Soaring Clubs

Imagine that your club decided to purchase the newest, 21st century trainer.  Easy to imagine.  We want our clubs to have the best equipment for our students and other club members.  Now comes the big question- are you ready to put over 150,000 dollars toward that objective?

The Wellington Gliding Club had committed to the idea that it’s worth the cost to have the level of technology in their trainers.  They have just acquired two new DG 1000s. Yep, that’s what I said- two.  The Grobs were sold and the new gliders are on the field.  I don’t know how much the Lotto players contributed to these ships.  I do know that educational organizations like gliding clubs clubs get grants from the state run lottery.  That is one good aspect of the NZ system.

Since I am here for two months working at the gliderport in the shelter-for-work Program, I have had an opportunity to see the ships as they go on-line. First impressions- WOW. Background for those who don’t know me as an aficionado of PW 5s and a supporter of the PW6 as a trainer, this assessment may come as a bit of a surprise.

Taking money out of the analysis- I’m flying the DG 1000-S trainer, and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic. First, it’s fun to fly. Responsive and beautifully balanced so the ship is flies like a much lighter ship. I was also impressed with a number of good safety features.  For example, if the spoilers are not locked, they will only deploy a fraction of an inch, and then they are caught until you move them past the safety tab.  In order to achieve neutral balance, weights are placed in the tail.  There is a green light that blinks the number of weights that have been loaded.  The pilot has to depress the light after counting the blinks.  A feature that would have served our club well is the warning sound that sounds if only one of the two canopies is locked. Another one that has caused so much grief to both power and a glider pilot is retractable gears.  The DG 1000 S has fixed gears.  That is rather surprising in a high performance glider, but it will certainly save the club a lot of grief.

One could argue that these safety features might lead to a more casual use of the check lists by the pilots.  But having these safety features certainly will save the club a great deal of money. According to Wellington Gilding Club officers, although DG advertised the 1000-S, it turns out they did not seem to be eager to produce one or two.  It took quite a bit of effort to get the manufacture to actually make the club design.  It seems that the clubs persistence is paying off.

An added note- At Omarama I flew the Duo Discus.  It is quite a different sailplane.  Pulling it up into lift against a mountainside took a bit of adjustment.  It takes a bit of force to pull it up and into the lift in a way that maximizes the energy you’re carrying.  A bit of a change from 1VG.

How Much Does It Cost?

The easy answer for all questions about prices in NZ is TOO MUCH!

Here is the schedule of costs for Demo Rides converted to US dollars
Standard ride- aprox. 15 min. to 2000’ -$76.00
Deluxe Ride-aprox. 20 min. 4,000’ -$153
Very high ride- 30+min. 5,200” -$230

The club does a great many such rides a day.  Monday was a local holiday but not a good soaring day.  Even the two private ships stayed up 30 min. or less.  The Demo rides generated $612, (US). The new DG 1000 is an expensive ship, but demos at that price seem to be within reason.

No one I talked with when we were exhibiting the PW 5 at the fair or people on people who phone the club seems surprised by the price.  I sold two vouchers over the phone last night.  The % of people actually using the vouches in the 6 months till they expire runs around 50%. Talk about a profit margin.

For club members, the cost of a tow is $4.60 a minute of the tow planes time from launch till the tow plane returns. Tows take from 7 minutes ($32) to 13 minutes.

A week at the mountain soaring camps on the South Island cost about $4,000+.  I will probably just take one flight when I am down there next month.

While on the subject of costs, food is very expensive.  Ironically, the fruit is especially high and none is of the quality I find at Central Market.  (Even the mention of that place makes me home-sick.) The best of everything seems to be destined for export.  The beer I drink proudly proclaims on the bottle that it is,”Export Quality.”

Soaring trip to New Zealand Draws to an end

From “The Prelude” By Wordsworth

“There are in our existence spots of time
Which with distinct re-eminence retain
A renovating Virtue, whence…our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired.”

