Last night, Russell sent out a wave alert for today (Sunday). Since I had two hours scheudled to fly in the ASK-21, I was excited. Rather than concentrating on the lessons that Jim had planned, I hoped that Drew and I (I was to fly with Drew, since Jim is in the hostpital) could play in the wave instead. Russell's forecast also said that it'd be very, very dry. That meant zero clouds and great visibility.

I headed down this morning and found that it was, indeed, very clear. The surprising thing was how calm the winds the surface were. When I arrived, Drew and I chatted a bit. He called to get the winds aloft and told me that I wouldn't be able to solo today because it was blowing pretty hard. I explained that I hadn't planned to anyway, and all was good. We planned to take the ASK-21 up and see what we could find. If we got some wave, we might try some basic aerobatic stuff (his idea--he loves acro flights).

I went through the pre-flight on the 21 while Drew got some other stuff in order. This was to be my third flight in an ASK-21. My first one was about 12 years ago. My very first "discovery flight" at Hollister was also in the ASK-21, but I switched to the SGS 2-32 for the remainder of my flights because it was easier to handle. Anyway, there was a lot of water on the glider so it took me a while to dry the wings and the canopy off.

Once I was done, Drew came over to double-check the glider and help me pull it out to the runway. Before we did that, he asked me to get the parachutes in case we wanted to have some fun up there. We then pulled the glider out to the runway and I got in to familiarize myself with the controls.

Flight #1: Searching in the Hills

Before long, we were being pulled down runway 24 and in the air. The takeoff was easy and quite smooth. I then worked on getting used to flying the 21 on tow. It's different enough from the 2-32 that it took some time for me to get comfortable with it. Unlike the 2-32, the 21 doesn't let me be as sloppy with the controls. In the 2-32, the first 1/3 to 1/2 inch of control movement really doesn't do much. The stick always feels a little bit loose. There's wiggle room. Not so in the 21. The stick feels more tightly coupled to the ailerons and elevator. I knew this going into the flight (I could tell during the pre-flight), so I kept an eye on myself to make sure I wasn't over-controlling the glider.

After a few thousand feet, I was relatively comfortable with the 21. We were flying north/northeast over the hills hoping to find the elusive wave. I had never flown that far into the hills before. I got a much better feel for the area. And since it was completely clear out (we had over 40 miles visibility in all directions), the scenery was great. We saw the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east, San Jose to the north, Monterey Bay to the west, and so on. It was a very beautiful day.

Eventually we made it to about 6,500 feet and still hadn't found any significant lift. Drew suggested we release and fly around over the hills to see what we could find. So we did. We spent quite a while hunting around over the hills and never found much more than 1 knot of lift. Eventually we sorta gave up and headed farther downwind. The wind was blowing at altitude, just as predicted, but it just wasn't setting up any wave for us. So I got to practice flying over the hills, all the while getting lower and lower. It was pretty fun to be flying around just a few hundred feet above the hills. It really gave me a sense of just how fast we were going.

After a few minutes, we gave up and headed back to the airport. We only had about 3,000 feet of altitude left and were downwind, so we'd need to use up quite a bit of it to get back with the strong headwind blowing at us. We got back to the pattern entry point at roughly 2,000 feet and found a little bit of lift along the way. Not much, but enough to tease us and think that there might be more. So we pressed on for a bit to see what we could do. Unfortunately, there wasn't much and we were low. So we entered the pattern for runway 24 and landed.

Flight #2: Watsonville

While waiting for a towplane, we chatted about what to try next and where the wave was. Russell had arrived and explained that the wind was more North than Northeast so the wave just might not be working. We decided to try the other hills--the ones out by Monterey Bay, Watsonville, and Santa Cruz in the hopes of proving him wrong. So we towed off runway 24 again and headed toward the water. The view, of course, was truly amazing. With no clouds and dry air, we could see everything. In fact, once we got up a few thousand feet and out closer to the coast, we noticed that San Jose was visible. And after orienting our view, we could see all the way to Moffett Field in Sunnyvale!

We got to roughly 6,500 feet again and didn't find much other than the spectacular view. Drew suggested that we just tow to 8,000 feet and fly up the coast. I liked the idea so we did just that. I was flying the tow just fine and pretty relaxed, so I just enjoyed the ride. The water was so blue and clear.

We released a few miles from Santa Cruz at 8,000 feet and headed for the coast. It was rather surreal to be flying 7,500 feet above the Pacific Ocean on a clear day. I hope to do that again someday.

