Sunday, October 18, 2009

Flying at Skylark Airport / Lake Elsinore

Our club has arranged to place one or more gliders at Skylark Airport, where towplanes are operated by the Lake Elsinore Soaring Club. (We're placing gliders at several airports during this transition period, to see which ones work out the best for the club.) LESC has been flying there for many years. Several of us went there this week to learn about their operation and get a "field checkout".

This is a private airport, and consists of two dirt strips. There are a few things that make this field a bit different from what many of us are used to, so we all need a little education before we fly:
  • A very active skydiving company operates here, and in fact is the landlord of LESC, so they have priority. Twin Otter jump planes are constantly taking off and landing. Groups of up to about 24 parachutists land just on the other side of the runways, sometimes coming in from random directions. It's not a problem - skydiving and soaring have coexisted here for a long time - but it's something we need to coordinate with and watch out for.

  • The skydiving "drop zone" restricts where gliders can fly. We can fly through it as needed, but cannot linger or thermal in the DZ. There are plenty of places to soar over the mountains away from the DZ, but we need to stay away from some parts of the town and lake as much as possible.

  • The taxiways etc. are all at one end of the runways (29 /11), up against some buildings and a road with some power lines. Takeoffs are always to the northwest (29) regardless of wind conditions. That means sometimes takeoff is downwind. If the tailwind gets too strong, glider takeoffs stop. Glider landings are mostly to the southeast (11) but are allowed "over the wires" to 29 if necessary. Towplane and jump plane landings are always on 11 too, sometimes on both runways.

  • This all means that takeoffs and landings must be coordinated because sometimes they're in opposite directions. It's not a problem, but it requires some learning. All this coordination of runway use and skydiving means that radio use is mandatory. At Hemet, although the airport was shared with power planes, the power and glider patterns were on opposite sides and exclusive runways. Radio use was optional, and actually was discouraged by the glider FBO... that was a strange situation I won't get into due to pending legal action. Anyway, we all need to be much more diligent about our radio skills.
So I went for a field checkout flight. Takeoff and tow were fairly normal, though the fine dirt of the runway makes for a few seconds of nearly total "brownout". The soaring was not much good since it was late in the day, but the point was just to get familiar with the area anyway. My radio battery died, but the instructor had a backup radio for the landing calls. Pattern and landing were normal, though I did have a tailwind on landing. We didn't snag any parachutes on the way down. ;-) The runway is much longer than the little dirt area we had at Hemet, so there are a few nuances of landing and rollout that we can learn.

All in all, I think this will work out as a good place for us to fly while the Hemet-Ryan complaint makes its way through the FAA. And after I get thoroughly familiar with flying in the area, I should be able to arrange to take my Commercial and Instructor practical tests here - those tests have been on hold for a couple of months.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Last Plane Out

All the other gliders are gone from Hemet-Ryan Airport. All the T-hangars on the glider side have been sold, dismantled, and removed. The word "GLIDERS" on Runway 22 has been painted over with black, and a big yellow X has been painted over it. The outhouses are gone, and the shade structure outside the Sailplane Enterprises office is in pieces on the ground.

It's quiet.

There's one glider still tied down - one of our club's Blanik L13's. The one I soloed in. The one I first reached 10,000 feet in.

We've come to tow it away to its new temporary home at an airport not far away. But knowing I won't be coming back to this field for a while, the other airport feels very far away.

A towplane will come from the other airport, and a pilot and instructor will take off from the bigger Runway 22. The pilot hasn't done a cross-country aerotow before, and hasn't landed at the other airport. So in keeping with our club's purpose, the last flight from here will be an instructional flight!

I'm here to help push and to run the wing. So we prep the plane, untie it, and put the tie-downs inside the glider instead of leaving them on the ground... we'll be needing them elsewhere after the glider's one-way flight. Technically there's no reason they could not take off from 23 - it's not damaged - but the County has spoken. We push it all the way to the taxiway on the other side of 22.

Due to a mix-up and some technical problems, the towplane takes a long time to arrive. We have time to hang out and talk. A couple of vehicles drive out and the drivers chat with us while we wait. It's pretty rare to see a glider on this side of the field. A few planes and a helicopter come and go... pilots taxiing by wave to us... it's late in the afternoon, so it's pretty dead.

Finally, about 5:30 the towplane arrives and we hook up and launch. The first and only time I've seen a glider take off from 22 (well, there's a motorglider or two who use it). They climb, circle the field once, and head west into the lowering sun.

I get in the car we came in and drive out the gate. There's no one on this side of the airport to say good-bye to.

But... we may be back. Next week we will file a formal complaint with the FAA in Washington, D.C., with the support of AOPA and Cal Pilots. If that works, and gliders get to return, it could turn out better than ever. Some of our leaders have developed the concept of a "Glider Park", and have presented some conceptual drawings to some of the community leaders of Hemet. So... we'll see. While the complaint makes its way through the FAA, we'll keep flying our silent ships over other fields.

Friday, October 02, 2009

In Transition

The county has "X"-ed the glider runway at Hemet. OCSA and HACA leaders and attorneys feel we are in a good position to get this reversed through the FAA's formal complaint process. We're getting lots of publicity in the press. I won't say more about the clubs' strategy for now, just in case someone from the county is listening.

Our club board now has a plan for continuing our flight and training at several other gliderports while we continue the battle with the county (but we're not announcing it quite yet... still some logistics to work out). So we'll have some opportunities to fly over some different terrain for a while. I'm hoping to fly at one or the other over the next couple of weekends. Once we are established in our temporary locations, I'll look into which site provides the best option for taking my Commercial and Instructor tests.