Saturday, May 22, 2010

Duty Pilot and Second First Solo

A quick post today - out to the club for my first stint as Duty Pilot (tasks to open the clubhouse, download the weather and the club members' flying intentions, collect batteries, radios, cool drinks, camera and printer (for AEFs), then to the hangars to get out and DI gliders and then to coordinate operations for the day. I had the assistance of a senior club member for the first part of the day.

It was raining in Sydney when I left early this morning but it was clear and quite warm at Camden and by the time we were moving aircraft down to the strip Cu's were already forming. It was not going to be a busy day - 2 students plus me, an early solo pilot and a plethora of instructors.

I helped to allocate students and check flights to aircraft and instructors and logged flights, did some wing-running and retrieving (the usual stuff) and even got time for a joyride in the tow-plane (man those things are noisy). My camera was playing up so i couldn't take any photos. I had my new GPS flight logger with me but I had technical issues with that too when I tried to download my flights.

Since it was quiet, one of the instructors, R, offered to take me up for a flight or two (he's a very good instructor - good at teaching, not just showing people how to fly). After looking through my NZ and Australian logbooks, he concluded I was probably ready to solo after some tormenting, which included simulated rope breaks. I have to say I got pretty flustered and made a mess of the first rope break exercise, starting to turn back to the field when we were high enough for pretty much a full circuit, then crowding the circuit. I even started to line up for the grass 28 strip instead of 24 which we were operating on! Horrible. I got a pass on the landing and afterwards he told me he'd established a few things about me - I didn't panic, I looked out of the window and I could get myself out of trouble.

We had two more circuits, releasing at 1,500 feet, concentrating on moving in and out as conditions changed on downwind and talking about the importance of the turn to final and then he asked me if I felt ready to fly by myself, because he thought I was.

So I strapped up the rear seat harness of the K-21, got in the front by myself and the next thing I was in the air. My instructor told me he'd be watching and he'd call me on the radio if he thought my position wasn't good on downwind. Two-seaters are so light the first time you fly them alone and I ballooned a little before the tug got off the ground (though my initial position was good and low - we must have hit a little warm pocket and it went up a few feet, I then found the trim had come back by itself, probably when I was checking control movement) but I quickly got it back in position. The tow was nice and smooth, I released at 1,500 feet, took a look at the field and then made a series of turns and excursions perpendicular to the field before deciding it was time to join downwind. I made my radio call, did my downwind checks and then adjusted my position as I flew. There was almost no sink, so I extended downwind a bit until I judged it was time to turn base and then, as I turned final I realised I was a little high. I got some full brake out immediately, corrected my height and then did a half-brake final, rounded out a trifle high, ballooned just a little, settled the glider and then held off for the best landing I've ever done. A gentle kiss, stick right back by now and then full brakes, keeping the wings level and the aircraft straight and ended with the glider coming to a halt wings level and the gently leaning onto the left wing.

I let out a whoo, slowly climbed out and pushed the glider off the strip. But mine was the last flight of the day again and I waited for the two-car reflecting on meeting my resolution to go solo again before the end of May.

Now, the fun really begins.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Daily Inspector and last flight of the day

Saturday 8 May 2010

I’m finally up to date with my blog! This weekend I came out to the club primarily to finish the DI course, with hopes of also fitting in a circuit or two afterwards. The DI course was to start bright and early out at the hangars and it was a cool sunny morning. The car’s thermometer read 9˚ Celsius as a drove through the gates at 8.15am. It was quite still on the ground and I was surprised to see a partially deflated balloon on our strip. A Sydney company, Balloon Aloft, operates out of Camden and this was the first time I had seen them here. As one balloon on the ground was being packed away, two more were approaching from the south-west. Apparently there was a SW wind aloft and they were using this to come back to Camden. As I watched, a second balloon descended for a perfect landing on the glider strip.

How do they do this? The third balloon apparently missed his slot and crossed overhead at about 1,000 feet to land east of the field, but two out of the three balloons landed where they wanted to, simply using what wind there was.

Apparently, the balloonists launch things called Pibals (short for Pilot Balloons) and then track them to judge ascent rate and winds aloft. Apparently they used to do this with special theodolites combined with lights on the balloons. Fascinating.

