Soaring Is Learning
Soaring is about learning all the time. Here are some tips on becoming a better soaring pilot. Brought to you by Southern California Soaring Academy.
Soaring is about learning all the time. Here are some tips on becoming a better soaring pilot. Brought to you by Southern California Soaring Academy.
Last week brought probably the Crystal Squadron’s final cross-country attempts of the 2019 season. Below are the pilots’ debriefs from those flights
Bradley’s report from Friday, September 13:
Dr. Jack’s forecasts leading up to Friday predicted challeng- ing cross country soaring conditions. Getting across the Mojave Desert was likely going to be a low slow crawl. The Northern route seemed the most promising.
I launched at noon, taking a high tow to the second ridge. There were solid thermals on tow which buoyed my spirits. The usual house thermals in the mountains rose only as high as a haze layer at 9.5k. The best lift, after a two hour struggle, was over Baden Powell where I climbed to 11.3k.
Finally I sent my crew on his way, calling Rosamond Dry Lake as my first alternate. After a smooth glide over the desert I’d covered enough ground to call Backus as my next alternate. I arrived over Silver Queen at 5900’. Here again I spent too much time looking for lift above the usual thermal sources and didn’t find much.
I managed to gain enough altitude to call Mojave Airport as my next alternate. There had to be a thermal over the airport with all that black asphalt. At 5500’ over Mojave Airport the jet boneyard below sure looked impressive. The ceiling of Mojave Class D airspace begins at 4800’ and I wasn’t gaining much altitude. I was still above Class D when a heavy, six miles out, called Mojave ATC with intentions to land. The tower radioed back that there was an aircraft circling above the airport. Guess my transponder was squawking as it should. I radioed my intentions, gained just enough altitude to send my crew on to Cal City. Talk about motivation.
With my 33rd wedding anniversary on Saturday I decided to call it a day and radioed my crew that I was landing at Cal City. Lame excuse I know but it’s true. We had ES in her box and we were headed home by 4:00.
I want to thank the Crystal Squadron for their mentorship this season. Peter, Sean, Dave, Karl, Gus, Richard and Michael you guys are truly amazing. It’s hard to imagine that I won’t have the privilege of being in sky with these gifted pilots until next summer.
Karl’s report from Saturday, September 14:
After studying the Blipmap, we decided to give it a try even though it did not look promising for a 500k. I was planning to call it an “end of season try” .
My takeoff was 11:30, landing in Gabbs at 18:34 for a 7:04-hour blue thermal day. Thanks to PK’s reports, who started after me, I finally reached the lofty height of 12.4k at Mt. Lewis. At 12:13 I left the mountains chasing after him, found his thermal and passed Silver Queen. Got to 8k, then on the ridge 9.6k, Cache Pk 11.9k let’s go. Meantime PK’s bad stick side shoulder acted up, therefore his decision to land at Cal City.
Found myself 7.2k Walker Pass looking to get up on Boomer ridge, about 16 min later 12.8k with a what may have been a golden eagle (had a good birdseye view of a few seconds, Don’t ask how I got on top, must have found the “Sweet Spot”). Got below the ridge short of Haiwee reservoir, then back up, Olancha Pk 13.3k. Can I make Bishop? A few small plumes of smoke to the west, TFR no issue.
At 3:30 my 50 year old Libelle connected with the Inyos 11.7k. Still no clouds all the way to Boundary Pk. Just as I aimed for a gap to get off the plateau towards Zurich we gained 3000’, at Schulman grove 14k, passing 13.2k W of the intimidating White Mtn Pk Rockface in the hope finding a thermal to 17k… Nothing. Never thought it possible.
Decision time 17:00 kind of late, thermals turning soft, some cumulus way N, Yerington but predicted wind at the nose, more favorable wind veering E. Getting close to the rocks, computer indicates Mina just in reach, falling off the white mountains to the E sinking into the “shady side”, computer Mina negative, NE of 360 intersection a thermal to 11.2k, Mina here I come. Had enough to get in the foothills E of Lunning Dry Lk where I found my elusive thermals, arrived at 7.7k, up some, down again 7.4k, ok going to Mina, ran into lift again, by 18:06 I topped 10.1k.
“Rose, I have Gabbs made” what a feeling. I “yodeled” the rest of the way, (don’t know how, but nobody heard me anyhow). Nice final glide with 5kts on the tail, sun just above the horizon. Landed to the E. Just got out of my trusty H301 smiling ear to ear, and Rose showed up super happy too.
