Sunday turned out to be a great day for our pilots! JD went up in the '26 for a 30 minute flight to stir things up and let the Lift Gods know that we had some high expectations for the day ahead. Evidently, it worked because every flight after that was considerably longer than his paltry half hour! What he lacked in staying power, he certainly made up for in getting the lift out. The image to the left is Pete's trace, a nice three hour flight in the 1-26! We're going to have to start calling him leatherbutt! Dave hung with him for hours of fun in 19LK. Stefan and Greg each had a turn in the Lark. Mamat and our alternate Dave had a good long flight in the 2-33 - again proving that Central VA has plenty of good soarable weather. After Dave and Mamat came down, Eric took Marybeth up for a ride. Hopefully she had a great time and we'll see her back again!
We had a day of accomplishment on Sunday. We got new gator seats in (although they are quite a bit more forward than the old ones and we’ll need to work on that some). Traded one discomfort for another! Tom was out working on 094 with Eric, we now have an OEM looking mirror mounted on the spar of the Cessna, Eric reports great visibility and it looks like an official part of the plane. Tom is going to find a quick-drain plug for the engine oil as we’d have to drop the bottom cowling off of the engine to do oil changes and that’s a lot of labor hours for what should be a simple task. The quick-drain plug will let us get the oil out without a lot of hassle. Sounds like a good plan to me.
While there, Tom looked at our 1-26 radio set up and advised Dave to remove the existing antenna mount and see if there is a part number we can use to order a replacement. He said if we got the cable, he would put new connector ends on it for us. Dave is also going to look at an extra mic boom he has and see if that would be a suitable replacement for the current one.
All in all, it took us a while to actually get to the flying part of the day, but we got there about the same time the lift did, so that was OK. Dave took Kevin up in the 2-33 and up they went! While they were flying around, Tom helped us out with wing runner duties and I got up in the ’26. There was pretty steady lift in the four miles around Merlin. Eric was kind enough to drop me right into the lift under a CU and I had a pretty quick ride up to 4,200’ and minimums, so I popped out from under there and for the next hour plus, kept doing the same thing. Got far enough North that I crossed over 360, a personal first, but it looked like there was a pretty big gap between there and the next farther CUs to the NE, so while I could see the Chesterfield Berry Farm corn maze, I couldn’t quite get out to overfly it. Maybe next time! After that I spent a fair amount of time working between 3K and 4K, topped out close to 4,500’. Played with airspeed and altitude and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Tried to play music out of my phone speaker, but it couldn’t compete with the wind noise. May have to bring a short plug to put in the speaker box before Dave fixes the radio!
Dave had two flights after Kevin had to leave for the day. I think he pulled off and found some of the sink pretty fast and hard. He was chasing Eric back to the field. He relit and came up to play for a bit, but by that time the sun was pretty well past the yard arm and the day was quieting down. Knowing we were both going in about the same time, I figured to try and get in a good precision landing – and managed to pull it off! Almost all the way off, even. Got right between the first taxiway cones and had the ’26 turning into the taxiway before I stopped. A short tug on the straps and the runway was clear for Dave, who didn’t need it. But I was pretty excited about having the glider go where I wanted it to go and stopping pretty close to where I wanted it to stop!
There was a local family that came out to visit after seeing us flying around. Eric gave a couple of pattern flights to Rashad and his older brother. They were there with their dad and grandfather. Great folks, had a really good time looking at the gliders and talking with us. The boys (13 and 16) had ear to ear grins following their flights!
With the ’26 right at the hanger and the tow plane not stored, we decided to see if we could get some red and white hanger mates. And we can! The ’26 is now keeping 094 company. If we had a glider dolly we could easily move the ’26 in and out, but even so, it’s an easy exercise to get them both in. Eric painted some wheel marks on the ground to help us guide the planes in. We have an open tie down up front, Pete!
So ended Sunday. Lots done, I’ll put some pics up on the Merlin site. By the way, our Daily Ops page has copies of these mailings as well as a link to our club flight postings on OLC. If you want to show off what we do, the Daily Ops page is a great resource to help you do that!
And just to keep ego in check, I do have the #2 slot for R4… Out of 2. #43 out of 43 for the US. Daniel Sazhin did much better with his ’26 flying the ridges up in NJ for the #1 US slot/#2 worldwide. You should look at the trace, most of the flight it looks like a good size tree would have been the end of him! 512KM over 7.5 hours. That’s a good day flying!
I remember reading an article, probably in the SSA's Soaring magazine, about a pilot that couldn't seem to get the same length of time in the air as some of the experienced members at his club. He'd be up and down, maybe up for a while on a good day, but even on bad days, the 'old guard' would log hours long flights. I thought about my flights (short up/downs unless it was an instruction flight and Eric was there to keep us going) and the routine long flights that Merlin's 'old guard' (Dave, Eric, Stefan) would log. It felt like I could have written the same article. And still could! The gist of the article was that you need to be able to sustain in the zero sink. A lesson reiterated in Bob Wander's The Art of Thermaling...Made Easy! where Bob talks about looking for the weak (hopefully upcoming) thermals and sticking with them to see what they bring.
