Monday, July 30, 2007

A Nice Day at Soar Truckee

Our flight, July 5: Mike Mayo launched from Truckee about 1:30 carrying us
along in NCSA's Grob 103 N3981C for his WINGS flight. He got off tow at 8400', and he took us to over 16,000' in less than 20 minutes north of Truckee. We then
flew east over the ridge but turned around past Spooner Lake over Highway
50—Mike noted virga ahead. Seems the earlier launches made it past
that area before our arrival.

Returning to the Truckee Valley around 10,000', Mike again brought us up
past 16,000' and
he headed us northwest, running a nice cloud street passing over Sierraville
then Nervino and abeam Quincy almost to Susanville.
Good fun. We could see the cloud street extending up beyond
Ravendale and parts further northwest. Alas, we turned home so I could land
and head home, only to note
that the fun cloud street we had flown in on had begun to overdevelop with
virga. We made our way home via a more northeasterly route from
near Herlong through what
Mike noted as a possible convergence line between the east winds aloft and
what had grown into a squall line of virga to the west. We observed a
lightning strike along the path that we had earlier taken and Air Sailing
Gliderport to the northeast.

It sure was fun flying along below 18,000' at 80 to 90 knots indicated with
4 to 6 up and Stead made. We could see Lake Tahoe to the near right and
Pyramid Lake to the left all in their full length with just a turn of our
heads. Beautiful.

We arrived over Truckee at 12,000' and enjoyed the intentional glide down.
As we looked up at the OD in the sky, we both smiled, enjoying our 4 hour
flight. We had
adjusted our route according to the weather for the day, flown always within
glide distance of a paved runway, and landed safely having enjoyed beautiful
country sights along the way.

Mike M. and Dave C.

Oh, the Drama!

About a week ago, I resigned as editor of this blog. After receiving several very nice letters urging me to stay on, I have reconsidered, and will continue as editor.

I swear, it's a regular soap opera around here.

-- Johan "emo-boy" Larson

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Women's Soaring Seminar 2007

It was not without a little trepidation that I decided to attend and join
the Women's Soaring Pilots Seminar in Avenal. Being X chromosome deficient
(more about biology later), I didn't know what kind of reception I would
get. But the chairwomen, Kathleen Morse and Neita Montague, were the most
gracious of hosts and so supportive of women in soaring and men who
encourage women to discover thrill of soaring.

NCSA had four members attend. Monique instructed in FB, Buzz in Avenal
club ships, (Central California Soaring Club), and Mighty Gorilla was
offering rides is his starship Duo Discus.

Monique and I arrived Sunday afternoon. Originally she had planned to stay
in a house in town, but then decided the swinging parties and all-night keggers would be more fun at the West Hills Community College in Coalinga
where I was staying. Buzz reserved a motel room, but he also longed for the
dorm life, and we ended up rooming together in the women's dorm for
$15/night. (Remind you of a old Tom Hanks TV sitcom?)

Although the building was built in the early '80, the style was '50's: one
bathroom down the hall with communal showers. (That is probably not much
different from the nearby state prisons in Coalinga and Avenal.) A
make-shift sign on the bathroom door indicated whether it was occupied by
men or women. Luckily glider pilots are much too mature play any practical
jokes on occupants by switching the sign on an occupant. The dorm manager
was a retired navy radar operator, and the resident manager, Maryan, was a delightful
young woman from Uganda via Sweden, to whom Monique gave a ride on Friday.

Dan Gudgel, Avenal instructor and FAA examiner, gave Monique and me area
checkouts. Avenal has two dirt strips intersecting in a V much like Byron
minus the taxiways. The setup requires a different mindset: manage energy
to stop at point of the V where gliders stage or stop quickly if you're
landing away from the vertex so you don't end up half a mile from launch
area. Without golf carts that's a lot of pushing. Occasionally cars
ventured onto the strip to tow when distances became prohibitally long like
when Monique and her student had to overfly a 2-33 stopped on the runway
which had landed against the launches and prevailing traffic without flying
a pattern.

