GLIDER CHRONICLES 2011 – June 20th : Solo to Bronze

June 20th to 24th has been holiday for me at Lasham where I decided to enroll on a week-long course called “Solo to Bronze”.

The “Bronze” in the title refers to the British Gliding Association Bronze Badge which means that (a) If conditions are suitable I do not need to be checked out every day by an instructor before going solo; and (b) I can start thinking about going cross country, once the crops have been harvested – more on that later. Getting a bronze suntan is optional and depends upon the weather.

The training required to get to Bronze is part of the Lasham Red Card syllabus. The Red Card goes further to include the BGA Cross-Country Endorsement plus some extra training. Great! It was only on the Monday morning I found out that actually the Solo to Bronze course is more of an extended flying check, i.e. the skills test and exam for the Bronze. Just as well I have been doing that soaring in the previous weeks since I had not consciously got myself ready for this. No pressure then. Although John and Ed, our instructors, said they would obviously be tailoring the training to our individual skill levels.

[UPDATE: The actual badge arrived in the post on 22nd July. Scroll to the bottom for pic. I can now wear the badge and indulge in the special handshake!]

Three K13s in a row ready for the first day's flying.

DAY 1: Mon 20th June:
Conditions: Overcast. Moderate to Strong crosswind from the south-east.

The first day dawned overcast and moderately windy. A perfect day for a red card course! You can see why from some of the initial red card items that need signing off:

Lesson 38: Circuit Planning & Landing Revision.
a) Strong winds (RED SOCK) including self briefing.
b) Observed solo spot landing +/- 40m.
c) Side-slip approaches.

Lesson 39: Aerotow and Winch Revision
a) Aerotow signals
b) Solo on aerotow
c) Descent on tow
d) Winch – strong winds (RED SOCK)
e) Winch – launch failures – short field

Lesson 40: Stall and Spin Revision
a) Spin recovery after full turn on predetermined heading
b) Spin from failed winch launch
c) Spin entry from steep turns
d) Observed solo spin and recovery

Lesson 41: Thermal Soaring
a) Efficient centring
b) Joining crowded thermals

So John - Do I have to wear the silly hat? Well Bill, only if you want to be a REAL glider pilot like that guy.

John and Bill got to grips with discussing the merits of wearing silly looking hats! Sorry John, just joking, mine looks just as bad. In the end poor old Bill got a cold and only flew for 2 days of the week.

My first flight of the day went fairly well. We managed to find some lift and thermalled with another glider, then did a spot(-ish) landing.

On the next flight I managed to mess up a supposedly short-field cable-break. This was an exercise to simulate having a cable-break at an airfield smaller than Lasham.

I got so bothered about making sure I was going to land inside the notional short field boundary that after the simulated cable break – initiated by John releasing the cable from the back – I did not wait for the speed to build up. – This is a cardinal sin!

Of course John caught my mistake at which point I had a neural short circuit about having made such a booboo and due to brain overload decided to land straight ahead anyway. Plenty of room at Lasham, but it was in the field next door to the make-believe short airfield. For my sins I was invited to “share” it with the other folks on the course during the end-of-day debriefing and noticed a number of knowing smiles on the faces of the instructors.

Bill and John get launched after waiting for the K21 to return far enough from its "cable break walk".

OK – I know in my head that as you are learning new skills your previously learnt ones can disappear for a short while. But to have made such a mistake. I suppose this will happen when turning head knowledge into practical wisdom – but why do I have to feel like a twerp to do it? Well I guess the point is that at least I won’t forget it in a hurry.

Instructor Notes:
Satisfactory good landing. Remember sequence: Lower nose, count speed to minimum then decision and action. Good winch launches and circuits.
Next: aerotow and spins.

Personal Notes:
– Count the increasing speed out loud when waiting for the it to increase after a cable-break.
– Thermalling technique of shifting the circle centre by using an elongated oval pattern.
– Greater than 40° bank and the wing lift reduces dramatically.

Strong winds as shown by the horizontal windsock.

DAY 2: Tue 21st June:
Conditions: Overcast. Strong crosswind from the south-west.

An even windier day on Tuesday. Time for some crosswind landings. These involved keeping the glider straight down the main runway while we had a crosswind from the south. Great fun! Although we would have liked a stronger crosswind.

