Sunday, April 27, 2014

April 26, 2014; Great Post-Frontal Soaring

Visibility:         50 to 100 miles.
Wind:             0 - 10 MPH with gusts up to 17 MPH.
Altitudes:        Morgan, Duo Discus--please tell;  Jim, 2-33A--5700'.
Time Aloft:      Morgan, Duo Discus--at least 4 hours?;  Jim, 2-33A--2.5 hours.
Max Lift:        8 knots.
Temperature: 56°F @ 10:00 AM, 65°F. peak at 3:30 PM..
Comment:      Very nice day.
Tow pilots:     Michael Thometz & Harold Gallagher

A late spring storm had passed through the evening before.  E-mail exchanges early in the morning questioned whether the Gliderport would be too wet and muddy to operate on.  But while some locations in a 50 mile radius had received generous amounts of rain, Avenal had only received 0.05," and the National Weather Service gauge in Avenal had not ticked upwards since 10:00 PM the night before.

As I turned onto Highway 198 in Hanford I could see the hills beyond Avenal.  From the horizon to the peaks, the hills were clear.  Behind me, towards the cloud shrouded Sierras, was only about 30 miles visibility, but in the other 3 quadrants I judged the visibility to be 75 to 100 miles.  Nice!  But would there be lift?

There were signs of lift.  Cumulus clouds.  Cloud "streets."  But early in the day the lift appeared elusive.  Several times a glider beat the towplane to the ground.  That is to be expected on "pattern tows" and simulated rope breaks, but not on 2000' or 3000' tows.  Early reports were strong lift in spots and lots of sink everywhere else.

The weather station nearby in Avenal makes a report every 5 minutes.  During the whole gliding day, teh wind varied within the limits of "WNW" to "ENE,"  so we never had to change the takeoff runway.  Wind readings varied from 0 to 10 MPH throughout the day, with gust readings varying from 3 to 17 MPH.  At the gliderport the temperatures were very pleasant and the breeze felt good.

Thanks to Harold and Julie for also contributing pictures for this blog!

Click (or tap on) on any picture to bring up the slideshow viewer.  In Firefox and Internet Explorer, hit the F11 key to toggle to full-screen mode.  Just remember to hit F11 again to exit full screen.

We had a new tow pilot today, Michael Thometz, a controller at NAS Lemoore.  Welcome, Mike!  He did 20 tows today.  This picture was taken while Harold flew the towplane a few lifts.
Michael Thometz, center, in black jacket

A picturesque sky was prevalent the whole day.
Instructor Dan hooking the rope to Orange Crush for Student Dan.

Student Dan Clark and instructor Dan Gudgel begin their takeoff roll while Peter runs wing.
Dan Clark, student, and Dan Gudgel, instructor in "Orange Crush."

Dan has come back around.  This image looks like trouble for Peter and/or Orange Crush, but it is just a telephoto lens compressing distance.

A little bit later Dan Clark is flying solo.  I did not really notice Dan's crosswind technique when looking through the viewfinder as I shot this series of images.  Looking at the screen the next morning, I see he had his timing down and did a great job!
Eight feet off the ground and an impressive crab angle, with a little bit of wing-low slip
Three feet off the ground and still an impressive crab angle.
Two feet off the ground and Dan is applying rudder to align the bird with the ground path.
Touchdown.  The glider is aligned almost perfectly with the ground path.

Julie helping Morgan assemble the Duo Discus

A crowd gathers around the Duo Discus.
Morgan and Julie awaiting their turn in the tow queue.
12:28 PM.  Dan runs the wing for Morgan and Julie.
In line behind the towplane.
Level with the cloud bases.

Right over the Chowchilla Airport
On the way back to Avenal they are cruising just about level with the bases of the clouds.

Here they have climbed a little bit above the bases.
Over three hours after launch and Morgan and Julie are still going strong.

Nathan and Murcus Lutz arrived in their Grob.
Nathan and Marcus apply sunscreen.
Instructor Dan Gudgel and Student Marcus Lutz waiting for the towplane.
Marcus makes his first takeoff.

