Flyboy

Apr 152013
 

As some of you may be aware there has been an update to the Bronze exam and the question bank.  Speaking to the very helpful Mike Fox at the BGA my understanding of the situation is as follows:

The new question bank has been developed to comply with the new EASA regulations.  Two key elements of this are that the question bank needed to be a minimum of 120 questions and that the exam needed to be split into 9 different areas (as opposed to the previous 7).  The BGA has now developed the new questions and arranged them into the new sections.  Each exam paper will now consist of a number of questions randomly taken from each section and formed into one paper.  The 9 new subject areas are:

  • Air Law and ATC Procedures
  • Human Performance
  • Meteorology
  • Communications
  • Principles Of Flight – Sailplane
  • Operational Procedures – Sailplane
  • Flight Performance and Planning – Sailplane
  • Aircraft General Knowledge, Airframe and Systems and Emergency Equipment – Sailplane
  • Navigation – Sailplane

To conform with CAA/EASA rules the new exam questions will not be publically available.  As with the present PPL/NPPL exam papers each student will be issued with the exam paper which will then be returned (along with all notes and other workings out, if I remember correctly from my own NPPL exams) at the end of the examination.  So, if anyone claims to have a copy of the new exam questions then I would suggest that you inform your CFI and the BGA as they will probably be very interested to find out where they got them!

So, where does that leave GlidingSchool.com and is it still a useful resource for Bronze students?

I think the answer to that question is yes, GlidingSchool.com is still a useful resource albeit in the short term a little less so than previously.  Let me explain.

Speaking with the BGA they were (naturally) unwilling to give me the new questions but did indicate that while the majority of the questions had been re-written they were still very similar to the ones presently on this site (although now in the 9 separate subject areas as explained above).  There is, after all, only a limited number of ways that you can ask a question about the minimum age to go solo!  As a result, if you’re doing the learning and are able to answer the questions on the site then the ones in your live paper shouldn’t be overly dissimilar and shouldn’t cause you any issues.  But the site now needs to have some work done on it to bring it up to scratch with the new system.

From my perspective, I now have two key actions I need to take to keep the website valuable as a training aid:

First, as the questions on GlidingSchool.com are still in the old section headings I need to go through them and re-arrange them into the appropriate new heading areas.

I will then sit down and review the old question bank, review the EASA exam guidance and develop new questions that reflect (as closely as possible) the new requirements.  Once I’ve done that I will see if the BGA would be willing to review them as a ‘check and balance’ to confirm they’re appropriate.  I’d be delighted if they did help out but equally I understand that they’re already busy so may not be able to so, so no promises from either side on that one.

One other thing I’m considering is the development of some online e-learning to cover some/all of the exam subject areas.  To my knowledge there isn’t anything out there at the moment that covers these subjects in such a fashion.  That usually means on of two things – there isn’t a call for it or no-one has been bothered to do it yet.  If (and it’s a big if) I do go down the e-learning road it’s likely to be some time before anything appears and there’s a strong likelihood that it may be a premium (ie paid membership) service beyond the main site as it will take significant time, effort and additional software purchase to achieve it.

In summary, please keep using the site as I think you will gain benefit from the practice when you come to sit your exam, but do be aware that the questions will probably differ slightly from what you have revised.

Also, I’d appreciate any feedback from people as to whether they think some online e-learning would be useful and if so, would they be willing to pay a small membership fee for it.  (I stress again, this is only a potential long term idea and that my short term focus will be on the question updates).

 

Apr 092013
 

Well, I finally had the opportunity to do a really good, hands-on test of the GliderGuider this weekend.  I used it during a 3 hours cross-country soaring flight and – in a nutshell – it was brilliant.

Since my last post on using the system we’ve had the power routed from the main batteries to the GliderGuider so no issues there now, plus we’ve linked it in to the EW microRecorder so hopefully all ready for recording Badge flights.  We’ve also put a permanent mounting into the glider for the device; it’s a RAM mount (excellent quality) which is compact and easily allows either landscape or portrait positioning.

The weather was good, with only about 1 Octa of cloud so plenty of sunshine and glare – plus, I was heading north-west so the sun was behind me for most of the flight.  That combination of bright sunshine direct on to the screen would have washed out most PDAs but the screen on the GliderGuider stayed visible and readable throughout.  Even wearing sunglasses it was clear and there was no need to keep bobbing my head around to avoid glare on the screen (which I had to do with my old iPaq).

