December 31, 2002
NTSB Soaring Accident Reports

I recently stumbled upon a list of reported soaring accidents for 2002 on the Soaring Safety Foundation web site. It's good reading to find out what sort of mistakes are getting soaring pilots (and their gliders) injured and occasionally killed.

While this is serious stuff, I couldn't help but to laugh a little when I read:

A deputy from the Peoria Police Department interviewed the pilot. The pilot stated that he was inbound for landing. When he turned onto final he was blinded by sun glare. He stated that the glider struck a person on a bike that was on the runway.

About an accident in Arizona early in 2002. Funny how the report doesn't say what the hell a bicycle was doing on the runway.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:33 PM
New Zealand Soaring

Brian, a glider pilot who flies out of Hollister sometimes, recently posted some pictures from his recent soaring experience in New Zealand. He flew around in and around Omarama and it sounds like he had a blast.

I hope to do something similar in a couple years. I'll need to build up quite a bit of flying time before it's realistic, but I might as well have a goal in mind.

Posted by jzawodn at 03:25 PM
December 27, 2002
Stalls, stalls, and more stalls

I arrived at the Hollister airport a bit early this morning because traffic was so light. After Jim arrived, we talked about what to do today. The plan was to tow to four or five thousand feet in the hopes of finding enough lift to take us higher. There was no wind on the ground, but the lenticular clouds near some of the mountain ridges led us to believe there might be sufficient wave to keep up aloft.

Flight #1

Our glider for the day was six four echo (64E), one of the SGS 2-32 trainers. Our takeoff was uneventful. Well there was a very minor crosswind that took me by surprise, but it wasn't terribly significant. The rotor above 1,000 feet wasn't much to write home about. Around 4,000 feet we found some weak lift and promising looking cloud formations, so we released to try our luck.

We didn't find much. There were some zero sink areas, but no substantial lift. So rather than sit in the same spot not doing anything, we opted for practicing some maneuvers. Jim demonstrated a few side slips and then I got a chance to try them. They were easier to get the hang of than I expected.

After messing around with slips a bit, we didn't have a lot of altitude left, so we made our way toward the pattern entry point and prepared for landing. As I began the landing checklist, Jim noticed that he had forgotten his handheld radio. Glider six four echo only has a front microphone, so it was my day to make all the radio calls. That went well except for the time than I announced us on downwind when we were on crosswind. Oops.

My first pattern and landing were pretty good. The altitude was right on and I was able to land with 1/3 spoilers. We did bounce a bit, but that's because I accidentally jerked back on the stick when we touched down the first time. We quickly came to a stop and setup for the next takeoff.

Flight #2

Our plan for the second flight was to tow higher (roughly 6,500 feet) so that we'd have the necessary altitude to experiment with stalls, full stalls, turning stalls, and forward slips. Before I knew it, we were at altitude and released. This was my best release so far. Smooth, good alignment and speed, etc.

Once off tow, Jim started with a couple demonstrations that he asked me to mimic. We basically did stalls until I suggested that we try something else (because the stalls were starting to get to me). So them we did a bit with slips.

Before long, we were nearing 2,000 feet so we headed back toward the pattern entry point. I hung out there for a while and burned off some altitude circling around. Then Jim asked if I could fly the pattern and land without any help. I told him I'd give it a shot. (My first landing must have impressed him a bit?)

This pattern was a bit more tricky because we had a plane ahead of us that was flying a really long pattern for runway 24. So I called on the radio and declared my intention to land second. Jim suggested I slow down to give him some room. We flew most of the pattern at 60mph rather than the more traditional 70mph.

Part way into our base leg, Jim asked how things looked. I told him we were a bit too close to the runway and turned away to compensate. He pointed out that the crosswind had increased (I hadn't noticed that!) so we turned away a bit more.

Turning onto base, Jim asked how things looked. I had to really think about it. When I finally made up my mind, I decided we were a bit high and pulled the brakes out between 1/2 and 1/3. Once we turned final and got closer to the runway it became apparent that (1) we were no longer too high, (2) I wasn't flying fast enough, (3) I really needed to compensate for the crosswind.

