The post-solo wilderness

Introduction

After you go solo there are many new things to learn, and new goals to reach which can often seem much more distant than the magic objective of “unaccompanied” flight ever did. Sadly, many people get lost on the way, and do not receive the help they need.

These notes are not much, but perhaps they will at least provide some kind of a start.

For most people, the next important target after solo is to obtain their Bronze badge. The “Bronze” is basically a stepping-stone towards obtaining a Silver “C”, for which the two most demanding requirements are to do a soaring flight of at least five hours, and a cross-country of at least 50 kms.

It takes time and practice to acquire the requisite skills. To begin with, it is often a struggle merely to stay airborne. When this becomes easier, most pilots do not know quite what to attempt next, and their local soaring becomes a little aimless. It is hoped that these notes may provide some ideas for small tasks that will make your flights more purposeful.

Bear in mind that you must never fly out of gliding range of the airfield until you have obtained a cross-country endorsement.

The first tasks have some basic warnings about airspace problems. Look at your map and see if you can spot any other potential hazards. It is as well to discuss these with an instructor.

For the others, you can make your own list, but get an instructor to check it. Before you fly, ask the duty instructor for permission to carry out the planned task. If you are unsure about what to do, ask for her/his advice.

Mini Tasks

  1. Out and Return(How Far Will This Thing Go?)

    Climb to, say, 3,000 ft near high-key area. Note your position carefully. Leave 1,000 ft for circuit. Fly straight-and-level upwind until you have lost HALF the remaining height (i.e. until you are at 2,000 ft). Note your position carefully. Return to circuit. Note height. After landing, consult your map and calculate distance flown.

  2. Out and Return (7 kms)

    Bourn golf course (beware Bourn ATZ, traffic on finals into Bourn).

  3. Out and Return (12 kms)

    As above.

  4. Out and Return (13 kms)

    Water tower (beware Bourn ATZ).

  5. Out and Return (13 kms)

    GRL-Wimpole Hall-GRL

  6. Triangle (18 kms)

    GRL-Abbotsley-Eltisley-GRL

  7. Triangle (18 kms)

    GRL-Water tower-Eltisley-GRL

Maxims

  • Fly at best glide, not min sink, to cover more ground.
  • In weak conditions, fly gingerly.
  • Thermals may only last fifteen minutes.
  • Look for lift upwind of clouds, or up sun.
  • Small cu have lift directly under them.
  • The best lift is usually under clouds with flat bottoms.
  • Follow line of least sink.
  • Headwind = shorter range.
  • Tailwind = greater range.
  • Glider Performance
    • Junior 34:1 @ 42 kts
      Being pessimistic, take 30:1
      With no wind and no sink = 4.8 nautical miles per 1,000 ft
    • Discus or ASW24 43:1 @ 54 kts
      Being pessimistic, take 37:1
      With no wind and no sink = 5.8 nautical miles per 1,000 ft

Weather Observations

It is a perplexing paradox that while most ab-initio and early solo pilots rapidly learn to parrot phrases such as “that looks like a good cloud” or “I think tomorrow may be a good day”, they frequently position their circuits according to last week’s wind-strength, or seem quite oblivious to the fact that an enormous slate-grey cloud dropping floods of water two miles away may make it dangerous to fly.

This is probably because they haven’t yet seen enough crashes to deprive them of their innocent trust in the benevolence of Nature. Alternatively, it may be because they have so much else to think about that these less immediate concerns get shut out of the mind.

Whatever the reason, it is as well to train oneself to observe the weather in the local area, and keep a constant watch on it, because it may change with surprising swiftness.

One way of training yourself is to keep a log in a small note-book. Every time you come to the airfield, note the wind-direction and strength, and also make a note of what approach speed you would use.

As one very experienced club-member once said: “If you get up in the morning and you do not know which way the wind is blowing, you are not a pilot.”

A purpose for every flight

Ideally, every flight you undertake should have a specific purpose. This could be anything from a simple handling exercise like doing steep turns, to a more general exercise like learning to use the barograph and analyse the trace obtained from it.

Using this structured approach to post-solo flying, rather than bumbling about the sky aimlessly, should help you to develop your skills more rapidly and identify any weak areas you may have. It may be useful to compare notes with someone who is at the same stage as you are, or even plan to go through the exercises together.

The purpose of the flight should be decided well before you get into the glider, and should be discussed with an instructor.

