Saturday marked the first flight of my Ventus 2 bx 15-meter wingspan sailplane for 2010 - tentatively, a check flight to assess the preventative maintenance I did over the winter. The forecast was for a weak conditions, with blue thermals topping out at 3,900 msl and increasing cirrus cover throughout the day. A short flight close to the airport seemed like a good plan.
I put extra attention into my preflight check. Over the winter, I moved almost every instrument in my panel to a new position, tying to optimize my scan to quickly capture critical information (airspeed, vertical speed, position). It's not unusual to get a tube or wire misplaced, so I checked and double checked all instrument functions carefully.
I was eager to get into the air, so I took the first tow of the day. W73 (Mid-Atlantic Soaring Center) is only 8.5 nautical miles from Camp David, and the President was taking a weekend break from Washington. The tow plane turned left immediately after lift-off and headed due east to exit the restricted area. I released at 2,500 agl and within a few minutes found a weak thermal in the blue. After a few hundred feet of climb, I radioed my fellow pilots back at the airport that there was weak, workable lift, then flew east past Gettysburg, PA to explore the conditions.
My first stop was over the Gettysburg College Bullets Stadium where the lacrosse team was practicing. They provided entertainment while I worked some more weak lift to give me the altitude I needed to continue heading east. Out of range of home, I had an easy glide to Gettysburg Airport if the conditions deteriorated.
Some traffic caught my attention. Out of the side of my eye I saw a helicopter a thousand feet below me, but lost him as I turned my back. As I came around I looked downrange, but couldn't find him. Then I saw a line of cars on Rt. 30 east of Gettysburg and spotted the helicopter on the ground.
Apparently a traffic accident. I watched a second life flight land in the same field. I quickly left the area and reported the rescue activity to other pilots to avoid conflicts. Within 15 minutes, the rescue operation was complete.
The soaring pilots who fly out of W73 are avid competitors. And while the day was hardly ideal for racing, we called a task nonetheless. Gettysburg > Pretty Boy Reservoir > Pine Grove Furnace > York Airport > W73. That's about 121 miles on a day with thickening clouds and cool SE breeze. I wasn't enthusiastic about heading off into the wilds after a 5-month hiatus... my first landing of the season should be on an airport, no? But as the lift strengthened, I yielded to temptation and joined 6 others on the task.
I flew the first 15 miles of the task in close quarters with WM (Mike Higgins in his Discus 2) and 9X (David Pixton in his ASW 27b). It was good to get into a few tight gaggles, especially with pilots I trust. The view of two other sailplanes within a few wingspans, matching your 45 degree bank is what brings me back each weekend for more. An aerial ballet, choreographed in the moment, and executed by talented pilots.
Every day has a hole in it. And I quickly found mine. East of Hanover, PA, out of reach of any airport and over hilly terrain, lift became elusive. At about 800 ft agl, unhappy with the prospects for lift on course, I made a quick left turn to the north to overfly a field with a south facing slope and found 2.5 knots of lift. I stayed with it for the next 10 minutes, then continued east.
The cirrus thickened, but surprisingly, lift strength and altitude improved. By 3PM my climbs were averaging 3.5 knots, with occasional "bursts" of 4 knots to 4,500 msl. I touched the turn areas around Pine Grove Furnace and York Airport, then headed home to keep my promise of landing on an airport rather than in a farmer's field.
With a landing just after 4PM, I logged 3 hours 45 mintues for my first flight of the year, and completed the task as well. The racing I left for another day, maybe next weekend. The sailplane flew beautifully, the new panel set up proved very effective, and everything worked just fine. A good shake out flight, for glider and pilot.
Ventus 2 bx N747OC