The Boomerang Comes Home
Reminder to Duty Officers!
Silver Threads Among the Gold
Landing Out Sites Reviewed
The Quest for Competition
Spreading Our Wings
It's fun to see our members heading off in new directions. Over the past few years, we've seen a significant increase in private ownership and cross-country soaring. I think this is a natural evolution as a soaring pilot moves from primary training through certification and then local flying in club equipment. The acceptance and management of risk, the challenge of preparing for and executing a long, high, or distant flight, learning to read the weather, and successfully managing a field landing are all part of the adventure of cross-country soaring.
Once a pilot gains experience with cross-country soaring, a new challenge is to test one's skills in competition. We've had some taste of this through the annual exploits of Bill Vickland in the 1-26 Nationals, and David Brunner and Bill Bentley have also recently tried their hands at competition in 1-26's. This year, David Weaver and Fred Mueller competed in the Region 4 North Championship in Fairfield, PA. A good time was had by both pilots and crew, and I suspect that this trend toward participation in competitions will continue to increase. Congratulations to our growing cadre of competition pilots, and I'll be looking for you on the leader board. Runway Incursions-Another increasing trend is that of runway incursions. The FAA is taking this very seriously, and I'm sure you read David Weaver's article on runway incursion prevention in Skylines earlier this year. Now that we've been sensitized to the aircraft variety, it's time to introduce a new twist.
The southern fence at FRR has become a peanut galley for a family of deer who appear to enjoy grading our landings. Occasionally, they are inspired to explore temporary membership in our club and do so by jumping the fence. (Of course, we greet them warmly and give them John Lewis' e-mail address.) We've had several informal NOTAM's from DO's to aircraft entering the traffic pattern, and last week one particularly bold/foolish deer caused a takeoff abort.
So, when you're scanning for "traffic", don't forgot to check the fence.
See you at the field.
The Boomerang Comes Home
Sunday, Father's Day, dawned bright and sunny, and what better way to spend it than flying family style. We woke, ate breakfast, called the weather and were ready to go. Now, over the two years since we have soared with SSC, we have found two things to be true. First, despite rumors (promulgated mainly by the local FSS) that the sky is falling, the ceiling is 4 cm, the visibility 8 cm, rain, hail and bubonic plague at IAD, SHD, OKV and MRB, it all don't mean nothing about FRR. More than once I have driven out I-66 unable to see the tops of the light poles as we pass the Dulles exit, only to find FRR in clear and beautiful sunshine. Well, not this day. Even the rumors were for clear and beautiful sunshine. But this brings me to item two, wind. The winds were forecast to be a bit dicey, 15 kts, gusts to 20 out of the north at nearby airports. My second point, just because the winds are howling all around FRR does not mean that it will be bad at FRR. Why it was just two months ago that George and I did our practical tests on a day that was forecast to be all gloom and doom. So, away we go with great enthusiasm. Still, there was a nagging part of the forecast that stuck in my brain....winds aloft. Kind of weird, 33 kts at 3,000, dropping to 15 kts at 9,000, out of the north.
It's 10:30 am, and we arrive! Lots of activity. Joe is giving lessons, gliders are on the ramp. People milling around. To our left on the tiedown area, the great Lak-12 consumes all available space. Kevin arrives, Libelle in tow. We help him assemble. George and Geoff sign up for instruction to get checked out in the K (yes, the three of us got our licenses whilst never soloing the K). It's 12:30 pm. Puffy cu's poppin on the ridge. Kevin launches. 1:00 pm, Shane pushes out to launch. George and Geoff help him. As they are getting ready to tuck him in, Shane flips out, "Hey, you guys wanna crew for me?" Naively they reply in the affirmative. Something about a boomerang. Shane enters cell phone numbers in his Palm Pilot.
The day goes on. Takeoffs and landings are sporty. Not that the wind was enough, a couple of deer wanted to eat the grass near the runway, and Joe had to abort a demo ride takeoff 50 feet down the runway as one deer decided to take the runway and challenge the tow plane. Lisa launches and gets whompped out of position on tow. An early release and she returns ahead of the tow plane. Brunner decides to show us how it's done. And he takes his bow (in front of us) 19 minutes later. But Kevin and Shane are still up. Now comes the sinister part. Kevin decides to taunt Shane, calling on the radio, "Hey, Shane, where are you? I'm down here over Lexington headed south..." Shane's like, "Where the hell are you finding lift?" Remember that wind? Well, it was breaking up anything that might look like thermal structure, making it very difficult to stay up. Now comes Shane's rebuttal to Kevin's ploy. "If he can do it, I'd better get my but in gear." So Shane struggles on.
