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???