The sun came out a bit later and there was some lift, though gusty, but we got blown downwind a fair way as we were climbing. Managed to get to 2000ft from 1300ft. On the second flight we got a great launch height of 2000ft despite being on a cross-runway which meant that the cable length used was shorter than normal. However though the clouds looked like there was lift we failed to connect. Shame.

Instructor Notes:
Mushing stalls, wing drop and stall speed increase in turn. Crosswind landing well handled. Spin of failed winch launch simulation and recovery on heading. Strong wind conditions. Next sideslips, solo spin and spot landing.

Personal Notes:
– Don’t get low speed on the top of the launch.
– Too fast signal – relax the pressure on the stick rather than lower the nose otherwise the speed increases even more.
– Keep the stick back when precipitating a spin – otherwise it can become a spiral dive.

Winch launch beside one of the smaller cross-runways.

Explanation: Stalls, mushing and otherwise
Under normal circumstances, stalls are something you don’t want to happen. In normal flight the glider keeps flying because the air moves over the wings. If you slow down too much, there comes a point where the wings stop giving any lift and the glider or aeroplane falls out of the sky. This is definitely not a good idea if you were not doing it on purpose.

Thus a significant amount of training concentrates on how an aircraft stalls and doing them on purpose so that the trainee pilot learns to recognise the signs. Three possible types of stall are:

a) Mushing stall : Where the entry into the stall is a gradual decrease of speed so if you were not on the ball you might not notice it. You end up losing height rapidly but the nose of the aircraft stays where it is. A gradual stall without a nose drop.

b) Nose drop stall : This is much more noticeable and involves, as the name implies, having a sudden drop of the nose at the stall. It can show just how ineffectual the elevator becomes (i.e. the control that normally raises the nose – at the stall it doesn’t ) and how quiet it becomes due to reduced flying speed.

c) Wing drop stall : This occurs because one wing will stall just before the other and results in one wing falling before the other. The trouble is if you try and use the stick to lift the falling wing you have a problem – the dropped wing will have already stopped giving lift. You then want to the raise it? You mean you want the wing to give you more lift to raise it? This makes the situation worse and will cause it to stall even more deeply with other unwanted effects. You can only raise the dropped wing once the aircraft has been unstalled.

As an additional point – if only one wing stalls this becomes a spin and the aircraft can move in all 3 axes at once, i.e. Pitch (nose up/down), Roll and Yaw (movement of the glider left or right). Yes – We also do spins intentionally during training and in this course must do one solo, being observed from the ground.

Someone was actually flying in this! It was the last flight though.

DAY 3: Wed 22nd June:
Conditions: Overcast. Rain. Strong wind from the south-west.

The pilots on the “Solo to Bronze” course did not fly initially, but some brave – or optimistic – souls were flying as you can see from the photo, though not for long. After this photo was taken it really started pouring rain and so it was an Exam Day! I had spent the previous 2 nights blitz revising from the recommended text “Bronze & Beyond” by John McCullagh. I managed to do well in the exams and got most of the paperwork for the soaring flights signed off as well. Luckily the background training from my powered SLMG (self Launching Motor Glider) NPPL helped with the revision.

Unfortunately I ended up getting a headache in the afternoon and so went home early. Apparently it cleared up later and some flying was done, though by the sounds of it it was mainly cable-break practice.

Aerotow launch initial run.

DAY 4: Thu 23rd June:
Conditions: Sunny with moderate but slightly gusty wind from the north-west

A busy day for me. Aerotow check, solo spin and spot landing in the morning. Field landing exercise in the afternoon.

First flight of the day was in thermic conditions, i.e. fairly turbulent, and was an action packed aerotow with the following exercises:
– Boxing the tow : see my description in this post.
– Descent on tow : involving use of airbrakes as soon as you see the tug go below the horizon.
– Close Airbrake Signal : waiting for the tug aircraft to quickly waggle its rudder – this being the signal to tell me to close my airbrakes.
– Release Tow Signal : waiting for the tug to rock its wings, at which point I had to release the tow rope.

Aerotow launch airborne.

This was incredibly hard work. I could tell in the initial stages of the tow that I was in for an interesting time since it was hard just to maintain position behind the tug, requiring some very strong control inputs. The boxing tow exercise was then even harder!

