Sunday, May 22, 2011


Friday 20 May 2011

Finally back in the air after a 7 month break. Rusty, so had two check flights - one in the ASK-21 and a flight to do spins in the DG-1000 - followed by two short flights in the K21s - basically 'sled-rides', as there was no lift about.

It's autumn, so lots of bushfire hazard reduction burning (burn-offs as we call them) around Camden, and a lack of winds along with a low inversion combined to make it increasingly hazy, with really poor visibility.

Fridays are relatively quiet, but today there was a recently solo pilot bringing two relatives with him for air experience flights, as well as a regular trainee pilot and a club member who had recently got his aerobatic endorsement and wanted to fly a two-seater to take some footage with a new GoPro HD camera. So, busy.

We got out the two K21s and the DG-1000 and no single seaters. Interesting to see all the nice new glass two-seaters on the field - we do have a nice modern training fleet now.

I got an early check flight, followed almost immediately after an end change by a second check flight with spins in the DG. I've only flown the DG once before, at the Cootamundra camp and it was the last flight of the day and a rush. I remember running the length of the field to get my gear and then running back to take the flight, so feeling tored and flustered. I didn't fly well, the plane felt enormous and so this time I felt a bit intimidated by the DG.

My take-off wasn't so good - I applied forward pressure to get the tail wheel off the deck, but apparently the DG only requires holding in tail down position and it flies off nicely. I also struggled a bit with over controlling in the tow before the instructor, Eddie, showed me it can be flown hands off in the tow. It took a while, but as I flew, I became a bit fond of the DG. Did several stalls, spins and a loop and then came down. There was a tiny thermal we came across, but it must have been pencil thick because no mater how we turned or when, we always ended up in sink. I ended up doing a very nice two-point landing though. I figure at some point soon I will need to fly solo in the DG and the K-13 before I can move up to the Junior single-seater (club rules - 10 solo flights, including one in each of the two-seaters). The K-13 I am comfortable with, but the DG's gear needs a powerful arm - I might have to just leave the gear down for a quick circuit...

After this the instructor went off for some instructional flights without signing me off for my check solo (he intended for me to fly, but hadn't filled in the check form), so I ended up sitting on the ground until he came back and could sign me off. By the time I got in the air in the K21 the haze had become quite bad. There was no wind to clear it and in addition, no lift to speak of. So, from a 3,000 foot launch I managed a 28 minute flight including a frustrating 10 minutes trying to centre a small thermal downwind of the treatment plant. Good circuit and landing. I can consistently touch down just after the first cones and pull up before the second set of cones (160m).

After I got back, I lined up for another quick flight, which turned out to be the last launch of the day. Up to 2,000, no lift at all and back down after 13 minutes. I had a bit of a scare up there. I had tracked out to Narellan to see if I could scare up some lift over some construction sites and then couldn't see the field! It was so hazy that i had a lot of difficulty, even from less than 2,000 feet seeing landmarks. For a few seconds I thought I might end up having my first land-out, but then caught sight of the strip and made a beeline for it in time to join the circuit.

I had taken my little FlywithCE logger with me and it worked fine for the first flight, but I must have bumped the button when I was strapping in for the second flight, because there was only one record. Luckily, I had also brought along my Galaxy Tab, which I had loaded with an app called Gaggle (I also have XCSoar on it, but haven't set it up yet). Gaggle logged both flights and I was able to export .kml files for my flights.

This reminds me, i should do an entry on the gadgets I'm using.

So, these flights have taken me out of the 'check solo' stage, onto 'daily checks'. Four more solo landings and I can potentially be checked out for the Junior! That's my current short-term goal - to get into a single-seater. The next is to get my C certificate!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Sailplane Grand Prix in the Andes DVD

I bought this from Cumulus Soaring in the US, along with some other gliding films, and only recently got a chance to really sit down with it.

In a nutshell, the DVD provides some breathtakingly beautiful and expertly filmed footage from the 2010 Grand Prix, but was a bit of a disappointment to me because it didn’t provide a record of the Grand Prix, in terms of results, daily competition footage etc.

