And Now for Something Completely Different

Watch the Video Here

This past weekend I did something completely different…I was a Wing Runner!

If you’re like me watching gliders is as complicated as watching television. You sit and watch other people do the work. Well this past week I decided to get off the couch and participate.

My first task was to take the Wing Runner Exam – but first I studied the online course available at:

This is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn about wing running. After I studied the material I took the 20-question exam, which in my case applies as Wing Runner credit towards the Civil Air Patrol. In most cases you will not be allowed to take the exam through this site unless you have access rights or are a member of the Civil Air Patrol.

The video at the top of this page gives you an idea of what goes on during a glider launch…in particular, hand signals used during the launch process. That was my task as I helped to launch six flights for the Finger Lakes Soaring Club down in Dansville, NY.

The Tow Plane

To start you need a tow plane, in our case it was a PA-25 Pawnee piloted by Ted Timmons. Ted was kind enough to give me the OK to participate. Ted is a fellow CAP member and a FAA certificated flight instructor (CFII, ASEL, ASES).

The Glider

The next thing you need is a glider. We launched several gliders but the one we launched the most was a two seat Schleicher ASK 21 I believe.

Line Up and Wait

My job was to first help position the gliders on the grass strip. All you need to do is get them pointed straight down the runway.

Next, you wait for the tow plane as the pilot gets setup in the cockpit. Once the pilot is in and ready to go you take a bright orange stick with a hook on the end and use that to grab the line that is hanging behind the tow plane. This bright orange line has on the end of it a metal ring. You signal the pilot to take up the slack in the line as you stand next to the canopy. Once you have about 10 feet of line to work with you signal the tow plane to stop.

Next, you take the rope and signal (or say OPEN) to the pilot, The OPEN command tells the pilot to open the cable release so that you can take the metal ring and insert it into the release either under the glider or in the nose of the glider. Once in position you signal (or say CLOSE) for the pilot to close the release. This will hold the ring and rope to the plane and all you need to do is give it a hard pull just to confirm that the rope is secure.

Next, you stand to the outside of one of the wings and watch the pilot. If he gives you the thumbs up, you look for traffic in the pattern and everywhere else. If it’s clear, you lift the wing to level. I am right handed so I grab the wing with my right hand.

Now you can signal the tow plane to take up the slack with a back and forth motion with your arm pointed down towards the ground in clear view of the tow plane.

REMEMBER: Do NOT stand in FRONT of the wing, stand at the side as you hold the wing and BEFORE you signal.

This is the LAST opportunity for you to call the whole thing off before things are beyond your control. And believe me things will be out of your hands quickly! If you see a problem or a complication just wave off the tow plane.

Finally, once the tow rope is tight, it’s GO time. With the wing in one hand, you swing your other arm in a circle which tells the tow plane pilot to GO and GO they do! You are supposed to RUN with the wing as long as you can…which is 15 feet if you are lucky.

There…you did it! Now get off the runway before you get hurt. 🙂

Cirrus Transition Training – Flights 2 and 3

Since my first Cirrus flight on March 17th I have logged two more flights and I now have a total of 5.5 hours of time in SR20-G2.

Second Flight

My second flight on March 30th lasted 2 hours and included using the DFC90 Autopilot a lot more than on the first flight. I was setting headings, airspeeds, and altitudes and just letting the plane fly itself. This never felt strange to me since I did this in flight simulator so many times…it was familiar ground to me and it was “neat” doing it for real.

On this flight we finally received a traffic alert as we were heading towards Rochester near the Geneseo VOR. We were alerted to traffic straight ahead and could watch the decent into the Charlie airspace at Rochester. I could turn 20 degrees to avoid and then once I determined that traffic was no longer a factor, I could resume my course. It will take a little more practice to interpret the traffic information since the traffic direction is not shown on the map unless I’m mistaken.

At the end of the flight I was finally able to get 4 landings in and actually fly the plane in the pattern in order to establish the routine as far as the “killers” and the sight picture on landing. The “killers” are the things you check upon entering the downwind. Yes, that terminology is a bit morbid but that’s because when pilots ignore the “killers” they end up wishing that hadn’t.

