Saturday, July 14, 2012

Badge Flying

Not everyone in the club has been introduced to the FAI/IGC badge system, so here it is.

The highest airsports authority, FAI, has established a set of badges to recognize individual achievement in the sport of soaring. They do other things as well, but most glider pilots I know interact with FAI only through their pursuit of these badges.

In addition to giving you a sense of achievement, a badge can serve as your credentials to enter a competition, and, when you travel, it is recognized internationally as a standard measure of your flying skill. In some countries (e.g. UK) badges are required as part of your authorization to fly or instruct, and in at least one country (Australia), your badge is your license to fly.

Basically, there are three badges: Silver, Gold, and Diamond. (Technically, there are really only two. The official name of the highest one is the "Gold Badge with Diamonds," but the distinction has been lost over the years. Let's call it the Diamond Badge).

Each badge has three requirements, or "legs."

To earn a Silver Badge, you must make a 1000-meter climb, fly for five hours after release, and fly 50 kilometers (measured in a straight line). You can do all three in one flight, or you can space them out over multiple flights. The three legs of the badge are known as "Silver Altitude," "Silver Duration," and "Silver Distance."

In our club, the Silver Badge is considered the graduation diploma of our training program. We will teach you to fly and help you get your Silver Badge, but after that, you're on you own, without formal guidance from the Club. Good luck, and by the way, you should probably be thinking of buying your own glider.

For the Gold Badge, you need to climb 3000 meters, fly for 5 hours (the same duration flight counts for both Silver and Gold), and fly 300 kilometers, in a straight line or a zig-zag.

The Diamond Badge requires a 5000 meter climb, and two distance flights. The first one, a 300 km closed-course trip with pre-declared turnpoints, is called "Diamond Goal." The second one, a 500 km flight in a straight line or a zig-zag, is known as "Diamond Distance."

The approval of a Badge (or Badge leg) is delegated by FAI to the national gliding authority in each country. In our case, it's the Soaring Society of America . SSA processes badge claims for free for its members (and we're all members, right?)

Around here, the Silver Altitude leg can be achieved by climbing in a nice thermal. Greg did this a couple of weeks ago in his first climb off tow. His claim is still pending, so
preliminary congratulations to Greg!

Gold altitude usually requires a wave flight, unless you're a gamer like Tony, who recently climbed to 17000 feet in a thermal in Colorado. His climb was approved, and that completes his Gold Badge, (he did his Gold Distance last season). Congratulations, Tony!

In the Gold Distance category, we've had two claimants recently. Thomas flew his 300 km on the same day that Greg got his Silver Altitude. That claim was approved. Yay, Thomas! Tim got his Gold Distance three days ago, and I'll write more about that later. Tim's flight also qualified as a Diamond Goal flight.

What do you do when you've collected all your badges and are still looking for a challenge? FAI has the answer: you can get a "Diplome" (that's not a misspelling; it's French). Distance Diplomes are awarded for flying truly epic distances, and they are quite prestigious. Congratulations to Evan, who just got his 750 km Diplome, for a flight he did last Spring in Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Live glider blogging

The Blanik has been in the air for over 3 hours as I type this.

Click here to download the hi-res version.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

14,000 feet of WOW!

Last Sunday, July 8, was an interesting soaring day. It's quite possible that -- properly equipped and prepared -- 750K or even 1000K (OLC rules) was achievable. I was neither equipped nor prepared. I just caught a little piece of the day, but it was quite enjoyable.

The clue to what was happening was a gigantic cu hanging stationary over Mt Washington in 25+ kt winds. I ridge soared the western flank, then dropped back to the Moria Carter range and ridge soared to the Wildcat ski area. Pictures tell the story from there. MWSA wave camp is open early this year!

Sadly, I didn't have my oxygen gear, so I had to break off my 1000 feet per minute climb at 14000. For the sake of nostalgia and my dear friend Allan MacNicol I overflew the old White Mountain Airport site at North Conway, staging point for the early explorers of the Mt Washington wave. A trip to Grafton Notch and an easy return flight to Franconia rounded out the day.

