Today was my first test checkride. The idea is for Jim to pretend to be the FAA examiner and run me through all the flight test maneuvers that I'll need to perfect before I fly with a real examiner. And what a flight it was. Going into the flight, I knew there were things I'd have trouble with. The main goal of the first flight is to get a feel for it and figure out what I really need to practice more.
Without running over the entire flight, I'll simply mention that I need to work on my slack line recovery and my landings. The slack line stuff wasn't bad when I practiced it a month or so ago, but the situation was quite different. This time around, I expected the slack, but I never knew how Jim would induce it. So I wasn't already mentally rehearsing the recovery procedure. I didn't know which one I'd need.
My landings aren't bad. But the practical test standards dictate a relatively strict landing requirement. I have to land and stop within a relatively small target zone--to simulate an off-field landing. That's a bit harder. I've always concerned myself with getting down on the runway and being as close to the centerline as possible. But now there's an added dimension that I hadn't practiced much. Worse yet, for the flight test, I'll almost certainly be landing on runway 24. But 90% of my landings have been on 31.
After that was over, I flew three solo flights to start working on my landings. I also took a bit of time to practice my 720 degree turns. I need the speed control to be a little tighter.
I've found Kip's on-line practice test to be amazingly helpful. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's the same one I used back in college when I took the FAA Private Pilot test the first time.
My written test for Private Pilot Glider is on March 7th and I still have a lot to learn and practice. Luckily, I don't have to do it all from a book.
What a nice day to fly. Clear and relatively calm. Not much lift, but just a nice day. The gliderport was busy.
I had solo time booked for one of the 2-32s in the morning, so I took 87R up for three flights to between 4,000 and 3,000 feet. The longer tow and smooth air gave me time to box the wake, which worked just fine.
I didn't do much exciting other than practice some speed control in turns and look for lift (there was none yet). I was mainly interested in trying to improve my landings. I entered the pattern a bit higher than normal and did a better job that I had recently.
Later in the day, Jim and I took the ASK-21 up to practice some maneuvers in a different glider. Our first flight was a high tow (5,000 feet) which gave me time to box the wake on tow and re-acquaint myself with flying a more responsive glider.
Off tow, we ran thru a bunch of maneuvers to get used to flying the 21: slow flight, imminent stalls (forward and turning), stalls, steep turns, spiral dive recovery, full-stick-back turns, and incipient spins. It was a whirlwind tour of flying the 21 but it came pretty easily and I enjoyed it. We landed on on runway 24 without much trouble. The spoilers threw me a bit. They don't slow the glider like those on the 2-32.
The next two flights were lower. We worked on a few more things, mainly slips. Then I got to put them to use, landing without spoilers on runway 31 and 24. The ASK-21 can slip a lot harder than the 2-32, so it wasn't too bad.
Jim said that I did well enough on the flights that he'd be able to solo me in the 21 with just a few more short flights to make sure I can takeoff and land without incident.
I headed down to Hollister expecting better weather and got it. It was warmer and clearer. There were some clouds out and they helped me find lift and sink a bit easier than anytime before. It took four tows to between 3,800 and 2,800 feet to look for lift and practice my slow flight. The lift didn't exist above 2,100 feet and it was quite spotty. It was just too early in the day. I did manage to find a bit near the junk yard, but it was hard to stay in. And it was only 200 fpm.
Today was all about practicing no divebrake landings in the 2-32. We took 64E up four times (all closed traffic) and I got to practice leaving the brakes closed three times for runway 31 and once on 24.
After a couple tries, I got pretty good using both turning and forward slips when necessary to get rid of altitude. I also got a lot better at making the minor bank adjustments necessary to stay lined up with the runway while still flying with a full forward slip.
After that I took two solo flights. The clouds were really low, but there were some holes. So I towed to 2,800 feet to practice turns and avoid clouds a bit before making my landings on runway 31.
