Sunday, November 23, 2014

Back in the (small) saddle

Due to the transition into the new club, I had not flown the PW5 since June. First I needed to get checked out in the club's "A1" level ship, the Krosno. Then I needed a ground checkout with an instructor to be able to fly the "A2" level (single-seat) gliders. That was more of a formality, since I am very familiar with the PW5 and wrote up a document about it for the other club members. After getting the signoff, getting a free weekend, and taking care of a parachute repack, I was finally ready to fly this week.

The weather looked OK for Friday: a relatively clear day between the passing of a minor front and then the arrival of Santa Ana winds. The forecast was for northeast winds, which aren't really good for either thermal flying or wave lift at this location, but it looked like ridge soaring might develop.

As it turned out, the winds were very light and variable all day, and the early clouds gave way to clear skies and ground temperatures into the high 60's. So thermal activity, though not very strong, was present all over the place. The tow pilot reported that the low hills were working better than the mountains (though one pilot got skunked a while before I flew). Due to needing to do some maintenance in the PW5, I didn't get to take off until 2:00. But the tow pilot was right, and we found decent lift over the golf course not far from the airport. I let off at 2,400' AGL, which is pretty low for me. I've been fooled more than once into letting off low, but this time it worked out well enough. The lift looked to be about 5 knots when I let off, but that was a fluke. The rest of the day I never found more than 3 knots, and often less than that.

The lift wasn't terribly strong, but it was wide enough and consistent enough that it was fairly easy to center. Since it was weak, I worked on staying as coordinated as possible, and finding a bank angle that balanced between turning steeply to center it, and not turning so steep that I needed to speed up and get into the drop-off section of the PW5's polar curve. I really paid close attention to the two varios and the physical sensations, and found that perfectly coordinated flight really helped with the lift rate - the difference between "zero sink" and actually climbing. Flying that carefully in weak lift takes a lot of attention.

I worked a couple thermals up from 5,800' MSL to 7,300' MSL. Nothing to brag about, but I was happy to find enough lift to stay up. I got high enough to try the Second Ridge, but there was nothing working there, and by that time all the cloud markers were gone. I had planned to perhaps do some spins (since I have not done them in a while), but since I had to work hard to gain altitude I was not willing to throw it away so easily. I'll spin another day.

When I was at about 6,000' late in my flight, I spotted another glider maybe 1,000' higher and to the southwest of me, and thought I'd try to follow him up. But I lost him in the sun after a few turns, and could never find him again. I decided it was not wise to fly into his space if I couldn't see him, so I headed back toward the airport and decided to call it a day since the lift was starting to weaken.

I ended up with an hour and fifteen minutes, and a really smooth landing. It was nice to be back in the PW5, and I'm looking forward to the wave season starting up. I need one more check ride in the PW6, and then I'll be able to give rides to friends, and maybe do some dual wave flights with club members.

First flight in PW6

The club has a PW6, the two-seat version of the PW5 I have flown for many years. The club ships are categorized by performance and complexity, and the PW6 is in a higher category than the Krosno I recently got checked out in, so in order to fly it I need to go through another pair of instructor flights. (The Grob 103 that we brought over from OCSA is the same category: two-seat fiberglass ships.)

The design of the two ships is quite similar, but the PW6 is noticeably bigger and taller. The empty weight is 753 lbs compared to 419 lbs. Here are a few differences I noted:

