Friday, August 25, 2017

Getting current again – glider version

I stopped flying gliders in Ontario in 2015 as I embarked on an intensive cycling training that required substantial time commitment every weekend and that meant I could not be at the glider field. The cycling training led to me winning total of six National titles in 2015 and 2016 in Master Nationals Track Cycling Championships so I more than achieved my initial cycling goals, but they came at the expense of significant reductions in my flying of any kind.

 I made it to Invermere, BC, my home away from home, and mountain soaring paradise, in both 2015 and 2016, but the trips were short, the weather iffy and I only had 3 dual flights in those years.

I booked a week in Invermere in June 2017 hoping that by the end of that week, I will remember enough of that glider flying thing to actually go solo in “my” glider. My (rental) glider there is PW-5, a simple fiberglass single seater that is manufactured by the same company that makes my SZD-59, so most of the controls are in the same place for both gliders. I also have a substantial amount of hours in the PW-5 after several years of flying it in Invermere.

But my checkout was to be in a Duo Discus. A beautiful precise two seater machine that can do anything in the hands of a skilled pilot. And a bucking bronco with me at the controls. In the past, getting ready for the checkouts, I did a bit of armchair flying, remembering the control inputs, key points in the circuits, key speeds, etc. But it had been so long since my last solo glider flight, I could not remember enough details for quality armchair flying so I was just hoping it would all trickle back in as we took off.
The first mountain tow towards the rocks could be frightful experience for flatland pilots. There is no horizon reference until you get over the rocks and optical illusions play with your mind and suggest that you are much closer to the rocks than you actually are. Eventually you get over it and your mind invents an artificial horizon and soon everything is normal again. And then you have a 2 year break and it is back to square one... I had to relinquish controls couple of times as we were bouncing around in strong thermals below the mountain tops and also insisted that my instructor flew the first few thermals to get us up high enough while I followed him on the controls desperately trying to remember where to look, what to do and what speeds to fly.

Eventually, things were starting to come back to me: speeds, angles, names of the local landmarks, where to look for thermals relative to wind and sun, minimum altitudes for each ridge, how to transition in certain areas – some of this I remembered right away, some I had to ask about. At times, the amount of information that was surfacing from deep recesses of my memory was a bit overwhelming. 

Two hours flew by and soon it was time to land. And that was a handful. I usually fly my circuits by “that looks about right” angles and distances. You start your downwind at a certain altitude above ground and fly a constantly descending path aiming to give yourself a nice and stabilized final approach at a pre-determined speed. Problem was – after 2 year break nothing looked right and things were happening way too fast for me to be comfortable.

It took two more flights in the Duo and one short circuit in a much lower performance dual seater before I was comfortable enough going solo in “my” PW-5. The day was not soarable but perfect for circuits which I did 3.

I followed the solo circuits with a flight of a lifetime where I flew as a co-pilot in a 973km 10 hr long flight but that’s a topic for a separate post. 

My last day in Invermere, I flew PW-5 for 4.5 hrs and was amazed of how fast I remembered everything I learned there previously. And I resolved to start flying gliders in Ontario again in 2018 as I’d like to be a lot more current before I go for another week of mountain flying. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

6 yrs in one blog entry.

I had not stopped flying for a few years since my last post, but I stopped writing about it. Meanwhile, my glider hour count increased substantially and exceeded my power hours by 75%. As of now, i have over 350 hours in gliders with close to 100 of those in the mountains. I discovered mountain soaring in Invermere, BC i n 2012 and that’s been my home away from home ever since. I make at least one trip per year there even when I do not fly and I just bought land there to build my forever home. The land is next to another airport, Fairmount Hot Springs. 

My airplane hour counts is stuck around 200. I found other people with taildraggers in the local area and for couple of years had a great experience flying yet another Citabria. That experience was amazing, but proved short lived as that club folded and sold the airplanes.

In 2015 I re-discovered bicycle racing and the fact that I was pretty darn good at it and ever since then all of my flying slowed down to a grinding halt, both power and glider. As of summer of 2017, my glider logbook had 4 years on the same page and my power logbook had 8 year covered in 3 pages. And most importantly, I started to really miss flying. So I set up to do something about it – but that’s a topic for future posts. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lost & Found

I normally do not need a reason or destination to jump in the airplane and go flying. I am happy flying nowhere on a local flight and just enjoying the fact that I am above ground looking down at the scenery passing under my wings.
But for this winter, I actually had both the reasons and destinations, plural. I wanted to a) get to know my new local area better, and b) get myself familiar with the typical glider x-country routes so that when I actually fly them in the glider, I do not feel lost.
So on my next flight I was planing to fly over Milton, detour over Glen Eden ski hill and then head for the training area for this school, which happens to be right over my glider club. This would be the "get to know your area" type of flight.
The flight was booked for 4pm, but it took a while to get the plane ready and I did not take off till 4:30pm. As I circled over my subdivision in Milton and headed west, the sun was low on a horizon and shining straight into my eyes.

