Thursday, March 13, 2014

March Madness at Byron

"Midweek" March Madness as a post-frontal day visits Byron

It all started on Sunday, when Larry announced that all flight operations were canceled for Sunday due to the need to change a tire on 76W, our leased towplane. It was thought that nobody knew how to jack 76W up so the tire could be changes. So ops were canceled, which meant a full instructional slate was cancelled, as was a slate of CAP glider orientation rides. Good soaring conditions were not expected, but still, a whole lot of flying got bagged.

But nobody told Ed Ott, the scheduled tow pilot, that operations were cancelled, so he showed up Sunday to tow, saw that the tire needed changing, and did the damnedest thing -- he changed the tire. So there he was, all dressed up in his tow pilot finery, and nowhere to go, nobody to tow.

So Larry announced that to make up for the lost day, one day of mid-week flying would be available if a willing tow pilot could be found. Then Ramy chimed in with the observation that the only promising day, weather-wise, would be the next day, Monday the 10th of March.  Ramy's analysis was that "Monday should be a good post-frontal day," and Buzz concurred, posting a very inviting Byron sounding predicting cloud bases to 5000 feet and good thermals.

So Rolf Peterson offered to tow on Monday, and in short order, Ramy declared he would fly TG, his ASK 27, followed by Van (um, that's me!) flying 1YC, the Mini Nimbus Brian and I bought together, Walter in PT, the Ventus  he owns with Terence, Stuart in 972, and Larry & Dale flying 81C. Pretty good turnout for a Monday with less than 24 hours notice!

Monday dawned dismal and grey with a light rain falling (in East Livermore, where I saw the dawn).  The prediction was that the rain would end by around 10 am and that by noon we should be seeing Cu popping out.

Really?  Cu?  In Byron?

Well, have a look:

Cu a-plenty over Byron.  It's a miracle!
In fact, the rain was done around 9 and those clouds started popping out around 10:30.  They were pretty low when they first appeared, with bases at 2800 according to thew AWOS. 

1YC all dressed up and ready to go.
I got there first, and assembled 1YC. It was the third time I've put her together without assistance.  The first time I did it took 3 hours, the second about an hour and a half.  This time I did it in under an hour.  So I think I've now shown that not only is it possible to assemble 1YC single-handed, it is even practical! Her she is, looking pretty and expectant waiting our turn to fly under the clouds. 

Walter arrived about a half-hour after I did, and started assembling PT. About a half hour later, as I had just finished with 1YC, Ramy arrived and went to work on TG. As you might expect, Ramy, the last one to arrive to assemble, was the first one ready to go.  By a long stretch. 

Walter got PT together "up to the last 1/4 inch" and struggled mightily with that (it's a Schemp-Hirth aircraft! - still easier than a Grob, though!)  and then asked me to lend a hand. I went over and we futzed around for a bit, trying this and that, finally backing one wing out six inches for another go at it.  This time while Walter worked on holding in the side we already had in I carefully realigned all the pins on one side, guessed where the hangup was on the other (you can't see it on the Ventus, unlike the Mini Nimbus) realigned it to my guess, and slid the wing home. Presto!  PT was together. Not sure I could do it again, but Walter seemed impressed...

While all this assembly was happening, Stuart arrived (with his ground crew, his son Alex) and was pre-flighting 972.  Larry and Dale showed up and were preflighting 81C.

TG about to launch.
As I said, Ramy was the first to be ready and launched straightaway. No surprise there. (Spoiler Alert:  guess who was the last to come down?  Yeah, Ramy, of course!)  Here is Ramy on the runway for tow hook-up and final preparations.

Ramy launched, and had no more than turned cross-wind behind 76W when he dropped off tow and was climbing rapidly up toward cloud base. Dale and Larry went next, getting the first of several pattern tows in before making a more serious flight.

Then it was Stuart in 972.  Alex had settled in for a comfortable day of glider-watching in a comfy folding chair. Nobody mentioned that we're not allowed to have those on the flight line, but it was an extremely low-traffic day, and with very little wind at ground level (it had been strong earlier, but died back at ground level for most of the day) there didn't seem to be any potential issue. But we weren't about to let him get too comfortable, and drafted him into glider-pushing and wing-running throughout the launch sequence.

