07 September 2012

Contest: Day -2

The showers passed, the ceiling eventually raised, and it turned out to be a great practice day. I managed to get two flights in. It was cool to meet some of the competing pilots and watch them practice. The biggest wave of arrivals will take place tomorrow.

The aerobatic box markings are easily visible on the ground and there are plenty of peripheral references to help with situational awareness. What a luxury! That didn't stop me from botching my positioning a few times, though. And the FAA-waivered box is just adjacent to the airport, so the usual 10-minute trip out to the practice area was missing today. We'd be taxiing off the runway less than two minutes after flying the last figure.

Today was the first time I've flown an aircraft with the altimeter set to 0 at field elevation. That eliminated the math when dealing with entry altitudes. I had to remember that adjustment, though, when joining the traffic pattern.  

The ground critique was invaluable in dialing-in my loop and half cuban eight. I had a tendency to "flat-spot" the top by unloading the wing too abruptly. Being smooth solves that problem. Pulling significantly harder during the first half of the loop seemed to help the shape as viewed from the ground as well. My spins were good today. I'm still barreling the slow roll, and the half roll in the cuban isn't perfect. 

I tried to help with ground critique, but my commentary is probably worse than useless. I can spot egregious errors, but that's about it.

I've got two more practice hops scheduled tomorrow to fine tune.


04 September 2012

East Coast Aerobatic Contest: Day -4

The RADAR picture overstated the conditions this afternoon. We flew through a trace of rain to get to the practice area, but the ceiling was high and the air was wonderfully smooth: there wasn't even the slightest bit turbulence to cover up flaws in my technique. A rainbow flew in loose formation with the Super D for a few miles, and the towering cumulus kept their distance.

I have plenty of tuning to do before this weekend. I'm registered to fly in the Primary category in the aerobatic contest, my first. Properly flown, the primary sequence should look like this. My 45-degree uplines were consistently shallow today. And my spin entries could be crisper. I let the airplane sink into a couple of the spins, which is caused by not keeping the nose trending upward as the airplane approaches the stall. After recovery, I need to hold the vertical downline a bit longer for the judges and wait to advance the throttle when I start to pull. I think I have that sorted out. The roll in the half cuban eight was relatively consistent until I botched a couple by overthinking them. My downwind loop will benefit from a ground observer's critique later in the week. The wind at altitude was around 20 knots this afternoon, and my positioning within the aerobatic box could also stand improvement: I need to drive into the headwind to put the slow roll at airshow center.

My altitudes looked good. I plan to adjust a bit lower for the contest: start my base leg prior to entering the aerobatic box at 3,000 feet AGL and dive for 140 miles per hour and 2,500 feet AGL at the beginning of the first figure, a 45-degree upline. That should put the spin entry at about 3,000 feet AGL, with recovery at around 2,000 feet. The floor of the aerobatic box for Primary is 1,500 feet AGL, so that should give me plenty of margin for minor mistakes (e.g. being slightly too steep on the downline in the half cuban eight).

My goal is to generally not embarrass myself. I will be content with a score of 85% or better. I have Thursday and Friday to practice, weather permitting. As of now, there are two other competitors registered in the category. I'm beyond excited.

22 August 2012

Cloud Dancer

I just watched Cloud Dancer. It's no Citizen Kane and the plot is full of cheese, but the Pitts aerial footage was enough for me. Apparently David Carradine (R.I.P.) actually flew in the film. Tom Poberezny is listed in the credits as a Technical Adviser and Chief Pilot. Gene Soucy and Charlie Hilliard also flew in the movie. Curtis Pitts was even involved.

Use your google-fu.

12 August 2012

200 Hours

My spreadsheet shows that I had exactly 199.9 hours of total time after finishing my aerobatics lesson this morning. The unseasonably pleasant weather and developing cumulus clouds convinced me to neglect my household chores and drive straight from VKX to FRR to fly gliders, because who wouldn't want to fly both airplanes and sailplanes in the same day? That drive takes about an hour and a half with no traffic. No problem. Counting this afternoon's soaring adventure, I've now broken two hundred hours total time. Five years ago, I would never have believed I'd be a licensed certificated pilot.

I seem to need to repeatedly learn the secret to not botching maneuvers: just fly; don't think. I flew a passable primary sequence (that's not me in that video) that I mostly kept within the confines of the aerobatic box (1,000 meters^2 may sound large, but it goes by surprisingly quickly during downwind figures). Just entering the box at the correct airspeed and beginning the first figure in the right location is difficult for me. My instructor showed me this cool Google Maps application that overlays an aerobatic box on Google's imagery. We used it to study the ground references that we use in the practice area.

