Monday, December 10, 2007

Day two – bittersweet aerotowing and another booming thermal day

I did some revision last night and then was ready to make some more progress today. My instructor is happy with how things are going and feels I have a good chance of soloing this week, mostly because yesterday we had such a long flight, with lots of thermalling, straight and level flight practice, coordinated turns and stall drills etc.

In the morning he partially fills out my A Certificate Training Syllabus form for what I’d covered so far, and identified what things we need to work on today. They are:

  • Use of trim

  • Slow speed handling

  • Stall with brakes out

  • Stall in a turn

  • Spiral dive.

If we can get to them all, we’ll be lucky. We get in the air fairly early and it’s a blue day – warm but with little visible cloud. I first learn how to fuel the tow plane.

We take off (Gordon instructing) in the PW-6 around 11.30 am and the air is smoother. My liftoff is good and my tow is much better today. Gordon never takes control in the tow. He says later he could see me correcting and getting back into position and he never felt he had to take control. I relax a bit and it seems a little easier to follow the tow plane this time.

We get off tow and there’s a little lift about, but it’s patchy with lots of sink and we soon end up planning for a circuit, with Gordon showing me the limits of the Taupo gliding area (Taupo airport is nearby). We turn on, I’m a little fast at 60 knots, and a little out of position, needing a bit of rudder to keep on line, but my round-out is pretty good and we get on the deck without a bounce.

After this, there’s some other people flying in PW and ME including some American tourists who take two flights (one an aerobatic one with lots of stunts) and have a lot of fun, so it isn’t until about 3.30pm before I’m ready for my next flight (I get in plenty of practice waving people off though, including a club member doing some kind of instructor’s training, who takes the Twin Astir ME up for what turns into a long flight (more than 2 hours 10) – we hear him calling up at 6,500 feet, moving to the Christchurch ATC frequency to ask for clearance higher).

In this tow, in much bumpier weather, I’m back to having a pretty ordinary tow. People are telling me that it will just “click”, but I can’t see that happening just yet – only my second day though. Gordon has to take control a couple of times when I get badly out of position and I’m having trouble following the movements of the tow plane and anticipating changes in heading and height.

However, after we release at 5,500, we quickly contact some blue thermal and I get plenty of practice turning and maintaining 45-50 knots while climbing in 2-8 knots. I also experiment with trim and find I can quickly get trimmed for 45 knots (best thermalling speed in this a/c) or for 55 knots for stooging about. We stooge about searching for and finding lift and several times I see ME in the distance or above us. I find I can quickly turn onto a heading, fly pretty straight and maintain constant speed and turn angle pretty well, without having to watch the instruments – in fact the more I look out at the horizon and listen to the wind noise, the easier it is to control. We practice stalls, including high angle stalls, stalls with the brakes out (bang the brakes in quickly, a little nose down, some opposite rudder and everything’s sweet), incipient spins, including deliberate stalls with hard rudder over, and recoveries therefrom and then the more deadly slow speed, low angle stall. For this, I put the plane just above the horizon, let the airspeed bleed off, pull the stick back to simulate “Oh my god, I’m getting low” and then feel what is a pretty mild, mushy stall, which is easily and quickly able to be got under control without much altitude loss. The point of this is to learn the signs of an impending stall and also, to learn that recovery can be quick and relatively painless.

This turns into another epic flight – 50 minutes of wonderful flying, interesting drills and manoeuvres and amazing views. Very bumpy thermals and when we are in them, the plane would be leaping about, the wings being pushed up or down by alternate lift and sink and gusts. There was an amazing sense of the whole sky in turbulent motion and me being tossed around like a leaf, while also riding the bumps in more or less control.

At the end, I had my best landing – this one seemed to have much more time to get set up. I still crowded the base leg a little, but got set up, made the radio call, brakes out, onto final and managed a steady 55 knots all the way to the ground, with a nice roundout. I was happy to hear my instructor say that while there’s an item in the curriculum for bounce recovery on landing, I hadn’t yet bounced!

The guy who had been out in ME came back, to have his landing observed, and after landing, showed how, at height he had tried to have a pee in a bottle, but had not been able to quite manage it and so had wet his pants! All part of gliding I guess…

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