Monday, October 22, 2007

My First Glider Outlanding

Last weekend we went to Matamata for the extended labour day weekend. Thanks unions!

The Piako gliding club flys out of an airstrip just north of Matamata. Saturday the first day was packed, there were a lot of gliders on the field and there were some vintage aircraft pilots that were showing off.

For most of the day I was duty pilot, which means I write down the names and times of everybody else gliding. The Kaimai ranges just to the east were pumpin' and nobody wanted to come down. I don't blame them. Towards the end of the day the bad weather started rolling in and most people were putting their gliders away.

It was obvious that I wasn't going to get up in our club's Twin Astir MW, so I was unlikely going to go up. The Piako club invited me to go up in their PW6 with one of their instructors. I initially said no because I wanted to continue training in the glider I knew with an instructor from my club. Screw that, if it meant getting up in the air, I might as well give it a go.

They attached the tow rope and off we went before I knew it. The PW6 has a notch trim so I set that forward. It was heavy cross winds but the Pawnee powered us through the wind (as opposed to the tired old Cessna DML). I did most of the tow. I think at that point I remembered that the Taupo club has a PW6 where I had previous experienced with this same plane. It is much easier to fly than our club's Twin Astir.

We released at around 2500 feet and headed straight to the nursery hills. I'm not used to flying faster than 60 knots at Whenuapai so the instructor took over and we headed straight for the ridge at about 70-80 knots. When I say straight, I mean literally straight for the range, in what felt like a crash course trajectory and at very high speeds. You can hear the wind going much faster and the plane feels 'tighter'. About 1000 or so meters before the ridge the winds pick us up and send us up as it should.

We experienced some turbulence, but overall it was smooth upward sailing. We cruised over to the waterfall. I told the instructor that I was pretty happy just doing turns around the waterfall. We practiced emergency turns with air brakes, for getting out of cloudy conditions and losing height quickly. This is usually not a problem in Whenuapai, where we are typically eaking out additional height on fleeting thermals.

The weather was picking up, meaning more clouds were coming in and starting to 'sock-in' the range and the cloud base was starting to drop. We were told that we probably should not leave the range for the return flight at any height under 3500. Having reached cloud level we came off the range just short of that, hoping to pick up height on the way back. Unfortunately the cloud base was starting to drop clear across the valley.

All the while the instructor was chuckling in the back, 'the gps unit is no good when it's in the car, haha' Whah? I'm thinking as we are continually doing 'practice' emergency breaking through the clouds. The instructor takes over and we head back to the range to get more height and travel north along the ridge, closer to the field.

We get some more height and our bearings, we had passed north across the railroad crossing and tunnel. These landmarks are of course no use to me because I didn't check out a map before take-off. So I just kept telling the instructor every landmark I saw in hopes that he would remember how to get us back home.

We left the ridge the second time and headed back. I *think* we left the ridge at 3000 feet. We quickly lost a lot of height avoiding clouds. The instructor was no longer chuckling. At about 2000 I started getting worried. There was no airfield in sight and the clouds were dropping quickly.

At his point I was starting to get nervous. My instructor seemed to be doing the best with the conditions that rolled in but I still didn't know his skill level and if he had ever outlanded before this flight. I was mentally preparing myself to take over control and land the glider in the paddock if anything went wrong. All I could remember in my head was Adam mentioning it was best to land on the west side of the river because it's less bumpy.

We were losing height and at about 1800 feet I knew were were going to outland. Luckily, last weekend at Whenuapai, our instructors had devised a simulated out landing using toi tois as a fence line. I wasn't at that stage in my instruction but I was certainly glad I had eavesdropped.

We were now on the west side of the river getting into flat territory. Still no airfield and I think at around 1500 feet the instructor made the decision to outland. We circled around and found a cluster of good looking paddocks. The instructor and myself were both communicating, agreed on a paddock and both confirmed there were no wires or fences. We did a full circuit and landed.

It happened so quickly, I'm glad to say I didn't have to interrupt the instructor to show him my newbie landing skills. It was a very smooth landing and we only took up half the paddock. Though I do remember the fence getting a lot closer during the landing than how far it actually was upon ground inspection. I'll have to remember that for next time.

The instructor starts chuckling again, muttering how his wife was going to kill him for having this happen again and the club was not going to let him live it down. My heart was beating fast and I was very hot from the adrenaline. I physically felt the same way I did after I almost drowned while rafting the Upper Klamath River in Oregon. During that experience I recall thinking my mom would be very upset if I drowned, likewise I was thinking about how worried Adam must have been.

We had lost radio contact with the Piako club shortly after leaving the ridge the second time. The speaker in the front seat of the PW6 is very weak, but I do recall the instructor making numerous attempts to inform the glider base of our predicament. We got out of the glider and the paddock turned out to be quite bumpy and full of cowsh1t. I couldn't figure out how the landing was so smooth. I think my brain is just remembering a smooth landing as one that doesn't end in a crash.

We tried to radio again to no avail. We didn't have any tie down pickets so I was left with the glider to make sure it didn't blow around. I hopped in the back seat to be near the radio. I made another attempt to radio contact. That's when I noticed how little the instructor could see from the back seat. I was imagining how hard it must have been to navigate with that small view window.

At that point I noticed water dripping down my pants. It seems as though I sat on the mouthpiece to a camelback. Uggh, wet cold jeans, who knew how long it would take for my recue. Piako Club called again and I responded, at which time I was able to let them know I was OK. Luckily I just got done with my FRTO training so I sounded real legit. Matamata traffic Glider Papa Kilo.....

The instructor was able to phone in the location at the nearest farm house, because at the glider I was unable to tell anybody where I was. Next thing you know a farmer and all his kids pull up in a pick-up wanting to take a look at the plane. So I acted cool and showed the kids the glider. They assured me that help was just a few minutes away. Nevertheless it was freakin' cold at this point so I hopped in the glider again waiting for support.

Adam had hitched a ride with an advance crew and walked in to give me a beer. The Piako club didn't make me derig the plane in the rain but sent me back to the clubhouse where I had to tell the story to everybody a number of times. I was so amped this wasn't a problem.

It wasn't until five more beers that I was able to have a reasonable nights rest. I usually don't drink but my adrenaline was not going to let me sleep easily.

I had to get my rest for the next day, just in case the ridge was pumpin' and it was. The following day I had a few runs along the ridge and we soared close to 8000 feet (3500 is our limit at Whenuapai). Adam was afraid because of the outlanding I would never want to glide again, luckily it had the opposite effect and I am now anxious to go solo. I was getting distracted by motorcycling but I'll have to focus on gliding now that the weather is going to get better for soaring.

More Photos here


Grover20 said...

Congrats on a big, and scary (at least in my mind), milestone! Glad the experience turned out so well, sounds like you learned a lot too!

- shannon

NewKiwi said...

Cool As!
Are you sure that it was water on your pants and not pee? Sounds like a pants-wetting episode if I ever heard one! Ha ha.
Glad you made it back safely and are keen to continue.

Roberta Robles said...

haha i did not piss my pants..thanks for the encouragement though..this post got put on a glider list serve and picked up by Guiding New Zealand magazine..apparently i'm not their demogoraphic - aka less than 40 female

ipearx said...

Great story, thanks for writing! Hope to see you guys back at Piako sometime.

Cheers, Tim (In training at Piako)