-Evan / T8

Monday, July 9, 2012

The back seat is empty

What would you do if you were getting close to your first solo, but you were away from your home field, surrounded by spectators (including both of your parents), and your training glider was being borrowed by another club? I'd probably just wait till I got back home. Not Sam Desrochers.

Sam decided to learn how to fly a new glider at a new site, ditch the old instructor, ignore the spectators, and ask Dad for a tow.

He elected not to get too close to the ridge on this particular flight, and since the thermals hadn't developed yet, he was soon back in the landing pattern. His approach and touchdown were picture perfect (pictures to follow), and he threw in some fancy steering on the ground, just as cool as you please. The towpilot, on the other hand, got excited and had to do a go-around.

Congratulations to Sam on his first solo! (and congratulations to Bob and Linda, too).

Here's a picture of three has-beens making their way to out to greet our newest Blanik pilot. Note that no one is carrying a bucket of water.

We took care of that oversight later, at the party.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I think we should have a new membership category.

I was a student pilot when hang gliders first became popular. In those days, their safety record wasn't very good, and I was told by my instructor that I was smart to stay away from that thrill-seeking cult of daredevils.

I have to admit that it was easy to adopt the prejudice that those guys weren't real pilots, and that they were just an aerial version of a motorcycle gang. I had never met one, and they were easy to ignore.

I was already totally immersed in gliding when paragliders came around, so they were easy to ignore, too.

Over the years I have become vaguely aware of the advances made by hang glider pilots, both in the capabilities of their aircraft and in their attitude toward safety. The USHPA is a mainstream organization with over 10000 members - they can't all be outlaw bikers, right? Also, I began to meet sailplane pilots (Rick Roelke, Steve Arndt, Tim Donovan, Tim Chow) who had a background in foot-launching, and they didn't seem crazy at all.

At the beginning of this season I was comfortable in my belief that there are two different sports, and that I am interested in only one of them. That suddenly changed when I met Greg Hanlon, Dan MacMonagle, and Dennis Cavagnaro, cult members all, who joined our club all at once.

I have to say that these guys know a lot about micro-meteorology and its application to soaring. And they really know how to fly. Here's a picture of Greg outclimbing a sailplane (which one, anybody know?) at Newport, NH.

It has been a real eye-opener for me as the person tasked with introducing these guys to sailplanes. Learning, in this case, has definitely been a two-way street.

Here's what I have learned:

They are really good at thermaling and knowing when to stay and when to go. They are really bad at using the rudder properly. They are really good at looking where they're going. They are really bad at aerotow (at least at first). They are just mediocre at keeping the home field within range. They are really good at helping other people fly, fixing things that are broken, and partying after flying.

For their part, they have learned (I hope) not to dive or do S-turns on final, not to pay too much attention to 200-foot fields, and not to throw their bodies around the cockpit when we hit a bump.

These guys are in a class by themselves, and we need a new membership category for them. They aren't Students, Private Owners, or 304 pilots, and, so far, only one of them is a Weekday Slacker.

All we need is a name for their sub-group. ("Hell's Angels" is already taken). Hey, I know...


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Weekend report June 30 - July 1

The strong winds that shut the Slackers down on Friday abated a bit for Saturday. Still, the conditions were difficult, and we weren't able to do any extended flying. Tim gave a couple of lessons in the Blanik. At least we were able to demonstrate to our new hang glider friends what we consider to be too much wind.

Sunday was a completely different story. The first half of the day featured good lift to 6000 feet, and the wind was light. In the middle of the afternoon, a combination of overdevelopment and blowoff put us in a big shadow at about the time Skip (JS) took off. The sun re-emerged, and we were tempted to send the 1-23 to Franconia. But the lift was spotty, and the day ended with one of those "widely scattered" rain showers that sent us running for cover. After that was over, we put 3J on the trailer.

The highlight of the weekend was seeing a couple of oldtimers, John Gass and Pete Dodd. John and his family are passing through on holiday, and Pete has once again taken up residence on the airport, in preparation for our trip to Franconia. Pete brought some beer and wine with him, thinking that it would last through the week, but we disabused him of that notion while we waited for the rain to stop.