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:
http://members.skylinesoaring.org/TRACES/

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. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My First Glider Contest

The launching grid at my first glider contest in Mifflin, PA
Armed with a freshly installed LX-Nav 8080 flight computer, I drove off to Central Pennsylvania for my first contest. I really was unsure as to what to expect from this.  Sure, I've done a lot of cross-country flying before, but have never tried to fly fast.  Only fly far, and keep from landing in some random person's field. 

Day 1

Sister ships, N483KS "QQ" and N484KS "KS"

"QQ" is ready for the first contest day! Evan is copilot in the front seat
 The practice day was washed out by some serious rain.  I spent the time pitching my tent.  I've heard stories about tents being blown away on the ridge days. I've heard stories of porta-potties blowing away, too.  To prevent my tent from blowing into an adjacent farmer's field, I placed the newly-purchased extra spare tire for my trailer in the tent.  The Coleman tent had a perfect spot for it, too.  The spare tire was still in its shipping box, so none of that nasty rubber stuff would rub off in my tent.
On Monday, our first contest day got underway.  I had to learn how to program a task into the flight computer.  Reading the manual wasn't particularly helpful.
Thankfully, Dave Weaver is an LX expert.  He claims that he should be paid by LX as a service consultant, and that he's convinced many people to choose the LX over the ClearNav.
Although there was no more rain, there was still a great deal of moisture in the atmosphere, and the morning didn't look like there was going to be any flying. A thick fog filled the Mifflin valley, and threatened operations on Monday.  
The fog burned off, and the cumulus clouds started forming at around 11:30.  The gliders were told to go to the runway as early at 10:30, for a noon-ish launch.


I was somewhere in the middle of the pack of gliders.  Far enough back that I got to figure out how this contest launch thing works. There is no time to mess around.  Once that tow plane lands, a ground crew runs over, picks up the rope, and within 10 seconds, you're hooked up.  If you haven't finished your checklist by the time the rope comes taut, you're going to have a rough take-off. No rudder waggle, no "are you ready?" You're assumed to be ready if you do the hookup of the cable.

Once airborne, and off tow, we quickly realized that something was wrong with the new flight computer.  The variometer, while doing indications on the ground when breezes went by, was stuck at zero.  The airspeed indicator on the V8 variometer was zero.  The LX-8080 thought we were still on the ground, at the field elevation of 820 feet.  That's no good.   Thankfully, I had a backup variometer on board, but only had one unit in the front seat. The backup variometer had an audio tone, but it's really not very loud.
The conditions were pretty marginal, to say the least.  I got to the start height, and decided to start the task anyway, even if the flight computer isn't 100% operational.   I exited the start cylinder.  The flight computer refused to cooperate.  "Dude, you're on the ground.  It says right here, the field elevation is 820"  It refused to start the task, no matter how many times I pressed the "Start" button.
I was no longer able to fully concentrate on the task of flying into cloudy, rainy weather, with a new system, with a broken variometer, with a flight computer that was refusing to navigate.  I whined, whimpered, and went back to the airport for a score of ZERO points for the day.
I had a lot of time to think about how I might have messed up the tubes to the new unit, and while all of the other instruments continued to work properly, there were a few possibilities of oops that I made for the new system.
The good news is that for that first day, many others also got zero points.  The day was devalued, and the top competitor in the sports class, Karl Striedieck, got only 505 points instead of the regular 1000.  So I picked a good day to get zero points.  And I wasn't at this contest to be competitive, anyway; just to do some good cross country flying and have a good time.
After landing, I opened up the instrument panel, figured out what I did wrong.  I asked around for a spare piece of tubing, and connected the total pressure tube to the right place on the V8 variometer.  After everything was in good working order, (or so I thought), I asked the contest director (CD) for a re-light.  "I realize that it's unorthodox to ask for a re-light as people finishing the task, but I need a shake-out flight". The CD agreed, and a quick flight to 2000' showed a working variometer, and a flight computer that didn't insist that we were still on the ground.

Day 2

Pete and Evan are trying to figure out the LX-8080
Tuesday was shaping up to be the best soaring day of the entire contest. Pete Maynard was the co pilot for the day, and did a great job of planning out everything on paper. We did what was a Gold Distance flight, covering most of the terrain around Mifflin.
The final turnpoint was to the northwest, at a place called White Pines.  The territory in this area was not ridge and valley, but more like eastern Kentucky.  Lots of small hills, not many fields to land in, and a fracking pad every few miles.  The thermals here were quite honest, taking us up to 10,500' at maximum.
I had a lovely 45 mile final glide from this turnpoint back to Mifflin, with a nice tail wind along the way.
Northwest of Williamsport, PA.  Truly unlandable terrain as far as the eye can see.  The blue squares are fracking pads.

