Sunday, 8 September 2013

A new ride

I had my first couple of flights in this slick little glider today. It's a Jantar Standard 2, one of two owned by the club, and is a late 70's to early 80's design from Poland. It's fibreglass and built for the Standard category, and handles a lot more responsively than the old ali Pilatus that I've been flying around in lately! This is what I'll be flying when I head out cross country and in any competition I'm silly enough to enter, for the foreseeable future (unless someone wants to donate me a sailplane? No?? Awww.) It's a slick little number and took me a bit to get used to with the severely pronate seating position (you're pretty much lying down in it) and the much improved glide ratio. The thing just wanted to stay up, and you need to be careful on the flare to make sure you don' end up floating down the runway. Lots of fun to fly, I'm looking forward to spending more time in it. Read on for more...

I headed out to Cunderdin on Saturday afternoon to attend a BBQ and a meeting with some of the mentoring pilots to discuss progress to date and plan on what I should be doing going forward. The weather was freezing cold up at the airfield overnight, and even my excellent sleeping bag was barely up to the task of keeping me warm.

Getting up early this morning, I was greeted by a partly cloudy sky and a magnificent sunrise as I wandered over to the clubhouse to get the kettle going for coffee. Having started with a nice hot shower, I got a nice hot breakfast into me with some of the other members, before opening up the hangar and beginning the day's preparations. I had planned to pull out the Pilatus and head up for some thermalling practice, but Charlie, who was the duty instructor for the day, asked me if I'd like to have a crack at flying one of the Jantars. I had my ten landings in the Pilatus, so was technically allowed to try a new type out, and after some brief discussion about my competency, I agreed to have a go.

The daily briefing was pretty standard - weather for the day, and a little bit of activity from visitors. It looked to be a quiet day overall, with only AEF's, local soaring by some members and one other post-solo pilot there to do some practice with the instructor. After the briefing, Charlie had me assist with the daily inspections. He's been getting me ready for my DI exam, and promised to run through it with me the next time I was up at the club. We pulled out the Jantar, VH-IZS (our other one, VH-GEE was out having its Form 2 Inspection) and Charlie went over it in detail with me, showing me all the things that were different from the other gliders I'd flown to date and answering my questions about handling characteristics. We soon towed the Jantar and the PW-6 out to the lineup to get the day started.

As I was the day's Logkeeper, I had to stay on the ground until we'd gotten the few AEF's out of the way. I used the time on the ground effectively, quizzing Kevin Saunders about anything I should know before getting in the cockpit of the Jantar, and then setting it up to suit me. This took some doing. While the Jantar has a very long cockpit, it is very low, and for someone of my height this means that the seating position is actually a laying down position. It also has an odd adjustable headrest, that projects forward from the top of the seat-back. Initially, I just couldn't get into place comfortably with the headrest as it was pushing my head forward too far and giving me a sore neck. Then it dawned on me. The seat was designed to cater for a parachute. I put the chute on and moved the seatback back a couple of notches to compensate and bingo! I could seat myself comfortably. The disadvantage for me is that because I'm laying back so far, I can only just barely reach the instruments on the panel.

Finally, the AEF's were finished, and the other post-solo pilot, Jorge, was heading up with Charlie for a checkflight. It was time for me to give this lovely new glider a go...

I pulled the glider out onto the strip and ran through my ABCD checks before settling myself comfortably into the seat pan. I ran verbally through my CHAOTIC checklist with another pilot confirming my actions for me, then hooking me up for tow. Then I was away! The tailwheel came up off the ground only a couple of seconds into the roll, and with a little back stick the Jantar leapt off the ground. It took some concentration and a fair bit of forward stick to keep it somewhat near the runway until the tug got up. It can't have been a pretty sight, but at least it was safe. I discovered, even after much warning from the instructors, that the Jantar is much more pitch sensitive than the Pilatus, and had to learn very quickly that only small elevator inputs were necessary to control the glider. Trim is everything.

I towed to 2,000' before releasing, and the few minutes on tow were enough for me to get a handle on the pitch sensitivity and also the rudder command. I found the Jantar much less sensitive to rudder input than the Pilatus, and it was easy to coordinate turns without over-yawing the glider. After release, I cleared the towplane and then pulled up the landing gear, and this is where I discovered my first problem with this aircraft. My arms are too long. I can easily reach the gear lever, and depressing the latching button, drew it back to raise the gear, but I found that my right elbow bottomed out on the side console before the gear was up and locked over-centre and I was unable to work my arm any further back. Furthermore, it needs a good sharp tug to set the mechanism in the locked position. I eventually had to pull it most of the way back, and then change hands and give it a good yank with my left hand across my body to lock it in. Not ideal, but it got the job done. The disadvantages of being a big tall bloke.

