Sunday, 10 November 2013

Off the Leash

G'day all!

Exciting news from me today, and you may be able to guess what it is from the topic title.  Read on after the jump for more!

If you've been following my other long winded posts describing my learning experience as I have progressed from newbie to solo glider pilot, you'll know that a couple of months ago I passed a big milestone - I obtained my "C" certification. The A, B and C certificates are the stepping stones from first going solo to being allowed to further advance in the sport. I now have all three badges, and last time I was up the club I exercised my first new allowance, which was to take my daughters up as guest passengers.

This weekend just gone I headed up early Sunday morning to fill my role as scheduled Duty Pilot, we were expecting a busy day with the local BMW car club bringing some of its members up for a day of Air Experience flights. We ended up with 7 willing passengers, who all had an incredible time. The weather was hot, very hot for an early November day, forecast to be 34°C and it actually ended up being 36° or more. We were expecting good thermal activity, the morning temp trace suggested climbs to around 8,000ft at 34°C which should have occurred after lunch time. 11am came and it was already past 34° when the first passenger went up. The day instructor returned to the runway after the first flight with reports of strong lift everywhere.

Naturally this got everyone excited, and all the regular pilots launched immediately and headed off on planned 350 or 500km tasks for the afternoon. I was itching to get up in the air - I'd done my inspections on the Jantar I was going to fly but had to stay on the ground to manage ground operations while we had passengers to launch. Each successive passenger flight that landed, the instructor reported better and better lift - it was killing me! I could see two of the gliders thermalling nearby preparing to set out on tasks, and they looked to be at about 5,000' and climbing hard. Soon enough they disappeared from view.

Finally, at 2pm the last of the AEF's had launched, so I pushed the old faithful Jantar Std 2, VH-IZS, out onto runway 05 and hooked up to tow. I had a new toy onboard... my new phone. It's a Samsung Galaxy S4. It has a bright AMOLED screen that is daylight readable. It has a VERY good GPS. It has an internal barometer. Oh, and being Android, it runs XC-SOAR, a very capable piece of soaring software. So, I was all set to get my first proper log of one of my soaring flights (the GPS sensors in my old iPhone 4s just didn't cut it with lots of track smoothing errors). I towed up behind the Pawnee and at 300ft off the deck hit the first thermal and watched as the vario needle smashed into it's maximum stop peg... more than 12kts of lift... hmmm. I decided 300ft was a bit dangerous to release at, lol. Only a minute later, the tug had climbed through the thermal and turned, and at 800ft we hit it again. I released into 10kt of lift and immediately commenced a right circle around the core. My thermalling is still relatively sloppy (I'm told I'm actually very good for a new pilot, but I know I can do better...) and I only managed about 6kt average climb rate... but took it to almost 9,000ft - the highest I've ever been in a glider.

The Jantar has a glide ratio of about 36:1 or maybe a bit higher, and I know that at this ratio I could fly about 11km for every 1,000ft I dropped... so allowing a couple of thousand feet to prepare to land I could do 70 or 80km. The next town to the east of the airfield is Tammin, about 26km distant, so I decided to set myself a little task. I would fly to Tammin - if I found no more lift I would head back to the airfield, if I was still up high I'd continue the task by flying up to Watercarrin, which is 26km north of the airfield. I set out pretty conservatively, doing about 70-80kts IAS heading east, with about 10kt of wind from the NNE. Halfway to Tammin I stumbled across some lift but after a turn or two it was looking pretty weak so I left. Found good lift a couple of minutes later and topped back up to 7,500ft before heading on and rounding Tammin.

I was still over 6,500ft at Tammin so decided to press on to Watercarrin. I flew a bit faster on the trip to the NW, and topped up 3 times in reasonable thermals. Rounding the Watercarrin wheat silo I was still at over 8,000ft and planned to land when I got back to Cunderdin, so I pushed the nose down and screamed back to the airfield at over 110kts, managing a groundspeed of around 220kmh for the leg. As I said, I meant to land after arrival, but at 2,000ft AGL I hit good solid bump and rode it back to 5,000ft, so flew south of the town and messed around testing out stalls and spins for a while. Returning to the airfield at speed I saw the instructor up in the PW-6 taking a guest up for a flight - he was in a thermal and looked to be climbing well so I flew in and joined them. It was a boomer. The PW-6 was climbing well... the Jantar climbed like a rocket!! At 7,500ft I climbed past the PW-6 and had to widen my circling to pass, and in the process slowed the climb down. nevertheless, after climbing above the Peewee I recentred and proceeded up the thermal core.

At 9,000ft I broke my record height and the thermal was still going strong. I began to think about the very real possibility of hitting 10,000ft and had to have a bit of a serious think about that. I wasn't carrying oxygen, so couldn't stay above 10,000ft, but decided to push above the height, get it on my logger and then descend. Crossing 9,000ft the air went amazingly smooth and clear... I was above the inversion. Looking west I could see a line of high Cu's with curled over tops, a pretty good indicator of thermal wave conditions, and given that the air was so smooth I realised I had passed the top of the thermal and was climbing in the wave. I slacked off on the circling a bit and started making big lazy circles in the air, still climbing steadily and with zero turbulence - it felt like I was on the ground, it was so still. I soon hit 10k and nosed the glider back down to pick up speed and drop back below the ceiling.

Again, I had height to use up. What to do? I could see Meckering to the west, about 25km away, and headed towards it at speed. I managed to fly Cunderdin to Meckering and back to Cunderdin at around 90-100kts without slowing down except when hitting little bubbles of lift - what is called "dolphin" flying. I was having the time of my life, and even pushing hard and not really flying efficiently I still arrived back at the airfield 1,000ft above circuit height, and with thermals still evident everywhere. I decided I'd had enough fun for the afternoon and elected to make a big lazy circuit, setting up a very long approach which still needed full brakes deployed to get down in. Landing and pulling up near the caravan I had the biggest smile on my face, I was utterly elated.

In one flight I had achieved - 1) My longest solo flight at 2 1/2 hours, 2) My first solo Cross Country flight, 3) My biggest height gain to date, 4) My highest altitude to date, and 5) My longest distance to date. I ended up having flown 144km all up, and am now seriously looking at attacking my Silver C badge, which requires a flight of at least 5 hours duration, a height gain of 1,000m and a single leg distance of 50km. Bring it on.

You can see my flight recorded at SkyLines here... https://www.skylines.../flights/24839/ or my OLC record here...