The “killers” list includes:

  • Turning the boost pump ON
  • Switching the fuel to the fullest tank.
  • Setting the mixture to FULL rich.
  • Preparing to put in the first notch of flaps.

It’s best to get this done before you are abeam of the numbers. While you are doing this you are keeping track of the airspeed (100kts) and the altitude, as well as watching out for traffic and making radio calls as needed.

As for my landings, they were ok. Unlike some planes you don’t need to apply much force to keep the nose up. Although I did ok on two of my landings, I had a tendency on the other two to pull back on the yoke more than I needed when trying to get it close. I should have let the plane do what it wants to do, under my control and let it get close rather than pushing it too close and then pulling back with an ever so slight balloon effect. I was never a big trim guy for landings, I just used what I needed, which was not all of it. The trim on the Cirrus is pretty sensitive so practice will improve this part for me over time.

Third Flight

My third flight on April 2nd lasted 2.5 hours and included many of the things that scare you when you think of Cirrus such as power off and partial power stalls. We also did slow flight and steep turns. The icing on the cake had to be the crosswind landings on runway 01 with the wind out of 290 at 14 knots gusting to 21 knots, which gave us a crosswind factor of 13 to 20 knots. All of this Cirrus goodness went toward my flight review which was a good thing!

For the record, I have come a long way in my stall anxiety. I felt that doing stalls was the equivalent of crashing a car for the first time just so you knew what it felt like; therefore you would not do it again. My first stall as a student involved me turning the yoke away from the falling wing side, like I was turning to avoid a deer in the road, instead applying opposite rudder. That screw up got my instructors attention and made me feel very dumb. The good news is that the more you fly and understand the plane, the more you “get it” and just look forward to getting stalls out of the way and moving on with life….which is just what I did today.

Stalling the Cirrus is like any other aircraft. Just keep your eyes outside, keep your feet light on the rudders to fly straight, listen for the stall horn and feel the buffet and recover. On the recovery put the nose to the horizon and apply power to complete the recovery.

I have no idea what the stall speed was or when the buffet started or what rudder I had to use since my eyes were truly outside the aircraft. It didn’t matter because I was flying the plane and not waiting for something to happen, so I wasn’t anticipating anything. The plane didn’t do anything strange at all and was stable.

Steep turns in the Cirrus are fun and easy to do. Visibility is less because of how the cockpit is configured so do a good job with clearing turns and have the traffic alert system on as a backup for your eyes. Turns in the Cirrus so far in my experience have not required much rudder at all, even in the traffic pattern, which surprised me. In Microsoft flight simulator the Eaglesoft’s Cirrus seems to need a lot more rudder than the real plane. You fiddle with rudder much more on landing than in any turns you might do with this plane. So the good news is that you have a very stable plane in turns and just a light touch of the controls is needed in the turns…just stay coordinated as needed.

Crosswind landings in the Cirrus were pretty easy even in the wind we were up against. On downwind we still had to crab so as to not get blown closer to the runway and on base you still needed to turn sooner to keep a clean approach. The Cirrus seems to slice into the wind easier and seems to be blown around a bit less on the turn to final in a crosswind than a Piper or Cessna. It also keeps more speed using the same pitch angle as those other planes. This is the time that you will put in rudder, a lot of it in fact on a crosswind, to keep the nose pointed down the runway.

On one of my landings I thought I was pretty much pointed straight down the runway, but my instructor felt otherwise. I was not seeing what he was seeing even though I was looking right at it. It’s times like this when I wish the Cirrus has a straight across instead of angled panel. The angle on the MFD, in the right conditions, could point you left without you realizing it. So I suggest you look straight at the runway or use the PFD for a reference, rather than a broad sight picture that would include the MFD. The result of my poor judgement on one of my landings resulted in a rather rocky, clumsy, multi-bounce landing which I was not too proud of. The good news is that you get to learn from my mistake!

Overall I was very happy with today’s flight and a lot of anxiety about the Cirrus was put to rest. Learning a new aircraft of any type should be at the top of every new (and a few older) pilots lists of things to do. I still can’t believe that I made it this far and still having this much fun!