Avenal has no cables to tie down transient airplanes. I purchased a set of
three extraordinary tie-down anchors for NCSA and FB from Paul Hanson, a
Central California Soaring Club member. I think they will be very useful
for securing gliders at Byron in the staging areas in strong winds. Each
tied-down anchor has three stakes which can be pulled out by hand, but the
tie-down anchor itself requires about 1200 lbs force to pull out. They're
in the clubhouse in a carry bag that should be placed in a golf cart when
strong winds blow. I think they would be a useful addition to any land out

I appreciated learning to launch without seeing the towplane. Close your
vents and windows and follow the tow rope. The tow plane kicks up enough
dust to hide itself as good as any WWII smoke screen. The tow pilot, Loyal,
had a spate of bad luck. He lives on the field in a trailer which caught
fire before we arrived. Ex-social worker Monique took up a collection to
get him back on his feet. On day three of the seminar morning talks were
interrupted by fire trucks turning onto the field. Loyal's Cessna 152 tow
plane engine had caught on fire. The fire truck arrived before local members
could find their only fire extinguisher, which was locked in a hangar. I thought how
smart we were to have Burt Compton, SSA safety consultant, evaluate our
operations at Byron.

Loyal had a back-up Cessna 150 that was sufficient for all but two place
glass ships. Kurt, who teaches aeronautical engineering at California
Polytechnic University at San Louis Obispo flew in his Husky tow plane who
turned out to tow all week. Winds picked up to create a dust storm worthy
of the Great Plains Dust Bowl on Wednesday. You really miss paved runways
and weed covered fields when blowing sand begins to sting. Buzz tried to
launch his DG 800 in the afternoon, but the combination of dirt strip and
strong crosswind weather-cocked him twice.

Two close misses with the tow rope impressed on me the added safety created
by retractable tow lines. On one occasion the released rope landed about 15
yards from assembled gliders and ground crew. Near the end of the day, the
crosswind became so strong that the tow line snagged a car parked at the
edge of the runway.

The other MOE (moment of excitement) was provided by Mighty Gorilla when his
canopy opened on takeoff. He ended up landing out in Coalinga and
discovered that a piece of canopy latching rope had prevented proper
latching of the canopy. THL (take home lesson): don't trust latch
position; always push up on the canopy when doing checklist.

On Friday Monique was honored with an award because of her contribution and
encouragement to women in soaring. NCSA members were put on the spot at the
last moment to make glowing remarks about Monique. Buzz recalled his NCSA
instructor checkride with Monique, "Give me a loop, spin to the right, spin
to the left and a no spoiler landing." I recounted her expletives -
actually quotes from a farmer - when she landed out near what is now Los
Vaqueros Reservoir, and the volume of work she does for NCSA.

Mike Green also won an award – Most Improved Fashion – for keeping his shirt
on through-out the whole week, at least in the presence of the ladies. Mike
also had the honor of reading the entries in the limerick contest at the
banquet. I think the fix was in because my entry was inexplicably lost
until the last moment. The winning entry--like so many other discussions
about gliding--had to do with bodily functions.

However, I did win a prize. I was first runner-up in maximum altitude on
Tuesday, winning a nice parasol which I'm happy to share with other NCSAers.
BTW it's the first time I've used a parasol--actually an umbrella--and I
was thoroughly impressed by how effective they are in cooling the user. I
thought they were just sun protection.

Mornings were predominately seminars with occasional flight instruction.
Dave Cunningham flew down and talked about badge flights and Kathleen found
time for me to explain my innovative chart marking method.

When thermals grew strong in the afternoon, instructors, students, and
private pilots set off. Avenal is far enough away from the coast to avoid
the marine influence and has numerous safe land-out sites. More than once
Monique and student ended soaring away when initially taking a pattern tow.

The incongruity of Avenal bracketed by two state prisons couldn't escape me.
Structures containing imprisoned men creating the best thermals to set
soaring pilots free was too ironic. Is there a prison escape screenplay
plot here?

Our mascot was Isaac, a Raven who survived a crash when as a chick her nest
got blown out of a tree near the clubhouse. Her siblings died immediately
and its biological parents couldn't care for her without a nest, so Paul
Hanson became her surrogate mom. Although she earned an "A" badge during
the seminar, she was unconcerned with controlling bodily functions in flight
or on the ground to the consternation of attendees.

The Avenal newspaper reporters arrived on Friday to report on the gathering
when Monique was instructing Marissa, a 16 year-oldscholarship student
from Reno. The experience of age passing on her wisdom to the exuberance of youth -- what a heartwarming story!