The contest is only a few weeks away and I have a lot of things to work on. The roll on the 45-degree downline in the 1/2 cuban eight is my nemesis. For some inexplicable reason, I just don't want to keep the wing unloaded during that particular roll. And I tend to pull too soon so that the line segment after the roll is too short. Though I actually stopped a few of my one-turn spins on heading today, my spin entries need work. I had been feeding in rudder too early and yawing off a few degrees before the stall rather than crisply falling straight into the spin. That will result in a downgrade if the judges see it (and they will). I believe I have corrected that mistake. Next issue: make the downwind loop more round. And make a good landing.

Once I got to Front Royal, I assembled the club's Open Cirrus, waited for my turn in the tow queue, and launched a bit before 4 pm. We hit a booming thermal on tow at 1500 feet AGL. I saw the towplane zoom above me. Wait for it. About two seconds later, I felt the jolt of lift and rapidly climbed to meet the Pawnee. With a 58 foot wingspan, the Cirrus can really climb. And it kept climbing in the lift as the Pawnee left the thermal. The Cirrus is also slippery, so nosing it over just results in a slack line. I kicked rudder to yaw out, creating drag, but it didn't help quickly enough. Still climbing. So I pulled the release. Cracking the spoilers would have helped descend to a normal tow position, but if done hamfistedly, it can easily result in a broken towrope. I never lost sight of the towplane, but I was uncomfortable with the very high tow position. I spoke to the towpilot afterward, and he said he didn't even notice, so it actually wasn't that bad.        

I had enough altitude to make the airport and fly a normal traffic pattern, so after clearing the towplane, I backtracked for the thermal. I left the landing gear down so that I could break off to land immediately if I couldn't get established in lift. Fortunately, I found the thermal and rode it straight to almost 6,000 feet MSL.

07 July 2012

Bronze badge written test and precision landings

I passed the written test for the Bronze badge on Wednesday. And yesterday, I completed the required spot landings in the Schweizer 1-36 using the grass next to the runway. This badge is one of my club's prerequisites to be endorsed to make cross-country flights.

Flying cross-country in a glider requires venturing outside of safe gliding distance from the home airport. The goal is to fly a predetermined course as quickly as possible. I'm finding that to be challenging and strong motivation to improve my skills. 

While the spot landings were judged to be within specifications, I was disappointed with one of them. After releasing from tow at 800' AGL on the downwind leg, I flew an extremely tight and steep pattern to really beat the Pawnee down: full spoilers and a full rudder slip all the way around; the Sprite descends like a helicopter when you do that. I let the nose drop a tiny bit in the slip and when I kicked it out low to the ground, I had more energy than I wanted. The glider sailed past my desired touchdown point. I learned my lesson: don't be a hotshot.

The only requirement left for the badge is to complete two simulated off-field landings without reference to an altimeter.

A hazy day: looking southwest at the northern tip of the Massanuttens

01 July 2012

First solo wave flight, among other things

I topped out at 11,950 feet MSL
It's been a while! Though I've certainly been neglecting this journal, I have been flying quite a bit lately. 

On Friday, I had my first solo mountain wave flight in the Open Cirrus. Early on, I was scratching to stay aloft in narrow bubbles of lift. I got as low as 2,300 feet above the airport, prompting the Forest Service helicopter to ask if I was going to land soon. Conditions soon changed and I found good thermals south of the field.

Over the town of Front Royal, the lift became disorganized above 6,400 feet MSL. It felt like very mild rotor and the clouds to the east were slightly torn: they looked a little different than the usual cumulus but were not obvious rotor clouds or lennies. After what seemed like an eternity, I caught some strong lift that carried me up into the wave at about 7,500 feet. The lift was about 4-5 knots at its strongest and perfectly smooth, though I'm certain I could have done a better job of staying in that lift band. I used Route 340 as my ground reference and tried to make S-turns at minimum sink airspeed to stay in position. I wanted to break 12,000 feet, but my flight logger recorded a peak of 11,950 feet MSL, the highest I've been solo. From my low point, it was an unassisted altitude gain of about 9,300 feet.

The temperature at altitude was pleasantly cool while it was over 100°F in the shade on the airport ramp. After running out of drinking water, I pushed the Cirrus over to 90 knots and went sightseeing for a bit. There were places where I was climbing even at that airspeed (the Cirrus polar falls off a cliff above 75 knots) and I could have stayed aloft for hours longer. The visibility was not great at about 7 miles due to haze and smoke from the nearby forest fires. I landed with a flight time of 3:23, a personal best.

I saw no evidence of the derecho that was to rip through the area a few hours later. I guess the strong winds aloft needed to create mountain wave also pushed that system along. Flight operations were cancelled yesterday and today because power is still out at the airport and there is no way to open the hangar doors.

