Friday, October 31, 2008


My return to Germany to spend time with my parents was planned in advance, but unexpected scheduling issue resulted in me arriving a day ahead. As I considered what to do, the answer just came to me – I was going to visit a birthplace of gliding, the Wasserkuppe. I realized it was October and gliding season would likely be over, so I was not expecting to get up, but wanted to see the monument to fallen pilots as well as the glider museum.
As I was driving on the autobahns changing into motorways changing into very small roads leading to Wasserkuppe, I was looking at the freshly frosted fields around me. Getting closer to Wasserkuppe, I realized that frozen land and warmer temperatures resulted in a very thick fog that blanketed the whole area. The picture above was taken from the parking lot – there is a runway behind the little structure but none could be seen. Looking up, I could see patches of blue sky, so I figured out the fog would burn off in a few mins and decided to make my way to the monument.

I had a hand drawn map showing where the monument was, I studied Google Earth, I followed signs and I could not see a thing as I approached the top of the hill. Normally, the monument is very obvious (it is slightly below the top). That morning, I was lucky when I could see 3 meters in front of me. Luckily, there was a little map with “you are here” sign on the top, so I oriented myself and went in a general direction of a monument. I literally stumbled upon it, but as soon as I pulled the camera out, the strong wind blew away some of the fog allowing me to take a few shots.

Because of the fog, I also had the monument completely to myself which was an unexpected bonus. I had a time to play with the composition, reflect on my flying addiction and simply stand still and enjoy the moment. Eventually, few other people braved the fog and showed up and I slowly made my way back the flying field.

Along the way, I passed by the hangar of the glider flight school and noticed some activity there, so I went in and asked it anyone spoke English – turned out most of them did. I asked what were the chances of going up in a glider and they said they were not going to pull gliders out in that fog but suggested that motoglider would be a possibility when the fog lifted. Dimona, the motoglider made by Diamond (same company that makes Diamond Katana), looked interesting and I figured it would be an opportunity to decide if I want to go that route was when I eventually accumulate enough money to buy something with the wings. Dimona (on the left picture), is also occasionally used as a tow plane, but most of the time they use the one on the right.

As we were talking I kept peeking inside the hangar and noticed ASK-21, and two Duo Discus’s, so I asked if I could take a closer look and take some pictures. “Yes, of course” was the answer. I was enjoying my day already.

My club is getting ASK-21, soon replacing the Blaniks as dual trainers, so ASK-21 was of particular interest. I noticed the seating arrangements, much more comfortable than Blaniks and the much modern look of it. It also seemed much larger than Puchacz, another non-metal dual seat trainer than Club has.

While I was taking pictures, the guys were moving gliders around pulling out a single seater. Once she was in the clear, one of the instructors asked me if I had a chance to disassemble the glider yet. Thinking about my bronze badge clinic, I said “once”. “Good” was the answer, “this will be your second time then”. So, I helped out with that. It seemed very fast and easy, but I had a feeling those guys have done it enough times in the past.

When the disassembly was finished and pieces placed into the workshop, we looked outside and saw that fog had finally lifted and here was blue sky around airfield. Seeing that, an instructor and I got into the motoglider, taxied her to the gas pumps and then took off very shortly after that. I had my pilot license with me and told the instructor that I was a power pilot, so I did all of the taxing and most of the flying.
Take off was uneventful, although having a stick in the left hand was somewhat strange (it was side by side seating with throttle in the middle). We flew straight and level for a bit and I realized that I probably would not want to own a motoglider. As least not like the one we were flying as the glide ratio of Dimona was poor and flying straight and level with the engine was boring. I then thought I would never be rich enough to buy a high end glider with an engine either, so that left a pure glider… or aerobatic airplane…or aerobatic glider…

Suddenly, my mental shopping was interrupted by some excitement on a radio. At that time we were flying 3,000 ft above ground level and over the occasional clouds. That was the picture looking away from the airport. As my instructor hurriedly directed me to turn 180 degrees towards the airport, I saw a different picture – there was solid layer of clouds underneath us with things sticking out of it (tops of the towers). Apparently, as we departed, the clouds and fog moved in and started covering the field. After some more exciting talking, my instructor used the spoilers to descend right into the last hole in the clouds towards the airport and from there we could see the runway that I flew us towards.

As we were coming to one end of Runway, the fog was creeping from the other end, so the timing was perfect for whoever did the radio call that turned us back. I did a bouncy landing and soon we were taxiing back to the holding bay. Few mins later the fog covered the rest of the field. I paid for the flight and went to grab a bite and visit a museum. More on that in the next post.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Return to Power.

Fresh with excitement of having just passed the glider test, I was looking forward to getting into a single seat glider again and trying some soaring as conditions looked to be good (judging by the amount of bumps I flew through during the flight test). But then a different opportunity presented itself when my examiner (who also happens to be a check out tow pilot) asked if I wanted to get some dual time in a Citabria. Considering that flying the club’s Citabria was one of the main reasons that got me into gliding in the first place, I said “Yes” rather quickly.

