Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mind the gap!

Some places, that means "don't fall in the gap between the platform and the train." In soaring, that means "don't get trapped when the Foehn gap closes under you." I've learned about it in training and read about it, but never experienced it until today.

The RASPtable forecast showed possible wave from a southwest wind. The NWS forecast showed increasing cloudiness after noon in the high desert. Both were spot on! When I arrived at Crystalaire there were lennies far to the west, but it was clear overhead. By the time I was ready to fly, wispy wave clouds were starting to form over the local mountains. I had to wait quite a while for the tow, and we watched rotor clouds forming over the foothills, and increasing wave clouds over the mountains.

I launched at about 12:45 and there was only moderate rotor turbulence on tow. The tow pilot did a great job of dragging me right into the wave lift. When things got smooth, I let off at 7,800 MSL, which at 4,400 AGL was quite a high tow for me. But it worked! I worked the wave back and forth a bit, trying to find the strongest part. It did not form a very long line, and I had the best luck staying pretty stationary over the Devil's Punchbowl and facing into the wind. I bet my groundspeed was only 5 knots.

For quite a while, the only clouds were over the mountains. By the shape of the bottom sections, they were clearly driven by wind, but the tops were not smooth like classic lenticular clouds. There was some wind shear, with Hemlholtz waves visible occasionally. We had rain earlier this week and the mountains were dusted with snow, though not as much as I expected. There were a couple other gliders exploring the wave, but not very close to me. I eventually got to 12,200' MSL, much better than I expected today!

Secondary wave clouds started forming behind me over the desert. Initially they were pretty rough but eventually turned into classic lenticular clouds. Look how smooth the top of this one is. They look like static formations, but if you ever get a close look at the upwind edge you'll see it is constantly forming as the wind moves moist air up into it, and on the downwind edge it is constantly dissolving as the wind pushes the moist air down and it re-evaporates. The smooth top indicates the boundary of fast-flowing, condensed moisture.  You can see a gap called the "Foehn gap" between the trailing edge of the clouds over the mountains, and the secondary clouds over the desert.

The "standing waves" appear to keep the clouds in pretty much the same places for quite a while, but in  fact they are constantly evolving. The gap in the previous picture disappeared at its western end, as the two clouds merged. Over about a 5 to 10 minute period, that gap got smaller and gradually closed to the east - picture a zipper closing, with me as the pull-tab! I spotted it happening pretty early on, and headed east at a pretty good speed. I was actually higher than the clouds, probably by about 1,500 to 2,000 feet. I suppose I could have hopped over the northern (secondary) wave, but what if it developed even more to the north? So I continued east (in moderate lift, not losing altitude) until I was clear of it. This picture is looking back from where I came. See the narrow gap in the middle of the picture? That was much bigger 5 minutes earlier! I had heard about this phenomenon, so I was prepared for it, but I had never seen it in action.

Along the way, I saw a "cloud bow", a bull's-eye-shaped rainbow in thin clouds below me, with the sun behind me in the opposite direction. I tried to take pictures of it, but I only had a few seconds - and I was concentrating on getting out of the gap - so they didn't come out very well.

You can see the huge difference in cloud cover between picture 1 and picture 4. That cloud growth occurred in about 45 minutes! And hmm... now the cloud was covering the airport! If it grew much bigger, I'd be stuck above the clouds far from the field. I decided to duck under the cloud so I could be sure of getting back, even if that meant cutting my flight short. At this point I was still close to 12,000' MSL, and the cloud base was probably about 8,000' MSL, so I had a lot of altitude to lose. By a combination of speeding up to 80+ knots, and using spoilers, I got down under the clouds. But I had to fight quite a headwind to get back to the airport, which cost even more altitude. I didn't get very low, but low enough that I did not have much altitude left for exploring.

A couple of other gliders and I explored the area to the west of the airport, trying to reconnect with the lower part of the wave. It was there, but not wide enough or strong enough to let me go southwest far enough to really reach the leading edge of the cloud. So I eventually landed after just over an hour. By this time the clouds were covering 70% to 80% of the sky - just like NWS had said.

All in all, a very satisfying, interesting, and challenging flight.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

How can there be lift EVERYWHERE?