The next Women's Soaring Seminar will be held on the East Coast and then in
Slovenia in 2009. Next time it's held locally, I would recommend
all our members and especially our instructors to participate to encourage
more women soar and join our club.

PS: Note from Monique:

I agree with Bill that it was a successful and fun week in Avenal--20+
participants. We couldn't have done it without Bill as he did all the
work leading the crews--Byron and Avenal--to de-rig, rig, and de-rig and
rig, load the glider on its trailer; unload the trailer; load it again
etc. Bill had to stop at every Rest stop to make adjustments to the
glider on the trailer. Thanks, Bill.

--Bill Levinson

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I'm Done

I am stepping down as editor of the Buzzard, effective immediately. To my disappointment the blog never really caught on as a focus for club interest, and I am only willing to chase after obviously reluctant writers for so long. In any case, I have lost interest, and am therefore stepping down.

If someone else is interested in taking up the editorship, I am ready to help reconfigure the blog accordingly.

--Johan Larson

More Termal Camp Pics

Some more of Larry's pictures from Thermal Camp.

--Johan Larson

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thermal Camp 2007

My succinct summary of thermal camp is, "The best soaring I ever did."

Thermal Camp is an annual week of soaring organized by Rolf Peterson and held at Air Sailing, a dedicated glider-port about 25 miles north of Reno. Mornings are classroom instruction and afternoons are spent practicing and experiencing thermaling in an area that has fantastic lift.

Sunday--Welcome to Air Sailing. Arriving around 5 PM after a long drive from the Bay Area, my first reaction is "Holy Toledo, this place is really in the middle of nowhere." Happily, the place quickly grows on you. Linked up with Mark Violet and settled into our accommodations, the Mt. Shasta Trailer that we were renting for the week. Barbecued some chicken that night at the big barbecue area they have, had a couple beers, and met the other folks who were there for Thermal Camp.

Monday--Class begins at 8:30 in the Air Sailing clubhouse. Assisting Rolf throughout the week are NCSA instructors Dave Cunningham and Richard Pearl. First lesson is on Safety and last year’s collision of a Hawker Jet with a glider near Minden figures prominently in this lesson. The planes have Mode C transponders. Use them, squawking 0440. These are the jet routes to Reno. Rolf explains when to use 122.8, when to switch to Reno Approach, when to go to 123.3. This is getting complicated. Then Rolf switches to showing us our "playground" for the week; five and ten mile radius circles around Air Sailing. We discuss the L/D’s to use for the various aircraft. Rolf says, "Today, let’s stay within 5nm of the airport." Rolf wraps up the class with a hike around the airport describing the things to watch out for and pointing out the landmarks in our playground.

First flights--For some time leading up to Thermal Camp I’d been expecting to use 81C which I’d reserved late last autumn. However, as the date approached it slowly became apparent that the logistics of getting 81C to Air Sailing were becoming a bit daunting. Actually, getting it to Air Sailing wasn’t such a problem. The problem was, after ferrying it behind 16Y and watching the tow pilot and instructor fly back to Byron in 16Y, how do I get home? As I explored options, Dave Cunningham started whispering in my ear, "You can join Nevada Soaring Association for $250 and use their planes. And, oh by the way," continued Dave, "Real men do it in a 1-26 and NSA has a 1-26." And so, I contacted NSA and made arrangements to become a member and fly their 1-26 during the week. (And what a great stroke of luck that has proven to be. But that’s another story.)

Because of this, on Monday afternoon my first area-familiarization/check-ride flights were with Rob Stone (Stoney) from NSA in their big yellow 2-33. I should say here, that take-offs are preferred from 17. However, Monday there was a pretty stiff breeze favoring 03. However, you don't do take-offs from 03. Consequently, my first take-off was with an ~15 knot crosswind. Also, since Schweizers start off nose down on their skids, you line them up to the side of the paved runway in the dirt. That way, you don’t scratch the pavement. So my first take-off at Air Sailing proved to be quite the wild ride behind blue-tow. Yee-haa! I've heard about winches being exciting launches. Maybe this doesn’t out-do winches, but I’ll bet it’s a close second. After that, everything was easy. Stoney, had me release over "The Knoll" about 6500' and we promptly found one of many house-thermals in the area that took us to over 8000'. After about 40 minutes of some of the finest thermalling I'd ever done, Stoney decides it's time to do a few stalls, turns and land it. My first-ever landing on soft dirt. Very forgiving. Stoney wants to do a pattern and decides, "This time let's take off with the wing on the ground." With the strong crosswind. Yee-hah, another wild ride. Land in the dirt and get my NSA sign-off to fly their gliders.

