Monday, August 24, 2009

"Gonna do some spins?"

We don't usually wear parachutes in our two-place Blanik trainers. So when we do, everyone we meet seems to ask, "Gonna do some spins?" Yep, that's what was on our agenda today. I'm working with an instructor to finish up training flights required for my Commercial and Instructor practical tests. One of the requirements is "...instructional proficiency in stall awareness, spin entry, spins, and spin recovery procedures...". Technically you don't need to wear parachutes when doing spins with an instructor, but we all think it's a good idea!

We took a 4200' AGL tow and were careful about doing clearing turns because we knew two other gliders were in the area. We also made sure we were well clear of the Victor airway that runs south of the airport - you can't do aerobatics within 4NM of an airway. We were able to do four spins and recoveries and still had a few hundred feet before reaching 1500' AGL, the minimum altitude for completing aerobatic maneuvers.

For three of the spins, I entered with the traditional method: pulling up into an obvious stall before using full rudder. For one of them, I did a more subtle spin entry that should be really useful in training students. I just slowed down to stall speed and kicked full rudder, much like what would happen in a too-slow approach with a skidding turn. In this case the nose was not in an obviously high attitude, although of course my angle of attack was high to get the slow speed. A slow entry like this really shows how a spin could sneak up on you.

I noticed more G force when pulling out of some of these spins than I did on some previous solo spins. Maybe I was eager to complete the recovery with little loss of altitude, and pulled up a little aggressively?

I made sure to enter one of the spins to the right, since I had noticed I tended to do them to the left in the past. That's probably because I favor left turns in general. I read an article somewhere that explained that: we control the stick with our right hands, and it's easier to push across to the left than to pull to the right - it's just a more natural angle for your arm and wrist.

We didn't try to go soaring, because we had other ground school work to do that afternoon. For the landing, I worked on using the wind to my advantage on base and final legs. My altitude on base leg has been right for no-wind conditions, but sometimes I underestimate how much a headwind component is going to knock me back on final approach. In the middle of the base leg, my instructor pointed out that I was a little high, and I said that was intentional. I slipped it a bit and kept my glide path a little higher than I've been doing. And guess what: touchdown was right in the box, instead of a couple feet short as I sometimes do.

We glider pilots (at least in my club and at my location) are real sticklers for accurate landings. There's a line in the sand that you are not to touch down before. We judge every landing in relation to that line. And if you're trying to land to commercial requirements, you have to stop in just a few hundred feet, so you don't want to land much beyond that line or you use up too much stopping space. So there's a very narrow sweet spot about 10 feet long that we're aiming for. And that line is imaginary, between two cones. There used to be a chalk line, but it's long since worn away. So you're using your peripheral vision and quick glances left and right to estimate your approach over that line. Very tricky to get just right! But it means you learn to put the ship down where you want it, within 10 feet or so. That came in very handy when I landed out at Olancha, where the dirt strip had a few bushes here and there.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Airport Battle on the Front Page

Our fight to keep soaring at Hemet-Ryan made the front page of the Press-Enterprise today. Check it out... and please pass it on to anyone interested in aviation.

More pictures are available here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More on the movement to save soaring at Hemet-Ryan

Listen to an interview published by

Closing in on Commercial

Friday and Saturday I worked on ground school and instructional flights in final preparation to take my Commercial practical test at the end of this month. We also went over the questions I missed on my written Instructor test. My instructor agreed with my disagreement with the only two questions I missed that actually related to gliders.

Some flights included practice teaching maneuvers, and that went really well. Two flights included practicing a left-hand pattern, something we don't usually do at this airport. That means flying in the power aircraft pattern, and crossing over to the glider runway to land. We actually fly our pattern a ways inside the power pattern, so it's not really much of a conflict. It also means monitoring the radio and the sky to make sure we know where all the power planes are. (Usually we're over on the other side of the airport, so except for the base leg, we are totally out of each others' way.) I've done this before, a long time ago, though I see I never blogged about it. Anyway, except for entering the pattern a little higher, using different landmarks, and extending the downwind leg a bit, it's no big deal as long as the power traffic is light. We did choose to delay one of the landings while two CDF tankers took off - not that our landing would have been a conflict with their takeoff.

The only thing that made it - well, interesting - was that both the front and rear airspeed indicators were underreporting by at least 5 to 10 knots. We detected that while on tow. So I flew the entire pattern and landing (both times) with minimal reference to the ASI - relying on wind noise and angle of attack (attitude) to gauge my airspeed. Actually, that's a good thing to practice!

So if all goes as planned, we have one more requirement to complete next weekend, then I'll have my endorsement to take the Commercial test, which I already have scheduled. I need to fill out my application and gather all my endorsements etc. for a review with the DPE next weekend.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Two Flights Preparing for Practical Tests

Today I got in the last of my ten solo flights as required for my Commercial practical test. I'll still keep practicing, but at least now I have the required number of solo flights logged. Although there was lift available, I didn't really work it much because I wanted to get in two takeoffs and landings. Wing-down takeoffs are now easy. I boxed the wake on both tows. The first time, I hit some sink on the low-tow leg, and got way low - that was weird! So I made sure to do it on the next flight too, and that time it was very good.

