Sunday, April 13, 2008

Someone’s living my dream!

I was stooging about on the net the other week and came to the Southern Soaring website – link - and was surprised to recognise the mug of the man enjoying a wave flight at 17,000 feet on their latest news page!

Before I’d started my glider training at Taupo Gliding Club in New Zealand, I had sought some opinions on solo in a week courses at various places, including an online forum for the Condor gliding simulator. A member of that forum, Vic, had done his training at Taupo and was going to be there the same week I eventually decided to do the course.

We shared the on-field digs, had dinner together a few times in Taupo and generally shared the training for a few days. Nice guy – he told me he wanted to fly at Omarama to experience wave flying and flying in the alps.

Omarama is like Mecca for sailplane pilots (for any glider pilots reading please excuse this primer). It’s a small town in New Zealand’s south island and a combination of mountains and prevailing westerlies result in amazing gliding conditions, including wave flying. Some private operations provide gliding tours and training (a bit like African safaris) and many gliding enthusiasts plan to make a pilgrimage to Omarama at least once in their lives. The world gliding Grand Prix races have been held there in 2006 and 2007.

Well, Vic clearly achieved his goal. Last time I’d seen him at Taupo he had progressed to flying solo in one of the club’s single seater PW5s, and now, here was a photo of him, at 17,000 feet, oxygen canulla in place, in wave over Omarama.

Well done that man!

I emailed him to get the good oil and he told me a little more about it.

He told me he flew in a near-new Duo Discus with the CFI of Southern Soaring Chris Rudge. He was (after briefings on use of oxygen, and the parachute) towed to 3,000 feet, then from ridge to ridge up to 8,000 feet, then as he describes it "punched up wind into rotor 100 knots indicated, very turbulent in sink, then into updraught of the rotor".

Having experienced a bit of rotor at Taupo a few weeks ago, I could visualise a bit of this (though working out how to transit the rotor is still confusing to me). He described being bounced about and then a smoothing out and they were into wave.

Oxygen went on at 10,000 feet, withy full-flow by 15,000 and he topped out at 17,500 feet! Vic says it was "cool but comfortable, outside temp. minus 5C".

Of course one of the tricky things about altitude flying is apparently you can be flying close to Vne (velocity not to exceed) but with a modest indicated airspeed. As well, in wave, you can be more or less standing still relative to the ground - and this happened to Vic - 55 knots indicated and at a virtual standstill on the GPS.

He seemed chuffed about his 3-hour flight (of which he flew all but some getting through the rotor). A lucky man...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Radio endorsement and a hazy flight

Off to Southern Cross at Camden today (Saturday 5 April 08) to attend a half-day Radio Procedures course put on by the club (a Flight Radiotelephone Operator authorisation is a pre-requisite for solo at the club and is a Gliding Federation requirement) and I hope to get in the final three of my pre-paid flights. The course started at 9.00 am, so I was on the road before 8.00 am for the 45-minute or so drive down the motorway.

The instructor, Woody, had efficiently posted out the course notes more than a week beforehand, so I'd done a bit of reading and searched on the net for relevant material. When I'd looked for Visual Terminal Charts (VTCs) for Camden, I'd come across a useful and attractive little download from the CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority), called the Sydney Basin Visual Pilot Guide for Fixed Wing Aircraft - see here

It has lots of useful information on procedures, colour photographs etc. Nice.

This was the first time I'd been at the actual clubhouse, which is located in the bustle of buildings at the aerodrome (usually I have arrived around midday and headed straight to the strip). I relaxed for a while drinking coffee, chatting to the other students and some of the club stalwarts who were getting set up for the day and flicking through flying magazines.

It was very hazy outside, blue skies and no wind to speak of. This became important later.

It was a good course, covering airspace classification, the various charts and other info we use (WACs, VTCs, VNCs, ERCs, ERSA) and the procedures at Camden and other nearby aerodromes, particularly CTAF and CTAF-R aerodromes; radio procedures and typical calls, distress calls, and weather reports and forecasts.

Midway through the course, we were informed that the aerodrome had been closed because of poor visibility from smoke. Bugger. It looked like I was going to miss out on flying today.

However, towards the end of the course, I saw a couple of planes taking off and after getting my precious Radio Operator Endorsement sticker in my logbook, I zipped down to the field to see if it would be worth staying.

