February 23, 2010

Current Projects

I just wanted to provide a status of what I'm working on and apologize for missing last few weeks worth of posts, there is a great post in the works based on an interview with Chip Garner; so stay tuned for that.

My current projects:
1) I'm sanding the wings of my Libelle, fixing some poor repairs previously done, sealing aileron gaps, sealing aileron root holes, improving spoiler fit, replacing all spoiler springs, making tip wheel fairings, improving the canopy seal, fixing some fuselage scratches, adding tabulator tape to the rudder, making a tail skid, fixing some trailer issues, and making some improvements to the cockpit to increase comfort.

2) Developing a detailed simulation of an ASW-20 to evaluate different digital vario filtering schemes.

3) Planning for the upcoming season's contests - US Sports Class Nationals, Avenal season opener

And there are always a million other things on the back burner. In an upcoming post I will detail all the mods I made to my Libelle, and talk about the season goal sheet I'm developing for myself.

Keep soaring,

February 13, 2010

Changing Gears - Continued

Last week I posed the question, "Why would you need to change gears while flying?" and provided a list of reasons why I though you would have to. Tony Condon, a Cherokee II pilot (who's soaring blog can be read here) also provided his own reasons for changing gears. Below I address a few of those reasons and provide anecdotal evidence from my own flying.

Good Reasons for changing gears:

The sky ahead is blue.

I imagine this is the most common reason for changing gears during flight, and the easiest to see coming. It happened to me on a 500km triangle task on my way to the first turn point; the last 50km was out in the blue after a leg under good cloud development and reliable lift. The approach was simple because it was easy to see the problem coming, which is important to realize in addressing the other reasons for changing gears - if you are aware of the changes ahead you can start to plan early. In this instance, the solution was to climb as high as possible before heading out into the blue and switch from flying cloud references to following ground references. Dial back the MacCready and turn around and retreat before you are too low to make it back into an area of known good lift. Keep in mind when flying into the blue there are three reasons why the sky is blue; 1) the lift doesn't go as high as it did in the area of clouds, 2) the dew point is lower and the lift goes just as high, 3) there is little or no lift. On my flight, it turned out that the lift was just stopping 500' lower than in the area of clouds. That portion of the leg was still slower but I made the turnpoint.

The last thermal was broken at 8000'.

This one came form a very interesting learning experience; it required connecting a lot of different information together to develop a good reason to change gears and slow down. The sky was clearly rocking, good cu all over with good vertical development but no hint at over development. The cloud tops were leaning to the north east but I was showing wind more out of the north west. Cloud base appeared to be at 9500'-10,000', but climbing through 8000' the lift was broken and weak, about 2-3 knots below the rest of the climb. I realized, after ignoring the sings for an hour, that there was a shear layer at 8000' and if I could break through 8000' the lift would be much better and as an added bonus the wind would be better aligned with my leg. So I changed gears by slowing down and struggling through the shear layer, once above 8000' the lift picked up markedly. I was then forced to shrink my working band so that I would not drop below 8000'.

I am nervous.

Death Valley has an intimidating name which conjures up images of a very formidable place for a glider pilot to fly over. When your landing options are Furnace Creek or Stove Pipe Wells you consider all other options seriously. On a straight out flight from Tehachapi, Ca for the 2010 Dust Devil Dash, I had to make an even more difficult decision. I needed to cross the valley north east of Death Valley - 35 miles of inaccessible desert with the retrieve option being a helicopter for you and a 3 day expedition for the glider on ATVs and 4 wheel drive trucks. In this situation, no matter how good the clouds look are how strong the lift is, it's reasonable to change gears, slow down and stay high.

Bad reasons for changing gears:

I needed to make up lost time.

This happens to me more than I would like to admit. If you set a goal for your flight, and maybe it's a bit reaching or an over call for the day, it easy to blame yourself for falling behind and try to make up for it by doing the completely wrong thing in poor conditions; change gears and fly faster. There is only one optimal speed for every condition, and that speed doesn't change because you are flying poorly or because you need to fly faster to make your turnpoint or goal.

The final point is that there are good and bad reasons to change gears - good reasons are based on lots of information gathered from all resources available, bad reasons often come from internal emotions or rational independent of all the information available to the pilot. If you only eliminate all the bad reasons for changing gears from your flying you will be making a significant improvement.

Keep soaring, no matter what gear you're in!

February 7, 2010

Changing Gears - Community Comments Requested!

I'm trying something different this week. I would like to ask all the great pilots who have been reading my blog to help contribute. Below is a list of all the good and bad reasons I can think of that a pilot would change gears while soaring. By change gears I mean, fling more or less aggressively, staying high or pushing low, increasing or decreasing MacCready, keep flying or land. I don't imagine that my list is complete, so I would like you to add a comment below with all the ones I have missed. During the week I'll collect the comments and amend the list with your thoughts then select a few to provide anecdotes for from my own flying or from flights I have read about. If you are feeling ambitious, provide an anecdote as well! Note that there is a list of good reasons, and a list of bad reasons; I'll comment on that later.