I haven't posted for a while, though I have flown. Things have been pretty busy... I'll catch up on some recent events in the next post (I hope).

Today's forecast looked good, but with one caveat: NWS listed "broken cirrus" starting about 2:00 pm. "Broken" is a technical term that means more than half the sky. If that much cirrus came in, it could shut down ground heating. The soaring forecast showed a convergence of winds right across the top of the San Gabriel mountains - that would be good! Driving up from the south about 9:30, I could already see clouds right on the top, and it was way to early for them to be CU from thermal heating. The local instructor I usually check with said they had had great conditions for the last two weeks, and expected more of the same today.

I prepped the Grob 103. The gliderport was hosting a bunch of Boy Scouts flights... between those, a down towplane, a wind shift which meant towing six gliders to the west end of the runway, and a line mixup, I didn't launch until 1:45. Fortunately the cirrus was staying scattered. The lower clouds looked great - more over the mountains than the desert, and cycling fast enough you could tell new ones (good lift) from old ones.

On tow, we had an "event" - I don't know if you'd call it a close call or not. After takeoff we did a 270-degree turn to head south. That took us over the downwind leg for the opposite-direction runway. Fairly abruptly, the towplane climbed, not the typical flying-through-lift jump - and I had to catch up. Looking down, I saw a glider on downwind leg about 100-200 feet below us. I don't know if it caught the tow pilot by surprise and this was "evasive action" or whether he had him well in sight... but it was closer than I've ever come to another glider while on tow.

I let off at 2700' AGL (6100' MSL) in good lift. I found good stuff right away, and took successive thermals up to 8,000, 9,500, and then 10,600 over the mountains. I overflew Mt. Baden-Powell, then went chasing ever higher clouds.
Some like the ones above looked nice and sharp on top, which indicated they were growing and would have lift underneath. But they were cycling so fast that they died before I got to them.

In the next pic you can see I'm close up under some smaller ones. The trick was to look for wisps of moisture that were just starting to condense, and quickly get under them.

The highest I could get was about 11,000 MSL under these clouds. I very rarely hit any serious sink between patches of lift. Eventually I headed out over the desert and... the lift got even better. Away from the mountains, with their moist lift, it was all blue, but there were long straight stretches that I assume were convergence lift. I went probably ten miles straight north and was usually in zero sink or minor lift. Eventually I reached some little lakes and I was still at 10,000+. Then... I hit even MORE thermal lift (with no cloud to mark it) and worked that up to 12,500! This was probably the first time I've found a higher lift ceiling over the desert than over the mountains. It really felt like the lift was EVERYWHERE today. That's not usually possible - what goes up must come down - but if there was a large-scale convergence due to the south wind coming over the mountains, colliding with the mild offshore wind that was building, maybe there was a widespread general uplift in addition to the great thermals.

I decided to come in after about two hours of great flying, and had to use spoilers to get down from 10,000 feet! As I got down near our "report-in" altitude of 5000' MSL, I could see there was a glider staging for takeoff, and a glider on the radio was getting ready to land. Now usually, we have limited ability to go into a "holding pattern", but as I circled just to the west of the airport, I found a wide, gentle thermal. I held there for 10-15 minutes while one glider took off and three landed - and I had gained 1,500' without even trying. Highly unusual!

I ended up with a total flight time of 2 hours and 25 minutes. Everyone I talked to on the ground agreed it was a terrific day for lift.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Friday the 13th? Bah! But still....

I read quite a few publications about flying, not just soaring, because I want to be the best pilot I can be.  It's frequently stated that many accidents come about not because of a catastrophic event, but because of a "chain" of things that lead to a bad situation or bad decision. These things can be actual problems, or issues that stay on the pilot's mind and cause distractions. I try to be very self-aware and keep an eye out for multiple things going wrong. Many of these are just normal things that crop up during flight planning and prep, but some days more of them happen than usual. That doesn't necessarily mean I won't fly, but it makes my "spidey-sense" go on high alert and make sure I'm being extra careful.