The software I was using was LK 8000 – already loaded on the system along with a trial version of SeeYou.  On the surface the two programmes do pretty much the same thing but for some reason I’ve always struggled with SeeYou but really took to LK immediately.  It’s a fantastic programme made even better by the fact that it’s free.  It’s also been recently updated but, so far as I can see, the main update features are really beyond my level of flying at the moment (many seem to be to do with mountain flying and I don’t think the South Downs really qualify as ‘mountains’!).

I’ve done some tinkering around with the menu/screen display options to get the information I prefer and I’ve spent a few hours playing with it in simulator mode at home.  As a result it all felt very familiar and easy to use once airborne, allowig me to concentrate more on the soaring rather than the software.  The combination of familiar software and the bright screen of the GliderGuider made the whole navigation experience easy and allowed me to concentrate on flying the aircraft.  By the end of the flight I was going to the next level of understanding and really making good use of things I thought somewhat complex at the start.  For example, when thermalling the system automatically changes the information that is displayed and I found it really useful to be able to compare average thermal performance against height gain over the last 30 seconds – indicating to me when I needed to think about leaving the thermal and heading off for the next one.  All very easy to see and understand.

(As an aside I’ve also put Sky Demon – power flying navigation software – on GliderGuider and that seems to work fine too although I’ve yet to test it as thoroughly as with LK 8000).

All in all a very good experience with the GliderGuider and LK.  The only thing I have not been able to do so far is connect up my PC and Condor flight simulator with theGliderGuider so that I can practice more at home.  I know it’s possible, as others have done it, so I think that is more to do with my lack of technical ability than GliderGuider!

 

 

Sep 232012
 

Yesterday I tried GliderGuider in possibly the most difficult conditions possible – blue thermal soaring.  Hardly a cloud in the sky and the only things casting shadows were the remnants of a 30-glider grid launch who seemed to congregate on me as I found my first thermal after launch!

This doesn’t profess to be a proper field trial but just a few personal comments having flown the system properly for the first time.  Immediate thoughts:

  • It does what it says on the tin.  After flying with a HP PDA the brightness of the screen really does make a difference.  Yes, you will always get reflections off any screen but the brightness really helps to ‘burn’ through the reflections to retain readability;
  • Like all electronics of this type external power is a must for lengthy periods airborne.  As I haven’t sorted out a permanent feed yet I used a Power Monkey type battery to keep it powered up and had no issues at all.  It even told me when it was swapping from internal power to external which was pretty smart;
  • GliderGuider comes with a suction mount device which is well up to the job.  Small and compact, the stem of the mount is curved and there is only one adjustable ball joint but it has a good range of movement and I had it set up how I wanted it in seconds;
  • The default speaker volume is loud.  I could hear it while on tow and it did give me a surprise once or twice when giving me information.  Having said that I would rather loud than too quiet so will leave that for a few more flights before considering any adjustment;
  • Size does matter!  When looked at next to a PDA the difference doesn’t seem the big but it makes a big difference in the air.  Equally, even though I had it mounted in ‘landscape’ mode (running LK8000) it did not seem to impinge on cockpit space any more than the PDA.
  • Talking of LK8000, this was the first time I have tried using the software and found it very intuitive.  I still need to do some setting up on the system and playing with the simulator but it looks good.  One thing that did amuse me was just after landing there is a ‘bing-bong’ noise that sounds just like the fasten/unfasten seat belts on an airliner and the screen caption ‘landed’; really makes you feel like you have arrived!

Ninety minutes of local flying went no-where near testing the system to any sort of limit but so far I’m impressed.

 Posted by at 9:24 am
Sep 162012
 

There comes a time in every glider pilot’s life when he or she realises that it’s time to go technical and take advantage of the various electronic aids that can help make your flying more enjoyable and efficient.  Very often this coincides with completing your Bronze exams/Cross-country endorsement and that feeling of spreading your wings and moving on to more adventurous and longer flights away from your home airfield.

