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!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Back behind the stick

Well now, after 6 weeks away from the club I was keen as mustard to get back up in the air again and learn something new.  Driving out to Cunderdin it was apparent that Summer was coming... I was no longer leaving home in the dark and the landscape was beginning to show more yellow than green once I was past the hills.  Arriving at the club I found I would have a new instructor for the day - John Orton.  I had met John early on in my membership, having assisted him with rigging gliders and doing a weight and balance assessment on a Nimbus, but this would be my first opportunity to fly with him.  Everyone speaks highly of John as an instructor, especially when it comes to learning cross-country flight, and while I'm not even flying solo yet - let alone cross-country - I was sure I would learn plenty today.  I was not disappointed.  Not by a long shot :)

I left my camera at home gin this trip so couldn't take any photos beyond a couple of awful shots taken on my phone - which got promptly deleted.  The morning briefing was held, and it was good to see more members there today - the warmer weather and improving conditions had all the regulars getting their gliders out for some cross country work.  I was the only student, and there was only a single AEF booked for the day, so it was looking like I would get some good flying in.  Thermals were expected to go to about 7,000' today with a moderate breeze from the SW later in the afternoon.  Start of flying was fairly late, as there was a fair bit of maintenance to be done that John was involved with, so I spent a good chunk of the morning cleaning down the PW-6U and helping with its DI.

Before heading out to the lineup, John sat down with me in the clubhouse and quizzed me on my progress.  After checking my logbook and verifying that I knew what I was talking about, he decided it was time to start working on the mechanics of staying up in the air rather than basic flight skills.  So, it was out with the whiteboard and I got a nice lesson in thermal entry theory, and also on thermalling in the presence of other gliders.  John also had me sketch out and narrate a full landing circuit and approach, identifying all the key points and checks that needed to be done.  Satisfied that I was up to the task, it was out to the lineup and into the Peewee for the first flight of the day.  By the time we got airborne there were already a few other gliders up, so I had plenty of opportunity to exercise good lookout practice - good thing I have good eyes!

After a 2,000' tow John checked out my handling skills then it was off to find some lift.  Picked up a solid 4kt thermal, and John demonstrated how to correctly enter the thermal and when to tighten or loosen the turn to stay with the thermal core.  He had me practice steeper turns than I had done before, with attention on maintaining bank angle and constant speed in the circle.  After a bit of practice with this it was back down to pattern height and time to land.  I messed up the landing badly, completely failing to control my approach speed and glidepath... I was focussing way too much on the aiming point and what I was doing with the spoilers.  John had to take over and get us down safely, I was pretty disappointed with myself as I had been getting better at landings.

After a short break and some discussion about what I needed to watch on landings, John elected to get me up for a short flight to just do the circuit and landing, so we towed up to 1,000' and released right into downwind.  I was pretty tense after the last landing, but managed to get down safely, if not gracefully.  Speed control was still wavering, but I didn't get too slow and my round out and flare were better.

I didn't even get out of the seat this time, we were hooked straight back up to the towplane and heading for 2,000' before I knew it.  I'm finding flying a safe Aerotow to be pretty easy now, and John started coaching a bit to make my tows better from an efficiency perspective... staying right below the wake of the towplane and following it in turns more skillfully.  Anyway, immediately after release we were into a decent thermal and climbing at a decent rate.  There were half a dozen other gliders in the air around the airfield, and close by was a lovely ASK-21mi self launcher that had launched ahead of us.  The K-21 was circling in what looked to be a pretty nice thermal only a few hundred metres away, and John directed me to leave our thermal and go join the K-21 so I could demonstrate what I'd learned earlier about joining other gliders in thermals.  The other glider was thermalling in a left circle so I aimed for his tail as he headed away, then entered the thermal in the same circle, but on the opposite side... in the few seconds it took to get into the thermal, the K-21 had flown half a turn.  Being a heavier glider he was flying quite fast and a bit wider circle than we could do in the Peewee, so I had to speed up a bit and broaden the turn to stay safely ahead of him.  We were outclimbing the K-21 so John had me tighten the circle and slow a little, getting closer to the core and maximising the climb.  It felt fantastic to be zooming around in the thermal only a few hundred feet away from another glider, and outclimbing it to boot!