Day 3

The humidity was starting to climb, but the soaring was still good.  I took up Evan for the Day 3's flying.  We had a 3.5 hour flight that had a good distance, but not as far as Tuesday's flying. Day 3's task was a MAT,  a Modified Area Task.  After the first four turnpoints, I got to make up my own turn points for extra distance.  Unfortunately, the sports class was one of the last few classes to launch, and we didn't get a full day in.  My last turnpoint at Sawmill was the last point that I saw any lift.  I pretty much did a final glide for the last 20 minutes of the task, and landed 7 minutes before the minimum time on the task. 

Day 4

 Evan and Pete Maynard had left for home, and replacing them were Chris Carswell and Bill Bank.  Chris Carswell got into the front seat, and we had an aggressive task called on what looked to be a marginal day.  It took a long time for the thermals to start developing.  Many of the sniffers launched, and came back.   We passed the time on the ground with umbrellas to keep the sun off. We were toward the middle of the pack.  The standard class launched first, and Hank Nixon called back saying "These are really marginal soaring conditions"  I made the mistake of sitting in the glider before it was actually our turn, and got sweaty for no reason at all. Thankfully, Evan left behind some beach umbrellas.  "QQ was the envy of the fleet" with its colorful sunshades. 
Finally, we got to the skies, and I couldn't wait to go onto our course.  We got a decent thermal in the start area, and once the class opened up, I was on my way. We headed northeast toward the first turnpoint, when the heat of the day turned into overcast, and no more thermals.  Other gliders passed us underneath.  I found one last thermal, and worked its mighty 0.5 knots until it gave no more.
One of the nice things about having a two seater is that the person in front can look at all the fields, and I can consider, accept, or reject them. One of the nice things about soaring in this part of Pennsylvania, is that there are a LOT of landable fields, and the valley we were stuck in was no exception. Chris and I agreed to the top 3 fields that we liked.  Some were rejected after closer inspection (hay bales), (wires), (fences), but there was one that looked utterly spectacular; bigger than the airport we usually fly out of. I watched Dave Weaver land in a field, and India Mike (Marty) land right next to him.  We still had altitude to make it into the next valley to find one more thermal to get us back to Mifflin. 
I told Chris that we were going to cross this valley to that... cloud... way ... over there.  If that cloud didn't work out, we'd be landing in that field that we agreed was the best option. 
That cloud, like all of the other clouds in this valley, gave no lift.  I made the decision that it wasn't going to work out, and switched to "land-out-mode"
We flew a nice wide pattern around the field, getting as good a look at the field as we could muster. 

Google Earth view of the landing in the field. 
As we approached the field, a car was driving along the road.  I would have liked to touch down in the first 20% of the field, but the approaching car was on a collision course if I just scraped over the road.  I closed the brakes for a moment and made a high enough approach to clear the oncoming car. We made a perfect landing! 
Chris is still in the glider after our off-field landing. 
I was pleased to see that the landing roll-out was short, and that I managed to miss all of the corn crop, which was not much more than "sprout" sized. I'd like to say that I planned it that way, but I guess it was just luck. 
Bill Bank had just arrived to Mifflin, and was quickly on his way to retrieve us. 
While we waited, the friendliest people came to see what this big white plane was doing in the field.  Two young Amish men, Daniel and David approached us with a team of horses and a hay bailing machine. They asked the typical questions one would ask after seeing a glider for the first time. "Well, we have to get back to work!"
"Hey, can I ask you guys a favor?  Can you help us push this glider out of the corn field and on to the grass field where those hay bales are? "
"Sure!" 
We pushed the Duo up a very slight incline, about 100 feet from where the horses were quietly munching on the hay bale they were about to load on to the cart and take back to the barn. 
We quickly realized that maybe the horses wouldn't like the site of this big white bird thing coming up the hill.  One of them got freaked out, and the whole team of horses turned around and ran away, down the dirt path. 
David and Daniel ran after the galloping horses with a speed I've never seen before. David attempted to hop on board the hay bailer, and Daniel attempted to "head them off at the pass."  I felt awful about this. 
They caught the horses, and brought them back.  I apologized profusely, that a city boy wouldn't ever think of such a reaction from horses.  
The soaring was so terrible on Day 4 that my class had the day get cancelled.  The points that I would have gotten for going out into the undiscovered country and landing out didn't count.  I landed that glider in a field for nothing! 