I’ve been using a Hewlett-Packard PDA up until now but I’ve always felt it was a compromise – screen too small and not particularly bright in a sunny cockpit.  Plus, to me, it’s bodging an old system to make it fit a task it wasn’t really meant for.  The only thing that has stopped me moving on to something more modern was the price.

Now, however, there is an option that fits my technical and price criteria – GliderGuider.  GliderGuider has been developed by a chap called Allan Arthurs who, apart from being a glider pilot and instructor, is a bit of a technical wizard.  He has used his various skills and knowledge areas to come up with what is undoubtedly the most flexible and useable portable glider navigation system available today.

Photo showing how much brighter the GliderGuider is compared to a PDA

The specifications of the GliderGuider are absolutely ideal:

  • 5-inch screen – big enough to see properly but small enough not to be intrusive in a glider cockpit;
  • Seriously bright – the brightness of the screen is truly impressive and puts a PDA to shame;
  • Flexible – GliderGuider will run all Windows Mobile gliding programs, including See You Mobile, LK8000 and XCSoar.  Plus, if you’re a power pilot (or just use it because it’s a fantastic program) SkyDemon and Memory Map.
  • Technical – Allan has spent a lot of time working on the software of GliderGuider to make sure that it works properly for the glider pilot and has put a lot of thought into the specification side of things too.  It will work with pretty much any input/output device you can throw at it and he has done numerous tests to ensure that accuracy and functionality are correct.
  • Price – at £240 (plus shipping) you really can’t argue!

In addition to all that, he will configure the whole thing to your requirements!

As you may have guessed, I’m sold on this new device but don’t take my word for it – go and have a look for yourself at GliderGuider.net.

(And before you ask – no, I’m not being paid to write this!)

 Posted by at 11:05 am
Dec 192011
 

Things to consider before buying a glider

If you’ve got to the stage of competent solo, perhaps have completed your Bronze certificate and maybe even part of your Silver Badge, thoughts may start to wander towards owning your own glider.  For most people their first glider will be very secondhand and will usually be bought as part of a syndicate.  That was certainly the case for me this year and I thought that it might be interesting for me to put into words a few things about my experience that others might find useful if heading down the same path.  I bought a share in a single seat Astir CS; it cost me a relatively small amount of money (one of my neighbours has a racing bike that cost pretty much the same money!) and I keep it in a trailer at my local club, rigging/de-rigging every day that I fly.

Do your homework

One of the first things to think about is what sort of glider you want.  At this end of the market beggars can’t be choosers but you do need to give some thought to what you think might suit you best.  Even if you can afford it an exotic, rare, flapped glider is unlikely to be a sensible choice but you probably do want to be thinking about one that you can ‘grow into’ in the sense that you won’t be bored with it within a year and be driven mad by its lack of performance.

After a little self reflection go and speak to our CFI.  Chances are that your club rules will require you to discuss a glider purchase with him (or her) at some point so better to do it before you buy rather than after…!  The CFI will (should) have an idea about you as a pilot, will also know what sort of gliders will suit your pocket and capability and will be able to provide guidance on where to look.  They may even know someone who is selling something suitable.

Another person to talk to is a maintainer.  If your club is lucky enough to have a maintenance facility then buy the engineer a coffee and get their thoughts on the pros and cons of different makes when it comes to maintenance routines and costs.  If there isn’t a maintainer on site then see if you can find the UK agent (or similar) for the type and chat with them (keeping in mind, of course, that they will probably be bias towards their products).

Also, talk to other owners of the glider type/make and ask for their feedback on maintenance costs, availability of spares, airworthiness directives etc.  Also ask about how easy the glider is to rig, comfort, things to look out for when buying.  For this stage of the process be ready for some long discussions and some very divergent opinions!  You will know those in your club who are prone to embellishment of the truth so by all means talk to them but keep that pinch of salt handy.

The army use a phrase – “time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted” and that really applies to this stage of the process.

It’s not just about the glider

Most new glider owners will (like me) join a syndicate and one valuable piece of advice I was given at the start of my search was “the syndicate partner is as important (if not more so) than the glider itself”.  (To that I would also add that the trailer is the third partner in this strange marriage but more of that later!).

I was quite lucky to find a share in a glider owned by someone who I already knew well so this wasn’t too difficult for me but for most people the chances are you may have seen them around the club but might not be aware of their character.  Speaking to the CFI privately can, again, be useful here.  It’s likely to lead to tears if you’re a perfectionist and the rest of the syndicate consider bugs on the wings and mud on the fuselage as badges of honour!

