Sunday, 24 March 2013

Onwards and Upwards. Well, onwards anyway...

Dragging myself out of bed this morning, getting out to Cunderdin was a 50/50 prospect at best.  After a day spent celebrating my father-in-law's birthday with maybe one too many bottles of wine and certainly way too much to eat, I was certainly feeling sluggish.  However, I wanted to play around with my action cam and get some footage, and probably won't have an opportunity to get out to the club again for a few weeks so I downed a coffee and packed my supplies, then psyched myself up for the drive.  I'm glad I did, as I had a most enjoyable day.  Read on for more...
As summer leaves us behind, the mornings are rapidly getting darker again.  I find myself leaving home now before the sun rises - the sky is not yet completely dark when departing, but I imagine the next trip out will see me leaving before there is any appreciable light.  It was a bit chilly too!  The first time in months that I have actually had the urge to wind up the temp on the Subaru's climate control.  The escape from Perth proved more difficult than usual - driving up Greenmount I ran into a police roadblock cutting of the highway and was diverted into the web of local roads comprising Mahogany Creek.  No detour signs or directions... just had to find my own way east and back onto the highway at Mundaring.  I actually found it necessary to break out the GPS as I wove deeper into unknown territory.  No idea why the road was closed, but it must have been a nightmare for the two heavy haulage trucks I passed shortly before the roadblock!

I got out to the airfield about 8:30 to find a small group of members in attendance.  The previous day had seen a large group of AEF passengers from the BMW car club, and also a mini-course run on low level finishes, so there had been many more members up on Saturday.  Today's forecast looked better than Saturday's but apart from myself it looked like only three other members wanted to fly today; this dropped to two when Iain announced he had an injured shoulder and grounded himself, leaving only Alis and Kevin to head out cross country.  John Orton was on as Duty Instructor, great for me as I would have a chance to pick his brain on heading towards my next goal of going cross-country solo.

With no great urgency to get prepared for the day, we took our time going through the Daily Inspections on the gliders, then it was identified that the tug needed some light maintenance work - minor stuff like tightening the belts etc.  Once we had those out of the way it was time to head out to the lineup.  Just before driving out I got a call from a friend who wanted to come out and visit the airfield, see what we did at the club and take some photos.  Finding out that he and his wife were only five minutes away, I waited back for their arrival.  After quickly showing them around the club facilities, it was time to head off to the runway.

Arriving on the lineup, John gave me a quick quiz on my last couple of flights, very quick actually as he'd reviewed my last performance via the video footage I shot last time I was up.  A couple of minutes later we were in the PW-6U and hooked on for a tow to 2,000' for my daily checkflight.  There was not a breath of wind on the airfield and the temperature was climbing steadily by the time we were off down the runway.  The tow was relatively smooth as it was still a bit early for thermals to be kicking in with any strength.  A few hundred feet up, John began to quiz me on emergency landing spots... essentially a running commentary of where I'd land if the rope broke as we climbed.  The second that I said that I could make the active runway, John pulled the release on me and asked me to demonstrate.  We were about 600' off the ground and already established in a left turn as we released, so it was a simple matter of dropping the nose to maintain 1.5Vs and continue the bank until facing downwind.  Being essentially already set up for the circuit, we arrived at base turn with plenty of height to spare, so it was out with the spoilers for a few seconds before turning final, then half spoiler all the way down the profile to flare.  I'm now perfectly happy with my landings, I'm flaring properly and holding off as I should be, bleeding off speed only a couple of feet off the deck and touching down on stall.  Now that I'm getting closer to moving into a single seater with no nose wheel to rely on at landing, John had me hold the nose right up for as long as possible, letting it gently touch down as the glider slowed and the elevator lost authority.  As soon as we stopped, John announced he was perfectly happy with my flying and I was free to go for the day.

Unfortunately the day was slow to start; thermals were not active so Kevin and Alis delayed their launch for a bit.  We got a call that our first AEF for the day was arriving, so I drove back to the clubhouse to escort them out to the launch point.  While Terry was briefing the passenger, I took a bit of time to hang out and chat with my friends, answering their questions and pointing out what activities were occurring around us.  The first AEF flight was up and we could see Terry making a good show of it, with loops and wingovers aplenty - the passenger was clearly comfortable with flying.  When they landed, Terry announced that the thermals were just starting to kick off, and just getting strong enough to stay up.  Kevin decided it was time to make a start on his task for the day, so it was out with the engine on his Pik-20 for a self launch, and off he went.  Once we had observed that he had picked up a thermal, Alis jumped in the Jantar and headed off on tow as well.

It was now nearing 2pm, and we had not heard from the second AEF passenger who was booked.  Making the assumption that he was a no-show and now that things were beginning to settle down again, I got my gear ready to head out for a flight.  Optimistically, I loaded up the Camelbak with water in preparation for a long flight, then went about setting up the canopy mount for my action cam.  No sooner had I got it set just right than the phone rang to announce that the AEF had arrived and needed escort out to the lineup.  Oh well, still plenty of daylight ahead.  I quickly removed my camera gear and prepared the cockpit for the AEF flight, then drove back to pick up the passenger.  We had him up pretty well immediately and again, Terry put on a great show for him.  He was so enthusiastic upon landing that he decided to join up as a member, so that was a good win.  While the AEF was up my friends decided they'd taken enough photos for the day and headed off.  Hopefully I'll have some great images to post once they send them over to me :)