I headed off for a likely looking Cu a couple of miles to the west, but found only marginal lift, so turned around and headed back to the airfield. At 1,200' AGL and just over the runway I found another weak thermal and circled in it for a few minutes. It was only just enough to maintain altitude and after about 5 minutes I headed for the circuit entry. Flying downwind I made myself say my pre-landing checks out loud, there was no way I was going to forget the undercarriage and belly-land on my first flight in this glider. Getting the gear down required a reverse of the two step process to get them up - release the locking catch and give it a shove with the left hand, then switch hands and push it all the way forward to lock it in the deployed position. The circuit was normal, and I left myself a reasonably long final approach to get stabilised for my first go. I found the spoilers to be very effective in bringing the Jantar down, and I only needed half out for a nice stable approach. I'd been warned that the Jantar would float down the runway, and not to flare too hard - so what did I do? I flared too hard. The glider lurched back up away from the runway, and I had to nose forward quickly to maintain speed and then settle back to the deck. It was an ugly landing, but once again, a safe one. The landing roll was pretty good, the wheelbrake is good and only a little needed to be applied - I didn't want to jam the brake on and smash the nose into the ground anyway.

Very happy after my first flight in IZS

After a brief break and some minor adjustments to the seating position, I headed back out onto the runway for another quick flight. I managed the tow a lot better the second time around, and once off I got the gear up a bit more quickly. Heading west again I picked up a better thermal and climbed for a while, but it proved only a bit better than the earlier flight and I topped out at only 3,000' before heading off. With only a couple of thousand feet to play with, I just checked out the manoeuvrability of the glider, and played with the trim settings to get a feel for them. Soon enough I was down to circuit height again and heading in for landing. I managed to avoid ballooning on the flare this time and managed a passable spot landing.

I discussed the handling with Charlie, and he was happy with my first couple of flights. He then offered to get me started on my rear-seat endorsement, so I can start to look at carrying passengers once I get my "C" certificate. I jumped at the chance, so we pushed the PW-6 out onto the strip and got ourselves ready. While I've spent a lot of time in the PW-6, to date it had all been in the front seat, and I was surprised at how much room there was in the back. The seating is more upright, with the legs further apart. While some pilots complain about the lack of visibility from the back, I found it pretty good. My head was still very close to the canopy, and Charlie's head only blocked a small portion of my forward view. I found that by asking him to keep his head to the left a bit, I had a pretty clear view forward with my head to the right. Charlie gave me a good briefing on flying from the back seat, and then it was time to launch.

In all honesty, I found the PW-6 easier to fly from the back seat. The view wasn't as good, but the more comfortable seating made up for that. We released at 2,000' and almost immediately ran into a thermal. This one was better than what I'd found earlier on and we rode it up to near cloudbase at about 4,500'. The Cu's were nicely defined and lines up in a good street heading off WNW so we spent some time lazily flying down the cloudstreet, speeding up as we hit sink and slowing down for lift. It was a very pleasant flight - smooth and not at all turbulent - a nice intro to back-seat flying. Charlie had me demonstrate various things as we flew - thermalling obviously, but also speed control and attitude control which are a little trickier without the clear view ahead. Nevertheless, I didn't have any real problems and after 45min we headed back in to land. This is the part that I was most worried about, as I had to change the way I viewed the runway to watch my aiming point. I normally use the top of the panel, but now I had to tilt my head to the right to see past the head in front of me and use the side of the front console as my reference. The landing was completely normal, I'm happy to say I nailed it. Charlie debriefed me on the flight and said he was very happy with my flying. I'd need a couple more back-seat flight in the near future, then I could get my endorsement. Another goal to aim for!

I finished off the day with one more flight in the Jantar, and again got into some better lift. I managed to stay aloft for nearly 30min this time, the lift was weakening and the thermals were becoming disorganised. Still, not bad at all for an early spring day, considering that the weather had been awful all week.

So, next time I'm out I have two objectives - firstly to finish off my DI certification, and secondly to sit down with the instructor and do my exams for my ABC certificates.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!