In the meantime, back at FRR, it's about 2 pm and Kevin comes floating down. An exciting bit of showmanship, and he is on the ground. But no Shane. 3 pm, no Shane. 4 pm, no Shane. I am heard to make the comment that, with 20-30 kt winds, just being gone for this length of time means that there is a 98.7% probability that we will be doing a retrieve. It's 5 pm, no Shane, and now people are ready for the Mill. Shane has our cell phone numbers, so we decide to go to the Mill too. But just then, my cell phone beeps. There is a message for me. Strange, why didn't it ring. It was on. I listen to the message. "Hey, this is Shane. I'm at New Castle. Call me. My cell number is 70adfkh3-dgkrhlkjedslkgjrd." Can't reach Shane. Oh well, we have his truck, and he ain't goin home without it. So let's go to New Castle.
Just in the off chance that we would go there, Dave Weaver had given us detailed instructions on how to get to New Castle. George III calls into play all of his music ear training and decodes the number Shane left in his message to me. He can't get the last digit, but a few guesses prove successful. We leave a message for Shane. We are on our way.
6 pm. We pull out of FRR. No food since breakfast. Need to stop. 7 pm. We stop south of Harrisonburg for a sandwich. Another two hours to go. 9 pm. We are on 311 heading down this two-lane road to New Castle. Zoom. "Hey that was Shane standing there." Oops. Missed the turn-off. Now all we gotta do is get this 60-foot rig turned around. George III, driving, finds a little dirt side road and pretty much gets us turned around (while blocking traffic in all directions). Shane shows up to finish the job. We have arrived! And there is just (barely) enough light left to put the Lak back in its box for the trip home.
10 pm and we out of New Castle headed back. A pretty much
uneventful drive home on empty roads. Boy it's nice to have all of
I-66 to ourselves. We arrive home at 2:30 am. The boomerang has come
home. What better Father's Day could there be? This is what soaring
is all about. And one more thing. I'm not letting the facts get in
the way of telling a good story here-too much.
Reminder to Duty Officers!
Are you remembering to notify the Dulles TRACON Supervisor via telephone BEFORE you start operations?? This is IMPORTANT! Normally, Reggie will do it IF AND WHEN YOU NOTIFY HIM well in advance of your operational plans. If he's not there, or if he asks you to do it (we often do it ourselves on Thursdays) DON'T FORGET! THe call can help save a LOT of lives, not just of one or two Club members! (This call alerts approach controllers at IAD of our activity, and triggers an entry into the ATIS (Automated Terminal Information System) broadcasts made to all pilots approaching Dulles.)
If YOU wind up making the call, be brief and to the point-e.g., "This is the Duty Officer at Skyline Soaring at Front Royal Airport, Virginia with our operational plans for today. We will start launches at [time] and be operating between the surface and [altitude] until [time of quitting-make it conservative!] in the area [say where; see note]."
Note: In reporting planned altitude, it's best to be VERY generous. Suggest "surface to 9000' MSL" on just about any day except wave days, and if there's any clue that waves may be working later, say "surface to 180000' MSL". The ATC folk are more alert to the actual location of the Linden VOR than the FRR airport (the VOR is on the blue ridge about 2 miles SSE of the airport). If it's a training day, consider "within 7 miles west of the Linden VOR" and if there's any xc going on, consider "within 15 miles west of the Linden VOR".
Later, in the air, you might want to switch to 134.85 on the
radio and monitor it to hear what they're saying on the ATIS.
Silver Threads Among the Gold
Who knows why we make the decisions we do? Often it seems so much easier to just stay put. But that is a decision too; stay with what you know and were taught.
Cross-country soaring comprehensively confronts just such existential questions. Will it work? Are the books and lore true? Can I accomplish at least once what the great pilots do several times a year?
One way to know is to measure against your peers. Fred Mueller and I started soaring around the same time. True or not, I'd hope that I could seriously contemplate for myself what he accomplishes; perhaps.
To this end I asked Fred to tell me about his gold flight of a year ago and he kindly obliged.
The flight took place after a Saturday that Fred says "was the day I should have gone." That Saturday was a boomer with clouds to help the straying pilot.
Unfortunately, Sunday was a blue day. Nevertheless, Kohlie's prediction was encouraging and Fred went to Front Royal with a diamond goal in mind. The plan was to fly the ridge to Franwood and, as the day matured, set off north into Pennsylvania to High Rock Overlook, with a return to the start point. The start point was Signal Knob, in easy reach from the ridge.
