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. 

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? "
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.
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.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

KS -> QQ

Well, I finally sanded off the KS.  It took about 6-8 man-hours to remove it from the wing and tail.  Matt Linger, Shane Neitzey, and Melinda Tanner all helped with the awful job of carefully sanding.  While it took hours to do the wing and tail, It took about 30 minutes to get the KS off of the tail dolly (acetone) and trailer (peeled off the sticker).

For the wet sanding, we started with the underside of the right wing.  My thinking was that if we make a cosmetic mistake here, nobody's going to notice small imperfections. To do the work, we placed the wing on saw horses covered in blankets, and had a good working surface at the right height of about a tabletop. Before getting started with the wet sanding, we had to take off small section of turbulator tape that covered the wing letters.  We had to get off the glue residue by using a little bit of elbow grease and bump.

To do the sanding, we started off with 400 grit wet sandpaper, two sanding blocks, a bucket of soapy water, and a long afternoon ahead of us. The strategy for the 400 grit paper is to scrape just the painted part of the letters, focusing on the edges while trying to ensure that the sanding block didn't go outside of the painted area, sometimes unavoidable due to the curvy shape of the "S".

The wet sanding process leaves muddy drips of sanded off blue paint, which we occasionally cleaned off with a squeegee.  Here's a nice view of the tail in two phases.  The "S" is further along than the "K", and has been freshly squeegeed.  The "K" is not as far along in the process.  The sanded-off paint combined with the water from wet sanding and got all over everything, making this look far worse than it actually was.

Ugh, what a mess!
"What have I gotten myself into?!"
We sanded with the 400 until just after the white started showing under the blue.  We moved to 600 grit to get the KS to be "ghosty".  moved to 800 grit to use it like a magic eraser and get all the remaining paint spots cleaned up. To finish the sanding, we moved to 1200 grit to do the final smoothing over. 
After everything was smooth and even, we did a hard wax with the rotating buffer to get it shiny and beautiful.

Here's the naked tail.
After the flying day,Shane towed the glider to his shop.  We designed the best-looking "QQ" logo we could come up with on his computer.  Using the photo above, we tried a wide variety of fonts, from the yawn-worthy Helvetica to a cute-but-unrecognizable Anklepants font.  The Italic font we came up with looked perfect on the left side, but needed some slanting to look good on the right side of the tail. We niggled around with the letters until it looked like they were going to be the right degree of slanting.

Since Shane makes signs for a living, he has all the hardware to cut off vinyl letters and make it look really great. He has this big razor blade plotter that chops out all the bits that the computer program tells him to chop off. Shane placed a piece of transfer paper on the vinyl, measures several times, lined everything up, and peeled off the backing while making sure the letters got smoothly applied to the surface. 

The results: Everything looks great! No bubbles or wrinkles. He's truly a professional.

While spending the whole day at the airport sanding away, many people came up to chat.  Some asked questions.  Many questions seemed to repeat themselves. Some asked me "Why not keep the Contest ID of KS?"   Those contest ID letters don't convey with the purchase of the glider. The previous owner -- legendary Karl Striedieck -- is recognized by his contest ID everywhere in the country. I didn't want to be seen as some kind of impostor.  I chose QQ because it was one of the two letter combinations still available that seemed cool to me. I have also been asked as to why I cared if the contest ID was already registered or not.  If I'm going to go through the effort of sanding off the old contest ID and putting on new ones, I'm not going to choose one that's already been taken.

Other possibilities for available contest IDs that were closely considered were: 
"Kilo Niner" -- That would be really convenient. All I would have had to do is paint a small area on the "S" in "KS" and the work would have been done. 
"Kilo Eight" -- Same deal. 
"Alpha Quebec" -- two letter country code for Antarctica. 
"Yankee Yankee" -- I was born in Rhode Island, after all. 

I've also been asked, "Why did you do all this sanding? Why not use acetone / paint thinner / solvent?"  Acetone did nothing to this paint.  It wasn't a vinyl sticker pasted on, so it couldn't just be peeled off. KS was painted on at the factory. We didn't want to risk having any sort of caustic solvent wreck the paint job underneath. While sanding was indeed a lot of work, it seemed to be the safest strategy -- so long as we were really careful, and we were!

