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Phoebus Sailplane Common Questions & Information

A few people have found this website and have emailed/called me with some common questions about Phoebus sailplanes they may be interested in purchasing. I thought I'd put down my thoughts on these to try to help.

How does the Phoebus glider really fly/handle? - The only other glass sailplanes I have ever flown are the ASK-21 and the twin Grobs, so my point of reference is fairly narrow. I flew 4 tows and totaled 2 hours of twin instruction in a Grob right before I flew my Phoebus the first time to make sure that I was ready. I highly recommend that all pilots do this before they transition from low performance training gliders like the 2-33 or 1-26 to higher performance fiberglass ships. It had been 4 years since I had flown the ASK21 so I was happy to get the refresher before my first Phoebus flight.

That said, the Phoebus is an excellent, and responsive flying sailplane. It has very large rudder and aileron surface areas providing quick response even at fairly low speeds. I have heard a rumor that this is because the builder didn't know just how big to make them and so went the bigger conservative route. Stick forces are EXTREMELY light and responsive but are at the same time solid and not twitchy. To explain better, never take both hands off the stick even if you think it is trimmed up. The reason for this is that the all-flying-tail will catch the wind and abruptly deflect either fully up or down. I tried it once and my camera hit the canopy as the glider lurched into a dive and luckily didn't bust it! Again, the stick forces are smooth and light but with the all-flying tail, you have to continually fly the craft with at least one hand on the stick.

Before you stall, there are plenty of warning buffets and I have not noted any sudden drop of a wing. The ship actually talks to you a little with moans and other sounds when it isn't flying coordinated or is too slow. I have not done any cool flight maneuvers yet other than steep turns and 0 g's but I have spoken to one owner who did numerous aerobatics in his. In fact, the Phoebus has been rated at +/-13 g's, but is not rated for aerobatics. I have been told that it is for two reasons; the first is because of the manufacturer not wanting the liability. The second, I have heard doubts on the upper g loads of the all-flying tail. I have taken my Phoebus right up to the 108 knot Vne many times and have not experienced any flutter at all.

Last thing about how the Phoebus sailplane handles. For soaring pilots just getting into cross-country soaring, the Phoebus has shown to me that it has plenty of legs. I have had some respectable longer flights (see map 1, map 2, map 3). It is amazing how much guts it takes to cut the apron strings and fly beyond gliding range of your home airport! I hope to do it a bunch in the upcoming seasons. To see all of the cross country flights I made in 2004 click here.

Is the Phoebus a good first sailplane to purchase? - This is a tough question. If you ask me from my own experience, I will wholeheartedly say, it was for me! I think that it is especially good if you are considering owning one for 3-5 years and then maybe upgrading to a higher performance glass ship. If you look at the average market price that Phoebuses are selling for, you will not find another sailplane that has the performance, looks, original craftsmanship and quality, ease of resell, number of active flown, and supply/support groups. Period. If you jump up $5-10K sure you will find all these things, but not at the low price point of a good Phoebus. One real nice thing about trying to sell a Phoebus is that you are not competing with a million other glass ships for sale in the same price range.

Question: Will I even fit in a Phoebus sailplane cockpit? - All models (A,B,C) have the exact same cockpit size. I am 6 feet tall and weighed 230 pounds the first season I flew. In addition, I wear a Strong chute when I fly. I was right at the max weight limit. I only used about 1 inch padding to sit on and had enough leg/head room. To say that I had tons of room is not accurate but I was not uncomfortable. I would say that 225-230 pounds is the heaviest/largest and maybe 6 foot 1 inch is the tallest the cockpit can handle. Consequently, I lost 30 pounds for the 2004 season to be even more comfortable. All older gliders' weights are different based on the equipment installed as well as damage/refinishing history. Make sure you check to see what each individual glider's max pilot weight is after its weight and balance so you don't surpass the glider's max total weight limit.

I also fly without shoes because the Germans must have the narrowest feet! No shoe on the planet fits into the Phoebus rudder pedal cups. I take my shoes/sandals off and fly barefoot. Because of the cold air blowing on my toes at high altitude (above 15,000') even on a summer day I had to do something. I am now using my dive booties from scuba diving as they will fit into the heal cups. Behind the headrest is a fairly small (approximately 16x12x12) storage compartment that allows my sandals and camelbak water bag to fit snugly in.


