Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Lasham Regional - Tues 31 May 2011

Tuesday dawned bright and sunny!  Believe it or not, it was actually very cold last night, there was even a frost in the early hours of the morning.  The differential in temperature between the night time temperature and the daytime temperature can actually be very good for gliding, and this clearly is what the Director thought as he had us all rigging and gridding the gliders before the 10:00 briefing. 

The set task was 272km Lasham – Newbury – Northampton – Silverstone – Andover – Lasham.  Being in Class B, we were second on the grid behind Class A and whilst waiting for the first group to launch, there was a heavy hail and rain shower.  The Mosquito is a complete disaster in the rain whilst flying and practically falls out of the sky, so definitely not my favourite weather.  The glider had to be completely dried before I could take off, but there were obvious showers around and the forecast for it to become worse later in the day.

I started the task at 12:46, one of the first to leave in an attempt to get ahead of the rain showers.  I progressed as far as Newbury and then instead of turning North, I kept going West to fly around a huge shower that had developed to the North of Newbury.  I think a few other pilots wondered what on earth I was doing, but soon realised what the problem was ahead and began to follow me.  Ahead was a large blue hole, but I could see a small cumulus developing so I flew towards that and fortunately found a decent climb.  Somehow though, I never did easily connect with the thermals easily each time and I did find it rather a struggle up North to Northampton.  As I arrived at Northampton, I switched the navigation device to map as I always do to ensure that I correctly rounded the turning point, only for it to switch to FLARM and the map positioning where other FLARM users are, only this wasn’t showing anyone else because it has to be set to ‘Privacy Mode’ when flying in competitions, so that you cannot cheat and use this to see where everyone is.  I tried switching various switches, but couldn’t get rid of the FLARM screen, which panicked me a bit because if it stayed like that, I wouldn’t be able to use it to calculate my final glide.  Eventually, I switched the screen to TP and then Task, and it righted itself…there’s new instrumentation for you; I must have touched a button unintentionally. 

The run through Silverstone and around Andover went reasonably well with higher cloud bases and I finished the task at 16:23 (3:36) which put my speed at 82.4km/h, which is really not fast enough at all.  I knew I was struggling, especially up the first track.  The winner did the task at 102km/h.  Must try harder…..

I must tell you what I got up to last night…Well as I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve taken up running with some of my colleagues at work and it’s something I intend to keep on doing (so long as my right knee allows anyway).  I had measured the perimeter track around Lasham in my car and it is exactly 3 miles – that is a distance that I’m determined to cover before the end of the week.  So early last evening, I changed into my running gear, grabbed the dog and off we went in the rain.  Now, I’m not exactly keen on running past the clubhouse at Lasham in a  sweaty exhausted state, so rather than run completely around the peri-track, I decided to have a go at running half way round, to the opposite side of the airfield, and then retrace my steps back to the caravan.  I’m pleased to say that I completed the whole run without stopping!  Three miles may not seem a lot, but it’s a huge distance and I was really pleased with the achievement.  By the way, Django also completed it and he really hates the rain!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Lasham Regionals - 30 May 2011

Today is Monday (a Bank Holiday in the UK) and typically the weather is awful.  As I stepped outside the tent this morning, there was thick fog, or probably more correctly, seeing as Lasham is 618 feet above sea level, orographic cloud.  Either way, it is un-flyable. 

I took Django for a walk first thing and surprisingly even with the thick cloud, it is still quite windy.  I can’t remember such a run of windy days as we’ve recently had in the UK.

Briefing was postponed by an hour and held at 11:00 directly after which, the organisers scrubbed the day again. 

This gave me the opportunity to collect all the British Team gear ready for the competition from Phil Sturley.  Somehow I need to share this kit around the other team members that will be driving to Sweden as there’s quite a bit, and along with the radio kit and mast, it weighs a fair amount too.

We discovered early in the morning that the 110 amp hour leisure battery that we’d only purchased last year, probably has a cell down.  We intended to take this with us to Sweden, so the decision was made to go and buy another battery promptly from a local caravan centre as I needed to be back after lunch in time to take part in a weather briefing with the rest of the Junior Squad.

