Friday, May 30, 2008

Weekday Slackers

Two flights on Wednesday. John Good flew FS to Groveton and back, and Tony flew 7H on a "local cross-country" flight. Tony's flight would have been longer, but after 2.5 hours, he landed to attend to a plumbing problem.

On Thursday, flights were made by Tim, Tony, and Tom. The conditions were not as good as they looked. Tony had the longest flight, 2 hours, but it was a struggle the whole time.

On Friday, Creighton showed up, got his checkride, and flew the Blanik solo. Welcome back, Creighton. Also, Tony honed his spot landing skills with a few pattern tows in 7H.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Critical Assembly Check

Today's guest blogger is John Good, who wrote up his flight from yesterday. His flight log is available (open this file with your favorite flight analysis program).

The PW-5 aileron story, and the post that mentioned distractions during glider preparation prompt me to offer my thoughts. Distractions are never a good thing, but they are also inevitable. Safety requires a scheme that ensures an airworthy glider even when a host of distractions interfere with assembly.

Thus we have the Critical Assembly Check (CAC). This is a separate check of each item that the manufacturer and the service history of the glider indicate are critical to flight safety. For every glider you fly you should have a list of these critical items, and you should check them prior to flight. It will help if you get in the habit of placing a mark on the wing root tape that indicates you have done the CAC.

The list should be as short as possible. It should not include "nice to have" items such as installing batteries and checking their voltage. Batteries are important and should indeed be checked prior to launch. Failure to do so might well be reason to land prematurely. But there should be no glider in which a battery is required for safe, controlled flight - so checking batteries should be part of your assembly checklist, but not your CAC.

On my Discus, the CAC includes three items:
  • Main pin secured
  • Tail pin fully seated
  • Controls free
This may sound awfully simple, but it works - there never has been a Discus that was unairworthy when these three items were correct*.

Note that the CAC is not the same as a positive control check (PCC). For an aircraft that has manual control hookups, the CAC might include a PCC (though direct inspection of the control hookups has in a number of cases been shown to be more reliable). And there are almost certainly other items in any CAC (such as checking that pins are secured).

*It should be noted that weight and balance sufficiently out of tolerance would provide another way to achieve an unairworthy Discus.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Don't let this happen to you - II

Weekend Report May 24 - 26

One of the least welcome scenarios for a gliding club is to discover a mechanical problem with the towplane at the beginning of a long weekend. Imagine my surprise when I found the battery dead during the preflight inspection Saturday morning. Apparently, sometime after Doug parked the towplane at the end of last weekend, some vandal snuck in and left the master switch on. Luckily, there was plenty of time to fix the problem, since Kevin had arranged for an early tow.

After our slow start, we had a pretty good day. It was a bit breezy, so the guys with the new gliders decided to postpone their first flights for 24 hours. The lift was good in places, but it was difficult to relate the climbs to the clouds, which tended to hang around long after the thermal had expired. It was a fine day for local flying, checkrides, and wind practice. Andy G, Tim, Kevin, Skip and Jon all had good flights in the Blanik, and Evan zoomed around locally in T8. Tim is now a 1-23 pilot, and he made two perfect landings in 3J.

Sunday was the kind of day you think about all winter. Blue conditions, infinite visibility, and great lift. On one flight, Jon and I identified Jay Peak, Mount Monadnock, and the Adirondacks, which means we were seeing the entire state of Vermont from our perch at 7000 feet. Seven private gliders flew (KX, 7H, ZP, JS, KG, T8, S1), three of them for the first time in the hands of their happy new owners. Sonny made his first 5-hour attempt (better luck next time, Sonny), and Paul and Evan flew for OLC credit. Paul reported climbing over a snowfield on top of Moosilauke, and Evan managed to avoid landing at Franconia (twice) and Morrisville, but not Montpelier. Check out his decision to turn around at Knox Mountain. Good call.

Donn, Nancy, and Tom worked hard all day on the ground and waited patiently for their turns to fly. During Andy's one break from towing, he brushed dope on the 2-33 fuselage. It's beginning to look like a glider again. Andy G and Rich showed up for checkrides, but we weren't able to squeeze them in. Sorry, guys.

Twenty-one people attended the cookout, perhaps a record. There was plenty of food, and thanks again to all the contributors. This is well appreciated, in light of this article, whose title I find appropriate.

We had just three flights on Monday. Jon, Tom and Tim were able to get in the air before the rain moved in. Skip, Tony, and Zippy showed up to fettle their new sailplanes. We had to cut short the work on the 2-33 when a highly educated medical professional gliding student, who shall remain unidentified, managed to lock the keys inside Andy's car.

I hope that the pilots of new gliders will write about their first flight experiences.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A four category day

We had a "four category" day today. The FAA defines five categories of aircraft. The four that operated at Post Mills today were Airplane, Glider, Lighter-than-Air, and Rotorcraft. How many airports can claim such diversity?

