Tuesday, July 06, 2010

INTERdependence Day

Monday's conditions were even better than Sunday's. Winds were predicted to be light, thermals of 600-700 fpm up to 13,000' MSL in the Tehachapi area and higher to the north, with some possibility of cumulus clouds. Since I dominated the PW5 yesterday, I was not planning to fly today, but other club members were planning some moderate cross-country flights.

One of the interesting things about soaring is that although most of one's flying is done solo or at most in pairs, it's still a group activity. A soaring club is a cooperative group that works together to help each other learn to fly, to fly for fun and experience, and to expand their knowledge and skill. Stephen Covey says "Interdependence is a higher value than independence," and a soaring club is a great example of how working together can lift everyone a little higher. Here are just a few of the ways we all helped each other and learned from each other throughout this weekend:
  • C and R showed P and M some of the local landout sites.
  • M helped L put the wings on his ship.
  • L and M repaired a broken battery wire while R prepared to fly.
  • R installed a connector on an oxygen mask hose while P and M waited in line to launch.
  • L filled the O2 tank while C prepared to fly.
  • R charged the batteries for both ships overnight.
  • P took M on his first high-altitude glider flight - also his first cross-country flight - also his longest flight - and boosted M's interest in soaring after some frustrating delays in training.
  • We all pushed and pulled the gliders from one end of the runway to the other when the wind shifted direction... twice...
  • R showed P how to use the new Borgelt B400 vario in the Grob 103.
  • C loaned his van to pilots' wives for activities in town.
  • R loaned his truck to L to haul equipment around.
  • J loaned his multimeter to L for some testing.
  • R showed C how to use the memory mode on the PW5 radio.
  • L loaned his tools for various repairs.
  • R loaned P his radio charger.
  • All members and their wives pitched in for some delicious dinners.
And so on and so on.

C got a 2.5 hour flight to over 14,000 feet. P and M got a 3-hour flight out over Kelso Valley and back. L went farther and faster but had to return due to an oxygen system failure. J and B and D and others had fun flights into the southern Sierras. A very successful weekend trip!

Independence Day - 5 hour flight!

Sunday morning's weather was much better than Saturday's. The forecast was for relatively calm winds, top of the boundary layer at 11-12,000 feet, strong thermals, but no CU possible. I planned to get an early start to try for a five-hour flight. While I prepped the plane, a couple of the guys repaired a broken battery wire. I was shooting for an 11:00 launch, but actually took off at 11:15 and released from tow in lift at 11:23. I immediately made a 360-degree turn to "notch" the flight trace on the Volkslogger (this enables the flight reviewer to see when you departed from the tow plane).

Thermals were present but not really strong right away. I used a combination of thermal and anabatic lift to get up to around 9,300' and stayed there for quite some time. (If you're not familiar with anabatic lift, search my previous articles and you'll find some descriptions. It's really amazing when it's working!) Over the next hour or so, the thermals off the mountain tops got stronger, up to 10,000' and ultimately over 11,000' MSL.

I had made a decision that my priority was simply a 5-hour flight duration, and that I would not go cross-country. Here's why: let's say I was between landout sites when the lift started to taper off, and I had to choose to head to a safe landing site at 4 and a half hours. That would defeat the purpose of the duration flight. I have not had enough XC flights to have a lot of confidence in pressing forward looking for lift. By staying within gliding distance of the airport, I would have a better chance of staying up as long as the lift would keep me. Boring, perhaps, but I don't get many chances to have the plane to myself all day in good conditions.

I had a few mechanical/electrical problems. The variometer in the PW5 is not showing lift correctly and overstating sink. I relied on my clip-on audio vario, and the simulated vario on my PDA/GPS, and of course the seat of my pants. The vario seemed to get better later in the flight, so maybe we have some dirt in the lines or something. My PDA lost its GPS feed from the Volkslogger and I had to reset it. The second time it did that, I switched it over to my plug-in GPS instead. But it still kept shutting itself down - I think a power-saving setting is turned on. Eventually I figured that out and just made sure to tap something on the screen every 3o minutes or so. And in that mode it didn't leave a "trace" on the screen, which is handy for getting back to thermals. I couldn't find the menu setting to fix that without looking down for too long, so I gave up on it. That's an item to add to my checklist: verify all the important PDA settings, especially since I had restored the software a while back.

