The promise of Spring starts to pay off
4/24/11, Sunday (Easter)
Updated with records on 6/27/11

Team Zulu Tango made a 500km FAI triangle soaring flight! Walter Johnson had set the task-- he had found turnpoints that would allow a 500km flight to be made out of Osceola, WI (OEO). This flight is a little challenging out of OEO because each of the legs of an FAI triangle needs to have similar length (rule: "no LEG may have a length of less than 28% of the OFFICIAL DISTANCE" around the triangle-- from FAI Sporting Code Section 3). Various issues cause some difficulty with large FAI triangles out of OEO: there is the MSP airspace, the trees to the North of OEO (starting just after the river), the trees to the East (e.g., after Chetek, WI), and the MOA's (Military Operating Areas). The first turnpoint in Walt's task was Lublin, WI (about 7 miles NE of Thorp, WI, North of HWY 29; about 50 miles West of Wausau and 40 miles ENE of Eau Claire) and the second turnpoint was about 7 miles NE of the Rochester, MN airport. With this task design, it does require some skirting around the MSP airspace, on the leg from Rochester back to OEO. We had made several attempts at this 500km triangle goal last year, but hadn't yet made it as far as the second (Rochester) turnpoint.

Steve Kennedy also made a very fine flight on the same day-- some 214 km. Both Steve and Tom Binger landed after I did-- kindly seeing me back to the airport. Tom Binger made his silver duration flight.

Walt Johnson had Easter commitments and told me he'd not be able to crew. I called and emailed around and to my good fortune, Darryll Dodson was willing and able to crew. He had some early-in-the day Easter commitments, but would be able to make it out to OEO at least by 5pm. From the forecasts, the day looked to be promising for soaring, so hopefully I'd stay in the air until after 5pm and if I made a landout, we'd be well equipped to handle that with Darryll at the airport (though it would have been a long day should I have made a landout!). Surface winds were forecasted to be light (between 6mph and 10mph, mostly from WSW) and the Ford soaring forecast forecasted lift to 9,000' (I experienced lift up to 6,200'; at OEO Steve reported lift up to at least 7,000'). Here is Dr. Jack's blipmap (soaring forecast) from the day of the flight:

So with a good day on the horizon, and crew lined up, I headed down to the airport early Sunday morning. I was avoiding construction leaving Duluth and wanted to put plywood covers on my rudder pedals (in hopes that my feet would stay a little warmer, not contacting the metal pedals directly) so left Duluth around 5am (when I leave at this time of day from Duluth, which is just a little earlier than usual, I don't yet have access to the soaring forecast for the day). The sky was blue and the road foggy all the way down. Usually a good sign! There was a 30° temperature increase forecasted from freezing the night before.

Arriving at OEO close to 7:30am, the covers went on the pedals quickly. I blew another fuse on my transponder (have to remember to turn the transponder off after landing and before turning off main power!). During rigging I killed four birds eggs. A bird had made a sweet nest just beside where I happened to put the tail of my ship. I saw it initially, and said to myself "be careful". When I was putting on my tail dolly, just before pulling out to the flight line, I forgot about the nest and then looked back. I had crushed all four eggs. I called out in distress, and Steve Kennedy wondered what I was upset about. He probably thought I'd done some damage to my aircraft.

I was antsy preparing at the airfield and a little irritable. Perhaps because I hadn't gotten a full nights sleep the night before.

Photo credit: By Woody Minar?? (Image from facebook)

Pulling out to the flight line, Tom Binger and Steve Kennedy let me cut in front of them to launch. Thanks to the both of them!! With Tom Binger running my wing, I launched at 12noon. Mark Robotti was towing.

I ran fast and made it to Lublin, WI in two hours (2pm). This leg was relatively straight forward, though it was somewhat difficult to center thermals at the start of the flight. They seemed poorly "organized"-- I wasn't getting lift for a complete turn. My routine was: climb, push the stick forward to 70-80 mph and run to the next thermal. I am getting more decisive about thermals. In the first leg or so of the flight, I left thermals when they were weak at the top-- a weak mere 4kts!

Here are some of the raucously good cumulus clouds en route to Lublin (around 1pm):

Just as I marked my turnpoint at Lublin, I entered a thermal, pulled into a climb, and came back up to my cruising altitude of 5900' MSL. Should all turnpoints go so well!! I generally was climbing up to about 6,000' MSL in the first third of the flight. My best climb during this time was up to about 6,200' MSL at about a quarter the way to Rochester after leaving Lublin.

I was mid-way between Lublin, WI and Rochester, MN (halfway through the entire flight distance) at about three hours into the flight (3pm). In terms of straight line distances, I had made about 150 miles (about half of the task) in three hours. 50mph is not too bad from a fisherman's son ;).

At four and a half hours (4:30pm) I was at Rochester, MN. This turnpoint was about 7 miles out of the Rochester, MN airport, and I was at 4,500' MSL. The flight had started to slow down. Just before reaching the Mississippi, it was clear that I was flying into poorer conditions. There was high cloud over top of the cumulus cloud. I wasn't sure what the conditions under the cumulus were going to be, but I wanted to push on and see if could make it. I had made good time so far. I had a low point somewhat before the river at 4pm at about 2600' MSL (around 1500' AGL).

