Sunday, March 30, 2008

Soaring Seminar I

This year's Soaring Seminar 2008, sponsored by Knauff & Grove, began today at the Ramada Inn in State College, PA. Upwards of 80 glider pilots are in attendance, most from the northeast, especially PA and NJ judging by SSA window stickers and corresponding license plates on the vehicles in the parking lot outside the convention center, as one would expect. In general, the crowd is respectful and serious but lightheartedness emerges at the appropriate junctures. A number of new computer hardware/software items (vide infra) as well as hard-to-find soaring texts ranging from Sailplane Design (for the aerodynamicists) to Competing In Gliders (which qualified for "must read" status recently in a rec.aviation.soaring thread, primarily for its erudition in both contest and cross-country matters) were offered for sale to the discerning attendee.

Day 1, AM Session

When Dave Pixton began the meeting on "The State of the SSA" with these two words: "Rick Sheppe," I knew I was home. Dave recounted the history of the SSA's current FRTF, or Future Restructuring Task Force, which was the direct offshoot of the ad hoc committee Rick single-handedly germinated and brought to fruition over a year ago to help set the SSA straight. The FRTF has made major strides since in the reorganization of the SSA although several major concepts are still in need of making forward progress. Much has hinged on the now successful restructuring of the finances of the SSA, the details of which are detailed on the SSA website (as Dave necessarily and repeatedly defaulted to in the course of his report).

Dianne Black-Nixon spoke next confirming the salutary nature of the SSAs balance sheets, emphasizing that, "The state of the SSA is the best we've ever seen." She noted that streamlining is in process including the amalgamation of the four Regions 1 and 3, and 2 and 4, into two separate regional entities, respectively. She has also offered to match up to $25,000 in donations to the SSA by way of a bequest in her will. So far, the matching funds are up to $7,500, so there is a ways to go to, as she inferred, "make my heirs $25K poorer."

Denise Layton received well-deserved recognition for her hard work in taking over the day to day running of the SSA since 6.06, when the organization's financial faux pas was first discovered. Ironically, she came by her job with the SSA some 21 years ago next week when her predecessor was arrested for another addiction (drugs, not gambling, in that instance). She walked into the offices of the then SSA president, wondering if there might be a employment for her with him (having been tipped off the preceding day by her policewoman friend that an opening was likely to become available in the next 24 hours). Denise and 6 other employees (down from 14 total) made the last 18 months work by, among other cost-containment measures, her personally approving any use of the color photocopier and commanding that emptied plastic garbage bags would be reutilized. All this came to light from Denise's first-ever platform presentation for which she also received a well-deservedly warm and extended round of applause.

Lee Kuhlke, Boulder, CO dentist-extraordinaire, began the technical portion of the morning session with a three-part, in-depth review of SPOT, a handheld device which will: 1) send a predetermined "OK" text message with your current GPS coordiates and altitude, to your retrieve crew awaiting your jaunty contact; 2) broadcast a Q5min (every 5 minutes) <911> Emergency message until cancelled (or the batteries run out, ~17 days) destined for the GEOS Emergency Alliance Office where a human being will within 30 min initiate a GPS-coordinate directed SAR operation to find and help you; 3) broadcast your preinserted HELP message via email and text messaging Q5min for one hour or until cancelled; or 4) and BEST OF ALL, allow you to initiate and maintain automatic Q10min tracking messages to your designee(s)'s computer(s) that then autodepict onto a google.maps overlay your progress en route for interested parties (spouses, creditors, cheering fans, NASCAR race crash enthusiasts, your retrieve crew). This function will also indicate an automatic google.maps overlay of directions from your parked car and trailer or any other designated point of origin to your landout GPS coordinates once your forward progress ceases. Lee followed this with a summary of the utility of FLARM (FLight alARM), the European VFR glider collision-avoidance device which is a long way from service here in the USA, providing convincing evidence of its efficacy, but also noting that, for it to work, all gliders in the your region need one. Thus, they are only being marketed to clubs or larger soaring groups in the USA at this time. Until they generalize throughout the aviation community, other general aviation, commercial, and military aircraft will remain able to see you/your glider only if you are carrying an operating transponder. His last subject was PDAs and PNAs (personal navigation assistants), concluding that the 3850 model currently offers the most in terms of superior visibility, large-scale selector buttons and acceptable processing speed for glider pilot activity, recognizing that panel-mounted glide computers really do all that is needed, that the PDAs biggest 'pro' is depiction of landable sites within reach of your glider in its current location, and its biggest 'con' being the distractability factor which may interfere with effective head-out-of-the-cockpit attention.

Day 1, PM Session

Dan Somers, Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at Penn State University, led off the afternoon session with a concise review of airfoil function, noting that the degree of airfoil smoothness is highly overrated in terms of its significance to lift and drag parameters. Apparently, circular erosion of smooth airfoil did not detract from laminar flow or increase drag to any measurable extent until cabinet-maker's grade sandpaper (40-grit) was employed, in NACA data dating back to 1938-42. Bugs on the leading edge are considerable larger than 40-grit related ridges. He also discussed boundary layer properties and the resoundingly incorrect data derived from over the wing oil-flow experiments often reported in the soaring literature. The defining test is an extended medical stethoscope oriented parallel to the airflow across the wing surface. When silent, airflow is laminar. With boundary layer separation occurs, turbulence and a roaring sound develops. Easily affixed to your wing, polyethylene tubing can be run from any point on your wing's surface to direct sound back to your ears in the cockpit. He concluded with a brief unveiling of a new (proprietary) twin, tandem airfoil design which has demonstrated an intact boundary layer over nearly 100% of the upper wing surface of the leading airfoil, 60% of the upper surface of the trailing airfoil, and over nearly 100% of the lower wing surfaces of both the leading and trailing airfoils, resulting in an effective improvement in lift of 50% over and above that of the current E603 airfoil currently found on the Twin Astir.

