Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Ridge

Since the early days of joining the glider club, I kept hearing about this magical experience called "ridge soaring". The description of flying long distances over Allegheny Mountains without needing to thermal seemed so different from the type of flying i was used to, i knew I would have to experience it one day.

The day came this fall and a lot more days came after that as I got addicted to the experience but, more importantly, was fascinated by people that I met there. It was an incredible cast of real characters with years of flying experiences and i am very lucky to have made acquaintance with them.

The place we went to is called Ridge Soaring Glideport and it even has its own Wiki page. It is a 6 hour drive that is so beautiful in the fall, it is breathtaking. My pictures from the car do not do it justice.

The owners of the Glideport, Tom and Doris, run a smooth operation with an emphasis on safety. They also do ridge checkout in their twin Astir, which was of great benefit for ridge newbie like me. As part of the checkout, they explain and show the difference between taking off and landing at the ridge Vs your typical flatland gliding airfield.

The differences were not trivial. The one that is immediately obvious on takeoff takes a while to get used to: while at my home field, we take off and fly into a great blue (or grey) yonder, at the Ridge you takeoff and head straight for the solid mass of trees... i.e. the ridge itself. The feeling that you are going to fly straight into the trees is overwhelming for the first few flights.

Eventually, you begin to accept that the trees are a lot farther away that they seem and tows are getting a lot less stressful. But just as you begin to feel comfortable, you get to take off on a day the ridge is working and have to deal with an incredible turbulence.

And then you get to reverse this experience for the landing. You start your circuit below the trees and then get beat up by the turbulence on the base and final. High base and high speed circuits are the norm, which suited me just fine as those were very similar to circuits I got used to do for acro flights.

What you get between takeoff and landing is flying magic. When the wind hits the ridge at 90 degree angle (+/- 30 degrees) at the speed above 15 knots, it produces lift that allows experienced pilots to fly long distances (1,ooo km +) at low altitudes and without the need to thermal. When the ridge is "working", in addition to the ridge lift, there are also strong thermals and, occasionally, the wave. In the other words, it is nothing short of soaring paradise. And, if that was not enough, the best ridge times are in early spring and late fall which extends our flying season that otherwise would be woefully short.

When the ridge is working, the day starts early (as soon as the fog lifts that is). This allows for two people sharing glider to both have good flights.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Wx been really bad this summer and I had not yet managed a catch a good and easy soaring day with puffy clouds. All my soaring flights this far were in the muggy blue skies scratching around the club.

Soaring being almost non-existent, my aerobatics flying fared a lot better. I am at the point now where I am trying to fly sequences of figures, which are a lot of fun.

Last weekend, I had two firsts: I flew a perfect tailslide in my glider, which is hard to do as you have to hit a perfect vertical in order to slide backwards. Only a handful of glider models are approved for this and mine happens to be one of them.

My second first was of a funny negative kind - I had a soaring flight that was shorter than most of my acro flights. I did couple of acro flights in the morning and wanted to do some soaring in the afternoon. As I was taking a break to lunch and rest, the stable lake air moved in from the east and I had a sleigh ride down. Some of the other gliders managed to stay up though so I knew there was lift.

I went up again a few mins later and had another flight in the muggy blue scratching around the field. Only a few spots were producing usable lift and it I could not go anywhere far from those. I did it for a while and then decided I had enough and came down.

Later that evening, I put the flights in my logbook, added the times up and realized I had another first - I passed 100 hrs in the gliders!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Angry Skies

The weekend weather forecasts are starting to sound like a broken record. A bad broken record. We had low ceilings, rain, thunderstorms, winds and whatever else Mother Nature could throw the way of hapless glider pilot.

The weekend of June 5-6 was not supposed to be an exception. The front was supposed to come through and the forecast showed no chance of flying at all. But miraculously the skies cleared up some by about 10am and completely by mid-day on Saturday. This was a real blessing as that was the date of my club’s first open house in many years.

Seeing the weather improve rapidly on Saturday, I considered getting my own glider out of the hangar and practicing some short field landings, but decided against it as the lineup was very busy with intro flights for the open house. Instead, I decided to play with my newly acquired 18-200mm zoom lens and take pictures for the club’s and my own websites. I took pictures of people, tow planes, gliders in motion and of course the skies.

The afternoon sky had deep iridescent blue color that often accompanies weather changes and the occasional clouds had very interesting shapes that only unsettled sky can produce. At some point, there was a rainbow amidst the clouds, a sign of the warm front approaching.

As the day wound up, I had an urge to go up and look at that unsettled sky from above. But I did not want to fly myself; I wanted to be a spectator with the camera. In the luck of perfect timing, the moment I realized I wanted to go up, I was picking up a glider that just landed and pulling it back to flight line. And it was not the ordinary glider, it was privately owned LK-10, a WW2 vintage glider that has an open cockpit for the passenger. I asked the owner if he would take me up and he agreed.