As this trip draws to an end, I know I have been lucky enough to experienced such moments. I am compelled to travel to find those spots of time. It is my great fortune to have the support and encouragement of someone who can not always join me, but finds joy in my quests.The trip to the South Island gave me more beauty than I could process, beauty that chained the clock and made that moment a spot in time that will be mine as long as I live.
As I sit at the Wellington Club House trying to pick the pictures that most clearly capture the spirit of the poem, New Zealand plays another trick on me.  The wind is blowing furiously from the East, and the clouds peal off the mountainous island in front of me. Layers upon layers roll in an ever-changing masterpiece of color and light- pale yellows and gray mixed with pink over the setting sun. Tea cups and saucers, cylinders and marshmallow shaped clouds dance along the ridge line. To the West the moisture builds up on the ridges and mountains turning them into a swirl of purples and blues. The movement of this ever-changing masterpiece is so rapid that the clouds race to keep the streaks of pale blue sky at bay.  The cloud mass now nearly reaches the ground and the wind roars.  There is a rare intensity in the air masses this close to the water.  The power the wind possess as it whips off the Tasman Sea is captured in the movement of the clouds.
Then, just as I was ready to end this description, the setting sun pushed up the clouds, bringing a burst of blue to the sky.   The yellow clouds responded with a bow and turned to pink before the setting sun.
I can select some moments I have caught with my camera, but I will never be able to capture the power of the wind on a small island in the South Pacific

In Picton awaiting the ferry.

In Picton awaiting the ferry.
My good fortune on the South Island continues.  On a sunny morning I left Omarama and headed south to Milford Sound.  It was another long drive, but the last portion convinced me that it was worth it. The road to Milford Sound curved up into the sky. Huge drop-offs and a long muddy, downhill tunnel enhanced the intensity of the experience. It is impossible to describe the immensity of the towering peaks.  I’ve seen the drama of the European Alps, but being surrounded by huge, almost sheer-faced mountains was something new for me.
I managed to make the drive from Omarama, book passage on the ferry that goes out into the sound and drive back to Te Ana to spend the night.  The trip from Omarama to the sound took three days. Oddly enough, the calendar indicated that only one day had passed.
The Te Ana Backpackers inn was right on the lake and was, for a Backpackers place, quiet. I have stayed at a number of these hostels on this trip.  Some were primitive, but not terribly expensive, therefore bearable.  This was one of the best. The next night I stayed with the glider pilots and then drove over to the West Coast.
This turned out to be a peak travel week, so I was lucky to secure a room at a Backpackers hostel in Fran Joseph Glacier village.  This one was sort of dingy.  Birds fly in the slightly cracked windows to feast off the crumbs on the floor. That may be the entire cleaning crew. As is true of most of the hostels, the people there were cheerful.  I stayed up late sharing pictures and stories with a very young hiker from Australia and a couple on their “Trip of a Lifetime”.
(I don’t like that concept.  Imagine planning and waiting and waiting some more. It permits life’s set-backs to have control.  Given enough time one may never make that trip of a lifetime. It’s better to start early and finish strong. I have never much money, but I’ve taken great trips.  They were especially great because they were never burdened with the title “Trip of a lifetime.”  What trip could live up to that expectation?)
I wish I had skipped Fox Glacier – just a dirty chunk of ice.  Franz Joseph, on the other hand, is worth a visit.  Having seen glaciers before, I found this one most memorable for the tropical vegetation.  The climb up through a dense forest provides an important reason for going to the glacier.
I made the drive the rest of the way to the top of the island using an inland route. The sky became overcast and the water, a dull gray, so I took the direct route back to Picton. The West Coast is know for its rain; I was unbelievable lucky to have so many days of perfect weather. I hate to leave the South Island, but on the up side, going back brings me closer to home and Glenn.