Once released from tow it was time for spins. But this time recovering onto specific headings. Hmmm. The recoveries were fine, but coming out on the right heading needs some practice.

After that it was time for sideslips. The practice ones in mid-flight were not as good as they could have been. My excuse? The thermic conditions. Mainly because when I did it for real on the approach, it all went fine. John had to remind me to get in really close to the airfield though for the final run so we started up at 1000ft just a hundred yards or so it seemed downwind of the perimeter of the airfield. By using full airbrake and sideslipping in we came down like a brick and I managed to nail the speed just right as we came out of the sideslip. Bang on 60 knots. Thank goodness for that! I at least managed to get something right.

On getting out of the glider my shirt was completely wet with perspiration! But no rest for the wicked because for the next flight it was time to go off and do a solo spin followed by a spot landing, to within 40 metres of the front of the launchpoint bus. To be honest, that was not too hard after that first flight.

After all that it was nice to be able to relax a bit and just help at the launch point, hooking on cables and retrieving gliders. Bliss!

Personal Notes (morning):
– solo spin and spot landing
– full aerotow signals plus descent on tow plus boxing the wake –hard work

Falke ready and waiting.

Well, that was the morning, but the afternoon was destined to be just as hard since it was time to have a practice field landing exercise which meant getting out the Falke motorglider. Although I have my NPPL licence to fly this, I would be pretending it was a glider. The idea was to climb to 2000 ft, then bring the engine back to idle while doing a field landing practice approach. Then we would climb away again to fly a bit further for the next practice.

At the time of this exercise, practically all the fields had full grown crop. This is why ab-initio cross-country wannabees like myself are not allowed to fly between mid-June and mid-July until enough crops have been harvested. By that time the pilot has a half-decent chance of finding a suitable landing field, should the need arise.

Personal Notes (afternoon):
Field landing exercise:
a: Fly downwind to cover the most ground when searching for a field.
b: Pick a field big enough.
c: Avoid rapeseed, linseed and waving crop.
d: Don’t be afraid to land in a crop if nothing else is available.
e: Don’t fixate on the chosen field if another better alternative presents itself.
f: Fly the circuit as though at Lasham – imagine two or three fields to be the full the landing area the size of Lasham.

DAY 5: Fri 24th June:
Conditions: Sunny with moderate wind from the west

Unfortunately on Friday John, one of our instructors, came down with a cold he got from Bill. Obviously making comments about silly hats is harmful to your health! He made a quick appearance in the morning to sign of what he had covered on our red cards and returned back to get some well-deserved rest. A big thank you to John for all his hard work. A big thank you also to Ed for his hard work and picking up where John left off for my training.

Luckily I had only one thing remaining to sign off on my red card, the dreaded short field cable-break and consequent low-ish turn. It was also time to break out the single-seater Grob 102 Astirs to try a bit of soaring. We got all the gliders ready and over to the launchpoint, then Ed, the remaining instructor, got me into a K13 to try a short field exercise. As it turned out I found myself a lot more relaxed and it all went well. Possibly feeling a bit more confident after the hard work of the day before.

After that I managed to get around 2 hours single seater soaring before the approaching warm front stopped the sun reaching the ground and closed the lift down.

But now I had my Bronze items all signed off. All that was required was a countersignature from the CFI and to send it off to the BGA in the post. Yeehaa! I am now only a slightly more experienced pilot but still not yet ready for cross-country since I need my Red Card signed off and the crop fields to be harvested. All in good time.

In the meantime I shall be doing local soaring flights in the Baby Grob 102 Astirs to get up to the 10 hours needed before converting to fly the Discus single seaters.

Anyway this been a long enough post, but I hope you have found it interesting. I leave you with a 10 shot picture of a winch launch. The pictures were taken at half second intervals so they should play back in about the same timing.

10 shots taken of a winch launch at half-second intervals.

The Bronze Badge. Small but beautiful.

UPDATE on 22nd July: After getting all the signatures on the relevant form I eventually sent it off and got the badge back in the post. So for completeness here is a pic of said badge. All I have to do now is find out what the special handshake is to go with it!

Coming Next:
A report from the subsequent Saturday Lasham Youth evening which saw a flypast of some wonderfully restored graceful old-timer, sorry- Vintage, gliders.

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