Wednesday, August 26, 2009


My eyes got tired and watery as I searched the endless four letter combinations on Transport Canada database. Suddenly, the letters FLBY came up. Fly-by seemed to be such a fitting name for an aerobatic glider that I reserved it on a spot and just like that my future glider acquired its Canadian registration.

The glider I was buying (with my 50% partner) is called SZD 59 ACRO. What attracted me to it was the fact that it had two personalities. With the short wings (13.5m wingspan) it is capable of very serious aerobatics and with the wing extensions it is a capable cross country machine.

Winter and spring were spent waiting for our new glider to be built in Poland and dealing with some preliminary paperwork. The glider showed up on a field during Canadian Nationals, but paperwork to make it airworthy too another long six weeks. When it was finally ready for its maiden flight in August, the weather almost prevented us from going up.

It was the end of the Sunday and it rained on and off for most of the day, so there were very few people on the field. We stayed put waiting for a break in the weather. It finally came very late in the day and we rigged and towed the glider to the flight line.

My partner being more experienced than me was to do the first flight. He elected to go with the long wings configuration so we put the wingtips on. One of our aerobatic instructors was on a field and did the wing running, so that I could take pictures of the occasion. When my partner took off, the ceilings were still low, so he only got to 3,000 ft. He had a good flight and a picture perfect landing. And then it was my turn.

I decided to fly in the aerobatic configuration. As I got in the glider, I really did not know what to expect, but take off was not bad and ceiling got high enough that I managed to get to 5,000 ft. I released from tow and gingerly took the glider to the stall, spin and then did a few up and down lines to get the feeling for G-forces. It flew like nothing that I flew before, in a good way. I had a good landing and then my partner went off in again in the acro configuration.

And that was is for the day, although I did a lot more acro flights in it since. More on that later.

Ottawa trip

I recently had a chance to fly from Buttonville to Ottawa and back in a twin engine Piper Aztec with a bunch of friends. Out of 5 of us in that airplane, 4 were pilots, so I found myself in a back seat where I had slightly better photo opportunities compared to middle seat.

Departing from my "home" airport as a passenger free to shoot pictures was a very neat experience. As were were waiting in the holding bay, my namesake airplane (VLD) was landing -I took it as a good sign.

Not needing to worry about look outs or communications allowed me to capture this YKZ shot with Toronto in the background.

Having two engines allowed us to fly a more direct route over some very unlandable terrain interspersed with some occasional signs of human presence.

We were heading to Rockliffe airport and took a scenic route there over Ottawa river. This was my first ever time in Ottawa, and I most definitely appreciated the aerial tour.

Rockliffe is located right beside the Ottawa River so the views from the circuit were superb. Rockliffe is home to a very good aviation museum.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

An Experience to Remember

“Four knots thermal, we do not need to take it, we know there are better ones ahead so we keep flying straight”. The pilot in command kept talking, explaining his strategy, while I was preoccupied with two thoughts: “wow, he makes this cross country stuff look so easy“ and “I can’t believe we just ignored the four knot thermal”!

The place was southern Ontario (where 4 kt thermal would be considered above average) and the time was July 9, the second last day of the Canadian National Soaring competition. I was a passenger in the back seat of DG 505, our club’s high-end two-seater that was flying in the contest. The pilot in command of the 505 was an experienced club member who decided to introduce the less experienced club pilots to cross county flying by taking us with him as passengers, a different person each day.

As we made fast progress towards our first turn point, the pilot in command calculated our speed and claimed that he was having one of the best soaring days in his multi-decade soaring career! In the back seat, I was starting to clue in that what I was experiencing was not your typical soaring day in the southern Ontario. In the other words, it looked so easy because the conditions were exceptionally good. Good for a time being, as it turned out.

Being so fast over the first turn point, we calculated that we’d be well under time to complete the task, so we went deeper into the 20 miles turn circle and then proceeded towards second turn point. The thermals were still plentiful and flying was easy and we were making good progress, but as we approached the second turn point, the pilot in command pointed out to the blue spreading out to our left (east). We would have to fly due east to our third turn point (and towards our home field as well). At first I was not worried about the blue thinking that it was just a different (drier) air mass and there would be some lift in it. But as we turned towards the last turn point and flew into the blue, the we realized what it was. An easterly wind brought stable lake air from over Lake Ontario. There was not a lot of sink, but there was no lift anywhere either. And we still had close to 40 km to go so the day suddenly became a lot harder.

Flying on wisps of dying clouds we made it a bit closer to the last turn point only to find ourselves low over the ground in the middle of the blue air with headwind towards our destination and no airport within gliding distance. Or at least no airport that could accommodate the size of our wingspan as 505 has a rather large wingspan. For a bit, we were circling in zero sink over the small farmers grass strip, but as tempting as it was to land there, it did not look wide enough to accommodate the 505.

