Sunday, 27 January 2013

Wind, Important Lessons; and a Surprise...

G'day all, and I hope my fellow Aussies are having a great Australia Day weekend!  After being dragged by the kids out to Crawley to watch the annual Australia Day Skyshow over the Swan River - which was actually better than it's been in years! - and dealing with all the crowds, I was ready for some quiet time up in the air.  So, after a relatively late start for me, I got into the car with plenty of cold water and a packed lunch and headed out to Cunderdin for the day.  I arrived just in time for the 9:30am briefing, it looked a bit quiet today - not a whole lot of activity around the place.  That changed pretty quickly!  Read on after the jump for more...

The weather report was in and it was looking pretty average... moderate thermals to around 6,000' or so starting about 11am and continuing right through to the day's end.  Wind was strong at 15-20kt from the SE and predicted to stay steady all day with the same wind through the entire thermal profile.  We made the obvious decision of running on Runway 14 for the day, and it turned out that the wind was right on the nose when lined up.  20kt of headwind makes for very short ground rolls on takeoff :)  I didn't however get a chance to head straight out to the lineup today as we found that the club's logkeeping computer had died overnight and wouldn't start.  Luckily I had my laptop in the car, so I whipped that out and bodgied up a quick spreadsheet to mimic the proper log - this turned out to be a good choice as the day got really busy and keeping manual logs would have been a nightmare.

We had a report come in to expect four AEF customers, which posed a bit of a problem.  We had myself and another student, Mal, who needed instruction and also an Instructor up from another club to do an upgrade - so the day's Duty Instructor (Rod Carter) was going to be very busy in the PW-6U.  The other two seater was out of action, having its Form 2 inspections done.  Fortunately, just as we were making plans on what to do, Damian O'Reilly landed in his Carbon Cub and promptly volunteered to take care of the AEF's in his shiny new ASK-2mi.  I can't stress how lucky this was, as the day really would have been a whole lot different if we'd had to rely on just the single two-seater.  Other planned flights for the day were Ian Russell, Alis Starink and Ray Hoffman heading out cross-country, and Kevin Saunders taking the newly serviced old Ka6 up for a cross country flight.

While Rod was busy with the Instructor upgrade and Damian was occupied with briefing the four AEF customers and getting his ASK-21 prepared, I got seconded by Marek and Knut to help de-rig one of the personal gliders which needed some fibreglassing work done on a wing.  This took up the rest of my morning and it was around 11:30 when I got out to the lineup on 14.  Rod was still working with the other Instructor and then Mal was first up for lessons, so I ran ground operations for the next couple of hours.  The first AEF got up at about at lunchtime, a 16 year old girl who wanted to go gliding for her birthday.  Unfortunately, it was quite bumpy up in the air, especially in the landing circuit, and just before landing she became horribly airsick - so my next hour was spend cleaning Damian's cockpit up!!  The poor girl was so embarrassed but stressed that she had a ton of fun in the air and resolved to go up again later in the day - pretty impressive as most people who get airsick never want to go flying ever again!

Anyway, after the bulk of the work with the AEF's was done, Mal had had a couple of instructional flights, and all the cross country pilots were up; it was finally time for my to get in the cockpit of the Peewee.  I sat down with Rod and he checked up on my logbook and quizzed me on my progress - I'd flown with Rod a couple of times before and seen him around the club regularly, he'd been keeping tabs on my progress and was happy with what I'd learned and achieved to date.  He announced that with the strong wind we were going to get some work on crosswind operations done, and also follow Rob Hanbury's suggestion that I learn about launch emergencies. Needless to say, I was fairly nervous about these lessons.

My comfortable tows to 1,500' or 2,000' were about to come to an end today, with Rod describing a variety of scenarios where we might be off tow early (rope-break, release mechanism failure, tow-plane emergencies, etc) and have to land immediately.  He stressed the "O" part of the CHAOTIC preflight checklist, which is Outside and Options.  "Outside" refers to presence of ground crew to assist the launch, traffic on the runway, aircraft above or on approach to the runway, etc.  "Options" covers what we would do on an early release - knowing how much runway there was to use, what paddocks around the runway are suitable to land in if we don't have enough height to make a circuit, and what we would do if we could make it back to either the active runway or one of the crosswind strips.  There was a lot to keep in mid and Rod stressed that it's more about continuously updating your options during the launch than it is about having a fixed plan on the ground... monitor height, wind and position at all times on tow and actively make decisions at any given time as to where you would go if the rope were to break right then.