I've also been flying aerobatics as often as possible, my sole source of airplane time right now. I am still terrible! It is humbling trying to stay inside the aerobatic box while attempting to fly the Primary sequence. But the training is definitely improving my stick-and-rudder skills, and the lesson is always the highlight of my week. My goal is to compete in the local IAC chapter's contest in September. I'll get there... 

16 April 2012

Flew my first soaring task


My soaring club established a 60 kilometer race course to create some friendly competition: the pilot with the fastest handicapped time each quarter gets a free 3,000 ft aerotow. This is great motivation for me to start learning cross-country soaring techniques and generally tighten up my flying. I flew the course for the first time in the Open Cirrus on Friday the 13th, my first attempt at any kind of task.


With the airport near the center of the course and conservatively high minimum altitudes set on each of the turnpoints (the red sectors in the image below), it is possible to remain within safe gliding distance of the airport the entire time. That's a good thing, because there had better be a good reason if I ever land out in a club ship before I'm signed-off to make real cross-country flights.

My handicapped time was 1:19:06. That's really slow, but I'm content just to have made it around the course. I learned a lot from this flight. It was good to see just how far I could glide at airspeeds well above the best L/D speed (the Cirrus is really spoiling me in that regard). The Fairground turnpoint is also the furthest northeast of the airport that I've been solo. I made lots of mistakes that I'll try to fix next time:

  1. Make a clean start. Shortly after crossing the start cylinder, I hit an area of strong sink and then circled in weak lift to claw back up. This wasted time. After gaining altitude, I should have doubled back. 
  2. Learn proper speed-to-fly. I maintained 60-70 knots indicated airspeed between thermals, which was conservative. Conditions should have safely allowed 75 knots or more in the Cirrus.
  3. Use dolphin flight where appropriate.When going fast through narrow bits of lift, dolphin flight didn't work so well. I'd pull up to slow down after hitting a bump, but by that point I'd blown well past the thermal. I had much better results when passing through larger areas of lift, so next time I won't pull at the first jolt unless it is a booming thermal or sustained lift.
  4. Thermal efficiently. I didn't core the thermals quickly enough, wasting time circling in the weaker lift (and sink) near the turbulent edges of the thermal. 
    • Be more aggressive on the pull to enter a thermal and use steeper bank angles.
    • Judge the best direction to enter a thermal. My evaluation copy of SeeYou tells me that I thermalled to the right most of the time. I'm sure that should have been closer to 50/50 right/left, since turning the wrong way requires 270 degrees of turn to rectify. Many of the thermals were blue, though (no clouds to mark the lift).
    • Don't thermal too fast. In turbulent thermals, I'd add a few knots for comfort so the controls would be more effective, but I suspect I was flying faster than necessary. That can hurt the climb rate. 
I'm still struggling to make a nice approach and landing in the Cirrus. I'm flying far too steep an approach, which sometimes requires a steep dive on final with brakes full out to bleed energy. That's fun, but not elegant.

12 April 2012

Spin ground training

While we couldn't go flying last Saturday, we did knock out the ground portion of the spin lesson. I'm excited for this flight, a self-contained lesson in my instructor's aerobatic syllabus that he also gives to prospective CFIs and others seeking spin training. Even after reading Sammy Mason's Stalls, Spins, and Safety, the briefing was enlightening. I had never considered why aileron control reversal occurred, but it was clear after he pointed it out on the lift vs. angle of attack curve: the downward aileron increases the wing's angle of attack, causing it to produce less lift in the stalled regime rather than more.

I'm looking forward to performing dutch rolls at a high angle of attack, falling leaf stalls, stalls while slipping and skidding, spin entries, incipient spins, fully developed spins, and an introduction to competition spins if time allows. He said that we'll try the falling leaf with some power on to deepen the stall, which makes the airplane unstable enough that it could easily roll to knife-edge. It will be interesting!

09 April 2012

My first non-pilot glider passengers

Waiting for our turn in the tow queue
After reading the 0Z forecast Thursday evening, I texted my friend Jeff that I'd make the decision when I got to the airport in the morning. Though strong winds out of the north seem to create less mechanical turbulence at Front Royal than south winds, 20 knot gusts across the runway could easily create too sporty a ride for first time passengers. I'd hate for them to make the long drive and not get to fly. Or worse, scare them enough that they'd never fly with me again.

I arrived to a blue, cloudless sky and a slack windsock; the wind wasn't forecast to whip up until 10 am. To keep expectations low, I relayed that we'd be able to get a morning flight in, but it might get too rough in the afternoon. Jeff replied, stating they'd just go hiking in that event. Great attitude.