I own the Gladiators of the Sky DVD from 2006 and the subsequent 2007 NZ Grand Prix DVD. Both provide Tour de France style narrated coverage of the GP event, day by day, combining video footage from chase aircraft and computer visualised telemetry to follow the races. It’s a great format, because it gets across both the drama of the competition and the changing fortunes of the national competitors, while also revelling in the beauty of sailplanes in a mountain environment.

The Sailplane Grand Prix in the Andes DVD (also available in Blu-ray) seems to be aimed more at making a case for the grand prix events as a spectator sport worthy of greater exposure, suitable for high-end sponsorship (there’s a lot of sponsor and product focus on the aircraft and through the DVD) and with impeccable green credentials.

Some of these objectives are clearly worthy – for example the filming, the amazing settings, the beauty of the aircraft, and the sophistication of glider tracking and visualisation technology mean that, properly promoted, soaring grand prix could be a successful TV sport. Greater public exposure and awareness can also result in greater involvement of premium sponsors (which is bound to be good for the sport) and one of the DVD items shows possible future full-colour gliders with all-over paintjobs.

However, the sustainable, green arguments for the sport, which the two introductory films push heavily, seem contrived and clunky. While certainly the fact that gliders soar on sun-generated energy lines without engines is a green-friendly idea (and one of the things that constantly amazes me when I fly), I think the conceit pushed in the DVD that grand prix soaring is perfectly matched to a sustainable global future would not survive even a cursory consideration of the impacts of towplanes dragging all the competitors into the sky, the transport from across the globe of gliders and crews, and the fuel use of the various chase planes and helos.

So, what are we left with – well, the DVD has 6 self-contained chapters. The first two are a longer and shorter edited version of a promotional film of the Grand Prix, which gives a professionally-narrated and produced summary of what sailplane Grand Prix is, some of the competitors, and some beautiful footage of gliders flying in the Andes, as well as some great footage of Condors. Some of the footage is of competition flying, but some seems to be either from practice days or specially flown filming trips, because on a few occasions you can clearly see one glider (I think Kawa’s Diana) popping its brakes to stay in position.

The footage of the Andes flying is breathtaking and the camera people have done an incredible job. It is romantic, dramatic and hypnotic and it would be great to show non-flying friends who want to see what gliding is about, but it also looks like it is designed to show some big-time decision makers in a boardroom somewhere. One thing I noticed that helped me come to this conclusion – in addition to the shots of sponsor artwork and pilots drinking from cans so the brand is clearly visible, there’s not a bucket hat in sight! Just bare-headed glamorous pilots like Kawa and Rocca (and Uli Schwenk – not so glamorous, but a great pilot)!

Next up is a piece called Dinamica – One Day in Sailplane Grand Prix, which provides a mix of in-flight footage, computer graphics and interviews, covering one of the competition days (day 6 I think) won by local hero Carlos Rocca. This is the sort of thing I wanted to see more of – I wanted something like this for each day. The graphics show how the lead changes, how pilots make good and bad decisions getting to turnpoints, while racing footage shows ridge-running, thermalling and close flying. Beautiful!

Aquarium is more than 30 minutes of sailplane footage with an electronic style soundtrack and no narration. Perfect for a gliding club to put on at a public display day, it is hypnotic and beautiful, mixing footage of mountain flying with flying over Santiago city, gliders dumping water ballast and flying with Condors.

Kawa in the cockpit has air to air and from the cockpit footage – lovely again; and finally there is a track dedicated to a speeded up computer animation of a day’s race, to show what the tracking system can do.

So, overall it’s a lovely DVD, though for me, it doesn’t satisfy my desire to have a record of the whole Grand Prix, where I can follow each day’s racing (since I couldn’t subscribe to the live coverage).