Intuitively one might expect a goal flight, turnpoints or no, to just require you specify where you start, turn, and end with an adequate distance overall. You would be wrong. There are several subtleties, the key here is a final return to the startpoint.
So Fred planned a goal return to Signal Knob.
Releasing around noon at 3000' AGL, notching and making the startpoint, Fred headed south. Finding the promise of ridge nearly unfulfilled it was necessary to drop below the 2100' ridgetop and begin scanning for fields.
The situation was marginal but it stabilized close to the trees, 15 knots above pattern speed, with some trees placed so that you'd have to look up to admire them. Real flying, and it kept up all the way down to Franwood and back. Certainly memorable.
During this time two other cross-country pilots headed down the ridge from Front Royal and landed out. Now headed back, Fred assessed the situation as looking grim for a journey into the valley and north. That is until Greg Ellis reported strong lift and 6000' over Signal Knob.
It worked-really well.
According to Fred "As I headed north on the ridge, I had pretty much decided that I would land back at FRR--if I made it that far. When I finally clawed my way back to Signal Knob, I found a big fat thermal that took me to nearly six thousand feet. It's kinda tough to throw in the towel when you're at six thousand feet and only four miles from the field. I figured I could at least final glide it to Winchester, so I pressed on." Doing just that Fred headed north, picked up another good thermal and made it past Winchester. Soon enough Martinsburg was within gliding distance to the northwest. Whence upon another good thermal Fred stopped contemplating the local fields and pressed on past Harper's Ferry and made High Rock Overlook.
Throughout this recounting Fred emphasized more than once that during the flight he always had a good field in range. Even during the early ridge-running the situation was never uncomfortable, with fields ready at hand. This fact brought home that one could reasonably expect long cross countries to be accomplished in safety and that it was not necessary to be in jeopardy at any time.
As the day progressed the lift band rose slowly. Initially and for much of the flight the thermal top was approximately 5000' making it necessary to work much of what was encountered. That made for a long flight.
After nearly 5 hours, Fred caught the classic best thermal of the day and topped out at 8000' AGL. This put him on final glide for Front Royal. His goal of Signal Knob, however, at 2300' AGL, was out of range. The only hope was to encounter lift enroute or make the house thermal.
In Soaring magazine, the story always seems to have the house thermal putting out and saving the day. But this was not to be. After more than 5 hours capped off with low grinding somewhere between FRR and the Knob, Fred was the last man aloft. The day was over and it was time to land.
Disappointment would be natural with all those hours and work without the goal. There were many lessons that were hard to convey but clearly the most important was how realistically achievable and safe the flight was.
Most of all Fred made it clear this flight was his most satisfying flying experience, at that time. Sometimes in soaring, as in life, the journey is the goal.
Congratulations Fred on getting home and winning your Gold Distance.
(Thanks for the story Fred. If there are errors they are
Landing Out Sites Reviewed
For those of you might aspire towards becoming a more discriminating glider pilot, might I suggest you make your next landout at North Mountain Winery, near Maurertown. I had the good fortune of dropping in on their fine establishment On June 24th, so I offer this brief review.
North Mountain Winery provides a long narrow field adjacent to the winery, with an unobstructed approach from the south. From the north, there are wires, so it's better to visit when the winds are out of the North. The field's fairly narrow, but should be adequate if the cross wind isn't too severe. This time of year, they've mown the field for hay, a pleasing touch, I thought, smoothing your arrival and making you feel expected, even if you weren't.
The winery itself is all you'd hope for in any landout situation. The winery's main structure, designed after a Swiss winery I'm told, is provincial without being overly rustic. A nice in-between. It stands a scant five minutes walk from the field where you'll land, a pleasant walk after your flight.
Once there, you enter through a wine sampling salon, a splendid place to begin any landout retrieve. More on the wines later. The wine stewardess will of course provide use of their phone without question. After you've called for your retrieve crew (try not to gloat on the phone, as I did), the winery will provide you with your choice of wine and a comfortably appointed deck to ease your wait. On this Sunday afternoon, it came complete with young couples sipping wine and staring into one another's eyes, all overlooking the hillside vineyards. Very romantic, I thought. They also provide an art gallery upstairs for your enjoyment, featuring oils by local artists. Unfortunately, they don't offer bed and breakfast-this would be one of only a few critiques I'd offer.
The staff is very pleasant and hospitable. Most of their guests arrive by road, but they proved their flexibility in accommodating my arrival by air. They showed appropriate levels of interest; curious, yet professional and courteous to the last.
