Friday, October 23, 2015

Saturday Soaring with Keith

With a brisk northwesterly wind in the forecast for the weekend, Saturday and Sunday were both shaping up to be a great weekend to be a glider pilot.  I wrote one of my former students, Keith, if he wanted to go ridge running with me in the Duo Discus. He quickly accepted the offer.
We arrived reasonably early, assembled the glider, and spent some time trying to figure out why the SN-10B still isn't talking to the NANO III flight computer.  Several things were pried open, checked out, and still no firm conclusions as to why the NMEA input isn't making it into the SN-10.  That's still on the things I need to get solved on my new glider.  The flight computer has limited functionality while there's no GPS feed, and I can use maps and the tiny visual display on the Nano for navigation.
Once airborne, I got the glider down the ridge.  We were the so-called "Ridge Dummies" -- the first glider up for the day, to test out the wind direction and strength on the ridge.  Once I confirmed that the ridge was working, I called back to home base, reporting that the ridge was working. We maintained 3000 feet at about 80 knots along the top of the Massanutten mountain range.  For a short while, we met up with 3 or 4 hang gliders, launching out of the Woodstock Hang Glider launch area.
The day was also shaping up to be good for thermal activity, too. I followed a street westbound, and crossed over the Virginia / West Virginia border.  We passed north of the Bryce ski resort, and I even got far enough west that I had the Grant County airport in sight. As we continued west, the thermals got more sparse, and had less strength. We descended from the comfortable 6500 feet down to about 4000 feet as we searched for lift.
Whenever I'm flying with somebody, I often ask them, "Still having fun?"  "How are you doing up there?".  Keith responded through the flight with enthusiastic rapid responses, "Doing great!" "Really enjoying myself!" As we approached our westernmost point, with ever decreasing altitude, I asked again:
"Still having fun?"
There were a few moments of nervous silence coming from the front seat.  "I'd really like to see the needles pointing upward" Keith was growing ever more uncomfortable with our situation. His comment indicated that he would rather we be in lift. The safety of flight was never in jeopardy: there were some magnificent, large fields 2 miles to the northwest, next to the town of Lost City, WV. If somehow the thermals abruptly stopped producing lift, that field next to the town center would have been longer and wider than the airport we took off from. We also still had plenty of altitude to make a downwind dash across the Shenandoah valley back to Short Mountain, next to Mount Jackson, VA.
I connected with the thermal that I was sure was located under a white puffy cloud, and climbed back up to a comfortable altitude.  Soon, we were headed west again, back to Short Mountain.
On the way toward Short Mountain, we hit a very minor small bit of turbulence. I heard a very loud noise. "CRACK!" It sounded like a lead weight had fallen off of a table, and slammed onto the bottom of the back of the fuselage.  Since I was in the back seat, it was especially loud.   I had a few moments of cautious discomfort, with images in my mind of the empennage suddenly disintegrating behind me; pieces of expensive fiberglass and carbon fiber departing the aircraft.   The controls still worked. Keith and I talked about it briefly, and got on with the flight, after determining that the aircraft was still apparently intact.
We did ridge soaring down to the southern end of the Massanutten mountain system, in close proximity to the Massanutten ski resort.  I stopped at a waypoint called "Laird's Knob", where Keith got out his camera to get some great pictures of the fresh fall foliage on the nearby mountain.
Just above the ridge top, where you can see the radio tower. Laird's Knob

Laird's Knob, and radio tower

Laird's Knob, radio tower, gravel rockslide; where there are no trees

After hanging out over Laird's Knob, I followed a cloud street eastbound, where the clouds looked best.  We connected with an incredibly strong thermal, and climbed at 900 feet per minute to as close to cloud base as I could legally get. We were so amazed about the 9.9 knots shown on the flight computer for average lift, that I had Keith take several pictures.  Unfortunately, the peak strength of the thermal was a few moments before this picture was taken.
The "8.9" in the upper-right corner of the flight computer indicates the upward velocity averaged over that last 30 seconds, in knots
The thermal was so strong, I asked Keith, "Hey, we could go down to Waynesboro!" The conditions were really that strong. Keith instead opted to go north, back to home base. We had been up for 2 hours, and I guess he was getting cold.

Along the way, we got some nice photos of Skyline Drive, along the Blue Ridge mountains.  It's near peak foliage, and Skyline Drive was packed with "LeafPeepers" -- tourists who wanted to see the National park in all its glory.

Looking North, towards Thornton Gap

That looks like an excellent thermal over there!

Looking East, towards Culpeper, VA

After a glorious flight along the Blue Ridge, where we just bopped along at altitude, without stopping to work lift, we did a final glide back to the airport.  By the time we landed, things were getting pretty overcast and grey.  The weather was much colder.
Final glide back to the airport, overhead at about 2400 feet MSL
Keith recorded my approach and landing.  We had a crosswind coming from the right on final, and I think I did a pretty good job practicing a side slip to attain runway centerline alignment.  I'm still trying to figure out how to land this new glider of mine. :)

Back on the ground, safe and sound!
 During the post-flight inspection, I determined the cause of the sudden bang in-flight. I don't normally seal the wing root with the fuselage on this glider.  The previous owner did a great job of sealing the joints with some foam.  This way, the air won't leak in between the fuselage and wing root, causing whistling noises in-flight.   One of the pieces of foam has come loose, and it causes the glider to squeak in some particular attitudes in flight.  So this flight, I taped up the wing root to prevent the noise from happening. The tape I used isn't much different than white electrical tape that you would find in a hardware store.
In flight, the conditions were cold enough, and the tape was stretched tight enough that the gap seal tape ruptured catastrophically.  The whole right wing had a rip up the seam in between the wing root and the wing.   I guess the next time I buy gap seal tape, I don't buy the cheap stuff.  Also, when I tape up the wings, I'll give a little room for the tape to stretch when the wings bounce around in turbulence.

While only flying for 3 hours, I managed to rack up 247 OLC points.  I'm pretty sure we could have made it to Waynesboro and back, without any stress about returning to Front Royal.

My flight [OLC]

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