I'm not superstitious, but this series of unfortunate events started the night of Friday the 13th.
  • I thought I was going to have a passenger going for an intro flight on Saturday. That's fine, I like giving rides. He was on and off all evening. He wouldn't get to the gliderport until noon, which meant no smooth early ride, and possibly waiting in line for a towplane if we took off during prime time. It doesn't really make much difference, but it meant I needed to think about which plane to prep, what time to fly, whether anyone else would need the 2-seater, etc.
  • I found that my PDA (an old HP iPAQ) had lost its memory. That's happened a few times before, usually due to failure to charge the battery in time. But this time the battery and charger were OK, so it's unexplained. Because I have changed computers since the last time this happened, I had to mess around a bit to get the programs and files installed, rather than running a simple restore. And then had to test the GPS to make sure it was working. This took well into the late hours of the evening.
Saturday, before flying, stuff kept happening:
  • I got a text message that the passenger had decided not to go. The message was from 2:30 in the morning. So I'm wondering: what's up with that? Oh well, at least I'll get to fly the PW5, which is easier to prep and simpler to fly on what was looking to be a good thermal day.
  • During the preflight inspection, an issue came up with the PW5. I won't go into it here, but it caused me some delay and concern as I had to walk around and search both ships and both trailers, and contact the most recent pilot to ask about it. His phone number had changed, but I contacted him by text message and later talked to him. More extra tasks and delay and distraction.
  • I usually use my own O2 tank with the PW5's electronic system. Once before, and again today, I could not get the PW5's screw-on connector to seal right, which means O2 leaks out. Probably we need to replace the O-ring again. After trying for quite a while, I decided to use my own Oxymiser system, which means removing the PW5's box and tubing. That's pretty simple, but it does mean using a manual flow control instead having the automatic system come on at 10,000 feet.
  • I started up my PDA/GPS and it got a good fix. Whew! Last time it didn't, and I didn't get a flight trace. But a few minutes later it popped up the screen demanding the license key (since I had reinstalled SeeYou Mobile last night). Fortunately I have that key in a text file on the device. Unfortunately cut-n-paste wouldn't work, so I had to write down and enter the key manually. Just another annoyance... in 90+ degree heat...
I nearly always take a break after the inspection and prep, have my light lunch, cool down, and then go fly. When I get back to the ship, there are always a few final items to take care of, because I don't like to put certain things into the cockpit because they get hot. When I was nearly ready, I found I needed to make yet another trip back to the "pilot's lounge". On the walk back to the plane I reviewed all the distractions and delays, and decided that they had not accumulated into anything that would keep me from flying. As I mentioned, I'm aware of cumulative distractions, but all these items had been resolved, so I put them out of my mind and focused for the flight. The CU's had been popping since 9:00 but were not overdeveloping, so it looked to be a good day. I took off at 12:45.
Stuff kept happening:
  • During the tow, the red emergency canopy release handle fell off. Just fell off! I ignored it and focused on the tow, which is a critical part of the flight. I didn't need to be feeling around my feet looking for it while flying formation! Later in the flight, I found that it had nicely landed on the pedestal within easy reach, and it simply screwed back on.
  • Once I started thermaling, I noticed that the "thermal analyzer" function of SeeYou was not activating. That made me wonder what other settings might not be set the way I wanted, but nothing else arose during the flight.
  • I received a pulse oximeter for Christmas, but had only tried it once before in flight. This time I tried it again, but I could not see the display and put it away. Later on the ground I saw that it was not detecting my finger. I tried it later at home and it worked fine. Maybe I didn't put it on right, or maybe it got overheated? Another distraction...
All that aside, it turned out to be an outstanding day for soaring! I let off tow in lift and never lost it. Very quickly I got up to 10,000' MSL and never went below that altitude until it was time to come home. Most of the time I was above 11,000, and my max was 12,776. 

The CU's coming off the northern edge of the mountains were abundant, close enough to nearly form "cloud streets" at times. 
The lift was turbulent, though, with lots of ups and downs. This flight trace is color-coded by vertical speed. It's really rare to see the lift and sink so interleaved. 

The CU were not big or strong enough to overdevelop into thunderstorms in this region. I could see to the east that there was a whole north-south line of bigger CU. In the picture you can see that it's hazy brown below the cloudbase, and clear above. (Click on the pic for a better look.) I think there was a convergence of air masses triggering those CU's, different from the ones where I was which seemed to be thermally generated.