Another Phoebus Glider Owner's Perspectives

I asked the new co-owner of my Phoebus to jot down his initial thoughts after a handful of flights. Here are his comments.

Thoughts of a new Phoebus owner on it's handling
For my evaluation to make any sense, an understanding of my flying experience is really necessary, otherwise there's no way to see how I am reaching the conclusions. In the past few years I have flown mainly club gliders, which in our case consist of a couple of Grob 103's, a SGS 1-34 and the ever trustworthy 2-33. I personally owned a K8b which I also enjoyed flying. I also have limited time in a Duo-Discus, a L-13, and an L-23.

The Grob's are great to fly, especially for passengers. It's large and heavy but smoothes out the flight and penetrates really well. One of our Grob's is an acro version and has more aileron control and feels more tight and perky. The 1-34 is lighter on the controls, much more responsive and "slippery" than the Grobs. The K8b was even lighter than the 1-34 and actually the closest of all the gliders I've flown to the feel of the Phoebus. It's very light, very responsive and really a blast to fly. On the down side it has a terrible polar for any speed and doesn't penetrate well at all.

I'll give a brief overview of my feelings on the Phoebus followed by a discussion of each of the phases of flight.

Phoebus Overview
This glider is very responsive, you really have to be light on the controls but NOT let go. It handles well, takeoff and tow are straightforward once you learn the keys (see below). I love thermalling but in rough air you have to use caution to keep from getting bounced around. The firm wings and sensitive controls can cause some PIO so use smooth movements, rest your arm against your leg, that sort of thing. The penetration and final glide abilities really set this glider apart as one of the best I have flown. With only 15 or so hours I feel I have much work to do to even tap the abilities of this glider to thermal and fly. It flies faster than I normally do and have to get used to keeping it moving and still core the thermals. I'm looking forward to years together with this glider and many more long duration and long distance flights.

Start of Tow
Flying the Phoebus, my initial thoughts were that I could encounter some difficulty with the CG hook and might have to worry about tow, with some concerns for takeoff and landing. To address this I spent time talking to two Phoebus pilots and really thank them for their time and help because as it turns out, I have not had a single scary takeoff and tow and flying the Phoebus during the initial stages of tow has been relatively simple. The key method I follow which really has worked well is this. As I call for the tow to start, I have a wing runner to keep things level until I get rolling. I start with full backstick and focus completely on leveling the wings. That takes all of a couple seconds and then I slowly push the stick forward. As I get the ship level, both side to side and front to back, the tail wheel picks up and I roll a little on just the main. It only takes a couple seconds more and I'm gradually lifting off very smoothly. A few times I held back stick pressure too long and the glider shot up rather quickly which required corrective action to keep proper tow alignment.

On Tow
This glider is slippery and requires me to stay on focus and not goof off taking pictures or admiring the beauty of the scenery. Perhaps it's due to the all flying elevator, but if you get low, pulling up from the wake is difficult so I make sure and stay just a touch above exactly level. I was told that if I get stuck in the mushy rough tow position, to go to low tow and then pull up through it. I haven't let that happen bad enough to have to drop to low tow yet. On a rough air day I had to slip a few times to keep from catching up with the tow plane and watching the rope pull from the side of the glider was an interesting thing. It didn't turn out to be a problem but I can see that if you let things get out of alignment, they could get worse quickly. Paying attention is the key, things happen quickly on tow at 60-65 knots.

Comfort and Fit
I am 5'11" and 220, so it's a snug fit. On the ground I was worried that it would be uncomfortable but I have to be honest and say that once I'm flying, the view and comfort are really nice. I have no problem with very long flights and feel very relaxed and comfortable. It's nowhere near the Barco-lounger feel of the Grob, but does work well for my posture on long flights. I fly with a backpack parachute and it make the seat-pan work well. I do find it a little difficult to reach the panel from the reclined position and moved the radio to make it easier for me to use. On one of my early flights, I realized quickly into the flight that my camel back water line had been stuck between the canopy and frame when the canopy was placed on so the canopy wasn't seated properly and I could see outside through the gap one side between the canopy and the frame. Rather than risk losing the canopy in flight I returned to the airport so it could be removed and reinstalled. My key now when having new people put the canopy on is to turn my head as far as possible to both sides so I can visually inspect that the canopy is completely seated.

