Saturday, June 28, 2008

Two dual flights

Today for whatever reason, no club instructor was available but three pre-solo students came out to the field unaware. I was planning to fly a Blanik because the PW5 is down for partial refinishing, and the Grob is away at Tehachapi. I'm not an instructor, but I'm studying to be one, so I offered to fly with them. Not as instructional flights, but at least to get in some practice and avoid wasting their day. I made it clear that the time was not loggable, and that we would split the tow fee. (One decided not to fly after all for minor medical reasons.) I looked at their logbooks to see where they are in their learning process. As PIC (responsible for the flight) and not an instructor, I planned to fly the takeoffs and landings.

Weather was favorable for thermals. While we were sitting waiting for the day to heat up, several dust devils rolled through the field. One of them picked up a whole bunch of yellow leaves from the ground and floated them up about 50 feet and dropped them on us. Crows were thermaling easily - time to get in the air!
  1. R. is a teenage boy with about 8-10 flights so far. I flew the takeoff and tow (to just above the top of the inversion), and then turned it over to him. After flying around and losing some altitude, we got into a thermal and went up 1000', back to about the release altitude. I wasn't teaching him anything new, just letting him fly and giving some pointers on centering, speed in turns, and clearing his turns. When he didn't find more sustaining lift, I took it back and did the approach and landing (not one of my best) after a 43-minute flight.

  2. S. is transitioning from power and has about 30 flights or so in gliders, including takeoffs and landings. I did the takeoff and then handed it over to him to fly the tow at about 800' AGL. Shortly we spotted a glider not far away, and about 1000' higher than us, so we hopped over to join him and found nice lift, up to about 8 knots at times. S. worked on centering the thermal and I gave him some pointers. Eventually we got up near the other ship and since I was not sure if S. has done many (or any) gaggles, I pointed out how to safely join the circle and keep him in sight. We gained 1500' in the process, way above release altitude.

    Eventually we topped out and went off in search of other lift. There was a visible convergence, so we tried to work that, and found quite a bit of zero sink - and then a lot of regular sink. He gave it back to me at about 1000' above the IP, and I did not find enough lift to rescue the flight, so we brought it back in and I landed it after a 37-minute flight.
So I got 1:20 of PIC time, some practice in flying and observing hands-off from the back seat, and flew for half price. And two students got to fly who otherwise would not have.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Club instruction operations

A reader wrote in a comment here about a frustrating club situation, and that our club's operation sounds a lot more productive for students. Here are some thoughts about what makes it work:
  1. Club's stated purpose is to train students to fly. Most people who join are either starting from scratch, or adding on to a power certificate. Few people who already have their PPG join just to have access to club gliders, though some do. (Many buy their own gliders after getting their cert, but many don't.) So if a PPG is on the field on a Saturday, they're often helping with student operations as well as flying themselves. Four of us are working on our commercial and instructor ratings.

  2. Multiple club gliders.
    • We have two Blanik trainers. Typically one is used by the instructor and student, and one is available for solo students or other pilots. If one is grounded for some reason, everyone pretty much accepts that the students have priority to use the one good one. When one Blanik got wrecked, our Board placed a high priority on buying another one ASAP.

    • We have one single-seat fiberglass PW5, which students can progress to after solo and before getting their PPG. Many don't, choosing to focus on the certificate first, but it is available. And most of the ground instruction (orientation) for the PW5 is conducted by PPG's, not instructors, 'cuz they're the most familiar with it. A CFIG has to sign off, but typically not much instructor time is used on these students.

    • We have a two-seat fiberglass Grob 103, which is the preferred ship for experienced PPG's to take pleasure flights and give passenger rides in. So when it's available, this keeps the Blaniks mostly available for students. Instructors have to train and sign off on this ship, so it does get student use. And if both Blaniks are down (rarely), the Grob becomes the trainer.

  3. Multiple towplanes (sometimes) provided by an FBO. We don't have a towplane, we pay Sailplane Enterprises for each launch. They will run two and even three towplanes when the demand is there. But sometimes they don't have enough pilots, and sometimes 3 to 4 glass private ships push out at once, and SE reserves the right to cut in line if they have paying rides (to 10,000' !) or students, and there's another club on the field, so there can be long delays sometimes. Usually it's no more than 30 minutes, but sometimes... Rarely is there a line more than 4 gliders long.

  4. Single instructor on Saturdays, but flexibility. When I started with the club, there were enough instructors that training was offered every Saturday and Sunday. We lost a few, so we cut back to only Saturdays. We have picked up more instructors, but I don't think they're willing to commit to twice as much work and resume a Sunday schedule. BUT... Sometimes two will come out on a Saturday. One of them is retired and instructs a couple of days during the week by appointment. One of them is a new instructor and comes out on Fridays. One of them is a commercial instructor and is able to make special arrangements. So... with our instructors' gracious flexibility, there's more instructing occuring than meets the Saturday student's eye. And as I mentioned, there are four CFIGs in the pipeline. If we all complete it, I bet we'll get back to Sunday instruction... or two instructors most Saturdays.

    Having the right student:instructor and student:glider ratio helps a lot. I suppose if there are just too many students, some will not get a chance to fly. I think we have about 8 active students, but not all show up every Saturday, so probably 5 or 6 need instructing, plus maybe a PPG checkride or something. If they all get through their turns, sometimes some will want to go again. So the instructor is busy from about 10:00 until 4 or 5:00... and they don't take long lunches or long breaks, 'cuz they want everyone to fly.