And the lift was not just under the clouds, I found lift between them that allowed me to go higher than the cloudbase. This was probably the best thermal lift day I've experienced since coming to Crystal. I didn't really go very far - I've written before about the limitations of flying club planes - but I did go further west and north than I ever have. Someday I'll map out a local cross-country triangle and do some goal-oriented flights. For now I'm just having great fun cloud-hopping at 12,000 feet!
I also went north over the desert and continued to find lift to 10 thousand feet. I flew for nearly two and a half hours. It would not have been a good day for my passenger's intro flight - we would have had to start much earlier in the day when it was not so turbulent.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Weird but it Worked

Sunday's forecast was for winds from the west or northwest north of the mountains, but from the south down in the L.A. basin. That made for a possible convergence at right angles right on the top of the mountains. It looked like there could be the possibility of mountain wave lift in places. It was warm enough for some thermal heating too, if the winds did not blow them out.

I decided to fly our Grob 103 Twin Astir because I wanted to check out some issues with how it handles. Our club members have been discussing how heavy the aileron controls are, and whether the stick forces are increasing or not. (If any readers have experience with this in Twin Astirs, I'd like to hear about it. This specific model is known to be different from other Grob 103 variants.) Since the winds were fairly light, I figured it would be a good day to experiment with it.

There were reports that lift was working well over Mt. Lewis. I towed to 3900' AGL (7300' MSL) over the "second ridge" and let off in decent lift, hoping to work my way up to the higher mountains. It was pretty patchy lift, though, and I had to drift down the ridge (westward) to keep sufficient clearance. I found more lift over the valley next to the Devil's Punchbowl than I did over the hills. It was enough to slowly creep up, but nothing very exciting. A couple of other gliders joined me, but none of us were climbing very fast. For the first hour I was up and down by just a few hundred feet.

The lift was puzzling, as it often can be in this area. Sometimes it was too narrow to circle like a thermal, and there was rotor-like turbulence next to it, but the lift was not smooth as one would expect if it was wave. For a while it seemed to be parallel to the second ridge, as if it was a small wave coming off of it, but other times it was perpendicular to it.

After about an hour of hard work, I found a big, wide area of lift that felt more like thermal, and shared it with (as I later learned) a DG-400. That is really one of the fun parts of local soaring: flying near, but not too near, other sailplanes. Watching each other swoop and turn big lazy circles, or tighter turns trying to core a thermal, you feel like you're weightless, and the ground far below is irrelevant. It's amazing how suddenly your companion glider can be a couple hundred feet above or below you, as you each get into and out of areas of lift and sink. Unfortunately I did not bring my camera along this time.

One of the great thrills is finally "ratcheting up" the altitude and finding that you're going up more than going down, and being able to relax and enjoy the flight. Eventually the lift was stronger and more consistent and I reached 9,000' MSL. By that time I had been up for nearly two hours, and I had kind of a time limit to the afternoon, so I called it a day. Not a spectacular day, but ultimately a successful one. I ended up with a total time of 2:08.

Talking with other pilots back on the ground, we all agreed it was a weird day. Some lucky pilots broke through to some good wave lift over the higher mountains and got to 14,000'. Others of us in thermal  lift topped out about 9,000'. Some of the lift was hard to categorize, so we figured it was some combination of convergence and moderate wave over the hills, and thermal over the flats. Whatever!!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Working more than flying

I had not flown since my great wave flight in March... I've been busy with projects at home and various commitments on the weekends. A lot has happened in the last couple of months. Due to some mid-year leadership changes, I've been appointed President of our soaring club. We've been working on transitioning both of our ships to Crystalaire, which will be our new base of operations for the foreseeable future. With our Blanik trainers grounded until the AD gets resolved, we've been working on some changes in rules and procedures to refocus our club operations around Private Pilots and our glass ships instead of around training.

