Monique invited (commanded?) me to say how my spotted aviation history
led to NCSA & gliders. I haven't been around very long, but have
learned that Monique's invitations must be obeyed!
I have always been fascinated by the sea and the air. As an adolescent
I spent summers on the New England coast and learned to sail. My family
indulged me by buying a succession of small sailboats, and with the
typical attitude of a teenager I returned the favor by repeatedly
sailing over the horizon while small craft warnings were displayed. I
vaguely recollect a few discussions on the subject ... my Mom's memory,
many years after the events, was far more vivid. In my mind the
conditions were challenging but enjoyable ... probably the truth was
somewhere between my opinions and my parents.
I suspect that there were great sighs of relief when I miraculously
graduated from high school and got packed off to college. For two or
three years I applied myself and gave every sign of being a boring nerd.
Then came the fateful discovery of skydiving. There was a college
club with a table in the Student Union (this is how you did it before
the internet). I signed myself up and went for a jump. This was in
the Fall in Massachusetts. New England is not exactly the epicenter of
air sports,and let me assure you the number of jumpable days for
parachute students on round canopies in the Fall and Winter are just
about non-existent. However to my joy I discovered that they spent the
winter college break at a DZ in central Florida. Somehow I talked my
Dad into funding me to join this expedition, and I ended up completing
the student progression in a week and a half. This was in the 'bad old
days' of jumping with surplus round canopies and no air-to-air
supervision in freefall. Basically you got dumped out of the plane for
progressively longer and longer freefalls - -
your jumpmaster (back in the plane) tried to critique a rapidly
As a jumper you spend a lot of boring time sitting on the floor of
airplanes with very little to think about. Gradually I formed the
notion that this flying stuff was not as difficult as advertised. Right
about then I graduated from school, got a decent paying job
(how times have changed!), but still had the spending habits of a
student. The local airport was located maybe five minutes from work and
an indulgent boss let me take long lunch breaks. After just a little
less than a year I got my ASEL private license.
The jumping habit continued in the meantime. As an 'expert' parachutist
you can jump throughout the New England winters. If you are out of your
mind, that is. The question isn't, "Are you going to get frostbit?".
No, the question actually is, "How much?". This powerful motivation led
me to the Bay Area in 1981.
In California the flying stopped, the jumping continued. The jumping
tended to finance itself, and I discovered a wonderful new cash sink,
namely, chartering sailboats. I have two recollections of the NCSA in
the 80's, mainly because I jumped with the now defunct Livermore club.
These recollections are (a) a monstrous wind tetrahedron at
Hummingbird and (b) The necessity of watching out for gliders when there
was a strong North wind in the winter.
The jumping financed itself through instruction. Probably something
like half of my 3700 jumps were paying propositions. Static lines (Way
Back When), then AFF, then tandems. The skydiving student these days
has it pretty cushy. The planes are turbines (= fairly reliable), the
first jumping experience is a tandem, then the remaining student jumps
are done with an instructor assisting in freefall. This is all well and
good for the student, but not so nice for the instructor. Instead of
staying in a warm plane you are flailing in freefall with the student
strapped to your tummy, or you are hanging on during a wild exit, or
maybe in hot pursuit at pull time.
Around 1990 or so the seed of gliders was planted. I was working for
the skydiving operation at Hollister and have a recollection of this
incredibly graceful glider landing very nicely. A couple of folks went
out to the glider with crutches and assisted (to my eye) an extremely
decrepit old guy with legs of different lengths out of the glider. The
seed was, "When I get decrepit, that's what I'll do!"
Somewhere in the mid 1990's the jumping scene began to pall. Winged
flight was out of the question (young family, mortgage payment) ....
except, Hey! What about hang gliders?
With the assistance of the local shop, the local club, and some great
instructors I eventually got a hang 3 rating and did a modest amount of
mountain flying at the typical local sites, mainly Hull Mtn & Dunlap.
Even did a couple of flights in the Owens from Walt's Point .... but in
truth the strength of the lift was so terrifying I spent most of my time
frantically seeking air that didn't put slack in the hang strap and
thanking Yahweh once safe on the ground.
Happily the vast majority of my flights were extremely enjoyable thermal
and ridge lift experiences. You can't beat listening the vario scream,
the ground rapidly receding, and watching the local raptors quickly fly
to your thermal.
Dropped the hang gliding and went back to jumping for a few years,
mainly (no kidding!) to please my wife, who was also a jumper.