Battery duly purchased, and another three goldfish for the pond (don’t ask!), we returned back to site in time for the briefing (Steve headed back home to put the fish in the pond – therefore no fish were harmed in the telling of this tale).  Pete Masson did a great job covering what is a huge subject for glider pilots – the weather, and I’ve come away with a whole load more excellent web sites to review and get used to as well as search for valuable information on the weather in Sweden.

I took the opportunity to take a quick peek at the Tibenham Regionals results on line - this is the first time in 20 years that Steve and I have not flown this regionals.  Well could you believe it – being that much further East, they actually got a contest day in, whereas Lasham didn’t….amazing!

Looking forward to a flyable, if not fantastic gliding day tomorrow...

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Lasham Regional – Day 2 – Sunday 29 May 2011

Today dawned overcast and strangely warm after yesterday’s chilly wind, but the wind also remained.  I took Django out for a walk bright and early and the strength of the wind was considerable – steady at least 20 knots and it was forecast to increase during the day.

Shortly before the planned competition briefing at 10:00, it became sunny which was completely opposite to what the weather forecast had suggested.  Therefore briefing was delayed to enable the competitors to rig and grid their gliders.  It all seemed rather improbable, but the Director was determined to get a competition day if at possible, and we all attended briefing at 11:00.  A couple of tasks were set for the B Class (122km and 85km) around the Burbage and Lambourn areas.
First launch was set at ‘not before 12:00’, then delayed further to ‘not before 13:00’, which at least gave us time for some lunch.  The wind became stronger from the West and the sunny gap in the clouds had long since disappeared. 

Whilst waiting for the launch announcement, I started to review driving requirements for the continent in preparation for the drive to Sweden, and it suddenly became apparent that although we have a navigation device (Tom Tom), it didn’t have all the necessary maps! 

Shortly before 14:00, the day was scrubbed so we quickly parked up the glider safely and then dashed home in order to download the maps online.  Now armed with Germany, Denmark and Sweden maps (pretty important that one!), we were able to enter the whole journey from home to Arboga in Sweden into Tom Tom.  All that did then was worry us about the number of toll roads and the sheer cost involved…… taking the time out this evening to review these.  The expense of this trip to represent Great Britain is becoming rather serious.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

28 May 2011 - Lasham Regionals Day 1

One of the pre-requisites for the Women’s World Gliding Championships was for the women to take part in some form of training or a competition.  Three of the other ladies had just completed a Women’s Gliding Nationals in France and I’m now sitting at Lasham in Hampshire in order to take part in the Regional there.

The weather, having been pretty reasonable over the last couple of weeks, now finds us with a cold front slowly moving across the South of the country.  With a cloud base of around 1000 feet, it didn’t look too hopeful.  The competition briefed the pilots and decided to hold us on site until at least 14:00 to see if the weather would improve. 

I was invited to join Pete Masson briefing the Junior Pilots in preparation for their World Championships to be held in Germany this year.  The training was all about preparation for Assigned Area Tasks (AAT).  Most competitions set clearly defined turning points that you have to fly around in the prescribed order.  An AAT is another form of task whereby large sectors or radii are set at the turn point and an amount of time is set e.g. 2.5, 3 or 3.5 hours.  The pilot needs to decide for himself how far into each sector he thinks he can fly before turning and heading to the next sector.  The aim is to cover as much distance as possible and arrive back to site just after the prescribed amount of time – not easy.  It was great to get some clear planning points for these tricky tasks.

The competition day was finally scrubbed by Lasham just before 15:00.  We finished up our training session by 16:15 which was great as this gave me some time to myself as Steve took Michael back home. 
I took the opportunity to eat a snack and then got changed into my running gear.  I have recently taken up running (jogging more like in my case) with some of my colleagues at work and having not had the time to run last week, I was keen to get back into the stride.  What people may not realise about me, is that if I decide to do something, I will do it.  So, although never having run before in my life, I am determined to reach some personal goals that I’ve set.  Lasham is the perfect place to run (when no flying is taking place).  So on with the running gear and out with the dog (Django)…not sure that he was too impressed as he’s definitely over-weight and it was the first time he’s done this!  I really enjoyed it, even though a fair proportion of the run was into a pretty strong wind.  I ran about a third of the way around Lasham’s peri-track and back to the tent (we are camping on site).  I’m not sure how far that was, but will check it out in the car at some point in the week (probably tomorrow as the weather looks poor again).  I hope to be able to run around the whole peri-track by the end of the week….we shall see.  There are good shower facilities at Lasham which make it more enjoyable. 

