Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Perry 2009

The idea hatched on a Saturday in January. I was shoveling several feet of extremely dense, compacted snow off the roof of my garage... and trying to keep a positive train of thought going while dealing with my most despised chore of the year.

It went something like this:
"Yes, there are positive attributes to the state of New Hampshire and New England generally. For instance, we have roads, of a sort, and some of them lead South. If you drive far enough South, say about eight or ten New Hampshire lengths South, you can get to places that do, in fact, have civilized Winter weather, where folks aren't perpetually grumpy and gliders can be flown cross country during more than 1/3 of the year. Some combination of those roads will actually get you to a place like Perry, SC, where they can run a race in mid April with warm sunny weather...”

You get the idea.

One thing led to another, as these things sometimes do, and about a decade later (it seems – Winter was interminable this year) I'm headed down I-81 with crew chief John Boyce, through the rolling meadows of Virginia, admiring the redbuds and looking forward to a week of racing.

Yahoo! Happy pilot waits for another chance to go on an adventure.
Perry isn't much. Little more than a crossroads and a bright blue water tower. But Al Tyler and friends have built a great little airport here that can and does accommodate a 65 entry contest with ease. The atmosphere is much the same as New Castle (this is a good thing) less the mountains looming in the background. The hospitality is typically Southern, which is to say wonderful.
Practice days come and go with some local flying, practice final glides, making sure everything that worked last season still works. Weather is sort of lackluster (but warm and sunny!!) and we're all rusty to some extent.
Monday the wind is really howling and the race day is cancelled. Gusts to 30 knots on the ground at times. I fly anyway with a few other adventurous souls and bounce around in strong lift and stronger turbulence for a few hours.
Tuesday, racing begins and the rust starts to fall away. We rediscover our flying skills and the farther and faster we go, the better we feel. Flying is interspersed with cookouts, stories and beer. By week's end, we are racing Nascar style close but it is all done with grace and panache. We're all after a score, of course, but more important than the score is camaraderie and peer respect.
Where's a 2-33 when you need one? Perry contestants and crews
hang out in such shade as they can find, waiting for the launch.
One of the things I'm after this week is the chance to do some meaningful performance comparison flying. There are a couple of reasons for this. I'm flying a glider that – depending on which German factory you happen to be a fan of – could be described as “state of the art, circa 1985” or “not quite state of the art, circa 1985”. I want to know what I'm really up against in 2009. I already have a pretty good idea of how she does against the newer ships in a dry contest, but at Perry we are watered up and this changes things in interesting and not always obvious ways. Also... flying in proximity to other ships in competition affords the opportunity to try out subtly different approaches to thermaling and cruising and to see what works best for you and your ship.
The first good opportunity presents itself on Wed. My guinea pig is a front line 15m ship from one of the well known German manufacturers, absolutely state of the art. The World's had dozens of these things. I don't know the pilot well, but he seems to know what he's doing and we fly wing tip to wing tip for 20 – 25 miles. I comment on this later to a friend and sometimes mentor – let's call him “Racer X” – and he promptly deflates my bubble with a hearty laugh and says “If true, that suggests that the other guy has a genuinely stinky glider!” I don't press the point, but I'm not convinced.
Go Baby, Go! Full of water, full of confidence, 110 knots can't get me there fast enough!
Later in the week, rust fully removed, I happen on an enormous gaggle of 15m and standard ships on the same task. Leading the pack is a well known US Team member. The next course leg is long, largely blue. I almost never play tag-along, but this looks like another opportunity to do some close quarters comparison, so I join near the bottom/back... and hey, there's Racer X too, this might be fun.
The US Team member, as you'd expect, is setting a pretty respectable pace. A little too respectable for me, initially. 15 miles later, I'm clearly losing this race. I turn it up a notch or two and start looking for opportunities to make up some ground, find them, work them, start catching up. Another 30 miles later, I've worked into the dense part of the gaggle and I've found the way to get past most of these guys despite having an “old ship”. Racer X, by this time is flying along with Mr. US Team – he's found a way to work through this gaggle too. But it is tough to break away from the front – at the leading edge of the fleet you have to find and center all your own thermals and the added burden on these guys tends to keep the fleet together. Because of this, I am able to work through to the leading edge and finally Racer X and I head out of the top of a thermal more or less alone and I do something I've never done in 18 years of on and off competition flying: I latch on to his tail and slavishly follow every single move for the next 15 miles. A regular leech. The purpose is simple: I want to fly through the same air at the same speeds and find out for sure how the ship goes – this run is all about the airplane, although of course I'm paying attention to the decisions being made in the cockpit ahead as well and checking them against what I would do. He does something I don't like and I'm outta here. But naturally he doesn't (he's good at this).
The run goes better than hoped, and of course X has no idea what I'm up to because I'm at his six, about 8 seconds behind. Mr. X finds a good thermal and starts to turn, sees me and I swear I can hear his eyeballs go “Sproingggggg!” – because I was supposed to be left for dead in the last thermal.
Information gathered, point made, we thermal up, go our own ways and shortly we head into a soft area where the gaggle – now mostly behind us – disperses as guys run for whatever they think might keep them aloft. I end up low – something a fair bit under 2000 agl – a few miles from an airport, struggling over a cotton field in 1 knot chop, all alone. I can see other gliders here and there a few miles off doing about the same. My thermal starts to kick after five interminable minutes, Racer X shows up to collect a favor and the thermal fattens up to a respectable 3 – 4 knots. X then proceeds to out climb me handily, which I take to indicate that he's dumped his water (I am still full). But then at the top of the thermal he lights out at 90 knots and it is abundantly clear that he's still got all his water too. There are still some mysteries to solve! I don't like the way he's going, so I head 30 degrees left and don't see X again until we're on the ground. “What'd'ya think, do I keep the 'junky old glider'?” “Yep, that's a keeper.”
ASW-20B at week's end. Still kicking tail after all these years.
As the week draws to a close, we're all pretty happy. I've flown every single day I've been here, raced five out of a possible six, enjoyed the heck out of it and liked the results pretty well, too. Along the way I've met a bunch of new friends and learned a lot. Can't ask for better than that.
Special thanks to: John Boyce, Al & Rhonda Tyler, Ray Galloway, Russel Muschick, Leo & Pat Buckley and Line Crews and Tow Pilots Everywhere

