Saturday, 8 December 2012

Cross Country!

I was eagerly anticipating today's lessons as I was rostered to fly lessons with John Orton again, and I had so much fun with him last time... learned a lot too!  I did not anticipate just how awesome today's flying would be though :D  Continue after the break for more!

On arrival I helped Alis get the gliders out, and noticed the hangar looked a bit bare.  Alis pointed out that the Ka-6 and the Pilatus were out, the Ka-6 having its Form2 done and the Pilatus in the workshop for repair after a heavy landing the previous week.  My mate Vic turned up and was keen to get his first solo cross country done today, after  a couple of false starts last month.  I helped Vic out with Jantar Std EE, getting it DI'd and doing some maintenance - someone had managed to install the harness in back-to-front and this needed re-fitting, and also the incorrect fuses had been installed, causing them to pop when the radio was used.  After the briefing for the day I spent some classroom time with John, as he quizzed me on the previous lessons we'd done.  We went over thermal entry again and also got the maps out so I could point out some of the features in the area.  Then it was out to DI the Peewee, and while John attended to some maintenance issues I gave it a good wash and chamois.

Ready to tow the PW-6U out to the lineup
First launch of the day was 11am and a tow to the usual 2,000'.  John pointed out that I was now flying tows completely independently in a safe and skilful manner, and that he would sign me off for launches today.  He also commented on the improvement in my coordination of the rudder with the ailerons when making small course corrections - I've been practising this a lot by flying tows in the Condor simulator.  Released and thermalled up to 4,000' and we pottered around the vicinity of the airfield with John quizzing me on locations nearby... Meckering, Tammin, Kellerberrin, Wyalkatchem, Yorkrakine, Watercarrin, etc.  Just spent the time flying around looking, with the occasional thermal, so soon enough it was time to land.  Flew a good circuit and a reasonable landing, John's only concern was that I slowed as we crossed the fence, indicating that I was gently rounding out high rather than flying all the way down to flare height.  Something to watch.

After lunch we hooked up for normal launch to 2,000' however at 1,300' we hit a nice surge of lift during a left turn over the runway.  John called for me to release into the thermal, and as I did so I screwed up our chances of catching the thermal properly.  We had been turning left at the time of release and up until now I had been taught to make a right hand circle immediately after release to ensure the towplane is clear.  So, I reversed my turn and circled right, flying right out of the thermal.  John explained that while what I did was technically correct, it was permissible to continue the turn in the thermal on release - in fact the tug pilot would have been expecting it and would have powered on straight ahead when he felt the release.  Despite a very quick search I was unable to relocate the thermal and we were now down to under 800' and well and truly had to land.  We were not properly placed to fly a full circuit so had to join downwind right where we were and make the call that we were entering circuit for landing late.  Despite this, I flew a reasonably good landing, with the only problem being that I had shortened the downwind a bit too much and was so focussed on controlling my speed that I nearly overshot my aiming point so had a very steep descent that needed full spoilers to get down in time to make my landing point.  Nevertheless, John was pretty happy with the landing.

No sooner were we down than we were hooked back up and launching again.  This time we went to the full 2,000' despite a couple of nice bumps on the way up.  Nailed the release - straight into a 6kt thermal which we took to 5,000' while slowly drifting WNW with the wind.  At the top of the thermal we were a little to the W of the airfield and John asked me to run through my HASLL checklist... Height, Airframe, Security, Location and Lookout.  Plenty of height, airframe ok with controls working fine, loose items secure and harness secure, clear of the airfield and houses and do a couple of half turns to clear the area for traffic above and below.  Once complete he asked me to demonstrate a spin entry and talk through what I was doing.  Did this and got it right first time, so did two more for practice.  John was happy that I was able to recognise the symptoms that were exhibited before the spin occurred and that I could both prevent the spin from occurring and get out of it safely after the spin developed.  He announced that he'd sign me off for Spins at the end of the day and that he was impressed that I could remain calm thoughout as I was still a fairly low-experience pilot.  He also made me do a couple of stalls to show that I could recognise when these were likely to occur, even though I was already signed off for those.  I caught a thermal just below 2,000' and rode it well to the top, around 5,200'.  At the top of the climb John announced that even though I wasn't solo yet, he was confident that it was time I learned more about flying cross country - so... we were going to fly a task.

