Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Truckee to Byron via White Mountain Peak and Yosemite

16K over Yosemite park within sight of Yosemite valley
Crossing the sierra from Sonora Pass area
 I had an interesting flight on Saturday from Truckee. Thanks to Jim Alton (who also lives in San Ramon) who volunteered to drive my car and trailer back home if I fly to Byron, I decided to keep this an option in case I can get high enough over the Sierra crest. My plan was to go back home Saturday night anyway, so this sounded like an attractive option. The day started slow though, and I had to struggle to get out of Truckee, and to get to Patterson where the first clouds started, but once there, it was relatively straight forward to get to White Mountain Peak, and to cross from there to the Sierras near Tioga Pass. I got to near 18K and flew deep over Yosemite park within sight of Yosemite valley and Half Dome. Still crossing to Byron from there was not a sure thing, I needed to get further NW first, so followed the clouds over the Sierra crest to near Sonora Pass, but could only get to 15.5K or so there, which gave me marginal glide to Byron with 10 knots easterly tail wind.
There were more clouds further west of the crest, but they were not giving much, but I managed to gain some on glide also thanks to the easterly wind. But once over the western slopes of the Sierra, the 10 knots tail wind turned to 10 knots head wind due to NW wind aloft, and it stayed that way all the way down to landing. I also needed to crab some to the north to maintain heading to Byron. My flight computer did not pick up the change as I was not turning, but I started loosing on glide to Byron quickly. The only indication I had of the change was by comparing my ground speed  to my TAS. I wonder how many pilots looking at those 2 numbers side by side in their flight computer? If your flight computer provides TAS, I highly recommend this method, as it is the most instantaneously HW/TW info. Anyway, once I figured how to tell XCSoar that I actually had 10 knots head wind and not tail wind, most of my margin over Byron was gone, but by now I was already committed. Of course I had plenty of margin over the Sierra so it was a no stress, 100+ miles glide which took 1.5 hours.
Long story short, I barely made Byron.  Around 20 miles out I was only 500 over glide, but it didn't look right. The glide angle to Byron looked much more flat than it should until I realized I need to adjust for Byron pressure altitude which was 600 feet off! Once adjusted I lost all my margin and just had enough for base to final. The vario never beeped even once since I left the last cloud at around 15K. Still I managed 40:1 glide with 10 knots head wind and slightly sinking air. Not bad. One point less in glide and I would have landed short...
I was hoping to still find pilots at Byron since after all the forecast for the Diablo Range was great if someone took high tow. And indeed I found Yuliy who was still working on his glider when I landed around 6:30PM.
Special thanks to Yuliy for the ride home, and to Jim Alton for driving my car and trailer from Truckee Sunday night. 
This is BTW the second time I fly across the Sierra to Byron, the first time was nearly 10 years ago from Minden with my old LS4.
Flight is on OLC:


Minden 2012 Wave Camp summary - Walter Friedrich

John Randazzo and I attended the Minden Wave Camp this year from
Sunday 3/25 through Saturday 3/31 and we took glider Twin III KP with

Price: $300 course/manual + $900 tows/instruction + $60/night hotel
(NCSA paid for trailer/glider parking and oxygen)
Number of participants ~12
People with their own gliders ~8
Total Number of flights: 6, Fliths with instructor: 4
Number of times I connected with wave: 2
Number of times I got into one of the windows: 1
Number of days with some wave ~5
Format: morning weather debrief + seminars, afternoon flying (flying
took precedence over seminars if possible)
Minden is run as a business by Soaring NV with friendly people (not
cheap though)

In preparation for this camp, I took the simulated Hypoxia class at
Van Nuys, which I think was important as the possibility of hypoxia
symptions/ issues is real. We also prepared KP with backup oxygen
bottles and clear vision panels.

Bringing your own glider certainly allows you to save some money but
it gives you less chance of getting experienced wave instructors.
Weather changes very fast and can be very windy and gusty making it
difficult to assemble or disassemble your glider. We couldn't
disassemble the glider at the end and I had to return to Minder
mid-week to retrieve it.