How many already in the syndicate?  There are pros and cons to large and small syndicates and you may have to compromise so keep an open mind on this one.  I share my glider with one syndicate partner and that suits us both.  My syndicate partner also has a share in a two seater syndicate which has 13 members so he’s happy to play at both ends of the spectrum!

In a small syndicate you will usually get more opportunity to fly (we split use to odd days and even days) but then you have a larger share of the maintenance and upkeep to pay.  In a large syndicate the rota and rules for flying can be very complex but you only pay a fraction of the costs which makes ownership really cheap.  Two seater syndicates tend to be larger than single seater ones but then very often two syndicate members will fly at the same time so things even out.  For a single seater syndicate I would personally think that three is the maximum, unless there are special circumstances (such as other members only fly during the week, leaving it free for you at weekends).

I mentioned trailers earlier.  Earlier this year I volunteered to act as retrieve crew for a chap heading off for his first cross country.  He had bought his own glider outright and on a pretty small budget; his glider looked a little tired and that really ought to have got me thinking about the state of his trailer.

Sure enough the call came through; he was 20 miles down the road and could we go and get him.  Only then did I see his trailer…!  It was a patchwork of dodgy plywood, held together with some very amateur fibre glass repairs and peeling paint.  I was genuinely surprised to find that the electrics actually worked; if they hadn’t I would have refused to put my driving license in jeopardy to pick him up out of the field.  If you plan on going cross country and want people to volunteer (more than once!) to pick you up then make sure that you have a good trailer.

Another aspect of trailers to think about it how the glider packs into it and the ancillary equipment that comes with it; this is especially important if you plan to keep the glider in the trailer rather than the club hanger.  If the process for getting the glider in and out looks like it was designed by Heath Robinson – requiring multiple steps to get around poor design – then you will get tired of it all very quickly and probably end up not rigging because it all becomes ‘too difficult’.  Also, you will probably find other people suddenly become scarce when they realise you’re looking for a hand.

Who does what?

Does the syndicate have someone who does all the management?  Most successful syndicates have one single point of contact for administration as this helps to ensure everything is done and nothing is missed.  That’s not to say that others don’t help when required but having one person who deals with the bank, the insurance people, CAA, maintenance company and your club on your behalf is a real boon.

So now we get to the exciting bit – the glider itself

This is the bit you’ve probably been looking forward to and are probably most knowledgeable about.  Even as a relatively inexperienced pilot you will be able to tell a well-maintained aircraft from one that has been neglected but even if it looks good make sure that you look closely into every nook and cranny – and the paperwork.

Another thing to look into is why the present owner is selling his/her share, or why the syndicate is creating another share.  This should help to give you an idea of any internal politics or issues amongst the present owners.

In addition to the state of the airframe how are the equipment levels?  What state are the instruments in?  How old is the radio?  Is there a logger?  PDA?  GPS?  How neat does all the wiring look – professionally fitted or bodged together over a number of years by enthusiastic syndicate members?

One key piece of equipment to look at carefully is the parachute.  Re-packs are a regular maintenance requirement and aren’t too expensive but each parachute also has a finite life and new ones can cost up to £1500.  How much life is left in the syndicate parachute?

I’ve found that comfort in gliders is an individual thing and can vary from aircraft to aircraft – one of our club single seaters causes me no problems after 2-3 hours, another of the same type gives me back ache within an hour.  If at all possible get a few flights in the aircraft before buying; you may have to pay a small insurance premium to achieve this but a little bit of money now could save you a lot of heart ache (or bum ache!) later.  We have a seat of high density crash foam in our glider and it’s brilliant (as well as being a safety feature).  It starts off quite hard but moulds to your shape as it warms up.  I’ve got out of our glider after a 5 hour flight feeling as ache-free as I was when I got in.

Summary

In many senses the glider is actually a minor part of the process of joining a syndicate or buying a glider outright.  If you’re like me you will be focused on the aircraft at the start of the process but hopefully this article (and advice you get from your CFI and other trusted club members) will open your eyes to realising that there are a lot more things to consider if the process is to be a success.

 Posted by at 2:23 pm