Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mifflin 20 Meter Multi-Seat Nationals Contest Day 1

JP Stewart and I are a team at the first 20 meter multi seat national glider competition.  I arrived on Sunday to very stormy weather. 
The practice day was cancelled due to rainy weather.  The first day was cancelled due to no lift, and an incoming thunderstorm. We had the chance to test out the water ballast system for QQ, calculating how much water we could put in it. Even though a few gliders launched on Monday,  was threatened by incoming thunderstorms.  

Tuesday came and looked bad, but better than Monday. The task was assigned, and the fleet launched at 12:45.  JP and i climbed in strong thermals following Karl Striedieck briefly.  We left the start cylinder on our own at the first opportunity. We cruised under cloud streets to get to the first turnpoint. 
That's the crowd lined up behind us. 
In a matter of moments, the 4 knot thermals disappeared and were replaced by huge dark angry clouds rapidly approaching. After circling with two other gliders, we gave up, and had a landing strip picked out.  The two other gliders were motor gliders. Those guys popped out their engines, and motored home. Since QQ is a pure glider, we landed at a private grass strip called Snook.  
Moments after the land-out, looking toward the angry weather

After landing, JP went to look for the owner while I stayed with QQ.  The rain started, accompanied with gusty winds.  I got into the glider to keep it from blowing away.  JP found a local resident who was watching the incoming storm on his radar, saw us land at the airstrip, and drove over to see if he could help.  The best way he could help us out would to be to block the wind a little bit.  I asked him to put his car in front of QQ's left wing to block it from the incoming wind, make it less tempted to fly away with a good gust.  JP put some tires on the lower wing. I stayed in the cockpit with the parachute on and the belts strapped, just in case all of our measures didn't keep the glider from flying away. JP stayed in the car, dry.  
The rain came at its strongest at that point. A little bit of hail... Maybe pea sized.  The whole time I was wondering if the hail was going to get bigger and start smashing the canopy.  I was also wondering why I chose this sport. I kept left rudder and left stick and forward stick, and I popped out the spoilers when the gusts got stronger. 
The storm passed after what seemed like forever in that cockpit. 

After the storm passed, I got this picture. 

Frank Banas showed up with my pickup and the QQ trailer to retrieve us.  What a sight for sore eyes!
We scored pretty well, because everybody else landed out, too. Believe it or not, if Tuesday's scoring counts (which isn't likely, since only one team made it around the course)  we could be in fifth place. I'm ready to do it all again today!  Unfortunately, the rest of the week looks like terrible weather.  
Panorama shot of the landout field, with me standing proudly

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Three Currency Flights

The FAA says I have to do three takeoffs and landings every 90 days, at least I have to do that if I want to give flight instruction or take passengers. It's been 92 days since my last 3 flights, so I took QQ out to Petersburg, WV for some quick flights around the patch to get that currency requirement all sorted out.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

360 View of a Winch Launch

I recently had some friends from out of town who wanted to see a winch launch.
So I took QQ out to Petersburg, WV and did 5 winch launches with them that day. I hooked up the 360fly camera to view the back seat passenger during the launch. Check this out!

Winch Launch at Petersburg, WV

1st Winch Launch with Scott Fairfield over Petersburg, WV. Be sure to scroll around so you can see Scott's face on launch!

Posted by Piet Barber on Wednesday, October 25, 2017
The soaring weather was awful, but at least it was smooth for the passengers. Of those 5 flights, I think my longest flight was 17 minutes.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Skyline Soaring Week of Training

