Sunday, September 08, 2013

Back in the saddle

I have not written any blog posts about flying for quite a while. Two reasons: I've been really busy with other responsibilities, and I have not been flying because both of our club gliders have been out of service. Our PW5 single-place glider is now fixed, so it's time to get "back in the saddle again".

In August of 2012, one of our club members landed out in a field, and the main landing gear was badly damaged. Major fiberglass work was required. We tried to work with a pair of local people who said they could do the job, but it turned out to be beyond their ability to plan and execute. They were not able to engineer the repair themselves, and needed guidance from the factory - in Poland. Getting the list of parts, and figuring out how to order them, and getting the repair guidance just did not progress. In December we pulled the plug with those guys.

There are a couple of very good composite repair shops in California, neither of which is close to us. The one we worked with was over 500 miles away. One of our club members towed the ship up there as part of a vacation trip. The shop produced an estimate pretty quickly, our insurance company approved it quickly, checks were sent and received, and the work was begun. They were qualified to design the repair, and they didn't need to order parts from Poland after all. The work was done by some time in May. My wife and I drove up there to retrieve the ship. Fortunately our insurance settlement paid mileage for both round trips!

In May or June our Grob 103 became unavailable (another long story), so we've been completely grounded.

We assembled the PW5 back at Crystal in June and were eager to fly it, but it would not power up. I traced many wires, fuses and circuit breakers, and narrowed the problem down to the positive wiring, but could not find the problem. To make things worse, some screws I needed to remove for further troubleshooting were hopelessly stuck. Trying to work on problems like this, kneeling in the dirt, in the desert sun, far from tools and materials, is not easy and not fun!

I was given a contact for an A&P who does avionics part-time at Crystal, and he agreed to take a look,  and work on it at his hangar. Week after week I called him back to see if he had checked into it, but he never returned my calls. Another disappointingly unprofessional local repair person - and most of another month wasted.

So we towed the glider down to Orange County and a couple of our experienced club members worked on it. The electrical problem turned out to be fairly easy to fix - a second set of eyes and a decent working environment certainly helped! They also did some other maintenance on the glider and made many improvements to our clunky old trailer.

Today I towed it back to Crystal, Greg and Mike and I assembled it, and Greg and I each got a flight. The composite repair looks beautiful, and the ship is flying fine (except for one pesky instrument problem).

We're back!

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Mallettec Mini Vario

"What's that thing on your hat?" people occasionally ask. It's the Mini Vario from Mallettec. I've had one for a long time - I'm not sure just when I bought it. I'm writing about it today just because I finally had to replace the batteries after 6 or 7 years.

It could not be much simpler. It has a small but mighty clip on the back, so you can just clip it to the edge of your hat next to your ear. There's an on-off switch on the back. There's no volume control.

The unit beeps to let you know when you are in rising air (i.e. air pressure dropping). The rate of the beep varies with the rate of pressure change. It is silent in sink (pressure rising). It is so sensitive that it changes if I hold it in my hand and raise it over my head. There's a very tiny adjustment screw, in case the beep rate is too fast or slow, but I've never had to use it.

I originally bought the Mini Vario when I became aware of the safety benefits of audio varios, and I was flying a lot in Blaniks with no electric devices at all. I still use it as a backup or a cross-checking device.

One of our ships has an audio vario system but the static plumbing is sometimes flaky. We have not been able to find the problem, but I suspect it has to do with moisture in the lines. If I don't believe what the vario is telling me compared to the altimeter changes or the feel of the air, I turn on the Mini Vario to break the tie.

I really believe in having backups for systems, because they have saved my neck a few times. In my first contest - one of my first cross-county flights - the battery totally failed, and that ship only has an electric vario. So the Mini Vario really saved the day.

My only complaint is I wish it were a little louder, or had a volume adjustment. If the wind noise in the glider is loud, it can be a little hard to hear. Other than that, it's a terrific little device and I almost never fly without it!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Back in the Air after Refinishing

I have not posted since early March because... I have not flown since then. Our Grob 103 Twin Astir has been out of service in order to have the top surface of the stabilizer and elevator stripped and refinished. It was peeling very badly, so we took it out of service between the late-winter BFR season (it seems several of us have our BFR dates in January-February), and the start of the good soaring season.

The stabilizer was peeling, but that's not quite the right term for what happened to the surface of the elevator - disintegrating is more like it! Over this winter, the surface really just started crumbling before our eyes.

We chose a shop in Tehachapi to do the work. Getting the stab there and back was a bit of a trick, because it is is 10.8 feet wide. That's too big to fit in my full-size pickup bed, which Pythagoras says is 8.9 feet diagonally. Letting it hang out over the tailgate or stick up over the cab seemed like a recipe for disaster. So one of our club members put it in his camper, which allowed it to go over the cab and be protected.