The second day of the DI course was interesting and involved getting hands-on with two aircraft – the club’s K-13 (complete with trick airbrake handle) and the single seat Astir, carrying out DIs in small teams (there were 6 of us doing the course) complete with little “traps”, being briefed on the idiosyncrasies of the different club aircraft and then finally pulling bits off to see how they work – the tailplane on the K-13 and the tailplane and port wing on the Astir. After this (all of us passed the course) I got to sign off an independent control check of the K-13.

The course finished about 2.30 pm and I headed down with some of the participants to put my name down to fly. I ate a late lunch and then watched the gliders and power planes doing bumps (including a nice little Chipmunk). It was a lovely calm Autumn day, and warm at about 23˚ C and there was lift to be had (a couple of guys in the club’s DG-1000 had a flight just short of 4 hours), but by the time my chance for a flight came around, it was the last flight of the day. I climbed into the K-21 with half the strip in shadow and took a tow to 2,000 feet in lovely smooth air. After release I obscured the altimeter with a little suction cup provided by the instructor and marvelled at the lovely late afternoon light as I wandered about south of the strip. I concentrated on constant speed coordinated turns at 50 knots until I judged it was time to join the circuit. There were no other aircraft up at that time (getting on to 5.00 pm) so it was a calming, smooth flight, with the field in full shadow and the last afternoon sun on the Razorbacks. I managed the circuit well I thought, and after my landing the instructor (who had been having student flights all day) said “you didn’t scare me once”. He wrote in my logbook “Flew a good circuit and landing” which I was most happy with.

After the flight I stayed to pack away gliders and the tug, then carried batteries back to the clubhouse, leaving well after dark. Satisfying.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Glorious Autumn Soaring

Monday 26 April 2010

Looking back over my logbook, I find most of my training flights at Camden have been short, generally under 20 minutes, so it was nice on this day to have an almost 50-minute flight.

The club was operating from runway 24 and I arrived with the intention of doing spins, further to my last instructor’s notes. The aircraft available to me (it was a busy day at the club - pretty much every club twin and single and a couple of private ships were on the line - see the photo) when it was my turn to fly, was the venerable K-13.

My takeoff was a bit messy (two years since I’d flown a K-13) and I took a while to cancel out some bobbing up and down immediately after getting off the deck. Even with forward trim the damn thing wanted to climb and it took real effort to keep it in line behind the tow-plane. It was fine on the climb out.

I had signalled to the tug pilot for a tow to 3,000 feet, but it was a booming day and, as I was discussing potential landout options from the 24 runway in case of a rope break with the instructor, he suddenly bunged me off at about 1,200 feet. Earlier I had watched the pilot of a club single-seater get off tow just beyond the end of the runway and then thermal steadily to 4,000 odd feet before setting off. I had deliberately wound the altimeter around so it would be effectively useless for circuit and landing, which I wanted to do solely by eye. On tow, the variometer had shown steady lift beyond the runway. In reference to the land-out options, the instructor’s comment was “well, let’s take a closer look.” And pulled the plug. After I settled into flying speed and had done my release checks, he said “alright, find a thermal”.

The whole sky was going up and it was easy to find a big 4 knotter just west of the runway. This was glorious flying at Camden, where I had previously scratched around for tiny thermals over the suburbs. Here was a big fat thermal I could ride right up to 4,500 feet. It was still going, but I was getting close to the airspace limit (4,500 this close to Camden) and my intention was to do some spins.

The air was particularly clear, the clearest I had experienced in the normally hazy Camden and I could see out to Lake Burragorang to the west (though I wasn’t high enough to see the lake itself) and in the other direction I could see Port Botany and the Sydney CBD about 50km away.

We headed west towards The Oaks, a 3,100 foot small airstrip remnant from a WW2 satellite aerodrome to Camden, now used by the Sydney Recreational Flying Club - which the gliding club uses for outlanding training. I’d never seen it up close but with all this (relative) height in hand, we trundled over there to identify it. Here’s how it looks from the air (via the excellent Nearmap).

