Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It Soars...!

I was inspired to try some soaring in the Challenger after a call from my friend Jeff in Virginia a few days ago.

He was gliding his Lambada motor-glider across the Shenandoah Valley. Down to about 2,000 feet he flew from sink into lift under a cloud street and began climbing, and climbing, until topping out at over 10,000 feet. From that height it feels like you rule the world, and a Lambada gliding at close to 30:1 could cover 60 miles in no wind conditions. (Less into the wind and more with the wind)

Jeff and I had taken many soaring flights in the Lambada. To keep the engine warm, and available, we would fly around with the throttle set to an RPM that would give zero thrust. Soaring upwards in thermals and descending in areas of sink. For hours at a time. All the while burning very little fuel from the Rotax 912.

I could do this with the Challenger! It has demonstrated many times that it will climb with the engine at idle. On a flight earlier this year I played around for a little under a cumulus cloud climbing with the engine at a low power setting.

Checking Dr Jacks BLIPMAP forecast on Monday night gave an encouraging forecast for soaring across Central NY with 700 fpm thermals.

At the airport there was little sign from the ground that soaring was any good. Cirrus had just passed overhead cutting off some of the solar heating but it was moving off to the east. There were no cumulus clouds in my line of sight.

It was kind of warm in the sun with a light breeze. Not wanting to feel too warm in the greenhouse Challenger, I left my jacket in the car. Besides I wasn't expecting to go high enough to get cold.

After take-off I climbed to 3,000 and reduced power enough to yield a gentle descent. (On a calm morning I will work out the best RPM for this) Gliding at 45 mph I hadn't lost more than a few hundred feet before coming into some lift. I immediately rolled into a turn and began feeling around for the core of the thermal.

I'm using a Google Nexus 7 android tablet running XCSoar software that draws its GPS data from a Dual bluetooth GPS. This gives very accurate positioning compared to the Nexus's internal GPS which is good for lateral position but has a much higher error in altitude.

As the plane begins circling the map displayed by XCSoar changes to a screen dedicated to thermalling. It zooms in and shows your path and also calculates drift for an estimate of the winds at that altitude.

As I climb it is obvious that this thermal is strong enough to carry me upwards without any help from the engine. Not yet ready to turn the engine off so I throttle back to almost idle. Just enough RPM to keep the engine smooth and I continue upwards.

At times I see over 600 FPM !

Reaching 5,400 feet I wished I had warn my jacket! It was getting cold. The lift is dying out and I turned west into the wind in search of the next thermal. Here is where I need to figure out the best power setting for between thermal gliding. At near idle my glide ratio is somewhere about 10:1 at 45 MPH. On a strong day with high cloud base that might be good enough, but on a weaker day some help will be necessary. Enough power to allow a 20:1 ratio will make staying aloft all afternoon possible. The season is early and I'll soon work out a couple solutions for different conditions.

Fortunately I didn't need to glide far for the next thermal, because I was down to under 2,500 feet in sink just north of Skaneateles. Climbing in lift I didn't make it as high this time before heading back towards Marcellus. Beginning my glide XCSoar indicated I would arrive at Marcellus with 400 feet to spare. That was before running into sink...

Short of the airport and down to 1,000 feet AGL I throttled up and cruised back home happy to find that, yes, I can soar in my Challenger II.

The flight lasted 48 minutes and I burned 1.2 gal of auto gas...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Visit with Iroquois Soaring at Hamilton

This was my first cross-country flight of the year. It was a beautiful warm day and perfect for a flight with the doors off to make a visit with my friends at Iroquois Soaring in Hamilton.

The club has been much more active in recent seasons with new members adding to the enthusiasm of the already great bunch that have been with the club for years.

Though it seemed there would be plenty of fuel for the flight and maybe a couple rides with friends I was visiting, I didn't want to fly the last leg staring at the fuel quantity on the panel display. So it was either bring 2-stroke oil and buy aviation fuel at close to $7.00 /gal at Hamilton, bring the 5 gallon gas can and walk to the gas station just off the airport property or, bring a my own non-ethanol fuel along for the flight. I chose to bring my own.