  • The trim adjustment uses a different latching mechanism.
  • There are no side pockets in either cockpit! No place to stash my handheld radio, so I clipped it to my parachute straps.
  • Although it is larger, the front cockpit of the PW6 seemed more crowded. The seat seemed cramped.
  • No good place to put a Camelback in the front cockpit. Since we were doing short flights, it was not important, but I'll have to look next time to see if I can hang one somewhere. In the Grob 103, I can fit one next to me, but I don't think that will work here.
  • The O2 system is pretty kludgy, hanging a bottle in the rear cockpit under the instrument panel and in front of the control stick. Weird, but I guess it's not in the way. In our PW5, it's mounted on a rear bulkhead behind the pilot's head, out of the way. I thought that was standard or built-in, but now I see there's no mention of it in the PW5 manual, so it must be an add-on.
  • There's little to no room under the rear seat for emergency gear as there is in the PW5.
  • The weight and balance restrictions and calculations are more complex. The PW5 is pretty simple, having only minimum and maximum weight to consider.
So all things considered, it's set up OK for local flights, but it would be rather inconvenient for cross-country flights, though I know people do it.

The flight was pretty normal. It's of course not as sensitive and responsive as the PW5, but flies nicely. It does need quite a bit of rudder pressure in turns, because the rudder is fairly small. The instructor pointed out, and I confirmed, that this particular ship drops the left wing during stalls. It stalls more clearly than the PW5 does. We did not spin it.

It was a nice day, with lots of cumulus clouds early on, but diminishing by the time we flew. You can see from the position of the clouds against the mountains that cloudbase was probably about 8,000 feet. After demonstrating some steep turns and slow flight, I found some nice lift just about under a little cloud. We could have flown around quite a bit, but since it was just a check ride, we came in for a landing after 30 minutes. Others later that day had trouble finding lift, so I guess I got lucky.

The Initial Point and altitude in the standard operating procedures for Crystalaire have changed. The IP is just a little further out than before, but the altitude has been raised quite a bit to 1,600 ft AGL. I guess that was done to simplify the procedure for announcing entry into the airport airspace, but the altitude difference is greater than the distance difference, so I think it has the effect of requiring much more altitude loss during the pattern, requiring more spoiler or perhaps slip in some circumstances. I guess I could measure it on Google Earth, but that's how it seems to me. Other than that, my approach and landing were normal. 

So now I've flown six different models of glider.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A few stats from my logbook

I just completed selling an old Blanik L13 for my club. This particular ship had been crashed, and totaled by the insurance company, but was really not damaged very much. As I wrote the final email to the buyer I mentioned that I would miss the ship, having made 75 flights in it.

That made me wonder just how many flights I have made in which ships. So I ran some stats from my electronic logbook. My flights turned out to be surprisingly evenly distributed. Check this out:

Blanik L13 #178
Blanik L13 #275
Grob 10373
Blanik L13 #317
Other Grob 103's5

Sunday, August 17, 2014

First flight in Krosno

Those of us from OCSA who have become members of Cypress Soaring (CSI) have to get instructor signoffs to fly each category of Cypress' gliders. The starting point is the Krosno trainer. I'd seen the Krosno many times when both clubs operated at Hemet, but I had never even taken a close look at it until this weekend. Between my schedule and theirs, this Saturday was the first time I was able to book the first of two checkout flights. It was about 102F for much of the afternoon at Lake Elsinore.

I had of course read the flight manual, so I was familiar with most of the features of the glider. OCSA used Blanik L-13's for trainers, so here I'll list a few similarities and differences between the two.
  • Both are all-metal ships, with fabric control surfaces.
  • Both have forward-swept wings. As I understand it, that places the center of lift very near the center of gravity, so when the instructor gets out for the student's first solo, the flight characteristics hardly change at all.
  • The Krosno has a T-tail. Just ask my forehead!
  • The Krosno only has instruments in the front cockpit. The instructor has to look around the student's head to see them.
  • It has a main wheel, a non-castering tailwheel, and a nose skid. I'd never flown with a nose skid before.
  • Its airbrakes are retracted automatically by springs - you have to hold them open.
  • Its rudder is medium-sized, which takes more effort.
  • Its wheel brake is activated by a handle on a cable, not a lever. It's not very effective, so the nose skid is the main brake.
  • This unit has wingtip wheels, so it can do wing-down takeoffs easily (which we did).
  • It has bolt-in ballast on the front cockpit floor.
  • It has a handle on the tail, which makes ground handling pretty easy.
  • It has NO pockets or storage in the front cockpit. Fortunately my little water bottle fits in my cargo-shorts pocket, and my radio clips onto the harness pretty well, though it would not be very secure in turbulence.
The flight went fine. It seemed to me that the ship wanted to yaw to one side, and took a bit of both aileron and rudder to get the yaw string straight. (One of our Blaniks used to fly that way - we called it "right-wing-heavy" and eventually installed a little trim tab to even it out.) Or maybe there was a crosswind on tow that was causing it, but I don't think the wind was from that direction. It was not a big deal, but it meant always flying a little off-center, and it's farirly heavy on the stick.