We got it in the Box just in time, the last items we had to use lights. Setting up camp, soon the full moon rose, we had our dinner enjoying a few drinks. Can’t get much better, nobody around, wide open space, good food and drinks under a full moon and all the stars. What a way to finish the day and 2019 soaring season.
Sunday, after fresh Coffee and pancakes we drove from Benton to the June Lake Loop with the idea to get some early Lunch at the Gull lake Café. Bad idea, too crowded, but we did see a deer. Lots of lennie’s along the Sierras even good looking ones near Crystal.
Unfortunately I did throw in the towel at Cal City. I thought my recent cortisone shot would carry me through, but by time I got to the Three Sisters it was not fun anymore. Now for an upcoming date with the orthopedic surgeon to have him fix a thorn rotating cuff in time for recovery for the 2020 season.
Hope to see you all next year.
I was setting up to land after a double ride, everything pretty much normal — except the spoilers wouldn’t open… Eeek! What to do? Time to employ that oft discussed, yet seldom seen solution, slip to a landing. Except I’d never flown one before, or even seen it done by anyone else…
But I was an instructor, you say. How could that be? Well when I started this journey in the 1970s, things were different. I slid through with so little training, we discussed emergencies once, but never did any actual simulation. Nor was the topic even mentioned during my check ride!
Nevertheless, the inclusion of ‘slip to a landing’ in the Glider Practical Test Standards has made it a hot topic over the years (in some jurisdictions anyway). According to the PTS, the objective is to determine that the applicant:
1. Exhibits knowledge of the elements related to forward, side,
and turning slips to landing, with and without the use of drag
2. Recognizes the situation where a slip should be used to land
in a desired area.
3. Establishes a slip without the use of drag devices.
4. Maintains the desired ground track.
5. Maintains proper approach attitude.
6. Makes smooth, proper, and positive control applications
during recovery from the slip.
7. Touches down smoothly within the designated landing area.
Sounds simple enough, but what do those words really mean? Are you required to bring that slip all the way to the ground with NO drag device, or may you return at some point to straight and level with open spoilers? If your examiner demands the latter, no sweat. Demonstrate a slip same as you would a thousand feet higher, then resume standard configuration and land normally. It’s the former case that can blow the lid off Pandora’s notorious box.
Ask examiners for clarification and they all say, “It’s right there in the book”. Yet personal interpretations of those 76 words – identical for Private and Commercial – have varied widely from one examiner to another. #1 can be completed on the ground, verbally. #2 could be air or ground, but doesn’t necessarily involve physical action. #3-6 are simple and easy, and all of these first six should be within the grasp of any solo student. #7 though, in its strictest interpretation, may lie beyond the capabilities of some beginners. In a Grob 103 for example, a novice without specific training faces one of the most difficult and critical maneuvers in the entire repertoire, potentially consuming several thousand feet of open space, and exposing the aircraft to high risk of damage from PIO or ground loop.
For years, some examiners insisted on the most stringent interpretation (and pocketed extra cash when retesting failed applicants). Now it seems they’ve become more reasonable. Fortunately for the new applicant, a recent decree suggests you only have to show a few seconds of slip somewhere on final approach. That makes the check ride easier, but dismisses the eventual real-life problem of actually getting down and stopped – perhaps in a constricted area – with no brakes whatever.
This procedure, while no longer required, remains one of the most vital to ultimate safety, and you need to know you can perform it when necessary. As with spins, if you haven’t already learned and practiced it, don’t try it the first time solo. Arrange for at least a demonstration with someone you trust, to keep you out of trouble. There are many ways to execute (and teach) no spoiler landings. What we offer here is not the ‘only’ method, but one that works well and helps to limit the risk of unwelcome results.
First, it’s smart to leave spoilers closed but unlocked, with your hand on the lever so you can open them smoothly when the far end does eventually near. Some say modern sailplanes don’t like to slip, but that’s hogwash. Bring in heavy rudder at first, and you can slip some glass ships twice as far sideways as a 2-32 or Blanik. Coming out of that slip just above ground level, though, requires twice the finesse — and if you level out a touch too high you’ll be needing maybe twice as much runway, too.
