FormerFF's blog

August 18 - Short and Sweet

Tue Aug 23, 2011 7:52 pm

[  Mood: Cool ][ Listening to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer Currently: Listening to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer ]

Back just before Memorial Day, I'd gone up to Lookout on a day where the winds looked flyable. When I arrived, the winds were switchy but had launchable cycles, and pilots were occasionally launching. I went ahead and set up, but just as I was ready, the wind switched to mostly over the back. One last pilot launched after waiting for 15 minutes for a good cycle. He got a good strong run, had a nice nose attitude, and still got closer to the trees than I'd have cared to be. He also got a fairly short sledder, most likely because the upper level winds were mostly over the back. I had always promised myself that if I was up on a day where I couldn't foot launch that I would sign up for my aerotow rating, which is what I did.

I'd been up once in mid July to do a couple of tandems. Both went well and I was beginning to become comfortable with the concept of towing. Family obligations prevented me from getting back up until now.

At LMFP, tow students fly at 9 AM, or late evening. Morning is generally more consistent, and since I have a bunch of vacation days to take, I scheduled a Thursday off. The day started clear and warm with a light south - southwest breeze. Today I have a new instructor, Clifton. We go for our first flight of the day, and since he hasn't flown with me before, gets us airborne and hands me the glider. I'm having a little difficulty getting the glider to turn, and overcontrolling a little in pitch. I'm not really sure what's going on, I flew much better last time.

Once we release, I can fly the glider just fine. At altitude, I can tell that the southwesterly breeze is fairly pronounced, probably 15 mph or so, so I steer us upwind. Clifton gives me a few pointers on a standard approach, and in a few minutes, we're on the ground. On rollout, I realize that I've been flying Gumby style, with my legs apart. It's not an issue with my pod harness, but with the knee hanger that we use when flying tandem, it is.

OK, time for flight #2. This time I handle the takeoff, which goes well, but as the flight progresses, I'm starting to oscillate. Clifton has to bring us back to center a couple of times. Finally, I get us so far off center that the glider isn't responding very well, and he releases us.

Since we only got to about 1000 feet, we get to go for the other half of the tow on the same tow ticket. Clifton suggests that I try shifting my whole body rather than steering with my feet and hips. I give that a try and it seems to calm things down. Still, I was flying better on my last visit. Very strange.

I hang out and wait for a debriefing while Clifton flies some discovery tandems. We discuss what I'm doing well and what I'm doing poorly. After that, since I've brought my bicycle, I ride into town to get some lunch. I get the impression that the residents of Trenton don't see too many adults using bicycles as transportation, as I get some strange looks.

After lunch I drop my bike at the LZ and head up to the launch. When I get there, the wind is blowing in at around 5 mph, but there is a squall line approaching. I can see that it is a narrow band, and duck inside while it passes. After the line passes, the wind is still straight in, and there are some thermals. After the morning's difficulties, I'm not too anxious to get out in the stronger thermals, and also would like to avoid the LZ at middday, so plan to fly around 3:30. The sky clears a bit, and I get set up. The wind is still blowing mostly in at 5 to 7 mph, so I get a wire crew and get up on the ramp. Because it's somewhat breezy but not quite ridge soarable, I start about four steps from the red line. It's a bit turbulent there, so I take another step forward, get a couple of "neutrals" from my wire crew, and head out. One step in, the glider lifts off of my shoulders, and by three steps I'm airborne.

Since the wind is southwesterly I head that way to stay upwind of the LZ. At one point I'm almost hovering over a spot, so the wind is probably in the 15 mph range. I'm not really going forward, or backward, or up, or down. I stay there as long as I can, but eventually start sinking, so go looking for lift. After less than a minute, I find some, It's not huge, but I can work it, and briefly get a couple hundred fpm up. I get 100' over launch, and then fly out of the core. Apparently this thermal is fairly sharp edged, because I'm now facing the ground. Whee! I thought that would be scary, but it's actually fun. What's also fun is flying my Falcon. Flying the tandem glider I felt like Captain Klutz, but on my glider I feel like Superman. Thermals are pushing me around, and I'm pushing back, totally in control and confident.

One thing I'm not all that good at yet is locating where I am horizontally. After I got spit out of that better thermal, I should probably have flown back to it. The problem is that I don't know exactly where it is, and go looking for other lift. I do see some areas where the trees are being blown around, but find more sink than lift, and have to keep heading out into the valley. In retrospect, I probably should have flown more downwind of those spots than I did, but that's part of being a low time pilot.

I don't find any more lift, and shortly have to set up an approach. With the wind, I'm very careful to stay on the upwind side of the field. When I get to turn downwind, I find that I have a very impressive groundspeed, probalby 35 or 40 mph. I also find that there's a weak thermal in the middle of the field, and plan to land in the first third. After what is no more than 15 seconds, it's time to turn base and final. On final, my groundspeed isn't much, even having been pulled in enough to get my airspeed in the mid 30's. There a 6-10 mph breeze down the middle of the LZ, which is more than I've landed in previously.

OK, now I'm in ground skim, just about to trim speed, so it's time to flare. Either I had a bit more speed than I though, or I've flown into the thermally part of the LZ, because I'm a higher than I expected to be. Only one thing to do, right? Flare more! I do that, the climb stops, my forward motion stops, and the glider floats me down onto my feet for an easy no stepper. Aaah. thumbsup Once on the ground I do have to lower the pitch so the glider doesn't get pulled off my shoulders. It is a bit of a trick to walk with the glider in the breeze, and it's a good distance to the breakdown area since I intentionally landed short of the center.

I'd planned to do a couple of more tandems in the evening, but the wind's still blowing and I'd rather not spend the money on tandems in less than ideal conditions, so instead I spectate. Apparently there's plenty of lift at tow altitude. Clifton thermals the tandem glider to 2000' above release while carrying a (strong stomached) passenger. The tow pilot pulls his wife up to 4000" or so, and she makes good use of the altitude. I left after an hour and she was still up.

My solo flight was only 10 minutes, but it was probably the most enjoyable flight I've ever had, and was the perfect antidote to the morning's frustrations. I'm planning on going up next week for a couple more tandems. Hopefully I can get the tow training completed soon. Particularly in the summer, there are a number of good southwesterly days that aren't the best for foot launching, but offer good thermal soaring. With the AT in my pocket, I'll be able to take advantage of them.

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Joined: 27 Jul 2006
Posts: 4722
Location: Ohio
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2011 1:06 am    Post subject:    

When tandem, remember you have a big freaking stiff glider, and another 170+ lbs of pilot weight to shift. Those things are trucks with out power steering. (or so I seem to remember)
I recall solo towing being much, much easier than tandem.

Good to see you back!
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