As I got there, the club had been informed the field was to be reopened in about 20 minutes. I'd already got my name down on the flying list first thing in the morning, so I was pretty sure I could get at least one flight that day. The field being closed for several hours had caused a hell of a traffic jam. Every working glider in the club fleet was out on the field waiting for the off and several privately-owned ships; and there was a full roster of AEFs (Air Experience Flights - the punters who help fund the club). Two of the club's Pawnees were waiting to go. There was going to be a wait.

As the field started to get active, I made myself busy waving off and wing-running and pretty soon the sky was full of gliders. Most released over Narellan way where there seemed to be some lift, despite the seeming lack of any wind to trigger things, but one cross-country flier, another Brian, took his tow well south, aiming to go to Picton and back.

Finally the IS-28 came back from a flight with a Japanese pilot who had turned up on the day to join the club; and it was my turn. By this time, it was almost 2.00 pm and the smoke had cleared away (though it still looked hazy). Pretty blue, but some cloud building to the west.

Clive was my instructor and we ran over my experience and logbook and talked about what I wanted to cover in this flight (local landmarks and familiarisation and approaches/landings). Then I got settled in the tractor-like machine and got in the air. A slightly messy takeoff (seemed to happen too soon), I dropped a wing, recovered, got onto the main wheel okay, got off the deck and held the glider nice and low, and then when the tug got off, I slotted into low tow.

On my third tow in Australia, low tow held no horrors for me. It had clicked and I could relax (got to learn to do that before takeoff!). I was planning to release at 3,000, but got to talking to Clive and keeping a sharp lookout (lots of other aircraft up there) and I'd reached 3,500 before i woke up and bunged off (pulled the plug, as they seem to say in the club).

It was still very hazy and smoky up top - no real distant views and even looking at local landmarks was tricky. The other Brian later said he had been unable to see the field from 20 kms south!

After getting the gear up, the flaps off her and trimmed for 55 knots, we stooged around a bit identifying landmarks and airspace boundaries, by which time we'd lost a thousand feet or so, so I found some steady lift, centred it eventually, and then climbed back up to 3,800 feet.

A few exercises - stalls (interesting this, with my normal stall approach - lift the nose steadily, hold stick back and back until the stall - the IS-28 would stall at about 35 knots. However, when I tried a gentle stall, only a bit of nose up and a slower washing off of speed, what looked a gentle angle of attack, the thing stalled at 40 knots!), stalls with incipient spins off banked turns, and some steep turns with constant airspeed, it was back to the field to join the circuit.

I did the radio call (first one since the endorsement), then did my downwind checks. I found I was starting to crowd the circuit a bit, had to extend a bit before turning base, had to use full brakes and sideslip a bit, but then went to half-brakes, managed my speed well, rounded out okay, but landed a bit early, with a small bounce.

Clive's comments - next flights, practice circuits. He marked up my logbook "flying well, practice circuits and landing."

Still busy when I got back, so no chance of another flight. Had to go to a family dinner, so pulled the pin about 4.45pm. Saw a young guy who been on the radio course with me go solo in the K13 - got a nice memory of my solo and knew how he felt.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

On the ridge at Taupo and a tricky landing

Finally back in the air. Today (Sunday 16 March 2008) I managed to find time out of some work in New Zealand to visit the Taupo Gliding Club. The forecast, which I'd been watching eagerly from Australia, was indicating westerlies and better than 24 degrees C. Westerlies at Taupo mean the ridge at Mount Tauhara, the 4,000 foot hill south of the club field, works, so I was looking forward to a good day.

However, by the time I arrived in NZ, the forecast was for south-easterlies gusty, and strengthening. I took my chances and arrived around midday to find it breezy, but not too bad. Gusting 10-15 knots or so.

It was nice to see all the familiar faces and aircraft. It was a real blue day with nary a cloud (expect for some high lennies suggesting wave far out to the east), but Gordon, coming in from some air experience flights said there was some lift around.

I didn't have long to wait before my flight, though we needed to do some mechanical work on the PW6. One of Gordon's passengers had pulled the wrong red knob - the front canopy emergency release, rather than the red normal canopy release (thankfully on the ground when he was getting out, rather than in the air, which would have been expensive and messy), so we took a few minutes to refit the canopy.