Good reasons for changing gears:
The sky ahead is showing:
  1. More clouds
  2. Fewer clouds
  3. No clouds
  4. Cloud bases rising
  5. Cloud bases lowering
  6. Thunderstorms building
  7. Thunderstorm blow-off
  8. Cloud streeting
The wind is:
  1. A greater headwind/tailwind
  2. more/less favorable for ridge/wave/thermal-ridge/thermal-wave
  3. Showing a gust front
Last thermal was:
  1. Weaker than expected
  2. Stronger than expected
  3. Broken
  4. Broken above/below/at altitude x
  5. The next thermal is expected to be:
  6. Weaker than expected
  7. Stronger than expected
  8. Broken above/below/at altitude x
  9. Unknown
  1. Hasn’t started yet
  2. Is about to stop
  3. Has changed, i.e. shear line at end of day, ridge to thermal, thermal to wave, etc.
The sun:
  1. Has changed angles, i.e. high to low, east facing to west facing
  2. Will/Has become blocked
  3. Is about to set
Your altitude is:
  1. Too low for comfort
  2. Too high to use
  3. Above/in/below the working band
The Terrain:
  1. Will/Has become unlandable
  2. Will/Has changed, i.e. mountains/ plains, grasslands/forest, dry/wet
You are:
  1. Lost
  2. Tired
  3. Daydreaming
  4. Nervous
  5. Uncomfortable
Other gliders are:
  1. Reporting weak/booming lift
  2. Appear lower/higher ahead
  3. Returning lower/higher
  4. Deviating from course
  5. On the ground
  6. Gaggling
  7. Easy to see
Bad reasons for changing gears:
  1. Make up lost time
  2. Make more distance
  3. Fly further/faster than competitor
  4. Recover from a mistake
  5. Frustration
  6. Impatience

February 3, 2010

New Resource for Importing Existing Turnpoint Files to Google Maps

There was a questions that came up at the convention I hadn't answered yet, that I would like to address now:

Q) I have a number of turnpoint/waypoint/landout files used in flight on my PDA, how do I get them into my Google My Maps?

A) Prior to my discovery of this tool, I was only able to do this with tools I have developed that wouldn't share well. But, thanks to Lynn Alley and his website http://www.soaringdata.info/ there is now a tool for everyone to use, and better yet it's free and it's online! Here is how to take data you already have and map it in Google My Maps.

1) Start by downloading this file from the World Wide Turnpoint Exchange, saving it to your desktop for easy access later. I have chosen a .cup file but other waypoint formats will work. Read this for more info.
2) Go to http://www.soaringdata.info/ in the first box, click on the words "this link".
3) Use the Browse button and open the .cup file saved in step 1.
4) Select, "Include only turnpoints in the output" and/or "Use FAA/NASR aiport names" if you want.
***I believe the website has a small error so the next steps are a work around to be able to select, ".KML (for Google Earth)" in Box 4, which at this step should still be unselectable***
5.a) Input a local airport identifier in Box 1. If you downloaded the .cup from step 1, try using L94 (Mountain Valley Airport in Tehachapi, CA)
5.b) Select a maximum waypoint count of 5 (doesn't really matter)
*** At this point the ".KML (for Google Earth)" in Box 4 should be a selectable option***
5) Select ".KML (for Google Earth)" in Box 4
6) Type in "Soar" in option 5 and select Submit
7) You will get a popup that prompts you to save a .zip file; save it to your desktop. Once the download is complete, unzip the .kml file.
8) Go to Google Maps and Select My Maps and create a new map or open an existing map you want to add to (see my Feb 1st post for details) Then select the Import option, and brows to the .kml file and select OK.

In just a few seconds all your waypoints/landouts/airports will be imported into your map. You are 90% of the way to a great soaring resource for your local club. Here is an example map that should look just like the one you created following the steps above.

View US Airports from NASR Data in a larger map

As always, I'm available for questions.

Keep soaring,

February 1, 2010

Using Google My Maps for Soaring

My presentation at the SSA convention was a big success, thanks to all the pilots who were able to attend and provide support by asking questions and creating a good discussion. As promised I have embedded the presentation below; scroll over the edge of the presentation and click to change pages and all the links work, so feel free to click away.
SSA Convention Presentation - Google Maps Tools

A few questions came up during the presentation that I would like to address here:

Q1) Can I overlay sectional maps on Google Maps?

A1) Yes, but it's not easy. At the time I didn't know if it could be done, but after a little research I have discovered that yes it can be done, but the complexity is very limiting. The best description I have found is here. Note that you would need an image of the sectional you want to overlay. Then you need to create a .kml file that contained a link to the image and the geotag information on where the image should be placed on the earth. What I would suggest is to use your map in conjunction with other online tools, like the website skyvector or RunwayFinder to view sectionals online and make notes on your soaring map.

Q2) Can I embed a video into my map?

A2) Yes, and it can be very helpful. A description on how to add video to the map can be found here. As an example I have added a video to the Evergreen Soaring - Local Spots of a local pilot, Brad Hill, digging himself out of a hole behind Higgins that is a good example of how to fly the local conditions. Select the light blue thermal marker.

After the presentation I had a number of people asking me how to find the maps I showed during the presentation. Prior to the convention I had been relying on providing direct links to my maps via email, however it became clear that a more universal solution is needed. So I am working on getting the 2 maps I have been working on linked in the Worldwide Soaring Turnpoint Exchange. Stay tuned for an update. Until then use the search option and hope for the best.

There were also a lot of comments about specifications for the format of the maps I have made and the maps I hope everyone else will make. I have put a fair amount of thought into what the maps should look like so I would like to suggest a standard that everyone should follow here:

1) Good thermal generators or ridges that generate lift should be marked with yellow balloons, yellow lines, or yellow polygons. Try to give detailed information on the lift source.

2) Airports should be marked with a Blue line showing the approximate runway heading and length.

3) Landout fields should be marked in purple showing the usable landing area.

4) Danger areas, caution areas, or areas that consistently lack lift should be marked with red balloons, red lines, or red polygons.

5) Try to add as many pictures from the air and on ground as possible.

6) Since this map is intended to be studied, not used in flight feel, free to add as much information as possible.

I hope that this helps everyone set up a map of their local soaring site! As always, if you have questions please post them and I'll get an answer out as soon as I can.

Keep soaring,