Thermalling near the airfield.
John asked me to identify Tammin and head towards it.  Tammin is 26km from the airfield and this would be our first turnpoint, after which we would head to the Watercarrin silo, 39km from Tammin, and return the further 26km to airfield.  So, a task distance of 91km for the day, a lot more challenging than I would have imagined for my first flight out of gliding distance of the airfield.  We picked up a couple of good thermals along the track then ran out of lift about 8km from Tammin.  We continued the course as we had plenty of height to work with, and after rounding Tammin headed back towards the last good thermal we'd picked up.  By this time we were low.  Low enough that John had me picking paddocks to land in if we didn't find something soon.  I had one picked out at 1,300' AGL and John was asking me to explain why I thought it was a good choice when we heard over the radio that Vic had just outlanded at Kellerberrin airfield.  John commented that it looked like we would be outlanding too, when we slipped right into a 4.5kt thermal... my first low save :)

On track to Tammin, over the salty pans of the Mortlock River system

The wind was blowing generally in the direction of our track so I stuck with the thermal as far as I could, to about 4,300' then headed off towards Watercarrin.  We picked up two really good thermals enroute which enabled us to make to whole 39km leg without going back below 3,000'.  Rounding Watercarrin, John explained the next bit of cross country theory that he wanted to get my head around - Final Glide.  He pointed out that we were nearly 30km from the airfield and that we appeared to be flying with a glide ratio of about 30 or 32 - meaning that every 10km we flew we would lose around 1,000' at a similar glide ratio.  So, we needed about 3,000' of height to make the airfield, but we also had to allow for flying a full circuit and a little more to allow for sink, so to add another 1,500' for 4,500' above ground needed.  At this point we had begun to head back towards Cunderdin but were at 3,500' MSL, overall altitude or 2,800' above the airfield (Cunderdin is 700' above sea level).  So, I was going to need to find another 1,700' in the next thermal to make the pattern.  This proved easier said than done, and after a couple of disappointing weak and scrappy thermals that only yielded a few hundred feet and probably just as much sink, it wasn't until we were nearly 12km from the airfield that we got into a decent bit of lift and looked like we would make the airfield.  John instructed me to leave the thermal when I was comfortable that we would make our target and I pulled out with a couple of hundred extra feet to spare, allowing for a bit higher speed as we headed back in.

Back at Cunderdin after a 91km first task
Just as we arrived at the airfield, Vic arrived as well, having gotten Kevin to come and tow him out of Kellerberrin, and was orbiting in a thermal nearby.  We joined him briefly before entering the circuit and heading in to land.  On the downwind leg we found smooth lift all the way and had to use the spoilers to maintain descent.  While John was happy that I recognised that we would need help to get down and applied the correct action, he was disappointed in my landing (so was I!) as I flared too high again, and landed pretty heavily.  As soon as we stopped, he had the towplane hook us up and take us back to 1,000' so I could immediately redo the circuit and landing.  This one went much better and I'm actually happy that everything came together this time.

At the end of the day, it had been a huge experience for me to fly with John today - again I had learned a whole lot about cross country flying with him.  We finished off the day with Vic and I helping move all the furniture into the new clubhouse, which had just been finished today!  To celebrate, we had a nice barbecue dinner and a couple of cold beers with the other members.  Vic had flown his first solo cross country, even if he did land out, and I had flown my first cross country under instruction.

Really can't wait to try this again!!  John is pretty confident that I'll be soloing soon enough.

My GPS log for the flight, tracked on the crappy GPS in my iPhone so it is far from a perfect representation.