Thursday, June 18, 2009

Flying in the Decathlon

Trying to do both aerobatics and soaring did not leave me with any time to resume by power flying, so I was very grateful when invited to tag along in the Decathlon. I even got to fly it, albeit from the back seat.

We needed to break in the new jugs (or something like that) so we had to fly for 2 hours keeping certain RPMs. Direction was up to me, so I choose to check out my potential cross country routes and we flew to York Soaring, then over Embro to Woodstock. I never flew over that area of Southern Ontario, so it was nice to do the initial check from the back seat of a power plane. We then paid a visit to Brantford airport, flew over the escarpment in the Milton area and returned back to club taking some neat shots in the process.

Brantford Airport

Over Escarpment

Hangar View and a Visiting Tiger Moth

Solo Hammers

The day before my 5 hour flight I was cleared to do solo hammerheads in the Puchacz. I rehearsed them mentally on a ground and amazingly, my first one was textbook perfect. I figured that they only had one direction to go after that. Right, they got worse. But a had a few that approached the quality of the first one, so I was happy.

Another member of the program flew solo loops and he did several sequences when he linked the loops one after another. It was fun to watch. He also was nice enough to take some shots of me landing after my solo hammers flight.

Almost Six Hours!

The progression past the glider pilot license is more or less up to the pilot with the recognition of milestones achieved via so-called badges. C barge is 1 hour flight; Bronze Badge is administered by club and serves as a preparation to a first cross country flight. Silver badge is administered by FAI and is recognized worldwide. There are three requirements to complete the badge: 5 hour duration local flight; a 1000 meters height gain and a 50 km cross country flight. I decided to start with 5 hours.

On the morning of my 5hr attempt the high cirrus clouds decided to park right over the club and it did not seem like the day would go anywhere. By 11am there was still no sigh on Cumulous clouds, but there were lots and lots of private gliders rigged and set aside on the flight line. I figured all those experienced x-country guys must have been onto something, so had an early lunch, prepared my water, snacks and relief system and made my way to the flight line. It was past noon and there were tiny Cu way too far away from the club, but moving in the right direction. Apparently, there was also lift in the blue and the “house thermal” was working, so after talking to some experienced guys, I decided to launch, find a good blue thermal and stick to it until Cu moved in. With some last minute encouragement, I took off into the blue.

I found lift right after takeoff, but also discovered than my audio vario was under reading by so much, it was useless and I had to shut it off and rely on mechanical. That meant I had to have my eyes in the cockpit more than usual initially, and as time went on, I actually just flew by feel more than the vario.

Fighting with the audio vario I lost the lift core and could not find it again. Then I decided to move to another thermal seeing a glider in it move up rapidly. I lost quite a bit of height getting there and got low, so had to work diligently on centering and getting my altimeter up. By the time I got to the decent height and could relax for the first time since release, it felt like an hour had passed. Imagine my surprise when the watch told me it was under 25 mins! I was really doubting that I would have endurance to do 5 hours flight that day.

Having spent some time topping up the thermal I was in, I made it back to the Safari thermal and either the lift got better or I found a core, but I was at 7,000 ft in no time. By that time, Cu that was previously too far appeared to be within reach on the downwind side. The winds were very light, so I figured being downwind was not that much of an issue and at 7,000 ft height I could afford to at least go in the direction of the Cu to see how far I get.

I picked a textbook perfect looking cloud and headed straight for it. I encountered more lift on a way and thermalled in it a bit, so by the time I got to Cu, I was still reasonably high. And that Cu was working and rather well. And there were a lot more clouds drifting in so flying got a lot easier and became a lot more fun from that point on.

At some point, I headed for a really solid looking cloud only to find it top heavy and completely dead by the time I got there. Other times I found massive lift in the blue. As I was circling in that lift I looked up saw a haze dome and realized I was under the young growing cloud. Eventually I got too far downwind for my comfort and decided to make my way upwind.

Jumping from cloud to cloud, I moved upwind. Ceilings got higher as the day went on, so at over 8,000 ft, I could go a long way and still stay within gliding distance. For a while, I was very tempted to go beyond the gliding distance and try a cross country flight, but I did not have my maps, my cell phone or rigged trailer, so I resisted that temptation and eventually turned back towards the club.