At 6,000' we headed out to the West, while the K-21 departed North.  With plenty of height and good thermals to play with, John had me fly from thermal to thermal, keeping our altitude up towards the top end of the thermal range.  He began to quiz me on the landmarks that we could see from the air.  My familiarity with the area paid off here as I could easily spot and name the nearest towns, point out the highway and some other more visible landmarks.  We drifted slowly SW with the thermals and crossed GE H'way heading for a large rocky outcrop.  Near the outcrop we experienced some really heavy sink but no corresponding lift, it was getting down to around 12kt down at some points.  John advised I accelerate up to about 80kt and head back to the North, and began to explain the theory behind Speed-to-fly for cross country soaring - flying faster the heavier the sink and slower in lift or still air.  Back over the town of Cunderdin we picked up a bit of a boomer (relatively speaking from my experience!!) with 6-7kt up indicated.  This took us to 6,500' close to the airfield.  Just as we were heading North we got a call over the radio to land back at the airfield, as an AEF customer had arrived for his flight.

We were high up with a lot of altitude to lose before circuit entry so John announced it was time to learn how to do spins - entry and recovery so I could get myself out of trouble if it ever happened to me.  After doing the mandatory pre-aerobatic HASLL check, John demonstrated the first spin - very exciting!  The rapid nose drop and entry into the spin was surprising.  After recovery, John commented on my resilience - he reckons most new pilots would have lost their lunch after the amount of circling we'd done in the thermals, let alone the spin!  All those years of sailing must have something to do with that ;)  Anyway, now it was my turn.  Ease back the stick as for a stall... kick in left rudder as the stick comes fully back and give it some opposing aileron and WHAM!  The nose drops sharply to the left and we're falling nose down, stalled and spinning left.  Apply right rudder to slow the spin and ease the stick forward to increase the nose down attitude and we're flying again, albeit downwards, so time to level out.  My first recovery I hauled back on the stick way too hard and really felt the G's pile on as we levelled out... have to be much more gentle next time.  John had me do another one for good measure then we were down to less than 3,000' so John showed me another way to lose altitude quickly without using the spoilers - he demonstrated a side slip.  I followed this with one of my own and it was time to land... for good measure John showed how to use the sideslip on approach as a means of controlling descent rate, then we were down for the day.  My last landing was passable, certainly better than the other two.

I feel I learned a huge amount today, and have a lot to digest between now and my next lesson.  While I learned a lot about the mechanics of soaring flight - good thermalling, spins, stalls, etc - perhaps what I found most interesting was the reasons for staying up.  John had given me a lot of info and advice which pertains to flying cross country... areas likely to produce good lift, landmarks in the area, which fields looked landable and which looked dangerous.  I'm now feeling the desire to get away from the airfield and see what I can do in a cross country flight.  First things first tough - I have to get to solo!

The day wrapped up nicely with a quiet beer and sitting around chatting until it was time to drive home.  I'd had my longest flight to date today - 1 hour 52 min, with my previous flights all being less than half an hour, and had climbed higher than ever before as well, so I felt pretty content driving home.

Can't wait till next time.

Monday, 22 October 2012

2012 Ride to Conquer Cancer

Well, today I'm very sore and very tired!  I spent the greater part of the weekend in the saddle taking part in the 2012 Ride to Conquer Cancer, Perth - a two day, 209km cycling event organised to raise funds for Cancer research in Western Australia. Each of the 1,200+ participants was tasked with raising a minimum of $2,500 for WAIMR, the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research, located at the University of Western Australia.

I have to say, we did very well.  The total raised was just over $4.7million, far exceeding the minimum contribution of $3million.  And, as a bonus, we had a great time too.  I rode with two of my work colleagues, and frequently also with Peter Klinken, the head of WAIMR.  We didn't press too hard, but still managed good times.

My GPS log from The Ride
Day one was a 96km leg from Perth to Pinjarra along the base of the Darling Range.  It was warm and there was very little wind, a most pleasant ride in fact.  There were frequent rest stops, wonderfully managed by the Ride organisers.  Saturday night was spent at the campsite in Pinjarra, and was a pretty big party, with great food and music.  My companions and I opted not to partake of the free beer though... Day two still lay ahead!

Our Ride team: Jessica Midjaja, myself and Don Frost
Day two saw us returning to Perth via the coast.  From Pinjarra we headed NW until we hit Safety Bay, and from there it was all the way up along the coast to Fremantle.  This proved to be a bit of a slog, as a 16kt Nor'wester was blowing in and never swung around to the usual Sou'wester.  So we had to punch into a pretty vicious headwind all the way.  Turning Freo though was a joy, with the wind largely at our back all the way back to the finish line.  Crossing the finish line was a joyous occasion, and I celebrated with a nice cold beer and a delicious steak sandwich with my family.