Kayla went first, riding in the back of the ASK-21. We towed out to Signal Knob and, suspecting that it would be a sled ride that early, held on until 4,000 feet AGL before she pulled the release. I did my best tour guide impression, pointing out the sights and let her fly for a few minutes. There were narrow bits lift over the east ridge (later on, I was told that it was actually ridge lift). She was a trooper, having no problem with steep thermalling turns or the bumps on tow. We found a few thermals near the Shenandoah river, south of the airport, and landed uneventfully on runway 10.

Thanks to the graciousness of a few club members, the Grob 103 was available a few minutes later and I took Jeff up. Thinking I could get away with a lower tow because of the lift I'd found on the previous flight, we towed out to Signal Knob again. The wind had increased and shifted slightly, and all I could find was 8-10 knots of sink off of tow. I tried to speed over to the south to find a thermal, but we were too low and had to commit to land. The flight was only 12 minutes.

We tried again an hour later in the G103. The towpilot reported that it was really rough aloft, but Jeff was unfazed. We climbed up to 5,000 feet in good thermals before I turned the controls over to him. I had to intervene a few times as he seemed to want to roll to a knife edge and struggled a bit with pitch control, but he did a good job for a first timer. I have a new respect for flight instructors, though.

What a great day. It is an awesome feeling to be able to share soaring with friends.

02 April 2012

Hammerheads and a little bit of Wave

I have no relevant pictures, so here is Hangar Cat.
Despite the forecast, the ceilings allowed for an aerobatics lesson on Saturday. I was happy to get back into the Super Decathlon after two consecutive weather cancellations. First, we reviewed: the loop, half cuban eight, immelmann, and slow roll while attempting to string the figures together in a sequence as would be done in a contest.

I continued to screw up the simplest things, such as adding extra control inputs during the roll in the half cuban and immelmann. Despite being the "easiest" to do, that roll on the 45-degree down line gives me trouble. And for some inexplicable reason, I was caught adding left rudder at the start of the slow roll. I'd never done that before. The three week lapse really showed.

During one immelmann, I started the roll too early--nose way too high inverted--then didn't let the nose fall enough to compensate. The airplane stalled at the end of the roll out. But even the botches are good learning opportunities; it was certainly a new experience to find the airplane not obeying my commands in that attitude.

Then I learned the Hammerhead, my favorite maneuver so far. From level flight in the Decathlon, pull about 3.5 g, then set a vertical line using a distant point off the left wing for reference. As the airplane decelerates, add forward stick to keep it from going over on its back and right aileron to compensate for prop effects. At just the right moment (when the fabric begins to rumble in this airplane), kick full left rudder so that the nose slices through the ground reference point off your wing. Done correctly, the pivot occurs almost in place; in a contest, it must complete within one wingspan. Begin to neutralize the rudder and stop the pivot when headed straight down with a brief touch of the right rudder pedal. Finally, pull out to level.

Hangar Cat looking for a handout or some attention
I was happy to fly a few decent hammerheads on Saturday. My vertical line was mostly vertical and the kick was fairly well timed. It seemed to make sense to me. I need to work on neutralizing the controls more smoothly at the end of the turn, but I'll get there. I did have one good botched hammer, though: I waited too long for the kick and I believe the airplane sort of flopped over on its back. So it goes.

I had to deliver some fiberglass supplies for our tail dolly project, so I drove straight to FRR after my lesson. I managed to get a flight in the Grob 103 while I was there. Weather conditions were unusual: surface winds at about 15 knots out of the ENE and at least 20 knots WNW aloft. There were lenny-like clouds between the airport and the ridge. Flying beneath the leading edge of those clouds resulted in 3-7 knots of somewhat confused lift. Weak rotor? Since I was nearly the last flight of the day, I decided that a half hour was enough. I pitched the Grob over and held over 100 knots when passing through the sink to get back to the airport. I'd never had it going that fast before.

Nothing written on this blog should be considered training or advice. Do not attempt to teach yourself aerobatics. Find a competent instructor and an aircraft suitably stressed for the task.

25 March 2012

Friday Soaring, Weekend Washout

I got to the airport extra early on Friday to assemble the Cirrus. The wings must be aligned just right before the wing spar pin--the only thing that holds the wings together--will slide into place. That usually requires a few rounds of adjustment to the wing dolly followed by pushing and pulling on the wing roots, all while uttering gentle persuasions. I've heard the assembly process compared to foreplay; I guess I can see a vague similarity there.

Elapsed time from opening the hangar door to finishing taping the wings was about 35 minutes, my fastest single-handed assembly to date. With practice, I'll get that (safely) down to 15-20 minutes like the grizzled vets in the club. I still managed to get white lithium grease on my clothes despite taking extra care. So it goes.