Seminars were mostly good:
"Forecasting and recognizing wave" by Doug Armstrong
"Aeronautical Decision Making" by Russell Holtz
"Using Condor flight simulator" by Tim Gardner
"How to fly in it when it gets here: FAA guidelines and the latest on
trasnponder use" by Mark Montague
"Wave flying" by Pete Alexander & Rick Walters
"OLC (OnLine Contest)" by Michael Mitton
"Flying the A-12" by Frank Murray
"Aeromedical factors" by Dr Morgan McCarroll
"Perlan Project Update" by Einar Einevoldson
"Tactical Wave Flying: a Primer" by Kempton Izuno

There are 3 wave windows above MInden (West, Central, East) extending
from 18,000 feet to 28,000 feet and which are opened by the ground
crew based on pilots' requests via radio. Windows stay open normally
til the end of day,unless it is released early.

Sunday was just checkin day and allowed us to assemble our glider in
preparation for camp. Our first flight on Monday was just an area
checkout with the local instructor. Conditions weren't too good for
wave flying (mostly wavelets), even though at least one person was
able to get into it. From the second day on we were trying to connect
with the wave with an instructor. After connecting the first time and
getting into the West window I tried it solo and with a passanger over
the next few days, succedding once again. Even flying with an
instructor is no guarantee of connecting with the wave.

Wind was southernly for most part of the week which isn't good as it
doesn't come squarely across the mountains and ends up creating
wavelets which are a lot harder to connect. Whenever the wind turned
more Westerly, conditions improved significantly. Quickly learned that
spending too much time following the weather forecast is useless as
the weather conditions change really fast and being at the airport
ready to go is the best approach. Wednesday was forecasted as a down
day with snow and rain, but turned out to have great wave conditions
towards the end of the day.

Closely monitoring the weather and wind conditions on the ground is
key while approaching airport to ensure a safe landing. Winds change
fast and we had planes at time landing in different directions in a
short period of time. We had rotor close to the ground at times. One
of my flights encountered rotor as low as 200 feet AGL (airport is at
4,700 feet MSL), with tow extremely turbulent til just below the wave
(about 9,000 MSL). We had clouds all days which helped determining
where we should go. It is unfortunate that the most favorably oriented
runway is actually a closed runway, but often used by glider pilots in
order to avoid dangerous crosswinds.

Most of the time we had sunshine above the clouds which prevented the
temperatures to drop too much. I never had a frosted window and only
John reported that he saw it starting once but the section covered
with clear vision panels remained clear.

Settting up oxygen on the ground was key to avoid last minute trouble
as lift is strong and the wave window approaches quite rapidly. My
instructor tried to switch from a canula to a mask and had problems,
ending up sticking the oxygen tube into his mouth when his oxygen
level had dropped into the low 80s with early signs of hypoxia. We had
a full oxygen tank, plus backup bottles (never had to use them) and
oxymeter. I always started with the mask on and oxygen flowing from
take off on if the plan was to connect with the wave.

Soaring NV was always willing to let us borrow flight recorders for
OLC or badge purposes. Really nice and attentive people.

I think it was well worth it, but to fly wave in the future and keep
costs under control, I will be heading to Air Sailing where they also
have 2 wave windows and operations are far less expensive. I did
become a member of Nevada Soaring as well.

Hope this helps.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mang's goofy photo + Practical tips on doing a checkride with Rex at Williams

photo of CFIG Ed Skuzinski on left. Great guy and great instructor!

Ok after the longwinded story here are a couple of practical
notes/tips on doing a checkride with Rex at Williams:

- know the speeds of your glider very well and be able to quote them
- when Rex tests you on soaring weather, you should know more about
the RASP than the METAR!
- know what the weather forecasts / conditions are for the day of your test
- expect to be asked questions that go into real understanding, not
just rote learning (but you're not expected to have advanced
understanding at this stage)
- stay calm... it'll be ok!

- mang

tales from the check ride from Mang

Had my check ride today at Williams for my Private Pilot Glider. I
did most of my training with the fabulous instructors at Byron and
then had a final few lessons with Ed in the ASK 21 at Williams.