After Stuart launched it was my turn in 1YC, so I got in and hooked up. And off I went, into the blue-and-white yonder, looking at the lovely clouds hungrily. Walter launched in PT sometime later, followed a bit after that by Dale and Larry in 81C. I don't know what kind of flying day Stuart had- I haven't heard from him.  For the others, well, we'll each give our reports in our own words.  But before I get to that, I had a little fun on Tuesday with the IGC flight logs we all posted to OLC. I downloaded them all from OLC and then uploaded them to SkyLines, where I could assemble them all into a single map.  Here it is.  Included are the traces and altitude profiles for Ramy's flight in TG, shown by the purple track and profile; my two flights in 1YC, shown by the orange and then gold tracks and profiles; Walter in PT, illustrated by the green track and profile, and finally Dale and Larry in 81C, displayed in blue.
Flight tracks and altitude profiles for the flights of TG (purple), 1YC (first flight - orange, second flight - gold), PT (green), and 81C (blue).
This is a cool website, because you can get flight statistics similar to those in See You (time spent circling left, right, total climb, etc.) and, like OLC. if you mouse left to right over the altitude profile, you can follow the flight tracks as they were flown, complete with little glider symbols to show where they glider is and what its directional orientation is. And with multiple flights shown together, you can see where all of the gliders are at any time in the flights.  Here's a screen shot showing Ramy over the Pleasanton hills west of Dublin, me struggling along north of the Los Vaqueros reservoir, Walter climbing out over Livermore, and Dale & Larry in their initial climb out of Byron.

Naturally, it all looks cooler on the SkyLines website; this set of tracks is located at:


When you get there, look for the flights uploaded for March 10.  There are two of mine, one for Walter, one for Ramy, and one for Larry.  one at a time, select the flights and "Pin" them by hitting the "Pin Flight" button.  This will cause them to display together. (There is probably a more sophisticated way, but I didn't find it.)  You can also toggle maps between street, relief, and satellite image, and turn on and off airspace markings, etc.  It's a pretty cool website.

With that aside, here are the PIREPS from the day's flights.

Ramy Yanetz

I think it is important to discuss actual soaring conditions and flights and not just preparation and operations.
So first thanks to Rolf for towing.
Over Nathan's school.  Can you see Nathan on the playing fields?

It turned out similar to the prediction, albeit on the weaker side. Showers in the morning ended late morning. Bases were mostly below 4K earlier and up to 4.5K later. Climb rate was 1-2 knots mostly. Wind was not too much of a factor averaging around 10 knots from the north. 

Ramy is at work. Sort of.
Most pilots had at least an hour flight from local tows. Since bases were below 4K early and the lift was weak I decided not to go too far and just did sight seeing to Diablo, San Ramon valley (flew over my son's school, over my home and over my office, so I guess I can count it as going to work ;-). 

I went as far as Pleasanton ridge and Mission ridge, and on the way back scratched low over LVK for a while until I got back up. The tower was very helpful.  All in all, not a bad day.

And as is often the case, Ramy has provided us with a selfie, so we can see just how much fun he is having!
Ramy over Pleasanton.  Mt. Diablo is just under the right horizontal stabilizer.

Walter Friedrich

My experience was similar to Ramy's.

Assembled our Ventus and took the spiders for a ride (Editor's note: the spiders mostly appreciated the ride, but some got airsick and now the airplane is littered with spider puke... ok, not really). Released at 2,200ft (too high for Ramy's standards) in what seemed good lift (maybe caused by 76W being more powerful), flew up to the reservoir, down to Livermore where I circled just north of the airport for a while trying to avoid a landing at LVK. Tower gentlemen very understanding and willing to help. He monitored my altitude while redirecting traffic around. Not a single complaint. May have made his day more interesting.

I made it back to Byron, down to Tracy and back up to the reservoir where I hung out with Ramy for a while and then back to Byron as the clouds and whisps were disappearing for a 2.4 hours flight. Got as high as 4,000ft. Cloud bases were typically around 3,500 early on and I found them to about 4k or slightly higher later in the day.

Thanks Rolf for towing in the air and on the ground, thanks to Ramy for the weather forecast.

 Larry Suter

Dale and I launched 81C into a sky filled with CU after everyone else, at about 13:50. Rolf towed us under a CU conveniently located on right crosswind where 81C's vario pegged. Resisting the temptation to release below 2000' we hung on until 2400', getting off tow with the vario once again pegged. 

It didn't take long for us to figure out that much of what seemed to be super lift was a super tow-plane. Dale and I found ourselves working 2-3 knot lift which pretty much became the theme of the day. The clouds looked better than the lift they generated. The highest we got was about 4000' (Dale flying) and the furthest we got from Byron was about 10 km (which sounds better as "half way to Mt. Diablo and half way to Tracy"). We spent the last half hour finding and working blue thermals in order to goose our flight time to two hours. 

It may not have been a great flight but on the ground Dale and I agreed it was a fun flight. Would have done two things differently. First, try to launch earlier. There was at least an hour of great looking CUs before we took off. Second, post the flight on OLC right away. It's Wednesday and I just posted Monday's flight. OLC says, "No points  because flight was claimed too late" (by an hour and a half.....).

