Saturday, August 30, 2008

Silver Distance and Altitude!!

Our club is on a campout trip to Tehachapi for the weekend. I had a flight in the PW5 that went 41 nautical miles (out and back) and gained about 7000' in altitude. The Silver Badge requirements are 27 nm, 3xxx' altitude gain. And this time I got it all on the Volkslogger, so I should have no problem filing the claim.

Now I just need a 5 hour flight to finish the badge.

More details to come when I return home.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A short flight and a bunch of work

Today I had a short flight in the PW5. Due to scheduling, I took off about noon, when the thermals were just starting to pop. On tow, all turbulence stopped at 4200' MSL, so I figured that was where the inversion layer sat at the time. Right after release, I turned back and found a thermal that went up to - yep - 4200'. Shortly thereafter I found some pretty hefty sink, and had to come back. I ended up with just a 20 minute flight.

The landing was weird. I had had some excess speed on downwind and base legs, but had it under control at 52 knots on final. I was on right track to my aiming point, and was down to maybe 20 or 30 feet AGL. Suddenly my airspeed dropped to the low 40's. I must have caught a tailwind gust or flown through a thermal or something - there had been some lift on downwind. I had to nose over to regain flying speed (and close spoilers), but there was not much air under me, so I had to quickly round out again. I touched down quite short of the landing zone, maybe 30 or 40 feet early.

Before taking off, we had a problem with the circuit breaker that powers the audio vario and its digital display. It kept shutting off. It worked OK during preflight checks, and worked fine later on the ground, so we think it was just too hot. The glider had sat in the sun for quite a while with the canopy cover off, and it was about 97F when we pushed out. Maybe the breaker is getting old and overly sensitive. We're going to make sure to cover the canopy to keep the cockpit cool when we have a long delay. I thought the Volkslogger was acting up. I wanted to test it once before using it at Tehachapi. As it turns out, I was misinterpreting the Volks display... I think it was working properly. But we also thought it was contributing to the breaker popping off, so we turned it off before flight, and I flew with my standalone GPS input.

Later, we disassembled the PW5 and a Blanik to transport them to Tehachapi for the Labor Day weekend campout. (The Grob 103 is already there - has been all summer.) We're planning to leave the PW5 there for another week, and I'll fly it in the Dust Devil Dash on 9/6. That's a straight-out contest. You can read about my effort in that contest last year here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Minor Milestone

Saturday's flight was my 200th as a glider pilot!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Soaring simulation software for training

I've written before about programs such as Sailors of the Sky and Condor, which are glider-specific PC-based flight simulators. Recently some instructors have described their experiences with students who have used Condor before or during their flight training. These students have required fewer flights before solo or testing for their PPG - sometimes quite significantly. PC-based simulation like Condor does not qualify as a "simulator" under the FAR's, and time on it cannot be logged, but it can be very helpful.

Our club Board decided to offer a Condor training environment to our student pilots. I donated a used PC of adequate power, another member donated a 21-inch monitor, and the Board funded the rest of the equipment and software. I did the purchasing, configuration, and installation. From concept to completion took about two months. Total cost to the club was about $450, since most of the hardware was donated.

We cleared out some dedicated space in our clubhouse, and bought a computer desk. The PC includes a force-feedback joystick, rudder pedals, and speakers. The force-feedback joystick allows some realistic aileron resistance, and provides a shaking warning to simulate pre-stall buffet. The rudder pedals are important to enable students to properly learn coordinated turns.

In addition to the basic Condor program, we got an add-on pack of gliders that includes a PW5. The basic Condor comes with scenery for Germany. I also found a scenery file for Colorado, but none for California. One of our club members is working on building one.

I made up a notebook with simple instructions for getting started with Condor, some next steps for more advanced students, and the Condor manual. Soon we'll demonstrate it to all student pilots.

We believe we are one of the first clubs in the U.S. to provide a dedicated soaring simulation station on site at our gliderport. We think it'll be a great benefit for students who may not want to invest in the hardware and software on their own. We're hoping our instructors will work simulation practice into the training curriculum.

I'd be interested in comments from other clubs who may have experience with the use of simulation in their flight training.

Steep turns

One of the requirements on the Practical Test Standard for the Commercial certificate is demonstration of steep turns. That means turns at a bank angle of up to 60 degrees. One trick that has been suggested to help gauge the angle of bank is to pick two screws on an instrument, diagonally opposite each other, and make them line up on the horizon. Using that measure, I realized some time ago that I usually don't bank very steeply, usually only up to 35-40 degrees even when thermalling. It just does not feel comfortable to bank more steeply.

So today that's what I planned to work on. Shortly after release I found a suitable thermal and intentionally banked steeper and steeper. I thought I remembered feeling that I would fall sideways toward the low wing, but that was not an issue today. This time I found two things that I needed to work on:

* The G force gets really noticeable beyond 45 degrees or so. If I recall correctly, it's 1.4 G at 45 deg, and 2.0 at 60 deg. When thermalling, we keep on circling for many turns, unlike when we turn just to change heading. So the G force is with us for a long time. Not a problem, but it takes some getting used to.

* I initially had some problems with speed control. In the PW5, at 60 deg, the optimal speed is 56 knots. It kept wanting to creep up to 62 kt or so, and it took a lot of effort to bring it back down. After some practice, I seemed to be more consistent.

After working a couple of thermals up to about 6800' MSL, I headed over to the hills to see if I could find some to take me higher. No luck - a lot of sink - and I ended up with just a 40-minute flight.

Earlier in the day, I spent some time briefing another pilot who's hoping to fly the PW5 soon. He's flown a single-seat glider a few times before, but it was quite a while ago. I recommended he work through Bob Wander's book "Transition to Single Seat Gliders", a terrific little book that really helps you get prepared in advance and suggests some maneuvers to practice in the air before your first landing.