The first flight of the day for me got started at about 14:00 with a plan to just have a short flight to settle myself.  Rod instructed me to release into the first bit of decent lift we found once at 1,500' and that he would be completely hands off and the decisions were up to me.  We passed one really good thermal at about 1,000' but I stayed on tow until 1,500' as instructed - probably should have taken that one!!  I released just passed the nominated height into what seemed a promising bit of lift, but proved to be irregular and choppy.  A couple of circles with more sink that lift and I decided to head straight in to circuit entry.  I'm happy to say that I nailed the circuit and landing with no worries at all and was on the ground a mere seven minutes after launch!  This would prove to be the norm for the day...

I got a lot of (very short!) flights in today.  My next five flights were even shorter.  Second flight was taken immediately upon landing... as soon as we stopped Jorge (the day's logkeeper) had us hooked up again and we were on tow straight away.  On the way off the strip, Rod quizzed me every few seconds about my options for landing and at about 750' he pulled the release on me.  I turned downwind straight away and judged that I actually had enough height for a proper circuit, with a slightly cropped downwind leg.  I made the call to Cunderdin CTAF and entered downwind on a standard left circuit for 14.  I crabbed in a little close to the runway this time, but recognised what was happening and turned away a bit, which Rod was really happy with.  I actually had enough height to fly the full downwind, allowing for a high headwind, and nailed the approach and landing.  Two good landing for the day so far.

I took a break so Mal could get a couple of circuits in, and at about 15:00 I was back in the cockpit.  Back on tow behind the Pawnee, and just getting settled then BANG!  Rod pulls the release on me at about 600' and it's time for some quick thinking.  I couldn't make the active runway from where we were, but I could make an entry for runway 23.  I announced my intentions to land on the crosswind strip over the radio and headed crosswind.  The wind was REALLY strong, 20kt or so and I had to crab quite severely to stay on line for the approach.  I hadn't landed in any wind with more than about 6kt of crosswind component before, and this was over 20kt directly from the left.  Even crabbed as far as I was comfortable we were still drifting towards the downwind side of the runway, so I added a little extra speed on the approach, I'd been holding about 60kt and bumped it up to 70kt - pretty fast for a glider landing.  The extra speed got us back in line and with the spoilers out we were down to flare height in no time.  I flared a little high and as the glider settled gave a strong kick to the right rudder to straighten our alignment just before touchdown.  Landing was excellent, and I even maintained good directional control on the ground, although nearly full rudder was needed to stay pointing down the runway.  Rod complimented me on the landing as he said it was pretty much flawless and that carrying a higher speed was the right decision to make.

So, we were sitting fairly close to the threshold of 23 and rather than tow the plane back to the lineup, Rod decided to get the towplane to come around to us and do a crosswind takeoff.  Knut kindly obliged and while we were waiting for the tow, Rod explained that the other option I could have exercised was to have immediately turned on release and done a full circle, coming back for an approach over the active runway and landing further up the runway - around where the cross-runway intersects.  The takeoff was interesting with the 20kt wind blowing left to right directly across the runway, at low speed the glider wanted to weathercock into the wind and the windward wing wanted to lift, both effects needed to be countered to an extent much greater than I had previously experienced.  We were off the ground quick enough, and drifting to the leeward side of the runway while the towplane was still on the ground; so a fairly decent amount of crab had to be applied to hold a position that wasn't going to drag the tail of the towplane around.  Once again, at 500' Rod pulled the release on me, and our position allowed for a right hand circuit to approach the active runway short.  I managed the entire process with no input from the instructor, which I was very happy with, and got down safely bang on the usual landing point.