Looking forward to doing it again next year, better organised and with my wife Amy in tow as well!!

Now, back to the regular programming of Glider talk...

Saturday, 29 September 2012

A windy day...

It's the first day of my annual leave from work, so I decided to head out to the club for the day before going off on holiday to Augusta with the family.  I arrived at my customary early time, even after getting caught behind a pair of oversize loads being towed up Great Eastern Highway and being stuck at a crawl all the way from Midvale to nearly Wooroloo.  Got started with the usual duties - preparing the gliders and tug, basic maintenance etc.  Had a nice surprise when it was time for the daily briefing when I sat down opposite a guy I immediately recognised as one of my high school teachers from Craigie High.  I hadn't seen Bob Bignell since graduation in 1991 but we both recognised each other immediately.  Bob's been a member at the club for over 15 years, and it was great to catch up with him after all this time.

The day's activities included a number of Air Experience Flights (AEF's) in the morning, and with only the IS-28 two seater available for lessons (the PW-6U was having a new wheel brake installed,) I deferred my flying till the afternoon.  So, the bulk of the morning was spent helping Rob out with renovations in the clubhouse - lots of sanding!  The clubhouse is starting to look really good, and it's a credit to the members who have devoted so much time to doing the work.  Still lots to do though, won't be finished until summer!

Around lunch time I headed out to the lineup to help out with launch duties for the remaining AEF's.  The instructor today was Kevin Saunders, who I had not previously met.  Kevin is the club president, and I had a good chat with him about my progress before it was time to fly.  Around 1:30pm the last of the AEF's was over so it was time to strap in and head up for a flight with Kevin.

We planned on launching to 2,000' but at 1,500' we hit a nice bit of lift so Kevin called for release.  After a single turn through the thermal we lost it, and despite a quick search we were unable to regain it.  Consequently, we were down to about 1,200' and had to consider entering the circuit.  As I made for the circuit entry point, we crossed another weak but fairly broad thermal, and hooked into it for a brief ride up to 2,500' and some additional airtime.  We used the airtime to practise control coordination, focussing on use of the rudder to counter adverse yaw from the ailerons.  All too soon though, we were down at pattern height and it was time to land.  I managed a passable landing, although Kevin was running the spoilers.

Upon landing, Kevin was called away to attend to some issues over at the clubhouse, and it was looking like that was it for the day - there were no other instructors around.  Just as we were getting ready to pack up though, Rod Carter showed up to see how things were going today.  He offered to take me up for at least one more flight as he had some spare time, so with a minimum of fuss we were hooked up and on tow towards 2,000'.  I'm now confident I can handle the aerotows independently, and Rod was hands off for the entire tow.  All the way up the tow, Rod was quizzing me on what I'd do if the rope broke, what options I had for landing... which paddocks ahead were usable and which weren't and at which point I'd decide to turn around and land downwind on the runway.  This was very useful for me, as although I'd been briefed on what we'd do on rope break in previous flights, this was the first time I was asked to decide for myself.

On release, and after making clearing a clearing turn, we stumbled into a reasonable thermal and headed up to 4,500'.  Rod had me make a number of coordinated turns and pointed out some landmarks in the distance, then directed me to steer towards some of them and maintain course for a while.  Some weak thermals allowed us to stay up around 4,000' so once Rod was satisfied that I could steer a course acceptably he asked me to demonstrate the stalls that we had practised in our previous lessons.  These were easy, I did three stalls with good recoveries, and then it was down to circuit and landing.  The landing was ok, but I was struggling to control speed again.  Rod signed me off for stall and recovery and my pre landing checks, so even with minimal airtime today I was reasonably happy that I was progressing.

The day wrapped up with more work in the clubroom, and a nice cold beer afterwards :)  I forgot to take my camera or phone up with me today so had no photos to add.  It's going to be a bit of a break until my next lesson as I'm off for a couple of weeks holiday, and then I have the Ride to Conquer Cancer - a big fundraising cycling event in which I am participating.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Day Two - Lessons underway...