I arrived a bit early, thanks to me over-estimating how bad the traffic would be. So I poked around a bit while Jim finished up with the student that he was with. I took a few minutes to check glider six four echo. Someone else had already done the pre-flight checks, but I'd rather check it myself.
The clouds were low, so we decided to work on low stuff. I didn't care what we did, I was just happy there was a crosswind. It was coming right run runway 24, so we planned to fly off 31 a few times so I could finally get some decent crosswind training.
For the first flight, we headed to 2,700 feet and dodged a few coulds while looking for lift. There wasn't much out there, so I got to practice a few slips before getting into the pattern. I was entering from left 45 rather than the normal crosswind entry, so we had a bit of altitude to burn.
The downwind leg was interesting. I had to crab into the crosswind a fair amount. It's odd to be flying "sideways" like that. The turn from downwind to base became a downwind to final. The tailwind on base had me flying a bit faster than I expected so there wasn't any base leg to speak of. Once on final, I eased into the side slip and opened the spoilers. We touched down just a bit left of center on runway 31.
For the second flight, we decided to tow downwind in the pattern and fly another crosswind landing. The crab was a bit less than before, but I really didn't notice until later. The base leg actually existed this time. On final I didn't need to slip as much as before. That told me that the wind had died down a bit. The crab should have given that away on downwind but I just didn't think about it.
The landing was good. Amusingly, I noticed that the runway lights were on. That's the first time I landed a glider on a lit runway.
This time, we planned to take off on runway 31, fly to 1,500 feet and enter the patten for runway 24 (the active runway). Rather than a normal landing, we were to simulate an off-field (short) landing over an obstacle. I kept off the spoilers on final until we got over the power lines and then pulled them out nearly the whole way. We fell like a rock and touched down just past the numbers. I pulled the wheel brake and got us stoped in a couple hundred feet.
The landing wasn't bad. The only odd thing about it was seeing the ground come up at me that fast. But at least we didn't bounce. :-)
For this flight, we took off on runway 24. Then, 300 feet over the ground, Jim pulled the release to simulate a rope break. I made a 45 degree banked 180 degree right turn back onto runwawy 06 for landing. It took a bit of adjusting to get over the runway. We drifted down the runway a bit, I pulled the spoilers, and landed.
This time, Jim told me he was going to pull the release again. He told me because he wanted me to come back and make a low approach to runway 24 even though I'd want to land back on 06.
We took off on 24 and roughly 500 feet above the ground, he pulled the release. I turned around and entered a right downwind for runway 24 and made my radio call. Then, just before we reached the half-way point downt he runway, Jim pulled the spoilers and said "You're in sink now." I looked around and said, "okay, but I'm going to fly down the runway a bit longer before I make a 180 to land on 24." When I began my turn, he gave the spoilers back to me. I closed them for the duration of the turn and then put the nose down quite a bit more and pulled them back out to drop enough altitude to land. We landed long on runway 24.
That was a fun flight. I really didn't know what I'd do in advance, so I just had to decide how to fly as the situation developed.
After all those rope breaks, we flew one last flight with a couple other twists. Rather than drag the glider back to the other end of the runway, we flew a downwind takeoff on runway 06, went to 1,300 feet and came back for a no spoiler landing on runway 31.
Whew. Despite the weather, I had some interested flying. Most of it was in preparation for emergency situations. I feel a lot better about low altitude approaches and landing in very short distances.
On Saturday, we'll take the ASK-21 up in the mornining for a few flights. Then I'll do some more solo work in one of the 2-32s. Oh, that reminds me. I also got a 14-day solo sign-off.
To go with the radio I'm planning to get, I've been looking at handheld GPS units that I can use while flying. From reading the rec.aviation.soaring newsgroup, there seem to be tool schools of thought on this. Some folks get a low-end GPS and hook up a Palm or PocketPC device with a data cable. The GPS figures out where you're at while the handheld computer handles all the hard stuff (computing glide slopes, locating airports, recording the flight path). The other option is to get a slightly better GPS that can perform some of those operations. In doing so, you have one fewer device (and cable) to mess with in the cockpit.