The still-air sink rate seemed a little high at about 200 feet per minute. I'd have to check my records, but I thought the Blanik was more like 160. We found some broad lift of about 2-3 knots and I was able to climb a few hundred feet. The Krosno seemed pretty easy to control in a medium-banked thermaling turn. Part of learning the quirks of each new ship is finding just how steep and/or slow you can go in a thermal before it wants to stall out of the turn.

I did a couple of straight-ahead stalls, which were quite gentle and easy to recover. It had no tendency to drop a wing, which surprised me since I had had to hold some aileron and rudder in straight flight. Maybe that effect is more pronounced at tow speeds... in any case, it had no tendency to fall off either way in the stall. Then I rolled in and out of some steep turns. It definitely takes a lot of rudder pressure to stay coordinated coming out of turns, which will be something to work on.

The biggest difference for me was using the nose skid for landing. We discussed that I would do a "wheel landing" and then let the nose down to brake to a stop. I put the nose down quite early and then when I realized we had a lot of runway left, it would not come up again. So we stopped quite short. That's another thing I'll have to work on: keeping it balanced on the main wheel longer, until I really want to stop it.

So, one signoff is in the book. One more to go for that level. Then it will be on to the PW-6.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

End of an Era: Orange County Soaring Association merging into Cypress Soaring Inc.

As many of you know, Orange County Soaring Association declined significantly in membership and operations after the closure of Hemet to gliding and again after the grounding of the Blanik fleet. I have not written much about this decline in my blog, but frequent readers have probably figured it out by reading between the lines. OCSA has been operating two gliders off and on at Crystalaire for the last several years. In 2013, a decision was made to pursue merging OCSA with another club, in order to preserve the opportunity for OCSA's members and aircraft to fly in southern California. Today we are announcing that OCSA and Cypress Soaring Inc. have signed an agreement which will effectively merge OCSA into CSI, as of August 1, 2014. 

OCSA's Grob 103 and PW5 will transfer to CSI. For the foreseeable future, they will both remain at Crystalaire and will be available for flight by CSI members. Current and former OCSA members may transfer to Cypress. 

OCSA's one viable Blanik L13 and another Blanik fuselage, wings, parts, and trailers are for sale, listed on Wings and Wheels. Contact information is in the advertisements.

As you have probably heard, Krey Field, which had been Cypress' base of operations, has been closed. Cypress is currently operating gliders and conducting instruction at Lake Elsinore, plans to begin operations at Banning, and plans to operate a two-place glider at Crystalaire in addition to the Grob 103.

Information about Cypress Soaring Inc. is available on their web site at Contact information for Orange County Soaring Association officers is on their web site at

OCSA wishes to thank all who have belonged to, flown with, and supported Orange County Soaring Association during its 55 years of operation!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Climbing the Sky

It was about 90 degrees F at Crystal today. I launched the in PW5 about 1:30 and we encountered some strong lift on tow before reaching the Second Ridge. I don't often let off tow before getting over the ridge, but this was pretty strong, so I did at 6,300' MSL. I immediately regretted it as I lost 400 to 500 feet before finding any lift. But that thermal lift over the desert was pretty good, and before long I was up to 7,000'. That was enough to get onto the low end of the Second Ridge.