1. Use of Barograph Learn how to use a barograph as soon as possible. Take a barograph on every flight. Learn to compare your impressions of, say, how rapidly you were climbing, with the merciless evidence of the barograph. There is much to be learned from its trace.
2. Lookout Keep a count of all the aircraft you see while you are in the air. Try and spot as many as possible. You may even want to keep a note of the total and see if you can beat it on a later flight. Sounds childish, but it is a way of forcing you to do what too many people forget about – looking out.
3. Straight-and-Level
Flight
Something that the average pilot often does quite badly. Pick a landmark and fly straight at it, keeping the speed constant. Will help train you to detect small changes in angle of bank.
4. Slow Flying Find out how good your speed-control is by flying as slowly as possible without hitting the pre-stall buffet. Note that the controls will not be as responsive at low speeds. And don’t do it near the ground …
5. Stalling If you are nervous about this, as many people are, then start off gradually. Do a HASSLL check. Very slowly bring the glider back to the buffet, then relax the stick pressure. Keep on doing this over a number of flights until you build up the confidence to do fairly steep stalls. Note the precise speed at which the glider stalls with your weight in it.
6. Stalling Speeds
in the Turn
Most pilots get nowhere near stalling speed when they are thermalling, but a few find themselves in a spin for reasons they don’t immediately understand. You can extend the previous exercise by investigating the well-known fact that the glider will stall at a higher speed when it has a higher g-loading. It is obviously useful to know the speed at which the glider will stall when it is at a certain angle of bank. Establish this by doing a HASSLL check, then simply rolling to the desired angle of bank, and progressively moving the stick back until you reach the buffet. Recover by relaxing the back pressure on the stick.
7. Wing-drop Stalls Many pilots are anxious about spinning on their own, and sometimes never spin between one annual check and the next. A way to ease yourself into a more confident mood is by the same sort of gradual approach used for straight stalls. Ask to be shown how to induce a wing-drop stall and recover from it before it develops into a spin. Bear in mind that most low-level unintentional spins start out in the same progressive insidious way. Go and practise it by yourself.
8. Spinning Most people do not practise solo spinning for one simple reason. They are not confident of their ability to sort things out if something unexpected happens. Of course, the accidental spin is always “unexpected” … The only real answer to this lack of confidence is to build it up by going through the various stalling exercises, particularly wing-drop stalls, until you are happy with solo spinning. It teaches you a lot about yourself and improves your handling skills no end.
9. Timed Turns Bring some consistency to your flying by doing some turns at a constant angle of bank, and timing them to see how long it takes to do a full 360°. Experiment with different angles and see how much longer or shorter the time is for a whole circle.
10. Steep Turns You can test your speed control and co-ordination by doing much steeper turns than normal. Aim to pull about 2 g.
11. Figures of Eight
(Turn Reversals)
It is surprisingly difficult to roll the glider from a well-banked turn in one direction to a well-banked turn in the other while keeping the string in the middle. Try it. But make sure you take a good look before you reverse the turn. There is a large blind-spot behind the upper wing.
12. Rolling on a Heading. Pick a landmark, or perhaps a cloud, and point straight towards it. Now practise rolling from side to side while keeping the nose pointing directly at the landmark. Needless to say, you will have to keep the string in the middle, and try and keep the speed constant. It is not as easy as you think.
13. Rate of Roll Do a HASSLL check. Stall the glider to find out the precise stalling speed. Trim to fly at 1.4 times this speed. Make a turn at 45° angle of bank. Apply full aileron and rudder in the opposite direction. Count how long it takes to reach a 45° angle of bank on the other side. Now you know your rate of roll.
14. Sideslipping This is a technique that is not much used nowadays, but it is worth at least experimenting with it. Ask for a demonstration and then try it on your own. The Junior does it quite nicely.
15. Spot Landings It is essential to do these before you go cross-country. But get a good briefing before you try them, and find out what the real object of the exercise is. In other words, depositing a pile of shattered fibreglass as close to the airfield boundary as you can is not really what we are looking for.
16. Soaring Most people try and do this all the time, of course – but not many of them try and do timed climbs to see just how long it is taking them to reach a certain height, nor do they compare this evidence with what the averager on the vario is telling them. It is worth doing. Simply look at your watch and see how long it takes you to climb 1,000 ft. It is particularly instructive to find out how long you spend trying to wring the last 200 ft out of the top of a thermal.
17. Circuit without Altimeter You have done it in the two-seater, why not in a single-seater?
18. Re-setting Altimeter
to QNH/QFE
Simple enough. Find out how to do it, then try it in the air.
19. Use of Radio PROPER use of the radio is all too rare among glider pilots. Learn how to use it correctly.
20. Indicators of
Wind Direction
When you fly cross-country you may lose any sense of which way the wind is blowing. Try looking around to see if there is any smoke, rippling of the crops, or some other sign that will give you a clue.
21. Field Appraisal Pick nearby a field and note all the characteristics that might be important if you were considering landing in it. These will include: its size, slope, surface, whether or not it has any stock (animals) in it, any obstacles on the approaches to it (wires, trees, etc). Go and look at the field from the ground when you land. It is surprising how different it will seem …