STUDY DIARIES: Dances with Cars

Since 1970 I, along with an old university friend, have wondered just why some people love speed.

In my younger years I used to race karts and until recently my conclusion had been that it was the experience of mastery – the wonderful feeling when you managed to power drift through a corner on just the right line, or that oh so elusive relaxed attention when a lap came out just right at a faster time than before.

But now I think I have found the answer, and surprisingly it has links to dance.

In a previous post I talked about how dancing, at its best, uses conscious movement to express our ‘true’ movement of thinking. Notice the use of the use of the word thinkING instead of thought, which could be construed as a fixed item rather than the mobile and dynamic activity that I am describing.

This ‘true’ movement is something some people want to express and dance is one form.

The other can also be driving or flying well.

In line with the previous post, to me it makes sense that we have an inner experience of our thinking being able to move instantaneously, and we feel good when we can manage to express it physically, whether it be with our bodies, or through a technological construct such as a car – or an aircraft. Indeed Ayrton Senna has been described as someone who could dance with the car.

So now I have a far better explanation of why I am such a petrol head, dancer and lover of flying!

But why is this post in the section of the study diaries?

If you read Scaligero or Steiner, their wisdom is predicated on developing a true experience of such a living, mobile, dynamic thinking. It is not something you can really put into words, which are fixed entities.

However it IS something we can experience.

The difficulty is that any characterization of it in fixed form, whether it be in words, pictures, or a materialistic science, will always – always – miss the point. Such expressions can dimly point to the living idea but the listener or spectator will always need to be active. They will have to re-enliven such fixed and dead forms with their own thinking in order to reproduce the living experience.

As I have said before, this is why Steiner and such authors are so hard to understand. In their writing they are purposely trying to short-circuit your analytical brain, which likes fixed constructs,  in order to try and help you move into the living experience of the idea.

GLIDER CHRONICLES 2011 – September 3rd : An Evening down on the Farm Strip

Thanks to the good organisation of one of our instructors – Farmer Dave – we recently had a rare chance to fly from a nearby field at a neighbouring farm. So a group of 25 or so of us, arrived literally “out of the blue”, and descended on a quiet field in the Hampshire countryside.

The actors in this particular play were:

Mr “Full Cat” Instructor
Farmer Dave. None of it would have happened without his untiring efforts.

The Tug
The recently refurbished Lasham Piper Pawnee crop duster tug aircraft G-TOWS, in its bright yellow livery.

G-TOWS Piper Pawnee Lasham Tug

The Tug Pilot
The amazingly highly experienced airline pilot Andy who was to demonstrate some phenomenal flying skills throughout the evening.

The Gliders
Two of the faithful Lasham ASK13’s. There was a reason we only took two as will soon become clear.

Some of the Lasham K13s parked up on a windy day.

The Instructors:
The normal crew of Saturday night youth instructors who were going to put the trainee pilots through their paces at a farm strip. A new experience for some of the instructors, so this was not your normal set of lessons.

The Trainees
About 20 or so young and old flyers champing at the bit to get flying in a small field.

Some of the crew.

Let me explain a little background here: Lasham is a wonderful airfield and a great place to fly, but it has just one problem when it comes to small field landing practice, it is BIG. The main runway is a mile long and so when we train for field landings we have to imagine we only have half or third of the airfield available. This is not the same as actually… errr… only having half or third of the size of field to land in for real!

Now normally it is only the youngsters who fly on the Saturday evenings, but such was the occasion that a number of adults who help out and are also trainee pilots, like yours truly, wanted to have a crack at practising a REAL field landing. Though to get us all a flight we would really need to get a move on – but I am getting ahead of myself.

As ever with these Chronicles, I like to start with the peace and calm before the day’s activities…

In the Calm of the Day
First off, since I was to be the Launch Point Controller for the evening, I wanted to go down to the strip and check it out, as well as timing how long it would take to drive there. This was to be of crucial importance since the 2 gliders were to be launched from Lasham and flown down to the strip fairly close together and some of us would have to turn up at the airfield BEFORE the first one landed in order to tow it out of the way before the second glider landed.