21 May 2011 - New vario system - again!

It’s Saturday 21 May and Steve has busily been fitting the new vario system in the glider during the week following the debacle of the other one last week.  The forecast looked good for a reasonable soaring flight and the day shaped up to be promising.  I checked the NOTAMS (notice to airmen – in other words prohibited airspace for the day), checked the weather again and planned a relatively short task of just over 163km for the cross country pilots to fly from the Club – Sandhill Farm, Hungerford North, Winslow, Didcot and back to Sandhill Farm.  I marked my map and prepared myself and the glider to launch. 

Once airborne, there were reliable thermals of 3 knots to 3000 feet.  I went through the start line and then decided to restart because one of the other club members (Peter Berridge) had just started, so that we could share thermal and weather information.  The weather was cracking and clearly I had under-set the task, but that didn’t matter as the intention was for others to achieve a set task at a reasonable speed and all I needed was the practise plus a chance to see if the new instrument was working OK.  The great news was that the vario system was working perfectly!  Some of the alarm settings needed to be re-checked and set to our personal preferences, and I noted that the FLARM lights were lighting up when a glider with FLARM fitted was in my vicinity, although there was no audio.  I rounded Hungerford (junction on the M4) and set off to the North.  I picked up the end of a cloud street and romped Northwards, never quite catching up with Peter in his Discus until after I rounded Winslow.  Once round Winslow, I had another fantastic run down the same cloud street to Didcot.  At Didcot, it was like bees around a beehive, there were loads of gliders!  I had to take a different route at one point between two gliders in a direction that didn’t take me below the thermal I was heading for and this left me with a final climb that I needed to be able to final glide back to site.  I found a 5 knot thermal and climbed to the required height, flew across the finish line comfortably and then climbed away again whilst I waited for the next launch to take place and clear the landing area.  The weather remained good and Steve hopped in and flew the Mosquito around the Club’s standard 100km task – Sandhill Farm, Oxford and Chieveley.  It was a really good day!  Peter eventually arrived backed and thanked me for setting the perfect task, which was really nice.  But best of all….the new instrumentation was working perfectly.  By the way, I completed my task at just over 86kph, which wasn’t too bad!

New Vario System - 14 May 2011

Although not a requirement for the World Championships, it was a recommendation for all of the British Team pilots to fly in the competition with a FLARM (Flight Alarm) – a device that helps to identify other gliders in the vicinity that you are flying, alerting you to their presence and therefore hopefully avoiding the possibility of a collision.  Steve and I had avoided purchasing a FLARM to date because we felt that a device that only warns of other gliders was rather selfish and we were waiting for a suitable device to come onto the market specifically for gliders (i.e. lightweight and able to run off a 12v battery) that would detect not only gliders, but also other general aviation aircraft.  However, needs must, so we started looking at borrowing a FLARM.  When it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be possible to just ‘borrow one’ for the competition as suggested, because it turned out we’d have to pay for it, we started looking at buying one ourselves.  A FLARM alone costs in the region of £600 - £800, so not exactly cheap.  After much reviewing of the technical specifications, we came to the conclusion that perhaps it would be better to update the variometer instrumentation in the cockpit to a more up to date version that also includes FLARM.  The drawback of this is that it would be three times the cost of the FLARM alone.  Never the less we went ahead.  Steve spent a day stripping out the old instruments and re-wiring and fitting the new instrument, not a simple task. 