-Evan Ludeman - T8

Monday, April 27, 2009

Annual Safety Nag

Here are three bits of advice:
  • Pick a good field over a convenient field.
  • If you're being followed in the pattern, land long.
  • Avoid howling crosswinds.
The season has barely started, and pilots in the eastern USA have wrecked three gliders already.

We like to talk about "lessons learned" from other people's misfortune, but it would be more accurate to call them "lessons repeated."  Nothing is being learned here.  It happens every year at this time. The same accidents with the same causes; only the names have changed.

We are all rusty.  We are all eager.  We all welcome the dynamic Spring weather.  Don't be a bozo.

Weekend Report April 25 - 26

Eight gliders received their annual inspections, and two were flown this weekend (three, counting Tony in Florida).  Tony (7H) has eleven flights on the OLC already, and Evan (T8) has at least four. Evan's last few flights haven't been posted.  He's probably on his way home from Perry.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Assembly Day Report

If your name is not on this list:
Andrew, Andy, Andy, Bill, Bob, Charlie, Chris, Christopher, David, Dirk, Doug, Elinor, Gretta, Jack, Jeff, Jill, Jill, Judy, Kelly, Kevin, Larin, Mary, Matt, Mike, Nancy, Nathan, Olivia, Paul, Pete, Peter, Petey, Rich, Rick, Sonny, Sue, Thomas, Tom
you missed either a fun day of washing and assembling gliders or a cookout, or both.