I've decided to go with the GPSMAP 76S. A lot of folks have been comparing it to the Vista and other units. The 76S is impressive and the folks at Garmin are adding more soaring related features. With the latest firmware, they've added glide calculations, for example.
The other nice thing about having a handheld GPS is that I can use it when driving around too. I doubt I'll need to do that very often, but ya never know.
I've spent a fair amount of time looking for a handheld radio to use when flying. It'll serve mainly as a backup to the glider's radio (the battery may die) but it'll also be handy on the ground and if I rent a glider that doesn't have one.
I could get a relatively cheap and featureless radio, but I'm also thinking that I might someday go for power training and beyond. So after lots of reading and some asking and some testing, I've settled on the ICOM IC-A23. It's a bit more than I was planning to spend but it has a great combination of features, a good size, and a lot of folks seem to really like it.
And, of course, I do like toys. :-)
I headed down to Hollister today to fly solo. I managed to get three flights up. It was quite busy and there was a tow plane out of service. We had a replacement tow plane (don't remember the model) but it was slow and under-powered.
Anyway, I got up once solo in 64E. Flew to 5,000 feet and took some pictures. That's right, I finally managed to bring my camera up with me. Practiced some turns and looked for lift. I didn't find much.
Russell sat in the back seat on my second flight (roughly 3,200 feet). Drew wanted to make sure I had an instructor for my first tow with an under-powered tow plane. I did just fine. Russell said I looked relaxed and that I had no problem with the tow. We took some pictures on that flight too.
Then I took a long break to study my FAA test prep book while waiting for the lines to go down a bit and for a 2-32 to free up. Around 3:15pm a 2-32 landed and I went to claim it. I got up in the air after 4:00pm, to 4,000 feet. It was my first time flying that close to sunset. Things looked quite different. Lots of shadows that I'm not used to seeing.
I'd write more, but I have lots to catch up on.
I headed down to Hollister this morning not knowing what I'd do with Jim. Now out of the hospital and flying again, I wasn't sure if he'd want to get me in a 2-32 to practice some more stuff or if we'd fly the ASK-21. He mentioned doing both in the last few weeks.
He suggested we take up glider 64E (one of the 2-32s) to work on more advanced tow tasks. On the first flight, I boxed the wake once we got above 2,000 feet and did a damned fine job of it. :-)
After that, we spent the rest of the flight working with slack line recovery. There are a variety of ways you can end up with slack in the tow rope but they all boil down to two causes: either pilot error or turbulence. Since it was a calm day and we were training, Jim would force slack in various ways so I could practice recovery. It went pretty well. We did slack in steering turns with standard recovery. Then we tried recovery using the air brakes a few times. On the last attempt, I got behind the towplane with little too much slack in the line and broke it (the rope).
Amusingly, Jim wasn't expecting to break but I was. I remembered how nasty the rope looked when we inspected it earlier. So when I saw the slack coming out, I thought to myself "uh oh..." and looked at the altimeter. We were at 4,800 feet, so all I did was turn from the towplane and fly the glider. Heh. There's a first time for everything, and with slack line training this can happen.
After our "release" we worked on speed changes. Starting with 50mph, I'd increase the glider's speed in 5mph increments until 90mph, testing the controls at each stop to get a feel for how the response changes.
With that out of the way, Jim had me cover the altimeter and airspeed indicator for the remainder of the flight (to simulate a failure of the instruments). He then demonstrated benign sprial mode, a technique used to get the glider down without traveling very far or going very fast. It's not something you do very often, but it's a good maneuver to know if you ever get trapped above the clouds and would like to get below them with the least chance of hitting something and killing yourself.
We lost a fair amount of alitutde flying fast during the speed changes and then in the spiral, so I headed toward the airport to land without any instruments. I flew the pattern a bit fast (or so I'm told) but otherwise the landing was decent.