Got divorced and spent an eternity raising unruly teenagers. No flying.
Did a modest amount of Sierra backcountry stuff and watched gliders with
interest. Eventually the teenagers grew up and moved out. Thought
about flight. Looked at the hang glider dangling from the rafters and
started thinking about my own decrepitude.
Finally last October I relieved a boring hot afternoon in the Coalinga
area with a demo flight at Avenal with Morgan Hall. It was great to get
in the air, and also fun to hang out with a degenerate air junky. (I
hope Morgan will regard this as a compliment ....). This pushed me over
the edge, the next weekend I was out at Byron, and the rest is history.
Last of all a heartfelt message: A great number of people contribute
their time and expertise to the club ... Thank you all!
From: Monique Weil [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Monday,
December 17, 2012 4:04 PM
Subject: Re: Initial glider solo
We have a custom that a new member introduces him/herself with a few
words about themselves and how they came to want to fly gliders........
send me your story and I will put it on our Buzzard newsletter blog,
On 12/17/2012 3:38 PM, brianroachus wrote:
> Returning to the world of flight has been been a great joy. Thanks to all
for making this possible.
> Blue skies,
> Brian Roach
> --- In email@example.com, Terence Wilson <terence.wilson@...>
>> Give Brian Roach a pat on the back next time you see him. This afternoon
Brian flew solo in 81C and made a beautiful low energy landing on RWY 12.
Well done Brian!
Monday, December 17, 2012
Monday, December 10, 2012
I had a fun, interesting and challenging wave flight on Sunday. Talking to Kempton, who was planning to fly from Williams, the prior evening, my plan was to head north to the Napa valley wave once I get to 18K. So I took a tow shortly after 10AM to Los Vaqueros towers (few miles SW of the towers near wave3 waypoint) and released in weak wave which only took me to 7K, but enough to move further north to try to Diablo wave (wave1) which worked much better and eventually gave me 15K of altitude where the climb stopped. The wave was relatively weak and inconsistent likely due to the wind direction shift from NNE to NNW and back to NNE, and the wind dropped from 45 knots to 35 knots above 12K or so. While climbing in the Diablo wave I was in contact with Norcal which went well. I was asked about my intentions and replied they I will likely remain stationary for the next hour with gradual climb expecting up to 18K, so they vectored the airliners a little further north pointing me out to each one. I could also see some of them as ADS-B targets in my powerflarm. Anyway once I stopped climbing at 15K I decided to try Napa anyway, with the plan to turn around if I don't find anything before I loose glide back to Byron. Easy said than done, since as I was getting closer to the point of no return near Napa, I hit strong sink, which is indicating of possible strong wave lift nearby, so I wasn't willing to give up at that point, and quickly lost glide back to Byron and was now committed to Napa airport. Committing to Napa actually made things easier since now I had extra altitude to look for the wave, and based on Kempton's tip from our early discussion, I moved further west and indeed found the wave over the SW corner of the town at around 5000 feet. It was averaging only 1 knot and took long time to climb to 8K which was all I could get. Once at 8K over Napa I had marginal glide back to Byron and had the option of gliding back to Byron or try to explore more. To make long story short, I spent the next couple of hours exploring the wave trying to continue north with limited success , getting closer to the town of St Helena, but each time retreating back to the Napa wave to climb back up, from as low as 3000 feet (which required circling in the rotor for a while). Each time back to 8K or so after long slow climb and trying to explore in different direction. As I am not aware of any other safe airstrip in Napa valley which is covered with unlandable vineyards, I made sure to keep Napa airport in safe glide all the time. It was interesting to note that the wave was nearly miles downwind of the hills, which would suggest secondary wave, but I never found a primary up wind. so after 3 such low saves at the exact same spot over Napa back to 8K I was planing to go on final glide back to Byron, only to manage to climb higher this time to 9.3K, which gave me comfortable glide back to Byron. But I guess it was too comfortable for my taste, and being greedy as I am, I decided to try north once more to see if I can connect with the St Hellena wave before going on final glide. I actually finally found a good 10 miles stretch of wave maintaining above 9K, pretty much where Kempton found strong wave in previous flight from Williams, and kept going until I almost lost glide back to Byron then turned around with the confidence that I can follow my trace back and regain glide, but to my horror the wave completely fell apart and I found strong sink at exactly the same line I was climbing few minutes earlier. Even the Napa wave was no longer working and turned into strong sink. This highlights one of the differences from thermal flights - if you loose the wave, you will likely encounter strong sink and will loose ton of altitude before able to reconnect, much more than the typical sink between thermals, and sometime you wouldn't be able to reconnect. Also down lower it may be harder to contact the wave as it may not be working well below certain altitude. So I found myself over Napa at 5000 feet or so, well below glide to Byron 50 miles away, in strong sink and one hour before sunset. A quick check with my flight computer confirmed that I still had glide to Concord if I head there immediately, and so I did, making the retrieve much easier than Napa. Concord tower was friendly and on the ground I got help from Rusty who was the Byron airport manager last year.