For transitioning power pilots, you don’t need to hold nose low when slipping a glider. In fact higher is better, up to a point. Gliders usually won’t stall in a slip unless you just haul back, something there’s rarely any call for. Think of it this way: the slower you are the steeper you’ll come down in a headwind, and the faster you are the more energy you’ll need to dump before touchdown. Also, slipping at comparatively high speed unduly stresses fragile T-tails and feels a lot less safe…
Think beforehand about which wing to lower, and for what reason, such as crosswind or direction of pattern. My preference is to start downwind leg in a full slip from the usual location and height, banked toward the landing area, so all you need when turning in is to temporarily relax your opposite rudder. Stay with a smallish but normal pattern.
Whenever it starts to look like you’re too low, just come out of the slip for a moment and you’ll be surprised how quickly you end up high again. (A left-hand pattern to a right crosswind might necessitate changing slip directions while turning final, a hiccup that always seems to result in a higher/steeper approach.) Then any time you’re not low, get right back in the slip. Warning: if you don’t stay with the big fat slip you will not get down in time!
The final phase of a no spoiler landing requires extreme PATIENCE. If it doesn’t look spooky low approaching the threshold, you’re probably still way too high. Stay in the slip until it almost feels like you’ll drag a wingtip, and only then smoothly rudder around to straight and LEVEL… Now comes the hard part: waiting, and waiting in ground effect while those last inches of altitude bleed away. At this point, if you panic and nudge the stick even a smidge, all unholy heck may erupt. Be brave and do nothing! If room ahead does begin to look tight, that’s when to smoooothly ease spoilers out and get on the ground while you still can.
So it’s recommended that you practice (don’t say master!) no spoiler landings, with supervision as necessary. Not to pass a check ride, but because it’s challenging and fun, and confirms that you truly can handle your aircraft near the edge of its envelope. Most importantly, you WILL be needing this esoteric skill some day soon! See you then.
We had four pilots soar cross-country last weekend, two on Saturday which was ‘promising’ and two on Sunday, which was a little more so. None made the coveted diamond distance, but all had a fine time trying, as their stories make clear.
Sean Eckstein, 48 miles to Nelson strip in San Bernardino county.
I landed at Nelson airstrip, it’s an old private strip north of Lucerne dry lake. The altitudes and winds toward Las Vegas showed the best chance for some distance.
My takeoff time was at 11:40, the tow was uncommonly smooth over the flats and the 2nd. ridge, I didn’t release until I reached the house thermal by the labor camp, and not in lift. I dove towards the hill east of the labor camp and got a little teaser that eventually took me to 10k.
Leaving the Wrightwood area at 11.4k towards Apple Valley I noticed the absence of teaser thermals, and the winds turned from WNW at 3 knots to W at 13 knots. Both Dave (SAS) and I were struggling low on the hills east of Apple Valley, and not making any progress in the 100 plus heat. Thermal lift was maintaining me between 5.5k and 6.7k so I decided to leave the area to look for better lift, I had enough altitude to head east in hope of better altitudes. I continued to struggle with the same results.
I landed at Nelson, an old airstrip that looks like it hasn’t been used in a long time, but still in good shape. Both Peter (6PK) and I have visited this location a few times over the years and it has always looked landable.
For anyone interested in flying cross country, flying in conditions and altitudes were you must fly proficiently, and make decisions about what to do next is the best way to improve your skill and knowledge.
Simple report: Dr Jack showed good weather for a flight out to Williams [320 miles], I flew to Apple Valley [36 miles].
Mike Koerner 268 miles to Mesquite, NV:
I flew to Mesquite for my season closer on Sunday.
It was like two different days. One was a good day. Anytime you were above 8,000 feet you were immediately whisked to 13,500 by powerful thermals which averaged 280 feet per minute. That happened both behind Crystal and over Clark Mountain.
The other day, when you were below 8,000, was only marginally soarable. It was brutally hot. Lift was weak, averaging about 100 feet per minute, but often less and distributed sparingly. I had to turn back toward 031. After a low save there I orbited around East Cronise trying to get high enough to move on. I viewed the runway at Baker with longing as a I passed overhead, having decided to give the radar tower a go. I turned back toward Mesquite 3 separate times before finally switching to Unicom and calling it a day.
You may wonder why I didn’t stay high, stick with the good day. I’ll have plenty of time to think about that in the months ahead.
Richard Smolinski, 110 miles to Cinder Cone dry lake:
Originally I planned to fly on Saturday but after looking at the forecast, I switched to Sunday.