It felt good to climb in and do my NZ checks (which I still remembered). Tom was my instructor and he said we would go to the south-east face of the ridge.

Getting off was a bit tricky - it was quite turbulent near the ground, but I got things under control and it smoothed out a bit above 1,000 feet, though it was still a bit of a roller-coaster ride, with big bits of lift and bumps.

I bunged us off at 3,700 feet when we'd reached the SE face of the ridge. This height puts you just under the top of the ridge. We released in strong sink, but I got in close, really feeling the wind pushing me onto the ridge, and then we were in quite strong lift. A good 6 knots up and it was like an elevator ride - woosh, up we went and almost immediately I could see the people standing around the trig point on the mountain and on the track leading to it (there's a walking track up the mountain and being a Sunday, there were probably a dozen hikers on the mountain). We were above them so quickly in steady strong lift, that lasted well out beyond the western end of the ridge.

In three turns we were at 4,500 feet, so we turned upwind and did a couple of stalls (preceded by the HASELL checks). The stalls were no problems at all, losing only a couple of hundred feet in all, then we pointed back to the ridge to get back the height.

There's something special about being on a ridge - you're close to the topography, which is always exhilarating, there's the strong constant lift that's exciting, and you can see and wave to people on the ridge below (or often on the same level) and imagine how you look to them.

After gaining our height back, we pointed out again for some practice in sideslipping and maximum rate descents. I'd not done sideslipping before so deliberately. I was conscious of the theory and the technique, and had done a little almost intuitive sideslipping on approaches with a crosswind component, but I'd been eager to learn them properly. We did several, rudder over, then ailerons to the reverse direction. The airspeed indicator is entirely unreliable in a sideslip, as the air is travelling across the sensor, so you have to be alert.

We also did a maximum rate descent, combining full airbrakes with a sideslip. Man, you can shed some height quickly that way - useful to get out of unwanted lift.

Back to the ridge for another couple of passes to regain height. I took a couple of photos - the lake was looking beautiful and I managed to get a shot over my shoulder of the end of the ridge.

Then back out to try a couple of wingovers (Tom did these) - nice! Nose down to get about 75 knots, then up and drop a wing at the top. One each direction - brilliant!

After this, things got interesting. We heard on the radio Lima Sierra, the privately-owned vintage Ka-6, getting a tow, requesting to be dropped off at 4,000 on the same part of the ridge as we were. There was a radio call from the towplane soon afterwards, that he was downwind to land, so we started to look out for the Ka-6, which we were expecting to see around our height and close by.

However, no sight (and it's a brightly-coloured aircraft - there's a photo of it in an earlier blog entry) and Tom called up the Ka-6 and Centennial Traffic to find out his position. Centennial Traffic reported that no other aircraft was up, and that the Ka-6 had aborted takeoff at 200 feet and was almost back in the hangar! Apparently, it was starting to get very gusty and windy at the field and the light Ka-6 had got seriously out of shape very soon after takeoff. The pilot had bunged off at 200 feet, done a fast turn and put it back on the ground.

Very soon after this Centennial Traffic called up to say they were suspending operations due to strong crosswinds that had quickly built up. Time to go back!

I headed us back to the field, around the eastern side of the mountain. In front could be seen thermals over ploughed fields, lifting plumes of dust, which were beiing strongly blown sideways at about 100 feet. There was strong lift out there, but also strong winds.

I positioned us downwind for 06, but we had lots of height and patches of strong lift meant we needed a different plan. I pushed out further downwind from the field to lose height, but there was even stronger lift out here.

Tom, looking at the windsock standing straight out on the field, and considering the cramped 06 approach, decided on a mid-field approach to 22 to get down quickly and safely, as it was clear the wind was only getting stronger and our approach, wherever it was, would be in rotor from Mount Tahuara (as we were directly downwind of it and needed to move upwind to the field).

Tom took control and we headed perpendicular to the field, passing through some strong turbulence off Tauhara. I took a short video (link below), and even holding with both hands it was impossible to hold it steady. Check out the video to see how bumpy it was. I could feel Tom working the brakes and rudder pedals like mad.

