Dan's instructions before the check ride were to use weather
information to (a) convince him that I understood it, (b) assess the
"soarability" of the day, and (c) apply the weather information to
plan a cross-country flight to Avenal. (He's given the last few
applicants the task of going to Williams, so I guess it was for
On Saturday, I pulled all the weather I thought relevant from
aviationweather.gov. There's a good index page there
(http://aviationweather.gov/stdbrief/) that has many of the components
of the standard briefing. I started with national charts, went to
regional satellite imagery, read the area forecast, made sure that I
knew about active SIGMETs and AIRMETs. I settled on a tentative route
of flight to Avenal, and then pulled TAFs and METARs along the route.
To plan the flight itself, I used the Oakland RAOB sounding and
estimated that lift would go to 6,500 feet. I marked up an old
sectional chart with circles to plan the flight route. With all that
done, I called WX-BRIEF to make it official, and learned that two GPS
satellites were out of service and there were no TFRs that would
So, heading into the check ride, I had a folder that had:
- Reminder to bring photo ID
- Student certificate
- Knowledge test report
- Printouts of the questions I got wrong on the knowledge test
- All the weather information: my own summary, plus printouts of the charts
- Current sectional and terminal charts
- Weight & balance calculation for 81C
- Dan's fee :)
In addition to all the paperwork, I wanted to be sure that I had
absolutely everything I might possibly need:
- I brought food for the ground crew; if you'd been out yesterday,
you'd have had a chance to try my herb foccacia
- Water - two vacuum bottles with cold water, plus my 3L hydration pack
- Water, part 2: since we were out, I brought 12 bottles of water for
the crew (it was all I could readily carry)
- A kneeboard with checklists. Dan likes written checklists. I found
that they helped me stay focused on doing everything I needed to and
that my checkride nerves were not affecting me.
- My portable air compressor, given the fun we had with the tailwheel
on 16Y on Sunday. (No, we did not need it.)
The big day!
I planned to arrive at Byron at 8:30 in the morning. As it turns out,
I was a little early. I knew it would be necessary to get a weather
briefing before takeoff, so I ran through the same set of stuff on
aviationweather.gov and put my laptop to sleep. As with Saturday, I
called flight services for a weather briefing and took notes. I
picked a good day for the check ride. The area forecast was for a
12,000 foot ceiling and unlimited visibility throughout California.
About the only thing that mattered was the winds aloft forecast.
Winds were out of the north.
The oral exam...
Dan started by making sure the paperwork was in order. When he asked
for ID, I gave him his choice of three types: my driver's license,
passport, or a DHS trusted traveler card. He took the driver's
As part of checking the paperwork, he noted my score on the knowledge
test (57 out of 60) and I volunteered to show him the questions I had
missed. He dismissed two of them as "the sort of tricky questions
they used to ask." Since I had studied those questions, I could
explain why I was wrong, what the right answer was, and in one case,
why I probably wouldn't have gone flying with the facts set out in the
The last question was about hyperventilation, which was a dumb mistake
on my part. From there, we moved to aeromedical factors in general
(hyperventilation, dehydration, hypoxia), all of which are dangerous
because they affect what you fly the airplane with -- your brain. I
talked about some of my experiences hiking (dehydration), my traffic
conflict with the Twin Otter last fall (hyperventilation avoided), and
my last wave flight (hypoxia).
We started off talking about weather, in part because of a joke I told
him. I'd been in Chicago last week, and there was a horrendous storm.
6-8 lane freeways were down to one lane in each direction, and there
were cars being towed out of parking lots. Our field engineer in the
area is a private pilot (ASEL right now, working on commercial and
instrument ratings, and he has a flight instructor friend who owns a
Socata TBM and lets him ride along on angel flights). We decided that
the Chicago weather had gone beyond a mere convective SIGMET and
really should have been called a "biblical SIGMET."
I went through what amounted to a weather briefing with Dan, going
through printouts of the weather products and interpreting them. Dan
told me that the G-AIRMET printouts, which put AIRMETs on a map
graphically, were an experimental product a year ago. I find them way
easier to use than the text AIRMETs, which is why I had them printed
When we discussed the RAOB sounding, I showed him that I'd obtained a
thermal index prediction at http://www.soarforecast.com/. He told me
that the TI had been developed on the east coast, and you can
generally fly up to about -1 or -2. However, on the west coast, we
have a more arid climate and we can often go to a TI of zero. That
segued into a discussion of how thermals form and what affects them
(type of terrain, vegetation, height, flatness or lack of it) and the
route of flight I'd planned to Avenal.
Lots of discussion on the chart. Based on the weather, I didn't think
I could make Avenal, and with lift predicted only to about 6,500,
there weren't a lot of public airports I could use for diversion. We
discussed special use airspaces, and Dan pointed out several things
that he wanted me to explain on the sectional.
He asked me to draw a stick figure diagram of the pitot-static system
and a TE vario. Based on my description of the TE system, he asked
about my background (physics), and told me that there was one exam he
administered once to an Air Force pilot. He asked about the
pitot-static system, and got back a long answer with all kinds of
subtlety, and discovered that his candidate was the lead pitot system
instructor for the USAF.
