Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ground School, and Grounded

Today our club started a 6-week ground school for club members and newcomers, and as a student CFI I got to teach a couple of sessions. Just like last year, I taught on Weight & Balance, and Preflight Inspection. I think it went pretty well, except that I really could have used more time. Each was planned to be 30 minutes, but we went for 1:20 and could have gone longer. There were nine "official" students and two or three that were kind of observing. I think everyone enjoyed it and learned a lot - good discussion and good questions. I got good feedback from a couple of participants and our Chief CFI.

I also worked with a pre-solo student on some of his homework questions regarding aerodynamics. Coincidentally, I had been thinking about his first question the other day, and how I would explain it. Grabbing a little balsa glider that we keep around as an instructional aid, I gave him some hints that helped a light bulb go on over his head. I really enjoy that kind of stuff.

Later in the day I was to fly with our Chief CFI to do some prep work for my Commercial practical test. You have to do 10 flights with an instructor within 60 days of taking the practical test, and this was to have been the first. As I was strapping in in the rear seat, I found a major mechanical problem which, upon further inspection, showed damage to the static system. So that ship is grounded for now, until some prehistoric tubing can be replaced. I worked closely with our Maintenance Officer, so I learned a bit more about how the Blanik L13 instrument panel and static system are put together.

Since the above-mentioned CFI is going on some trips in March, I won't get to do many of those required flights for a while. So I'm probably looking at taking the practical in late April. I think I may focus heavily on preparing for the Fudamentals of Instruction written test in the meantime so I can keep making progress. I plan to buy the ASA Test Prep CD for Flight Instructor. I have the book from a couple years ago, and I like studying from the book rather than on the computer. But I found that the software version helps a lot when taking practice tests, because it handles the scoring automatically.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Work day and a practice flight

The forecast was for broken cirrus clouds and little lift. Actually it was unbroken thick cirrus, so there was no lift to be had. That was fine with me, my plan was to do a high tow and practice maneuvers for my commercial practical test. I need to log 10 solo flights specifically in preparation for the test, and I have 4 logged so far.

Few people were flying, because it was an unofficial club "work day", with projects involving deck roof repair, trailer repair, radio installation, and general trash cleanup around our operating area. Also, the club is beginning a "Duty Officer" function to schedule student flights and help make the instructors' job easier and more efficient. I helped design the role, and volunteered to be DO on the first day. So I didn't work on any of the big projects, but I did some general trash pickup and a lot of glider pushing.

I took a Blanik up on a high tow in the mid-afternoon, to run through the practical test steps. Here's an abbreviated list of what is generally done on a practical test (from a 4000' tow) to demonstrate all the required tasks:

  • Box the wake
  • Slack line control
  • Signal tow plane for turn
  • 360 degree turn to heading
  • 720 degree turn to heading,clearing turn
  • Straight stall w/o brakes
  • Straight stall with brakes
  • Turning stall w/o brakes
  • Turning stall with brakes
  • Slow flight
  • Slow turns, right & left
  • Straight flight @ min sink
  • Straight flight @ best L/D
  • Speed to fly in sink
  • Thermal soaring if possible
  • Pattern, including all radio calls
  • Land & stop in the designated box
All the airwork went fine, and I was surprised to find that I only used up 1,000' doing all the turns and four stalls. I worked on making my turns steeper. I found a little zero sink but no workable lift, so my flight was 24 minutes long.

Before my flight, the previous student and instructor noted a significant loss of wheel braking power. We could see that the brake actuator was not moving quite the way it should. I decided that it would be OK to fly, but to plan on landing as short as possible to leave a lot of stopping space. As it turned out, the brake was totally inoperable. With my airbrakes fully out, and no wheel braking, I used up the entire landing zone and then some, stopping about halfway between the zone and the taxiway (which is our don't-go-there limit because of the hump it presents). But I was expecting it, so since there were no other gliders in the landing zone it was not really a problem. So much for landing within the tolerance of the commercial test!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

BFR via Winch Launch

It's biennial Flight Review time! I tried to arrange to do it in January but due to a last-minute mixup with an instructor, it didn't work out. Then last week was almost winch launching and weird scheduling... The requirement for the Flight Review is either an hour of flight time or three launches to pattern altitude. So we decided that three winch launches would do the trick! Since I was last up last week and didn't get to launch, the group let me go first today and graciously let me get in three flights. (After that I did "Line Boss" again for everyone else's flights.)

Flight 1: I'd forgotten just how fast the winch accelerates the glider. Zero to about 55 mph in about 3 seconds. That really gets your attention! Nice, smooth rotation into the 45-degree climb. It took me a little while to get the hang of the speed adjustment, but once I got in the groove it was very stable at 50 knots indicated airspeed (on my front indicator, 55 knots on the back one). The cable back-released at 1,000' AGL.

Flight 2: The startup acceleration didn't catch me by surprise this time. Another smooth climb to 1,000' AGL. I didn't time it, but it really only takes about 30 seconds at that speed and angle. I tell people that have been to Disney's California Adventure that it's much like the California Screamin' roller coaster, with its quick acceleration into a 45-degree climb - but 10 times as high! There was absolutely no wind, or we probably would have gone higher faster.

Flight 3: This time I could really detect the round-over at the top of the climb and released at 1,100' AGL. That was high enough to do a few turns before entering the pattern for landing (since the instructor wants to see more than just up-and-down). No lift of course; these flights were from about 8:20 to 9:00 a.m.

My instructor was well pleased with my launches, flights, and landings, so that took care of my BFR flights and the club's annual checkride requirement. And at $15 per launch, this was much less expensive than three aerotows! Our club pres was rather pleased that we're already demonstrating the value of winch launching.

We spent some ground time later on going over my missed questions from Friday's Commercial written test. That, along with some reading and q-and-a, covered the ground training requirement for the BFR.

I spent much of the rest of the day pushing gliders in and out, and wing running for club members and other pilots. It turned out to be a quite soarable day, with the temperature up in the low 80's.