I was flying south of 401 in the direction that should have taken me somewhat near my glider field. One of the most easily identifiable landmarks that is used both by the flight school and my club is "the tanks" - a collection of while tanks that really stand out from the darker background and thus are visible from a great distance. Except in the winter when everything around the tanks is also white!
I did bring my GPS on that flight but it was sitting in my bag as i did not think i could possibly get lost so near my gliding club. And I was not really lost as I could see both Hamilton and Cambridge, so I knew my approximate location, but where I was exactly I could not tell. I decided to get my GPS to find out for sure. As i settled the unit on the panel, it told me I was right over Rockton.
I looked and sure enough, right under my left wing was the glider airfield! Having seen the familiar landmark, all the other landscape features fell into place in my brain as if by magic and I did a few circles over the field finding all the other landmarks that only a few minutes ago Iwas not seeing. I even saw the tanks. Funny how that happens.
I flew for a bit heading west of the field until weather started closing in with ceilings dropping North and West of me. I was also getting quite cold as the plane was quite drafty and temp outside was -15C. So I turned around and headed for Milton. I was pretty sure I knew where the field was, but dialed it on a GPS just in case. I was almost on top of the field when I finally saw it. My circuit and landing were uneventful. Next weekend it was -25C and I did not want to get out of the house...

The Quiet Day

After passing my rental check flight, my next task was to fly some circuits. As I was watching weather and available time slots, I discovered the downside of Burlington (compared to Buttonville). Having only one paved runway and with Wx being rather unstable, there was always strong x-wind on the days i could fly. While I would think nothing about x-wind while flying the glider, I was not yet confident enough to try it in the Cessna. All I needed was a quiet day to get my confidence back.

Waiting for such day, I cancelled two bookings and was optimistic for the 3rd one, but having arrived at the airport, I discovered the wind sock pointing straight across the runway. Since I took a day off from work hoping to fly, I decided to fly anyways - with an instructor. The next hour was a wild ride as we did circuit after circuit in x-wind that came close to capabilities of our aircraft. I am not sure that flight did anything to improve the finesse of my landing, but it certainly did miracles for my confidence.

Couple of weeks later, it was January 2011 when I finally got my quiet day and did an hour of circuits. My landings were alright according to an instructor that was watching. That day I drove home with a huge smile on my face.

One page, 3 years

2010 was a year of too much unwelcome stress, too many changes and not enough flying. But some changes were good. As much hassle as it was moving from one suburb north of Toronto to another suburb west of it, several months after being in the new house, I discovered it was 10 mins drive from Burlington airpark. How that fact escaped my attention prior to moving to Milton I would not know, but I was ecstatic to make that discovery.

Burlington airpark is the best of both worlds: it is small enough to still have the nice relaxed feel of my previous little airport on the hill (Holland Landing), but it has a large and active flight school with the fleet of rental Cessna's.

Living that close to an airport with Cessnas available for rent, I wanted to resurrect my power flying for the winter season. Once glider season wound down and the glider was packed for the winter, I made a checkout booking for Dec 4.

Before the checkout, I spent a day reviewing Cessna manual, my old training notes and relevant checklists. My power flying logbook had 3 years worth of entries on one page - I expected to be rusty and was fully prepared to have to come back for another checkout flight as I did not think I'd be flying good enough after such a long break.

The school impressed me to no end with the details of their ground knowledge check and detailed checklist explained to me by instructor. It was more full some than any check flights I have experienced before. Looking at the checklist for the in-flight portion, I had no expectations of doing them all satisfactory as it was almost 2 years since my last flight in a Cessna. One part of the checklist was flight into controlled airport and communications with controllers there - THAT I knew I would do well. Having trained at the controlled airport, radio work is natural to me and all the procedures come back instantly. The landing part I was not so sure about..

To my complete and utter surprise, I did very well on most of the items in the test, including landing at Hamilton (my first ever visit there) and satisfactory enough on the remaining few (lfull load check) that my instructor signed me off for full rental privileges. He did suggest that I fly some circuits by myself to polish off my landings before flying with passengers again, so my next task was to fly some circuits.

I was driving home after that flight feeling very happy but I did resolve to try my best to never ever have 3 yrs worth of flying on one page in my logbook...

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!