stiff.

2. Remember to think more about wind on base and final. There wasn’t any, but I didn’t check to see.

3. Remember to keep the airbrakes on all the way to the ground, don’t let go of them to pull the wheel brake until firmly down. I think I ballooned just a bit.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

First passenger with PPG - NOT!

1-23-05 Daughter M wants to be my first passenger, so I plan to fly after church. But she's sick and doesn't want to go.

MK wants to, so we head off to the field... a bit later in the day than optimal. J reports 6kt lift! Then after Preflighting we find MK is just too tall to fit and still give me full control movement. Bummer!

I fly anyway. Right after release, I get 6 kt all right - DOWN! I lose almost all my altitude and have to settle for zero sink at the IP. I float in zero for about half an hour, ending up with a 39 minute flight. VERY smooth precision landing - 45 kts feels a lot slower than 50 kt.

So... still have not taken a passenger.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Practical test - third time's a charm!

1-19-05 Oral & Practical test day. I get there about 8:45, they arrive at 10:00. Perfectly clear weather, warm and unfortunately stable. The instructor candidate, G, does the papers and the oral test - VERY SLOWLY and fumblingly. This takes forever! R sometimes has to correct him and make him ask coherent questions. I miss some stuff, especially airspaces and light guns. This and the cross-country flight plan take FOUR HOURS! Then I fly with R. He's patient and fair and smart. All three flights go great! Not perfect, but very well.

1. To 4000', very smooth tow. On takeoff I hear a bang from the back seat. I think he tried to fool me into thinking a rope break had occurred, but I saw no change in the rope so I did not react. Box the wake is OK - rounded out the lower left a bit. Tried to get slack twice, got just a little. Steered the towplane to the left. A couple of not-so-steep turns, a round out to a compass heading. Straight stalls go fine. Turning, he doesn't want a stall, just the recognition. Slow flight - he wants me to slow down to find the stall speed. We find no lift but simulate thermaling. That's pretty much it for high airwork, so he has me demo slips to lose altitude. On the 45, I extend the landing gear and have trouble getting it to lock in place. Flying with my left hand, I'm a bit distracted and get out of attitude a bit, but I recover without it becoming a problem. (Maybe this counts for a distraction, because he didn't create any others as I expected.) Very nice landing, maybe a slight bounce. This one has to be a precision landing (in the box) and I nail it! Well, except for nosing up a bit at the very end.

2. Ostensibly to 2000', but he pulls the rope around 250-300'. I nose over - my speed is about 60 kt due to tow, so I don't have to wait to pick up speed, so I turn right away. No big deal - later I don't even remember looking down at the ground. With no wind, I don't get pushed deep into the field. I land with just spoilers - I don't think I had to slip. I land smoothly and nicely centered, maybe even a little short because the ground is rough and we don't roll even close to the taxiway. (Later he says that's my best landing of the day.) It's a LONG push back with just two of us.

3. Now to 2000' to do the no-drag approach, spoilers allowed on final. Off tow, he says this is also to simulate an off-field landing where I do not know the ground altitude, so he has me crank the altimeter out of usefulness! This is a big surprise! I've never landed without reference to the altimeter. So... I do it. I fly around and slip down until I think I'm about 1000' at the IP and then do the no-flap approach. It all goes well, I use spoilers only in the second half of final, and I nail another precision landing - and this time it was not required!

After debrief, he gives me my temporary cert - I've passed! There are some things I should study, but they pass me. Later I ask R how he thinks I did, and he said it went very well. By the time they leave and I put it all away, it's about 5:30 p.m. and I'm tired and have a stomach ache. But I've got my cert!!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Still practicing

1-15-05 3 flights with B.

First is to 3000, general airwork. I'm in the back, so this is my rear-seat checkout. Landed just a bit short.

Later, two pattern tows from the front seat. First flight, he has me land on the runway to save time - perfect.

Third, I do the no-flaps slip to landing, which goes fine except that I land short AGAIN. Just about 5 feet, but still... He says I'm flaring too early and trying to use ground effect too long. I hope I don't do this on the test!

Friday, January 07, 2005

15 requirements - who'da thunk it

1-7-05 I have all the paperwork I need, and make a list of 15 documents and endorsements! Wow! I faxed them all to R and he said all is OK... but I still need instructor currency. The weather better clear up!

Saturday, January 01, 2005


1-1-05 is New Year's Day. 1-2 is too windy to fly. 1-8 and 1-15 are rained out. I still don't have current instructor flights so my test date is in jeopardy!