The start to my second day of gliding lessons was somewhat bittersweet.  As before I got away before dawn and headed up the hills towards Cunderdin, however when the early news bulletin came on the radio I was greatly saddened to learn that one of my heroes, Neil Armstrong, had passed away overnight.  He was one of those figures I just assumed would be around forever, and his loss shook me up considerably.  Shortly after hearing the news however, I was passing through the hills west of Northam just as the sun was breaking the horizon, and I was treated to one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen... a gloriously clear sky with clear sunlight streaming between the hills and illuminating a cluster of hot air balloons, drifting slowly west above a mist shrouded landscape.  I hurriedly tried to find somewhere to safely park and take some photos, but alas this was not to be - by the time I'd stopped and gotten my camera out the balloons were almost down and mostly hidden behind a hill.

Arriving at the club early, there was little activity about and the gliders and towplane were already out for the day.  I helped out with minor jobs around the club until briefing, after which I assisted in rigging and doing the weight and balance on a Nimbus up from Narrogin for inspection.  The rest of the morning was spent helping out with putting up new cornices and mouldings in the newly refurbished clubhouse.

Trusty Piper Pawnee, VH-FSJ, our primary tug
The Pawnee was back from it's inspection and service, so we would be towing from that instead of the old Auster today.  Also different was the glider I would be flying.  There were a number of check flights that needed to be done today, so the PW-6U was set to doing those.  My instructor for today was Rod Carter, and we flew in the IS-28B2 that had recently been acquired from Southern Cross Gliding in Camden.

IS-28B2, Rod Carter in command taking up an Air Experience passenger
Sitting in the IS-28, much bigger control panel than the PW-6U, roomier all round actually
After a brief quiz on the ground to assess what I had learned in my previous lessons, Rod had us out on the lineup and towing up to 2,000' for some work on control coordination - lots of use of the rudder.  As with many others, this was something my previous experience had failed to prepare me for... I had hardly had to touch the rudder pedals in the Cessna while banking.  Nevertheless, after a little instruction, I was able to demonstrate the primary and secondary effects of each of the controls, and how to counter them effectively.  There were some weak thermals around and the odd turn here and there allowed us to stay up a few minutes longer to practise, but soon enough we were down to circuit height.  Rod quizzed me on circuit planning and had me fly the bulk of the circuit and approach.  My speed control was way off, I kept chasing the airspeed indicator and over compensating for changes, and needed a fair bit of control input from Rod to safely make the landing.  I expressed some anxiety with the landing afterwards, and Rod reminded me that I'm only 5 lessons in at this point, and can't be expected to be landing properly for some time yet.

The second flight of the day was quite a bit longer than the first, with nearly half an hour in the air.  I flew most of the 2,000' tow myself with some great encouragement from Rod, and released into a weak thermal of around 2.5kt lift.  Rod got me started on thermalling, helping me into the thermal core and coaching me through the turns.  We stayed with it for about 10 minutes and reached a height of around 4,000' before the thermal became too weak to continue with.  I had been querying Rod on some safety aspects, such as stalling speed with and without the spoilers deployed, and while circling.  Rod advised that the best way to learn this was to try it out, and given that we had a little height, he demonstrated a stall and recovery.  First, however, he performed and had me repeat the pre-aerobatic checklist (HASLL.)  The IS-28 stalls quite gently, with plenty of pre-stall buffet to warn the pilot, so I then had the opportunity to try it myself to learn to recognise the symptoms and correct recovery.  I performed three stalls - two with the spoilers in and one with them out, and had a good enough handle on stall and recovery that Rod signed off my stalls competency after the flight.  By now we were getting low but were still over the airfield, so it as a simple matter of joining downwind and making the approach.  I got this one down a bit better, flying the stick and rudder myself, with Rod on the spoilers and giving instructions.  Felt a bit happier after that landing :)

Flight three was another quick one, up to 2,000' for some more control coordination  then circuit and landing.  I flew the aerotow independently, and the landing as per the previous flight.

IS-28 on tow behind the Pawnee, heading off into a blue sky over lurid golden Canola
While I only had three launches today, I learned quite a lot.  Rod was an interesting instructor to fly with, his friendly nature and laid back attitude make learning from him a pleasure.  He found lots of things to quiz me on during our flights, and at the end of the day he signed me off on a number of skills - including preflight checks (ABCD, CHAOTICCC) and the primary and secondary control effects.  He also signed me off on making sustained turns after the time spent thermalling.

After packing up the gliders for the day, there was still some daylight left so it was back to the renovation work in the clubhouse, before heading back on the drive home.  A great day overall!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Day One - My journey begins...

