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.