I left work early on Thursday to fetch my car (long story) and head up to Truckee. The drive there took about 5 hours, but that's what I get for leaving at 5pm rather than earlier as planned (another story).
On Friday morning, I headed over to Soar Truckee to meet the folks there and get Grob 36L ready to fly. I wandered into the office and met Samantha and Joe as well as a few others. Joe was to fly with me today, so he asked me to read and sign the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).
We then spent some time with a blown-up photo of the airport discussing the various patterns and approaches as well as their unique hazards. To illustrate the importance of not coming in short of the primary glider runway (19), Joe took me out to the end of the runway to see the 100+ foot drop for myself. That made a good impression on me. I was not going to be like the 5 glider pilots over the years who have hit the side of the cliff.
With that done, Joe went to do other things while I got the glider ready. It took a while, since I wasn't used to the interesting ways in which it was tied down. And I took extra time to go over everything, having never flown 36L before. But I eventually finished and we pulled the glider to the launch area.
First Flight: Area Checkout
Before long, towplane 7Z came to tow us (piloted by Doug), and we were off. The takeoff roll was longer than I'm used to, thanks to the much higher density altitude. So I spent more time and effort ruddering--trying to stay behind the towplane on the ground. But we got into the air and had a relatively smooth tow to 8,900 feet (3,000 above ground).
Once off tow, Joe began pointing out all the local peaks, valleys, ponds, lakes, and other assorted stuff--including the "hot rocks" where most pilots find their first thermal off tow. I was concerned about flying in a new area for the first time and even said so during tow. Around the time we reached 6,500 feet I remember laughing and saying something like "it's rather surreal flying at a new site for the first time... nothing looks familiar at all."
Before long it was time to land. It was early and the thermals were still weak. He talked me through the pattern the first time. We came in a bit high and I wasn't aggressive enough at losing altitude, so we landed long. But it wasn't a big deal. It's far better to land long than short.
After landing, we discussed the pattern and approach a bit more and got the glider positioned back down the runway for another tow.
Second Flight: Pattern Tow
Just before launching a second time, I asked Joe if we were going to do the same thing. He said, "No, you're flying is fine. Let's just fly a pattern." So we did. This time I was closer to the right speed and altitude for landing while still having a good safety margin. But I landed a bit longer than I thought I would.
Once we chatted about the landing, Joe told me I was free to fly today but that I should fly with him or someone else next time I'm in Truckee on a more windy day.
Since it was approaching 11:30 and someone else had the glider at 2pm, I decided I'd do a couple more flights and call it a day. Since the thermals hadn't really developed yet, I figured they'd be relatively short too.
Third Flight: Bits of Lift
I launched on my first solo Truckee flight at 11:30am. We headed over toward the hot rocks, flying thru a few thermals on the way. I released at 8,250 and flew around a bit looking for lift. I found some weak and broken lift over the frog pond, but nothing sustainable. Within 15 minutes I was back on the ground.
Fourth Flight: Jackpot!
At noon I took off again. With no better ideas, I planned to do the same thing. However, I quickly noticed that the conditions were improving. We flew through 3 really good thermals on tow (variometer was off the scale). But rather than release early only to never find the elusive thermal (I've been burned by that at Hollister a few times), I hung on and released at 8,000. That put me 2,100 feet above the field and seemed sufficient to find a bit of lift.
It worked. I flew over the hot rocks for a few minutes and at 7,400 feet (only 300-400 feet above pattern altitude) I hit my first good thermal. It was averaged between 8 and 10 knots. And being that close to the ground (the terrain is higher there), I could actually see the ground rushing away from me. Amazing.
For the next hour and a half, I flew from good thermal to good thermal. My highest altitude was 11,400 feet and I never really got much below 9,000 feet after the first two thermals.
After I had been up for a while, I set a goal of getting to 10,000 feet. After another 10 minutes I achieved that. Then I set a new goal of 11,000 feet. That took another 20 minutes. During this time, Doug (the tow pilot) called up every 30 minutes or so to ask how I was doing and each time I was reporting a higher altitude.
As I got higher, I ventured farther and farther away from the field and flew over progressively higher terrain. After an hour or so I was joined by 2-4 other gliders at any given time. I was listening to them launch on the radio. Most of them were smaller, faster, and lighter than me. So they'd hook a good thermal, ride it to 12,000+ feet and head toward Mount Rose.
After a while, I decided to take a few pictures of Lake Tahoe from the air. It was around then that it really sunk in. I was flying between 10,000 and 11,000 feet just a few miles from Lake Tahoe--without an engine. Very cool.
It eventually dawned on me that I had easily earned my "B" badge on this flight, so I decided to stay up long enough to also get my "C" badge too. I recalled that someone else had the glider at 2pm, so I planned to land at 1:45pm to give us time to put it back in the staging area. There were other reasons not to stay up all day. I had also run out of water to drink, and Mother Nature had been calling for a while.
When the time came to land, I had to purposely avoid lift, flying mostly in 6-8 knot sink, just to get down to a reasonable altitude without cracking the spoilers. When I go low enough, I made my radio call, entered the pattern, and made my best landing of the day.
My flight time was roughly 1.7 hours. A personal best for such a low tow.
I took several pictures during they day. Take a look.
Posted by jzawodn at August 30, 2003 10:59 AM