For the twenty-first time, we began our season by bringing our fleet out of storage, assembling and washing, and occupying our tiedowns on the field.  After the work, we had the choice of making a symbolic flight, or starting the party early.  We chose the party.

Perhaps we'll make our first flight of the season tomorrow.

Friday, April 24, 2009


The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the second oldest national aviation organization to which I belong. AOPA is touting its 70th anniversary in the May, 2009 issue of their monthly magazine, AOPA Pilot. (Here is a link to the current issue.  Archived issues are available only to members).

I am definitely getting the impression that AOPA has decided to expand their coverage of activities outside the airplane category. There is a blimp on this month's cover, a blimp story inside, and a nice article about a little grass strip in Vermont where balloons and gliders are flown (you have to be a member to read it online).

SSA members Val Paget and Bill Daniels have been writing for AOPA, and last month we were visited at the Seniors Contest by AOPA contributors Mike Fizer and Mark Twombly.

Regardless of whether this new level of attention is official policy, AOPA deserves credit for reaching out like this.  They stumble sometimes, but at least they're trying.

You can join AOPA for $39.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

T8 at Perry

Contests are known by various names. One of the most popular contests in the country, the "Region 5 North," goes by the name of "Perry," which is the name of the second-nearest town to the contest site. Don't ask me why.

Perry is in central South Carolina, and that's where T8 is this week. Evan is at it again, competing in the 15 Meter class, one of four classes being scored. He wound up in 6th place, a very respectable showing. You can follow him on the scoresheet (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day5All) and check out his flights on the OLC.

The most popular PMSC News post of all time is Evan's last contest writeup. We're looking forward to the next one!

We need one of these

Saturday, April 18, 2009


For several years now "Dr. Jack" Glendening, a West-coast meteorologist, has arranged an on-line soaring-specific forecast based on National Weather Service data. Although that data is available elsewhere, putting it all together into a forecast of the day's thermal height and strength (and cloudiness) is a chore better left to a computer program. His setup also generates color-coded maps that neatly show the wider geographical patterns. But for local, or even short-range cross-country flying, you can't beat his one-page textual summary for a specific location, known as "BLIPspot". The closest BLIPspots to us were in Mass. and Ontario, and for years I've wanted one in our area.

So now I've gone ahead and asked Dr. Jack to make one for us, located at the Montpelier airport. Why there? It is not a soaring base per se, but the 3 soaring operations in Northern Vermont are within 20 miles around it. It does not boast elevation as high as nearby hills, but is 500 feet higher than the valleys, and represents the relatively lower ground between the mountains where some thermals are needed in order to soar cross-country in our area. We can then expect lift to be better in the mountains. If we were to base a BLIPspot on Spruce Mountain instead, for example, the forecast may be good for the mountains, but would be overly optimistic for most of the XC area. Also, this airport is a TAF, METAR and ASOS spot, and thus one can compare the actual temperature and dewpoint, reported hourly, with the forecast and adjust one's expectations accordingly.

BLIPspots are freely accessible to anybody, although you need to "register" with Dr. Jack's site. But the sponsor of a BLIPspot needs to pay an annual fee to create and maintain it. If you find the BLIPspot useful, consider helping me with the payment, this year or in the future.

The new BLIPspot can be accessed either via the main BLIPSPOT page, or directly at this link.

The location of the new BLIPSPOT is shown on the regional "grid orientation" map - it can be accessed via an "Identified Locations" map for the NE region.

Important message from Dr. Jack:


This BLIPSPOT is available for viewing by anyone via the internet, but access to the "current day" forecasts (which everyone will want) does require that each user individually "register" (which is free) at this link. I require individual registration, rather than group registration, because knowing the number of individual users of each forecast product is important to me.