The wine selection itself is small, but adequate for your landout experience. There are the usuals on the menu, a Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and three or four others I'll leave to you to discover. I can't speak for all of them, but the '99 Cabernet is very pleasant, dry and full bodied, with a hint of currant and oak. Chris Williams and Fred Winter may be willing to provide reviews of other wines. Their help was much appreciated.
North Mountain focuses on what they do best. They offer only wines, with bread and cheese if you like to clear the palette. The don't offer dinner; I thought this was wise. They'll be happy to provide you to directions to the nearest dining establishment, such as the Strasburg Inn, which is only 15 minutes away.
I'd like to provide here the coordinates to the North Mountain Winery's field, but I regret to say that I didn't include my GPS in my kit last Sunday, so you'll have to search the place out on your own. It's about 8 miles southwest of Strasburg, just outside Maurertown. Look for the winery, with a small steeple, at the south end of a long narrow field. I heartily recommend this winery for any landout experience!
Next review: Shenandoah Winery!
The Quest for Competition
I recently had the great pleasure of participating in the Region 4 North Soaring Championship, held at the Mid-Atlantic Soaring Association (MASA) field in Fairfield, PA. We managed four contest days out of the seven days scheduled for the contest. That's not a bad total considering the fickleness of the late spring weather in the Eastern U.S.
If you're a student you may be thinking that you will never be interested in going cross country, let alone flying in a contest. Remember though, you're in a contest every time you try to stay up in a thermal in the local area. You may be the sole competitor or you may be vying for flight of the day honors with half a dozen of your fellow Skyliners.
When soaring in the local area the missing element is the challenge of cross-country flight. You can fly cross-country by yourself but the lure of competition resides in the opportunity to compare yourself to other pilots while flying through the same block of the atmosphere. A contest also provides the opportunity to flying during several consecutive days of changing weather. This is something the weekend warrior misses out on.
This year's Region 4 North Championship started out with some really poor weather. I arrived at MASA late Friday afternoon amidst perpetual drizzle. I met contest manager Preston Burch in the MASA club house setting up for the Saturday practice day. Practice days are used by pilots to familiarize themselves with the local flying area and by the organizers to work out the kinks in their procedures. Preston directed me toward the parking area where I tied down 1FW's trailer the set off to find my hotel down the road in Thurmont, MD.
Saturday dawned about the same as Friday with fog and drizzle. There was a very powerful low pressure system over the Midwest affecting our weather and it wasn't moving. However, Saturday was not wasted. I spent the day completing the registration process, reloading the contest data base in my GPS and attending the mandatory pilot's safety meeting followed by a catered BBQ dinner.
The safety meeting was valuable, informative and included a dissertation by Chris O'Callahan, a very experienced local pilot, on the potential hazards in the local flying area. During the meeting, the offer was made to provide mentors for those pilots who had never flown at Fairfield, so I gladly accepted the offer. I was assigned to Dave Pixton, another experienced local pilot flying a Ventus 2 in the 15 M class. Dave was really helpful and happy to provide advice on each task.
In addition to the flying, a soaring contest usually offers several social gatherings designed to renew old friendships and meet new people. This contest was no exception and each of the after flying socials was very enjoyable for pilots and crews alike.
Sunday didn't look much better than Saturday. My partner and temporary crew chief, Fred Winter, and I decided to drive down to Frederick, MD to shop for computer accessories. We got back to Fairfield just in time for the afternoon thunderstorm. We decided on an early dinner and set our sites on Monday.
Monday looked like a soaring day so we assembled the glider before the pilot's meeting and got ready to go. The contest director (CD) set a pretty modest task for the 15 M and standard class based on the forecast week conditions. The task for the sports class was a 2 hour pilot selected task (PST).
A PST requires the pilot to select which of the designate contest turn points he will fly to and in which order. He must finish at the contest sight, fly a minimum of 40 miles and not use any of the many forbidden legs, which would take him through the P-40 (Camp David) prohibited area. Failure to do any of these things results in a severe penalty. In addition, if don't fly the minimum time, in this case two hours, you are given that time and your average speed is subsequently lowered. The general strategy is to fly in the best available soaring conditions and stay out there as long as your average speed is increasing but its important to make it back or your score will really suffer. Sounds easy, right?
It was difficult to decide which direction to fly because the conditions kept changing and recycling. I headed southeast to Carroll County Airport then north to York, PA. When I left York, I realized that I had timed the cycle wrong and found nothing but flat air as I glided ten miles to the west of York. I started sizing up hay fields but my GPS told me that it just another three miles to a private grass strip. I arrived there pretty low but it was a great field. It even had runway markers, a nice hangar and two windsocks. While I awaited Fred's arrival with the trailer, I chatted with the owner of the field. He is a retired airline pilot and the hangar contains a collection of antique airplanes, including a mint condition Stinson Voyager. Oh well, we had to the sailplane apart anyway.