Richard Walker gives the "Thumbs Up" signal that he is ready to go
Richard is on the go as Joe Anastasio runs his wing.
Now it is Joe's turn for launch, and Dan Gudgel runs the wing.
After an hour-and-a-half flight, Joe comes back to land.

Meanwhile, back in the launch area, a small crowd is waiting patiently.
Bart is getting the Russia ready for his flight.

A small crowd surrounds the Russia as Bart is about ready to get in it.

Richard is back on the ground, Bart Klusek is seated in the Russia, Jeff Richardson is looking things over, and Harold is making sure no truths were stretched.

One pilot, two wing runners, and four spectators.  Makes for good camaraderie.
Dan Clark and Dan Gudgel run Bart's wing.

Harold with F-18 pilot at NAS Lemoore--and new glider student--Chris Reilly

Peter runs wing for Chris on a dual instruction flight with Harold.

Chris takes off on his first solo flight in a glider.

Ready for another solo.
Ready to go on his third solo flight and Chris is all smiles.

Mike Paoli talks with company while waiting for a tow.

Jeff Richardson is on short final in the 1-26.

I (Jim) had almost decided to not come out to Avenal this morning.  Early in the morning the sky was nowhere near the "Mostly Clear" that was forecast.  I had a lot of stuff to do in Hanford.  But I was scheduled, so I felt obligated to go.

Many people who were scheduled before me were not finding lift.  There were several who beat the towplane down. I think it was Harold that said, "there was strong lift if you can find it, and lots of sink."  I heard somebody mention lift should be good on the upwind side of a cloud.

I got a tow up to 2300' AGL.  Was planning on releasing at 2000,' but the gliderport was exactly at my 6:00 position, and I felt I was a little far out, so I did not want to release without having visual contact.  After release I explored a little cloud street--while I had found lift on tow, I was finding sink now.  Not good.  Searched a little bit longer, then decided it was time to head back to CA69.

I started heading for a long straight-in to Runway 7.  Then I hit lots of sink.  I increased airspeed to get through the sink faster, but that only slowed down the rise of runway 7's threshold  up the canopy.  Not good.  Made a 5° turn towards a dry, sunlit field and managed to find decreased sink.  Then lift.

Saved--no choosing my land-out location today!

The lift turned out to be pretty good, which gave me a chance to go exploring for better lift.  Went back to a line of clouds, but if they had lift, I couldn't find it.  So I headed to the biggest, darkest cloud I could find, which also happened to be closer to the gliderport.

When the vario indicated good lift, I started circling.  I saw Orange Crush working closer to the gliderport, knew he did not have a vario, and hoped he would noticed that I was getting good lift.  He did, and came over to join me.

After we got established in the gaggle, we kept each other on the opposite side, 180° away.  Orange Crush was where I could see him, and I did my best to make sure I stayed where he could see me.  This is the first time I had felt comfortable in a gaggle.  In fact, it was downright enjoyable working together.

We kept rising until I was going to loose the "500' below" cloud clearance if I went any higher.  When I was heading east, towards the gliderport, I exited and dove away.  The lift was so good I would try it again!

I came back, this time Orange Crush was above me.  I started following him up, but did not have luck keeping him in sight, so I exited and went to search for other lift.  I noted the lift seemed to be getting harder to find, and a look at the watched showed 4:20 PM.  Had enough altitude and was close enough to CA69 that I could still play.  Orange Crush headed to home, and I saw a big, dark cloud near the prison.  It turned out to be full of lift.  I went on the upwind side of it, maintaining 2000' horizontal separation, and was able to rise slightly above the base.

5660' was the highest of the day for me--fantastic for a day where it was hard to find lift, and a flightthat started off as a "dud." At 5:30 PM I noticed that the Duo Discus had been put into the trailer.  As far as I knew, everybody else had called it a day.  Plus, it was a little bit chilly, and all the water I had before the flight was getting a little uncomfortable.  Stepped out of the cockpit at 5:53, 2.5 hours after rudder wag.