Chris and his tow crews are getting better and better at launching all XC flights fast without letting us sizzle in the sun waiting. Big thank you for that.
I took late afternoon tow toward ridges. Tow took me to usual place by the Work camp and from 7500ft I started circling until I reached 12k and begin my hop through the desert.
There was lot of wave clouds and I was using sporadic rotors on my way. At Rosamond I found rotor that took me to 11k and after that I head toward mountains having Cal City as a backup.
Mountains work but only up to 10k and here the fun begin. Using rotors going up and down 1.5K each time, I pushed toward Inyo Kern AP. It was fun flying low at 8 – 10K between rotors. Finally, I got into 8K sink and since was getting late I decide to land at Cinder Cone. I was thinking of more fights on the hills but I spotted glider already on the ground and think “hey people are there so I do not have to seat alone waiting for my awesome wife to pick me up” so I landed… I was welcomed by Tom and Britton from Inyo Kern just packing (BB) in to a trailer. It was awesome flight it was long time since last time I was hugging hills going fast and low….
Saturday morning is the worst time for line kids to fly, but that’s typically when they get their chance. Tough life. Randy was reaching that delicate breakthrough we’ve all had where towing goes from seemingly impossible to surprisingly easy. The whole point of our flight was to cement this progress.
Then after takeoff Bomber didn’t fly the usual wide 270 around the field to gather height, but went straight and stopped climbing. (Yes the tow pilot was called Bomber, because of how he used to ski back before that awful limp.) We were already more than a mile out over rising ground at less than pattern height, and now… descending? No, this wasn’t loss of power, Bomber was accelerating!
“I got this!” I shouted, “But stay on it with me and watch close, whatever it is I do.” Wondering if Bomber was okay and what the response should be, I cracked spoilers on principle, then needed hefty pressure to hold them only half open. Suddenly this was a barnstorm pass down a small green vale by a farmhouse between big elms, up a road lined with parked cars toward a crowd beside a bell tower that never looked so tall before — before slowing at last into a proper climb.
Randy turned around to look back at me, speechless.
“No idea, sport.” (What would you have said?)
Randy finished the tow normally, but was too discombobulated to accomplish much else and we soon landed. Next lesson: dealing with distractions in flight.
Not surprisingly, I had questions for Bomber. Turns out his stunt was planned. We were the unwitting kickoff for a country wedding of a couple pilot friends. The whole crowd was there, even us! The only people who didn’t know about our appearance were Randy, the parents who entrusted me with her life, and her hapless instructor, your humble scribe.
The video was crude and shaky but here we came, two airplanes one second apart, horrid blast of engine and prop tips, blurred streaks a hundred feet up, then whoops, cheering and applause. Of shrieked epithets or snarled profanities aboard the glider, no forensic evidence exists.
Later I got Bomber to agree, when he stopped laughing, that any such performances in the future should include also apprising the talent beforehand.
On a dusty stack of all holy books I avow this freak show did occur! Only once after all, but that’s enough. Many times though, I’ve had seasoned pilots who believed they knew what they were doing try to drag me and those in my care unto certain sink and grave danger. Honestly, up narrowing canyons against the wind, or lee of high peaks in a gale, to reach what anyone should know could only be invisible Niagara. When the single goal in every case was maximum rate of climb. Strangest of all, the tow pilots’ chances after power failure in such a hellhole are vastly worse than ours in the glider. Don’t get me started.
Most glider pilots will never have a tow pilot stray off on some unspecified mission so hazardous as buzzing a wedding beneath a church steeple. But tow pilots are human too, and even the very best are subject to the same, ahem, imperfections that beset us all. If you take enough tows, eventually you’ll get one where those at either end of your rope have entirely different views of what’s up. Or what’s going down, which might be most important.
All can agree that Bomber’s stunt was bonehead, for scads of reasons. What could be dumber, right? Well, one thing we could have done to make everything worse is panic and release the tow. I knew someone who did exactly that, under normal conditions, only because an unfamiliar tow pilot turned in an unusual place. What followed was the needless destruction of a glider.
We’ve all been conditioned to release quickly in awkward situations – during takeoff. But this was not that. There may be no better time than screaming down the aisle of a wedding not your own (or slogging through nasty sink soon after departure) to preserve the only resource you’re sure of and stay on tow at least until you’re high enough to land. Got a better idea?