Benalla Storm

Benalla Storm

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Turning my World Upside Down

One friend I made in Benalla just happens to be one of the most amazing aerobatics pilots in Germany.  This summer David Friedrich will be representing at the Advanced Class Worlds in Poland.  One night I managed to convince him to take me for a flight!  Not only was it incredibly beautiful, but it was also a great learning experience!  It was also really neat to see another side of what amazing things people can do in a glider.  David was intent that this flight would not only be a fun ride for me, but also a great learning opportunity.  He drew out the pattern we would fly, explained to me all of the sequences, and ran me through the typical pre-flight preparation that an aerobatics pilot does.  Tres cool.  Then we took our launch to 5000'.  I think the pictures and video can better tell the story than I can in words from here...

Video on Facebook at:!/video/video.php?v=186739084699527
(only works if logged in)

Mountain Meeting

This flight will definitely go down as the coolest way to meet up with a friend...EVER.  

Friday night I called up Craig Collings to make arrangements.
Me: Hey Craig. Planning to fly tomorrow?
Craig: Yup.
Me: Sweet. Wanna meet halfway between Benalla and Mount Beauty?
Craig: Sounds good. I'll text you when I launch. See you in the air! 

Sure enough we managed to find each other somewhere in the air about halfway between our two launch points.  This location also happened to be on the edge of the hills, so luckily for me I didn't have to do too much navigation by myself.  Craig ended up being a most excellent tour guide.  "On your left in       Mountain."  "See that river on the right?  That's the        River."  And so on.  It was an excellent opportunity for me to get aquainted with the landscape from the air, learning what the mountains really looked like, not just from the map.  We ended up venturing past the Mount Beauty town site and got on top of Mount Feathertop!  A few people were hiking on the peak and gave us a nice wave.  It was exhilarating to experience the mountains in this new way!  Such beauty and energy which can be captured!  Plus the increased danger of mountain flying brought a new focus to my flying.  I think at this point I had begun to be a little complacent in the flats.  A new challenge was just the thing I needed!  Eventually I found myself task-saturated learning to fly in the newly-felt mountain air and pulled the pins on Feathertop.  I didn't want to put myself in a dangerous situation.  Craig safely led me away from the peak and flew with me back out of the hills.  On our way out we gave Mount Buffalo a greeting.  We were a little low over the peak, and finding a good climb Craig turned into a tight thermal.  I followed, not quite realising how low I was as I turned away from the top.  However, coming around the turn I was startled to be greeting by big massive CLiFF and an absolutely gorgeous waterfall!

Women In Gliding Week

The Women In Gliding Week was a really great week.  I finally had the opportunity to interact with a large number of female pilots! We could sit and discuss "womanly" topics.  Attendees of the week had a large range of skill levels.  We also had the opportunity to be coached and instructed by some key people.  Another neat thing was that I was surrounded for a week by a group of individuals who were very focused to get out to the field and fly every day, and were optimistic about taking advantage of every good bit of available flying weather!  Some very cool gliders made their trek to the field that week including a Ka6! The one aspect of the week that I found challenging was that the group mentality stood in stark contrast to what I had just experienced at the Nationals.  What I mean by this is that at the Nationals I constantly felt inexperienced and positively challenged by better pilots.  In contrast during the WIG Week I felt as though I was the one challenging others.  An interesting turning of the tables.  However, I would most definitely encourage any female pilots who find the male world of flying daunting to take an opportunity to attend a Women in Gliding Seminar in the near future!

The first day of WIG was my best flight.  Despite having just finished the Nationals, one day off of flying left me feeling energised and keen to fly!  I knew that it could potentially be the best day of the entire week, and I wanted to make the most of it! I launched around 1 and set off on the task that was agreed upon by the group consensus from the WIG girls.  The task was set as Urangeline-Conargo-Benalla.  Initially I had been preparing myself to fly with some other pilots.  Unfortunately, with my keeness to set out, I found myself flying alone for the duration of the flight.  The first leg to Urangeline was slower than I had hoped, and I didn't get above 4500'.  The second leg to Conargo was a struggle and I soon found myself quite low before finding a corker climb all the way up to one of my highest altitudes of the season, 7500'.  Despite the killer climb the day was coming to its end and I didn't want to be caught landing out on the first day so I turned for Benalla early near Urana and had a great run home from such a high altitude.  This turned out to be the best flight by anyone for the duration of the week.

I also had the opportunity during WIG to have a coaching flight with Tobi Geiger.  We took an ASK 21 for an afternoon flight into the mountains.  This was my first foray into the hills beyond what I had experienced at Nationals.  It was great to be in the cockpit with a pilot who loves mountain flying and is so experienced with it!  I learned a lot about the general rules of mountain flying.  I was also shown how big of a safety margin I should have when flying close to the hills, and what my safe outlanding options and choices were.  We were reluctantly allowed to take the glider for a short three-hour flight.  Unfortunately the conditions were not stellar.  Despite our most valiant efforts (okok, Tobi's most valiant efforts), we were forced to land out at Wangaretta where we patiently waited for an aero-retrieve from Jeremy Birkbeck.