Last week, Pete posted a perfect example of this describing his seeing a vulture working a low thermal and going over to see if it would keep him going for a little longer as well. And it did! He was able to work a couple thousand extra feet and more flight time out of that decision (and holding the #2 flight for region 4 on OLC for the day). I had a similar experience today. Scratching to stay aloft in -1/+1 around Scott's Fork to let an incoming Cherokee land and clear the runway, I was bouncing around 1,900' - 2,100'. I had looked for lift that Dave said was working in the area, and I just couldn't find it. I, like any of us, could find all of the thermal marking sink, but the lift was elusive. Knowing the Cherokee was inbound, and knowing that I could maintain in my little area, I stayed put. As the Cherokee cleared the runway, I pulled out of my turn and started making plans to join the pattern when I found some 2kt, that turned into some 3kt. I radioed back that I was going to work the lift and did so - pretty soon passing 3,000'. I worked it over to the diary farm, joined with some hawks and was working 4,500'. (I find for me, I can work thermals or enjoy looking at the birds, but both? Not so much.) Thanks to the inbound Cherokee, and trusting more my ability to hang in the zero, I turned a thirty minute flight into one that lasted a bit over an hour. Not an 'old guard' level effort, but one of those that let's me know it's all a matter of time and practice. Wax on, wax off.
One of the great things about learning to fly at Merlin is the help that each of us, especially Dave's constant lift marking announcements, works to bring the others along. Our post flight conversations, the telling of an aspect of a flight that reminds someone else of how they deal with similar things. There isn't a flight that I take alone. There's always a time where I think 'Eric said...', 'Dave suggested that...', or Pete does this, Stefan does that, I saw Vince do, remember the time Greg... These things bind us as a community of pilots and make us all better and more proficient for it. At Merlin, we desire to have a soaring club - and that means we help each other become soaring pilots. Learning how to scratch around in the zerosphere and playing the odds that it gets better, that's fer real soaring pilot stuff right there. It's the days like today for me, last weekend for Pete, that let you know you're on the right track. It's smiles and congratulations when returning to the field that let you know there's a good group of folks at your back.
What a weekend!!
Saturday started with David (a sport pilot AND glider pilot) landing at our field to take a look at our operations. He is interested in getting back into motorless flight. Dave was quick to get him setup to return Sunday for some flights in the Lark. We decided upon a new tow rope and longer length of 230' which solved some of our propwash issues from the Cessna on takeoff. Thanks to Eric for getting everything together with it. Much less turbulence on takeoff and no dropped wings! However, don't forget weak links must be installed on the sailplane end of the new 2000 lb tow rope for both the Schweizer ring and the Tost ring setups.
Saturday got started with 5/8 cloud cover around 3200' AGL. Nonetheless Dave led the pack in the ASW 19 marking the lift for Greg and myself and we were able to squeeze out some nice flights. Dave in 19 once again defied gravity and stayed up until he decided he had had his fill. Greg put away the lark and flew the 1-26 beautifully only landing because he had to leave for work. I launched in 15H twice and got some great practice. Vince showed up and we pulled out the 2-33 for some flights. It's always great to have both Schweizers in the sky. The last glider landed past 5 pm. It was a great day of flying. Smiles all around.
Sunday was another beautiful day but without clouds. Gentle breezes around 5 kts and a strong inversion at 3500' with weak but workable lift that started around 1 pm. Dave as PIC and Eric the "making it all possible" tow pilot started out the day at 12:30 pm with two tows in the Lark to bring our newest member David up for some soaring. No lift yet but beautiful take off and landings. David seemed like he was loving it! David then got some refreshing on running ground ops and helped to launch myself, Stefan and Dave around 1:45pm. The Lark was not hanging well with the spotty narrow lift and came down after a valiant effort by Stefan. I fared only a bit better in 15H and landed after an hour or so. However, wanting more, I quickly got a relight around 3:30pm from Eric w/ David running the wing. Eric brought me right to the sweet spot which Dave had centered and we again did some great team soaring late into the afternoon. At about 4:45 pm I was in 15H at 1300' AGL headed North to enter the pattern. I was hoping for a longer flight but figured the lift was done. Before pulling the brakes though I spotted a Turkey vulture soaring above the dairy farm SW of Merlin at about 1000' ft. Hoping for just a small flight extension I redirected towards him and felt a bump. After some scratching around I linked up and together we climbed to 3000' ft. Nothing quite describes the feeling of sharing a thermal with a bird that effortlessly out climbs you! The battery in 15H was dead so I used my cellphone to call Eric to make sure they weren't concerned just as I topped out around 5:15pm. I landed after 5:30pm smiling ear to ear.
Click here to see some of our flight traces. We use various GPS enabled devices to record our flights and submit them to the OnLine Contest site.
MSA - Officer of the Day. The OD will generally post the highlights of the day's operations in the blog.