June 26, 2003
High Expectations

I headed to Hollister this morning because of the amazing looking BLIPMAP. Thermals in the area were predicted to be 500-700fpm and as high as 10,000 feet. The forecast was dead on. It was really hot.

I flew twice in the Grob. My first flight sucked. I released at 2,400 after going thru a few strong thermals. I turned around to get them and couldn't find anything but sink. I was back on the ground in less than 15 minutes.

I waited a while before going up again. Launching well after noon, I towed to the Three Sisters--where all the action was. A bunch of other gliders found 6-8 knot thermals. I released at 5,400 in a thermal and found some 4-5 knot thermal activity but it was surrounded by 8-10 knot sink. I lost 1,000 feet and then gained 600. Then lost 800 and gained 400. And I was heading away from the airport.

I decided to head back toward the airport. Just at the edge of the foothills, I found a good 5 knot thermal at 2,700. It took be back up to 4,000. Having re-gained some confidence (it was in short supply), I took some big drinks of water (damn it was hot!) and headed south to look for more.

I found sink again. I got out of it quickly and headed toward the junk yard. It was sink all the way there but then I found 2-3 knots lift. Compared to what others found in the hills, it was crap, but it was better than nothing.

While trying to center the thermal, I started to realize that the heat was really getting to me. So I decided to go land. Just before I made my pattern entry, I found more lift and worked it for 2 minutes before heading in.

I got hit with more lift in the pattern and came in with full dive brakes. In fact, I landed long. It was either that or fly a 360 on final to drop altitude. I could have done that but I knew that my brain was not working at full power, so I just let the brakes do their thing. I even added a slip for good measure.

I went home, took a cold shower, and decided never to soar in 100 degree heat again.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:00 PM
June 14, 2003
Bronze Badge Class

I've been remiss in updating my flying blog. :-(

After a little date mixup, I headed down to Hollister for Russell's Bronze Badge class. When I arrived, I was surprised to find that the office size had doubled and than there was a Piper Pawnee among the towplanes. How things have changed in the 2 weeks since I last flew!

Anyway, Russell covered all the necessary information for the SSA Bronze Badge test. There were 6 of us in the class.

After the test, I wiped down the wings of the Grob and took it for a short flight. Mike had flown earlier and told me that it was pretty calm. Any lift would be low and near the airport. Grr.

I found that conditions had changed by the time I launched. My tow was pretty bumpy. When I reached the foothills east of the field, I just run into two good thermals, so I released at 3,200 feet to go after 'em. Well, I couldn't find 'em. So I headed back in the direction of the airport and found a lot of 400ft/min sink and bumpy conditions. But the bumps were all quite small and impossible to work.

Before I knew it, it was time to land. I headed into the pattern and landed. I was able to get the glider all the way off the runway to roughly the spot I had planned, so at last my landing was good.

I waited a few hours before going up again. The sea breeze had begun, so conditions weren't likely to change. I was in no hurry.

I had a good 10 knot headwind for my second flight. And I was towing behind the Pawnee for the first time. Damn, can that thing climb!

Before I knew it, I was near the Three Sisters and climbing through 5,000 feet. I got the towplane to perform a gentle left 180 and released heading west. Unlike my earlier flight, it was quite calm. So I headed north along the ridge for a bit. Finding nothing, I headed west across the valley and over the hills west of the field. I played around there for a while before entering the pattern to land. About 30 seconds after making my pattern entry call (downwind for 24), a plane flew right over my. I saw him maybe 200 feet away off my left wing and dove immediately. As far as I could tell, he wasn't on the radio and hadn't heard my call. I'm sure he didn't see me because I was below him. And he was visually blocked by my wing while he approached.

Yes, aircraft have blind spots too.

Anyway, I landed without incident. I came in a bit high but used spoilers on downwind, base, and final to land normally.

It wasn't a great soaring day, but I had fun. It was good to get back in the cockpit again.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:33 PM
June 11, 2003
Flying a Piper Archer

I took some time off from the book today to go flying with my friend John. He got his power license last year (I think) and we'd been talking about a combined power and glider day sometime. So the plan was to meet up at Palo Alto (he's a member of the West Valley Flying Club or WVFC), get a plane, fly down to Hollister Airport along the Diablo Range, take some glider rides, and then fly back.

But things never go according to plan.

