Yesterday evening, I got a call from Drew at the Hollister Glider Club. He was guessing that the weather wouldn't hold out for my scheduled 8:30am lesson and that I should either cancel or at least call Jim (my instructor) in the morning before making the 1 hour trek down to the airport.

I was disappointed but a bit hopeful at the same time. So I called Jim at 7:30 this morning (he lives in Hollister, so he can just look out the window) and asked what he thought. He figured that we'd probably get half a lesson (1 hour) in before the rain hit. At that point I was hesitatnt to drive a 2 hour round trip for 1 hour of flying, but he suggested that we may just want to spend the time on ground instruction. I agreed and headed down.

On the drive down, I noticed more and more clearing in the sky and some interesting cloud patterns. That made me a little hopeful. But I also noticed that it was quite windy out. Depending on the direction of the wind it alone may have kept us grounded.

When I arrived just after 8:30am, Jim commented that the rain didn't seem to be coming quite as fast and that if we got up in the air soon we'd have a good chance of catching some wave. (I had never done any wave soaring--only read about it.)

We quickly got glider six four echo (64E) ready to fly. We kept it tied down as long as possible, because there was a 30mph wind and we didn't want it to flip or otherwise fly away.

I sat in the glider (to keep some weight in it) while Jim and Steve (the tow plane pilot) pulled it out. Jim's wife then arrived and let Steve get the tow plane ready. She and Jim got the glider over to the runway and turned into the wind. It was my job to "fly" the glider on the ground. Because the wind was blowing so hard, that meant keeping the stick forward (to keep the nose down), leveling the wings, and holding the brakes.

At this point I was a little anxious about the flight. I'd never flown in nearly that much wind. By my calculations, the glider would take off with only 10-15mph of ground speed. The takeoff was a little difficult. The glider really wanted to climb fast, so I had to keep the nose a little low and wait for the tow plane to get in the air. Once the tow plane got up, we quickly flew thru some wind gradients which proved to be a challenge for me. I'm not used to the wind changing that much just on takeoff.

Less that a minute into the tow, we began running into rotor (the turbulence that forms under waves) and it tossed us around quite a bit. Jim took control of the glider several times, as I was having some trouble. After watching Jim a few times, I realied that when you're flying in rotor there's little point in worrying about rope slack. You just need to stay behind and level with the tow plane as much as possible.

After we'd climbed a few thousand feet, Jim explained that we'd know when we hit the beginning of the wave because the air would become very calm. That happened right about 5,000 feet. We did a quick check on the vario to find that we were in fact in lift (roughly 400 feet/minute) and he suggested that we release and ride the wave. So I did the release (my best ever) and we began the process of soaring in the wave produced by the pre-frontal air blowing over the mountains and hills to the southeast of Hollister.

For the next hour or so, we stayed in a rather small area as Jim explianed what to look for when working the wave lift. We climbed pretty steaidly at 400 feet/min for several thousand feet. Once we hit roughly 8,000 or 9,000 feet, it dropped off to about 300 and eventually 200 when we got above 12,500 feet. We eventually made it all the way to 14,000 feet and could have gone even higher if our glider had been equipped with an oxygen system. At that point, I put the nose down far enough to keep us right about 14,000 feet (and going at roughly 80-90 miles per hour) and we headed toward Monterey Bay to investigate some clouds in the hopes of finding some differnent lift. We could have just stayed where we were, but I'm supposed to be learning and trying new things.

We didn't find much lift near the clouds, so we headed east toward the foothills east of Hollister where it looked like there might be some more wave to fly in. We got there at roughly 8,500 feet and looked around a bit. The best we could do was sustain somewhere between 100 and 200 feet/minute. The problem in doing that is that we wanted to fly at our minimum sink speed (near 51 mph) but the wind was blowing hard enough that we'd end up flying backwards and getting blown farther and farther into the hills and away from the airport.

So we decided to head back toward the airport. In order make much progess, we had to fly at 90mph or more! So I nosed down a bit more and we flew at roughly 100mph until we got out of the hills. Then I decreased the speed just a bit and headed toward the airport. Along the way we were falling and falling. We eventually hit the rotor again on the way down, but it wasn't too bad. At roughly 2,000 feet I began the landing checklist and attempted to get us in a reasonable landing pattern. I flew the pattern for a bit until Jim took over to fly base and final. The landing was very intersting from the air, but it must have looked really impressive from the ground. With the 30mph headwind, we were almost coming stright down to land. In fact, we probably touched down and stopped in all of 150 feet.

From takeoff to landing was a little under 2 hours. All in all, I had a good time and learned a lot--including how to better dress for the cold temperatures at higher altitudes! For a day that began with crappy weather on the horizon and few hopes of flying, I made out very well. What fun!

Posted by jzawodn at December 19, 2002 02:40 PM

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