Saturday 14 May dawned and looked as though it would be a reasonable soaring day.  Steve and I rigged the Mosquito and I decided to fly a short 100km task in order to familiarise myself with the new instrument as well as make sure it was all working correctly.  I flew around the task and was surprised at the various warnings that came up on the device; for example it was warning me about my own gliding club at Sandhill Farm, which is pretty useless.  But it also warned me about various restricted zones which is good, so it was more of a question of setting the warnings up correctly.  More disturbingly, I found that as I flew along that the GPS signal was being lost and ‘GPS Bad’ kept coming up on the device.  I know the area in which I flew like the back of my hand, but this won’t help me in Sweden.  On top of this, the FLARM did not appear to be working, now this may have been because there were no other gliders around, but as there were no indicator lights lit at all, I suspected something was wrong.  So when I landed, I reported this to Steve and when he downloaded the trace, it was possible to see that the GPS signal was being lost several times a minute, which is completely hopeless.  We checked the wiring loom and came to the conclusion that everything was fine and that it was a problem with the instrument itself.  A phone call to the Distributor in the UK suggested too that it was the instrument at fault.  We were left with no choice but to remove the instrument there and then and drive up to Oxfordshire in order to return the device. 

It was Michael’s 18 Birthday so it was a perfect opportunity to go out to a pub and have a meal out.  Whilst we were out, it was confirmed that the instrument itself was at fault.  At least that confirmed that the wiring was correct and that Steve had installed the system correctly.  The trouble now was that the time was fast running out before the Lasham Regionals and we needed another instrument urgently in the cockpit.  We found ourselves a little bit over a barrel and decided to upgrade to the next instrument.…another £500 on top of what we had already paid and we would have to wait for it to be delivered to the Distributor during the following week.  Hey ho…

Sandhill Farm Open Weekend 7 & 8 May 2011

I knew that at the weekend, I wouldn’t be able to do any solo flying in the Mosquito because the weekend had been advertised as an Open Weekend for anyone who want to have a go at gliding, therefore the Club would require my assistance, especially now that I am the Chief Flying Instructor (CFI) again.

Saturday morning came and it was pouring with rain.  The rain eventually slowed and after a briefing in the clubhouse, it was decided to get the gliding kit out, only for it to be rained on…Biggest problem was the wind, with a steady 90 degree Southerly crosswind across the airfield, I had grave concerns about operations with the tug aircraft (Maule M6 235) because it has a 15mph crosswind limit.  More and more members of the public were arriving and we were had to ask them to watch videos or try the simulator which we’d set up in the clubhouse whilst we waited for the wind to abate.  Steve decided to take the tug up for a circuit to try the conditions without a glider on the back, but was unable to make a safe landing back on the airfield, so elected to land the tug in the farmer’s field alongside.  Club members managed to pull it back onto the airfield and we waited for an improvement in the weather…  It eventually came; by 14:00 the wind was backing to a more friendly direction, somewhat up the airfield strip.

I took a solo launch in the K13 whilst Steve flew the tug – it was extremely rough indeed with my light weight in the front and the curl-over from the trees.  We waited for another 30 minutes more before flying with the first Air Experience person – a friend of mine from work (Jim Gulliver) who had previously gone solo many years before.  As the day progressed, the wind backed and became more favourable for us, turning more down the strip.

Sunday 8 May dawned with much better weather – brighter, sunnier, but also much windier!  This time at least the wind was predominately down the strip.  The concerns for me today as CFI, was the strength of the wind as the forecast was indicating 12kts with gusts to 30kts or more, increasing later in the day.  Members of the public started to arrive and we managed to start to fly from 11:00 and in fact, although very breezy, there were also good soaring conditions to 3500 feet. 

Today there were another 3 people that I know from work that arrived – James Ratcliffe, Peter Jones and Graham Chadwick, who had brought along his son Sam for a flight as a birthday treat.  I flew with all three and in particular, Peter who had just retired the Friday before, had a very good flight indeed with him doing most of the flying as we tracked backwards and forwards along a cloud street to the East of the airfield.

So we completed what was to be a very successful weekend for the club with the added bonus of three new club members who paid up there and then, taking advantage of a very good offer and joined the Club. 

So all of this left me with a late night home on Sunday, with very little time left in which to throw some clothes in a bag.  Work for me the following day involved me departing Gatwick early on Monday morning for a business trip to Florence for a very important review meeting on the Tuesday followed by further meetings and workouts for the rest of the week.  Who says life’s not interesting?  It certainly is very interesting and extremely busy for me!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Too heavy or too light?

Too heavy or too light?  Too much span? They are the questions! 

2 May 2011 - With another non-flyable day upon us (way too windy), I decided it was time to tackle the question of whether the Mosquito’s weight would fit inside the International Gliding Commission’s (IGC) maximum stated weight for the aircraft of 380kgs.  If it doesn’t, I will have my glider handicap increased by 0.005 for each 10kg or part thereof that the glider exceeds the base handicap.