What a day!

Monday, April 21, 2014

April 19, 2014 - A Day in the Convergence

Visibility: 10+ miles
Wind: NE 3 - 10
Altitudes: 8,100 ft
Time Aloft: 2.5 + hours
Max Lift: 8 Kts
Temperature: 75 - 80 F
Comment: Good day in the Mountains and Valley
Tow pilot: Yutaka Buto (Thanks Yutaka)

  This post is about a week late.  However, there are some details that are worth sharing, especially for anyone who has heard about convergence lift but has not had a chance to fly in it.  I will add that there were several players (Karl in GD, Julie in JB and Morgan/Eric Bick in 5H) along with others in the 2-33s.  I was not on the ground when they were aloft so please forgive me as I did not record your names.

  After pre-flight inspection of the 1-35 the first clouds started to form over the mountains.  These cycled through lunch, sometimes forming a large mass and sometimes disappearing altogether.  This cycling continued as other ships were assembled and lessons continued. 

  I was second in line and towed off a little before 1:00 pm.  This is the first time I could clearly see the convergence and I was anxious to connect and use it.  I was almost too anxious; I got off tow in a decent thermal that I thought would connect and spent the next 45 minutes working my way into the lift.  Lesson 1: tow directly into the lift; do not tow "near" the lift, and do not endure hearing others call "6,000 feet at 7 knots" while circling at 2,500 in 2 knots.

  Once in the lift, I ran south to Orchard Peak, observing the clouds and their alignment with the mountains below.  By this time I could hear 5H, JB and GD well on their way north and south.  JB was headed to Blackwell Corner, so I was interested as I was headed in this direction.  I made Orchard with plenty to spare but decided to run to 41/33 as it was the  next turn point on my task.  5H was headed south by then and called my position, crossing behind and below me.  Lesson 2: There is a lot of radio chatter regarding position and conditions; listen closely and do not be afraid to add your fair share.

  There was a finger of cloud pointing at 41/33 so I aligned under it and climbed.  I added up what the run from the lift to the turn and back would cost and headed out.  After making the 41/33 turn with only a few bumps, I rejoined the lift, climbed and headed north.  By this time there were many radio calls from other sailplanes transiting the area, as well as JB returning from Blackwell Corner and GD heading south.  Lesson 3: On that day, the convergence tended to group the traffic in a relatively small area.  Radio calls and good scanning are required (FLARM would be good; having a yellow sailplane doesn't hurt.)

  By the time I headed north, the clouds over the mountains were mostly continuous.  I spent some time trying different sides of the cloud to see if one side was better than the other.  I had mixed results, so there is something to learn here (the more experienced members can please comment as they see fit). 

Around Hidden Valley I turned around.  There was more traffic moving south and I was able to fly with JB for a little while.  I decided to run west to Parkfield and then head back to convergence.  What became very clear was the area to the west had smooth sink (-5 knots) so this task was quickly abandoned and I ran back to the mountains.

  I headed toward Avenal and found both 2-33s circling in lift along with JB heading back to land.  The lift that was not present during the run from the convergence to 41/33 was now in place and I was able to do a few turns with 45H.  JB landed then I touched down.

  Morgan informed me later that the OLC distance for the club this weekend totaled over 1,000 km.  Lesson 4:  I have been hearing about convergence flying for years before I had a chance to give it a try and I highly recommend it. 

Morgan's Report:

Classic great convergence day. I was scheduled to fly with a new contestant for the contest, Eric Bick.  He was coming up for the day and I had offered to give him an area checkout in the Duo and show him what I could of the contest area.  I didn't expect the kind of day we had though.  Due to a long drive, he didn't arrive until nearly 2pm, so we got a very late start.

Off tow the valley was working, but the clouds were clearly a bit to the west of the hills and it took a little effort to get into them.  Once on the convergence line, it was clearly a great day.  I stopped thermalling about 1500-2000 below cloud base and started to just dolphin fly the convergence heading south and climbing along the way.