We talked about towing procedures, rules and emergencies as we were waiting for a glider line up to diminish as we were planning to do couple of non-towing circuits first. But the conditions were good, private owners were rigging their gliders the line was getting busier not quieter, so my first flight in a Citabria in over a year was an actual tow.

I did not fly the take off of course, but I got to fly the tow when we were at a safe height and I flew the rest of the tow up to release, the letdown, the circuit and the landing. It was initially overwhelming to try to fly with the glider attached as I was still getting used to where all the instruments were. Having flaps and carb heat added some issues as the Citabria that I flew in previous life had neither and I had to be reminded to deal with those.

But it was with the landing that I experienced the most difficulties. I would have not thought so, but take off with the glider in tow was not all as difficult as the landings w/o the glider. I thought I used to fly tight circuits at my previous field, but compared to them the circuit in the tow plane was much higher and shorter, I felt rushed, uncoordinated, was coming in too high and too fast and landing well long.

During initial briefing, my instructor pointed out that there was water in the second half of the runway and that I better land either short or long. Thus forewarned, on my first landing I splashed right in the middle of the biggest puddle sending fountains of water and grass few feet in to the air and drenching the plane. I then tried to repeat that same performance two more times but my instructor had a better foresight and took controls earlier flying us over the puddle.

As I kept trying to improve my landings, I kept thinking “I’ve already been there” reminiscing about my taildragger training and my first landing attempts. At least this time I knew they would get better. Landings aside, I was able to do the rest of flying with less and less prompting, so I felt like I was making progress.

Flying the power plane again felt very different compared to flying the glider. It was interesting to be at the other end of the rope for a change. It was challenging too as flying the tow plane with all other planes and gliders in the circuit required much higher level of skills and concentration that I ever needed flying my little Citabria out of the quiet airport on a hill. But despite the challenges and differences, I loved all of it and can't wait to do it again.

“Congratulations, you are now a glider pilot”.

By the end of September, I was making enough progress in my solo flying that I started thinking about the flight test. I had accumulated 17 of the 20 required solo flights, and as a licensed power pilot, I was spared the need to pass a written exam, so the only 4 things that stood between me and the glider license were 3 more solo flights and an actual flight test.

Oct 4 started with two solo flights in the two seat all-metal Blanik glider that I would be using for the flight test. Dual followed with the instructor who then recommended me for a flight test, which I had arranged to do the next day, Oct 5.

I then switched back to Junior for my solo #20, had a nice flight, landed and wanted to head home, but decided to be helpful and put the glider in the hangar if no one wanted it. Instead, people on the line told me to fly it to the hangar. Solo #21 went fine all the way till I stopped in the middle of Rwy a short distance away from hangars and had to be rescued. We then discovered someone else wanted the glider and back to the line we went.

Having done 5 flights that day, I was starting to get tired and attempted to go home again but one of the members offered to take me up in club’s DG505 – the glider that I did my aerobatic intro back in May. That offer I could not refuse and soon we were up in the air. It was nice to have someone else flying and just be up, have a nice conversation and stare at the world passing by. It would have been even nicer to have lift, but alas, one can't have everything. After that flight was over, I did go home as I still had to do the last minute preparations for the flight test.

Oct 5 came and I was on the field bright and early pulling out the glider to be used during the test, making sure everything checked out and all the documents were in order. The test consisted of the ground knowledge test and two flights. We got the ground portion out of the way quickly and soon were getting ready to take off.

As examiner was briefing me on the sequence of events in the test, I kept looking at the windsock wondering why it was showing that we would be taking off with the slight tail wind and the cross wind. The answer soon came when the field manager indicated we would be taking off from Rwy 36 but landing on 21 – just what one needs on a flight test!

Climbing up to 4,000 ft height for flight #1, I had another challenge as we were making tighter than usual turns trying to pick our way up around the clouds, so the tow was more exciting than usual. Despite the challenges, I was actually enjoying the experience. We did all the required sequences, I joined the circuit for the Rwy 21, flew it well, did a nice cross wind landings and then turned off the wrong way, realized it, recognized it was too late to correct and ended up sitting in the middle of Rwy. D'oh!

Second flight was to a lower height and the only two major exercises were steep turns and spiral dive plus I was supposed to do a short field landing. Having done the exercises I joined the circuit and concentrated on doing a nice landing AND turning off the right way. I flared just ahead of the touchdown point, touched down shortly thereafter and turned off well before the stop point – a good landing. “Congratulations, you are now a glider pilot” - came from the back seat.

This was flight #46 and exactly 2 months since August long weekend when I had my first dual lesson. And now the journey begins: cross country, aerobatics, towing - so much more to learn...