To bring it back, I decided to put it in the glider's trailer, since there's a nice padded pair of brackets for just that purpose. From home to Crystal (to get the trailer) to Tehachapi, back to Crystal and back home is about 320 miles, so retrieving and installing the stab a couple weeks ago was an all-day affair. It looks great! As it turns out, the surfaces had been reworked but not stripped before, so this time two or three layers of material were removed. The elevator is now measurably lighter, so it should be somewhat more responsive.

Then the ship was due for its annual inspection. Fortunately nothing else major came up, so last week it was signed off as airworthy again. This Saturday several of us spent the morning lubricating all the control linkages, washing the ship, putting a coat of wax on it (gotta protect that new finish!), polishing the canopy, and doing general maintenance required for a ship that sits out all the time.

Since significant maintenance had been done, a solo test flight is required before any passenger flights would be allowed. That job fell to me, so I took it up to 1,000' AGL for a quick checkout. On takeoff, I  PIO'd it a bit, recovering after the second oscillation - maybe the lighter elevator made it react more quickly? Or maybe it's just that I haven't flown for a month and a half...

One of the fellows who came out this weekend is a former club member who is looking to rejoin. Recently he has been signed off to fly in high-performance gliders and at Crystalaire, so now he will need to get a checkout in our Grob 103. I took him up for an orientation flight so he could start to learn the specifics of this ship. I let off tow in lift over the "second ridge", and between us we took it up to about 8,700' MSL a few times. We landed after exactly one hour.

Another club member who hasn't flown much lately wanted to get some practice before tackling his BFR, so we went up again. This time we got a-l-m-o-s-t to 10,000' MSL. We headed over the the area near the top Mt. Lewis, expecting to find some thermals popping, or wind blowing up the sides of the "bowls" between the mountains. Nothing. It was weird - way calmer than we usually would find up there.

Back down below the second ridge, we found some more lift, but not quite as high, and then out over the desert we found some marginal wave lift. There was a fairly strong wind out of the west, and weak wave had been reported there a couple of hours earlier, and sure enough it was still there. That gave us enough time for him to practice stalls, slow flight, etc. which might be requested during a BFR flight. We came in after exactly 90 minutes.

So... I flew for 2 hours and 40 minutes, but since I let the other pilots do much of the flying, I only get to log 50 minutes. But it was really great to be back in the air again!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Flight Review

It's been quite a while since I have posted... and over two months since I have flown. January weekends were busy with family and organization commitments, and the weather was not so great. Then in February we had a death and two births in my immediate family, so weekends were again taken up. Lots of stuff happening with our soaring club, though... repairs, moving and working on equipment, and making plans for the future.

Private pilots need to have a "biennial" Flight Review (what we call a BFR) every two years, and mine expired in February. Another pilot and I scheduled ours for this weekend. It consists of an hour of ground instruction/quizzing, and an hour of flight instruction or three takeoffs and landings. The weather forecast was iffy for Saturday, with possibly high winds, but we all went up to Crystalaire hoping for the best. By the time we finished the ground meeting, the winds were 10-12 knots, pretty well aligned with the runway, so it was not a problem at all.

In the ground portion we talked a lot about emergency procedures, aeronautical decision making, and reviewed several serious accidents (one of which was a fatal crash by a friend of ours). We spent some time talking about optimal bank angles for minimizing altitude loss (45 degrees is best), and how that applies to low-altitude turns during  rope breaks etc., and how it applies in thermalling.

The other pilot decided he was not ready to do the flight portion of his review this day (he's not flown much lately), so the rest of the day was mine. I had never flown with this instructor before, so I was a bit nervous. It's not a pass-or-fail test, but it is still a critical review, and I always want to do well.

Flight #1 was a 3000' tow. I demonstrated imminent stall signs, and immediate recovery from stalls. We did several steep turns and measured the altitude loss, to confirm what we had discussed on the ground. When we were preparing to land, another glider had not cleared the runway and I had to discuss options for avoiding it. My plan was to overfly it and land long, but while we were on final approach the glider cleared out and we landed normally.

Flight #2 was a demonstration of tow plane signals which ended up with a downwind landing.

Flight #2 was intended to be a demonstration of a modified pattern, but based on our position relative to the field (and a too-hasty decision), it turned into a demonstration of a slip to a downwind landing.

My takeoffs, landings, stalls and turns were very good, but some of the other aspects of the flights resulted in some feedback from the instructor - that's why we do these reviews! We exchanged emails later that night to recap the day.

After we were all done, the other pilot and I removed the stabilizer from the ship. It has some significant  peeling and flaking of the top surfaces, so we are taking it to a shop to be refinished. That should take about two weeks, so we should have it flying again by early April.