Saturday, 10 November 2012

Back behind the stick

Well now, after 6 weeks away from the club I was keen as mustard to get back up in the air again and learn something new.  Driving out to Cunderdin it was apparent that Summer was coming... I was no longer leaving home in the dark and the landscape was beginning to show more yellow than green once I was past the hills.  Arriving at the club I found I would have a new instructor for the day - John Orton.  I had met John early on in my membership, having assisted him with rigging gliders and doing a weight and balance assessment on a Nimbus, but this would be my first opportunity to fly with him.  Everyone speaks highly of John as an instructor, especially when it comes to learning cross-country flight, and while I'm not even flying solo yet - let alone cross-country - I was sure I would learn plenty today.  I was not disappointed.  Not by a long shot :)

I left my camera at home gin this trip so couldn't take any photos beyond a couple of awful shots taken on my phone - which got promptly deleted.  The morning briefing was held, and it was good to see more members there today - the warmer weather and improving conditions had all the regulars getting their gliders out for some cross country work.  I was the only student, and there was only a single AEF booked for the day, so it was looking like I would get some good flying in.  Thermals were expected to go to about 7,000' today with a moderate breeze from the SW later in the afternoon.  Start of flying was fairly late, as there was a fair bit of maintenance to be done that John was involved with, so I spent a good chunk of the morning cleaning down the PW-6U and helping with its DI.

Before heading out to the lineup, John sat down with me in the clubhouse and quizzed me on my progress.  After checking my logbook and verifying that I knew what I was talking about, he decided it was time to start working on the mechanics of staying up in the air rather than basic flight skills.  So, it was out with the whiteboard and I got a nice lesson in thermal entry theory, and also on thermalling in the presence of other gliders.  John also had me sketch out and narrate a full landing circuit and approach, identifying all the key points and checks that needed to be done.  Satisfied that I was up to the task, it was out to the lineup and into the Peewee for the first flight of the day.  By the time we got airborne there were already a few other gliders up, so I had plenty of opportunity to exercise good lookout practice - good thing I have good eyes!

After a 2,000' tow John checked out my handling skills then it was off to find some lift.  Picked up a solid 4kt thermal, and John demonstrated how to correctly enter the thermal and when to tighten or loosen the turn to stay with the thermal core.  He had me practice steeper turns than I had done before, with attention on maintaining bank angle and constant speed in the circle.  After a bit of practice with this it was back down to pattern height and time to land.  I messed up the landing badly, completely failing to control my approach speed and glidepath... I was focussing way too much on the aiming point and what I was doing with the spoilers.  John had to take over and get us down safely, I was pretty disappointed with myself as I had been getting better at landings.

After a short break and some discussion about what I needed to watch on landings, John elected to get me up for a short flight to just do the circuit and landing, so we towed up to 1,000' and released right into downwind.  I was pretty tense after the last landing, but managed to get down safely, if not gracefully.  Speed control was still wavering, but I didn't get too slow and my round out and flare were better.

I didn't even get out of the seat this time, we were hooked straight back up to the towplane and heading for 2,000' before I knew it.  I'm finding flying a safe Aerotow to be pretty easy now, and John started coaching a bit to make my tows better from an efficiency perspective... staying right below the wake of the towplane and following it in turns more skillfully.  Anyway, immediately after release we were into a decent thermal and climbing at a decent rate.  There were half a dozen other gliders in the air around the airfield, and close by was a lovely ASK-21mi self launcher that had launched ahead of us.  The K-21 was circling in what looked to be a pretty nice thermal only a few hundred metres away, and John directed me to leave our thermal and go join the K-21 so I could demonstrate what I'd learned earlier about joining other gliders in thermals.  The other glider was thermalling in a left circle so I aimed for his tail as he headed away, then entered the thermal in the same circle, but on the opposite side... in the few seconds it took to get into the thermal, the K-21 had flown half a turn.  Being a heavier glider he was flying quite fast and a bit wider circle than we could do in the Peewee, so I had to speed up a bit and broaden the turn to stay safely ahead of him.  We were outclimbing the K-21 so John had me tighten the circle and slow a little, getting closer to the core and maximising the climb.  It felt fantastic to be zooming around in the thermal only a few hundred feet away from another glider, and outclimbing it to boot!

At 6,000' we headed out to the West, while the K-21 departed North.  With plenty of height and good thermals to play with, John had me fly from thermal to thermal, keeping our altitude up towards the top end of the thermal range.  He began to quiz me on the landmarks that we could see from the air.  My familiarity with the area paid off here as I could easily spot and name the nearest towns, point out the highway and some other more visible landmarks.  We drifted slowly SW with the thermals and crossed GE H'way heading for a large rocky outcrop.  Near the outcrop we experienced some really heavy sink but no corresponding lift, it was getting down to around 12kt down at some points.  John advised I accelerate up to about 80kt and head back to the North, and began to explain the theory behind Speed-to-fly for cross country soaring - flying faster the heavier the sink and slower in lift or still air.  Back over the town of Cunderdin we picked up a bit of a boomer (relatively speaking from my experience!!) with 6-7kt up indicated.  This took us to 6,500' close to the airfield.  Just as we were heading North we got a call over the radio to land back at the airfield, as an AEF customer had arrived for his flight.

We were high up with a lot of altitude to lose before circuit entry so John announced it was time to learn how to do spins - entry and recovery so I could get myself out of trouble if it ever happened to me.  After doing the mandatory pre-aerobatic HASLL check, John demonstrated the first spin - very exciting!  The rapid nose drop and entry into the spin was surprising.  After recovery, John commented on my resilience - he reckons most new pilots would have lost their lunch after the amount of circling we'd done in the thermals, let alone the spin!  All those years of sailing must have something to do with that ;)  Anyway, now it was my turn.  Ease back the stick as for a stall... kick in left rudder as the stick comes fully back and give it some opposing aileron and WHAM!  The nose drops sharply to the left and we're falling nose down, stalled and spinning left.  Apply right rudder to slow the spin and ease the stick forward to increase the nose down attitude and we're flying again, albeit downwards, so time to level out.  My first recovery I hauled back on the stick way too hard and really felt the G's pile on as we levelled out... have to be much more gentle next time.  John had me do another one for good measure then we were down to less than 3,000' so John showed me another way to lose altitude quickly without using the spoilers - he demonstrated a side slip.  I followed this with one of my own and it was time to land... for good measure John showed how to use the sideslip on approach as a means of controlling descent rate, then we were down for the day.  My last landing was passable, certainly better than the other two.

I feel I learned a huge amount today, and have a lot to digest between now and my next lesson.  While I learned a lot about the mechanics of soaring flight - good thermalling, spins, stalls, etc - perhaps what I found most interesting was the reasons for staying up.  John had given me a lot of info and advice which pertains to flying cross country... areas likely to produce good lift, landmarks in the area, which fields looked landable and which looked dangerous.  I'm now feeling the desire to get away from the airfield and see what I can do in a cross country flight.  First things first tough - I have to get to solo!

The day wrapped up nicely with a quiet beer and sitting around chatting until it was time to drive home.  I'd had my longest flight to date today - 1 hour 52 min, with my previous flights all being less than half an hour, and had climbed higher than ever before as well, so I felt pretty content driving home.

Can't wait till next time.