Friday, February 19, 2016

SSA Convention Second Day

I missed the earliest morning session because I slept in a bit. I managed to make it to the second session to hear a very technically intense presentation about the design and building of Schempp-Hirth's newest racing glider, the Ventus 3.

The Ventus 3 had its first flight a few months ago.  The flight testing hasn't been going very well, simply because the weather hasn't been very good for flight testing in Germany.

I got into the presentation rather late, and didn't get a good seat at the front of the audience. The presentation included many graphs that described many of the design decisions they made.

Later in the afternoon, I really enjoyed the "Concordia Lessons Learned" presentation by Dick Butler. The Concordia was designed as a one-of-a-kind racing glider with the most outrageous wingspan that could ever be built.

When you design a glider that has a 55 to 1 aspect ratio (that means the wing span is 55 times as long as the chord length), you're going to have wiggly wimbly-bimbly bouncy wings, unless you do some serious engineering to solve that problem.  So they had to consider how to resist the twisting, find a way to keep the wings from bouncing around so much that they flutter in high-speed flight.  They had a really neat solution.  They sacrificed a small bit of slow speed performance to maintain the high speed performance by doing a special type of lay-up that resisted stretching on the skin of the wing.

They still have to have water ballast, in order to get the wing loading they needed to make the racing glider fast, so they had to make water ballast tanks in front of and behind the main spar.  They needed extra wing strength, so instead of using Styrofoam in their composite, they used balsa wood.  But it couldn't be any kind of balsa wood, it had to be balsa wood with a very specific mass.

They had to consider the size of the horizontal stabilizer: It couldn't be too big, because that would reduce the performance of the glider by making extra drag.  They started with a Schleicher ASW-27 horizontal stabilizer, shrunk it by 10 centimeters on each side, and ended up with a what seems to be "way too small" horizontal stabilizer.  The advantage of this is to make the empennage more efficient.  The downside of this, however, is that there is a lot more sensitivity to the center of gravity.  The center of gravity range is only 2.5 centimeters.  Everything is OK, so long as the pilot (with parachute) is exactly 85 kilograms.

The results of this amazing achievement in aeronautical engineering is a glider that can cruise with unbelievable performance.  It has a maximum glide ratio somewhere around 70 to 1.  That means for every thousand feet of altitude lost, the glider is going to go about 13.3 statute miles. My Duo Discus usually sits around 7 miles per thousand feet.

To make things even more amazing, the glider has a 50:1 glide ratio at 115 knots.  It has a better glide ratio at 115 knots than most high performance gliders have at 50 knots.   What an amazing bird!

I attended a Luncheon "SSA Focus on the Clubs".  I sat next to Mark Wilson.  The name seemed familiar.  He's the guy I bought my old LS-4 from back in 2002. After eating, Frank Whiteley hosted the discussion.  Subjects covered were things like "How does a club schedule flying operations, tow pilot, instructor availability, and glider usage?"  One club in Canada uses "Click'nGlide", a utility very popular in France.   Another discussion was how the SSA saves money by having clubs all register at the same time with their club. There was a smaller discussion about how clubs are now sharing notes on a Google Groups discussion group called "Chapters-SSA." It's an invitation-only group that shares notes similar to the discussions that were held during this meeting.
Frank Whitley shows off the Google Group Chapters-SSA  (invite only)

The next presentation that I attended was by Sean Fidler, and the topic was
How to use SeeYou for post flight analysis.  Sean has a YouTube channel, where he takes the flight traces from the winners of soaring contests and compares them to his own flying. After watching a lot of replays with the 3-D viewing function of SeeYou, he has made many observations about the mistakes he made, the successes that the winners always make. Sean has a YouTube channel where he describes what competitors did during various sailplane races.

Sean Fidler shows SeeYou for a recent National competition
Karl Striedieck had a presentation describing the different birds that you may encounter while soaring. I didn't take very good notes about this, and was too far back to get any pictures.  