After we burned off about 1,000 feet of altitude, Drew had another good suggestion. Rather than keeping track of Hollister airpoirt, why don't we just plan on landing at Watsonville and getting a tow back out to Hollister. That'd give us the freedom to fly up the coast and over Santa Cruz for a while. So we did just that.

A couple minutes later, I mentioned that I was surprised when I read about flying a loop in the ASK-21 (that's a Gob inverted and an ASK-21 with the camera). Apparently you only loose about 300 feet of altitude if you do it right. He confirmed that and then asked, "would you like to try a loop?" Of course, I said yes and he walked me thru it.

Nose down roughly 45 degrees until you hit 110 knots or so (whatever the top of the green line on the airspeed indicator was). Then pull back on the stick and just keep doing it. Before you know it you're almost vertical. Once we were over the top, I relaxed the stick a bit and let the glider do what it wanted to do. After we started to dive again, I pulled back on the stick to pull out of the dive and into a climb. We climb at the end to make use of our higher airspeed to recover some altitude.

The loop was a blast. I distinctly remember saying "Wow! This is so cool!" while we were flipped over and just about to start diving again. It was so much smoother than any roller coaster ever could be. I expect to feel sick or disoriented or... something negative. But I didn't. It was great. I can't wait to repeat the experience. In fact, I'm likely to sign up for some aerobatic training flights at some point.

After the loop, I headed toward Sata Cruz and just took in the sights. It was during that time that I realized my only regret of the day: I didn't bring my camera up. I was really kicking myself inside. I had brought my camrea to the airport just like I do every day. I'm always hoping for clear day so I can take some pictures (and maybe post them here). After the first flight, I really should have realized that it was the perfect day, grabbed my camera, and stuffed it in the cockpit.


Anyway, we flew around over Santa Cruz for a while and looked for lift. We found a little bit roughly 2,000-4,000 feet from a ridge and played in it for a while. But it was weak and we weren't gaining much altitude, so I headed for the Watsonville airport. On the way there, Drew tuned in to their frequency and we listened for traffic. The airport was really hopping. Everyone was out flying today. Given the great visibility, I can't blame them. It was a perfect day to go up and fly along the coast.

Drew told me that runway 20 was active and told me where he wanted to touch down. He left the rest [mostly] up to me. I got into the pattern and was turning on final before I knew it. We had to drop a lot of altitude to land short on the runway so I had the spoilers pulled out all the way. They're quite a bit less effective than those on the 2-32, so it took me a few seconds to figure out how much we needed.

We landed and Drew took the controls right away to execute a couple of quick turns. He got us off the active runway, over to the inactive runway, and off into the grass where we'd wait for the towplane. We had a few minutes to get out, stretch, and relax before the towplane arrived. Given how busy the airport was, we got to watch a dozen or so planes take off and land during the course of about five minutes.

For my first landing at an unfamiliar airport, it wasn't bad.

Flight #3: Heading Home

After 10 minutes or so, the towplane arrived. We pulled the glider out, hooked up, and got moving. Drew took the controls for the takeoff and it was quite a ride. We drifted quite a bit off to the side while the towplane was still gaining enough speed to get airborne. It's a bit hard to describe, but it was fun to watch. Once we hit 300 feet or so, Drew gave me the controls and I followed the towplane back to Hollister.

The ride back was a little bumpy until we hit 3,000 feet or so. Then it was smooth sailing. Eventually we reached 5,000 feet and were well within gliding distance of Hollister, so I released and we spent some time flying over the hills between San Juan Batista and Watsonville. We found a little bit of lift just a bit past San Juan Batista and closer to Hollister, but it wasn't anything impressive so we kept going.

Once we were quite close to the airport, we did find some spotty thermal lift. Drew tried to guide me into it but it was really tricky. And the location was pretty bad. We were very near the intersection of the 45 and downwind leg for the runway 31 pattern. Of course, runway 31 was active, so we had a lot of traffic to watch out for.

After a few minutes, we gave up and headed home. I crossed over runway 31 and entered the pattern for runway 24. The landing went better than my first one and we touched down right where I wanted to.

We pushed the glider off the runway, chatted with some folks about the flights, did the necessary paperwork, and I headed home very happy.


Today was great. I got to get some good time in the ASK-21. I flew with Drew for the first time. Visibility was unmatched. I landed at an airport other than Hollister. I flew over the ocean. I even got to try a loop.

I just wish I had remembered to put my camera in the cockpit so that everyone could see what a great day it was...

Posted by jzawodn at February 02, 2003 09:07 PM

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