I took her up for a sled ride after some of the morning haze had burned off. My takeoff was better than the prior two, but I still found myself hunting in pitch while the Cirrus accelerated in ground effect on tow. I will get smoother with practice. I flew a slightly lower and tighter pattern for landing, but it required full dive brakes from the base leg all the way to touchdown. I'm going to try flying at roughly 600 feet AGL abeam the touchdown point next time; that should permit a tight, half-spoiler approach in this ship.

The Grob 103 was available, so I took that up in the afternoon. I hadn't flown it since last summer, and I really noticed how much easier it is to fly the takeoff and tow in that heavy trainer compared to the Cirrus and the 1-36 that I usually rent. The lift was mostly to the south and east of the airport, near Linden VOR and over the city of Front Royal. A slowly moving rain cell appeared to the southwest. The sight of distant shafts of rain from an aerial vantage point is always impressive. I circled around until getting called down to help on the ground  and got a decent 50 minute flight out of the deal.

I'm glad I went flying on Friday. Glider operations were cancelled Saturday and today due to weather. My aerobatics lesson was cancelled as well.

13 March 2012

The Immelmann

After several botched attempts, the Immelmann seemed to make sense to me. Enter a little faster than the loop and maintain a steady pull until reaching an inverted slow-flight attitude. Push a bit to stop the loop, unload the wings, then apply full left aileron to get it rolling.

Sounds simple, but it went off the rails on the first few attempts: I'd keep some forward elevator in when initiating the roll, then overcompensate (to be really sure the wings were unloaded) and gracelessly whip the stick over to ensure full aileron extension. After a few more tries, I'd roll out upright in a slow-flight attitude at slightly under 60 mph indicated.

I had an epiphany flying the slow roll: I needed to scoop the nose up higher and push a little more over the top. Once I got the pitch attitude high enough, I was able to perform a few passable examples. It will click next lesson. And the half cuban is close. I predict that it will click next time, too.

That was hour 3 of aerobatic training. It is clear that I over-think the maneuvers. My flying skill, already in short supply, approaches zero when I consciously think through the control inputs. I'll get there, though. This training has been the most fun I've had in an airplane by far. I'm grateful that the instructor is so patient.

The landing was better than the last, but I had a tiny bit of a side load at touchdown. I need to be more aggressive in making adjustments to the sideslip as the crosswind changes.

Next lesson: the Hammerhead.

Nothing written on this blog should be considered training or advice. Do not attempt to teach yourself aerobatics. Find a competent instructor and an aircraft suitably stressed for the task.

11 March 2012

First Flight in the Schempp-Hirth Open Cirrus

Having met the pilot in command (PIC) minimums to fly the club's Open Cirrus sailplane, I'd wanted to get checked out in it for the past couple of months. After watching several Cirri compete in The Sun Ship Game--a film that everyone should see--I set a goal to fly it this season. The weather was right yesterday and the instructor on duty took the time to ensure that I had assembled it properly, provided some much-appreciated insight into her flight characteristics, then gave me the requisite logbook endorsements.

With a book maximum L/D of 44:1 (for comparison, a Cessna 172's glide ratio is at best about 9:1), the Cirrus is the highest performing glider that I can rent from the club. It is a classic aircraft, Shempp-Hirth's first glass glider (read the original review from the July 1967 issue of Soaring, page 18, if you're curious). It has a retractable landing gear and a center of gravity (CG) tow hook, neither of which I had experience flying. I'd also never flown an aircraft with an Experimental category airworthiness certificate as pilot-in-command.

The Cirrus is flown in a more reclined position than I am accustomed, and it was clearly designed for someone taller than me. The pilot sits in a canvas sling that can be adjusted via the roller at the top. With the sling ratcheted tight and rudder pedals adjusted full rearward, I can just barely get full rudder extension. I was warned that the landing gear requires some finesse to retract, so I strapped in and practiced actuating it several times before taking the glider off of the fuselage dolly. It took several tries before I could get it to reliably lock in the retracted position.

I had anticipated the glider's desire to pitch-up on takeoff, but when the ship was ready to fly, it really wanted to fly. I needed a much bigger push than expected to keep from ballooning above the tow plane. After talking to a club member who watched the takeoff (you get used to the ever-present audience in a glider operation), the resulting pitch oscillation didn't look as dramatic as it felt. And the Cirrus is a bit more slippery than anything I've flown before; even a slight pitch change would cause it to speed up and slacken the tow rope. Once off tow, I raised the gear and got it to lock on the first try. It was much easier to operate in the air than on the ground.

The Cirrus flies beautifully; it is quiet and graceful. It climbed in weak thermals even better than the Schweizer 1-36 that I thought was unbeatable on a weak thermal day. At the minimum sink speed of 39 knots in reasonably still air, I had to tap the altimeter to make sure it wasn't stuck. At the maximum glide speed of 46 knots, I was still compelled to tap the altimeter in disbelief. The performance is a noticeable step above anything I'd flown before.

