Saturday, 28 July 2012

Day One - My journey begins...

Well, here I go.  Today I took the plunge and drove out to Cunderdin to join up at the Gliding Club of Western Australia.  I've wanted to do this for years, I took my first glider flights over 17 years ago with a friend from my time at Curtin University whose father had his own glider and have been biding my time ever since.  I have a couple of hours flight lessons in a Cessna 152, but soaring is really what I want to do.

The drive out from Perth was lovely, I got away before dawn and the weather was crisp and cool, and wonderfully clear.  Clearing the hills and into the wheatbelt at dawn I was treated to a spectacular sunrise - along with my anticipation for the day's activity this had me in excellent spirits right off the bat.

I arrived at the airfield about 8:30 and met up with Iain Russel, my instructor for the day, who signed me up as a club member and got me all sorted with paperwork and induction into the club.  Iain was extremely helpful, and went to a lot of trouble to show me what was what and get me involved in the club activities right from the word "go."

The first item of business for the day was to get all of the aircraft to be used that day out of the hangar.  The club has two two-seater training gliders - a newish PW-6U composite glider and an older aluminium IS-28B2; and four flying single seaters - two Jantar Std 2's, an old Ka6 and an old Pilatus.  In addition, there are two tugs for aerotowing - a Pawnee that was down at Jandakot for servicing, and an Auster J5/G which was the towplane on duty for the day.

Agnes, the Auster J5/G towplane
Once we'd gotten the PW-6U out, Iain ran me through the need to do full daily inspections, and walked me through the process so I could see what was involved, and how thorough the inspection must be.  He also gave me an orientation of all of the components of the glider, both inside and out.  He showed me the controls, and the effects of moving the controls on the glider's control surfaces.  I was lucky for my first day, I was the only student for the day, and other than a few annual check flights for members, I had Iain and the PW-6 all to myself.

PW-6U two seat trainer, built by SZD in Poland
Another shot of the "PeeWee"
The front office of the Peewee.
After DI'ing the Peewee and meeting some of the other members who were present, it was time for the morning briefing in the clubhouse.  I got to meet some more of the members and was introduced to the way in which the clubs activities are run on a daily basis, with a briefing on the expected weather for the day, what training and other flights were taking place, and who was flying solo and what their plans were.  After the briefing, it was back out to finish maintenance items and assist with preparing other gliders.

Around about 11am it was time to actually get started, and we towed all the gliders and the hut out to the lineup on Runway 05.  It had become a reasonably warm day for July with a mildly cool breeze coming in from the NE - most pleasant for winter.  Iain opted to take me straight up for my orientation flight straight away, then do the other guys check flights while I digested the first lesson.  Lesson number one consisted of doing the pre-takeoff checks and launching behind the towplane.  The launch was hands off for me so Iain could demonstrate the proper procedure, but once we'd released at 2,000' I had a chance to try out the controls and see for myself the effects of using the stick and rudder.  My earlier flying served me well and I was able to maintain attitude easily.  After a few minutes of playing around with the controls, it was time to land and Iain explained to me how we enter the circuit for landing in a glider.  Flying downwind he explained the pre-landing checklist and then we were turning base and final for the runway.  I had forgotten how steep the approach path is is a glider, and it took me by surprise!!  Nevertheless we were safely down and on the ground and I was keen for the next lesson!

Iain in the front seat taking up Vic for his checkflight
Iain took a couple of the members up for check flights while I waited on the ground and chatted with other members - the open friendliness on display was fantastic and I was really made to feel at home here.  Soon enough though, it was time to go up again.  The following two flights were pretty much like the first, although from here on I was hands on to feel what control inputs were necessary for takeoff and landing.  On my third launch, I was able to fly a fairly decent aerotow myself!  The majority of the airtime was spent practising maintaining control of the glider, maintaining and changing airspeed, and making gentle turns.  I learned a fair bit about stability in gliders and was actually surprised at just how stable they are in the air - I had always sort of assumed that their light weight would make them unstable, and this is just not the case.

The final flight for the day was a lot longer than the first three, Iain located a thermal shortly off tow and showed me what soaring flight is really all about... staying up in the air and not just gently gliding back to earth!  The thermal was pretty weak and drifting a fair bit, but we managed to circle in it up to a height of about 4,500' and enjoy the scenery for a while.

Thermalling at about 4,500' in the "house thermal" near Cunderdin Airfield
I flew the landing mostly hands on and managed a credible effort with Iain's guidance and corrections.  The day was rounded out with packing up and general maintenance before I was treated to a lovely sunset over the field and said farewell to Cunderdin... until next time!!
A WA Wheatbelt sunset over Cunderdin Airfield