31 March 2011

"Don't Circle in Sink..."

The instructor that I flew with on Saturday told me that; he said it was true in soaring as well as in life. Sound advice.

On Saturday, 26 March, I got my first taste of soaring conditions. From a tow to 2,500 feet AGL, we climbed to 5,200 feet MSL and stopped there to maintain legal VFR minimum cloud clearance. The flight lasted about an hour and a half. Based on my reading of the vario, we briefly experienced a climb rate of 1000+ fpm while circling a thermal. I was amazed.

My CFI demonstrated slipping and skidding cross-controlled stalls. I performed a slipping stall: the break was very benign. The skidding stall break, however, was interesting: the glider snapped almost over and I got a windscreen full of ground. Not surprisingly, those pro-spin control inputs caused the glider to behave in a manner that closely resembled the spin entries that I had experienced the week prior, only the glider didn't begin to rotate. This slippery sailplane picked up speed quickly once the stall was broken. We pulled a few G's while recovering to a level attitude.

The instructor also demonstrated a rapid descent by extending full air brakes and pushing the nose over into a steep dive. We lost a thousand feet in what felt like 7 seconds, but the airspeed remained below the yellow arc due to the helpful drag of the brakes.

My flying was sloppy. I tend to tighten up when I'm flying with an instructor, especially in an unfamiliar aircraft. I don't want to screw up, and I often let that strong desire interfere with the learning process. Gaffes and total f'ups help to converge quickly on the proper way to do things. I need to let the mistakes happen during training (they will anyway), learn from them, and just keep relaxed and loose.

The sensitivity of the stick and the copious amount of rudder pressure required to maintain coordinated flight still had not fully clicked. When flying the Cessna 172, I realize now that I peek at the attitude indicator to establish a precise bank angle. Can't do that in the glider; visual judgement alone is used, and I just haven't gotten to the point where I trust that judgement yet.  Same goes for holding a precise airspeed by visual pitch references: I was chasing the airspeed indicator during turns and--shocker--the airspeed oscillated all over the place.

Northerly turning error from the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
During my PP-ASEL training, I had never done turns to a heading using solely the whiskey compass. With no gyro-stabilized heading indicator, I was lost: the overshoot and undershoot of the wet compass had me rolling out of turns at the wrong times. I did much better using the runway below as a ground reference at the suggestion of my instructor.

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