Registration also allows access to the other "free" DrJack forecasts, which includes "Thermal Updraft Velocity" BLIPMAPs, "Buoyancy/Shear Ratio" BLIPMAPs, all "Previous Day" BLIPMAPs, and all BLIPSPOTs. "Subscription" (which is not free) is required to gain access to the other DrJack BLIPMAP forecasts. Normally registered/subscribed access occurs through use of a DrJack registration "cookie", for which one's browser must accept cookies from the "" domain. (In lieu of accepting cookies, more complex "cookieless" access methods are available.) For further information on DrJack registration, see this link.
Notes from Moshe:

* I use cookieless access by embedding my registered ID in the URL thusly:

* For BLIPMAPs go here.

* More details on the BLIPMAP and BLIPSPOT parameters can be found here - I've written up some interpretive text (shorter than the page linked above, longer than the brief definitions in the bottom of the BLIPspot page itself):

The BLIPspot includes forecasts for several times of day, the important ones for us would be: 15Z (11 am EDT), 18Z (2 pm), and 21Z (5 pm) - spanning the possible soaring hours. Note that the time dimension is only available in BLIPSPOTs, not in the BLIPMAPs.

Temp@2m is the forecast ground temperature (actually 2 meters above ground), on which the predicted thermals are based, and can be compared with actual temperature (as measured or reported in METARs, e.g. at 11am) to judge whether the BLIPspot forecast is working out.

BL throughout stands for "boundary layer", the part of the lower atmosphere mixed by the thermals.

BL Depth shows how high the thermals will reach AGL.

BL Top shows the altitude MSL at the top of the thermals.

Hcrit: the very tops of the thermals are too weak to use, "Hcrit" shows the expected top of the usable part of the thermals [ftMSL] (assuming blue thermals, otherwise cloudbase caps the usable top).

Hgt.Variab. shows the uncertainty or variability of the BL depth, it will be this much higher over hot spots (4 degrees hotter - or effectively so, via higher ground elevation). This variability is influenced by the temperature profile of the atmosphere: if there is a sharp inversion capping the thermals, for example, then this variability will be small. On the other hand, if the lapse rate is still high at the tops, the thermals will be significantly higher over hot spots (or lower, if the ground temperature turns out lower than forecast).

W* is the Thermal Updraft Velocity (in fpm - subtract glider sink rate (typically about 150 fpm) to get climb rate).

B/S = Buoyancy/Shear Ratio. This compares the upward buoyancy of the thermals to the horizontal shear due to the change in wind speed or direction with altitude. Thermals may be unworkable if B/S is 5 or less.

BL Wind = Wind Speed averaged through BL [kt] - keep in mind that wind speed may change quite a bit with altitude - look at the wind profile at the bottom of the BLIPSPOT.

Direction = Wind Direction averaged through BL [degTrue] - keep in mind that wind direction may change quite a bit with altitude - look at the wind profile at the bottom of the BLIPSPOT.

CLOUDpotent predicts the potential for the thermals to condense into cumulus clouds. Expect clouds if this is positive. If this is large then the clouds will be thick. (This number is the height difference between the top of the thermals (if they were blue) and the expected cloudbase (due to moisture).

sfcLCL = Base of Lowest Clouds, if CLOUDpotent>0 (LCL = Lifting Condensation Level based upon sfc. humidity) [ftMSL]. If that's higher than Hcrit then the prediction is that cloudbase will be unreachable.

ODpotential is the potential for "overdevelopment" - expect extensive clouds if positive. (This number is the difference between H(TI=0) & blCL) [ft].

bLCL = Base of Extensive Clouds, if ODpotential>0 (bl CL = Condensation Level based upon BL humidity) [ftMSL] - the difference between this and sfcLCL is that this is based on the moisture of the humidity of the whole BL, while sfcLCL is based on the humidity near the surface - if the air aloft is fairly dry, then there will not be "overdevelopment" and the condensation of the moisture brought up from near the surface will result in only limited cu.

CAPE = Convective Available Potential Energy [J/kg] - if this is high then the condensation in clouds will release a lot of additional "latent" heat and the cu will get thick and there may be thunderstorms.