After the check-out Stoney shows me the 1-26 09H, the black beauty that’s going to be my plane for a week. He sets me up with a cannula, shows me how to use it, etc. etc. About an hour after my checkride I'm ready for my first solo at Air Sailing.

First solo--Later in the week, when Rolf mentioned something about records set during the week, I confidently announced that I must own the record for the shortest flight from a high-tow, based on my first solo in the 1-26. We did the wild-ride take-off from 17 and headed for the Dogskins. I held on as the towplane flew up to the Dogskins then paralleled them to the south, looking for lift. At the south end of the ridge, at around 3000’ AGL, I release and look for lift. Not here. Do a couple more circles. Nothing. Then I say to myself, "There was lift at the Knoll, earlier. I’ll look there." By the time I get to the Knoll we're down to about 1500' AGL and the earlier lift's nowhere to be found. On a positive note, the Knoll turns out to be perfectly located for an entry to the pattern for 03, so I do my third landing at Air Sailing in the dirt. Bring 09H back up to the line, got some pointers from Rolf and took off again for the fourth flight of the day. Same yee-haa. This time, concerned about the possibility of being the first person ever to spend a week at Air Sailing and never find a thermal, I widened my search area at the south of the Dogskins and found one. A thermal! Hot-dog. Climbed to about 8200' (~4000' AGL) and started shadowing one of NSA’s 2-33's that was being flown by a pro; Chukar (Bob Spielman). I stayed up about an hour and a half, coming down somewhat after Chukar, and feeling pretty good about that flight. At the end of the day the Air Sailing folks were apologizing for the relative lack of lift. I was thinking, "Don’t apologize. This would be about the best day you could ever imagine at Byron."

Monday evening festivities start with Happy Hour followed by Dave Cunningham’s annual Thermal Camp burger and hot-links barbecue. Then the four Byron thermalers, Mark Violet, Lee Grisham, Taylor Nichols and I take a hike to the far, far, far end of 17 (it’s a very long runway). And then we hike back. All in all, a fine end to a fine day.

Tuesday--Physiology of flight is a major theme for morning class. Need for oxygen and affects of hypoxia. Put on the cannula at take-off and set the oxygen flowing. All our oxygen was included in the thermal camp fee to encourage us to learn how to use it and use it all the time. Next on the physiology top-hits is dehydration, its effects and how to avoid it. Then Rolf covered the other side of the dehydration coin, the one I'd been thinking about as I pondered the five hour duration flight, urination. Evidently there have been all sorts of contrivances that folks have experimented with over the years. Peeing uphill into a bottle sounds hard and, evidently, is. Heavy duty ziplocks are another choice. As are male catheters that are plumbed either to a storage bag or out the gear well (hope it doesn’t freeze or corrode the moving parts). But the lightbulb went on for me when Rolf said, "Depends." As used by the astronauts. What a simple solution. OK, so it's not all that macho. (After all, real men pee uphill into a bottle. In a 1-26.) But, like, properly done, who’s gonna know?

Afternoon flights--Once again, an unusual easterly wind requiring a crosswind takeoff from 17. But it’s not quite as strong a wind or as wild a ride as Monday's. Here's from my logbook: Two flights in 09H. Both releases around 6800'. First flight was 1.2 hrs, second 0.9. Two 2000' thermal climbs on first flight that saved it. Maxed at 7300. 2nd flight got to 8500 and 8400 with one nearly 2000' thermal. Fine day! Once again, the Air Sailing folks were apologizing for conditions that, in Byron, would be to die for. Dinner that night is hamburger and hot dog left-overs from the Monday night barbecue.