Van Emden Henson 

A rare sight.  The Byron sky, chock full of inviting Cu.
Inviting Cu as seen from Ramy's cockpit just before the launch.
My two main goals for the day were simple:
Goal #1: Assemble 1YC solo, again, to prove that having done so twice before was not a fluke.  And do it in a reasonable amount of time (like about an hour!)
As you read earlier, the day was at least a partial success, since I fulfilled the first goal nicely.
Goal #2: Find out if N301YC is capable of going up.  
Since buying the glider in October, I've had about 15 flights in her, and Brian has had a bit fewer than half that many.  I've discovered that the glider really has a nice glide ratio. It is nominally 42:1, and while I'm sure we're not seeing anything like that, it out-glides anything else I've flown (except Kemp's ASH 25), and the sled rides seem to last noticeably longer in 1YC than, say, SS or KP.
But, neither Brian or I had ever had the glider in lift.  You know, that air that goes up! We've had about 22 sled rides.  This was of some concern because it came with a funky old MNAV (predecessor to the ancient LNAV) and a Cambridge repeater for the attached vario, and we didn't really know if they worked. Brian had to rebuild the repeater due to a sticky needle, and also had to redo some really creative plumbing of the static air system. So, not having had her in lift, we really wanted to know how the glider would fly when the air went up.
Wonder of wonders, she climbs!  
It was, as noted, the first time I've had her in any lift, and indeed we went up.  See You says I climbed about 5300 feet, in 13 thermals and also 4700 feet in dolphin flight under cloud streets.  Huzzah!
It was a struggle because the thermals were pretty weak, as Larry noted, and despite having Thermal Camp and a season of flying at Air Sailing and Truckee, I still have a long way to go to master locating, centering, and staying in thermals.  Especially weak ones, that were leaning (and being blown apart) by the wind.
Moreover, the bases were low. I never got above 3100 feet my first flight, which lasted 1.4 hours. I also could not really talk myself into straying far from Byron.  I've had some flights where I've gotten away from Byron, say out 10 miles or a bit more, and I've gotten farther than that from Air Sailing.  But in all those flights I've been between  8000 and 16000 feet, with LOTS of reserve altitude and never had to really concern myself with whether I would be able to get back.  Monday was different.  Scratching along mostly between 2500 and 3000 feet, it was really hard to convince myself, even with the moving map, that I was safely within glide.  
I only once got out of glide to Byron Monday, and that was due to misreading XCSoar.  I monitor the required glide ratio to get to the airport (+1500 feet safety floor), and want to keep it to 24:1 or less (another nearly 100% safety margin).  At one point I could see Byron way off in the distance, and saw that i was only at 2000 feet, and it all looked like I was way too far out, but the required ratio was reading 19:1, so I must be closer than I thought I was. But I sure didn't believe I was only 19:1 over my safety floor, so I looked a little harder at my XCSoar.
Gee, it helps to know how your equipment works.  It's even better if you know how it works before you go flying. When I looked more closely, I realized it was giving me the 19:1 required glide ratio... to Funny Farm, my alternate, and not to Byron. When I looked at the right box, I saw my required glide ratio to Byron was 56:1.  Ulp!  
So I needed, for a little bit, to do some honest XC flying.  I headed back to Byron at best speed-to-fly while monitoring the two required glide ratios to Byron and my alternate.  I wanted to get within my 24:1 comfort zone for Byron before leaving my 24:1 comfort zone for Funny Farm.  I probably had it made almost all along, given the true glide ratio of the ship and the fact that I had a 1500 foot safety floor, but I'm a neophyte at XC and didn't want to push my luck.

I had about four or five anxious moments when I saw a big, fat Cu just off my course, and found the thermal feeding it.  Before I could say, "Bob's your uncle," I was back ar 3000 feet and within easy glide to Byron.  So I went west and tried working the dying trailing edge of the cloud field over the hills near the reservoir for a while, but by then it was starting to die down out over the flatland and the low hills.  So I wandered back to Byron, landed, and immediately took another tow, this time to 3800 feet over the middle of the reservoir.  I managed to stay aloft a little while, working the area over the radio towers, but by then the thermals were dying off and it was hard to stay comfortably above the higher hills, so I moseyed back to Byron and called it a day.
Another big learning experience for me was the use of the flaps.  I'd learned to use them for landing, especially the combination of the trailing edge spoilers and deep flaps that will slow down 1YC tremendously and bring it in very steeply on final.  But I hadn't flown a flapped ship in a climb until Monday, and it was a real revelation. The flaps really help the climb. I would drop the flaps when hitting the thermal, allowing slower flight in the thermals, providing more time in the lift and tighter circles at all bank angles.  It sure felt like the ship climbed faster that way. BUT, using the flaps also tempted me to fly too slowly; I fell out of several thermals in a stall and had to recover and re-center.  I also found her to have a strong overbanking tendency in a steep turn, although in retrospect, it may not have been "overbanking" so much as having the upwind wing suddenly exposed as I turned into and through the wind... , at any rate, numerous times I had to work to keep from going too steep. (Larry also suggested that I may have been stalling my way into incipient spins, so I'll have to really pay attention to these things the next time I get into lift.)
So goal #2 was also achieved.  I didn't have nearly the flight that the others got, and obviously I need to learn to be more adventurous and more readily willing to get out of the glide cone of the home airport.  But Monday was a big step in the right direction.  It was a very good day for me.

I also want to thank Rolf for his towing and ground crew efforts.  Great job, Rolf.

And she goes up, after all!

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