Once again, we were hooked back up immediately and towing.  Rod advised that he was going to release early again, and that he wanted me to make the alternate approach he had mentioned earlier - circle immediately and land further down the active runway; in essence, we would be using the runway intersection as our aiming point.  So, at a bit under 500' the release was pulled and Rod told me to make the landing - but with a right turn again, so a very short modified right circuit.  The strong wind blew us a fair way downwind during the circuit, and I easily got down well in time for the intersection.  The towplane was hooking up for another pilot to go up for some practise, so we pulled the glider off the runway and waited till the ground crew drove over with the tow gear to pull us back to the lineup.

My final flight with Rod for the day occurred a few minutes afterwards, and Rod announced that he was very happy with my ability to manage low releases and was confident I could get down safely without panicking.  He was even confident I could get down in any of the local paddocks if need be, so he asked me to just take a tow to 1,000' and fly a perfectly normal circuit and landing, narrating what I was doing all the way and making the correct radio calls.  He told me he would be completely hands off and wasn't going to pull any tricks like releasing early, he just needed to see one more good circuit before he could sign me off for my landings.  So, up we went, with a normal release and I flew a textbook left circuit back to runway 14 with a pretty good landing to finish it off.  As we landed, Rod congratulated me on my progress today and that he was happy to sign me off for my landing competency.  Jorge was waiting on the runway, as he needed to do a steep approach checkflight with Rod after a slightly bungled landing earlier, so I got them hooked up and started to help pack up other gliders for the day, as it was now around 17:15.  Jorge pulled off a textbook approach and landing and I headed over to help get the glider off the runway when I got my big surprise for the day...

The flight track shown above may seem fairly ordinary, a 20 minute local flight around the airfield surrounds with a couple of fairly average thermals.  However it is extremely special to me because - Rod announced that it was time for me to fly my first solo!

It was late in the day, nearly 17:30, but with the sun still well above the horizon and another 90 minutes or so till sunset.  Rod told me that I had now met all the criteria that I needed to meet and that he was confident in my ability to handle all the necessary phases of flight with no input at all.  By this time Kevin Saunders, who is the club president, had taken over the towplane and offered to take me up if I was willing to give my first solo flight a try.  I was well and truly excited at the prospect, and while I thought I'd be nervous about reaching this point I felt oddly relaxed and actually quite confident that this was the time to go for it.  I accepted the offer and asked if I should just go up and fly a circuit, but both Rod and Kevin told me that I should go up, take a full tow and fly around for a while.  Take any thermals I found, enjoy the sights and have a bit of fun - as you only get your first solo once!!  Besides, Kevin wanted time to get back down on the ground with plenty of time to observe my circuit, approach and landing.

Being conscious of the fact that the glider was now my responsibility, I took the time to do a full preflight check (ABCD - Airframe, Ballast, Control sense and Dollies!) before checking that the rear seat cushions were secured and locking the harness nice and tight to ensure it didn't interfere with the controls.  I checked the placard for the appropriate trim for my weight, as I would no longer have the additional weight of an instructor in back and then settled into the cockpit.  I was even more aware of the need to properly follow my cockpit checks and made sure I narrated out loud as I went through the list - CHAOTIC for Controls in reach, Harnesses secure, Airbrakes operable and locked down and flaps set, Outside clear and Options for landing assessed, Trim set correctly and Tail Dolly removed, Instruments on and set correctly, Canopy down and locked, Carriage down and locked and Controls freely operable.  Finishing my cockpit check I gave the OK to hook up and then the OK for launch to proceed.  As the slack was taken up I relaxed back into the seat and gave the groundcrew a final thumbs up before the towplane went all out.  The glider was in the air after only about 5 seconds of ground roll - the lower cockpit weight was immediately noticeable and I had to give fairly firm input to keep the Peewee down to a few feet off the runway until the towplane got up and off the ground.  The tow out was completely ordinary in every way - I was just a lot more aware of what I was doing, and was deliberately running through options for emergency landings as I went up: I can land straight ahead on the runway... now I can land in that little paddock to the left... now I can make the bigger paddock to the left... now I can get back to the crosswind runway... now a shortened circuit on the active runway... now a full normal circuit.

