The First Flight of the Season
It was a good day. The weekend before, we had rigged an L13 and had checkout rides at RWSA , so this was to be my first flight of the season in my own ship. In the few days before the weekend, after looking at the weather forecasts, I finally decided to make a cross-country attempt on Sunday. The forecasted low-temp Saturday night looked better (lower) than on Friday night, the forecasted temperature-dewpoint spread looked better Sunday, and the soaring forecasts (Dr. Jack and xcskies) looked better for Sunday. I canceled a regular Sunday breakfast get together I, and asked Walt Johnson if he'd be willing to crew. Walt was OK with crewing, so we were on!!
Driving down to Osceola on Sunday, the day looked completely blue until I got further down South. There was some high cloud (cirrus?) present to the South. I was a little concerned. It turned out this played a role in my flight. There was no fog except for some mist on a few lakes. The low temperature seemed to be about what was predicted. Driving through Stacy, MN at around 7:30am, the temperature was 34 degrees F.
I arrived at 8am at the airfield and checked the soaring forecasts and the winds. The Ford forecast looked great!! Lift was predicted up to 9,000 feet! A promising looking Spring day! It wasn't clear what the winds were doing. The forecasted and measured winds were a little stronger than I wanted, out of the West, but in some forecasts, surface winds out of the South were forecast.
Expecting cold temperatures aloft, I dressed with thermal underwear under my pants, a sweater, a jacket, and mukluks on my feet. My feet get way too cold on cross-country flights in the Spring.
Walt and I decided to attempt a 500km triangle. He and I had spent some time planning these triangle flights over the winter. Flying large FAI triangles out of Osceola poses some challenges. The MSP TCA gets in the way, as does the MOA's, Eau Claire, and trees! The triangle we had in mind had turn points of Lublin, WI, and Rochester, MN. Between Rochester and Osceola, one would need to deviate around the TCA and so this would extend the length of the flight.
I had wanted to do a couple of flights on Sunday. A first flight to get re-acquainted with my ship, and another, cross-country flight. I was the first person at RWSA to launch at 12:30pm, and it was clear on tow I could expect lift. I released at 3000 feet MSL and climbed up to 4000 fairly readily. The day was blue, but I was finding thermals pretty consistently. Quickly, I decided to head out on my cross-country task. I had declared the 500km triangle with Lublin, WI as the first turnpoint, and the winds were cooperative-- light and out of the West mostly. It was 101.3 miles (163 km) to Lublin.
As I made my way to Lublin, I progressively climbed higher and higher, reaching 9,800 feet indicated MSL along this leg. That was to be my highest climb of the day. Probably the 2nd or 3rd highest altitude I've attained in the region. There was plenty of haze at that altitude. Here's an image of some of it at 1:34pm:
I realized about 2/3 into the flight that I had my transponder set on non-altitude reporting. Ooops. I quickly changed it to report altitude. That was my only FOOBAR in the flight, fortunately.
Walt and I were in radio contact through nearly all of the flight. He drove a smaller version my triangle, nested within my in-air triangle, so we could keep in radio contact and to minimize delay should I have landed away from the field. It's more fun too, to be in touch with crew through the flight!
Departing Lublin at 3pm, I started getting lower climbs and weaker thermals. Part of this was certainly the reduced ground I was covering, with a little headwind (the wind was mostly NW at that point). Part of this also seemed to be getting closer to some high cloud that was reducing ground heating. As I got nearer to the Mississippi, heading to Rochester, MN, I started having misgivings about being able to complete my task. I was at 4400 feet MSL and about 10 miles away from the Mississippi (and about 45 miles out of Rochester, my next turnpoint) at 4:40pm when I decided to abandon the rest of the planned flight and head back towards Osceola. I figured that I would need another three hours of the soaring day to complete my 500 km plan. It seemed unlikely the day would keep working until 7:30pm, so I headed North instead. I radioed Walt to start heading North. Given that I was not making the climbs of the first part of the day, I made for Boyceville (with a backup of Menomine).
A few times in the flight I got low enough to start looking for farmer's fields. My lowest point was 2700 feet MSL, a few miles NE of Durand. I didn't get so low though to be making a final field selection.
Flying back North, I got up high again to nearly 9000 feet MSL about 20 miles south of Boyceville. This is a second piece of evidence indicating that the better lift was better to the North.
Walt beat me to Boyceville, and I took some pictures of him on the ground. It's next to impossible to see him with the car and trailer on the ground, but here's an image anyways:
Flying from Boyceville, I headed to New Richmond, still not fully sure I'd make it back to Osceola. Perhaps I was flying a little more conservatively because I knew that both Walt and I had to work the next day.
I was flying straight into the sun and there was lots of haze. Perhaps without the haze, the visibility with the sun would have been better, but I had little choice if I wanted to make it back. I did my best to keep a continous lookout.
At about 10 miles out of New Richmond, I was confident I had enough altitude to make it back to Osceola, so I changed course for Osceola, and started radioing in my approach. I dialed into the AWOS and got the surface winds (calm) and also got the altimeter setting. For whatever reason, this was the very first time I've used AWOS to get an in-flight altimeter setting. This will be something I start doing more regularly. There had been a slight change in the surface pressure.
I arrived back at Osceola at about 6:30pm, with about 500 feet to spare above pattern altitude. I took a few pictures of the field and did my preflight landing checks. No need to end a nice flight with the gear up!!
I made a little better time than Walt on the route from Boyceville back to Oseola, but he drove in only about 10 minutes after I was waiting, with the front gate open. Good time Walt! Steve Kennedy showed up shortly after, and helped us derig my ship. Thanks to both Steve and Walt!
The mukluks kept my feet generally pretty warm. The lowest temperature aloft I saw was 32 degrees. I'm not sure the mukluks would have handled extended temperatures much lower than that. My feet got a little cold, but nothing bad. I donned my winter glovest at altitude a few times, and wore my winter wool hat once aloft. I had some negative interactions between my mukluks, my pilot relief system, and my jeans. I usually wear baggy flying pant, but had forgotten to that on this flight.
This wasn't the day for me for the 500km, but my philosophy is: You don't make the task unless you make attempts. So, we'll keep trying! At some points in the flight I got the feeling of what it might be like to fly out West. With our typical mid-west 6000 MSL (5000 AGL) seeming like a low altitude!!
The flight was some 258.2 statute miles (415.6 km), flown at an average of 44 mph (70.85 km/h), with a total duration of 6 hours 7 minutes. The OLC link for the flight trace is here. And here are some more pictures.