The weather wasn't being cooperative at all. I arrived at WVFC at 10am to find that the whole Bay Area was covered in clouds--low clouds. The ceilings were 2,400 at best. But the forecast said things should be clearing up, and typically around 11am or noon the fog/clouds are mostly broken up, if not gone entirely.

So we double-checked the weather and route and then headed out to find the plane and begin the pre-flight checks. Our plane for the day was N1648H a Piper Archer with 180 horsepower behind the prop. The plane is relatively roomy and has nice instruments, including a color Garmin GPS that was fun to play with. It beats the pants off my little handheld model.

After pre-flight and warming the engine a bit, we contacted the tower and asked for permission to taxi to the runup area. We hung out near the end of runway 31 for a bit and then requested clearance to take off. After one more plane landed, it was our turn to go. We pulled out onto the runway, John said "you ready?" and off we went. That Piper has a lot of power and we were in the air in no time.

We flew out over the southern tip of the bay, heading eastward toward the hills. The plan was to fly over highway 680 and then follow it down to Reid-Hillview Airport, request permission to cross their airspace, and then head south to Hollister. But the clouds were still quite low and didn't show much sign of going anywhere. We stayed at 1,500 AGL.

Roughly 5 miles from Reid-Hillview, we couldn't contact the tower because they were very busy. So we circled around a couple times, waiting for a break on the radio. It turns out that something like 4 or 5 planes were flying patterns and/or touch-n-go landings. So they were talking seemingly non-stop.

Eventually we got thru to the tower and they let us fly over the airport and head south. But then when we were 2-3 miles south of the airport, they asked us to turn left and fly northwest. Given that they knew our intention was to fly south to Hollister, this was a gently way of saying either "you can't safely get there with those low clouds" or "I'm not going to let you try, but maybe San Jose will." We never tried contacting San Jose.

Instead, we headed east to see if the clouds would be broken up (or gone entirely) over the Livermore area and into the Central Valley. As we came over the Altamont Pass (and associated win turbines), the sky turned mostly blue. The clouds were virtually gone. We had to fly past Livermore to get completely into the clear, but once we did it was pretty smooth and clear sailing--aside from some early afternoon haze.

As we flew along, we tuned into the various airports we passed along the way, Livermore, Tracy, Los Banos, and ultimately Hollister. As we flew along it was quite clear, but the clouds over in the valley didn't look promising. The breaking and clearing I expected by that time of day simply wasn't happening. We eventually found ourselves near the San Luis Reservoir where I had hoped we'd be able to cross the range and land over at Hollister. It was solid clouds over the hills and into the valley. It looked like 10 miles south of Hollister was broken to clear, but that didn't help us. With those low clouds, we wouldn't be able to do much glider flying.

So we turned around and headed home. After a few minutes of flying back the way we came, John said "Okay, your plane." He let me fly for 10 minutes or so while he relaxed and just didn't need to think about flying. I found the Piper pretty easy to control. I was able to maintain a heading and altitude within the range for Private Pilot testing standards. I flew a 360 degree turn and a few gentle banks. It was a relatively smooth ride. The plane didn't require nearly the amount of rudder that I'm used to, but I expected that and didn't find myself over-controlling.

We got to see a lot of the soon-to-be urban sprawl that's invading the Livermore and surrounding areas too.

After flying through the haze again, we found ourselves near the Altamont Pass once again where the sky was much clearer. We flew back into the Bay Area and contacted the Palo Alto tower to let 'em know we wanted to land.

The tower told us where to go and that there were, at one time, 4 planes ahead of us in the pattern. I'm not using to flying with that many planes in the pattern, but with a bit of looking we managed to find them all.

I knew that the pattern for powered aircraft would be different than what I'm used to in a glider, but it was quite different to experience in the air. There were a few times when I was thinking "we really should have turned back there" but we just kept on going. Eventually, though, we turned base and then final. Lined up for runway 31, we followed the plane ahead of us and came in to land. John did a good job of keeping the glide slope and we touched down pretty smoothly after a bit of floating.

We asked for permission to taxi back to the parking spot, taxied, parked and tied the plane down, and gathered up our stuff. We decided to try for a second attempt next Wednesday. But next time we're not planning to leave the airport until 1pm, so if the clouds decide to stick around longer, they shouldn't be much of a factor.

We'll see.

I've posted all the pictures from the day's flying for your viewing pleasure.

Posted by jzawodn at 06:24 PM