Friday, August 24, 2012

Nothing to Do but Drive

Sometimes, it's really nice to have nothing to do all day but get from A to B. On Wednesday, I had that luxury, where A was La Jolla, B was the Santa Monica Hostelling International (where I stayed last time I was in LA) and, of course, I ended up rushing everywhere anyway. First of all I had the now-obligatory Eggs Benedict and finished off Brandy's watermelon, then wrote a blog post, then realised how late it was getting and packed, stripped the bed, etc before heading out of the front door. I then had to return to drop off the pop-up map of San Diego which I had so annoyingly lost the day before, and found wedged between the passenger seat and the door. Humphhh..

Eventually I set off, went through the refuelling dance with the cashier (I couldn't work them pump, then of course I had to pay in advance with my UK-based debit card, thanks Dad for the warning) and then headed East into the desert. The temperature started rising, but didn't get any higher than the high-80s (warm but not too hot). My destination was Sky Sailing (, a gliding operation based at Warner Springs which I had read about online and was also recommended to visit by Vance - the chap at Torrey Pines. Once I arrived, I had a really long and useful chat-come-tour with Ken, one of their professional towplane pilots, who couldn't have been more helpful.

So Warner Springs is a typical American commercial glider operation. Tows are between $30 and $50, and instructors are charge at an hourly rate of $51 an hour. Most are booked for 2 hours at a time. Plenty of glider rides are sold to the general public and there is a gentle stream of students going through the learning process. This is a completely different model to the gliding clubs I am used to. At Sky Sailing, you probably only come into contact with 2-3 instructors while you learn, you pay quite a lot of money for the privilege, and the instruction is quite regulated - it is analogous to powered aircraft instruction, in fact the only difference is you get a different type of PPL at the end of it! But the pupils, in return, get 2 hours of contact time with an instructor, can work on exactly what they need without rushing, and they know that they WILL make progress in that time (rather than a rushed circuit followed by a poor debrief because the instructor needs to have a bite to eat). It's all just a different model. There is another type of gliding club in the USA which is much more analogous to those in the UK - but, since the instructors and tow plane pilots are all amateurs, they escape the attention of the FAA as long as nothing gets damaged! Personally, I prefer the way that that BGA supervises gliding in the UK - passing on best practice, maintaining training standards, and organising development opportunities. Long may that continue.

The ubiquitous Pawnee towplane. Warner Springs has 2 of these, plus another rip-off look-alike known as 'Miss Piggy'. Not bound by the noise regulations we have at the UK, especially The Park, this aircraft has a two-bladed prop and no silencer at all! On the other hand, it is operating from a strip at 3,000' AMSL so needs all the power it can get...

This aircraft is a Schweizer 2-33. The standard training aircraft for pre-solo students. Very, very simple (you can fill the cockpit with water and it just drains out with no damage) and extremely rugged. 22:1 if you're lucky!

This is a Schweizer 2-32 , the aircraft used for 'glider rides'. Note the GoPro mount on the wing. Also, it's a 3-seater! Do you see the rear bench seat? Two people can sit there and enjoy the flight together (as long as they're not too lardy). How cool would it be to take not one but two people flying with you? You have control! Who, me? No, you! You mean me? Yes! P3 has control! (actually there is no stick in the back when it is converted for 3-person operation. Though they do have one rudder pedal each).

And this is a Schweizer 1-35, a single seater version of the other two. Blistering glide angle performance of 76:2! The rest of the Sky Sailing fleet was repetitions of the aforementioned Schweizers, plus a couple of Grob 103s (used for XC and aerobatics) and Grob 102s (rentals) which everyone knows what look like anyway.

A fun little toy I saw was the 'Grobus', bastardized from some unfortunate 103, to demonstrate the effect of the controls on the flight surfaces. To my disappointment, though, it wasn't gimballed so couldn't be put into wind for the pupil to have a go at flying on the ground!

I waited around for a little while til a lesson went out (by this time, 4pm, that's how much time I had wasted!) and watched as they untied the aircraft and did their preflight checks. This aircraft is amazingly basic, rivetted aluminium wings and strut-braced, but clearly has been doing a good job for the last 50+ years!

It really does look like a massive Ka8!

I helped run the wing, watched as they flew off behind the Pawnee, then got in my car and drove on towards Los Angeles. I am so glad I have Google Maps on my phone and a data connection - instant satnav of the highest quality! That is, when it isn't crashing. Thanks Chris for the hints how to back-date the version.

I stopped en-route just to get a photo of the scenery I was driving through. It was on this journey that I was so grateful I was driving a convertible! The temperature was perfect, I was playing some great music on the awesome sound system, and the Americans REALLY know how to build roads out here in the countryside (and barely anyone on them too). Every corner is cambered, the speed limit is set nice and high, and you can just roar around to your heart's content. I'm really getting to love this car and driving round the 'States but I will write up the whole driving side of things later!

I eventually got to Santa Monica bang on 7pm, rush hour isn't that much of a problem going into the city, and the 7-lane freeways make things much easier... I had an hour of parking so had just enough time to check in and buy a ticket for the evening meal - sloppy joe's and mac'n'cheese, all you can eat for sub-$7! So I stuffed my face until my parking ran out (not quite...) and then moved the car to the nearby multi-storey. Only $14 max for 24 hours.

Getting back to the Hostel, I quickly showered and changed and then met up with the group heading out the pub crawl - which I wouldn't have heard about if I hadn't been chatting to a nice Aussie girl 'Beck' over dinner! Now you should know I'm not a fan of pub crawls, but this one seemed good fun, we got an impressive discount with the wristbands we were given and went first to a normal bar (which was probably dead before we arrived, and even more so after we left, but was packed while we were in residence) before hitting up a 'British Pub' for the next destination! A really good Beatles tribute band was playing and we all had a good evening. AND I was in bed by midnight :-)

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for finding the time to bring us up to date with your SD adventures and write three mammoth Blogs in the last 24 hours Colin - impressive diligence!!!

    You're clearly having a great time out there and doing lots of things I never seem to have time to do - as well as driving a convertible with the roof down in Southern California - how can you slip that into your CV?

    I happen to know you're off to a concert soon - as well as doing a bit of car-camping..... good luck (I know my old back wouldn't thank me for trying that stunt!)