For the first pattern and landing, I did the no-drag-devices routine and that went well. My landing was a little longer than the first box, but the no-flaps landing doesn't have to be an accuracy landing. For the second one, I did the regular flaps-n-spoilers pattern, and that went fine too. With about a 10-knot headwind, the Blanik stops in the first box really nicely.

My deadline for completing my Commercial and Instructor practical tests got moved up! I thought I had until the end of September. Now I find out the operator and DPE is planning to shut down a week earlier. And I had a vacation of nearly two weeks already booked and paid for in early September. So it's going to be a tight squeeze. It may still be doable. I now have an appointment in late August to take the Commercial test. That is, if I can get in the final flights I need with my instructor - we've had some scheduling issues. And if I get the instructor's sign-off. I think that should be OK, but there are a few things that needed work, so I need to demonstrate mastery of those. And then if all goes well, the Instructor test in late September... if all goes well.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Passed my Flight Instructor written test

Today I took the last of the written tests I need, the Flight Instructor - Glider. It's 100 multiple-choice questions. They give you 2.5 hours, and I think I used about an hour and a quarter. (One of my test-taking strategies is to not be in a rush to finish - go back and recheck every question.) I knew I would pass - you only need a 65% score to pass, and my practice test scores were in the 87-91% range. I got 85%, lower than I expected. I got 95% on my Commercial, and 100% on my Fundamentals of Instructing.

You might ask, "Why do you care about your score, as long as you passed?" Well, you have to spend time with an instructor to cover any areas of knowledge that you missed. So I'd prefer to self-study and get a high score, and not have to use instructor time for reviewing it afterward.

They don't tell you what questions you missed, they just give you "learning statement codes" that indicate the general topic area. By going back to the practice test software, you can pretty much figure out which ones you missed.

Of the 15 I missed:
  • 6 were totally irrelevant to glider flight.
  • 4 were about documents and regulations, the kind of things I can look up when needed
  • 3 were real misses on things I should know (mostly weather)
  • 1 I don't know why I missed - maybe hit the wrong letter, but my double-check should have caught that.
  • 1 I disagree with their answer and will have to do some research
Only two misses were directly related to soaring or gliders.

There are many questions that I think are totally irrelevant to the FI-Glider test, in that they relate only to powered flight. Things like VOR and ADF navigation (which gliders don't have), flight into Class B airspace (which we don't do nor do we have avionics for), and magnetic compass and wind correction angles (which glider pilots rarely use because of our circling flight and meandering paths). I guess the reason they are on the FI-Glider test is that an instructor could get an initial certificate for gliders and then later go on to get a power rating and instruct in that realm, so they want you to know that stuff. But as I understand it, you have to take another set of tests for the power rating, so why not cover the power-only stuff in that later learning track? Maybe someone can explain the logic to me someday. Meanwhile, I just figure I'm going to miss a certain percentage of those questions, and I just make sure I'm really solid on the stuff that does apply.

I've figured out why I can't learn some of the irrelevant stuff and have it "stick". Maybe others can relate to this as well. It's that some of these ideas are what I call initially arbitrary. There's nothing for me to "hook into" to resolve the arbitrary questions, so I remain uncertain of the correct answer regardless of how many times I study it. Until I have some direct experience with the topic, there's no way to be sure which of the possible arbitrary answers is correct. Let me give you an example:

A VOR receiver is used for radio-based navigation. It's used in power planes, but not in gliders, so I've never seen one. The dial shows you a left or right indication with a needle, depending on... what someone arbitrarily decided to show. Way back when, the designers could have decided that a left indication means "the VOR transmitter is off to the left". Or it could mean "the airplane is to the left of the VOR transmitter". Either one would be useful, but the way you use it would be totally opposite. And I'm sure they chose one or the other and have stuck with it forever. That's why I call it initially arbitrary. And I'm sure that after one or two flights, with the feedback that comes from seeing the effect of correct and incorrect usage, it'd make sense, it'd be locked in my mind and would no longer be arbitrary. But until I see a VOR and how it works, it's all theoretical to me... and arbitrary, because either indication could be equally valid, and so it's hard to remember with certainty.

That's the same reason I don't even try to memorize seldom-used phone numbers. They're arbitrary, and hard to remember without frequent use. 532-6398 is just as valid as 523-3689... so how can I be sure?

Similarly, "west variation" and "east variation" for magnetic compasses are arbitrary designations. Does variation mean "which way magnetic north is from true north" or the other way around? Either would be a valid basis for a system of navigation. Get off on the wrong foot, and all your calculations will be reversed, yet self-consistent. So until I actually use a magnetic compass to get somewhere, it's not going to stick.

So, I'm happy with an 85% score. If the test didn't include lots of questions about power flight, I'd be a lot happier.

All of the questions were about aerodynamics, navigation, weather, regulations, procedures, and documentation, just more detailed than on the Private and Commercial tests. None of the questions were about instructing.