We got close and low, before Tom turned us onto runway 22, about halfway down it's length. With what looked like gusting 25-30 knot crosswinds, he had lots of speed in hand and we were approaching at a good 75 knots. Tom kept us in a long float and we touched down and stopped just short of the clubhouse. An exhilarating landing and I learned a lot in that few minutes.

A 39-minute flight (brings me to 9 hours 40 minutes total from 49 flights) and an exciting day.

The wind built to the extent that lots of strength was required to put away the gliders, and the towplane even tried to fly onto the fueling tractor! It actually rolled forward into the wind - very strange, but the folk looking after the pre-packing away fueling were able to hold it until it was chocked.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

First ride in the K13

Finally, at the end of my holidays, I got a day with promising weather (a Friday) that let me plan to get out to Camden to fly. I had found the transition from flying in NZ to flying locally a bit of a hit to my confidence. Looking back, I wasn't all that happy with my first flight at Camden with Southern Cross. I found the low tow position difficult to get right, the IS-28 felt like a tractor (with the joystick seemingly under my chin) and my landing was rubbish.

So I was a little nervous driving out to Camden on Friday, but the weather started looking better as I got further south and by the time I got out there (about a 45-minute drive) I was excited about flying again.

There was a surprising amount of club members out at the field. I'd seen on the club's Google group that the whole Camden field had been closed because of waterlogging after all the bad weather, so I imagine there were plenty of people who hadn't been able to fly for a long while.

However, I didn't have too long to wait. Duty instructor was the pleasant John J and today the two-seater for students was the K13. I'd always thought of the K13 affectionately, but never as a "proper" sailplane - more an old-school relic, so this would be interesting. It's covered with fabric for God's sake! Other club members assured me it flew sweetly. The club's K13 is a pretty machine - bright red with white wings and a bubble canopy.

When it was my turn to fly I did the ABCD check, then John looked over my logbooks and we discussed what I wanted to learn/revise:

  • getting the low tow position right and getting more of a "feel" for it

  • getting used to the area and the angles at this field

  • working on my landings, particularly speed control

I climbed in and got comfortable. The brake lever on the K13 is a long way forward and I found it a bit of a stretch for my dodgy left arm (which won't straighten after a bad elbow break). I had to have my left shoulder strap looser than normal so I could lean forward a little to reach it). The trim control is on the right side up near the canopy rail and moving trim doesn't move the stick - the K13 has trim tabs on the elevators. Fixed gear and no flaps. Rudder pedal position is adjusted by moving a set of sort of ratchet teeth. This time, I made sure I had full rudder movement.

Gettng off the ground I ended up floating the K13 a lot higher than I wanted to before the towplane got off the ground - you give some back pressure to get the aircraft off the front skid and onto the main wheel and then more back pressure to get unstuck, stay close to the ground until the towplane gets off and then stay low as the tug climbs above you, to your final tow position beneath the slipstream.

John J advised me to line up the towplane's mirror and tailplane to get in the correct low tow position and this reference point helped a lot. Once I got there, I relaxed and my tow went much better. After release I trimmed for 55 knots (got a nice comment from John for that - he said I'd trimmed correctly, slowing to the desired speed, than trimming, while other students often try to use trim to get them to the desired speed) and then went looking for some lift. When I'd arrived at the field, there were some promising coulds about and another clubbie, Brian, had said that the Blipmaps suggested things would get moving about 1.00 pm. However, by my takeoff around 2.00 pm, it was a blue hole, with a sort of mist and some very whispy clouds. No-one was staying up for long.

John had me locate the field (which wasn't where I was expecting it) and then showed me a few landmarks and likely thermal locations. We'd got some lift from a cloud during the tow, but after release, the cloud had disappeared! At one point, as we were flying towards a curve in the river where sometimes thermals are triggered, a small cloud appeared out of nowhere right in front of me, so there was definitely something there. However, thermals were hard to find and short-lived (or I was drifting off them, or turning the wrong way). In the PW6, thermals would give one wing a definite nudge, indicating clearly which way to turn, but maybe the K13 was heavier, or more flexible or something, because while I kept waiting for some thump to show me which way to turn when the vario showed lift, I never got one!

I did manage to stay in one thermal long enough to claw back a couple of hundred feet, but there was as much sink as lift around and lift was hard to find. What was cool was being joined by another sailplane also scratching around for lift. We shared the same thermal (or tried to) for a little while, and while I'd brought my camera hoping to get some shots from the air, I was too busy keeping a lookout and trying to stay up to get it out. Next time.