There was another glider flying the ridge lengthwise, and since the wind was from the north I figured that was a good plan - we should find ridge lift. There seemed to be a bumpy mixture of ridge lift and thermals, so eventually I made it to the upper (east) end of the Second Ridge and gained some more altitude, up to about 8,100'. That was enough to let me hop over to a little "third ridge" below Mt. Lewis. It was acting like either ridge lift or anabatic lift, so I was able to work it uphill.

I got over the top of Mt. Lewis and topped out at 9,800', then flew the ridge top and hopped over part of the "bowl" over to Mt. Williamson. Up on top, I seemed to find some lift that was not strictly north-facing ridge lift. The RASPtable map this morning had shown there should be wind from both the north and the south, converging somewhere over the tops of the mountains. Maybe that's what I was finding... it wasn't very strong up there.

Since I was approaching 10,000 feet, at which altitude I always start oxygen, I fumbled around and finally got my Oxymiser on... only to find out I had never turned the regulator on after testing it on the ground! I found that I was able to reach behind me and find the knob - I don't think I have ever done that in flight before. And then of course I never broke the 10,000' layer after all.

I came back down and worked the Second Ridge again. There were a couple of other gliders there, and we shared a thermal for a while - that's always fun. I was able to run the whole length of the ridge and stay at the same altitude, so there was definitely some ridge lift working.

My tailbone started getting a little sore after more than an hour, so I headed back toward the airport. Earlier I had realized I had not done any slips for a long time, so I practiced those a few times. Out over the desert, there was light lift everywhere, so it would have been possible to stay up all day. Another glider was a bit higher than me and wanted to land first, so I was able to just loaf around in lift and stay up while he landed.

Since winds were "light and variable" I had my choice of landing direction, so I chose runway 7 which would let me roll out close to my tiedown spot. Of course there was lift all the way down. By the time I turned onto my base leg, I realized I was pretty high. And I had been too close in on the downwind leg, so the base leg was not long enough to really let me lose much altitude. Full spoilers did the trick, but I was about 1/3 of the way down the mile-long runway before I got close to the ground. Um... would have been a good time to use a slip like I had just practiced - but I didn't think of it! Something to work on next time. One quirky thing about Crystal is that there's a hump just about in the middle of the runway, so just when I was about to touch down I had to hold off a bit. My landing was smooth and straight, and the wind helped me keep good directional control and level wings until I stopped just about 50 feet or so from my parking spot. A far cry from my last landing when the winds were all over the place on both takeoff and landing!

So... an hour and 41 minutes and 4,000' of altitude gain after a low release. That's one of the most satisfying aspects of local flying: really climbing the sky. This was one of the first times - if not THE first time - I have been able to climb all the way from the desert to the top of the mountains.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Numerous Cumulus (not just a Few CU)

Last Saturday was one of those lift-is-everywhere days at Crystalaire. Oddly, there seemed to be more moisture in the high desert air than in Orange County south of the mountains... or maybe just more uplift due to surface heating. The forecast called for north winds, which were present upstairs but not so much on the surface.

When I arrived, I found that the PW5 glider was not exactly where I left it, though I was pretty sure no one else had been flying it. The knots in the tie-down ropes were not mine, and it was about two feet further east. Hmm... Then I found that on the nose tie-down, the knot on the ring had come loose, which allowed the glider to yaw with the wind. Tracks under the wheels showed that it had "walked" the two feet, including dragging the main wheel over a sizable rock. The wing tie-down ropes had been on the ground cable, and had slid along it. Some good Samaritan had later moved the wing ropes to staked or concreted chains, which stopped it from walking any further. Mystery solved!

