Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wet and not Wild

Here's a picture to ruin a glider pilot's weekend. It's instructive (and, at least for me, fun) to see why.

Ridge soaring in northern Utah depends on a west wind, but those bands of cirrus are coming from the east. According to the Rapid Update Cycle model sounding, the wind at the top of the ridge will be out of the northeast at about 10 knots. There will be no ridge soaring this weekend. Worse, the airport will be on the back side of the ridge, so a glider trying to get back from the ridge will be flying in sinking air. Yucko.

The east wind is too weak to produce wave lift.

The high cirrus means that the ground won't heat up enough to generate thermals.

My soaring season began last week with four flights in the club Blanik. First came a tow to about 1700' above ground level, where I did some turns and stalls before entering the traffic pattern to land. No surprises. There was a little lift, which was encouraging, and while the surface wind was from the northwest and a little gusty, the wind above the airport was from the west.

Then came two quick patterns. I concentrated on pattern emergencies, which would mean either rope breaks or tow plane problems.

Now I was legal to carry passengers, so I moved into the back seat while a prospective club member got into the front. We took a high tow up to the ridge. The ridge was working weakly, and we flew the ridge for almost an hour. Then, as is often the case, all of a sudden there was no ridge lift to be found. The day had died.

We still had plenty of altitude, so we fooled around over the city, looking for sources of thermals from Wal-Mart (big heat generator) to the university (lots of hot air there) to the skating rink (which often generates a thermal, for no reason that we can discern). We had some periods of zero sink, but nothing worth circling in. There was one weak thermal right over the airport. We were down to around 900 feet, a little low for trying to circle in it; I tried it because any sink we found would only make us use a different runway. But there wasn't enough lift, so we landed.

We had flown more than an hour in weak conditions. I think it was a good introduction to soaring.

But not today. Today there is a cabinet door hinge to replace, a sticky door knob to look at, and dinner to cook. Cirrus clouds above may kill the soaring, but things bode well for something on the grill.

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