Today we reassembled our Grob 103 Twin Astir at Crystal and did some maintenance on it. Sometimes the wings go on easily, but today we had a lot of trouble with the second wing. We don't assemble it often enough to have a real "groove" to our process. I took a test flight late in the afternoon in it with another pilot. The weather today was weird: windy out of the west, with some rotor clouds and some cumulus, but no wave clouds. There were few other pilots flying, but those that did reported strong lift and strong sink. It was quite turbulent on tow, and I had trouble with one of the flight controls (which I'm not going to detail), so I was not flying my best. I let off earlier than I planned because we flew through some very strong lift a couple of times. But the lift was hard to work and the wind was strong, and we kept drifting downwind out of it. Having started out low, we did not have much altitude to burn getting back to the lift. After just a few tries I had to enter the pattern. And of course THEN we found strong lift! Although the wind was strong and gusty, it was blowing straight down the runway, so the landing was not difficult (thought I gently bounced it).

After we landed we checked with two other club members who had flown, and our stories all matched: found strong lift on tow, got off tow at about 2,000' AGL, then could not work the lift, and landed after 9 to 12 minutes. That's twice I've done that at Crystal. My new motto is "Won't get fooled again!" No one opted to try a second flight - it just wasn't worth it.

This makes two years in a row that Memorial Day at Crystal was too windy to be fun. Last year was even worse! Maybe as the summer progresses we'll get rid of these Pacific storms and get some normal thermal soaring.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mountain Climbing in a Greenhouse

We can never quite tell how a day will shape up for soaring. I went to Crystalaire this Saturday not even sure if I would fly, wondering if the weather would turn out like the forecasts, had a long wait for a tow, and ended up having one of my best flights ever!

Winds in front of an approaching Pacific storm were forecast to be from the south. If other conditions are right, this can cause mountain wave lift between the gliderport and the San Gabriel Mountains. The RASPtable forecast for 13:00 at 500 millibars (about 19,000 feet MSL) looked like this. The gliderport is somewhere near the word "Llano". The reddish area would be the strongest lift. But would it really happen?

At the field, lenticular clouds were clearly visible to the east. The senior instructor said the wave was working and had been for several days. The temperature on the ground was much warmer than I expected, and the wind was warm, indicating a foehn effect. I had some tasks to take care of earlier in the day, so I did not get fully ready to fly until about 13:30, by which time there was a line of 5-6 gliders waiting to take off. Then one of the two working towplanes was grounded with an electrical problem, so I didn't actually take off until 14:33. I almost canceled because the southwest wind was 15 knots gusting to 18, which exceeds the PW5's maximum demonstrated crosswind component (a guideline, not a hard limit). But there is a short crosswind runway which aligns very nicely with that wind direction, which would turn a strong crosswind into a great headwind for landing. So up I went.

There was a lot of turbulence on tow, much of which was no doubt wave rotor. I let off tow at 4,100' AGL (7,500' MSL) when we flew into smooth wave lift. I don't remember the exact sequence of climbs and loss of lift (I may update this after I peruse my flight trace), but I easily got up to 13,000 MSL, higher than I had ever been in wave. Most of the time I was heading southwest directly into the wind. The best speed for climbing seemed to be about 48 knots, which is Best L/D speed for the PW5... I expected it to be down around Minimum Sink, so I'll have to think about that. (Comments, anyone?) At times my groundspeed appeared to be nearly zero (though I did not have GS shown on my PDA/GPS... I'll have to add that number to the display) so my airspeed of 48 must have been very close to the wind speed. Look back at the forecast map above: the wind barbs show 45 knots, though that was for 19,000'

Having reached 13,000', my thoughts turned to overflying Mt. Baldy (actually named Mt. San Antonio, about 10,000', and visible as the highest oval in the map above), which has been one of my goals for a while now. That would be challenging, because the wave was 4-5 miles north of the mountains, and I would need extra altitude to fight non-lifting headwinds to get there. The wave lift pretty much paralleled the ridge, so I was able to maintain and even gain as I headed east. By the time I was adjacent to the peak, I was at 16,600'! My previous personal record had been 15,100' over the southern Sierras. Even if I did not make it to Mt. Baldy, this was already a great day!

So I headed toward the peak, but as I mentioned, the winds were strong... my 48kt Best L/D wasn't going to get me there. I had to speed up to 70-75 knots to make any headway, and then of course the glide ratio gets really bad. At times I was seeing 800 to 1000 feet per minute down - not what I needed! By the time I got to the peak - frequently looking over my shoulder at the gliderport getting further away - I was down to 13,000'. SeeYou Mobile was telling me I had plenty of altitude to get back (it's only 14.7 nautical miles), and the look-down angle was good... but I'm really not that comfortable getting far from a landing site. and I have not personally scouted the landout options in this area. And I'm very aware SYM does not know about actual wind conditions, so one always needs to be more conservative than SYM's guidance. If the wind shifted from southwest to west, I would have a big headwind component on the way back. So it did make me nervous. Just as soon as I was over the peak, I turned back to a heading halfway between "direct to Crystal" and "directly back to the wave".