Physically, the flight was not too taxing. I know, lots of people have made much longer flights, but my previous longest was less than 3 hours. There's very little room to stretch and move about in a glider cockpit! My shoulder got sore after an hour or so, so I varied my grip and flew left-handed for a while. One foot went to sleep a couple times, so I let out the pedals a bit. I thought my back would get sore, but it really wasn't bad. I took along a couple of trail mix bars and munched on them a couple hours apart. I didn't really get bored. I went to a few different mountains and ridges... I took some pictures... sometimes there were other gliders to thermal with. I experimented with very slow flight into the wind (a technique I read about recently and want to try out some more). I checked in with the ground every hour. And of course I had the PDA gremlins to keep me busy.

About 4 and a half hours into the flight, it was all looking good. I was still between 9 and 10 thousand feet, and it can take 20 minutes or so to get from 9,000' down to the airport at 4,200. But promptly at 4:00, the lift machine shut down, at least on the north side of the mountains where I needed to be to glide back to Mountain Valley. The tops of the mountains were now getting too close, and I had to move down to lower peaks. Based on the wind direction, I tried some ridge soaring when the thermals were nowhere to be found. I tried all of the lower peaks, but they were no longer working, and soon I was over the valley with - maybe - enough altitude to stretch it out to five hours. I needed to make it to 4:23 p.m. I made sure to stay upwind of the airport. I heard a couple of blips on the vario, and tried a turn or two, but whatever lift was under me was pretty weak. By the time I entered the pattern I was at about 5 hours and 2 minutes after release. I landed at 5 hours and 4 minutes after release - way too close! (Total flight time was 5:15.)

A couple of the guys from the club came out to meet me and pointed to their watches trying to convince me I had miscalculated and landed an hour early. Nice try, guys! When one of them wanted to help me take off the parachute, I knew something was up. They've always owed me a soaking, since they didn't toss a bucket of water on me after my first solo flight. But to my surprise I got a shower of champagne, for the first time in my life! (By the way, that was a sticky mess to wash off the glider the next morning.)

Unfortunately, it appears this flight may not qualify for my Silver duration. I mis-read, or misunderstood, or forgot about the rule regarding altitude loss. I won't get into it all here, but I may have to do this again for it to count. If so, I'll do it as a cross-country flight, now that I know I can do a long-duration flight. I know I did the best I could with this day's conditions: had I taken off earlier, or let off lower, the lift would not have been there. And I worked every bit of lift I could find right up to the end. So whether this qualifies for the Silver or not, I did have a 5-hour flight and learned a few things.

Here's a a big thank-you to the club members who helped me out, and who let me have the ship for the whole day, and celebrated with me when I landed!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Independence Day weekend at Tehachapi - Saturday

Several of us are at Tehachapi (Mountain Valley Airport) for the holiday weekend. We'd planned to keep the PW5 and the Grob 103 tied down here for the summer, available for anyone who wants to come up for a weekend. Unfortunately it was fairly windy (not so much as to be dangerous, but enough to tear up the thermals), so that's where they stayed on Saturday - tied down.

A couple of the club members had never been to any of the well-known landout sites to the north of here, so four of us got in my truck and visited several of them. It's very helpful to see a site from the ground and get an idea of the landmarks, obstacles, slope, ground access etc.
First up was Cantil, a broad empty field right off the paved road. It looks really good, and it's nice to have another site now that the Honda Track access road is closed.

We stopped briefly at Wide Spot, and all agreed it's useless as a landing site. It was always marginal, and now there's a big sign at the north end. So cross this one off the list.

Brad's Landing Place was next. This is a concrete-covered aqueduct a few miles off the paved road. We checked out two or three different roads in to it and found that the road right next to Robber's Roost is the easiest and shortest. We also found a secodn section of the aqueduct that also looks landable. I'll measure it on Google Earth and compare it to the section already documented.

We visited Inyokern airport and met some of the glider and tow pilots there.

Cinder Cone dry lake is a nice long lake, very smooth. It would be possible to aerotow from it. The road in is a bit rocky.

Coso Junction dry lake is also very smooth, and the road in is shorter and smoother. Both Cinder Cone and Coso currently have wind socks.

Maps show an airstrip on the other side of the highway from Coso Junction, so we checked it out. It's really just a field, and appears to be on private property. We don't think it's usable.

Sunday has started out nearly calm, so I'm hoping it will turn out to be soarable.