Today's trivia question is "What is the fifth category?"

Thanks to my friend Chris Yule for showing up in the helicopter today.

Another new glider

Here's a picture of the latest addition to the community fleet (click to enlarge). Tony is the proud owner of a Schweizer 1-35. You may remember seeing this glider at Franconia last summer. There is no contest number on the glider yet, so for now, his call sign is "7 Hotel," the last two digits of the registration number.

The guy in the background with his foot caught in the self-rig device is Evan.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Beware of these clouds!

The AOPA Air Safety Foundation offers an interesting series of online safety courses targeted, seemingly, toward airplane pilots who were sound asleep during their basic training. I took the course entitled Mountain Flying, hoping to learn something about mountain waves.

I learned that all the classic misconceptions are alive and well in the power pilot community. Rather than list them all, I present some of the more egregious. Here is a diagram and a photo from the course (click to enlarge). The diagram shows an upside down lenticular all by itself out in front of the rest (I guess they had to draw it upside down, because this very special cloud has sink at its leading edge).

I especially like the warning: "Beware of these clouds! They almost always indicate severe turbulence." Yeah, right. Sort of like "Beware of automobiles. They almost always contain flammable liquids." Someone should inform these guys that the smoothest air on the planet can be found in the vicinity of lenticular clouds. The actual location of the wave's turbulence receives no mention at all in this tutorial. And speaking of rotors, did you notice that they're turning backwards?

In the caption to the photo, the first sentence contradicts the second, and the bit about condensation is at odds with the upside down lenticular cloud. The photo itself shows three different types of clouds.

It is disappointing to learn that the AOPA Air Safety Foundation has no more understanding of mountain waves than the FAA. Their advice to the pilot is to avoid mountain waves entirely, which, I suppose, is good advice if you haven't got a clue about what's going on.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thoughts on Daily Assembly and Pre-Flight Routines

The following story I picked off from rec.aviation.soaring -- a near disaster story of a botched assembly which is blamed on interruptions.

My $0.02: Interruptions happen. This cannot be prevented**. My take on the story is that the failure was not caused by an interruption in the assembly routine, but by failure to conduct a proper pre-flight inspection.

All of you new private owners (& 304 pilots) need to understand this: Assembly and Pre-Flight Inspection are two separate, non-interchangeable tasks which may not be done simultaneously. Yes, I inspect as I assemble: I inspect for wear, abuse, insects, etc. I inspect every connection I make as it is made, and I inspect the safeties after they are made. And after the assembly is finished, I do a preflight walk around and look over every single connection again. After all that, I tape.

**All this said, we should probably save the social banter for when we aren't in the middle of safety critical tasks like assembly and pre-flight.

Article Follows:

" Dear List,

From time to time a pilot is broken or totalled because assembly was in some way incomplete. I'm simply writing to remind us all not to permit ourselves to be involved in conversation, however well- intended, during assembly.

This is motivated by the fact that I discovered that the wing root tape IS sufficient to hold the right wing onto a Ventus when the main spar pin is not fully engaged. This discovery was sufficiently humiliating that I have waited for a few days to confess.

The hookups of the Ventus are brain-dead simple and foolproof, except that the locking pins really do need to be engaged.

Sometimes I have forgotten to pull off the wing-root tape before trying to remove the wings during disassembly, which has sparked one of those random fantastical thoughts, "I wonder if the main spar pin is really needed."

I normally assemble completely alone; one day last week a friend came along to see the glider and wanted to 'help' assemble, and of course happens to be one of those wonderfully friendly, fascinating, chatty types.

During the latter part of the subsequent 2-hour flight, I heard a faint low rumble from behind, making me wonder if the engine compartment doors had fully closed.

After I landed, I discovered that the tape over the right wing root gap was still fully covering the gap, but the gap had widened from the usual 2mm to about 5 mm. I need hardly tell you the sense of fright and self-abasement this inspired.

I immediately realized that I had failed to push the main spar pin 'home' - normally the sequence is to put it halfway through (into the left spar) to hold the left wing in place while the right wing is
installed, then go straightaway and push it home. In this case an interruption to correct wing-taping being done by my 'assistant' caused this step to be skipped.

I recall an old suggestion that pilots should wear a red cap as a signal not to be interrupted. But the signal won't be obeyed until it's learned. Maybe a more effective device would be to screen-print words on the front and back of a light vest to be worn during assembly, perhaps "DEAF" - or "Shut up (please)"

But of course the real discipline is with us assemblers, to not permit interruptions, and to say to the first person who offers to help, "Yes, you can help by preventing anyone from talking to me until this is done."