There was lots to see and having at least 2 other gliders in the immediate area meant I was kept busy looking for aircraft. Very cool to see them above, below, behind or in front. Saw a few birds too, including some Ibis below and a hawk or kerstrel zooming along. I also got a bit of a fright from a kid's red balloon blasting past the canopy at a great rate of knots!

After searching for more lift, we found overselves in a lot of sink and it was time to get in the circuit. I was much happier about my circuit and landing this time than last. Downwind checks whent well, John had to remind me when my speed dropped a little on downwind and my radio call missed "Camden Traffic", but other than that, I got in the right position, judged my turn to base well and I was happy with my landing.

I got the brakes out on base, watched my aiming point and managed my brakes and nose to maintain 55 knots. My roundout was a bit strange, probably because the K13 seems to have a bit of a nose-down attitude from the front seat. I rounded out at what i thought was the right height and waited for the landing, which happened a little more firmly that I'd expected (not too firm). John said I'd flow it onto the ground. I may have ballooned a little at roundout and then put the nose down a bit.

No time sadly for another flight that day - had to get home to pick up my daughter from child care - but it was a nice flight, though only 26 minutes.

I didn't get to stall or spin the K13, i hope to do that next time. Tasks to work on for my next flight:

speed control in the circuit


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Finally back in the air!

Well, today (Saturday 12 January 2008) it finally came together. A warmish Saturday and we drive down to Camden for the first time. While looking for the Camden Airport sign, I see a glider above us. My heart beats a little faster.

We find the club, I sign up and then we settle in to wait for my flight. Most of the club's aircraft are still out at Cootamundra at the summer camp, but there are two two-seaters doing duty for flights and TIFs - a K13 and an IS-28.

There's a few people here getting joyflights (these are being given in the K13) and students and it's not until almost 3pm before I get my flight.

First time in a glider since 25 November - more than a month and I'm feeling rusty. The weather's pretty good though - a blue day, a gentle breeze but some black stuff brewing in the south.

My instructor takes me out to the IS-28 - India Uniform Juliet and runs me through the different checks done at Southern Cross, compared with NZ.

They do a pre-flight ABCD check (Airframe, Ballast, Controls, DI), then their cockpit check is CHAOTIC instead of the CBSIFTCBE I'm used to. I take a little while familiarising myself with the aircraft, which is quite different to the PW-6 I've flown in NZ.

The IS-28 is aluminium, has retractable undercarriage and flaps and the cockpit is set out differently, more like a Soviet spacecraft, lots of metal bits. The rudder pedals are a long way away and the stick is tall. Instead of holding it in a relaxed hand down near my lap, it sits up tall.
Before launch it's flaps zero, trim set nose-down.

After launch I get to see another difference between the way they do things here and in NZ. Australia does a low tow, beneath the slipstream of the tow plane and it takes me a while to get comfortable down there.

After release, I trim for 50 knots and make some turns to get comfortable with the glider. It feels weird. The rudder pedals are a long way away, even with the seat well forward and the pedals wound back and I'm not sure I'm getting full rudder. The stick also feels clunky and almost feels like the instructor is fighting my movements (though he's not).

After a while I relax a bit and can carry out a few coordinated turns. It's very dirty and hazy outside with some dark stuff building up in the south, so the view's not up to much. My instructor tells me when it's clear the Sydney skyline and Blue Mountains can be seen, but not today. He shows me some local landmarks, including Camden.

It's a busy piece of airspace. In addition to runway Glider 06, there's also Camden's 06 for GA (lots of Cessnas, Scouts and Tiger Moths blatting about), so a good lookout is essential here. I see plenty of power planes as well as the club's K13 (below us) and an Astir from Sydney Gliding Club above.

While it's a blue day, there are some good thermals around, but I find them tricky to centre. Eventually I latch onto a good one - 5 to 10 knots, a real bump in the seat of the pants - and ride it from 2,000 feet to 2,500. It was nice to have the feeling of riding the thermal again, watching the ground and the sky, seeing an Ibis riding the same thermal, but beneath us.

