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.

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