After some adjustments, I managed to land just a bit right of center at roughly the normal spot on runway 24. Given the added wind, it wasn't too bad. And I didn't bounce the second time around. :-)


Once back on the ground we had a chance to discuss more of what I had done. The most important point that Jim made had to do with estimating the proper height and glide slope coming off base and onto final. If he asks how things look and I have to really think about it, odds are that we're on the right slope and I should use roughly 1/3 of the brakes. If we were too high or low, I'd likely notice and not have to think very hard about it at all.

Next week I'm scheduled to fly on Thursday and Friday morning. I figured I'd make use of the decreased activity at work during the holiday time. Thursday we'll probably work on more slips, skids, and possibly introduce spins. And Jim wants to get me to the point that I'm doing the whole landing pattern myself. He'll just be along for the ride. I'm looking forward to that myself.

Oh, I also boxed the wake again and got to perform a couple more steering turns. I don't remember which flight those were part of anymore.

Posted by jzawodn at 02:06 PM
December 19, 2002
Surprise Wave Soaring

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 02:40 PM
December 15, 2002
Which runway?

(I'm posting this a bit late...)

Thursday was my first day to fly with Jim, my instructor for the next several months. Jim is the full-time instructor at HGC, so he ends up teaching and flying with most of the students.

I got down there a little late because of bad traffic and some stupidity on my part. Next time I'll leave earlier and pay more attention to what I'm doing.

When I got there, Jim and I went over some flying basics and discussed my experience. I told him that I had been in the ground school class the previous week and he took a few minutes to flip thru my log book. After doing that, he informed me that I'd be flying the takeoff and landing on both flights today.

That surprised me a bit, since he and I had never flown before. But I guess the fact that I was already pretty good at flying tow convinced him that it was time for me to get the hang of takeoff and landing again.

Flight #1

He had already done the preflight checks on glider 87R (or eight seven romeo), so we got a battery for it, pulled it over to runway 24 and I got in. I stapped myself in and completed the takeoff checklist. I wiggled the rudder and the tow pilot plane began to move forward.

Since we had no wing runner and the left wing was low, I applied full right stick until the wings came level. I concentrated on holding the wings level and listening to Jim's advice about how much back pressue to use so that the glider would roll along on the main wheel only. Before I knew it, the glider was lifting off the ground. That was my signal to ease the stick forward a bit to keep it 5-10 feet off the ground until the tow plane took off.

After 15-20 seconds, the tow plane was in the air and I was following it just a bit high. We began discussing what to do in the event of a rope break. Below 200 feet, land in the field to the right. Above 200 feet, turn 180 degrees and land upwind on runway 24. Above 600 feet or so, fly a very short pattern.

I flew behind the tow plane for a bit while Jim pointed out a few landmarks that we had discussed on the ground. It's good to get very familiar with the area surrounding your home airport.

As we got to 4000 feet, he asked me to practice rope relases. In the SGS 2-32, we use a soft release, which means you climb briefly, dive briefly, level out and pull the release. This puts a bit of slack in the rope and makes for a more gentle release when the tension returns and the ring falls from the tow hook.

Next thing I knew, we were at 5000 feet and it was time to release for real. So I did. I turned a bit too early, not having actually seen the rope fall away. Jim called me on that, of course. I have to try not to anticipate the release like that.

Up at alititude, Jim asked me to demonstrate various shallow and medium turns, both to make sure I could consistently make coordinated turns and to test my ability to turn to a point/heading.

We did a little bit of speed control, a lot more turns, and talked about stalls. Before I knew it, we were nearing 1700 feet and it was time to enter the landing pattern. I ran thru the landing checklist:

  • Radio
  • Undercarriage
  • Flaps
  • Speed
  • Trim
  • Altitude
  • Look

There was a bit of confusion about which runway we were landing on. Jim intended me to use runway 31 (which he often uses with sudents because it is so long) but I was expecting runway 24, which is the only runway I had ever used at Hollister. Once we got that straightened out, I made some minor corrections on the downwind to 31 and concentrated on landing.