Fortunately, not very many people faired better than I did so I was still in the hunt. Tuesday was another relatively week day and we were assigned another PST. I decided to go upwind to the north towards Carlisle, PA. I scratched my way over the high ground and apple orchards north of Fairfield and worked my way to the Carlisle airport. Heading back south toward Gettysburg I got pretty low and had a couple of fields picked out when I found a decent thermal over a dairy farm. As I worked into the core of the thermal I began to smell the pungent aroma often associated with large gatherings of herbivores. This brought new meaning to the technique of sniffing for thermals. When I told this story at the evening gathering, my fellow pilots asked me to confirm that the smell did indeed originate from outside the cockpit. I topped out this thermal and headed for the Gettysburg airport. By the time I got to Gettysburg I was low again. I probably should have taken a different route because there was no thermal to save the flight this time. I landed at Gettysburg and requested an aerotow retrieve from the contest folks. The tow plane arrived only twenty minutes later. I trained a local taxi driver to run the wing and arrive back in the pattern at Fairfield in no time. I came up eight miles short of finishing and probably cost me at least one place in the final standings.
Wednesday, contest day 3, showed quite a bit of promise. The sky was clear and the wind was blowing hard out of the northwest. The weatherman was also calling for strong thermals and cloud bases to 8,000' MSL. The 15 M and standard classes were tasked to fly to Burnt Cabins, Thompsontown, McConnelsburg and back to MASA, a distance of about 180 miles. The sports class got another PST with a minimum time of 3 hrs. Most of us in the sports class figured that if that routing was good enough for them it was good enough for us. The route from Burnt Cabins to Thompsontown and back south to McConnelsburg lies along a major ridge system. The trick was going to be getting over to the ridge, 30 miles away, while bucking a 25-knot headwind.
The thermals were strong but there was significant sink in between so I headed for the Chambersburg airport en route to Burnt Cabins. The sink was pretty bad west of Chambersburg but I found a good thermal and headed for the ridge at Burnt Cabins. I was playing it pretty cautious because I really wanted to make sure that I got back. I approached the ridge high wondering how well it was working. You never really know until you get down on it. I looked out ahead and saw another sailplane running well down on the ridge so I accelerated to 120 knots and descended to the ridge and overtook the sailplane ahead of me in the process. Once down on the ridge, I passed one more sailplane prior to the turn at Thompsontown. I was able to run between 100 and 120 knots all the way to the turn point at Thompsontown where I pulled up off the ridge to tag the turn point and then dove back down on the ridge. Since I started early and only passed two sailplanes, I was treated to the sight of the other 37 sailplanes roaring up the ridge toward me with about 200 knots of closure. The GPS said McConnelsburg was some 60 miles down the ridge to the south. Yahoo! I'm running the ridge at 120 knots for another 60 miles. When I get to McConnelsburg I can't head for home because I've only flown half the minimum time. As I fly to other turn points, it becomes clear to me that the sports class had the tougher task because I hear the 15 M and standard classes finishing when I've still got more than an hour to fly. I finally round my last turn point at Gettysburg and head for the finish line. I started my final glide about 8 miles out at 90 knots and gradually accelerated along the parabolic curve toward the finish line. I crossed the line at 140 knots and pulled up onto downwind feeling pretty good.
The final contest day was pretty dicey. Not a cloud in the sky and the thermals were pretty far apart. The task was another PST for the sports class. I headed for Chambersburg because that was the first turn point for the other classes. I made Chambersburg, Five Lakes, Gettysburg, York and then got pretty low over the quarry at the town of Hanover. I found a good thermal over the quarry and started computing final glide. I set up my final glide about 20 miles out from Fairfield and made it home with good speed. It felt good to make it home because the banquet was that night.
It felt good to get back into contest flying again and I made some new friends in the process. Once you've got the basics down pretty well, I highly recommend the experience to anyone. You don't have to be a big time competition pilot to enjoy the experience but you do need to have mastered the fundamentals. You need to be able to thermal with your eyes outside the cockpit because you may find yourself in a gaggle with 20 other sailplanes. You need to have made some off-field landings and be comfortable with the process of field selection and navigation. Takeoff, landing and aerotow need to be second nature. We took off with 15 knots of tailwind on the ridge day due to the slope of the runway.
If you want a truly rewarding experience, hone your basic
skills and the get into a contest.