Finally!  It was actually time for me to get up for a flight.  I needed to get two solo flights in today to make the 5 solo requirement for the "A" Certificate, so I discussed with John my plan for the afternoon - a quick launch and brief scout around to get a feel for any lift in the vicinity of the airfield, then into circuit and landing.  I would launch immediately again and try to stay up for as long as I could and practice some thermal location and centring.  John hooked me up, I got the camera rolling and then I was off on tow.  John had commented earlier on that I was allowing the nosewheel to remain on the runway for a little too long, so I concentrated on bringing the stick back a little further than I was accustomed to during the ground roll.  Sure enough, the nose promptly popped up and the glider was immediately airborne and holding steady a couple of feet off the deck.  Once the towplane lifted off and we had climbed over the far threshold we hit the first little surge of lift - I should say the only little surge.  Despite touring around the airfield on tow, there were no thermals located before I reached my release height.  I pulled the release and circled right to clear the towplane, then brought the glider right back to minimum sink speed.  At only 2,000' I wouldn't have long in the air before needing to enter the circuit, so I began to slowly search the likely spots around the airfield that could be relied on to trigger the "house" thermals.

Although there were a few small surges and blips on the vario, nothing worth staying with for more than a turn could be found and after only 10 minutes off tow I was down at circuit height.  I've been entering the pattern too high, and am trying to force myself to enter circuit lower at the moment, but I just can't break that "if I go any lower I'm not gonna make it back" feeling.  So, even though I pushed myself a couple of hundred feet lower (I was right over the airfield after all...) I still made the turn onto final with excess height and needed full spoilers for a good portion of the profile.  For some reason that I can't explain I flared a few feet too high and too hard and ballooned upwards.  Not enough to be dangerous, and I corrected automatically, but I was a bit disappointed.  Touchdown was spot on though, with a nice high nose held off the runway for the maximum time and little need for wheel brake.  John was over like a shot and querying me on what I did wrong on landing.  When I acknowledged that I flared high and hard, he pointed out that my recovery was exactly as expected and that the touchdown was perfect so not to worry overly much about it.

Before hooking up again I briefly discussed with John the lack of lift, he encouraged me to go up again and see what I could find a little further away from the airfield... find a bit of lift and stay with it for a while.  It may have been the case that lift was patchy and weak down low but may improve with a bit of height, so off I went again.  This time I paid less attention to the vario and more to what I could feel through my rear end whilst on tow, and noted a couple of spots that felt like they had a reasonable amount of lift.  I didn't want to go straight into circuit though so I took the full tow to 2,000' and resolved to come back to the best area if nothing else came up.  Fortunately, there was a nice surge just before release height, so I came off tow and turned around right into a solid, if fairly weak thermal.  It provided around 3kt of lift and was enough to send me up a few hundred feet - enough to explore a little more.  Turning Westwards I headed back over the airfield, I could see a largish paddock that had been burned of stubble recently that looked like it could work.  Sure enough, right over the paddock I found 4kt up and climbed to 4,000' before it became patchy and weak.  A couple of km to the North I could noticed an irregular patch of open trees with areas of exposed red rock in between, it was about 100m across and looked like it could be a reasonable thermal generator with some trapped air volume amongst the gum trees.  Once again, I found lift right where I'd expected it, and this thermal was working at between 4 and 6kt - taking me back up to 4,600' with little effort.  That was the last good climb of the day.

The rest of the flight consisted of me drifting back to the south of Great Eastern Highway and over the rocky hillocks SW of the town.  Despite some really strong lift indications on the vario, I just couldn't core a thermal there, and ended up merely keeping altitude.  Another strong surge right over the town had me excited, but again proved to be elusive.  I'd been up about 45 minutes by this point and started to head back to the airfield.  I wanted to go over 1 hour in the air so hunted around a few likely places to the East of the runways... there's a couple of small gravel pits and an old tipsite that seem to work often, but nothing was to be found so I turned for home.  I'd heard over the radio that another glider landing on runway 14 had reported that the light breeze had backed around to the west and become a tailwind, so before deciding to enter circuit I overflew the windsock to verify the wind direction.  The sock was barely twitching and still indicated that landing on 14 was OK.  Turning around back towards the Agricultural College to burn off the last of my height, again intending to enter circuit a little lower, I found a little lift right over the college grounds.  I was down to about 800' AGL by this point and decided to play around in the thermal for a few minutes to extend the flight.  It was weak, but kept me up and once the clock had ticked past one hour airtime I departed straight into the circuit.  I'd never thermalled that low before and it was quite cool looking down on the college while lazily circling above.  The circuit was normal, though a little high again, so I extended the downwind leg out away from the runway, then ran a little further than normal downwind with a plan for a long approach.  Turning final had me on a good profile, with half spoilers out for most of the approach.  I'm happy to say I flared and rounded out much better on this landing, and even maintained a good nose high attitude on the runway, the ground roll only spoiled by the PW-6's tendency to pull to the right when there's no real headwind.  Still I was happy with the landing and so was John, so I was satisfied that I'd had a good day.

Packing up for the day was relatively quick, with only a couple of the gliders remaining to be stowed at my time of landing.  Kevin decided to take his Auster, "Agnes," which we use as our other tow plane out for a brief flight as the evening wore on while the rest of us packed up.  Then it was time for a beer and some critique.  John and Kevin decided to quiz me on rules of the air and radio use over a cold drink, and I'm pleased to say that they reported that I had learned all that I was expected to... more in some cases.  So I ended up the day with sign-off on my Rules of the Air endorsement and my Air Radio endorsement.  Next time I'm out I just need to do my "A" checkflight and I can submit my certificate claim :)  I left Cunderdin that night feeling satisfied that I was well on the way to my next goal - which is of course to head out cross country!  I'd also gotten a fair bit of footage, even if there was not much excitement in it, and will stitch together a short movie as soon as I have time to do so.  Until next time :)