There was a short gap between Orchard Peak and the temblors, but we jumped into it and had some small puffs indicate the line for us.  It was a milk run all the way down the CA Valley following the very well marked line.  A few stops in lift that was very strong.  It was a different kind of flying than Eric was used to.  The Mojave shear lines are much more rough and not so much like a well organized line of thermals like we have.

We jumped across the CA valley at Soda Lake, then across the Caliente Range near the Fellows VOR and across to the Sierra Madre range on the south side of the Cuyama Valley.  The clouds extended all the way across to the San Rafael range north of Santa Ynez.  We pushed partly across, but with bases around 8000, it's not somewhere I like to be that low and we turned.
Looking West up the Cuyama Valley on our way North.
Looking East down the Caliente Range and towards New Cuyama, note how wide the convergence line is.

The run north was even easier than the run south, at least until about 10 miles east of Orchard Peak. Then it was clear the day was starting to die.  It was probably 4:30 or 4:45 at this point, so no surprise.  I took the opportunity to teach Eric a bit about finding the convergence line in the blue.  Looking for small wisps and more importantly to just feel your way along the line.  Small intercept angles and turns as you bump along a narrow line of blue lift.  Using this technique we continued from south of Orchard to around Pine Canyon without thermalling.  Probably 20 miles of running in the blue without a real climb.

At Pine Canyon we found a climb to 7000 that gave us enough to jump across to the Juniper Ridge that runs up to Center Peak.  Here I made a mistake.  We had descended out of the NE flow and into the Westerly flow without any obvious transition.  I pushed west to Center Peak where BG had found a climb only 5 minutes before.  Nothing but sink.  Turning towards Coalinga at about 5500 it was clear that I was in westerly winds.  I told Eric that when it doubt, go downwind.  We headed downwind towards the Coalinga airport and sure enough, back into the convergence line and a 3kt climb to close to 8000.

TOR, Kurth Thams in the motor glider Carat, had been flying with us on the way north.  He was low near Coalinga and had to fire up the aluminum thermal.  If I had found reliable lift just a few minutes before he probably would have made it home, but had to light the fire before getting too low and lacking fuel reserves.  He did join us in our thermal for a climb boost.

We topped out, headed North to the San Benito Range, but it wasn't working. With that we turned for home and final glide back to Avenal.  I pretty much got to show Eric the entire contest area, except the central valley. I can only hope we get a few days like that during the contest.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Visibility: More than 25 miles
Wind: Variable from the Southeast 3-7 kts
Altitudes: 7000+ msl
Time Aloft: 2+ hours
Max Lift: Early, nothing. Later, up to 10 kts.
Temperature: Mid 70's
Comment: Nice turnout of members. No markers for easier thermal searching.
Tow pilot: Andrew Ouellet. Thanks Andrew.

It was a nice day. The wind wasn't strong enough from the southeast to move the gliders to the northwest end so things moved along nicely. A good day for a checkride.

Dan Gudgel beginning the checkride for Carl Engel with a preflight.
Dan in back holding the rudder during a Positive Control check.
In just a minute they'll be ready to launch on the flight portion of the checkride.
Carl on tow boxing the wake behind Andrew Ouellet doing the towing.
Carl on final for runway 7 after a simulated rope break.
Last landing of the four checkride flights for Carl Engel.
Dan Gudgel congratulating Carl Engel on passing his checkride.
Carl Engel was awarded his Private Pilot's License in Gliders as an add-on rating to his Private Pilot's License in Helicopters. Congratulations from all of us to Carl. He did very well as commented by Dan Gudgel our celebrated examiner.

We had a good turnout today. There were 11 pilots on the field and most went aloft. Ron Ronat and my son, Harold III, were also present but didn't fly. Otherwise we had a really good group who all took a break for lunch before launching in the warm afternoon.