The final presentation I attended today was hosted by the Soaring Safety Foundation. The topic was "Using Scenario-Based Training" to enhance flight instruction.  Sure, flight instructors do a great job teaching a student how to monkey the controls effectively to do the maneuvers.  But in many organizations, the ideas of how a student could handle a certain situation comes up a little short. Airlines use the term LOFT, and the SSF uses the term PAVE. Consider the Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment, and External pressures when presenting a scenario.  FAA Advisory Circular 61-98C mentions that the instructor should use Scenario-Based Training for the ground portion of a 61.56 flight review.  After seeing this presentation, I realize that there are some improvements to be made.  I'm going to have to have with the instructors in my flying club. 

I spent very little time on the show room floor, but managed to take enough time out of my busy schedule to get some more pictures of the gliders. But still, not nearly enough time looking at the gliders.  This is a Pipistrel Taurus motorglider. I've been fascinated with this glider, and up until now, I've never seen one in person.

Pipistrel Taurus M
 And what would an SSA convention be without a beautifully restored SGS 1-26 on the showroom floor.
The shiniest 1-26 I've ever seen
I took a picture of Shane Neitzey's flight simulator rig, that somehow didn't make it into yesterday's blog post.  So here it is:

Shane and Valerie let visitors try out the "Illudium G-36 glider flight simulator"

SSA Convention First Day

I'm currently in Greenville, South Carolina at the Soaring Society of America's biennial convention.
My favorite part of this is hanging out at the show room floor, where all of the fancy gliders are on display.  There are meetings that discuss the issues that face glider pilots today, but as usual, I'm most interested in the museum aspect of the convention.

Eric Lambert and Jim Garrison pose in front of the Stemme S-10VT
The Stemme S-10VT is an absolutely amazing machine. Terribly expensive, but a wonderful combination of glider and airplane.  With a 50:1 glide ratio, and a service ceiling of 30,000 feet (!), cruises at 120 knots at something like 2.5 gallons per hour.  The wings fold back, and the plane can be stored in a T Hangar. It can also taxi with the wings folded, so if there's not enough room to squeeze between two hangars, you can do that without scraping the wings.

I'm a Schempp-Hirth lover, and love everything they make.
Arcus M with a motor, owned by Al Simmons. Absolutely beautiful!
I think the Arcus is just absolutely beautiful. This one belongs to Al Simmons (OLC) It has many similar features with the Duo Discus, but has flaps.   Of course, this one is equipped with an outboard engine.
The new Arcus M from Schempp-Hirth
This is another Arcus M, but this one's outboard motor is actually a jet engine!  See the next picture.
DUDE! That Arcus M has a jet engine installed in it!
Dennis Tito (OLC) recently bought this jet-powered Arcus-M.

The glider with the longest wings imaginable was at the convention.  This is a 28 meter glider called "The Concordia" Pictures can't justify the wingspan.
The Concordia!  Man those wings are long! 
Another view of the Concordia's super long wings

The ASH-30 MI motor glider from Schleicher
Another Schleicher has a jet self launcher
 The meetings I attended on the first day were:
  1. ADS-B, presented by Dave Nadler.  How do PowerFlarm, a transponder, and ADS-B relate to the mandatory ADS-B out ruling from the FAA? 
  2. Finding and making use of energy lines, by Pete Anderson. This presentation showed me different ways to exploit lift by looking at clouds in a slightly different way. 
  3. The FAA is in attendance, and their representative described the way that the FAA is going to apply the ADS-B Out requirement in 2020
  4. Finally, Scott Manley had a presentation about how to use the Condor flight simulator more effectively to aid in flight instruction.
This evening, I managed to crash the Stemme party. This was a meeting put together to appreciate the Stemme owners, recent purchasers of the Stemme, and those who are interested in buying a Stemme S-10VT.  Of course I'd like to have one!   Yes, I'd like to have another beer. 

During the evening, I hung around at the bar, waiting for somebody to start a conversation with me. I talked to the land developers of Ensign Hangars ( This guy was absolutely sure that we could get a hangar built on the property, he's done it dozens of times with even the most glider-hostile environments.

I met the aerobatic pilot Bob Carlton, who is probably one of the most charismatic people I've ever met.  The day ended very late for me.  Now I'm going to try to get to the exhibition hall before lunch. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

My Glider in a Previous Life

I bought my glider used.  The previous owner, Karl Striedieck, used to do winch launch training out of his airport.  Sean Fidler made this great video of that winch launch training. It's a really cool video.  I can't link it directly, so you'll have to follow this link.