On the way back, I got more of that 1000 fpm sink. By the time I reconnected with the wave, I was down to 9,xxx feet. Back in the wave, I headed west again and by the time I was adjacent to the gliderport I was back to 13,000' again! I had been up for about an hour and a half.

People ask me if it's cold up there. It is and it isn't. I occasionally checked the Outside Air Temperature display, and the lowest I saw at 16,xxx feet, was -10 Celsius, which is +14 Fahrenheit. Yet I was very comfortable in a short-sleeved, lightweight shirt. After about an hour and a half, my feet started to get cold, and there are a few air leaks around the canopy (need to replace some weatherstripping) so there's an occasional draft to the neck. but that's all. The big bubble canopy on the PW5 truly acts as a greenhouse and traps the sunlight, keeping it nice and warm. (Good in the winter, not so good in the summer.) So yes, I went mountain climbing in a greenhouse!

I lost nearly no altitude getting back, and looked directly down on the gliderport from 13,000'. I headed north to lose some altitude, and lost a couple thousand feet or so, but guess what - I contacted the secondary wave (where the senior instructor had reported it hours earlier). Clearly THIS was not the way down. So I headed back south and pulled my spoilers out... and got into some of the worst rotor turbulence I've ever seen, the kind that bounces my head on the canopy and sends radios and stuff flying out of the cabin pockets. I slowed down my airspeed a bit and it was not too bad, and only lasted a couple of minutes. After that I flew with full spoilers, and at times I saw -1250 fpm on the digital display.

As expected, the wind at ground level had not abated, and the tetrahedron showed that the direction had not changed, so I opted to land on the crosswind dirt runway. It's only about 330 feet long before it intersects the dirt approach area of the main runway, and 450 feet to the centerline, but with a strong headwind that should not be a problem. We got lots of practice landing short at Hemet-Ryan! I was quite aware of another glider in the pattern behind me, so I turned off as soon as I could, and was concerned I was in his way as he landed on the main runway, but I was about a hundred feet off the centerline so it was not a problem at all. Total flight time: 2 hours and 2 minutes.

Sorry, no pictures of the beautiful snow on top of Mt. Baldy or the Mountain High ski resort, but I didn't take my camera along this time... and I was kinda busy! I may be able to update this with my flight trace.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Update on Blanik L13 situation

We are still waiting for the FAA to complete their assessment of a Supplemental Type Certificate that has been submitted to deal with the Blanik L13 airworthiness issue. It's been in process since about May 2011.

The parts kit alone would cost about $8,700.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Seagull Soaring Index

I have a 2-meter "foamie" radio-controlled glider that I occasionally get to fly, mostly ridge soaring along ocean cliffs. It's relatively heavy, so it takes a pretty strong wind to keep it aloft, unlike the little Zagis and molded foam warbirds that have been developed in recent years.

On some long trips to the dunes at Pismo Beach, CA I invented my "Seagull Soaring Index". I watch the seagulls that are ridge soaring, and mentally count the longest intervals between episodes of flapping. If they can soar for 6 seconds at a time or longer, the wind is strong enough to launch my Highlander. Any less, and I will be trekking down the hill to retrieve it.

Smaller ships would probably fly on a SSI of two or three. I've thought of getting a wing or smaller glider, but since I really don't get to fly R/C all that often (I'd rather fly "full-scale") it's not worth the cost.

What weather-related "rules of thumb" do you use to help decide whether today (or tomorrow) will be a good soaring day?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

More Hemet-Ryan shenanigans

The County of Riverside is determined to force gliders to stop operating at Hemet-Ryan Airport. The FAA ruled that we have the right to fly there, and ruled that the management must negotiate in good faith with us. But the FAA does not oversee the details of the negotiation process, and will only step in if we formally protest again.