I lucked into a thermal that punched through the inversion that capped off the lift and it carried the glider to about 5,300 feet MSL. After fooling around for a little more than an hour, I decided to land because I had forgotten water and wanted to be sharp for the first landing. I circled lazily in the predictable sink northwest of the airport to get down, and extended the landing gear at about 2,000 feet AGL to make sure that I could get it locked. I checked the gear at least 5 more times before committing to landing.

The windsock didn't tell the whole story and the quartering tailwind for runway 28 was stronger aloft than I had anticipated. The wind had slackened and reversed around noon. It is an ordeal for the glider operation to change runway ends, but we will do that if a tailwind becomes unacceptable. These wind conditions were tolerable, and I usually prefer to land with a bit of a tailwind than to land against traffic.

As I watched my aim point on final approach begin to slide beneath the nose with the dive brakes completely extended, I took a moment to see how well the Cirrus slipped (I wasn't prepared to use the European dive-bomb-with-airbrakes technique on this flight). I resigned to landing a bit long and focused on getting it straight and on the runway centerline. I was pretty happy with the touchdown, but I couldn't get it stopped until 100 feet beyond the usual midfield taxiway intersection. That bummed me out until I watched someone do the exact same thing a few minutes later.

Disassembly took about four times longer than it should. It is one thing to watch and help someone do it, but quite another to do it yourself for the first time. I wanted to be sure that nothing got dinged in the process and solicited help.

07 March 2012

Aerobatic Lesson 2: Loops, Slow Rolls, and Half Cuban 8's

I'm surprised the instructor didn't get sick during Sunday's lesson with all of the side slipping that went on while I tried to get the inverted-to-knife-edge part of the slow roll down. I'd feed in way too much top rudder then release some of the aileron in the process. And my timing was way off. He said he'd get a good blast of cold air during those moments to add to the tail wagging. He sits behind the center of gravity, so that feeling caused by poor coordination is more pronounced. I felt a touch nauseous once we were back on the ground, no doubt due to that ham-handed display of airmanship.

Though I am currently butchering the maneuvers, it is so much fun. I look forward to each lesson all week long. The instructor is awesome. If everyone had the opportunity to fly aerobatics, there would be no drug problem in this country.

And it isn't all bad: my loops were more round with mostly the right amount float over the top. I need to start getting the elevator back in a bit quicker on the way down, though. I felt more accustomed to the strange attitudes this time. Yeah, that last half of the slow roll needs work, but I'm going to chair fly them this week and it will click next time.

I learned the half cuban eight, which is 5/8 of a loop followed by a half roll from inverted on a 45 degree down line. This maneuver teaches proper recovery from a nose-low inverted attitude. The roll on the line requires more subtle elevator input than the level slow roll and just a slight bit of rudder. Smooth and subtle on the controls, I am not; I'd put in way too much of both and not enough aileron. I need to focus more on the visual reference to hold the line rather than thinking about what I should be doing. It will click next lesson. I'll get it.   

I'm not going to describe the landing. Not my best.   

05 March 2012

Petersburg (W99) Wave Camp

I spent last week at Grant County Airport (W99) in Petersburg, West Virginia for Wave Camp. I was fortunate to get instruction and some experience soaring in mountain wave lift as well as the opportunity to fly in winds and turbulence outside my comfort zone. Last Thursday afternoon, we managed to climb to almost 23,000 feet MSL in the club's ASK-21 sailplane.

The aerotows through rotor turbulence were the roughest I've experienced in my brief soaring career. The character of the turbulence changed from day to day: on Saturday, we plowed into bumps with significant g-loads (peak +3.8 and -3.5g if I believe the g-meter), while on Thursday the jolts packed less punch (maybe +/- 2.5g) but they were constant and had more rolling moment as the towpilot flew up the valley in an attempt to escape the massive sink. We were flying in a washing machine. I have never seen a towplane jerk around like that. Slack line was unavoidable and control inputs to the stops were frequently required. It was good to see just how strong these gliders are.

Once we entered the laminar wave lift, the ride was perfectly smooth and quiet. The wave steadily carried the ship up though 18,000 feet and we reset our altimeters to 29.92 inHg as we entered Class A airspace. I fished my cell phone from my pocket and used XCSoar to ensure that the sailplane remained within the window defined in the waiver with Washington Center. The view was like that from a seat on an airliner. The ridges below lost some of their significance; the terrain appeared more model-like than real.

The lift was 500 ft/min at times, and in a few minutes we approached the top of the window at 23,000 feet. Still in about 2 knots of lift, only airspace limitations kept us from climbing further. Just below the ceiling I pulled the air brakes, maintaining a descent of 800-1000 feet/minute. Descending any faster would risk thermally shocking the cold-soaked glider as the air temperature warms at about 2 degrees Celsius every thousand feet.