Mark Maughmer, also Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at PSU, but better known as "Professor Winglet," confirmed that flyable gliders were actually products of academic engineering design projects and built in 6 university settings in the USA prior to their advent in Aachen, Germany, in the 1920s. The precedent was the Cornell Glider No. 3, circa 1912. Little interest, however, existed in these aircraft during WWI, with powered flight assuming precedence, and so whether any of them actually were flown first in the US before those flown in Germany, is doubtful. He also reasoned that the Wrights graced their Flyers with a canard horizontal stabilizer to preclude the fate that befell Otto Lillienthal who broke his neck in a glider crash and died a week later, having not afforded himself the benefit of this protective forward extension. He finally addressed the tale of the two drags, induced and profile (parasite), concluded that, "Zero times infinity is not necessarily nothing," that the compromise achieved between these two drag forces is optimized at the apex of the glider's polar, and that glider winglets basically improve slow-flight performance by reducing induced drag via the dispersal of wingtip vortices into less concentrated swirls of [drag-enhancing] energy. Induced-drag is less of an issue at higher velocities and, at cross-country cruising speeds, the major concern with winglets is how much their wetted area adds to profile drag. The major factor in that regard is the toe angle, the angle at which the winglet (which is always canted outward from the midline by 2-5 degrees depending on the glider's airfoil) is ALSO rotated either inward or outward in the vertical plane when viewed from above. The predominant benefit occurs with slight (1 degree) outward rotation of the entire winglet, achieving anywhere from a 0.5-2% increase in cruise velocity at low thermal strengths, i.e., 2-4 knots, when compared with more or less severe, including internal (negative), rotation. Doesn't sound like much, but around a long course, this benefit garners reduced time on task and increased points (for those who are counting). In the end, winglets yield a several percent reduction in induced drag at slow speeds and a minimal increase in profile drag at cruise. That these two drag forces are inseparable results in a compromise in winglet design which is unique for each glider make. Mark is personally responsible for many of the various winglets you see on gliders today.

Richard Fucci next gave an inspiring talk on the Freedom's Wings Program which has allowed disabled persons to take up soaring. This program has been featured in Soaring magazine as well as on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and Mike Tiabbi reporting. "Fucch" (pronounced 'few-ch') was an A7 Attack Squadron pilot on the USS Kennedy and, subsequently, after his naval aviator's career, a commercial airline pilot, before suffering a career-altering spinal cord injury in 1977. He took up soaring in 1997, and achieved his commercial glider rating two years later. An additional actuator similar to the spoiler handle and push rod assembly allow the pilot to "push" right rudder and "pull" left rudder, making spoiler actuation problematic in the pattern. This is solved by notching a spoiler plate beneath the handle to allow four fixed spoiler settings. The proximity of these two handles allows for adding or removing spoilers while managing the rudder handle as needed after a few flights. Support for this worthy program comes from donated time at glider manufacturers who install the modifications and field volunteers who help with pilot ingress and egress. The smiles on the faces of all participants at the annual Philadelphia Glider Council's Disabled Glider Pilots Weekend bespoke the reward of our sport to all who take to the skies in gliders. The next event is scheduled for 5.31-6.1.08. Their website has more details.

John Murray spoke eloquently on the vagaries and legion failures of our glider trailer maintenance behavior in general. He addressed tongue failure and trailer checklist inspection points, proper installation of 6-foot long, 5/16th inch chains starting from glider chassis bolts (not flanged rings w/drilled holes which fail), "brake jobs" pre- and post-1996 (when sealed bearing became the norm on Cobra trailers), proper assessment of handbrake and hydraulic chamber function, tire and clamshell gas-strut replacement concerns, and the wiring vagaries of German glider trailers in particular. John hawked the new split tailwheel assembly offered by Tost, an icepick electric wire tester to help check the location of wire failure in tail-light outage situations, and the new ASG-29 which can be had for a mere $150K, among other things.

The final speaker was Stan Faust who effectively lambasted the FAA from stem to stern, er, from nose-vent to total energy probe, for its bureaucratic inefficiencies, inertia and inbreeding. If you know Bob Hoover's saga, you know most of this, too, but it was intersting that the first Pilot's License #1 was issued to William P. MacCracken and the first woman's Pilot License #199 to Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie. Omlie was a charter member of the Ninety Nines, but it wasn't due to her license number. There were <99> original women members in the group, hence, their handle.

Day I concluded with a sumptuous banquet replete with an after-dinner glider pilot standup comic (is their any difference?), whose routine was so lame (his admission), he was given rousing rounds of applause for the long silences between his jokes.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

trying to buy a glider....

...the season is coming soon and I am still looking at gliders. Connected late last night with the seller of an apparently really nice ASW-20A out in CA, and he sent me a couple of pictures. Too bad it is that far..... I think this plane would have been a good addition to the Post Mills fleet....

Friday, March 14, 2008

Two new gliders

Congratulations to Skip Jenkyn on the purchase of an ASW-24B, "Juliet Sierra," and also to Evan Ludeman for his new ASW-20B, "Tango Eight." It will be great to have these gliders on the field this summer. Good luck to both of them in trying to keep up with the Silent.

First Flight of the Season

OK, I cheated. I'm in Florida. It was great to get out in the Silent for a 120-mile jaunt yesterday. It was a nice break from all the data processing necessary to run a contest these days. There are 54 contestants at the Seniors this year. John Good and I send our best to PMSC.

Oh, and by the way, Tony's flights in the Tampa area last month don't count. They were the last flights of last season. I make the rules.