I did mention space was tight didn’t I? This meant we could only have one aircraft on the runway area at a time and would have to weave the 2 gliders and the tug around each other so they didn’t clash. This is why we could only take two gliders. Three would have been too many and would have held up proceedings.

As you can see Dave had put a special high tech farming blue plastic bag where he had mown out the taxiway for towing the gliders back from the landing point.

High tech farm style taxiway marker. My car is down at the launchpoint area in the distance.

Meeting at Lasham Clubhouse
After having sized up the field and got my head around how the evening’s proceedings were likely to unfold, it was back to the clubhouse to wait for everyone to turn up. By 5pm all were gathered and we had a quick briefing and decided which young pilots would fly the gliders over to the field. They were to be aerotow launched by some of us from Lasham who would come over later.

As soon as the decision was made I had 2 spare parachutes packed into my car and grabbed 4 passengers and we drove off to the farm strip toute de suite, pronto not to say immediatemente. As mentioned above, time was of the essence as we had to be there in order to tow the first glider arrival out of the way.

Fred towing back a glider to the launch area.

Arriving at the Farm Strip
It was just as well we didn’t hang about since as soon as had we parked up and got ourselves organised, the first K13 was starting its circuit. Thats the great thing with aircraft, they can go in a straight line!

So off I went with my car to the blue taxiway marker and got ready to tow it out of the way. It was Farmer Dave along with Ella. Because of the faster-than-walking-pace idle speed of my car (indeed of most cars) they had to trot back with the glider, despite me slipping the clutch.

Luckily just after that, Fred the Man with the Land Rover, turned up and as “The Controller” I volunteered him for glider retrieve duty. Another one of those unsung heroes.

Soon afterwards Andy arrived with the Pawnee and landed DOWNWIND. For those that don’t know, downwind landings are tricky because they take up so much more distance. They can increase the landing run by over half the length of an into wind landing. During the evening the amazing Andy was to do all of his landings downwind, a strategy that (a) saved time and (b) saved fuel since he didn’t have to land into wind and then backtrack down the runway towards the next waiting glider. Another factor was that all the aerotows were to only 1500ft, lower than the normal 2000-2500ft you would expect. Again this was to save on fuel and meant we managed to get 20 launches done without refuelling the Pawnee.

Fast Turnaround
If you were on the ball you would have noticed that I said I had packed 2 spare parachutes in the car. While the first landing glider was retrieved the NEXT pair to fly, instructor and trainee, donned these parachutes so that when the retrieved glider was back at the launch point, they could get straight in. The rest of the crew would then push the glider back to the launch position while they went through their pre-takeoff checks from the cockpit! Normally you would have time and space on the airfield at Lasham to do this in peace, but we had neither of those commodities. Needless to say we had to try and be calm about it so that the checks were done properly and were not rushed.

So within 5 minutes of having landed, we were able to launch the first glider from the strip before the second glider had landed. Wow! I could see this was going to be a busy evening, what with:

– Immediate retrieves of the landing gliders.
– Downwind tug landings.
– Parachutes ready for the next flyers.
– Pre-takeoff checks while being pushed back to the launch position.
– plus seamlessly slotting in the launching and landing aircraft.

And so it was, but also fantastic fun. I did not manage to get any action shots since I was running around like the proverbial Blue A**ed Fly arranging who was to fly next and then controlling the launches from the radio. However thanks to Jon, one of the instructors, most of the following shots should help give you some idea of the action packed evening.

Pawnee firing up for the next tow. Yours truly running up to attach the glider.

Alex "On Tow" with one of those flying grins.

The Pawnee waiting for the next launch while...

Farmer Dave gives some pre-launch advice to Joe and Tom.