With 10 gallons in the airplane tank and 3 in my 5 gallon can securely belted into the rear seat I climbed to 3,000' and headed southeast to round the Syracuse Class C airspace before turning a little more easterly towards Hamilton.

Settling in to a leisurely 50 kt cruise at 4,700 rpm I relaxed and enjoyed the above normal temperatures that allowed me to remove the doors for clear view of Central New York below.

Crossing RT81 just north of Lafayette looking south

Once my wheels leave the ground, I am already where I want to be. I'm not in any hurry to arrive at my destination, however I needed to remind myself of that after seeing that my ground speed was only 41 knots due to a 10 kt SE wind at 3,000'. This meant almost an hour for the leg to Hamilton. Almost as long as by car, but way more fun.

Cruising along I  divide my time between watching the earth move slowly below, watching for other traffic and picking fields in the event of an engine failure. We are so fortunate here in CNY. From a reasonable cruising altitude there are many to choose from. So many, that I always say you could close your eyes and the odds are pretty good you will end up in a farmers field.

Airports of course would be the preferred place to glide into and there are quite a few around. Unfortunately many are not on the sectional.

This one just SW of Cazenovia
 Just NW of Hamilton

I arrive at Hamilton and time my entrance into the pattern to fit with traffic already there. I fly a pattern 500' above the field instead of usual 800-1,000' and much closer in. This keeps me out of the way of the faster aircraft, makes fitting in with fast moving planes easier, and places me along their line of sight as they look towards the runway on downwind.

Approaching Hamilton from the west

Looks like Phil walking the wing of ISAs 2-33

Arriving at Hamilton I found Phil working on his SHK, a beautiful wooden 17 (?) meter sailplane that is almost ready to fly. After visiting and catching up we took a short ride in the Challenger with Phil up front to get a feel for how my plane flies.

It does fly a little different from a Cessna. With its ailerons stretching the entire length of the wing they generate a lot of adverse yaw. Turns are made leading with the rudder. Try rolling in with just aileron and the plane will bank, but the drag of that large aileron hanging down into the wind will pull the wing back causing the plane to make a slipping turn.

After our flight I spent a little time watching the glider operations. Brett was towing, Greg running ground operations and Andrew giving rides in the 2-33.

Andrew gave his passenger a thorough briefing on how things work and what to expect on the flight. Greg helped get the passenger belted in.

Andrew piloting from the rear. The front seat, where both students and rides sit has a few that is...breathtaking!
Brett towing in 18L with Andrew and a ride in the 2-33. Greg running wing.

I had to include this shot. The smiles everyone wears says it all.
Turning base to final for the grass along RWY 17.

Soaring was good this afternoon, as I expected from my up and down ride over to Hamilton. I think I overheard Andrew say that after release they climbed in lift to 5,000'.

I miss flying with ISA. Someday when my schedule and time permits I will be back flying with the club.

Time to head out. I add fuel from the 3 gallons brought over with me it's off to Airlane Enterprise (1H1)  
The flight over was beautiful with great visibility I could see into the Adirondack Mountains with its peaks jutting up into the blue sky as well as Frenchman and Dunham Islands on Oneida that is just north of my turn-point.

Approaching Syracuse airspace I had to descend from my comfortable cruise of 3,000 to 1,600' to remain under the Class C airspace. Now I am only about 1,000 above ground and constantly keeping track of the land-able fields below. For the most part of this leg there was always somewhere to glide into. However, one stretch near the west end of Oneida wasn't so generous. But the engine was running smooth and temps were in the normal range. It was only a few minutes, but as always it seemed like forever.

Soon Airlane came into sight and I circled for a picture before landing to the east on the E-W runway. Ray, the owner, came driving out on his ATV as I turned to taxi up the N-S runway towards the hangar to warn me of an area ahead that was still quite soft. I just parked right where I was knowing nobody would be landing on that runway.

After a visit with Ray I headed back out under the Class C on a line just north of Onondaga Lake, over Camillus Airport to Marcellus. With a slight diversion to fly over my Camillus home, where I spotted my wife working in the garden.

Another great little adventure in my Challenger II. I flew for 2.9 hours and burned 6.9 gallons for a GPH of 2.38.