By the time we were on a line waiting to take off, the approaching front line was visible from the ground. The take off with the open cockpit was noisy and exciting at the same time. Things got quieter after the release and the sensation of flight and moving through the air was beyond words. We did not expect to fund any lift that time of the day with a front approaching, but surprisingly we flew into rising air and circled in there for a while. We were joined in the thermal by a bird and another glider.

As we circled, I had a real good look at the skies. The skies to the east and north of us were blue with some feather clouds that created amazing patterns.


The upcoming front was now closer and the skies to the west and south of us were ominous with dark clouds pregnant with rain or thunder.

The settling sun was almost completely covered by clouds but a few remaining rays added some color to the spectacle that left me speechless and lost in time and space.

Eventually we ran out of lift and came down to earth. As I climbed out of the glider, I looked up and noticed that the clouds overhead formed into impressive mammatus formation. Very vague thought at the back of my mind briefly surfaced to remind me that mammatus clouds are often associated with very fierce storms, but in the routine hassles of stacking the gliders I completely forgot about it until the next morning when I read that the front we were watching resulted in tornado hitting a town southwest of us…

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A bit of Soaring

After several weekends of rain, I had officially opened my soaring season couple of weeks ago with a really interesting flight. It was a blue day, which means there was lift, but there were no clouds that usually mark the lift.

I had two acro flights that morning, then took my time to put the wingtips on my split personality glider, thus turning it into a capable cross country machine.

Last year, on a blue day, I would have just happily flew in circles around the club, however, I found that flying in circles was becoming a bit boring and I wanted to set some kind of a goal. Being first soaring flight of the season and a blue day, trying to fly somewhere and back was out of question, so I decided to fly what I called a “local cross-country”.

Looking at the map, I picked the landmarks that were within 10-15 miles away from the club at the North, East, South and West. I decided to fly between these landmarks turning back to the club each time I reached the minimum safe gliding distance.

Tow pilot dropped me in the lift and I worked that lift diligently gaining about a 1,000 ft. I then flew around the club for a bit trying to establish the strength of thermals and where the lift started and stopped in terms of height. Having a somewhat rough idea where the lift was, I set up towards my first landmark.

I flew through a whole lot of sink but as I approached my landmark I also found a ton of lift and realized the we have installed the overly sensitive altimeter in the glider that made finding the thermals on a blue day somewhat challenging. Eventually, I resolved not to look at the altimeter but instead pulling up and cranking into a turn as soon as I felt a surge of rising air. That worked a lot better.

I made it to my initial point North of the club and started making my way to the point East of the club. Flying between those two points, I had not encountered lift once, but there was a lot of sink so that when I reached my eastern turnpoint, I had about 100 ft of altitude left before reaching my “turn back” altitude. Miraculously, I found some lift and started climbing up again. Turning towards my western turnpoint, I tried to reach it twice, but got caught in too much sink and forced to turn back to club both times, so instead, I went back north.

By the time I completed that simple circle, I started to feel tired. The sun was bright and relentless and there were no clouds to hide under, so I was feeling too hot and earlier acro flights that i flew that day made me more tired to start with. There was still lots of lift left, but I decided to call it a day.

I was at 4’000 ft above ground and I decided to glide all the way back to club to see how much height I would lose. This was a way of testing my minimum safe gliding distance. I was over the club 1,200 ft of altitude later, so my 3,000 ft minimum altitude was quite conservative and I liked it this way.

Now I need to practice some short field landings in the cross country configuration and then I could try the real cross country.

Not enough hours in a day.

I often feel I need to retire just to finally have time for everything I want to do. But being a 30-something with expensive hobbies and desire to expand my aircraft collection, retirement is something that I will not be able to afford for quite some time. And since there are truly not enough hours in a day to do everything, sometimes something has to give. Through the spring, this something was my blog writing, so I have got a lot of catching up to do.

My gliding club’s aerobatic program was opened for the season in early May and so far I have flown quite a few flights, most of them in my own glider. I was curious to see how much of the skills would come back after a long winder break and relieved when I caught up right where I left last fall in a few short weeks.

My stomach had a bit more catching up to do, building G-tolerance yet again. I had one day when I did three acro flights in the morning and tried to soar on flight #3, but could not even complete a single circle before my stomach interrupted and indicated that straight and level was in order or glider clean up would be in our immediate future.

On my last acro flight the previous week, I flew the acro sequence for the first time in a glider. My instructor drew a simple program for me to try and talked me through the linking of elements. The sequence was competition spin, followed by a loop, followed by a hammerhead, followed by a roll. Flying a sequence was quite a bit different from working on single element at a time as I needed to constantly stay ahead of the glider, ensuring that the energy was not wasted and my exit speeds were matched with my entry speeds. It was also a lot of fun and I can’t wait to do it again.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy Times Again

Last year was a mixed one for me. I have acquired a new glider and had a few happy moments flying it, but the amount of those moments was reduced greatly by my dad's illness and his passing and the stress impact that it had on my own health. With all that, i was REALLY looking forward to 2010.