First, the CoR wanted us to fit into an FBO model, offering a full range of aviation services (repairs, instruction, rental, etc.), and tried to enforce some "minimum standards" for amount of land and hangar space we must rent.

They eventually said we could rent just an acre of land for tiedowns, or just a hangar for storage. But they are not offering a lease of any specific duration, they are only offering a month-to-month rental. That would make it tough to rent tiedown space to private pilots - who would place their glider there if they knew they could be evicted at any time? And what club would invest in any kind of improvements to the tiedowns, hangar, or land if they knew they could be kicked out and their improvements seized or destroyed at any time?

We could rent tiedown space at the power-plane FBO that exists, but guess what? The tiedowns are of the ring-in-the-ground kind, and sized for GA aircraft, not the staked-down-cable kind. Gliders don't fit into them. We tried. We could use two spaces, but guess what? The CoR insists that the FBO charge us for two spaces AND charge us parking for the glider trailers. So that works out to about $150 per month per glider. That doesn't fit into a club's budget.

So the FBO rented us some space in a dirt area that they lease, and we put down stakes sized for our gliders. Guess what? The CoR orders the FBO to tell us to vacate that space, that tying down in the dirt is "incompatible" with the intended use of that space, and the FBO is forced to go along with it. Guess what? There's a nice twin-engine Beechcraft, some other twin, and two privately-owned military jets also tied down in the dirt. If the CoR does not force them to move, then we will have some pretty solid grounds for a complaint of selective enforcement with the FAA.


I'm sure there's more to the story than this, but this is what I have observed so far.

We're moving our aircraft to other gliderports, because we have no choice, but that does not mean we are done battling the County of Riverside. There are significant principles at stake here, and we are not giving up.

Flight # 300

Saturday was designated as a day for test launches on our winch after reversing the cable on the spool. The weather was broken clouds, not much potential for thermal lift. No one was expecting to soar, because we wanted to do as many launches as possible. We had some work to do in the morning, and a meeting of members, so we weren't ready to fly until about 1:00. At this point in time I'm one of the few members who are both winch-qualified and current (several are needing biennial Flight Reviews), so I was up first, flying the PW5. Others would go up in the Grob 103 with an instructor.

The wind was about 10 knots with gusts to 15, but it was only slightly off the runway heading (maybe 15 degrees), so I was comfortable flying the PW5, which does not do so well with crosswinds. The field was fortunately clear of the tumbleweeds which have caused us some problems in the past. The initial acceleration was smooth, not a strong G kick like sometimes. I kept a close eye on the line and parachute to avoid overrunning it, and rotated into a nice climb. Before long the airspeed was exceeding the maximum of 65 knots allowed, so I called down a couple of times for less speed. The CG hook automatically released at 1100 feet AGL, and I went off in search of lift. There was just a little over the auto mall parking lot, but not enough to keep me up, so I was back down in about four minutes. I kept a little extra speed to deal with the headwind, and had a good landing.

Our instructor pointed out that I had drifted downwind during the climb due to the fairly strong wind from the left. True enough, I had not paid any attention to direction on the way up. I was focused on keeping a wings-level attitude and on my airspeed. It's really hard to get any sense of horizontal direction during a ground launch, because the climb angle is so steep. You cannot see the ground below unless you consciously look down and back behind you. Look at the backward-looking shots in this video, and you'll get some idea of just how steeply we climb. Looking forward or to the side, all you see is sky.

That was my 300th flight as a glider pilot.

We pushed right back and I went up again. This time I crabbed to the left to counteract the wind, but I'll admit that the amount of crab was a guess, as I still could not see the ground. Apparently it was enough, because the instructor said I was right on track this time. The speed stayed about 65 knots and I had a nice smooth climb to 1400' AGL. That's equal to my other best solo winch launches - I've reached 1500' AGL once with an instructor. This time I was able to work a little bit of lift, but only gained about a hundred feet. The sky was nearly overcast and it was windy, so thinking that the lift might be wave or otherwise wind-generated, I moved around a bit to see if it would extend beyond this one little area. Nope. It really wasn't much, and I came back in for another very short flight. After landing and rolling to a stop, I "ground-flew" the glider for about a minute, keeping the wingtips off the ground by working the headwind with the ailerons.

