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!