Well, here I go.  Today I took the plunge and drove out to Cunderdin to join up at the Gliding Club of Western Australia.  I've wanted to do this for years, I took my first glider flights over 17 years ago with a friend from my time at Curtin University whose father had his own glider and have been biding my time ever since.  I have a couple of hours flight lessons in a Cessna 152, but soaring is really what I want to do.

The drive out from Perth was lovely, I got away before dawn and the weather was crisp and cool, and wonderfully clear.  Clearing the hills and into the wheatbelt at dawn I was treated to a spectacular sunrise - along with my anticipation for the day's activity this had me in excellent spirits right off the bat.

I arrived at the airfield about 8:30 and met up with Iain Russel, my instructor for the day, who signed me up as a club member and got me all sorted with paperwork and induction into the club.  Iain was extremely helpful, and went to a lot of trouble to show me what was what and get me involved in the club activities right from the word "go."

The first item of business for the day was to get all of the aircraft to be used that day out of the hangar.  The club has two two-seater training gliders - a newish PW-6U composite glider and an older aluminium IS-28B2; and four flying single seaters - two Jantar Std 2's, an old Ka6 and an old Pilatus.  In addition, there are two tugs for aerotowing - a Pawnee that was down at Jandakot for servicing, and an Auster J5/G which was the towplane on duty for the day.

Agnes, the Auster J5/G towplane
Once we'd gotten the PW-6U out, Iain ran me through the need to do full daily inspections, and walked me through the process so I could see what was involved, and how thorough the inspection must be.  He also gave me an orientation of all of the components of the glider, both inside and out.  He showed me the controls, and the effects of moving the controls on the glider's control surfaces.  I was lucky for my first day, I was the only student for the day, and other than a few annual check flights for members, I had Iain and the PW-6 all to myself.

PW-6U two seat trainer, built by SZD in Poland
Another shot of the "PeeWee"
The front office of the Peewee.
After DI'ing the Peewee and meeting some of the other members who were present, it was time for the morning briefing in the clubhouse.  I got to meet some more of the members and was introduced to the way in which the clubs activities are run on a daily basis, with a briefing on the expected weather for the day, what training and other flights were taking place, and who was flying solo and what their plans were.  After the briefing, it was back out to finish maintenance items and assist with preparing other gliders.

Around about 11am it was time to actually get started, and we towed all the gliders and the hut out to the lineup on Runway 05.  It had become a reasonably warm day for July with a mildly cool breeze coming in from the NE - most pleasant for winter.  Iain opted to take me straight up for my orientation flight straight away, then do the other guys check flights while I digested the first lesson.  Lesson number one consisted of doing the pre-takeoff checks and launching behind the towplane.  The launch was hands off for me so Iain could demonstrate the proper procedure, but once we'd released at 2,000' I had a chance to try out the controls and see for myself the effects of using the stick and rudder.  My earlier flying served me well and I was able to maintain attitude easily.  After a few minutes of playing around with the controls, it was time to land and Iain explained to me how we enter the circuit for landing in a glider.  Flying downwind he explained the pre-landing checklist and then we were turning base and final for the runway.  I had forgotten how steep the approach path is is a glider, and it took me by surprise!!  Nevertheless we were safely down and on the ground and I was keen for the next lesson!

Iain in the front seat taking up Vic for his checkflight
Iain took a couple of the members up for check flights while I waited on the ground and chatted with other members - the open friendliness on display was fantastic and I was really made to feel at home here.  Soon enough though, it was time to go up again.  The following two flights were pretty much like the first, although from here on I was hands on to feel what control inputs were necessary for takeoff and landing.  On my third launch, I was able to fly a fairly decent aerotow myself!  The majority of the airtime was spent practising maintaining control of the glider, maintaining and changing airspeed, and making gentle turns.  I learned a fair bit about stability in gliders and was actually surprised at just how stable they are in the air - I had always sort of assumed that their light weight would make them unstable, and this is just not the case.

The final flight for the day was a lot longer than the first three, Iain located a thermal shortly off tow and showed me what soaring flight is really all about... staying up in the air and not just gently gliding back to earth!  The thermal was pretty weak and drifting a fair bit, but we managed to circle in it up to a height of about 4,500' and enjoy the scenery for a while.

Thermalling at about 4,500' in the "house thermal" near Cunderdin Airfield
I flew the landing mostly hands on and managed a credible effort with Iain's guidance and corrections.  The day was rounded out with packing up and general maintenance before I was treated to a lovely sunset over the field and said farewell to Cunderdin... until next time!!
A WA Wheatbelt sunset over Cunderdin Airfield