Overall, WIG was a great experience! Thanks so much to Louise O'Grady for putting in so much work to organise the week, instructors, gliders, and our awesome PINK shirts!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Club Class Nationals - Days 4, 5, 6

I am always surprised when people comment that I haven't updated my blog for awhile.  I never realised how many people looked at this!  I am sorry that I have not been keeping up-to-date with my flying adventures, and will be endeavouring to have everything updated within the week.

Day 4 - January 19

The task for this day was set as a triangle task with Rennie and Balldale Silo as the two turnpoints.  The nominal was set as 210 km.  It was another low day and several groups of gliders met up at various points along the flight.  Once again I encountered difficulties getting over the Murray River, getting caught up low and north of the river for quite some time.  I was very pleased this day to make it home and enjoyed a relaxing poolside evening with friends.

Day 5 - January 20

As the task was being set at the pilot meeting I began to shake in my boots:  the task for this day was by far the biggest task I have ever encountered in a contest (nominal set at 417 km), and that was not even the scary part!  The first turnpoint was set at Mt Buller, a mountain known to be difficult to find a direct route towards.  At this point I had not yet flown in the mountains at all! For a flat-land pilot this was quite intimidating.  Luckily for me my mentor is an avid mountain pilot, and took the time to go over the map with me before we left the briefing room, highlighting safe routes and outlanding options.

The first leg into the mountains went surprisingly well.  Although cloud bases were quite low, I found a nice street going down along the range above Mt Samaria, just enough to clip me into the first turnpoint!  As I turned towards the second turnpoint towards Euroa things quickly began to slow down.  I got caught low just west of Mt Strathbogie, and was not confident that I had enough altitude to get safely over the peak (although in retrospect, I definitely could have made it).  This portion of the flight cost me quite a bit of time and made me determined to become comfortable in a mountain flying environment.  However, as I came safely out of the hills I realised that this challenge had been an incredible learning experience!  Although the task into the mountains had seemed intimidating when it was first set, I had conquered it!

From this point the flight going back into the flats seemed quite straight-forward.  I caught a pretty good run between Euroa and Tocumwal before turning towards Corowa, Winton, and home!  Although my standing in relation to other pilots was not particularly great this day, looking introspectively I was quite stoked with my performance!

Day 6 - January 21 

Ahhh! The last day of the contest!  What a bittersweet kind of day!  The task was set Oaklands-Rand-Moyhu (Yay! No Winton!) with a nominal of 294 km.  Given the conditions of the day, it was quite the task.  We sat on the grid for a long time and I truly did not believe we were going to be launched.  The sky started to over-develop early.  Eventually we were flung into the sky, and the last day of the contest got started!

I travelled slowly along the first leg of the task, being cautious of the conditions and aware of the growing storm to the north.  I did not want to repeat a mistake from Canadian Nationals where I under-estimated the energy a storm sucks in and the amount of sink encountered in rain.  As I approached the first turnpoint I had to make a decision to turn upwind along a cloud street or downwind along another.  I opted to turn upwind, which for a good portion of time truly seemed like a poor decision as I got stuck in one place for a time without gaining a significant amount of altitude.  However, eventually I realised that the winds had pushed me into the area I would have flown directly to had I gone downwind, and I realised again the importance of turning upwind.  

I flew as deep into the first turnpoint as I dared before turning towards Rand.  At this point I was flying away from the storm and was determined to go as fast as I possibly could!  I came to the conclusion afterwards that I should always fly as though a massive wall of rain and lightning were coming towards me!  I flew very fast along this leg, and kept complete focus on being very selective about which climbs I took: anything less than 4 knots was not good enough!  At the same time I found energy lines which allowed me to stay within the working band, and relatively near cloudbase.  Along this leg I spotted a few other gliders, but no one was really near enough to join up with.  I realised I was flying further and further south away from Rand, but due to the wall of rain did not have many options!  At one point I tried to make a turn towards Rand, but a huge burst of lightning in the storm convinced me to keep tracking a bit further south.

Eventually I decided I was high enough to make a quick mad dash into the circle.  I mentally marked my thermals and flew in and out of the rain (and turnpoint) as fast as I could!  Although I got wet, I felt that I was in fine form!  However, as I went south away from the storm I encountered dead air and then sink sink sink.  Once again I found myself scraping above a field just north of the Murray.  I was determined not to land out!  I fought and fought and eventually caught a climb strong enough to get me over the river.  With the help of some other gliders I found the good parts of several clouds and had a good run to the Moyhu turnpoint.  Worried that I would encounter a strong headwind on the way home I took more altitude than was perhaps necessary.  I really didn't want to land out on the last day!  I finished with a solid run home.

Contest Summary:

Overall I thought that the Club Class Nationals was a great contest!  Although it was disappointing not to fly in the first few days of the contest, it gave me a great opportunity to make some great friends and have a few adventures.  The rest of the contest went well and I learned an incredible amount about flying both by myself in the air and through my mentorship and instruction from Tobi.  I did a much better job at pacing myself mentally and physically through to the end.  Nats also gave me a very clear idea of what I wanted to work on to improve my flying during the rest of my season.  Thanks to everyone who made this contest a blast!  And lastly, to everyone who shared their wine on the final night : )