Friday, June 11, 2010

Angry Skies

The weekend weather forecasts are starting to sound like a broken record. A bad broken record. We had low ceilings, rain, thunderstorms, winds and whatever else Mother Nature could throw the way of hapless glider pilot.

The weekend of June 5-6 was not supposed to be an exception. The front was supposed to come through and the forecast showed no chance of flying at all. But miraculously the skies cleared up some by about 10am and completely by mid-day on Saturday. This was a real blessing as that was the date of my club’s first open house in many years.

Seeing the weather improve rapidly on Saturday, I considered getting my own glider out of the hangar and practicing some short field landings, but decided against it as the lineup was very busy with intro flights for the open house. Instead, I decided to play with my newly acquired 18-200mm zoom lens and take pictures for the club’s and my own websites. I took pictures of people, tow planes, gliders in motion and of course the skies.

The afternoon sky had deep iridescent blue color that often accompanies weather changes and the occasional clouds had very interesting shapes that only unsettled sky can produce. At some point, there was a rainbow amidst the clouds, a sign of the warm front approaching.

As the day wound up, I had an urge to go up and look at that unsettled sky from above. But I did not want to fly myself; I wanted to be a spectator with the camera. In the luck of perfect timing, the moment I realized I wanted to go up, I was picking up a glider that just landed and pulling it back to flight line. And it was not the ordinary glider, it was privately owned LK-10, a WW2 vintage glider that has an open cockpit for the passenger. I asked the owner if he would take me up and he agreed.

By the time we were on a line waiting to take off, the approaching front line was visible from the ground. The take off with the open cockpit was noisy and exciting at the same time. Things got quieter after the release and the sensation of flight and moving through the air was beyond words. We did not expect to fund any lift that time of the day with a front approaching, but surprisingly we flew into rising air and circled in there for a while. We were joined in the thermal by a bird and another glider.

As we circled, I had a real good look at the skies. The skies to the east and north of us were blue with some feather clouds that created amazing patterns.


The upcoming front was now closer and the skies to the west and south of us were ominous with dark clouds pregnant with rain or thunder.

The settling sun was almost completely covered by clouds but a few remaining rays added some color to the spectacle that left me speechless and lost in time and space.

Eventually we ran out of lift and came down to earth. As I climbed out of the glider, I looked up and noticed that the clouds overhead formed into impressive mammatus formation. Very vague thought at the back of my mind briefly surfaced to remind me that mammatus clouds are often associated with very fierce storms, but in the routine hassles of stacking the gliders I completely forgot about it until the next morning when I read that the front we were watching resulted in tornado hitting a town southwest of us…

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A bit of Soaring

After several weekends of rain, I had officially opened my soaring season couple of weeks ago with a really interesting flight. It was a blue day, which means there was lift, but there were no clouds that usually mark the lift.

I had two acro flights that morning, then took my time to put the wingtips on my split personality glider, thus turning it into a capable cross country machine.

Last year, on a blue day, I would have just happily flew in circles around the club, however, I found that flying in circles was becoming a bit boring and I wanted to set some kind of a goal. Being first soaring flight of the season and a blue day, trying to fly somewhere and back was out of question, so I decided to fly what I called a “local cross-country”.

Looking at the map, I picked the landmarks that were within 10-15 miles away from the club at the North, East, South and West. I decided to fly between these landmarks turning back to the club each time I reached the minimum safe gliding distance.

Tow pilot dropped me in the lift and I worked that lift diligently gaining about a 1,000 ft. I then flew around the club for a bit trying to establish the strength of thermals and where the lift started and stopped in terms of height. Having a somewhat rough idea where the lift was, I set up towards my first landmark.

I flew through a whole lot of sink but as I approached my landmark I also found a ton of lift and realized the we have installed the overly sensitive altimeter in the glider that made finding the thermals on a blue day somewhat challenging. Eventually, I resolved not to look at the altimeter but instead pulling up and cranking into a turn as soon as I felt a surge of rising air. That worked a lot better.

I made it to my initial point North of the club and started making my way to the point East of the club. Flying between those two points, I had not encountered lift once, but there was a lot of sink so that when I reached my eastern turnpoint, I had about 100 ft of altitude left before reaching my “turn back” altitude. Miraculously, I found some lift and started climbing up again. Turning towards my western turnpoint, I tried to reach it twice, but got caught in too much sink and forced to turn back to club both times, so instead, I went back north.

By the time I completed that simple circle, I started to feel tired. The sun was bright and relentless and there were no clouds to hide under, so I was feeling too hot and earlier acro flights that i flew that day made me more tired to start with. There was still lots of lift left, but I decided to call it a day.

I was at 4’000 ft above ground and I decided to glide all the way back to club to see how much height I would lose. This was a way of testing my minimum safe gliding distance. I was over the club 1,200 ft of altitude later, so my 3,000 ft minimum altitude was quite conservative and I liked it this way.

Now I need to practice some short field landings in the cross country configuration and then I could try the real cross country.

Not enough hours in a day.

I often feel I need to retire just to finally have time for everything I want to do. But being a 30-something with expensive hobbies and desire to expand my aircraft collection, retirement is something that I will not be able to afford for quite some time. And since there are truly not enough hours in a day to do everything, sometimes something has to give. Through the spring, this something was my blog writing, so I have got a lot of catching up to do.

My gliding club’s aerobatic program was opened for the season in early May and so far I have flown quite a few flights, most of them in my own glider. I was curious to see how much of the skills would come back after a long winder break and relieved when I caught up right where I left last fall in a few short weeks.

My stomach had a bit more catching up to do, building G-tolerance yet again. I had one day when I did three acro flights in the morning and tried to soar on flight #3, but could not even complete a single circle before my stomach interrupted and indicated that straight and level was in order or glider clean up would be in our immediate future.

On my last acro flight the previous week, I flew the acro sequence for the first time in a glider. My instructor drew a simple program for me to try and talked me through the linking of elements. The sequence was competition spin, followed by a loop, followed by a hammerhead, followed by a roll. Flying a sequence was quite a bit different from working on single element at a time as I needed to constantly stay ahead of the glider, ensuring that the energy was not wasted and my exit speeds were matched with my entry speeds. It was also a lot of fun and I can’t wait to do it again.