The weather for my check ride didn't look great. I had checked the
NWS weather forecast for Williams and there was a "red flag" fire
alert due to dry gusty winds from the north. I checked the local
conditions at Williams in the morning and there was a ~16kt wind from
the north with a gust of 24kts. For those of you who don't know
Williams, the runway runs 16/34 and the staging area is at the south
end. So takeoffs are to the north and landings are usually to the
south even if there's a slight tailwind. Landing to the north means
crossing above/between two houses near the end of the runway and
requires three landings with an instructor before they'll let you do
it as a student or renter. I had none such landings so that wind
favouring a landing to the north didn't look good!

At noon the winds were something like NNW 15kts gusting to 18. Still
too much for a normal downwind landing. Rex, the designated examiner
and guy-who-runs-the-place at Williams was thorough in the oral exam.
His style is a little instructional - he wants to see how much you
know but will help you understand the more advanced aspects. Like we
all know that a tow rope can have a breaking strength of no more than
200% of the max gross weight of the glider. Say you have a tow rope
rated for 4,000lbs and your glider weighs 1,320lbs. What happens when
you put a knot in the rope?

As an aside, I already saw the effects of knots on rope strengths the
previous lesson at Williams. When first practicing slack lines my
instructor was a little over eager in putting in a big loop and I was
a little under eager in taking it out. POW! It broke right at the
knot all the way at the end of the rope inside the tow plane! The
effect of an approximately ~150ft rope trailing off the nose of an
ASK21 is a moderately increased sink rate and slight wobbly feeling at
the nose. We did a normal pattern to the grass strip next to the
gravel runway and dropped the rope as we got low on the final. No big
deal, but if you were out further (say towing to the mountains) you
might want to consider the increased drag/sink and drop the rope
somewhere safe if you felt it would be an issue.

After the oral part of the exam. We decided to wait awhile for the
winds to drop down. At that point it was a smooth 9kts more or less
straight down (or hey, up!) the runway. Probably doable but part of
being a glider pilot is respecting the weather and making prudent
decisions! About two hours later the wind was down to 5kts (though
still the wrong way!)

The flight portion was fairly straightforward, though again Rex was
able to thoroughly school me on some finer points of airmanship. My
slack line recoveries were not so great but at least I didn't break
the rope (equals automatic fail). Rex showed me using a forward slip
off to the side of the towplane as a recovery technique. Kind of like
it... gets the glider's nose way out to the side without bringing the
glider itself further out and the timing isn't as critical as with the
"dive to match speed" technique.

For the downwind landing after I'd selected my approach speed (at the
recommended speed of ~50kts since landing downwind and the wind was
smooth on takeoff) Rex made the point that the speed in the pattern
doesn't have to be the same for all legs and I decided to go with a
"speed to fly" of 55kts for the upwind leg. With my brain somewhat
cooked from the few hours in 100+ degrees heat I descended down at the
initial point to 1,500' instead of 1,200' (usually you try to arrive
at the IP at Williams at 1,500' and then circle down to 1,200' before
entering the 45 for landing). I realized I was high, commented on it
and decided to bleed some off with the air brakes on downwind. You
can bet Rex didn't let me ignore that I had some more altitude to play
with before safely reaching the IP with some to spare.

I turned crosswind further from the runway than usual, to give me more
time on line up and stabilize on final while being blown towards the
runway (5kts windspeed on the ground). I had to crab away from the
runway to maintain my track, so the turn to final was more than 90
degrees. I'd made downwind landings before at Williams, but it'd been
awhile. While on final the "half airbrakes" glide slope was a little
more shallow than usual since the ground speed was higher. Took a few
quick cycles of "getting too high, full airbrakes! getting too low,
less airbrakes! ok, half!" to get on a decent slope to my approach
point but I got it good enough to stabilize before the flare.

After touchdown flying downwind you can quickly lose directional
control as the airflow on your control surfaces decreases but you
still have decent groundspeed! It's key to have everything lined up
before you touchdown and before you lose directional control. With
the 5 knot tailwind it wasn't too bad. I stopped the glider within
the 200' target area mandated by the test standards with just a touch
of yaw at the end.

Rex shook my hand and congratulated me, then continued to school me on
what to do better! Passing was both an accomplishment and
reinforcement that there's so much more to learn and refine! That's
part of what keeps it fun :) Next goal is to get checked out for
mountain flying and keep refining my techniques!

- mang