Day 5

I learned a valuable lesson: don't get into the glider until the sniffers have confirmed that the thermals were working.  We all hung out in the shade of the Duo's wing until it was a sure thing that the lift was working. 
The soaring day was much better than I had expected. The task called for a Turn Area Task. With Bill Bank in the front seat, we set out.  I just blurted out of the start cylinder on course, and got as high as I could.  I spent most of the day streeting along, stopping to circle only when it was a really good thermal. 
We saw a glider struggling below near Beaver Creek. It was India Mike, the same guy who landed out on Day 4. "There's no way I'm getting that low"
I hate to downplay this flight, but it really was a matter of choosing nice looking clouds in the general direction of my task, flying to it, looking for lift, hanging out if it was good, leaving if it wasn't. 
Apparently, this was the best strategy of the day, because after Day 5, I was in second place in the Sports Class (after Karl Striedieck). 

Day 6

Enough people had dropped out, withdrawn, landed out so many times, or scored so poorly that I could stay in the top three, as long as I didn't mess up too badly. With Chris Carswell in the front seat, I set out to fly a task that didn't have any serious mistakes.  The conditions were much worse on Day 6 than on Day 5, but I managed to continue my "bop along cloud base" strategy most of the time.  There were two different times that I really settled for some marginal 1 knot thermals when I needed to get on course, but at least I didn't land out. 

QQ Returning to Mifflin on the final day
I was the last glider to land on the last contest day (but not the last to cross the finish line!). I didn't turn in my flight log in as quick a manner as the scorer wanted.  He drove up to me and gave me an instructional moment, "I don't want to bust your chops since you're new around here..." Message received.   I handed him my Nano, and he drove back to the club house to get the flight scored.
I managed not to screw up too badly, and placed third in the Sports class, behind Karl Striedieck, and John Good.  All three winners in the Sports class were flying Duo Discuses.

Region 2 2016 Sports Class winners:
Karl Striedieck (1st), John Good (2nd), Piet Barber (distant 3rd)
I honestly think that the only reason I got third place is because many of the really good pilots were flying as guests ( Mike Robison, Heinz W. ), and many dropped out or withdrew.   I'll still take the trophy and place it on my glider trophy shelf, hopefully with many more to come in the future. 


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

VASA Cross Country Camp, Emporia VA

This past weekend I attended the Virginia Soaring Association Thermal/XC Soaring Camp (week 1). All of the soaring clubs in Virginia meet once a year in January.  During those meetings, the presidents of each club (and a few key members) share ideas on how to grow each other's soaring clubs. We share tales of working with the FAA or the SSA.  At the last meeting, somebody opined that it would be wonderful if all of the soaring clubs in Virginia could get together to practice flying in thermals.  So we did.
http://virginiasoaringxccamp.weebly.com/
This event is spread over two weekends, and we just finished the first weekend.  Members from Tidewater Soaring Society (Windsor, VA), Merlin Soaring in (Ameila, VA), Shenandoah Soaring (currently in Petersburg, WV), and Skyline Soaring club (Front Royal, VA) got together in Emporia, VA.
I left on Thursday evening to drive my two seat glider down to the bottom of the state.  The drive was about 4 hours through the winding back roads to I-64, then I-95 to Emporia. The weather en route was terrible; heavy rain, poor visibility, and aggressive drivers zooming by me and my 2800 pound glider trailer.
If you ever wondered how to get a glider around, you put it in a trailer like this
(and tow it with a big enough truck)

Friday: We sat inside and looked at the cats-n-dogs of rain outside.  We spent the time constructively.  Jim Garrison gave many lectures about how to fly a glider away from the airport.  The lectures covered many topics such as: "Off Field Landing", thermalling techniques, what speed to fly when flying between the thermals, and there was also a lecture on the etiquette of flying in a thermal with many other gliders.


Soaring with another Duo Discus, "Tango"
On the final day of Cross Country Camp, we finally got some seriously good soaring weather. I took the Duo out for a 300k triangle, with Pete Appleby, JP Stewart, and Brandon Pierson from BRSS.
The first leg of the trip was from Emporia to Merlin Aerodrome.  From there, we were to go to an airport called William Tuck airport, right on the North Carolina - Virginia border.  Then back to Emporia.
The soaring was excellent on the first third of the trip, but much worse on the second leg.  Once we got to Merlin, the 6 and 7 knot thermals turned into 2 and 3 knot thermals.  I limped along between the two Military Operations Areas of Farmville and Pickett.
As I got south of the Farmville MOA, I looked at a blue sky ahead, and not many prospects for good soaring. I turned and headed home, 15 miles short of the second turnpoint.   The rest of the trip was pretty easy, with a 15 knot tail wind.