DewPt@2m = Dew Point Temp. at 2m AGL [F] - this is the basis for the forecast of cloudbase (sfcLCL), and can be compared with actual dewpoint (as reported in METARs) to judge whether the BLIPspot forecast is working out.

As you can see, there is a lot of good info at-a-glance in the BLIPspot: not just how strong the thermals will be, but also their workable height, change during the day, and the potential for overdevelopment.

Additionally, the BLIPspot lists the predicted wind profile (speed and direction) at different altitudes at several times. The asterisks in this table bracket the BL top altitude.

One thing the BLIPspot does NOT offer is a sense of how things will be different in different places. If planning a long XC, one should also look at the BLIPmaps, which roughly describe many of the same parameters via color coding on a map. BLIPmaps for thermal strength and B/S ratio are available free (as are BLIPspots, once sponsored), while the other BLIPmaps are available by paid subscription.

- Moshe

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Volunteers needed

April 25 is Assembly Day. Be there.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring Training

The weekday slackers are back. Well, one of them, anyway. Congratulations to Evan for being the first club member to make a Vermont flight in 2009.

On Friday, Evan took a tow from Walter Striedieck in Springfield and made a nice 285 km flight. The new waterballast system in T8 must be working well. Check out his 35 mile glide from Randolph to Mt. Ascutney. That's Silver Distance in a single glide.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Standing Wave

Speaking of standing wave, here is a shot of wave taken from a high point in Sanbornton NH today, Sunday at 5:35 pm looking north. Winds were from the west, left in the photo, I think Mt Washington was reporting 40 to 45 mph. I'm not sure which mountain was generating this wave cloud.


Charlie Spratt

A few of our club members (not many) have met Charlie Spratt. But most of us have heard of him.  Charlie has been a fixture in competition soaring for 30 years.

More importantly, he has represented the human element in our manic-depressive, obsessive, selfish sport.  Charlie originated the idea of giving spouses and children meaningful responsibilities at competitions. He invented many of the procedures that make contests safe, efficient, and fair. He made soaring contests socially acceptable affairs.  He spent his life questioning authority, and wound up being one of the most respected authorities in the whole sport.

As many of you know, Charlie has been dealing with kidney failure for many years.  His latest transplant (five weeks ago) has failed. He returned home two days ago in a very weakened condition, and has decided not to continue dialysis.  He will die in the next week or two.

Charlie is spending his last days with family and close friends.  He is listening to stories, telling stories, and receiving email messages from his gliding friends from around the world.

One of our friends, Gale Johnson, is reading emails to Charlie.  If you would like to send Charlie a short message, let me know, and I'll send you the address.  Charlie enjoys the messages.

Update:  Charlie died on April 10, 2009 at the age of 66.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

This is normal

The airport is closed to all operations until the runways dry out.

You now know more than the transient pilot considering Post Mills as a possible destination.  The official FAA NOTAM that the pilot would receive in his briefing is "Airport Closed.  No further information available."  No wonder we hardly ever get visitors.

Anyway, this is perfectly normal.  We expect the mud to dry up, and when that happens, we'll be on alert for management to reopen the airport.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Mountain Flying, Explained

You may remember my previous criticism of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation for a bit of misinformation in its online course on Mountain Flying.

I am happy to report that the course has been overhauled and republished, with a much more accurate portrayal of mountain waves. We've gone from "Beware of these clouds" to correctly identifying lenticular clouds as marking smooth air that can be "good for gliders:"

Click image for larger version

OK, so the rotors are still turning the wrong way in this illustration, but that is minor compared with all the improvements over the previous version.

AOPA gets full credit for going to the trouble and expense of improving this online course. If only the FAA were as conscientious about the accuracy of their published materials.

By the way, AOPA has recently increased the amount of attention paid to the communities of pilots who don't fly airplanes. They have published excellent pieces on proficiency and cross-training, and have regular blog posts about soaring. We can thank SSA members Chris O'Callaghan, Val Paget, and Bill Daniels for this.

AOPA is a good organization. Join or renew now.