As it was 30 minutes or so to sunset, I figured it was too late to call for aeroretrieve, so instead asked my wife to come get me, as my home in San Ramon is only 20 minutes away. But as it turned out, Mathew was heading that way on his way back home anyway, and with 2 passengers (Maya and Fabien) which were kind enough to volunteer to drive my car and trailer so I could spare my wife from the drive and save a trip to Byron to get my car. Thanks folks, and thanks to Buzz for coordinating that and hooking up my trailer.
All in all, it was an educating flight trying to explore wavelets over Napa valley where I have limited experience flying in wave, and a reminder not to push my luck too much, after 3 low saves it was probably time to head home :-)
Flight trace: http://www.onlinecontest.org/olc-2.0/gliding/flightinfo.html?dsId=2795594
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Sunday began in a deluge, as I'm sure most of you recall. It ended as a lovely day, and a small group celebrated this transition by flying gliders...
The sky didn't start to clear until after noon, and I don't think the first launch took place until almost 1:30. John Boyce was the instructor and Alex Drobshoff the tow pilot. Robert Farrell served as FM.
Matthew Gast and John Boyce launched first, with two pattern tows in 81C. Terence Wilson was next, making the first post-reassembly flight in KP. He made a lovely approach and sweet landing, capped off with a really hairy high-speed run into the first turnout, as his minimal braking quickly became no braking at all! But the combination of the early brake action deft handling, and a couple well-chosen wingtip drags brought him neatly to a stop just a good spit short of the 5KV runway sign (well, he wasn't really that close to it at all, but the writing is much more dramatic if I take a little poetic license here...). We all rather bemusedly observed that this is why club rules require the first post-assembly ride to be made by an experienced and licensed member. So KP went off to the bench while they tried to figure what was up with the brakes (more succinctly, what wasn't up with the brakes).
Matthew then decided he wanted to fly the 1-26, so he went of to pre-flight it while Van Henson (ahem, that would be me) and John then took a dual in 81C. John playacted the role of a DPE, running me through the checks, including boxing the wake, slack line, steep turns, slow flight, straight ahead stalls, speed-to-fly, etc., One mistake I made was in asking Alex to fly straight for tow maneuvers while headed straight into the sun. I did the maneuvers quite well (so said John), but it was really hard to keep my lineups on that plane as it flew directly into the inferno, all but disappearing in the intense, fiery brilliance. SHould have (and could have) easily asked him to turn 90 degrees, but didn't. The flight ended up with a bit of a slip to landing and (if I do say so myself) a really sweet landing complete with turnout right on the money, ending up centered on the taxiway with my nose right at the hold short line (short pause while I pat myself on the back some more... aah, that felt good.)
Next, Terence and Fabien launched in KP to seek out the ever-elusive Wave Lift, having worked the brakes and deciding that the brake fluid just hadn't been pumped from the cylinder enough (or something like that). At any rate, they had brakes for the second flight.
I was up next for a solo flight in 81C, which was smooth, lift-free, and pleasant. Unlike most of my flights, I forgot to turn on the sink-finder I usually fly with, so, while there wasn't any lift, neither was there noticeable sink, and I got a nice flight out of it. 16Y was just getting ready to drag Matt aloft in the 1-26 as I returned to the field, so they asked me to take the second turnoff. I made an early turn to base, turned final, and lined up on the stripes near the the first turnout as my aiming point. It's a good thing I patted myself on the back so hard after the first landing, because the landing on this flight was (how to say this delicately? oh yeah...) ****ing awful. Actually, I should say more accurately, ALL the landings on this flight were awful. All three of them (or was it four? I lost count). Can you spell P-I-O? Hadn't happened to me yet, but it sure did. Funny thing was, I recognized what it was, and immediately knew the proper correction, but just couldn't seem to get myself to hold the plane off and smooth it out. Didn't make the second turnout. Almost didn't make the third. Fortunately for me, almost everyone was busy getting Matthew ready, so only Maya came down the taxiway in the cart to make fun of me...