In March of 2017, I spent a week at Petersburg, West Virginia. I camped outside, brought along my glider in the hopes that the week would allow for some excellent soaring.  I would be able to get my climb to 22,000 feet again, and finally get that Diamond Altitude Badge.
The weather wasn't any good for soaring that week. It rained just about every day. But during that time there, we got to watch the way that Shenandoah Valley Soaring's club does their glider operations, and I got an idea.
I watched SVS use the very large runway at Grant County Airport (W99).  They would launch the gliders at the first third of the runway.  There would be plenty of room for the gliders to take off and climb out safely. The glider could come back to the airport and land on the first third of the runway.  Then, the tow plane could land on the adjacent grass portion of the airport, taxi onto the runway where the glider was waiting.  The ground crew can hook up the tow line to the glider, raise the wing, and launch a second flight. What a magnificent set up they have at Petersburg! Watching their streamlined operations got me thinking about how we do business at Front Royal.
The runway at Petersburg is about a mile long; while the runway at Front Royal is 3000 feet long. There is a taxiway about 2/3rds down the runway. We have gotten used to landing the gliders, rolling for a quarter mile and coming to a stop at the taxiway. The student and instructor must then get out of the glider, push the glider off of the runway. A tow car must show up. The glider has to be attached to a rope.  The glider and tow car walk 1670 feet -- that's a third of a mile -- to return the glider back to a point where another flight can be made. It takes another 3 minutes to push out the glider to the start point, hook it up and launch. While we're doing flight instruction at Front Royal, it is extremely difficult to get a second flight launched within 10 minutes. All of the factors have to be perfect. At Petersburg, SVS looked like they could get the whole launch done in 2 minutes.
Ten minutes per flight is a huge opportunity cost. Those ten minutes could be spent flying. At Front Royal, one of our two seat trainers has done as many as 14 flights per day. Added up over a day's worth of flying,  those 10 minutes cost us 140 minutes of time that the glider could be flying.  That's 2.3 hours!
Those of us who were sitting on the ground in Petersburg wondered out loud if we could do our week of training at Grant County Airport instead of at Front Royal.  I hatched a plan, and called it "Audacious WoT Proposal", and the wheels started turning.
Eventually, we got enough volunteers to agree to tow and instruct for the Week of Training. Both tow planes, both trainers and enough students migrated out to Grant County Airport by Sunday evening. Larry Stahl granted use of his hangar for storing the gliders and one of our tow planes for the week. We started with 9 students, 3 instructors, and 3 tow pilots.
All of the students who soloed
(and the instructors who signed them off)
The operations worked out brilliantly. On our first day of operations, we performed 39 flights. The time between the first takeoff and last landing was only 7 hours and 22 minutes.  Our second day of operations ran very smoothly. We flew for only 6 hours, but managed to get 41 flights in during that time. Wednesday had 45 flights, and Thursday topped out at 51 flights!
All of the students showed tremendous progress during the week. By the end of the week, we had soloed 6 club members. Four of these members had soled for the first time.
I am incredibly pleased about how well this week of training worked out. Since we started electronic record keeping in 2005, we've kept track of the number of flights per day. In those 12 years, four of our top ten operations per day were during this year's week of training.

All of the participants in 2017 Week of Training
I hope that all of the members who participated this year were as excited as I was to plan the event. I hope that next year we can get more students to participate. I also would really like to have four active instructors for the entire week. Pete Maynard and I kept very detailed notes about the things that could have gone more smoothly next year, and I hope Larry Stahl will allow us the use of his hangar, next year, too.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Running the Pennsylvania Ragnar Relay

This weekend, I'll be one of the runners for the Pennsylvania Ragnar Relay.
My first leg will be 6 miles in Gap, Pennsylvania.

The second leg will be 3.5 easy miles, starting in Leesport, PA; ending in the Blue Marsh Lake Visitor's Center.

The third leg was originally supposed to be 3.9 easy miles, but got changed to 5.3 moderate miles, with a good portion of it downhill.

I've been doing a lot of running this year. Every day so far, I've managed to make at least a mile's run.
However, I've not been doing much distance.  This Ragnar Relay challenge will certainly be a challenge for me!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Winch Training at Eastern Soaring Center

Recently, a commercial gliding operation has opened up within a [relatively] short driving distance from home.

Eastern Soaring Center has opened for business.  They offer a dedicated environment to help students work on all of the fundamentals of soaring, except for aerotowing.

This operation is run by Brian Collins. Brian is retired Air Force. He has been flying gliders since his days at the Air Force Academy. He has been giving glider instruction at many different glider clubs across the US, including the Civil Air Patrol encampments in Mattoon Illinois. In 2013, Brian was also the first or second US citizen to get the 1250 kilometer distance flight badge.

I made an appointment to get my winch launch certification.  I've never done a winch launch before, and I've never seen a winch operation in action before.  Back in the old days, most glider pilots had the words "Glider - Aero Tow Only" printed on their pilots certificate.  In 1997 this certification was obsoleted.  Since 1997, all you need is a logbook endorsement for any of the launch methods: Aero-tow, winch, or self-launch.

For all of the 1800 glider flights I've done in the past, it's been on the end of a 200 foot rope connected to an airplane with a strong enough engine.  The acceleration on takeoff is slower than the acceleration you'd experience in a car merging into traffic on a freeway.  Once the glider has enough airspeed, the glider gets airborne usually just before the tow plane starts to climb. The tow plane and glider climb to release altitude, where the glider pulls a release knob, and lets the tow plane go. This usually takes about 6 minutes to climb to 3000 feet.

In contrast, a winch is a power plant that stays on the ground.  Hook up a 300 horsepower engine to a spool of 5000 feet of cable on one end.  Hook up the glider on the other end.  When the glider is ready, gun the engine. The majority of that 300 horsepower is dedicated to the glider's acceleration.  Within 1 to 2 seconds, the glider is off the ground.  Within 40 seconds, the glider has climbed to its highest point, and released to start its free-flight.