After a HASLL check, we commenced to spin. The instructor put me into spins both from banked turns and from straight ahead stalls, which I had no problems recovering from (I quite like spins, the sudden precipitous plunge and roll) and then we spent some more time enjoying the day. The sky was still going up so I searched for thermals and regained all my height. At one point I saw the club’s Junior above me and joined his thermal. It’s lovely to fly with another aircraft (though busier, in terms of keeping sight of the other aircraft) because of how graceful gliders look in the air. I managed to climb better than the Junior and just before I reached his altitude (about 4,000) he left the thermal and tracked away east.

Around this point I heard a radio call from a power plane approaching Camden from The Oaks and scanned until I saw him (my instructor saw him first, below and west and yawed the nose to point at it. It still took me a couple of seconds to spot it. Aircraft are hard to see at any sort of distance). The Cessna crossed our nose several hundred feet below.

After a bit more flying it was time to get back down to earth to allow others to fly the K-13, so the instructor decided to throw away some of this height via aerobatics. We did two loops in a row (nose down to 100 knots, then a smooth pull up for 1G at the top), followed by two big chandelles/wing-overs. I’ve never been airsick, but after these manoeuvres done in a short period of time, I felt a bit crook and had to breathe open-mouthed for a while before the stomach settled down!

Having shed some height, I joined the circuit for 24 and managed downwind, base and final without reference to the altimeter. The apparent nose-down attitude of the K-13 meant that I had to really watch my speed as I wanted to have the nose higher for the sight picture I normally see in the other club two-seaters. My final was a little high because I waited a little while before applying airbrakes to establish the overshoot on my aiming point, and ended up having to get more than half-brake out on mid-final. On touch-down though, the plastic grip on the airbrake handle came off in my hand, just as I was applying more brake to shorten the ground-roll! It gave me a bit of a fright, as for a split second I held it in my hand working out what to do with it. I kept the glider under control however. I noticed in the glider’s DI book that the loose handle had been a minor defect for some time. I made sure to put an updated note in the book for subsequent pilots.

So, spins are signed off and I hope just a few more circuits are required before I can have my second first solo. I’m definitely feeling better about judging angles by eye and I can tell I’m more relaxed because final feels so much longer, with seemingly more time to think. In some previous flights things had seemed so hectic and fast after the turn to final.

Daily Inspector Course and an Autumn flight

Saturday 17 April 2010

Last year I started the Club's Daily Inspector (DI) course, to qualify me for carrying out (no surprises here) daily inspections of gliders, to certify them fit to fly for the day. The course is in two parts, each a half-day long, separated by a couple of weeks. Day 1 briefly covers the theory and also involves looking at some of the club aircraft and exploring the practicalities of undertaking DIs as well as quirks of different ships, while the second day is all practical application. I did the first day, then some family emergency prevented me from doing the second day, so I remained uncertified.

Finally the course came around again and I signed up to do the whole thing again. This Saturday was the first day and it proceeded pretty much as it had the previous year, with a video and discussion in the clubhouse followed by some hands-on mostly with the club's IS-28. It's entertaining and about equal parts instruction and ritual humiliation, with the instructor emphasising the need for thoroughness by hiding tools and setting other traps around the glider. Screwdrivers under seat cushions, wrongly attached harness straps, loose screws or missing fuses, poorly secured outlanding gear and his piece de resistance is a bunch of heavy spanners and tools in the rear of the 28's fuselage just forward of the tail, retrieved by a long reach from the access hatch.

After the end of the instruction at about 12.30pm, we students hoping to fly trooped down to the flight line to register with the Duty Pilot. It was a glorious day (see photo) with lots of likely looking Cu's around. I didn't have time for lots of flights or long flights (it was busy) but I managed to fit in a glorified circuit in the K-21. Tow to 2,000 feet, more work on my judgement of angles to the field approaching the
break-off point and in circuit.

I feel like it's starting to come together. I'm happier working out when to join circuit, judging angles in the downwind leg, turning to base and final and landing. I did a nice job I thought and my instructor wrote in my logbook "flying well. Spin checks and a few more circuits." Getting closer.