Jim quizzed me along the way, asking if my angle and altitude looked right. My answers were largely guesswork because I have little experince to draw on. But I wasn't too far off. Before I knew it, it was time to turn base and then final. I lined up in 31 pretty well but came in a bit high. After liberal application of spoilers, the altitude disappeared in a hurry and I just had to stay on the centerline and flare at the right time. Unfortunately, I flared a bit too early and ended up floating another 500 feet down the runway while drifting to the right--nearly off the runway.

I used the remaining altitude to get back on the center line and let the glider touch down.

The flight went relatively well and did a good job of telling us what I needed to focus on next time around.

Flight #2

We pulled the glider back on to runway 31 and waited for the tow plane. This time around, my takeoff was a bit better but as soon as we got off the ground, I noticed that the air had become a little choppy. Once we cleared 700 feet, it was nice and smooth again.

This time, Jim used most of the tow watching me practice the low tow position, steering turns, and boxing the wake. Unfortunately, I never was able to complete a full box because the tow pilot thought I was attempting a steering turn, so I'd just fall back in behind him until he leveled out and try again.

The tow went very quickly and before I knew it I was pulling the release at 5000 feet.

The bulk of this flight was spent on zig-zag 90 degree turns at a 45 degree bank angle, steep (60 degree bank) turns, and imminent stalls. I was feeling pretty good about things until Jim demonstrated how he could hold the 2-32 in a stall by using lots of rudder force to pickup the wings as they tried to drop. The recovery from that stall was more dramatic that I expected. We did a fast nose down to pick up speed and the pulled out and into a turn. Let's just say that my stomach was a bit surprised. Nothing happened, but I felt a little iffy for 30 seconds or so.

We practiced a few more turns and Jim kept bugging me about my poor rudder conrol rolling into and out of turns. I'm mostly convinced that I neede to move the rudder pedals in the 2-32 one notch forward next time I get in. I kept moving the rudders without trying and that tells me that they were too clsoe to me.

Before long, we were descending thru 1700 feet and it was time to enter the pattern for runway 24. (Yes, we agreed in advance on the runway to use.) The landing went quite a bit better this time and that boosted my confidence a bit.

Cleaning Up

We parked the glider and caught up on a few administrative details while Jim quizzed me on a few more questions, mostly related to stall speeds, angle of attack, and so on.

We agreed to meet next Thursday morning for a few more flights. He'd like me to fly one normal flight to practice full stalls and turning stalls. Then we'll probably fly several shorter flights so that I can practice pattern flight and landing.

All in all, it was a good morning. I can feel myself inching toward better piloting skills.

Posted by jzawodn at 12:41 PM
December 09, 2002
Soaring/Glider Blogs

Well, it seems that this little flying blog has picked up a few readers. Does anyone know of glider pilots who maintain blogs? I'd love to be able to read about what others are doing--anywhere in the world, really.

It's soart of difficult to find them using Google and other search tools. The terms I've searched for all have a bit too much in the way of unrelated results so far.

Oh, don't worry. One of these days I'll fix the CSS and templates so it doesn't look so much like crap. ;-)

Posted by jzawodn at 11:08 PM
Stick and Rudder Pilot Shop

I was looking for a good place to buy pilot stuff on-line (sectional maps, etc) and found a good Yahoo Store called Stick and Rudder. They had what I needed at a good price and I was able to checkout using Yahoo Wallet.


Posted by jzawodn at 11:02 PM
December 08, 2002
Ground School

I attended Hollister's 1-day Ground School today, along with two other students: Jeffrey and Patrick. Our instructor was Russell Holtz, also know as "the guy who wrote HGC's glider flight training book."

Because their normal classroom building recently caught fire and burned (looks really bad now), we met upstairs of one of the nice hangars down the road.

We (Jeffrey and I) arrived on-time and met Patrick shortly after. We waited around for about 10 minutes for some other students to arrive. They never did.

We began with an in-depth preflight of an SGS 2-32. After shifting gliders several times (pilots kept wanting to fly the ones we were preflighting), we managed to finish. Then we headed over to our "classroom" to begin going over the other material.

We covered:

  1. Flight Instruments
  2. Preflight
  3. Sailplane Aerodynamics
  4. Glider Performance
  5. Basic Flight Maneuvers
  6. Takeoff/Aero Tow
  7. Pattern/Landing
  8. Radio Use

We took a lunch break at 1:30ish after finishing up #3. The lunch was decent (we at the local joint right at the airport). After lunch we continued down the list and finished around 5pm.