Eastern Soaring Center's Winch. The pickup truck is a mass anchor that helps keep the winch in position.

When launching with the winch, the acceleration is really hard to describe.  The closest thing I can use to describe the acceleration is when sitting in a Tesla that is accelerating in ludicrous speed mode. After the slack is taken out, the winch's engine RPM is gunned to maximum. The glider has accelerated to flying speed within 1 to 2 seconds.

Eastern Soaring Center's Twin Lark climbs out on a winch launch
The next 2 to 5 seconds, the glider increases its climb angle.  Not too quickly, and not too slowly. Too quick of a increase in pitch, and the glider risks having an acceleration stall and crashing into the ground.  Too slow of an increase in pitch and the glider doesn't climb as well.
This critical phase of the launch is also when a break of the rope could be disastrous. If the rope breaks, the pilot must immediately recognize it and immediately lower the nose well below the horizon.  We practiced this emergency release several times at varying altitudes.  Here's a video of one such break, from the Netherlands.

In the United States, a winch launch is a relatively rare procedure. This is much more common launch method in Europe. The British Gliding Association recently had a safety initiative to improve the safety record of winch launching. After their initiative (Safe Winch Launching at the BGA's website) the accident rate dropped significantly. The safety record of winch launching has improved to a lower accident rate than what is seen with the aerotow launch method.

One of the best advantages of the winch is the lower operating cost. With an aerotow, all of the glider pilots who use the tow plane for launches are sharing the creeping costs of the tow plane.  Every hour the tow plane flies, it is ticking ever closer to the eventual overhaul.  Every airplane that has an engine needs to have its engine removed, and essentially is totally rebuilt every thousand or 1500 hours.   Also adding to the cost of an aerotow is the training required for a tow pilot.  The cost is mitigated by using a volunteer work force in a club environment. At a commercial establishment, the tow pilot is going to expect to be paid. The cost of fueling the tow plane is rather unpredictable. Fuel that is suitable and certified for an airplane is much more expensive than the fuel you use in your car.

The advantage I'm most interested in is availability.  Sometimes I see the weather forecast and know that it is going to be one of the best flying days of the year.  Unfortunately, that day is a Tuesday. One of the disadvantages of being a weekend-only flyer is that there is a poor chance that the good flying day is going to end up on a weekend. About 28% chance, that is.
Sometimes the really good flying days mean exciting takeoff and landings for the tow pilot. While I only have to endure one take off and one landing on the really good flying days, our tow pilot must subject himself to as many takeoffs and landings as there are brave pilots willing to fly that day.  Sometimes when I come in for a landing on those days, I'm just happy I made one landing.  To think that the tow pilot has to do this a dozen times on these days is commendable. Many times, the tow pilot will cry "uncle" after a few launches, when conditions are too sporty for him.  While there are times the winch operator is going to call it quits because of sporty flying conditions, I don't think the number will be as high.
Eastern Soaring Center's Twin Lark is ready for
launch (yes, without a wing runner)
There were only three people involved in this operation. The winch operator, the instructor, and me. For all winch launches you need to have a wing runner. If the glider's wingtip ever drags into the ground, the glider violently cartwheels and is destroyed.  These sorts of accidents are often fatal. The only solution is an immediate release of the rope.
To do this operation without having a wing runner, Brian created these cool wing skids.  They are the right height, covered with soft carpet, and steady the wings better than a wing runner can.

After 9 flights with Brian, training me to do a winch launch, he was ready to solo me.  We had covered all of the emergency procedures. We practiced most of these, varying from 20 feet of altitude to 400 feet of altitude.  Depending on the point of release, we would do S turns, a 360, or a straight ahead landing after the rope break.  Brian let me go for a solo flight, and I was excited as I was when I had my first solo at age 15, back in 1988.
On the second day, Brian and his son Marshall worked to get me 5 solo flights in the Twin Lark. The airfield at Petersburg is long enough to stage the glider at 2/3rds down the runway.  I launch to a satisfactory altitude of 1700 feet above the ground. I circled around, landed, and stopped within 10 feet of the previous launch.  Brian hooked me up, and I was off again.  I've never done 5 takeoffs and landings so quickly before!
My next challenge is to do a winch launch on a good ridge day, and then go out and do a diamond altitude climb ( 5000 meters of altitude climb, 16,404 feet), or a 500 kilometer diamond distance course.  Now that I'm checked out, I'm looking forward to the challenge.
I'm going to recommend that some of my students come visit Brian. Especially the students who can't figure out that last few moments of flying phase.  If you need landing practice, doing the winch launch is a great way to pound out some flights really quickly.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Sunday's Post-Flight Analysis

Dear Steve,

I get a lot of information about my flying by doing an intense post-flight analysis after every flight. 
I grab the IGC file from the PowerFLARM or the Nano, and upload it to OLC.  Our flight on Sunday was a really interesting flight with some low saves. When it's a really interesting flight, with some low saves, I'll convert it to a KMZ file to look around at the fields I was looking at in flight.  This builds a collection of off-field-landing insights that adds to my repertoire.  