I only had to wait a short time for a tow. As soon as I lifted off, the tail yawed about 15-20 degrees to the right, and the glider drifted over the right edge of the runway. No amount of rudder would counteract it. (The PW5's rudder is really tiny.) As the chief instructor later noted, it was the kind of thing which would cause a new pilot to release and land straight ahead on the runway, which I did consider, but as it was not getting any worse, I decided to stick it out. As we gained airspeed, I gained more rudder authority, and all was well.

Since the best lift was reported to be over the mountains, and I kind of got skunked last time, I took a high tow and let off in good lift. It was all uphill from there.

I spent most of the next two hours between 8,000 and 10,000 feet under and between these nice cumulus clouds. Figuring out which ones were building and which were dissipating was the biggest challenge of the day. Great fun!

I tried to get over the top of Mt. Lewis, but the margin between the mountaintop and the cloud base was a bit too narrow. Maybe next time.

There was indeed a strong north wind at altitude, and if I did not pay attention to it while thermalling it kept drifting me south toward the mountains. Outside air temperature was about 0 to -2 Celsius, but only my feet got cold, and only after about 90 minutes.
Steep turns

Approach and landing were... interesting. The ground reported the wind as being from the northeast. When I got low enough to see the tetrahedron, it indicated wind from the northwest. I decided it was not strong enough to change landing directions from runway 25 to runway 7. Then on final approach, my airspeed increased quite a bit, so it seems that the wind had diminished, leaving me with a lot of kinetic energy. That energy turned into quite a long float before touchdown (which was not at a high ground speed, so it's not like I had a tailwind). By the time I stopped rolling, the wind socks were all straight down - dead calm! So it seems that I had the bad timing to approach and land as a thermal passed through, which caused complete rotation of the wind direction over the course of a few minutes.

All in all, a fun two-hour flight with challenges at both ends.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Is California City the new Hemet?

I have only been to Cal City once, have never flown there, and don't know any of the people involved in the shutdown saga. All I know is what I've read in the Tehachapi group on Yahoo. But I was somewhat involved in and deeply affected by the Hemet shutdown, and some commentators have compared this to Hemet, so let me offer a few thoughts. Keep in mind that much of this is speculation. The chain of events are somewhat similar… maybe the underlying causes are similar too.

It is not really about airport safety. If it was about safety, then airport officials would work with the various aviation groups at the airport to effect improvements. Attempting to address safety issues when they are not really the issue is pointless. At Hemet, the officials refused to meet. Then when they lost the decision on our FAA complaint, they refused to negotiate in good faith. County officials chose to ignore CalTrans citations and recommendations for years until they could use them to their advantage. This appears to have happened at Cal City as well.

It is not really about airport growth. If it was about airport growth, there would be studies and consultants and estimates to support it. The airport officials would develop an airport plan which could be responsibly implemented. At Hemet, the airport officials published a sham plan which ignored the history of soaring and the huge fraction of airport operations which were due to glider operations. The plan postulated growth in other operations which were totally unsupported by any studies or statistics. The plan was developed with no input from airport users, and published silently with no notice to the public to invite comments.

The motivation is probably personal gain, not the public interest. People do not resort to underhanded tactics for honorable goals. At Hemet, the county made a deal with the FBO to help get rid of the commercial, club, and private gliders. The county put pressure on other FBOs to not deal with the gliders. The county insisted on applying FBO standards to clubs. The county refused to offer leases to clubs, insisting on month-to-month rentals but requiring renters to invest in infrastructure, which they could lose on 30 days' notice. The county ignored strong cautions in the environmental impact study they themselves commissioned. The county was willing to place turboprop aircraft operations within 100 feet of residences. They were clearly highly motivated to get rid of the gliders and pursue other changes at all cost. Our task was to figure out why.

The airport officials may not be aviators. They do not know what works for aviators, and may not care. They have other motivations which we do not understand. They may be judged by how much they increase revenue or reduce costs, regardless of what that means for aviation. They may not remember or understand the obligations that came with FAA improvement funds they received in the past.