Installing the LX-Nav Flight Computer

Earlier this year, Shane convinced me to sign up for the contest in Mifflin. "All you have to do is not mess up, fly safely, make it around the course, and you'll be in the top third for the Sports Class."

Doesn't seem that hard.  I fly pretty conservatively, don't land out often (with a few exceptions), and can make it around most courses.  Let's give it a shot!

Four weeks prior to the beginning of the contest, I did my best effort to get the PowerFLARM Core unit installed, and acting as the GPS source for my ILEC SN-10 flight computer.  I spent two beautiful soaring days on the ground trying every wiring combination, scratching my head, reviewing the documentation for the SN-10 and PowerFLARM, and finally gave up.   After a consultation with Dave Nadler of ILEC, we determined that the problem might be due to a bad serial port on the SN-10. I'd have to send the unit to ILEC for servicing.

I was so frustrated with that old thing that I swore, "If it's coming out of the instrument panel [for servicing] It's not going back in to the instrument panel!"  I was so frustrated with the SN-10, that I was ready to jump up and down on it after its removal and re-enact that scene from Office Space, when the frustrated IT workers took a crotchety printer out to a field and ended it with baseball bats and angered stomping.

I purchased a brand new flight computer and set of variometers from Cumulus Soaring.  The new units were an LX-Nav 8080 with V8 variometer.  In the back seat, there would be an LX-Nav 8080D (that shares information with the main unit in the front seat), and an LX i8 variometer repeater.  There are units that are larger, but I really didn't want to cut a new hole in the panel, and I don't think there is any room in the front seat, anyway.  The LX 8080 is a drop-in replacement for the SN-10, taking up about the same amount of volume behind the panel, and taking exactly the same amount of square centimeters on the instrument panel.

What this means to somebody who isn't familiar with the products: It's a small color screen that displays more information about my flight than I really know what to do with.  The previous flight computer was designed in the 90s, and is almost 20 year old technology.  The interface is kind of clunky for modern computers, and the display is kind of like an old blocky Atari gaming system.

The SN-10 (as seen on my old LS-4) could only show monochrome graphics. Clunky and old-looking!


Every time somebody sat in my Duo, I'd have to explain to them that most of the information on the SN-10 wasn't valid. "There's no GPS source, so the flight computer still thinks it's in Cesar Creek, where Karl flew his last contest before selling me the Duo."  The SN-10 is complaining because there's no GPS source.   I've had enough with this dang thing!

The new LX unit didn't arrive until a few days before the contest in Mifflin.  Of course, I couldn't bear to fly that contest with the mostly-non-functional SN-10, so I arranged to have the glider in Shane's shop to swap out the old with the new.

Removing the SN-10 wasn't particularly difficult.  "Just keep unbolting things until bits start falling out of the instrument panel."   I spent one evening getting the fuselage into Shane's shop, taking out the seat pan, removing the instrument panel covers (front and back), and carefully keeping track of all the bits I took out to get the SN-10 safely extracted.  

Instead of battering the SN-10 into dust, or shipping it to ILEC for servicing, JP Stewart has asked for it.  I'll happily get rid of it, so it can have a new happy home at BRSS in New Castle, VA.

Installation of the new unit got much easier when we removed the nose wheel.  Fishing the cables down the throat of the cable hole, down under the seat pan is much easier when I can reach in where the nose wheel is supposed to be, and route cables through the front.  I wish I knew this when I had the PowerFLARM installed a few months ago.

Once all of the LX-Nav parts were installed, I had an A&P look over my work, and sign it off.  There was a brief moment of cautious confidence when we turned the whole system on.  Despite reading all instructions and installation manuals thoroughly, there's just that uneasy moment when turning on that sort of unit for the first time.  We called it "The moment of 'poof'", because if something got wired incorrectly, something was going to go poof and release the magic smoke.

Nothing went poof, so after we turned it on, replaced all of the instrument panel covers and seat pans, I put the glider back into the trailer and drove off to Mifflin on Saturday afternoon.  The contest's practice day was Sunday, but I wasn't likely to get any practice days to shake out any issues I might find with the new system.  A very big rain storm canceled soaring operations from Virginia to New York, and was doubtlessly going to cancel my shakeout flight on the practice day.

I drove to Mifflin in the rain, in the dark, with some pretty sketchy directions from Google, that took me over a very dark mountain.  I enraged many pickup drivers as I gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles and insisted on driving the speed limit on two-lane roads to the soaring contest. I arrived on Saturday at 11:00 PM, and once I dropped off the trailer, I headed to a Super 8 Motel in State College, PA.