ELECTRIFYING EXERIENCE

It was one of those inscrutable thunderstorms that threatens to quit and then suddenly intensifies. Everyone was down and mostly put away, and those with any sense had already run inside leaving sweet Juliet our prized 2-32 still out there with one wing pointing at the sky. So I decided to make a show of securing her by myself.

The ’32 is a beast, but a full sized adult can handle one alone on any smooth surface, simply if not easily, by tying one stick back with the harness, using the all-flying tail (held way inboard!) as a handle and pulling her backwards. Arranging that, however, would mean opening the canopy and letting in rainwater that would fog it for a week. I decided to just take a big breath and push straight backward from the nose. That works too, it’s just harder and takes longer because the tailwheel’s down, and on grass it digs in. Warm as it was, getting drenched would be a feature as they say, not some kind of metaphorical insect. Think of it as a zesty swim without the nudity!

I’d been too busy flying to mow recently and high grass concealed the tie down spot, so as I leaned into ‘er my eye was on the windsock a few yards beyond. Then almost there, with both hands and much of my thorax spread all over a big metal cross – X marks the spot – lightning struck that windsock.

Can’t say if it was static electricity, some neurological spasm, or just good old fashioned fright, but every hair stood straight out on end (and back then I had plenty of it).
Poor Juliet was again left to her own fate as I sprinted for shelter. Of course once lightning hits there’s less reason to flee that particular location, but I was already at full speed before thinking of that. As I ran toward our little terminal building, its wide window on the ramp filled with laughing faces of all my alleged friends. I was tempted to rush on inside and shake off on everybody like a wet dog, but instead pulled up outside and stood there hands on hips, smiling in the rain. “Who’s gonna come help me take care of Juliet?”

Soon one, then another, and eventually all emerged, embraced the refreshing downpour and learned another lesson in doing things the right way.

 

Those same years, I lived in each of two very different ski lodges a mile apart, atop Vermont’s highest mountain. Zappy memos from the Almighty are common up there, naturally, some of which I witnessed within less than a hundred feet. One split a half grown spruce outside my bedroom window, which survives to this day as sad and mangled twins. Another strike very nearly caught me personally — and I was indoors!

We’ll explain that one next time we talk. It’s not a story about flying per se, but mountaintops share some obvious relation, and any pilot who’s not curious about lightning… should be.

SUMMER SOLSTICE, MORE OR LESS

 

It’s common knowledge that June 20 or 21 (sometimes 22) is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. That’s the date of earliest sunrise and latest sunset, right? Not so quick! Fact is those events occur two weeks apart.

Official sunrise for Palmdale has been parked at its earliest – 5:39 – for the past seventeen days while the sun continued setting half a minute later every evening until today, June 21. This morning the sun finally rose after 5:40, yet the latest sunset still won’t come until some time after the 24th, where it will stay at 8:09 all the way through July 3rd. You got all that?

Nutshell: the ‘period of longest days’ (more than 14 hours and 26 minutes at our latitude) runs from June 11 through the rest of the month. That’s nineteen days during which the time between sunrise and sunset increases and then decreases by mere seconds, peaking today only two minutes longer than June 11 or July 3. During the five very longest days (this week), the actual length differs by about that many seconds — five or so.

And why the offset? Don’t ask me. It has something to do with our polar axis being cockeyed, obviously… I did see a TV weatherman explain it once, and listened really close, but when he finished I still had no idea. That’s why he was a weatherman, not an astronomer.

X-C RESULTS!

Finally we have more cross-country soaring flights to report!  Two weeks ago Sunday Mike Koerner and Barry McGarraugh both flew diamond distance from Crystal – to airports 280 miles apart, Mike to Hurricane, UT and Barry to Gabbs, NV.  Here are their stories.  

Mike’s report:
I made it to Hurricane on Sunday. I launched at 10 am, climbed to 13.5 and left the mountains at 10:40… But, the desert had not yet woken. I dumped my water on the lower slopes of Calico Peak, gave an impromptu air show to the bus loads of other mine visitors and spent the next hour and a half climbing up the mountain.
More than the wasted time, dumping the ballast forecloses on the possibility of a long flight, especially on a day like this, without favorable winds. With my 17.6 meter tips, the wing loading without water is too low to go fast. I made a bunch of mistakes anyway, so I’ll just call it a practice day. Even Fran can use the practice (she booked our room in Mesquite for the wrong day using Hotels.com).
Thanks to Erik Knight at Williams, my newly refinished wings are incredibly pretty. And based on current and previous comparisons to glide computer calculations, they seem to perform better as well.
My batteries, on the other hand, do not seem to have taken advantage of the time off. Both were in sorry shape despite being fully charged. I only turned my radio to announce when my alternate changed. Without it, or the transponder, I was forced way out over Lake Mead to avoid Vegas Class Bravo. I hadn’t taken this route in years. It’s certainly the long way around.
Barry’s report:
I made it to Gabbs on Sunday and Karl landed at Lone Pine. Karl and I used Skysight for the first time to forecast the weather and it seems to work fairly well.
Overall, the weather forecast looked very good going north with Austin the goal. Karl had some trouble with his O2 and had to peel off the Sierra just south of Olancha (after we had gotten past the hard bit), and I continued up the Sierras. Conditions got really good and I ran between 16-18K all the way past Mina.
I had Austin in the bag, but decided to call it quits at Gabbs since Sue was quite a ways behind and now driving alone. I landed around 5:30 and Sue got there around 7. We set up camp, heated up some chili and drank some cold beer as the sun set.

“TAXI!”

After landing is when you’re most apt to damage your sailplane.  Obstacles are much closer and more numerous, and a graceful aircraft becomes an extremely wide contraption on one wheel whose stability and control effectiveness rapidly decrease as airspeed bleeds away.  Well after touchdown, you must continue to FLY the airplane on the ground until it stops moving – and after that until help arrives if it’s really windy!

Regardless of any other factor, the moment you’re firmly on the ground extend spoilers or negative flaps to glue that ship to the earth.  After slowing below stall speed, you may choose to retract them and extend your roll to some convenient stopping place, but before turning toward any obstacle (other aircraft, people) or down even the slightest degree of slope, be sure to test your wheel brake.  As speed decreases, larger and quicker control inputs become necessary to maintain full control.  Consider it a point of art to come to a stop before either wingtip touches the ground.  This skill is easy enough to learn; do not settle for anything less.

When you do taxi to one side with rudder the outboard wing will move faster and begin to rise.  Uncorrected, this can make the inboard wing touch down and cause a ground loop.  Counter that unwanted bank at ground level by applying simultaneous opposite aileron (cross-control, but only as needed) to keep the wings level through your change of direction.

In strong crosswinds, even an extended roll to a normal stop may be surprisingly challenging.  Just as in crosswind takeoffs, windward wing slightly down and countered by opposite rudder is technique essential to staying in line with the runway.  As speed bleeds off, the crosswind will erode directional control.  Try to stop before that happens, or at slow speed you’ll eventually weathervane off-line from the runway.  In very strong crosswinds this loss of directional control at the end of taxi is inevitable, so plan for it and manage your energy so it leaves you in a safe and convenient place – not in the middle of a busy runway…  or a fence.