It may be based on completely unrealistic expectations and ego. People in power convince themselves that something is possible and desirable. Even when it is obvious to others that the idea will not work, ego prevents people from backing down. At Hemet, there seemed to be two stated goals, neither of which was realistic, and only one (or neither) of which may have been the true motivation.

- The county wanted to keep CalFire operations at Hemet, and expected the state to pay for improvements to CalFire facilities, ignoring California's fiscal situation which precludes such investment. Why was this believed to be so important? Because by building new CalFire facilities in the space occupied by the gliders, they would make room for redeveloping the older section of the airport.

- The county said they wanted to attract more jet traffic to Hemet, and expand runways to accommodate it. Really? Who needs to fly jets into Hemet - or into California City? Neither is a hotbed of industrial activity, or the home of wealthy people with private jets. Was this a diversion?

At Cal City, the history of infrastructure changes that did not work out, and escalating efforts to make them work, may also have been motivated by ego.

It is about money and power. Someone has a lot to gain, or already is getting a lot and is aiming to protect it. It may be about power, but more likely it is about money. If you can figure out who stands to gain and how, you may be able to come up with a counterstrategy. This can be difficult to discern because of secrecy. 

- At Hemet, the best theory seemed to be that elected county officials would gain political contributions from construction companies seeking contracts for the proposed redevelopment. 

- At Cal City, I have no idea whether the official in charge is elected, so the financial motivation may be different. To figure this out, one needs to keep asking "Why?" until one gets to the root cause of the behavior. Follow the money.

It may involve corruption. At Hemet, we could not prove anything, and did not even really look into this aspect. But the day some glider people went to meet with county officials, they had to wait in the lobby while the FBI conducted a raid on the county offices. And a careful reading of CalFire board meeting minutes reveals a sudden reversal of their position, violating their own process, after they met with Riverside county officials. If corruption is involved, honest organizations will always be at a disadvantage, because the corrupt ones will always be more highly motivated.

It can be nearly impossible to counteract a highly motivated person who already has power. At Hemet, we eventually realized that the only way to even attempt to counter the situation would be to (1) get involved in county politics (a county where few of us reside), and (2) spend large amounts of money on the political process. We did not have the desire or means to do either.

FAA and CalTrans cannot force airports to make improvements or spend money. They can do passive things such as withholding funds, revoking or refusing to renew permits, etc. FAA cannot force an airport to produce an airport plan that is fair or realistic. At Hemet, one option would have been to make the lights on the main runway flush to the ground to make towplane operations easier. Another option would have been to reconfigure the glider runway. The county chose to do none of these, chose to avoid working on an operating plan, and chose to wait for the gliders to leave due to intolerable conditions. The only leverage we have is that FAA may withhold future funds if they find the county violated the ruling that they handed down regarding the gliders.

Back in the Saddle

I finally got to go flying today, after a gap of two months. I know, lots of people in many parts of the country have to take much bigger vacations from soaring due to the weather, and those of us in Southern California are very lucky to be able to fly all year 'round. December and January were just very busy times for me with family activities, a couple of camping trips, and some weekend projects. Last Saturday the weather didn't look good... this Saturday it looked like the wave might be working, and warm enough that thermals might work if the wave didn't.

Driving to Crystal, the weather was beautiful. There were lennies all around, but none right over Crystal or the closest mountains. I prepped the PW5 as usual, and polished the canopy, and lubricated all the control joints. By the time I was finishing, little wave-generated clouds were forming within reach. I could see two or three gliders very high over the mountains. I took a high tow over the top of Mt. Lewis, but alas I did not connect with any wave. I didn't even see any more wave-generated clouds while I was up. I did find some weak lift lower down, probably convergence, at about 7500' AGL near the Devil's Punchbowl, and exploited it by flying at minimum sink speed. It really just amounted to "zero sink", as did some thermal lift over the wash west of the airport. I ended up with a 47-minute flight - and a really good landing and rollout.