Thermalling
I've been told that you don't have a good feel for a glider until you have at least 50 hours in it. I do know that I've been able to stay up in difficult conditions and that the Phoebus thermals well. It has a very obvious stall and does fall off when you stall it. The shaking gives you a big heads up. I know on my first few flights when trying to thermal it was easy to stall because it was so smooth and quiet I had to adjust my senses to realize I was flying so slow. I have found that for me thermalling slightly faster in the Phoebus seems to produce better results. Probably due to the efficiency of how the glider flies. It just makes it a little harder to stay in those smaller thermals on marginal days. I imagine that pilots of the faster gliders face this same issue? I have also had to adjust to knowing when to stop and how far to go back when I am on a nice speed run and fly through something I decide to work for a few thousand feet.

Final Glide
In just the couple of months I have been flying this glider I have learned to enjoy the much longer legs that the improved penetration, speed and L/D give me on cross country flights. It's gotten so that if I don't get at least 30 miles from the airport I feel frustrated with the conditions of the day. It's taken me a few flights to really gain the trust that the performance is there. I fly with a flight computer system (iPaq 2215 w/SeeYou Mobile) and that provides some reassurance that I really can make the airport from so far away that I can't even see it. The runs between thermals and the final glide home really are the crowning jewels for this gliders performance. I have flown side by side with an ASW-20 and at the slower speeds performance was nearly identical. Of course anything above 60 knots and the ASW-20 was pulling away.

Landing
Adjusting to the very low ground clearance took a few flights. This glider is really low to the ground. I have an A model so this might be different on the B and C. The spoilers are very effective BUT do have the built in tendency to want to open more on their own. Rather than holding them steady or in position, I find I have to use considerable pressure to keep them from opening further. I lock my left hand into position and once I'm on final, try not to adjust it much as it can cause quick bouncing up and down which isn't good right over the runway. The landings have been nice and once I'm rolling on the ground still have good control to get me to the taxiway I use. The brakes are really poor so don't count on them stopping you, you need to burn off your energy before you get to your stop.

I hope that you've found this information helpful. If you have any comments or questions, send me an email.

Dale Taylor
dale@soarwest.com
Phoebus A owner, N697Z

Phoebus Glider Specs and History

The Phoebus was derived from the Phonix, which first flew in 1957, the world's first successful fiberglass sailplane. The Phoebus came from the same team of designers and used the same fiberglass and balsa wood sandwich technique. The A model (shown), a Standard Class design with fixed gear, first flew in 1964. The B model, an A with retractable gear, appeared in 1967. When FAI rules changed in 1970 the B qualified as a Standard Class ship and the A was discontinued. The C model with retractable gear also emerged in 1967, but with a longer 17 meter wing and a tail drag chute.

If you are aware of any more information about the Phoebus than is listed here, please contact me.

Manufacturer:

Bolkow
Classified as: Unclassified
Country Of Origin: Germany
Designers: Richard Eppler, Hermann Nagele, Rudolph Lindner

No. of Seats 1
No. Built 250?
   
Aspect ratio: 17.1
Airfoil: Eppler 403
Structure: fiberglass and balsa sandwich

Sailplane Performance
L/DMax: 37 @ 90 kph / 49 kt / 56 mph
The sailplanedirectory says the best L/D is 36 at 46 knots - my original Phoebus A manual says 37 at 49 knots. I bet the actual numbers are somewhere in between.
MinSink: 0.64 m/s @ 80 kph or 43 kt / 2.1 fps / 1.24 kt

Specifications:
Wing Span Area Empty Weight Payload Gross Weight Wing Load Water Ballast
m
ft
sq.m
sq.ft
kg
lb.
kg
lb.
kg
lb.
kg/
sq.m
lb./
sq.ft
kg
lb.
15.0 49.2 13.1 141.0 225.0 496.0 125.0 276.0 350.0 772.0 26.71 5.43 0.0 0.0

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