Monday, May 19, 2008

Aerobatics Squared. Part 2, The Noise Returns

At some during my glider aerobatics adventure, my instructor mentioned that he and another 2 people own the Decathlon. “That Decathlon”- he said, pointing towards the yellow and blue plane that I initially thought to be another Citabria. Having almost jumped out of my skin at the thought of seeing my dream plane face to face, I asked if I could go look at it later. Instead, he extended me an offer to fly in it.

Just then I felt like I was at the gates of flying heavens: I got a chance to fly a glider, do acro in a glider and i was about to fly my dream airplane and may be even do some acro in it. My stomach tried to insert a meek “but you just did 20 mins and may not have it in you” in the endless stream of happy thoughts, but I told it to stuff it, we were going to fly that airplane even if it was straight and level.

It was not of course. Moving the glider back to starting position, finding parachutes (the ones we used in the glider stayed with the glider), visiting facilities, fuelling the plane, pre-flighting the plane all took time and my stomach settled enough that I knew I could do at least one acro figure and I wanted it to be the one that I have not flown before, but desperately wanted to experience with a qualified instructor on board.

Inverted spin.

It was incredible and not scary at all. To me, the rotations looked different than an upright spin, but that was probably because I knew we were inverted starting it. Had I not known, I’d probably not be able to differentiate inverted from upright. I would have loved to try one more, but I was concerned that it would leave little stomach tolerance for anything else, so we did other things instead.

I managed to fly a decent enough loop to hit my own wake, several somewhat ugly hammerheads (i never got truly vertical and forgot about aileron inputs in a turn) and some rolls. I mentioned to the instructor that I could never fly Citabria inverted for long enough due to extremely high stick force required to keep the nose up and next thing I know I was flying inverted in the Decathlon.

The Biggest difference between the Decathlon and Citabria is symmetrical airfoil in a Decathlon, making inverted flight MUCH EASIER. Keeping the nose above horizon was so easy that I decided to try turning (I never got to turning in a Citabria as I just was not able to keep the nose up long enough). Turning was funny as the plane turned opposite direction from upright for a given aileron input, but the rudder inputs were still the same as in upright, so while my brain knew all that, making it work inverted took some doing. Eventually, I rolled upright. Few moments later my stomach interrupted the flying Nirvana and asked to be delivered to the ground, pronto. We complied.

I got a little confused in the circuit with the power settings (it had a variable pitch prop that I never flown before), and had to slip almost all the way to landing, but managed an almost nice 3-pointer.Almost, because I pulled the stick back too fast and ballooned a bit. Saved by instructor, as usual.

And that was the end of the flying for that day, but I stayed on the field for couple more hours taking few pictures of the other people flying the Decathlon (used above); some unusual gliders and a lot of pictures of the tow planes. I was a perfect way to unwind after my double aerobatics.
Tow plane (Pawnee) coming to land:
Pawnee landing:
Glider tow:
Unusual (powered) glider:

I am definitely coming back there. Soon.

Aerobatics Squared. Part 1, The Silent Flight

I have been looking into glider flying since before I got the power license. There was something very appealing about the silent flight and the terror that must ensue on every landing (at least from the power pilot’s view). Another attraction for me were the tow planes – as far as I know, they were all tail draggers. In theory, this meant that, by joining a gliding club, I could do both power and silent flying. And it gets better than that as I discovered during the weekend in early May.

Few days prior to the weekend, while looking for something else, I Googled “glider aerobatics”. One of the sites on the very first page led me to a gliding club right here in Ontario, about 90 mins drive from where I live. I inquired about an introductory acro flight and they responded right away that they could do it on a Saturday that was coming.

I woke up on Saturday tingling with anticipation and made my way to the field by 9am. It was still early and only a few people were there. I met the Chief Instructor, who would be my dual instructor and the guide for the morning, as well as the rest of the acro instruction team.

The club had a “vertical mile” ride which was endless acro, but all performed by the pilot. Given my tiny bit of acro experience and my 150+ power hours, the instructor suggested that he’d modify the program so that I could do a lot more flying. I screamed YES! before he even had a chance to finish the sentence.

Getting to a glider sitting in a grass, I noticed the parachutes on the seats. They had up to date re-pack notes in them and detailed egress briefing that followed gave me “warm and fuzzy” feeling that those guys and gals really took their safety seriously. I liked that.

I brought my camera to the field, but obviously could not take it with me. Luckily, one of the instructors agreed to take some pictures for me. I did not realize it, but he kept shooting after we took off, so I have neat pictures of the tow pilot AND my first ever glider landing!

Settling in a glider, few things struck me as very different from power planes – the seating position had quite a bit of a recline to it, so it felt like I was in a very comfy (albeit slim) reclining chair; and endless visibility through the bubble canopy. The other differences had to do with the absence of the noisy engine and all the things that go with it like headphones and fuel and engine gauges.

The instructor explained that he’d do the first bit of the tow until we hit a 2,000 ft and then he’ll let me try. Until then, I have no clue that the tow part was difficult – after all, how hard could it be to fly the glider that is attached to the plane by rope? I found it out, as soon as he gave me the controls, that it was a quite a handful, but with a little bit of guidance (and two “I have control” rescues) I was able to fly it the rest of the tow uneventfully. Key there was not overreacting and not overcorrecting.

As we reached 5,000 ft, I released the tow rope and the fun started. We discussed what we’d fly and agreed that we should fly the basic acro figures that I was familiar with, such as loop, rolls, Hammerheads. The procedure was for instructor to fly the figure first with me following up on the controls and then for me to try.

We did our first loop with the instructor doing the flying and me following him on the controls, while desperately trying to remember what key positions were there, where I was supposed to look at what time and thinking why on earth did I not at least review my acro notes from last summer?

And then the loop was over and it was my turn to fly one. I tried and immediately discovered that pitch control on a glider was WAY MORE SENSITIVE than the one on a Citabria. Instead of pulling with all my might, it just took a little pull to whip skywards. Likewise, relaxing the stick coming to the top was supposed to be a slight movement which mine was not, so we had a bit of negative G on the top. Surprisingly, even though I could not think of the sequence, my body remembered what to pull and where to look, so the next few loops were a bit cleaner (but I think I was still pulling a bit more abruptly that necessary). Funny, I had the opposite problem in a Citabria – I was not aggressive enough with the stick.

Then we did a few rolls, which were fun (although I completely forgot all the rudder works aside from initial input) and instructor demonstrated hammerhead, which I was not allowed to fly myself as it requires a kick at precise speed to avoid the tailslide. As we were flying into it, he mentioned to watch for the silence as the glider turned – I was not sure how much more silent could it get, but compared to the dead silence that ensued in a vertical turn, the wind noise as glider flied through the air seemed thunderous.

After about 20 mins, my stomach politely enquired about how much longer the torture would continue. I hoped I’d last a bit longer, but decided not to push it and informed the instructor that we were done with the upside-down part. We were still quite high, so I got a chance to fly for a while, doing turns, stalls and even gaining some altitude in a thermal! Unfortunately gaining altitude involved a continuous turn and my stomach did not like that either, so away from thermal and towards the Rwy we went.

Circuit and landing were much easier compared to the towing part. Main idea there was arriving at the key points at certain altitude and flying a stabilized approach from there using speed brakes to shorten or extend the glide path as necessary. I did not think I’d have any difficulties with the landing phase after a few flights, but take offs will take a while to feel in control.

And that was not the end of the fun that day, but more on that in the next post.