This was my first time breathing oxygen in the cockpit. The club's Mountain High distribution system began dispensing puffs into the mask at a pressure altitude of 11,000 feet and worked flawlessly.

Solar heating in the cockpit kept me comfortable with just a few layers on. I didn't need my hat or gloves. My feet, however, were beginning to go numb by the end of the flight despite wearing insulated boots, two pairs of socks, and toe warmers.

I would never have attempted a flight like this without a skilled instructor in the back seat. My policy is not to list names on this blog, but I am grateful for the soaring knowledge that was shared with me all week.

I camped north of the runway, sleeping in my car. Though the temperature was in the twenties a few nights, I was comfortable. The pavilion (far left in the photo) had heated restrooms, hot water, and electricity. That's luxury camping to me.    

This was the first gathering of glider pilots that I've attended. There was lots of camaraderie and I learned something from everyone. What a great week!  

19 February 2012

First Aerobatics Lesson: Loops and Rolls

The snow never appeared in the Washington, D.C. area. It was a perfect morning to begin learning aerobatics in spite of earlier forecasts. This was the most fun I've had so far at the controls of an aircraft, and I didn't even need the Sic Sacs that I brought along (just in case). I had the good fortune to experience some aerobatics last year, though save for a few aileron rolls, this is the first time I've attempted to fly the maneuvers.

We briefed the flight and went over the bailout procedure, of which I was familiar after watching Allen Silver's bailout webinar a few weeks ago. Clear of the FRZ and class B airspace, we climbed up over the Potomac River to attempt a few loops. 

Loops were fun, though mine weren't particularly round: as the airplane passes through a vertical attitude, one needs to gradually unload the wing so it floats over the top of the loop at less than 1g, then gradually load it back up until the best cornering acceleration (3.5g in this airplane) is reached again. The fabric rumbles distinctively at the top if you get this right. If it really rumbles, you're going to fall out of the top of the loop. I've got to work on that timing.

Then I tried a few aileron rolls: pitch up, unload the wing, then fully deflect the aileron. At first, I neglected to release all of the back pressure before beginning to roll. And though I thought I'd reached full deflection, I still had some aileron left and needed to push harder.

Afterwards, I rolled to inverted and practiced level inverted flight. It was an odd sensation hanging in the straps and pushing to hold the nose-high pitch attitude necessary to maintain level flight. My feet weren't cooperating on the roll from inverted to upright and later the complete roll. I need to work on harmonizing the elevator and rudder, especially when passing through the knife edge. I'm going to chair fly it over the next couple weeks and try again as we work on the primary roll and then the slow roll.  

While on final for runway 6 at VKX, I was informed that a friend from my glider club would be observing my landing. So I proceeded to balloon the round out and needed some power to recover. This meant that I touched down at midfield: not a problem in the Super D but not a great demonstration of my newly-acquired tailwheel skills. It never fails when there is an audience watching.

As with anything else you find on this blog, none of this dreck should be considered advice or instruction. Find a competent instructor and an airplane properly stressed for aerobatics. Don't try to teach yourself.

08 February 2012

Tailwheel sign-off, Eastern Shore, Gin Gins

Sunday, I received my tailwheel endorsement in the Super Decathlon after sticking the wheel landings, simulating an aborted takeoff, flying a few power-off approaches, and making a couple of short field landings. While I've still got plenty to work on and it'll take many hours of practice before I'll feel comfortable in gnarly, gusty crosswinds, I know what I need to do. Weather permitting, I'll get my first aerobatic lesson next weekend: loops and rolls. I can't wait!

Terminal at KGED
It was astonishing how quickly I could stop the Super D after crossing the threshold at 65 mph. At that speed, there is just enough energy remaining to arrest the descent in the landing flare. I felt the cushion (actually a reduction of induced drag) from ground effect immediately before touchdown. That airplane is so much more fun to fly than a 172; I'm getting spoiled. 

I was walking to my car after the lesson and ran into a fellow glider pilot from the club (my policy is generally not to list names on this blog in order to protect the innocent). He offered to let me ride along in the back seat of his friend's Mooney while they flew a lunch mission to Georgetown, Delaware (KGED) and made a few practice approaches. I had nothing else to do, so I jumped at the opportunity. Fortunately I had my sectionals with me to practice navigation by pilotage. 