We conducted four more winch launches, all instructional flights in the Grob 103. One of those launches ceased at 400' AGL when the short rope that connects to the Tost ring came open. The other launches were to 1000' or so. So it was a very successful test of the winch - no further main cable breaks.

The last launch was an aerotow of the Grob. We are again relocating our aircraft to other gliderports while we continue to engage with the Hemet-Ryan management. We will be placing the Grob at Lake Elsinore for a few months, so we asked an Elsinore towplane to come over and tow it there. We disassembled the PW5 and it is being trailered to Crystalaire.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Mobile format

I've just turned on the mobile option for this blog. It's fully automatic - you don't need to go to a different URL. This should make it far faster and easier to read and navigate from your iPhone-type device, and I imagine from Android devices too. It does not seem to make any difference on my Blackberry device. Please let me know if you encounter any problems with this additional layout.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Motion-induced blindness

A friend shared this link and I think it's worth sharing here as well. We're taught as student pilots that when we're scanning for traffic, we need to look at different sections of the sky for short periods and not fixate. The reason has more to do with our optic system architecture than with our conscious ability to recognize objects. The brain does many things for us automatically at levels below our awareness, and it does not do all of them well! Try this on-line experiment. If you look at the yellow dots you can see that the demo is honest - the dots are there the whole time. If you fixate on the central dot the yellow dots will disappear. This is not the classic optic nerve blind spot demo - this is more about the neural networks that perform pattern recognition. If you shift your gaze slightly, the dots will reappear. So to compensate for this effect in real life - to spot air traffic - it's essential to shift your gaze frequently.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review of 2011

2011 was quite an interesting year. It started off badly, but I had some terrific flights and gave some great passenger rides. It ended with our club returning to Hemet-Ryan airport on a limited basis.

I had a total of 24 flights, four less than in 2010, but 18 hours and 12 minutes, which is more time.
  • Six flights with instructors
  • Two flights with other private glider pilots
  • Six passenger flights
  • Ten solo flights
  • No cross-country flights
  • Six winch launches - the most I've had in any year so far
  • 16 flights in the Grob 103
  • 8 flights in the PW5
  • Two flights over two hours each
  • Four flights between one and two hours each
I only flew at Crystalaire and Hemet-Ryan this year. Our club did not take any field trips.
  • 16:44 at Crystal
  • 1:28 at Hemet
I flew at least once every month except August, and that was because my family took a 3-week vacation.

Early in the year I had to put my plans to get my Commercial and Instructor ratings on hold. It became apparent that I needed a lot more practice in the Grob 103 if I was to have the accuracy I needed to take the practical tests, and due to a variety of family needs I was not able to accomplish that before my written tests expired. With our club training program on hold due to the Hemet and Blanik situations, I would not have much opportunity to instruct anyway, so the cost of restarting the process did not seem worthwhile. Now that we are planning to fly regularly at Hemet, I may resume my training and testing in 2012.

At Crystalaire, I had some really interesting flights. The north-facing mountain terrain makes it possible to soar even when the weather is doing some wacky things. I found mountain wave lift several times and learned to recognize and work it. I explored what I called "mountain wake" lift and wrote a lengthy article about it, which got some attention among the pilots at Crystal. I didn't do the kind of really high mountain wave flights that some others have done, but I did get up to 12.2 and 12.6 thousand feet a couple of times - pretty exciting. I'm looking forward to moving our club ships back to Hemet because it is closer to home (less driving), and in some ways the thermal lift is more consistent, but I'm going to miss the challenge of the mountains - I learned a lot there! And I never did get to the top of Mt. Baldy…

In the spring and summer I took my cousins and some friends for flights. We found thermal and wave lift, gaggled with other gliders, and had a great time.

The club continued to face challenges in 2011: 
  • The Blanik grounding situation continues to be unresolved, putting a damper on our student training program. 
  • One of our two Blaniks was damaged in a storm at Lake Elsinore, and was totaled by the insurance company. 
  • Although the FAA ruled in our favor in the Hemet-Ryan situation, the process of establishing operating rules and negotiating a reasonable fee structure with the County of Riverside has been painful. Operating there is laborious and inconvenient until we get tiedowns, storage, and facilities on the north side of the airport near runway 4-22.