Nine of the eleven pilots here today are taking a lunch break.
Karl Kunz launching in Golf Delta for an afternoon of fun.
Ethan Ronat assembling his glider while Larry and Andy work on the Russia.
Larry Johnson pushing his Russia to the line with all the others waiting for a tow.
Only five shown but at times there were seven gliders in the queue.
Ethan Ronat sent a nice synopsis of his late afternoon flight:

My first flight of this season, and it was time to get all the dust off the glider, and remove glider and personal rust. After checking out and discussing hanger options, I took my time with YH on assembly, checking, cleaning, etc. and launched shortly before 4 pm, for a local flight. Bit surprised at how strong it was, once able to reach the mountains - I got 10 knots of lift at times, and was up at 7000 ft., without staying to test how high it topped. Probably still could have gone on a late afternoon X-country flight, but elected to land due to some prior engagement in Fresno. All in all, fun soaring, and a good appetizer for the coming season. 


Larry Johnson said:

Scattered thermals, tough staying up for an hour. Glad to be back in the Russia!!

Jeff Richardson noted:

I had two flights in the 1-26 after Mike P was done with it.  
The first was a 3000' tow with a few bumps on the way up and almost none on the way down.  I did manage to make a few turns in zero sink (I had to guess about the sink rate because the battery was recharging and the mechanical variometer was not working). 
The Second flight started out as the first, but this time there were bumps on the way down.  After releasing, caught a nice ,but weak, thermal over Hwy 33 near the 31 end of the runway.  Climbing in a steady, but uneven thermal, I made countless turns up to 5,800'.  Feeling that I had reached the top, I headed west across the valley towards the hills.  I made it to the foot hills at about 4000' and found break even lift/sink thermal that would keep me afloat.  About that time 'Orange Crush' joined me in the thermal.  We were at about 3300'.  It was hard to  tell, but it seems there was a weak convergence stretching across the valley (no vario....).  If I were higher in a higher performance machine, I would have headed out to the bigger ridges to the west.  All in all I had a great 1.3 hour flight, the best this year... so far!

 Next up the Russia!

Daniel Clark responded:

I did 4 x 500' simulated rope breaks for approach tuning.  Hadn't been out in a few weeks - in maintenance mode.

Richard Walker:

Very short flight.  found lots of sink and not much lift till on downwind.The rest of my birthday went much better.


Jim Rickey:

I got out late to the Gliderport after helping out at Young Eagles in Hanford.  Got airborne in Orange Crush a little after 3:00, released at 3,000 AGL and found enough lift to basically maintain altitude for a while, staying within about ± 250 of release altitude for about 20 minutes.  Seeing all the water in the fields I did not expect much lift over most of them.  Worked along the dividing line between the farmed areas and the grazing lands going up to the hills, going northwest almost to the powerlines.  By the end of the second northwest bound pass, I no longer found enough lift to stay in that area, so when straight true west of Avenal, head eastbound.  Saw some dry fields north of my path back to Avenal, but if they did not give lift it would have been marginal to get to our preferred landing site.  Saw a glass ship a mile or two south of me that was ascending as I was descending, but there was no guarantee I would find the lift when I got there, and without that guarantee, kept heading to the landing site of choice.  Was able to stay in the 1800'-2100' MSL range a couple of miles west of the gliderport, but even that started weakening and harder to find the "up" escalators.
The drift at pattern altitude would have indicated use runway 31, but the windsock was saying use 07.  Since the tow plane was in front of its hangar, I had no expectations of better conditions later, and nobody else was scheduled, it was time to put Orange Crush in its tiedown spot, so I used 13.  Did not get as close to the desired stop point as I had seen Dan Clark do several times before I took off, but still it was within Standards.

Richard Walker positioning his Schweitzer 1-35 for launch.
Five gliders ready for their pilots.
Larry Johnson and Andy Reistetter comparing notes on their Russia sailplanes.
Daniel Clark and Dan Gudgel ready for another training flight.
Down comes the canopy and slack goes out of the tow rope.