Here is some of the high cloud while crossing the Mississippi river:

From Rochester, MN back up to OEO was a struggle most of the way. It was no longer the easy climbs where I could afford to leave thermals because they were a mere 4kts! I was now working just about every ounce of lift in the sky. Leaving Rochester, I was heading for Red Wing, MN and I had to skirt the Minneapolis/St. Paul airspace. However, approaching nearer the river (I had to cross the Mississippi a second time), the terrain in a direct route towards Red Wing looked less inviting (more trees and less landable areas) than a route crossing at around Pepin, WI and Lake City, MN. Part of this route choice was also influenced by wanting to stay away from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airspace, and by following the clouds that looked good. Looking back now at my flight trace, I see that I crossed the river at a wide point, to be sure! The river was about 2.8 miles wide where I crossed. Though, from my recollection I only lost a few hundred feet in the crossing.

Here's an image crossing the river, taken to the South. Note the start of blue sky, and the high cloud in the distance:

Once across the river, I headed for New Richmond, WI. Nearing Baldwin, WI, while the high cloud had dissipated, lift was beginning to get sparse. It was nearly 6pm, and getting near the end of the soaring day. I was in touch on the radio with Steve Kennedy who was still in the air at OEO. It was good to know that there was still workable lift at OEO, and that offered me encouragement. And Steve's excited voice was good encouragement too! I struggled to get enough altitude to make it from Baldwin to New Richmond. The clouds at Baldwin looked a little better to the East, so I kept working my way East and North. Eventually I had 5,000' MSL and made my way to New Richmond. Baldwin was a low point in my flight-- 2300' MSL (about 1600' AGL).

At New Richmond, I was on the airport frequency and talking to the other aircraft in the area. I made for a wisp of cloud about one mile East of the runway, and to my luck, found 2kts of lift. I climbed from about 3500' MSL to 5,000' MSL and was confident I could make it back to OEO.

I had radioed into Steve about 20 miles out to ask him to remind me to touch my last turnpoint. Sometimes, returning to the airport, I'm tired and forget to do this. Steve gave his reminder and I touched my turnpoint, and set up a big wide pattern. I used 30° flaps most of the way, entering in high so I'd have lots of time. I had been in the air long enough. I put the ship down, and Darryll and Ryan Kennedy (Steve's son) were there to greet me. Final approach was into the sun. In the last parts of the final, I couldn't see much directly ahead of me. With light winds it could have been better to land using runway 10 instead so as to be able to see! (Although that way, I would have been heading into the sun for the downwind leg of the pattern).

Here are some images that Darryll took of the landing:

Darryll and Ryan (my substitute farmer's):

As I've experienced before, the last 60 miles or so of the flight were when the day was shutting down. I find it remarkable how far you can go nearing the end of the day in relatively weak conditions, when there is not too much lift, but not too much sink either.

My feet were warm on landing-- perhaps both because of the new plywood rudder pedal covers and because of the amount of time I spent scratching to stay in the air. It was also warmer this flight-- around 40° F at cloud base.

Quickly after landing, I called Walt Johnson. I wanted him to share on the flight. He designed the task and Team Zulu Tango had made a few attempts at this 500km triangle before. Walt was as excited as I was about the flight! I called Jim Hard too to let him know about the flight. I had been emailing with him about my plans for this flight, and he had left a voice mail message on my cell phone, wanting to know how the day had turned out.

Another image from Darryll of 7W (Steve's ship) and my ship:

Steve Kennedy, Darryll Dodson, Tom Binger and Ryan Kennedy and I had dinner at Augies to the north of Osceola. I was tired, but it was good to celebrate all of the accomplishments of the day. Though, they paid!!! I got back home into Duluth, MN at 12:30am Monday morning.

I'm hoping one of these days to get a "stupidly good" soaring day. Perhaps on that day, I'll be headed downwind with a crew that doesn't mind to be staying overnight on a retrieve. And we'll go for 400, or maybe 500 miles? It's always nice to dream!

I soared with birds numerous times on this flight. In my first thermal just after launching at OEO, I was circling with four soaring birds! In one of the thermals and bird interactions, I had to dive slightly to avoid a sluggish (and trusting) soaring bird. I have to remember that "see and avoid" also applies to soaring birds.

The flight was some 326.84 miles (526 km; OLC distance), flown in some 7 hours 8 minutes soaring duration, at an average speed of 45.7 mph (73.6 km/h). Here's the OLC link for the flight. Here are a few more images. I am planning to submit WI state record claims for this flight. It may achieve as many as 12 state soaring records. This flight was also my first flight eligible for a Barron Hilton Cup entry, which to my knowledge is automatically claimed with the OLC flight submission (see BHC tab on the OLC link for the flight).

Here is the flight trace from the OLC:

This flight was my second best distance flight (second only to my Sandwich, IL flight), and my best closed course speed. This flight ranked 6th in the world on OLC flights on April 24th, 2011 and was the best flight in the USA on the OLC on this date. Steve Kennedy's flight was ranked as 5th in the USA on that day. More evidence that this part of the world can make for national and world class soaring!

Note that new OLC rules merge the FAI triangle and distance as part of the scoring. Plus, flights must now must be posted to the OLC website within 48 hours of the flight landing.

6/27/11: This flight accomplished 11 Wisconsin state distance records and one Wisconsin speed record. My thanks to Peter von Tresckow, the WI state record keeper, for processing the record claims and dealing with rain-soaked mail delivery! And thanks also to Steve Kennedy for acting as the Official Observer for this flight, and keeping me to the rules!

Safety notes

Make sure to look onto the runway for obstructions prior to landing, especially if you have to land into the sun. Treat your home airport just like an off-field landing field.

I still don't have new glasses!

I hesitate to admit that I broke my cardinal flap rule. I let off flaps to 0° (from 30°) at the first part of final approach. I don't recall why. Perhaps I was trying to extend my glide to land long. I know this is not good reasoning. Retracting flaps causes you to loose altitude. I'll chalk it up to being tired. I did loose some altitude. I didn't get too low, however.