I am already in trouble with my handicap – the Mosquito has only very recently been allocated permission to fly in the Club Class at International competitions, and whereas the number of types of gliders has increased, the Mosquito lies at the very top end of the handicap scale.  This means that the majority of the other competitors, including my team mates Liz and Ayala flying a Standard Cirrus and a Libelle respectively, will have far lower handicaps than I.  This means that on every day, tactically, I will either have to start first, run ahead of the rest of the Club Class pilots, and make sure I stay ahead until the finish, or start after everyone else and fly like mad in order to catch them up and either stay with them or overtake them.  Either way is pretty fraught with difficulties, and it never goes quite as simply as that…

So back to the handicap – as you can see, with a handicap of 1.07 for the Mosquito versus a handicap of 0.98 for a Libelle, there’s no way I want to add on more points because I’m overweight.

With a specified maximum permissible weight of 380kgs, a check of the last Mosquito weighing shows that the empty glider weight is 267.5kgs, but that’s not where it stops.  I have to include my weight and that of the parachute, my lead weights, cushions, drinking water etc. My problem is that the Mosquito had a lead weight fitted into the tail fin way before we purchased it; this lead weight weighs 2kgs and has quite a detrimental effect on my weight requirements in the cockpit as I must make sure that I exceed the minimum cockpit weight requirements.  Now last year, in an attempt to get fitter, I lost a stone (6.4kgs) in weight, which meant I had to increase the lead weights in the cockpit to counter-balance the lead in the tail in order to keep me ahead of the Centre of Gravity.  It’s never easy!

Anyhow, much crunching of numbers later, it looks as though at present, I have a total glider weight of 360kgs which gives me 20kgs to play with.

The next problem is span!  We know that each glider will be measured to ensure that the wing span is exactly 15 metres.  Shortly after we purchased the Mosquito, Steve and I decided to have some winglets made.  I won’t be flying with the winglets in the competition because again, this increases the handicap.  Instead, I will be replacing the original tips on the end of the wings, but we’ve never actually measured the glider’s wingspan in order to check that it is still 15 metres since it’s been altered!   However, this particular check will have to wait for the next flyable day when we rig the glider…remind me to take a tape measure and watch this space!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Lasham Compette

Being a British resident, we had the wonderful opportunity to take part in a truly Royal Wedding on Friday 29 April as the date was declared to be a holiday.  I’m sure that all glider pilots were hoping for some excellent soaring conditions, but it wasn’t to be and I, like many others, sat with friends at the Gliding Club watching the television instead of flying and witnessing Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s fabulous wedding.
Never mind, the weather can only get better thought I, as we set off with the glider trailer to tow to Lasham – it was the ‘Compette’, a two day competition that Liz Sparrow was running over Saturday 30 April and Sunday 1 May, and I’d been asked to go along and support her as a member of the British Team. 
Steve and I rigged the Mosquito early on Saturday morning and went to briefing.  The weather was uncertain with potentially blue thermals and a brisk Easterly wind.  After much consideration, a short task, theoretically within gliding distance of Lasham, round Bentley and  Popham, was set with the intention of going around the task twice. 
There was a hint of thermals at about 13:00 and launching started.  Many pilots pulled off the grid, as it was not particularly soarable and extremely windy.  I launched and managed to stay airborne gaining 200 feet per minute and pushing upwind.  After much effort, I decided to finally go for the turn upwind which I rounded before rapidly literally flying downwind in the wind of 24 knots back towards Lasham and onto Popham.  Past the airfield, I struggled to stay airborne and decided to return to Lasham just as I hit a decent thermal, so decided to head downwind towards Popham again.  But it became apparent that with the strength of the wind, I wasn’t going to make the turn and get back home, so I decided to wimp out and return to Lasham just 2 miles short of the turn.  I just made it back onto the airfield with a straight glide in.
Sunday turned out to be even windier than Saturday with a 28 knot ENE wind and it was decided it was best not to fly!  So with no flying the day was spent discussing competition tactics, how to avoid penalties, weather forecasting, Area Assigned Tasks and all sorts of other gliding topics.