Once we realized we were not going anywhere, our attention switched to looking for good landing fields which were scarce in that area. Luckily, at that point we were almost right over the field that looked acceptable. The pilot in command started the landing circuit as I was looking for last minute obstacles. We were in the circuit when we heard some other planes in our class announcing that they were landing at the 3rd turn point (which was the airport).

The actual landing was uneventful and we were soon joined by the farmer. One tractor, three broken ropes and four aching arms later we pulled the heavy 505 to the edge of the field with road access, so the trailer could come right in. Our support crew showed up in a short period of time. Getting 505 in a trailer took a few hours and more aching arms and backs, but eventually she was all packed in and we all enjoyed a well deserved (and much needed) dinner.

We drove to the club under the moonlight. Back at the club, we were told that the lake air got almost everyone and only one glider in our class made it back and only four gliders came back in FAI class.

The 505 was put together in the morning and ready to fly again, but the bad weather returned and the last day was officially cancelled. Out of 10 contest days total, there were five flying days and 505 landed out only one day. As luck (or Mr. Murphy) had it, that was the day I was flying as a passenger. And what an experience that turned out to be!

Friday, July 17, 2009

My first cross country

I took time off work during Canadian Nationals Soaring Championship to watch the competition, listen to morning lectures and evening battle tales and do a bit of personal flying. My goal for that week was to do my first ever cross country flight, which had to be at least 50 km away from home field to qualify for a Silver Badge.

Naturally, weather gods were paying attention and the first four days of competition were a complete washout, so I did not even bother trying to get in a glider, let alone go somewhere. Then came the day that promised lots of Cu clouds and good lift with decent ceilings. With such perfect conditions, there had to be a catch and the catch was the wind. Very strong wind aloft from North/ North West was predicted for the duration of the day. North wind pretty much eliminated my original destination in the north and left me with just one option – Thillsonburg airport, 66 km away from my home field.

As I was mulling the “go - no go” decision, the wind on the ground did not seem to be bad at all and the Cu were not looking to be broken by the wind, so I decided to try. I prepped the glider, my maps, water, snacks and at the last minute threw in additional weight in the glider thinking that I might need it to fly better against the wind.

I launched right after the contest pilots, tow pilot dropped me at 2,000 ft over the field and I immediately climbed to 5,000 ft. It was a good beginning, but as I climbed, I noted that I was drifting downwind and that the wind was very strong higher up. I needed to go west, but with the very strong wind from the northwest, I had to point the nose of the glider to the north-northwest to avoid being blown southeast.

I spent the next half hour near the club trying to figure out the combination of speed and the nose direction that would result in some progress towards the goal. My movement relative to ground references was painstakingly slow but still noticeable after 30 mins, so I decided to try to go all the way.

Given I only had my maps and no GPS, I split my route in 2 legs. One was to Brantford airport which I could see and which was about half way. Another leg would be from Brantford to Thillsonburg. If I got low around half way point, I could land at Brantford.

The lift was good earlier in the day, so I never got low, but the wind at some point got so bad that I spent an hour imitating a helicopter over St George having Brantford airport right in front of me but not being able to get any closer. I finally decided on more forward speed which resulted in loosing more height, but at least I started moving again.

As I passed over Brantford, I picked up my landmark (abandoned railway) that would lead me almost all the way to Thillsonburg. My progress had been slow and for a while I could not see the airport, although I was pretty sure I could see the town of Thillsonburg. I double checked my position against my other landmarks and was confident that I was heading in the right direction, but I still could not see the triangular runways that were depicted in Flight Supplement.

Getting closer, I could see a single grey/white runway and then looked at my notes and noticed that I wrote asphalt against one of the runways. I guessed that the other two runways would be grass.

My original plan was to fly right over the airport and then turn back and fly to the club. With winds being favorable on the way back, it was easily doable and would have been an extremely short flight. Alas, as I got closer to the airport, I noticed that the high cirrus clouds moved overhead cutting off lift. Lift died completely soon thereafter but by then I was close enough to the airport and still had height to over fly the field, decide on into the wind grass runway and make an announcement on Unicom frequency.

I then set up a nice circuit, lined up with my chosen runway and had my best landing on the year. Too bad Murphy’s law was in full action as the airport was empty and no one was watching me land. I got out of the glider and called my crew asking to be aerotowed back to the home field. Two of the club members were flying around in their Decathlon and landed at Thillsonburg to lend a hand and take some pictures of my departure:

The aerotow was an adventure in itself but I got home safely and did not need to disassemble the glider.

The day was a lot of work, but I still liked the cross country flying and can’t wait to do it again in better conditions.

Contest Finishes

I took time off work to be on the field during Canadian National Soaring Championship and took a few finish shots as the competitors flew right over my trailer. The weather was really unsettled that day and half of the field was covered by dark and gloomy clouds while the other half was basking in the bright sun with blue skies. Most of the competitors approached from the dark side and then flew into the blue.

This one was not in the competition, but he was landing at the same time and I liked the background clouds.