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.