We launched for our second flight off runway 31 and began to practice "unusual attitudes" on tow. That meant three different situations I had to recover from after Jim purposely did bad things to the glider. First, he'd put the glider in a steep bank away from the towplane and give me the controls. I'd correct it by unbanking and rolling back the other way for a bit. Once level, I'd let slack out of the rope and drift back behind the towplane. The next situation was a climb. Jim would put the nose up and then give me the controls. I'd put the nose forward to dive and then level us, work out the slack, and get back in position. The final situation was a dive. He'd put the nose down for a few seconds before giving me the glider. I'd pull up to level, work out the slack, and get back in position.
Having managed not to break the rope, we released at 5,000 feet. We praticed some 720 degree turns and then worked on benign spiral mode again. This time Jim put the nose pretty high before we entered. In benign spiral mode, I open the airbrakes all the way and let go of all the other controls. It's basically a hands-off maneuver except for the brake control. I had to use every ounce of self-control to keep myself from touching the controls when Jim put the nose high in a turn and told me to pull the brakes and let go of the controls. I really, really wanted to fix the situation but didn't. I had to just trust that the glider would do the right thing. It did.
We played around a bit more and I headed back to the airport. This time, when I opened the airbrakes on my crosswind leg to test them, Jim held them open and announced "your brakes are stuck open... what are you going to do?" Well, in the 2-32, you fall like a rock when the brakes are open like that. So I decided to land on runway 13 (a downwind landing on 31 is another way to look at it). After 10 seconds I told him that I wasn't sure if we'd make it and I wasn't sure where to aim. I'm really not used to flying with the brakes open and the nose that far down. He suggested that I just get to the runway and then turn parallel to it. I did that. When we got close, he put the brakes back in a bit so that we'd have enough altitude to safely turn and land.
Back on the ground, we discussed airbrake failures and full-brake landings a bit. Then he asked I wanted to go back up solo, and I said yes (of course).
I flew two solo flights to 5,000 feet. During both of them I spent most of my time flying between 50 and 60mph so that I could get better and keeping a constant speed in slow turns. It's harder than it seems at first. I kept over-controlling and had to stop trying to hard.
As it was appraching (or past) noon, the air started to get bumpy around 2,200 feet. The thermals were starting to warm up. I attempted to find lift and caught a few 100fpm pockets but quickly lost them.
While I was up on flight #3, I heard a lot of radio talk. It was a clear day so I was picking up calls from at least four different airports. Most of the Hollister calls were coming from an ultralight that was flying left closed traffic off runway 31 over and over and over. He flew pretty slow but his patterns were also quite short. It seemed like he was back on the ranway every 4-5 minutes. I was wondering if he was ever going to stop. When I entered the pattern and called my position on crosswind, he asked if he had enough time to land. That cracked me up, since he was on downwind and almost ready to turn base. I told him that he had several minutes so it was no problem.
My first landing was pretty good except for the bounce. But at least I bounced on the centerline. :-)
My second landing was more interesting. What I didn't know is that while I was up on flight #4, the winds were increasing. It was no longer calm at the surface. There was a 5-10mph head/crosswind on runway 31. But I didn't look closely enough at the windsock to notice that. So I was surprised when I found myself low over the runway. I had thought I'd hit my aim point perfectly. Instead I found myself low and slowing down. I put the brakes in and the nose down to gain some airspeed. It helped but not much. At that point I figured there must be wind but wasn't sure. When I was 2-3 feet above the runway and perfectly on centerline, I found myself blowing to the left. Ugh. Rather than try to correct that low, I let the glider down a bit early and just coasted a bit longer on the ground. When I did get a chance to look at the windsock again, it explained everything.
Jim gave me a 10-day solo signoff, so I'll probably fly a 2-32 for a few hours this weekend. Then he and I will meet again next Thursday, but later in the day. We're hoping to find some crosswind for me to practice in. I need crosswind practice.
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.
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.
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.
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...