Terence and Fabien returned, having found a bit of wave, and gotten to 4500 feet, a few hundred feet above the (now widely scattered) clouds, and eked out about an hour's flight.
Maya then flew with John, the final launch of the day. We got things buttoned up just as dusk turned to night, and retired to the clubhouse for a beer and some shared BS.
So Sunday, which started so naughty, turned out nice.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Maya Moore is another student pilot who joined NCSA this summer. She writes a little about herself and the passion which unites us.
to share some insight into my flying and soloing experience at NCSA.
I've always had an interest and passion for aviation beginning as a
child. Growing up in South Carolina in the foothills of the Appalachian
Mountains, I was first lured to flying by an old Cherokee farmer who
flew a J-3 Clipped Wing Cub from his nearby horse pasture.
My first flight in his plane included several loops, rolls, and other
acrobatic manoeuvres. After the flight I think it was assumed that I
would be sick; however, I said that the only surprise was the dirt/grit
from the floor of the plane which fell against my face as we flew
inverted. After lunch and several hotdogs later I went back up and had
just as much fun as the first time.
My passion for flying was realized by the old farmer and some of his
pilot friends and they agreed to take me to the local airport to begin
flight instruction. Unfortunately, my mother who was very closed minded
and controlling learned of our plan, and harshly scolded the farmer.
Years later I learned that the old farmer had once taught someone to fly
who went on to fly professionally to inspect power lines from the air.
Unfortunately, the person later died in a crash, and the family of the
pilot had very negative words with the old farmer. As a result, my
mother's harsh words quickly put an end to my childhood flying lessons.
For the years after that, I built a career working in engineering roles
across the manufacturing, fabrication, and construction industries.
After moving to the SF Bay Area and meeting some pilots I decided to
accomplish my dream to fly. As I returned to aviation, I attended a
local pilot's club meeting where I had the unexpected and exciting
opportunity to hear Monique speak of her adventures with Soaring and the
NCSA. As I continued my flight training I became determined to learn to
fly gliders along with power, as I felt the experience would make me a
much more competent pilot.
On of the unexpected things I've encountered with gliding, is a unique
community that is abundant with passion, generosity, and support. It
seems to me that many glider pilots are the unique folks in life who
realize that a rewarding journey far outweighs the destination. As a
result I've found that I really enjoy the community that surrounds the
sport at NCSA, as well as Truckee where many other local and
international glider pilots converge each summer to share stories,
knowledge, and companionship.
I've always felt a little different. I tend to follow the beat of my
own drum, and I find that many other pilots do too. One of the most
rewarding things about flying is that we pilots are responsible for most
all of the resulting outcome. Many times I feel frustration at the
world around me in systems or groups where performance is second to
political positioning. In the words of Albert Einstein, "The intuitive
mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We
have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the
gift." Fortunately, I feel free from society's confines when flying.
Performance is everything. Your outcome is directly based on your
efforts, skills, and abilities.
One thing I like about the NCSA gliding community is that although we
come from different backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs, all of that
is set aside to obtain collective and individual advancement in a
passion that we strongly believe in. It seems many members are
engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and other stimulating people.
I've always been a sort of enigma to many people. I enjoy exploring the
world, science, history, and adventure.
In regards to soloing, I just kept working with various instructors and
did it. I was nervous before, and questioned if I was really ready, but
when I actually did it I felt very comfortable and ready. I think the
instructors were ready to send me up before I actually went, but the
time that I flew prior to solo the wind was too strong. On the day I
soloed, Buzz put me through a serious of challenging situations
including simulated rope breaks, and non-standard changes to patterns
and runways to simulate emergency situations. It was actually pretty
fun, and made us both confident that I was ready to fly solo. He also
stressed the importance of maintaining an awareness of the airport
operations and pattern traffic while flying in and out of Byron. This
paid off on my second solo flight as I realized on my turn from 45 to
downwind that the tow plane and skydiver elevator were positioned in
pattern as well. I radioed that I would extend my downwind so they
could land first and we all landed contentedly.
In conclusion, I'm very grateful to fly with the NCSA, and participate
in the learning based culture associated with it. At NCSA, one doesn't
just pay to learn to fly; you instead join a culture of like minded
enthusiasts who share experience.