Yours truly on finals to land in the field - hopefully.

We had many spectators during the evening who must of wondered what hit them with all the activity. I mean – how often do 20-30 people turn up with 3 aircraft for 2 hours – fly around the sky a bit – and then disappear into the dusk? Some of the locals even had a barbecue party up on the hill overlooking the field to watch the action from a safe distance.

So, once again, a fun filled evening, a great experience for young and old-ish alike, and that wonderful “Ahh” feeling at the end of the day.

What a great way to spend an evening in the fresh air and the beautiful English Hampshire countryside. THANKS FARMER DAVE.

The evening sun sets over the field after the last flight has left.

Theory Meets Practice – and saves lives

On Feb 15th I spent some time at Lasham where I fly gliders, helping out with the Lasham Cadets. Unfortunately the weather was not good enough for flying so we had some talks. The cadets had to give a talk about various aspects of the theory of flying gliders, whereas the adults gave a mixed set of talks about work they have done.

I want to focus on a particular talk given by one of the parents who is a professional in the aviation industry, previously having been a pilot, now also flying gliders. He was making a point about the importance of being able to link theoretical knowledge to practical application, in this case about the theory of flight and saving lives.

The subject he chose was the accident at Heathrow on 17th Jan 2008 where a Boeing 777 lost power before landing and just managed to touchdown inside the airport but short of the runway. He was particularly highlighting the actions of the captain and the effect it had on the outcome.

As a preamble it is worth noting the layout of the ground on the runway approach in question, 27L. From the airport boundary fence there is about a 1700ft gap before the runway paved surface starts. Here is a detailed map for the flying nerds among us. Just before the airfield fence you have the main A30 road which is a very busy highway. According to the AAIB report S1/2008 the aircraft touched down “some 1000ft short of the paved runway surface”, so there was only 700ft or so between the touchdown point and the road.

However, the key statement is in the interim report on page 4 where is says: “At 240 ft the aircraft commander selected flap 25 in an attempt to reduce the drag”. According to the person giving us the rainy day talk at Lasham, this action is not mentioned in any training, although it will be known by pilots because the effect of flaps is a basic theory of flight item.

Some Theory of Flight
So what are flaps and what do they do? On an airliner they are like big barn doors that, when down, extend from the rear of the wing. They allow the pilot to increase the lift from the wing at slower speeds. Depending upon the aircraft and their setting they also adjust the angle the aircraft flies at so that visibility is usually better for landing. In this case they had 30 degrees of flap which will have given them a slow flying, high visibility approach. Since with physics, you never get something for nothing, the down side will have been the high drag. In this case the autopilot will have been countering this drag with more thrust from the engines because at 30degrees the flaps were giving more drag than lift.

Handling the Emergency
Looking at the approach graph, when the engines gave up, although the glide angle was fairly constant, the airspeed was fluctuating and falling rapidly at some points. This could only go on for so long before the aircraft would have slowed down too far and fallen out of the sky, quite possibly onto the A30 dual carriageway. When the commander selected 25degrees of flap, although the glide angle steepened temporarily, it reduced the drag so that the airspeed stopped falling and the aircraft was able to glide a bit further than it would have done with the 30degrees setting. This would have taken courage because just after reducing the flap there was less lift from the wing so the aircraft lost some height before it stabilised on a better glide angle.

In any pilot’s training the effects of controls like this are covered. It is something that is relevant regardless of the type of aircraft you are flying. It works just as well for a glider as it does for a 200-400 seater airliner. Luckily what happened here was that the pilot had internalised the theory of flight enough to make the right judgement in an emergency, even though the initial response of the aircraft was going to be losing more height, something he would have known.

He managed to make that important link between theory and practice.

The Moral
Although technology can be made to work well a lot of the time, when an emergency occurs you will be vulnerable. A successful outcome will depend upon making the link between theory and practice. It will not be an academic exercise.