Next, I had to reproduce the mountain wave diagram. As it turns out,
I didn't get all of the nuances. What he's looking for is an
understanding that you have to have wind increase with altitude, that
there is ridge lift upwind, where the primary wave is, and that the
primary wave will incline towards the obstruction. He wrote an
article for Soaring magazine. Read it and know it better than I did.
The last thing I remember talking about on the oral was weight and
balance and aircraft performance. I showed him my W&B calculation,
and he asked about what would happen if the balance was too far
forward (the nose will be heavy, which would increase the likelihood
of a PIO in a Grob) and too far aft (stall recovery is
harder/impossible). Dan said that he met Gerhard Waibel -- the "W" in
"ASW-27" -- at a conference once, and Waibel told him that the ASW-20
was designed to fly with the CG farther aft than the limit placed on
it in the POH because aviation authorities are conservative. He asked
why that might be, and I was able to deduce that it was a reduction in
induced drag from the elevator.
Enough talking, it's time to fly...
My preflight was a little scattered. I have a rhythm down well after
flying for so long, but I did the laminated checklist in 81C in order
to be double-plus-sure that I didn't miss anything. This resulted in
some extra walking around the plane, but I figured extra walking was
better than missing something.
After preflight, I looked at the windsock, and winds were favoring 30.
AWOS said that wind was 340 @ 12, gusting 18.
Before the first tow, I briefed Paul on tow speeds, where we intended
to release, and asked him for a long straightaway after 1500 AGL to
begin tow maneuvers. I asked Paul to offset left on liftoff because
my turn into the wind would be to the right. With no skydiving on
Monday, it was safe to use a left offset. Before climbing into the
ship with Dan, I asked if he wanted me to do the passenger briefing on
my checklist. He said that my checklist was complete and he would
count that as fulfilling the requirement. I had a great safety
briefing prepared, with such gems as "We won't need to bail out.
Nobody has bailed out of an NCSA ship in the history of the club, and
the only reason I would forsee doing so is if the glider caught fire.
Fiberglass doesn't burn." (Yes, when I fly Virgin America, I secretly
wish I could have been part of the writing team for their safety
video, which is on YouTube. I highly recommend it.)
I also went over the emergency plan:
- Up to 50 feet, land straight ahead
- 50-200 feet, land off to the left in the old airport
- 200 feet, return to runway 12. Because of the gust factor, I
planned to use a speed of 57 (best L/D) + 6 (gust factor), and aim for
the runway threshold. Dan noted that ground speed would be quite
high, which I took as a hint he wasn't going to make me do the 180
- 450 feet, abbreviated pattern
- 800 feet, normal pattern
On the first tow, we lifted off, and I was nervously watching the
altimeter because I was expecting the rope to break at 200 AGL. It
didn't. We turned crosswind, and I expected the rope to pop out at
~500 feet. It didn't. On upwind, there were several bumps, and the
vario briefly blipped to about 8-9 kt up, so I was porpoising a little
bit while maintaining tow position. We departed the pattern over the
IP at about 900 feet, and I was wondering why we had gotten such a
strong checkride rope that was still in one piece (maybe it exceeded
200% of "checkride strength"?) when 16Y's left wing lifted up. I
prepared for the gust to lift my left wing, but it didn't, and 16Y
rolled back the other way.
Apparently, we ordered our Scout with intermittent checkride
mechanical problems. Kind of like how my father used to order cars
with the "intermittent mountain steering" option so he could head for
a cliff and run his hand over the top of the steering wheel.
I don't know what kind of control inputs Paul was putting in, but it
was really, really obvious. The first roll was so big that when my
wing didn't get lifted, I knew what was up. With the rockoff, I
released, entered downwind, and flew a normal pattern, bringing the
plane to a stop at the first turnoff. Paul had landed on Magical
Runway 5, and was ready to go. At least, I think runway 5 was
magical, because the towplane's mechanical problem was all repaired,
and we were ready for the next tow.
The second tow was much less eventful. We lifted off, and I called
the decision points along the way up. At 1500 AGL, I boxed the wake.
There were some pretty good thermals, so I held each of the corners
for a couple of seconds to show that I had control of the plane. Dan
did a couple of slack lines, but they were much easier to recover from
than the slack lines than I've received from instructors. We released
at 3500 feet over Discovery Bay. Dan had me do some straight stalls
and turning stalls, which I did after clearing the area. After a
couple of steep 180s, he asked me to fly at MCA, then minimum sink,
then speed to fly. My kneeboard with all the V-speeds made it much
easier to not let the checkride environment have me forget stuff. He
told me that the rest of the flight was mine, and I found a 6-8 knot
thermal that I wasn't able to center really well. In spite of that, I
managed to gain 1,000 feet and find a bunch of zero-sink air. (Van
had prepped SS, and called for a radio check, so I told him where we'd
seen the lift.)