Russell is a great instructor. He's been flying for a while, used to be an aerospace engineer, and really digs this stuff. He had good answers for all our questions and had no problem going way more in-depth on some topics.

I feel more confident about my flying "book knowledge" having been in the class. Little of the material was anything I hadn't heard before, but it was good to review it all in a short period of time.

The only disappointment was driving all the way to Hollister and never getting in the cockpit. Oh, well. Next time I'll fly.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:49 PM
December 05, 2002
Round #2

After a couple weeks off for sickness and the Thanksgiving Holiday, it was time to head back to Hollister. Today's goal was to take my two remaining discovery flights and try to get a better handle on controlling the glider during tow.

Once again, Jeffrey showed up bright and early, and we headed down to Hollister. We managed to arrive before anyone else and had to hang out for a few minutes for Jim to show up and unlock the gate. Jeffrey was scheduled for a 8:30am - 10:30 lesson. I was scheduled for a flight at 9:00am and 10:00am.

He and Jim worked on cleaning off the 2-32 they'd fly while I worked on one of the other 2-32's and went through a pre-flight check. My non-instructor (he's not licensed to instruct, just fly passengers) and I eventually got to head up after Jeffrey and Jim got in the air. (Things were delayed a bit because the tow pilot was late getting to the airport.)

After we hit 1,000 feet, I took the controls to try my hand at tow. And, much to my surprise, I didn't need any help. I managed to keep the glider under control and mostly in-line behind the tow plane during the climb from 1,000 to 6,000 feet. We released not far from Fremont Peak (which is ~3,500 feet high) and the glider was mine to go where I wanted (within reason).

While it was quite hazy on the ground, it was very clear above 1,700 feet. I wish I had my camera with me. We had a great view of the Monterey Bay to the west and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east--that's right, I saw the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra all the way across the Central Valley. It was beautiful.

I turned toward Fremont Peak to get a better look at the various communications towers up there. After going over the peak I flew around the local reservoir a bit and found that the bumps of turbulence we noticed during tow were actually pockets of lift. So I spent much of the time during the flight trying to map out the lift between the little mountain ridges and valleys.

After we descended through 4,000 feet, it was time to head back toward the airport. We got near the airport and I flew to the south a bit just to see what downtown Hollister looks like. Then we noticed it was time to enter the pattern and land--but we were a bit low. So I got to fly a very short pattern. There really wasn't much of a base leg, and the downwind was quite short.

We landed and I was feeling very proud of myself for doing so well on the tow. I was getting a lot of my old confidence back. After a quick... uhm, pit stop, I was ready to go up again!

For the second flight, we again took off to the west and headed toward Monterey. This time, the tow plane just kept going toward the west. Not being comfortable with how far we managed to get from the airport, I got to try my hand at steering turns--signaling the tow pilot that I'd like to turn by flying off to the side and holding position until he took notice. It was challenging. I was using full right rudder to hold position and still found myself drifting back into a normal tow position. So right about the time I kicked in a bit of aileron, the tow plane go the idea and turned left--while I was headed right. Oops. Luckily, I was able to correct and follow him without much hassle.

We released at 6,000 feet again and I did a better job of diving for the release. The only mistake I made was being a bit to the left of the tow plane on release. I risked running into the tow rope as I made my right turn after release.

Once the tow plane was clear, I headed back toward Fremont Peak again in search of more lift. It was weak but I found it. We never gained any altitude as a result, but I managed to get us into very low sink conditions (break-even a few times). It was fun. I was just flying where I wanted to, checking out the scenery, and having a lot of fun.

After chasing lift near the reservoir, I headed south of the airport and then to the east a bit to check out a private landing strip. This time around, I entered the pattern a bit high and flew a long, full pattern. The landing was a bit tricky, because I had the controls up until the last 10 feet of altitude. I came very close to asking, "Uhm, am *I* supposed to land this thing?!" But since I wasn't flying with an instructor, the last-minute confusion was understandable.

My second flight was a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to going up again in a week or so. Maybe I'll get to try flying on takeoff...

Posted by jzawodn at 10:20 PM