Saturday, December 18, 2010

Landing practice under low clouds

Friday I went to Crystalaire to work with an instructor to prepare for my Commercial practical test. Although it was raining on the south-facing foothills as I drove up from Orange County, Crystal is in the "rain shadow" of the San Gabriel mountains and only had clouds. But very low clouds - so low it was not possible to do anything but pattern flights, and even on those we could not get above about 800 feet. (Fortunately in Class G airspace we just need to stay clear of clouds.) So that's what we did: seven low flights. This was our first time working together, and he's going to need to see if I'm flying to Commercial standards, so we would need to do this sometime anyway.

We did a mix of standard patterns, rope breaks, and abbreviated patterns. Sometime he gave me a target touchdown point and/or stopping point just after we released from tow, so I had to quickly plan my pattern and glideslope. (This may not sound like a big deal to readers who are power pilots, but remember that in a glider you can neither add power nor go around). The runway is a mile long, and there was very little traffic, so we could touch down at either end and roll to the far end if desired.

All my previous preparation for the Commercial test had been in our Blanik L13's. The Grob 103 is a slipperier ship, and has no flaps, so the energy management is different. I've flown it a lot, and have done some short-field landings in it at Hemet, but lots of my flights in it have been at Tehachapi where we also have a long runway. And many of my flights in it have been dual with other pilots, so I have fewer landings in it than I'd like. So I really have not done many "accuracy" landings in the Grob, nor have I ever slipped it very much.

I'd never done a rope break in the Grob before... this day I did two. Both went fine, except that my turn was not steep enough on the first one. In a high-L/D ship like this, you can really do a 180-degree turn from about 200 feet AGL and get back to the runway with excess height that you need to lose either with spoilers or a slip.

The final flight was a "no-drag-devices" approach. That means flying the whole pattern with no spoilers, only using a slip to bring it down. Again, I've done it in a Blanik before but not in the Grob. It really did not want to come down! I was in a full slip, giving it all the aileron and rudder that I could, and was still too high about 1/3 of the way over the runway. (It didn't help that I was letting my speed get way too high.) He took over and demonstrated that it's possible to get it into a deeper slip if you kick the rudder all the way over abruptly. Somehow that gives the fuselage enough momentum to carry it into a more extreme yaw than if you apply the rudder just as far but more gradually.

By the time I had put the ship away, had a debrief, and ate my lunch, the clouds were breaking up. But I don't think anyone else was around to fly. And the drive back down to the basin was again through heavy rain and fog. You can see it creeping over the mountains in this pic.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why is soaring like fishing?

One of the comments fisherman often hear is "You shoulda been here yesterday!" One of the comments I'm hearing lately at the gliderport is "There was wave all week!" This Saturday was pretty much the same as the last time I was at Crystalaire: northeast winds from the desert causing Santa Ana winds where I live, and really strong through the passes that lead into the high desert... but nearly calm at the airport and the adjacent mountains. We could see wave clouds about 40 miles to the east and 20 miles to the west, but nothing at Crystal. And the thermal forecast was dismal - very warm air aloft, NO chance of thermal formation although the surface temperature got up to the 70's (welcome to December in the California high desert).

So although no other gliders were staying up, I flew anyway just for the practice. My first flight at Crystal was an orientation with an instructor, and my second was with another club pilot who has flown there a lot, so I needed to get in the air by myself. We towed the glider to the west end of Runway 07... seemed like I walked a half a mile holding the wing. Oh, wait... it WAS a half a mile: that runway is 2600' long. Soaring does involve a bit of walking!

I was going to get a 4000' tow to the mountains and look for ridge lift. There was nothing over the "Second Ridge", so I hung on to 4700' feet AGL hoping to find something... ANYthing. I eventually pulled off and went back and forth over Second Ridge and got nowhere. At least I was not hitting any sink, so I didn't come down very fast.

I did encounter a little turbulence, so thinking that there MIGHT be a little wave action forming, I went back and forth through the valley between the ridges. Nothing.

I tried up and back over the First Ridge. I did encounter a narrow little bump. When I went back over that same spot and bumped again, I tried circling there but again found nothing.

Back out over the desert. Nothing but smooth air. No sink, so at least I was coming down at the normal sink rate for the Grob 103, which is about 15o feet per minute or so. I was back down on Runway 07 after 36 minutes. Pretty much a sleigh ride. But good practice, searching the ridges and learning how high I need to be at different points in order to maintain a safe final glide slope back to the airport. Now if a friend wants to go for a glider ride, I'll be comfortable taking them up from this airport.

I sat down with the Chief Instructor and worked out a plan to resume my final training and signoffs for my Commercial and Instructor certificates. Regular readers will recall that I was just days away from taking those test when all soaring was shut down at our home airport in Hemet. Since then I've been trying to work out the combination of aircraft, gliderport, instructor, and inspector that will let me successfully take those tests without breaking my soaring bank. Now that we have the Grob stationed at Crystal, I think it's feasible. I hope to complete these within three months. I'll continue to blog about how that process goes.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Silver Badge - kind of

I see from the listing in this month's Soaring magazine that my Silver Badge has been approved. But I have not yet received the badge itself or a letter or email from the SSA. I know they had a change in the volunteer staff who handles the badge program, so I assume they're running a bit behind as they get started. But it's nice to know that my claim was accepted!