Invisible Wave

I’ve flown on the ridges, along and through a strong convergence, and now I have worked into an invisible wave.  This was a mainly blue day with only hints of wave action in the stationary scruffy clouds that occasionally materialized. Trevor Florence and I struggled to get up on some broken cumulous lift.  Finally we were high enough. Trevor then gave me a superb demonstration of the techniques needed to break up into the wave.  He plunged into the sink in front of the rotor cloud and then pushed up almost into a stall waiting to see if the wave had been pierced.  The first couple of times, nothing happened, no sense of laminar flow.  Then like magic, he forced the glider through the rotor and suddenly, quietly, we were in lift.  At first the glider ascended slowing, but as we rose, the lift intensified.  I could not feel the increase, but the audio-vario started screaming and the nettle pegged out as our rate of assent increased. At 70 knots, we were stationary over the ridge.  As we moved forward, Trevor advised me how to line up with the next ridge and stay in the lift.

What a wonder it is.  At first we were going up 4 kits in smooth stuff.  Then as we moved forward, we finally got into the core of the lift and went up at about 17 up, moving quickly to the altitude restricted area at 14,000’. With a field elevation of 1,400’ that is a climb of 12,600’.  What fun.  And how informative.  When I am flying out west, I must be missing some wave lift. I will experiment with this entry technique when the wind is strong enough. I will also remember that one of the other gliders in the wave went from 17 up down to just 4 up and within a second, into 17 down. That means that the glider is dropping at the rate of 1,700 feet a minute. ( I’ll insert the exact figure later, but that is the rounded number.) The earth is getting larger rather quickly at that rate of descent. Fortunately, they got out of the sink, and had plenty of altitude for the trip home.

I continue to be amazed how friendly people are. I talk with at least a dozen different people each day.  Tonight I was drinking a few beers with Jeff Campbell, a tow pilot from Colorado, and a nice young couple from Queenstown.  Dagmar, the creative chef and free-spirit, took the night off. That meant that the rest of us would get out the beers, pay for them and close up the place when we finished. Nothing is actually locked up at night. All the buildings are home to all of us at any hour of the day or night.  I love the strange aircraft stories that are told on the café patio.  It’s amazing the variety of weird things that can happen that are in no way like anything I have ever heard.  John and I enjoyed talking about the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, who he often tows for. That is the group of 126ers that I flew with in Parowan.  The Gang goes to all the challenging West Coast locations. The fly only down wind and land out every day. In the morning some repair their ships using duct tape.

At the end of the evening the young couple invited me to spend the night at their home on my way north from Milford Sound. I didn’t see hospitality on the NorthIsland, but the South Island is a friendly as the American South.  It must be a Southern thing.

Tomorrow I leave Omarama and head off for the high priority tourist destination, Milford Sound.  The West Coast is usually rather damp, but it looks like I may be fortunate enough to have some sunlight while I’m there.

First Soaring Report from New Zealand

The soaring conditions are not like any I have ever seen.  For example,this morning, the wind was out of the North.  That is not a good thing when the ridges all run north/south.  I went up in the DG 1000 with an instructor to learn how to capitalize on the channeled lift that would get caught between the ridges and explore the ridge lift itself, as it arose (literaly).  We had some successs and I enjoyed the flight.  The next time the DG launched, the wind had moved around to the north/northwest and some wave developed.  Now this is not what I know as wave.  The island off the coast (about 1,500′ high) created the lift.  The wave reached a height of 2,000′.  Considering the fact that the altitude limits over the field are 2,000′, that was OK.  If one can skim the ridges at 50′ ,one can have a nice flight. Altitude restcitions over the ridge east of the field are 5,000′ and a few ridges back, 7500′.  This is not a place to do cross country based on nice altitude bands.  But it is a place to do ridge soaring.

Time to pack Bags

It’s almost time to pack my bag.  I leave here March 4 and then fly out of Auckland on March 5. That day will last an extra 18 hours or so.  Here are a few shots I made flying a PW 5 in Paraparaumu.  The lift was good, but the clouds barely cleared the hill. It was a repetitive exercise; center the lift, two minutes later – leave the lift, head to another cloud and do the same thing all over.  But the view is great. The other photo, by the most candid merchant on the South Island, is real, not a Photoshop creation. At over $6.00 a gallon, gas really does cost an arm or a leg.