I had some issues with the subtitles. For a while I couldn’t find how to not have any subtitles on-screen (they really ruined the look). After Cumulus Soaring’s Paul Remde confirmed it was possible to switch off the subtitles, I finally found the sweet setting on my DVD player. Since subtitles were hard-coded to Automatic, I had first to change the language of the disc to “Original” and then the subtitles didn’t display.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Nick’s AEF

Sunday 8 May 2011

A workmate, Nick, came out to the club last Sunday on my duty pilot stint, to have an air experience flight. He took some nice photos (some of which I wish I’d taken myself).

ASK-21 SXQ landing


Steep turn

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Duty Pilot after an absence

Sunday 8 May 2011

Looking at my log book, I haven’t flown for almost 7 months! Starting a new job, with quite a bit of travel, as well as the usual complex family things that come with an elderly parent having to go into care, along with terrible weather in the Sydney Basin for much of the preceding period combined to ground me.

I had planned to celebrate my 50th birthday in wave over Omarama NZ, but my birthday has come and gone and I’m still earthbound.

ASK-21 with Spin Kit Fitted
The duty pilot roster had me on duty on Mother’s Day this year. I didn’t realise the date when I had my chance to request date changes, so I had to do some grovelling before leaving my family early on Sunday morning.

It is getting colder in Sydney and as I approached the airfield a bit after 7.00 am, an alarm went off in my car to alert me to the possibility of ice outside – it was 3 degrees Celsius!

Well, it wouldn’t be a duty pilot day for me without complications and today there were a few. I was expecting a quiet day, being Mother’s Day, but it was pretty busy. In addition, one of the single-seaters – the Junior – had a flat tire and the tire on the tail dolly used for both of our ASK-21 two-seaters was also flat, even after a repair. This would make it difficult to handle our main training aircraft, especially on the hill down from the hangars to the strip. As well, both the tractor and Daihatsu towing vehicles were running poorly.

As aircraft were being pulled out, washed and DI’d, a few folk got to work on the dolly tire. None of our pumps would fit the difficult valve location, so in the end the whole wheel assembly was swapped out for a spare.

The Junior tire wasn’t able to be repaired until later, so that ship was left at the hangars for the day.

The day also started with an end change (the pie cart was at the end of runway 06, but operations for the day started from runway 24) so there was a bit of extra time needed to get set up. But, we were finally ready to go around 10.30 am and luckily our two Air Experience Flight (AEF) bookings arrived a half hour early and together, so I took the opportunity to get them both in the air as the first two flights. While this meant they didn’t have very long flights (there was some extensive cirrus so it was cool and no lift), they did get smooth flights and while there was a lowish inversion, the air was otherwise clear, so they got some good views.

Lovely privately-owned Libelle
As usual when I’m at the helm there was an end change before noon, despite there being almost no breeze at all, so another half hour was lost in shuttling gliders and the pie cart from one end of the strip to the other. It was funny to see the Sydney Gliding self-launching ASK-21 easily taxi down the strip under its own power and quickly get airborne from zero-six. Luxury.

Once established on zero-six we got operating again. Initially all the flights were short ones due to the lack of any lift, including one member who took a tow to 7,000 feet (!) hoping to get away, or contact some wave he suspects lurks out to the west. However, after lunch the cirrus had contracted north-east and thermals quickly began to pop, with some small cus forming south-west of the strip.

Flights got longer and a workmate, Nick, who had come out for an AEF on “mates rates” decided to take a 4,000 foot tow and got a nice 46 minute flight including some aerobatics.

One of the unwritten jobs of the duty pilot is to make sure everyone gets to fly (except himself or herself as it usually happens) and for some young students who have been driven by their dads great distances for hopefully more than a 30 minute flight in a 9 hour day, so towards the end of the day, when some students were hoping to get a second flight and other members had turned up late hoping to get one flight, I was running around like a mad thing trying to satisfy everyone’s desires – racing to retrieve gliders. This resulted in the last landing of one of our K21s being at last light!

This was the first time I’ve had to put gliders away in the dark and it meant a late return home on Mother’s Day. And of course, in common with almost all my duty pilot gigs, after all that aviation-related activity I was the only one who missed out on a flight!