The Mooney M20J is impressive: a pretty fast little bird for something with an IO-360. I'd never crossed the Chesapeake Bay in an airplane before, so that was a treat. After wolfing down a medium rare bison burger in the restaurant on field at Georgetown, we were on our way. We flew down the beach from Lewes, on to Rehoboth, Dewey, Bethany, Ocean City, and then shot an approach into Ocean City Municpal Airport (KOXB) before returning home. To me, this is what general aviation is all about. And I am continually surprised at the great people I meet in the flying community.
Leaving Ocean City, MD (KOXB)

On this flight I got my introduction to Gin Gins, a potent ginger hard candy. These are said to settle a queasy stomach. Whether that is true or psychosomatic, I'll definitely stuff a bag of these in my flight bag to hand out to nervous passengers in case of a turbulence encounter.


Returning to KVKX

31 January 2012

Rental checkout

Having not flown a Cessna 172 since last October, I thought it'd be a good idea yesterday to take a CFI with me to grade my air work, practice a few simulated emergencies, and hopefully shoot some crosswind landings. I discovered that the FBO wanted renters to do a checkout every 90 days, so this session would satisfy that requirement. My usual instructor is no longer with the company, so I scheduled a CFI that I'd only flown with once over a year and a half ago.

I always look forward to flying with a different instructor as each has had slightly different ideas about proper technique. First mistake: I finish buckling in and organizing the cockpit only to remember that I hadn't removed the chock on the nosewheel (usually the airplane is secured with tie-down ropes). I learned this summer to perform a few of the pre-takeoff checks during the long taxi by making shallow S-turns to confirm operation of the turn coordinator, DG, and so on. The CFI was not enthusiastic about that practice, which I'll take under consideration.

I hadn't practiced the maneuvers in several months. Despite chair-flying them beforehand, I was pretty rusty. During my short field takeoff, I forgot to retract the flaps, and it took longer than usual to get oriented with the landmarks in the practice area. The air was cold, so the deck angle for the power-on stall was higher than usual. I decided to experiment by using the angle of the left wing against the horizon to judge yaw (there were no clouds to use as a visual reference ahead). I had the ball centered until the stall break, but I was a little slow in releasing right rudder pressure and the nose yawed right. I forcefully corrected with left rudder to level the wings. It wasn't elegant but I had it under control. The instructor was not amused.

There were two airplanes in the pattern at Culpeper airport using the wind-favored runway, 22, as well as a Cessna practicing the NDB approach to runway 4. During one climb out, I got a good head-on look at that Cessna as he descended below us on final approach.

I have a lot to practice. My coordination was sloppier than I had expected. I see a flight in my future practicing climbing and descending dutch rolls. I used 30 degree banks in the traffic pattern as I am accustomed, but the instructor remarked that this was too steep. I want to get in the habit of flying in a passenger-friendly way, so I'm going to keep that in mind.

I need to fly airplanes more often to stay proficient. I had considered working toward my instrument rating as a good way to do that, but it will have to wait until I can fund it. With fuel surcharges, the wet/hobbs rental rate of a Cessna 172 is getting tough to justify. Flying gliders just can't be beat on a smiles per dollar basis.

14 January 2012

Wheel Landings

That's not me in there, and that's also not a wheel landing
While I didn't experience the predicted 25 knot gusts, the wind did keep things interesting at 2W5.  We shared the pattern with a Citabria and, at least for a couple of laps, a Diamond Katana. Since the grass "taxiway" was closed, we formed a conga line when back-taxiing on the runway.

After a passable three point landing, we moved on to wheel landings. A wheel landing is performed by flying the airplane down to the runway such that the main wheels just kiss the pavement while the tail is still happily flying. Forward elevator is then used to stick the mains onto the runway by reducing the angle of attack. Otherwise, the momentum from touchdown will pull the tail down, increasing the angle of attack of the wings, thus causing the airplane to fly again (H. S. Plourde calls this a jounce).

To make things easier, I was instructed to fly the approach faster than usual, diving for the runway threshold at 90+ mph. A proficient tailwheel pilot can make a wheel landing at the same approach airspeed used for a three pointer, but I'm not close to proficient, yet. It was shocking how quickly that extra energy dissipated, though: the constant speed prop on the Super Decathlon is an effective airbrake when in flat pitch.

I still found it unnatural to put forward pressure on the stick at the moment of touchdown, and I'd jockey with the elevator rather than keep it steady forward--a bad habit that I will soon break. Several of my attempts resulted in bounces (jounces) with 3-point landing recoveries. It wasn't pretty, but I understand now what needs to happen and it is just a matter of making my hands and feet do it smoothly.

While my flying was still sloppy, I felt like I made progress today. I was much more comfortable handling the crosswinds though the conditions were, admittedly, a bit tamer than last lesson. The instructor is awesome, and I plan to learn some basic aerobatics from him after the tailwheel endorsement. I can't think of a better way to accrue tailwheel time.


07 January 2012

Tailwheel Transition Lesson #2

The crosswinds today were strong enough to be interesting humbling, but not too strong. It hasn't clicked, yet; it will.
Not the plane that I flew.