Wednesday--Here’s a picture of Mark outside our Mt. Shasta digs, as we prepare breakfast for the big day in front of us. The predictions for Wednesday call for conditions far superior to the days before, with the outlook for Thursday and Friday even better. Dave Cunningham instructs us on how to fix up a bargraph to record our altitudes with an eye towards earning silver altitude (about 3400’ climb from lowest point but when you use a barograph, Dave explains, it's prudent to climb a whole lot more). Rolf widens the radius of our playground to 10 nm. I get my stuff together in the trusty 1-26, and get ready to launch. Here's what the logbook says: Release at 7300; eventually go to 13.5! Fabulous thermalling flight with several climbs above 13K. Left on a valley tour from 13K, got to Moon Rocks at 7K, found a thermal that went to 12K. Then did a final tour of the valley before landing. This landing was my third spot-landing for Bronze. The flight also satisifed the Silver altitude gain. A super flight!! At 3.5 hours it was my best flight ever. After our flights, Dave shows us how to properly mark the barograph trace to make the badge claim. That night Mark, Taylor and I go out for beer and pizza at the first shopping center outside of Air Sailing, about 17 miles down the road. The Spanish Springs Round Table is a definite recommendation.

Thursday--The weather report is for super lift. Wind is now from a sensible direction. We will be landing, on the usual runway 21, not 03. The only issue is the K-index which is greater than 20. Rolf says that’s a sign that we may get overdevelopment late in the afternoon. "What’s overdevelopment?" "That’s when there are clouds everywhere and the sun stops hitting the ground."

Dave talks about badges and requirements. Then we get down to the morning's major piece of business; what to do about the Friday night banquet. We vote for Mexican delivered to Air Sailing.

I decide to have a go at the five hour endurance. Eat an early lunch, load up 09H with a barograph, water and cookies and my gps flight logger. Roll 09H up to the launch line by 11:45. Red Tow hauls me skyward. And up. And up. Looking for lift. None by the Dogskins. None over the valley. Finally, around 8400' Charlie recommends I get off. My gps log shows a straight line descent to ~5400' where I began the first of three saves over the Knoll area. However, the fourth time I went back to that "well" it was dry. And so my try at the five hour endurance was over in 1:20. Not a bad flight by Byron standards but after that bit of flying, another five plus more hours was a bit out of the question. However, the day was still young. We haul 09H up to the line and I relight around 1:30 for what proved to be my best flight of the week. From the logbook: Towed to Red Rocks about 1/2 hour later. Released in thermal that took me to 13K. Spent most of the next couple hours cruising in high lift. Caught a broad cloud street in the valley west of Dogskins that allowed me to cruise down to Stead and back at 15K. Many thermals, becoming overdeveloped later in the day. Another fantastic flight at Air Sailing. On that flight, the gps shows >16K of altitude. The highest I've ever been in any sort of private plane. Dinner that night was the last of the left-over hamburgers from the Monday night barbecue. Surprisingly tasty when you’re tired from a great day of flying and had and have had a couple of beers.

Friday--Rolf talks about yesterday’s weather. Evidently the stuff I cruised down to Stead and back in was "upper level instability." "Is there’s a simple picture for upper-level instability, like there is for thermals?" Rolf says, "No." But it's good lift. Today’s discussion topic is cross-country, to start us thinking about the next step beyond Thermal Camp. After the class I make arrangements with Lee Edling, the NSA instructor, to go up for a flight in the 2-33 to do a no-altimeter accuracy landing to finish up my Bronze badge requirements. To make a long story short, third try was charmed and I duly reported to Dave Cunningham that all requirements for the Bronze Badge have been met. Then I got 09H ready for a last flight and up to the line. According to the logbook: Tow to 7200'. Released SE of airport in some lift that disappeared. Short flight…

Well, that won’t do for the last flight at Air Sailing. So, once more back to the line. This time it says: Towed to 7300' near Dogskins gap. Released in some lift which disappeared. Finally found some lift over the knoll that took me to 12500. Cruised at high altitude for a while. Finally recalled by Rolf because a front was coming thru. Decended with dive brakes from 9500 to airport in short order. Landed on 17 just before sand-storm came thru. The last bit understates a bit of drama. The 1-26 is a noisy beast. Evidently Rolf had been trying and trying to call me back before I finally heard a "09H." I just made it back before an opaque sand-storm and had one of those lessons-learned experiences. When flying in the desert, look on the ground for signs of weather coming in as well as in the sky.

We wrap up flying a bit early on Friday and celebrate with beer and Mexican cuisine an absolutely wonderful week of soaring.

Clockwise from the left: Richard Pearl, Mark Violet, Taylor Nichols, Rolf Peterson, Dave Cunningham, Ed Cook, Lee Grisham, Bear, Mike and Clark (from Hollister).

--Larry Suter