Reaching 2,000' I checked the air to the left and right and identified that the air was clear except for a Baron flying away from the field a mile or so away, so I pulled the release and banked to the right to make my clearing turn.  Coming around nearly a full circle I identified the towplane descending and straightened out - and this is where I felt truly elated.  For the first time ever, I was flying under my own control, with no option to fall back on the safety of the instructor.  I actually whooped and yelled with the joy of it, it was truly amazing to me.  Once I got over my initial excitement I actually stopped to think - what do I do now?  All my lessons had an objective and an instructor in back largely directing what I was to do, but now?  It was all up to me...  Kevin had told me to have some fun and my action was decided when the vario tripped upwards and I felt a nice surge through my posterior as the glider hit a patch of lift.  The needle climbed a little to around 4kt up and so I entered a right turn to catch it.  It was pretty weak and spotty, but it was my first ever solo thermal, and so felt like a boomer!  I got a few hundred feet out of it then headed downwind a little and into another similar thermal.  A few turns and then it was back upwind into a more steady thermal which I took up to about 4,000'.  Pulling out of this one I decided to do a little quick sight seeing, so I pointed my nose upwind and headed for Cunderdin town at around 70kts.  There was no more air traffic up by this point, all the other gliders were down and the student pilots flying NDB approaches and holds were all gone - I had the whole sky to myself.  I was having so much fun up there, but remained conscious of my altitude and after rounding the Cunderdin Silo I headed back North over the salt lakes to use up some height in a leisurely manner.  As I got down to 1,500' AGL I switched my mind over to landing mode and headed for the circuit entry point with a plan to enter at 1,000' AGL and make a normal left circuit.  I actually entered the circuit a little higher than that, as there was quite a bit of lift around, but continued with the plan rather than take any more thermals.  Calling up YCUN CTAF I made the obligatory call - "Cunderdin Traffic, Glider Romeo Bravo entering downwind for landing, runway 1-4, Cunderdin" and was surprised to get a reply back from Kevin on the radio: "Cunderdin CTAF, welcome home and congratulations."

I still had to land, of course, but the circuit went smoothly - I had plenty of height and could fly a nice downwind well right of the runway.  Running downwind I again verbally went through the landing checklist - FUST for Flaps set, Undercarriage down and locked, Speed of approach known, Trim set.  The first two items are redundant in the PW-6U as the gear is fixed and there are no flaps, but it had been drilled into me that it is still important to go through the full checklist habitually.  Speed for approach is 1.5Vs plus half the maximum gusting windspeed - for the Peewee this worked out at about 65kts today taking into account up to 25kts of headwind.  Turning base I still had plenty of height, so I cracked the spoilers a little to increase my sink rate, then turned almost immediately onto final.  It was apparent as soon as I straightened out that I was a tad right and still high, so I crabbed over to the left and ripped the spoilers out until I was stabilised on a good approach, then pulled the spoilers in to half to prepare for the flare once the aiming point was under the nose.  The flare is where the lower cockpit weight got me, as I pulled back just a touch too much and ballooned up a few feet.  I quickly corrected with a little forward stick before I rose too high into a potential stall and I was down and rolling on the ground.  Stick right back and steer with the rudder, spoilers all the way out and then squeeze the wheelbrake to come to a stop right in front of the hut.  With the headwind, it was actually possible to balance the glider on its wheels whilst standing still using just the ailerons.  Rather than let the left wingtip thump down on the runway once I stopped, I gently let it down using aileron inputs to finish off my first solo in a personally satisfying way :)  Out of the cockpit and into a sea of hands to be shaken as all the members present came to congratulate me... it took me hours to get the grin off my face!

Once the elation had worn off, it was back to reality and time to get everything packed away - gliders needed to be towed back to the hangar and stowed, and the usual logs needed to be completed.  Following the end of day chores it was time for a cold beer at the club house, and another round of congratulations from the other members.  Rod informed me what to expect next - daily checkflights with the duty instructor after which I can fly locally at the instructor's discretion.  I need to get four more solo flights under my belt before the next step, which is the "A" certificate - so I've got a little study to do in the next few weeks.  I headed off back to Perth as soon as the Sun was below the horizon... a beautiful evening drive to cap off an amazing day.

Seriously can't wait for my next opportunity to get airborne now!!