The year started well with the New Year flight. Things got worse in February when my Mom found out she had cancer as well, which caused me to spend most of my spring away from home, arranging her surgery and staying with her till she recovered well enough to function independently. With all that plus work, i did not make it to club till April.

On a gloomy overcast day, I came to club just before 9am and was pleasantly surprised to be the second one there, first person being our chief tow pilot. That meant i had priority on any of the gliders and luckily the glider that i wanted, the only one that was capable of what i had in mind, was sitting front and center, so the two of us got it out in the sun so that i can do my daily inspection.
Things were going my way that far, but to fully implement my plan, i also needed a special instructor, one of the acro instructors. Normally, every club member needs to do a so-called "spring check out" in the beginning of the season before flying solo as well as spin check out that needs to be done once a year. I wanted to take it a step further and do an advanced spin flight to ensure that my learnt responses were still intact before getting in my own aerobatic glider later this spring. Luckily, an instructor was available as well and it did not take us long to get to the flight line and set up the glider in a position for takeoff.

My take off was not my best, i could not seem to keep the glider in position and used a lot of control inputs. I was thinking that i must have got very rusty to be flying so horrible when we flew out of the turbulence into a smooth air and i finally realized that it was not my flying, it was the turbulent layers of air lower to the ground. I made a mental note to add some speed to approach to compensate and went on with the tow.

We briefed about what i wanted to do on a way up, so as we released from tow, i started with a simple stall, then got to one turn spins to ensure i got the recovery inputs right. When we were on to some fun stuff, like multi-turn accelerated spins. I had not have that much fun in a long time and was really enjoying it. Alas, the minimum safe altitude came up too fast, so after a few steep turns we had to join downwind for a landing. Puchacz (the glider that we were flying) is an extremely responsive glider, with tons of elevator and rudder controls and huge spoilers and it is an absolute joy to fly. So much joy in fact that i decided to take my solo fly in it instead of single seater.

I got my turn again couple of hours later. Flying the take off i concentrated on just riding the bumps in the air and not over controlling. Tow to 4,000 took a bit and i had time to look around and notice the haze that seemed to be hanging over Hamilton - it certainly was not a stellar visibility day. It did not mater at all though, the feeling of being up in the air again was beyond words. I planned on doing more spinning, but having done a couple, i wanted to stretch time aloft, so i set the speed for minimum sink and for a few blissful minutes flew around the field while looking at the world below me and living in the moment.

I am looking forward to more of these moments... And in case you wondering, the flowers and blooms are from around my glider trailer.

Monday, February 1, 2010

By the end of January, there were quite a few club members suffering from withdrawal to mount a flying operation in the cold. We were helped by the rains that washed out most of the snow and subsequent deep freeze that made the runways rock solid.

It was -20C in the thermometer in the morning, but it was bright and sunny all day and temperatures climbed steadily, so it was not unbearably cold. I got to the flightline just in time to capture the Citabria landing from tow. We used one runway to land and the other to takeoff and utilized human power to put the glider in position for next launch.

Winter flight all carry two people to maximize the enjoyment and minimize the frostbite potential. I flew the take off and then relinquished controls to my partner and occupied myself by taking pictures and looking around. There was a bit of zero sink area and all flights that day caught a bit of that resulting in average time aloft just under 25 mins.

I had an opportunity to go for another flight shortly thereafter but my flozen toes suggested that instead of flying in the cold glider I get in the back of the warm tow plane and take some pictures of the glider after we release it. We briefed the glider pilots that we would follow then at the safe distance after release and I got some great pictures, although I wish I had my professional camera on me with better zoom lenses.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy New Year!

My gliding club has a New Year's tradition of gathering at the clubhouse on Jan 1, 2010, sharing food brought by members, trading flying stories and trying to fly if weather cooperates. January 1, 2010 started with low ceilings and blowing snow and did not look too promising for flying. But miracles do happen and by noon the ceiling lifted enough to allow some circuits. With windchill close to -20C, circuit flying was all we wanted to do anyways.

By the time I got to clubhouse on Jan 1, it was full of people and food. I counted two kinds of chili, three flavors of meatballs, five soups and numerous cookies and cakes. Talking to friends I have not seen for a while, I noticed the glider being towed to the take off position and decided to go to flight line. Thinking about bone chilling cold outside and possibility of standing on a Rwy for a while waiting for my turn, I put on my full downhill ski outfit. 

Walking to the flight line, I heard the sound of the engine, then noticed the towplane heading towards me with the white tail of propwash behind it. Looking at the snow whirl generated by propwash, I was surprised to see a red tip sticking out to the side."Hmm, I think there is a glider in there" I thought to myself just as glider emerged in the clear above the propwash. I heard about the first tow on a fresh snow, but never saw it before until then. It looked really neat, but I was glad I was not the first one up.

My turn to go up came in about half an hour. Ceilings started to drop, so we had a nice albeit short flight, but I had some time to snap pictures of the snow covered runways and facilities. Then it was back to clubhouse for some hot food and more talking - a good start of New Year!