We then try a few stalls and an incipient spin. The IS-28 is gentle in the stall, but a bit wicked in the spin.

We only had a half-turn in the spin, starting from a steep turn, but I remembered my bit and managed not to mess anything up.

Except for the landing... We arrived at the circuit a little high, so turned upwind to lose some height, then turned, flew downwind and made my call "Glider India Uniform Juliet joining downwind for Glider zero-six" without any hiccups. During downwind checks, I discovered I'd never retracted the landing gear after release!

Flaps are set in downwind, gradually, aiming for full flaps by final. This was the acid test, judging when to turn in and then making a decent landing. My turn in was okay (maybe a little high) and with a bit of a crosswind I felt I struggled to get lined up right. My speed control was a little wonky and I had much the same problem here as I did in NZ - my speed creeping up in the approach, to about 60-65 knots (about 10 knots too fast). Accordingly I had a couple of bounces on landing. 35 minutes aloft.

A bit of a disappointing end to the flight, I still have some work to do to get back to where I was 6 weeks ago. No chance of another flight that day - a queue for the aircraft and the sky lookign threatening.

Oh well, I have paid for 5 flights, I have 4 left and if the weather cooperates, I'll get back there as soon as I can.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

I'm in a state of suspended aviation

It's strange to have a gliding blog, yet not do be doing any gliding. A whole host of circumstances have stopped me from flying since I got back from Taupo and I'm tearing my hair out, worrying that I'm losing the skills I learned there.

After I got back from NZ and my solo in a week course, the weather in Sydney was woeful, with regular rain and storms. Our new kitchen was being installed, so I was kept fairly busy, but I still spent the three weeks of the rest of my holiday unable to get to Camden to fly. The plan was to drive down to Southern Cross Gliding Club and join up to continue my flying. No such luck.

Then between Christmas and New Year we travelled out west to Cootamundra to visit my mother, who had moved there from Wagga Wagga the week before. After a 4-hour drive we stopped at the information centre at Cootamundra train station, only to hear the unmistakeable sound of a towplane.

I looked up and there was a glider being towed over the town by a Pawnee! I quickly made some enquiries about the location of the gliding club (as my web searching before we left didn't reveal much chance of getting to fly while in Coota). I remembered then that the Southern Cross Club ("my" club) was having its summer flying camp at Cootamundra, and instead of being miles away as i had thought they were right here in town.

From the motel we stayed in, we could watch gliders (lots of them) on downwind and see them thermalling over the town. After visiting my Mum, I jumped in the car and went searching for the gliding club, finally finding them at the ghost-town-like Cootamundra airport.

It was the Camden guys and they had about 10 gliders there and one of the club's Pawnee tugs - but only one two-seater DG1000, which was fully booked for cross-country flights (and the weather was perfect for cross-country). I chatted for a while and the guys thought there might be a chance I could sign up and have a flight. This was an exciting prospect, because unlike Camden, where there's a 4,500 foot airspace, here it was described as "as high as you can hold your breath".

No chance of a flight today, but I brought Bibi and Ava out that evening to look at the parked up gliders and we also watched the ultralights buzzing around in the dusk, getting in wind-free flights.

The next day we drove out to see the chances for a flight. Bibi and Ava came with me and after watching gliders all the previous afternoon from the cool of the swimming pool, Bibi was a little interested in them (good wife, that). No chance of a flight that day either - the two-seater was in demand and we could see gliders overhead getting height before striking out cross-country.

More disappointment. The following day we were scheduled to drive out to Temora (about 50 kms west) to look at the town and see the aviation museum there. When we got out there we saw more gliders being prepped and got ready for flying and then I got a phone call from a club member to say I could probably get to fly (as long as the DG didn't land out) that afternoon. Only problem was we were heading home to Sydney around noon! Aargh.

So, here we are back in Sydney. I resolve to try to take Friday off and go down to Camden (the guys at Cootamundra had assured me there was a tug and an IS28 two-seater down there and my fine wife was prepaed to come down with me), but when I rang the duty pilot, he told me that of their two tugs still in Camden, one was out for an overhaul and the other was busted! So no flying that day, but try Sunday...

So today, as I post this on Sunday, the ewather is a bit iffy, but there's no answer on any of the gliding club's phone numbers, so I guess, no flying today....

Will I ever get a flight???