  5. Efficiency. Everyone who's on the field is expected to help push out, push back, run equipment around, and basically keep things moving. It's not a long push from the landing zone back to the line. Students sign up for 1-hour blocks, and if they move it along, they can get two pattern tows in an hour, three if it's early and there's no wait. Way back when, SE offered a discount for pattern tows before 11:00. That's gone, but the idea of getting started early persists. If students are needing pattern work, they plan to do it in the morning. If they're working on thermaling, they plan for the afternoon. And there's peer pressure to be ready to go when your turn is up... and to be flexible if someone needs to go next for some reason. Although they sign up for a specific time, it rarely works out that way, and people are pretty nice about it.
It sounds like the main problem at the reader's field is towplane capacity (1) and balance (20 private ships and 1 instructor). I think he meant that the towplane is owned by the club. Reading between the lines of his note, it sounds like the club does not place emphasis on instructing. If instructing is their priority, maybe they could consider letting instructional flights cut in front of private launches. But if that's not their culture, then students may very well have to find other situations to get training at a reasonable pace.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Air work and ground work

Today's flying pretty well matched the forecast: weak lift, 2 knots, not going very high. There was probably an inversion at 5000' MSL or so, but the air was clear enough you could not see the inversion from the ground. Barometric pressure was low, and winds were light. I found a couple of thermals, never got much above release altitude. No heavy sink, some weak lift late in the flight, probably not convergence because it was localized and not spread out. (See, I remembered the possibility of a shear line!)

The PW5 is grounded, so I took a solo flight in a Blanik, the new one that I've only flown once before. (The other time was a dual flight.) I played with it a little bit, because last time I flew it it seemed to want to roll left. Well, this time when I released the stick and did not adjust with rudder, it tracked nicely straight ahead. After a while it did drop a wing, but it was very gentle and randomly chose left and right. So I would conclude that there is no problem.

I did notice that I could not trim it back far enough to stabilize at Minimum Sink speed, which is 42 knots. I also noticed it's a very quiet ship! And in this one, I was feeling the bump of lift well before the varios indicated any.

Usually in a Blanik, in weak lift, it's helpful to pull out the flaps about halfway. This expands the wing area, producing more lift, without dropping them down, which would add drag. Often this makes the difference between "zero sink" and usable lift. Today it did not seem to help. So I tried not pulling them out even halfway... still did not seem to help. I wonder if there's some difference with the flaps? Something to try again in this ship.

The PW5 needs its annual inspection, and we thought our local A&P was going to do it today. We usually do whatever minor disassembly is needed to make the A&P's job easier, and in the case of the PW5 that means removing the "seat pan". I'm one of the most frequent fliers of it, so I was designated. I've never seen it disassembled, but it turned out to be pretty easy: remove 22 screws and wrangle it out. He never returned, so the PW5 remains in pieces for now. I did get a chance to look at how the control stick mechanism works.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Two short flights

Saturday's forecast was for about 4kt lift up to 6-7,000' MSL, hot enough for thermals (about 87F, I think), but unfortunately with an inversion. Sure enough, I could see the inversion and watched it slowly lift through the early part of the day. We had some work to do (assembling a Blanik, other maintenance stuff), and I took off at 2:00 or so.

I adjusted my seat back position and trim setting to maybe compensate for the attitude/balance issues I noted last time (see last week's post). Takeoff and tow were normal, with maybe a bit more slack than usual to deal with. I did remember to use the trick of climbing immediately after release, converting excess speed to a little altitude. I figure if I can remember to do one additional thing every time, I'm gradually improving.

I let off near lift at about 4500' MSL. I never got higher than release altitude, though I did find some lift and zero sink. Not enough to keep me up very long... no soaring birds, no dust devils. I think it was generally stable, with occasional thermals popping off only the highest hills. I practiced steepening my turns and trying to center the weak lift with the help of SeeYou's thermal display tool. I ended up with a 28 minute flight.

When I came in to land, there was another glider right in the middle of the farthest part of the landing zone, and they were not moving. So to avoid them, I lined up early and to the right, nearer to the runway. I overdid it, and actually touched down to the right of the cone and then rolled back into the zone. Looking back, I should have just landed on the runway.

I wasn't done. That wasn't enough flying for the day. It seemed to me that there was lift to be found. And my first flight was free, thanks to a gift certificate from Daughter #1. So up I went again. This time I didn't find lift on tow, so I held out for about a 3500' AGL release. I did find some decent thermals and got up to a couple hundred feet above release altitude. It seemed I could see over the top of the dirty air, so I'm pretty sure I was at the top of the thermals, about 5200' MSL, and they were not punching through the inversion.

One of my strategies has been to try the hills to the south of the Hemet valley, as stepping stones to get to Mt. San Jacinto. So I headed across the valley to the Ramona Bowl. No lift in the valley... no lift over the hills... but I didn't lose much altitude getting there, either. One little bump on the way back to the airport. The flight was a whopping 31 minutes, with a fine crosswind landing.

One thing I should work on is remembering that there may be shear line (convergence) lift in the afternoons. Sometimes we can see it from the ground (regions of clean vs. dirty air), but in the air I don't think to fly back and forth looking for it; instead I usually assume all the lift is thermal.