Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Late Season Surprise.

Through November it looked like the gliding was finished and my sunset flight was the last one of the season. So, I dusted off my power license and decided to re-start the night rating. Three weather related cancellations later, I still had not flown, so when the message popped out on my gliding club’s board that there could be flying on the weekend, I cancelled all plans and decided to drive there.

I spent the morning flying dual circuits in a Citabria. The field was covered in melting snow and there was stiff cross wind, so landings were challenging, but I was finally flying, so nothing else really mattered.

Except, there was something that did matter. Flying the last few circuits in the Citabria, I felt some bumps. Could there be thermals on November 29? Skies soon provided the answer in the form of nicely looking Cumulus. By 1pm, the clouds started forming into the streets and a few gliders that did take off, stayed up for a while.

A friend that I flew the sunset flight with told me he’d be on a field around that time. He showed just as the two seat fiberglass glider landed, so we claimed the glider and were soon up in the air flying trough some definite bumps. I released at 3,000 ft and it did not take us long to find a thermal. And another one, and one more. They were not very well defined or strong, but they were definitely working.

Having gotten closer to the cloud base, we decided to fly under the cloud street. It was working, so we flew straight for a while and were holding altitude. The wind afloat was very strong slowing our progress and breaking up the streets and the thermals, so at some point, the cloud street ended and we turned back towards the field. As I tried to locate the field, I was looking for white runways, but then realized that in the matter of hours the color changed to green as the snow melted. At least I knew where the thermals were coming from.

We got a little low around that time and started looking for more thermals to get back up. Luckily, just as I was getting afraid that we would not find anything good and would have to land, the flock of seagulls decided to show us where the thermal was, so, having done some abrupt course changes, we joined in the thermal underneath them and were soon climbing back to 4,000+ ft. Having gotten under the cloud base, we then decided to follow another street in a different direction.

The other street was working as well and we were making progress flying east, but that also meant that we were flying downwind. My friend eventually decided that we have flown far enough away from club and we turned back and tried to make our way back under the same cloud street. As we flew towards the club, I looked out to the side and for a second felt like I was in a helicopter – our altitude remained unchanged, but so did our position relative to the ground – we were just hovering in space. That was a very neat experience.

Alas, we had to make headway towards the club, so down came the nose to pick up speed and altimeter started unwinding. We were making progress, but it did not seem to be enough and the street became weaker. Just as I started to think I may do my first ever out landing, we flew through the thermal and turned to pick up some height. It took a while, but we eventually got high enough to glide to the field. It was perfect timing as just as we turned towards the field, the clouds started to dissipate.

We arrived at the field with the height to spare and the landing was uneventful. As we rolled to a stop, I stayed in a glider for a while, trying to savor the experience. Eventually, I remembered that my feet were quite cold and we stacked the glider and made our way to clubhouse where I parked myself in front of the fireplace for much needed de-frosting accompanied by couple of beverages and some nice company.

Our flight lasted 2 hours 3 mins

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