Dan Johnson

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

6500 feet and climbing, up near Sugarbush.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Weekend Report May 17 - 18

Saturday was not a very good day for instructing - the weather was too good! With the exception of a 1-hour pause in operations at 1pm, the Blanik was in motion the entire day. It's impractical to get more than one lesson on a day like that. Students are reminded that the "fast track" training program requires showing up early, before the lift starts.

The mid-day pause was due to a funeral service in Post Mills Cemetery, next door. We took the opportunity to convene an impromptu ground school at the south end of the runway.

The flying on Saturday was outstanding. The new Blanik pilots, Tom, Tim, and Andy G, are all well on their way toward figuring that plane out. Tim topped off the day by soloing. We thought that Andy's flight to 8200 feet was the best of the day until Doug landed the 1-23 and reported that he got to 9600 feet, still below cloudbase. Steve disappeared for a couple of hours in PM, but I was in the air for both his takeoff and landing/departure, so I don't have his story. Jason had three flights in the 1-23.

Evan (T8) scored another 250 kilometers in a double out-and-return flight to Stowe and Quechee. I think he likes that glider.

At the end of the day, the flyers who couldn't make it to the cookout were replaced by diners who weren't able to fly that day. Thanks to the food contributors.

There was no flying on Sunday, due to weather. We accomplished some maintenance on three of our four gliders and the towplane. We replaced the electric vario in 3J, gave the Blanik some TLC, and started covering the 2-33. Thanks to the workers: Pete, Sonny, Kevin, Nancy, and our fearless leader, Andy.

Sorry to end this with a nag, but... our logsheet discipline still isn't the greatest. We don't always write down our takeoff and landing times, and we keep forgetting to enter the pilots' full names. Sonny reminded me that we have two Toms, three Andys and at least 4 Petes in the club. Let's not make our treasurer's job any harder than it already is.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Weekend Report May 10 - 11

Two pretty nice days. Several people showed up for both of them. Tom, Pete, Andy, Thomas, Evan, Jason, Tim, Steve, Tony and Doug had their first Post Mills flights of the season. Sonny, Skip and Carl showed up and helped others fly. Moshe flew at Morrisville.

The weather on Saturday was OK, with decent lift under a thin overcast. We made pattern tows, mostly, but a couple of them were able to climb up and get away. Tim and I landed around 4pm, only to discover that no one wanted the Blanik. Radios anyone?

On Sunday, we had blue thermals to 6500 feet, with much better conditions in the mountains. Andy, Tony, and Evan made OLC claims. Evan's 317 km flight included a pylon turn around the observatory on top of Mount Washington. Steve and Jason each logged about an hour in 3J, and PM flew three times. In the "unusual" news category, Andy had nice flights in PM and N3040E, and did not make a single tow. Thanks, Doug.

Moshe's flight at Morrisville lasted four hours, but he didn't submit a flight log. Perhaps one of these days, he'll land at Post Mills.

Here are the Club's weekend grades, courtesy of your CFI:
Flying skills: B
Judgment: B
Ground procedures: C+
Logsheet legibility: D

Not bad for our first full weekend, but we could improve in all categories.

Friday, May 9, 2008


Weather progs for Sunday look really nice right now...

Special Interest Groups

There are many aspects and sub-specialties in our sport, and each one has its group of adherents. I am a member of the Sailplane Racing Association, which is a good resource for people interested in US Competitions. Their website is excellent, and it includes good information for pilots new to racing. I also belong to the Auxiliary-powered Soaring Association, which has a crummy website and a good newsletter. Kevin and I are members of the World Class Soaring Association, an international group that promotes the World Class. Their new website just went online, and it is worth a look. Nancy belongs to the Women Sailplane Pilots Association, an international group that does a great deal to encourage women in soaring. One of the founders of that organization, Frauke Elber, also writes for Soaring Magazine. Lane and Gregg are members of the 1-26 Association.*

Most of the above groups are formal organizations, with dues, newsletters, and annual gatherings. On a smaller scale, there are discussion groups and type clubs, including those for the ASW-20, ASW-24, and Silent.

On the smallest scale, there are secret societies without websites. I am a proud member of S.C.U.M.

I've rearranged the links on the right to include these organizations.

*Thanks to Gregg for reminding me about the 1-26 Association.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ground School Poll

This is a survey. Your opinion is needed.

We would like to expand our ground school program. Our off-season classes were popular and useful. We would like to repeat them and add some new topics. The unknowns are where and when? The upstairs lounge at Lebanon airport is well suited for classes, but we cannot schedule them for Saturday afternoons any more, obviously.

Please respond, in the comments, with your suggestions as to time and place. These classes are for everybody, not just beginners. When can you make it?

Weekend Report May 3 - 4

We were rained out both days. The good news is that progress was made on the 2-33 project. The forecast is for good weather this week (at least the first half), and tows will be available.

Our slow start this year, combined with the availability of only one 2-seater means that there will be a large demand for check rides this weekend. If I were making plans, I would try to show up unusually early on Saturday.