Follow along with me.  

Download this KMZ file 

The OLC has an IGC to KMZ conversion program, but it's kind of ugly.  They don't include many points on the track, and there's no detail about the thermals. I made the above KMZ file with a program I wrote, that's hidden on the members-only section of the website.  I wrote it before OLC was a big thing.  I had grand visions for it, integrating into our instructional program, but those visions faded away. You can convert IGC to KMZ with the link:

Pull up the KMZ file in Google Earth. By default, the Google Earth shows everything in an absolute top-down view.  I find it more useful to look at the flight in a somewhat oblique angle.  View everything at an angle in Google Earth by holding down the Alt Key (Windows) or Command Key (Mac), while moving the mouse around on the screen with the left mouse button clicked.  Zoom in and out with the Mouse Wheel.  Once you get a feel for navigating around with Google Earth, go find our low point, which was next to the town of Tenth Legion, VA.  Each of those blobs are clickable, with the information that was recorded in the IGC file for that datapoint. 

During our Sunday flight, our low point 2178 feet MSL (!)

The field we were looking at -- the one that's at Tenth Legion -- looks like it definitely would have been long and flat enough for us to land in.  I wonder what the story is for this field. 
The field is at 1100 feet MSL, at 38º34'35.68"N 78º43'35.66"W. 

You can use the ruler tool in Google Earth to give you an idea about relative distances. Use it to draw a line on the ground, and it'll measure the distance over the terrain.  Let's see if that field sucked, or if it really was long enough for an outlanding. 

According to Google Earth's measurement tool, it's 1200 feet by 85 feet. 
It's a good thing that we found this thermal when we did! My "We gotta land if this doesn't work out" spider sense turned out to be right.  We were down to 1100 feet AGL over this field I was favoring. 

Let's take a look at the field you were looking at: 38º33'43.45"N 78º42'22.97"W
Hey! It doesn't look too bad!  It looked kind of lumpy to me from the air, but the altitude differences weren't that much around the field.
You can figure out the elevation of the terrain by moving your mouse around and looking at the readout for altitude on the bottom right of google earth.

The other low save wasn't nearly as low; even though we were in an interesting position. On the Eastern side of the Blue Ridge, near Syria, VA.  Low point of 3100 feet MSL. The mountains immediately underneath made it look lower than we actually were.  We had a lot of distance we could cover to find more lift or a landout field. 

While we were seeking that solid thermal to get us out of that mess, the field I had in mind looks pretty good. 1600 feet long, but complicated by trees on the approach.  The trees would reduce the usable length of the field, so that's a demerit. 

Landing it on the diagonal would have given us another 200 feet, which is what I probably would have done. 

There were many other options slightly to the north, between Peola Mills and Etlan, VA; just east of Old Rag. 

Here's the crummy photo I took from the iPhone when Romeo-Whiskey was turning too much for a good photo.  I couldn't get out the phone in time for us to fly with the Bald Eagle over Front Royal. 

Finally, there was a really really bright light that distracted us for a while.  What the heck was that light? We wondered if it could have been a helicopter with a landing light on it, pointing right toward us.  We flew toward it, I turned to the side, and there was no horizontal relative motion; then I turned back toward it.  The lack of horizontal movement means it was really far away. Shane quipped "It's a fishing lure", and Chuck suggested it might be that laser that they use to tell an aircraft that it's flying toward FRZ airspace. 

I found the part of the flight trace and projected the distance out.  
Projecting the distance out... it's pretty much right over the middle of the city.   I wonder if it was a building that was just pointed out the right way, reflecting all of its glass at us, or if it's really something more laser-y.  It's conceivable that it was a building in Rosslyn. Not likely to be Tyson's Corner. It could have been a glass building at Reston Town Center. 

I don't think it was the FRZ laser system.  That's supposed to flash red-green-red-green.  This was a solid bright yellow-ish white. 

I bet it was some perfectly aligned building. If I had some photos of the light, I could probably figure out which building it was with some triangulation, while using the GPS information. 

One of the cool functions of OLC is showing where you were flying with other gliders nearby.   Here, on our flight trace, you can see Romeo Whiskey following us along the blue ridge, and November Golf flying around us after we flew with that Bald Eagle over the town of Front Royal.

I hope you enjoyed the flight and found it to be educational and memorable. I hope it gave you some sort of idea why cross-country soaring is so much fun -- way more fun than grinding about, around the pattern all the time.