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.