At 1,500 feet, he asked me to enter the pattern. By the time I was
ready to turn base, I was at 1,200 feet, so I opened full spoilers on
base, and noted that I'd throw in a slip to lose altitude after
turning final. (I was expecting a spoiler malfunction, but I guess
all the checkride gremlins took up residence in the towplane
yesterday.) I landed in a slight slideslip to correct for the
After bringing the glider to a stop just before the first turnoff, Dan
said that we'd take one more flight and called for a pattern tow.
Just after liftoff, the rope popped out. I lowered the nose, got back
to flying speed, and cracked the spoilers to settle in and bring it
down. As I turned off the taxiway and rolled to a stop, Dan
Special thanks to everybody who made this happen:
- Terence, for driving me to get it done. Ever since you signed me
off for solo, there's always been something on the list: check out in
the 1-26, get the knowledge test done, fly ever weekend, schedule the
check ride... I hope you're satisfied now, at least for a couple more
- Paul, for towing yet another milestone of mine. You've been the tow
pilot for my first solo, my first flight in a single-place glider, and
now my first rating.
- Mike Schneider, John Randazzo, and John Boyce. After your simulated
check rides, Dan's was a cake walk!
- Bob Ferguson and John Randazzo for being ground crew on a work day
Next up for me, I'll be doing a backseat checkout so that when I fly
people who are on my "give a ride to" list, they can sit up front.
This summer, I have resolved to start flying in the mountains (watch
out, Larry, I'm coming for you!). With a private certificate, I now
meet the requirements for thermal camp. Before then, I may take some
spin training at Williams.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Monday, April 22, 2013
I learned a ton flying over to Tracy. It always seemed so far away/unknown before... but 12 miles is really not that far! With Tracy so close it seems like a great opportunity for people to get their feet wet for XC.
I did a bunch of prep for the flight that included looking at the AF/D, sectional, Google Earth and asking other pilots with experience about the airport. I had safe glide circles set up and Tracy loaded into my flight computer.
I called the Tracy AWOS on the phone and the winds were favouring 30. I went over the plan with the tow pilot. We would tow straight out towards Tracy then he'd land ahead of me. Looking at the airport in the AF/D and Google Earth there are turnouts at each side at midfield on runway 30. Talking to Buzz revealed that you can turn out on the median between the runway and taxiway as long as you watch out for the runway lights.
We towed out towards Tracy and by the time we reached about 3,500' we were about halfway there and with a tailwind had Tracy in easy glide. At the halfway point you can actually see both airports. We arrived at Tracy with plenty of altitude and had a chance to overfly the field and get a good look at the airport before landing (this seems like a good idea when landing at a new place!) It was quiet at Tracy... all we heard on the CTAF was good old 16Y and some traffic at other airports.
The plan was to stop as soon as possible after touchdown to minimize the distance Buzz and I would have to push back the glider. My landing was ok but what with focusing on making a good approach I more or less forgot to get it stopped quickly and ended up taking the midfield turnoff (rather than trying to go into the median between the lights).
So I got to learn a new trick! With just two people it's easiest to push the G103 backwards, with each person on the wing inside of halfway or one person on the nose and another on a strong part of the leading edge. That way both people can push and you're positioned to push down on the nose to turn.
We did another pattern, this time opting to land downwind. It was a little different landing downwind on a foreign runway... definitely need to watch those angles rather than looking for familiar landmarks.
We did another tow back towards Byron, this time getting off around 3,900' about halfway to Byron. We found a little lift and scratched around for about an hour before finally landing back at home!
Great learning experience and it will be great to get checked out for XC and start reaching into the hills around Tracy (the clouds there often look good!)
Here's the trace of the flight back. You can see we got off tow about halfway and the initial glide back to Byron was basically a piece of cake:
Thanks to Buzz for entertaining the idea and for all the pushing.... next time I'll land closer to where we want to be ;)
Here's an annotated image I made using an app called Skitch on the Mac (available in the app store). It lets you easily do a screen capture and annotate i
Here's an annotated image I made using an app called Skitch on the Mac (available in the app store). It lets you easily do a screen capture and annotate i
Monday, April 8, 2013
Hi to NCSA from your newest member.In way of an introduction let me first say that my flying interest go way back. I was introduced to flying back in High School, taking hang gliding lessons in Monterey on the sand dunes above the beach and taking rides from a friend in a Cessna 152 out of Watsonville. A few years later I got my glider license at Sky Sailing in Fremont back in 1980 and a few years later I got my airplane license. Needless to say I much prefer gliders to airplanes which is what brought me to your club. My other interests include riding my bike, sailing and or course, watching my 14 year old daughter play soccer.This past weekend at Work Day was fun and I enjoyed meeting so many of the club members and learned a lot about glider maintenance and assembly. I am very excited to be joining NCSA and look forward to spending time with all of you both on the ground and in the air. Amongst my flying goals are thermal camp and wave camp in the Sierras, dual cross country instruction, and flying with my new friends in NCSA at Truckee. I hope to see you at the field and in the air.Dan Colton