Looking back towards the club, I was rather unpleasantly surprised at the picture in front of me. The sun and Cu that were now behind me were replaced by a massive overdevelopment with some occasional rain showers falling down to the ground. Moreover, that dark and nasty stuff appeared to move towards me and I could not quite get away from it and still stay within gliding distance.

At that point, I checked my watch for the first time in a long time and was surprised that it showed I was up for over 4 hours. With less than an hour to go I was really motivated to stay up the whole 5 and that meant I had to find lift under the clouds.

I saw a sunny break half way towards the club and headed for it, going through some rain in the process. Being rained on in the glider was a very interesting experience – the rain was so extremely loud that at some point I thought it was hail.

I made it to the sunny break and gained as much height as I could. With less than 30 mins to go, the clouds drifted over and the sunny break closed. Curiously, the weak to zero lift continued even with no sun so I kept circling in it until I knew I made my five hours. With the goal achieved, I decided to head for another distant sunny break to warm up (I was quite cold as I spend the previous 30 mins under the clouds). On a way to the sun, I passed though another rain shower and discovered 4 kts lift in the rain!

As I flew into the sun again, I looked back at the club and saw shower columns heading to the field. I did not want to fly through yet another rain shower, so I decided to stay on a sunny side and play around some more. I had quite a bit of height to lose so I took some pictures of clouds and the rain, did some turns and had a grand time not looking at my vario or altimeter. Getting lower, I overflew the field to check the windsocks. Just as I was getting in the landing mode, I flew through a massive thermal that I just could not pass. Centering it quickly, I saw my altimeter go through from 3,000 ft to 5,000 ft and suddenly felt very tired. I opened full spoilers but was still going up until I flew out of the lift. I kept flying with open spoilers until I was at the circuit altitude and then did a circuit and had an uneventful landing. The total time for that flight was 5 hrs and 50 mins.

Packing my glider in the hangar, I knew two things that I did not know before that flight: first, I had endurance to do long flights and second, the next time I am having a 5 hour flight, I better be going somewhere. I can’t wait for my first cross country!

Late Day Soaring

Murphy's Law never fails to ensure that the best soaring weather falls on a weekday for those of us who have to work to support the flying obsession. That Friday was not an exception with nice firm Cu clouds drifting by the office window. Thinking I might get a bit of flying in, I left work early, but after two hours of being stuck in traffic and arriving to the field well after 6pm, my hopes were slim. But there was still Cu in the sky, club's ASK-21 sat unused, so me and my partner got in and went flying.

We asked the tow pilot to drop us at the somewhat distant Cu and we relieved that it had lift under it. As we circled under the clouds, i felt my stress from busy work and hellish commute melting away.

We heard some of other club gliders reporting lift over town of Cambridge and headed there. The clouds looked promising, but most that we found was zero lift. No wonder, it was almost 7:30pm. So, we circled for a bit in zero lift and slowly made our way back the the field. A great way to end the work week!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Back to Aerobatics

May long weekend was the official start of club’s aerobatic program and it was a busy start. Having been rained out Saturday, on Sunday, May 17th we had four participants, four instructors with two gliders and a vertigo mile to top it all.

Given the late start on Sundays (9am), on the 17th we each had time for one flight which was just fine for most of us as we rediscovered the effects of G’s on the stomach and realize that we would need to build up our G-tolerances yet again. We continued flying on Victoria Day when most of us got two flights each. There had been aerobatic flights every weekend since then.

Here’s our instructor team relaxing after a hard morning at work on the 17th.

The program starts at 7am on Saturdays and 8am on Sundays. We assemble by the hangar, pull out gliders (505 and Puchacz) and do daily inspection so that we can be on the flight line and ready to take off at 8am on Saturdays and 9am on Sundays.

Depending on the number of the participants on a given day, each gets one to two flights, although on non-soaring days when there is not much other activity, we can keep flying acro longer and people can have as many flights as they can tolerate.

Having flown almost every weekend since opening of the program, three of us reached the stage when we were cut loose to do individual figures solo, under watchful eyes of our instructors and the experience was exhilarating.

All of us experienced something similar – a bit of tension before the start of the first figure, then as you start pulling the G (first figure is loop) the tension melts away, the vision suddenly expands to pick up things we have not previously noticed and by the end of the figure we are on top of the world, alive, happy and having a lot of fun. No wonder aerobatics are addictive!

In between our flights, we watch our fellow participants flying the figures like loops and hammerheads and see how the figures look like from the ground. Or, we can also watch free air show quality acro performances by our own instructors.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Blue Day

Following my longest flight, I had many chances to do short tows and work on my landings. Which is a nicer way to say that the weekend weather sucked for few weekends after that flight and soaring was out of question. I did experience the “torture by Cumulus” watching nice thick puffy clouds drift by my office windows quite regularly during the weekdays though.

Finally, a day with strong lift arrived, the glider was available and I had an approval for overtime as I was going for a two hour flight (normally only one hour allowed in club’s gliders).

There was only one complication – there were no clouds in the sky. It was the so-called blue day. Blue days happen when there is a temperature inversion in the air mass that prevents cumulus cloud from forming. Or something like that. Bottom line, on a blue day, there is lift, but you generally have no clue where it is.

The tow pilot dropped me right in the good thermal and very shortly I was at 6,000 ft adjusting to the environment. Getting in and out of my “house thermal”, I have established where its boundaries were at different altitudes. As I was circling in it, I also had time to look around and notice where the other gliders were circling.

With those basics down, I went exploring. I briefly ventured north towards Cambridge, but having encountered nothing but sink, I hastily made retreat to the house thermal and re-grouped. As I was re-grouping, I noticed a glider a few miles away over what seemed like a forested area. I did not think that area would produce any lift but I watched the glider shoot up as he centered a thermal and wanted to go there and try it myself.

I made my way to that area and started searching for that bump the usually signals a thermal but initially found nothing but massive sink. Thinking to myself that where there is massive sink, there should be lift, I did a wider circle in that area and finally was rewarded with a surge and my little glider shooting upwards. That thermal was even stronger than the one I was in before and for a little while I used that one as my base to venture further out and explore what else was out there.

Trying to find thermals on a blue day and watching the passing gliders kept me occupied so that two hours few by very fast and I eventually had to come back to the ground. This was another first – soaring on a blue day!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Longest Flight

After a long winter of not flying I wanted to work on my short field landings in the glider. As I drove over to the field the night before and looked at the shimmering lakes in the middle of runways, I was not very optimistic that the field would be flyable the next day.

But the next morning brought a few hard core soaring pilots, Cu was building up and after through investigation a small piece of runway was deemed to be dry enough to take off and land, but not both at the same time. After the experienced guys were off I asked if I could fly the single seater. “Only if you do not come back right away” was the answer. It was just what I needed.

I dug the Junior out of the hangar, did a pre-flight inspection and asked for a 3,000ft tow. My flight almost ended up right there as I ended up in some serious sink and could not find any lift as I drifted back towards the field. Getting low enough to start the circuit, I turned to where I thought I felt a bump on the tow and instantly hit a good thermal. So good, I gained 3,000 ft in a really short time.

The day got immensely better after that. It seemed that I hit massive thermals anywhere I went. The highest altitude in MSL that I got to was 8,500 ft. As I looked out and down from that height, everything looked different. Depending on where I was at the time, I could see Hamilton, Brantford or Kitchener airports and they seemed deceptively close. I caught myself thinking that I probably never flew the power planes at that height and to be able to get there in a glider was a wonderful sensation.

With the ability to get very high, I ventured further away from the club than I’d normally do, but I stayed upwind and within gliding distance as I realized that the fields would be extremely wet and landing out was not a good option.

Going out and back and out in the other directions again, I lost the track of time for quite a while. But after 3 hrs, the effects on sitting on bare fiberglass with a thin layer of fabric made an impact on my posterior as it became more and more uncomfortable. At that time, I turned back to the club with the intention to land, but hit another good thermal on my way back and got delayed for another 30 mins. Eventually, the discomfort exceeded the joy of flying and I had to land. It was not the world’s smoothest landing, but it was short and right where it had to be. And I got to practice a lot of landings in the next few weekends as the weather was not soarable.

The total flight for that time was 3 hrs 30 mins.