Being Bad and Gaining Humility: Monday Soaring


The last several weeks I'd been working flat out. The end of the semester was here and I had a stack of grading that had accumulated. That and, of course, final exams had to be graded. I had flown on Easter (4/24/11), but had not flown since, despite excellent conditions the weekend before this. I finished my grading in the evening of Saturday, 5/15/11, but decided that I needed a day at home to buy groceries and decompress. Monday, however, was another matter. Dr. Jack had been predicting a good day. Here's Dr. Jack's forecast for Monday (from Sunday):

A very good forecasted day (though I need to use Dr. Jack's "Height of Critical Updraft Strength" forecasts too). I was getting it into my mind that a long flight downwind was a good idea. With winds forecast from the NE, a flight into Iowa (or farther) seemed like a good idea. I hadn't had a downwind flight in some time, and it seemed a good idea to exercise the freedom that this brings. It's a lot of fun to have no idea where you are going to land, and to just push the limits and go as far as you can with the wind at your back.

The planning problems with Monday flying were the ususal issues of crew and towpilot, and also two committments I'd made. I had to first decide about the committments. I was taking a course that met once a week, Monday evenings. Plus, we were having a celebration lunch to thank our current Department Head, Rich Maclin, for all his hard work. Department Head is largely a thankless job, involving a great deal of work, and Rich had taken the role for numerous years, and, in my strong opinion, had done a very good job. He was very grateful to be giving up this role, and handing the reins over to Hudson Turner. While I have great appreciation for Rich and the job he has done, in the end analysis I decided my mental health was more important. I often have a personality characteristic like my Mother, when choosing between someone elses needs and my own. Often it is the other person's needs that take priority. I decided to be "bad" this time. To put my needs first. I emailed the course instructor and told her I wasn't going to be showing up, and I emailed Lori, our department secretary (the lunch was a surprise for Rich), that I'd not be able to make it-- telling her that I needed to go flying instead. I'm reminded of the lyrics in a song by Ed Kilbourne (Doctor's Orders):

If this is an emergency and you're about to die
You better call a Doctor that doesn't like to fly

With that decision made, the rest came into alignment. Darryll Dodson had come forward to say he'd crew for me. Darryll gave up flying himself, and helped me. Thanks Darryll!!! I hope he found our adventure worthwhile. I called around and Roger Lee was willing to tow.

I was talking to Jim Hard about Monday. He was planning to fly then too, and predicted with the temp-dewpoint spread it would be a blue day. The day-of NOAA soaring forecast predicted the same thing, and it was blue all the way down from Duluth to Osceola.


Here's Dr. Jack's forecast from Monday morning:

Darryll beat me to the RWSA hangar, and we set about getting the glider ready. We decided on a goal of 400 miles to the SSW into Nebraska. Why not dream big? It's longer than any flight I've made before, but with good conditions and a strong wind it seems possible.

Roger arrived and we did our first tow around noon. I nearly beat Roger back down to the ground. While there was apparently strong lift on tow, I only found the strong sink. With the blue sky, I had little help in finding the lift. I landed on runway 04. I had asked Darryll to head out on the road immediately after getting me into the air. In anticipation of the glider making much better speed than the crew, it makes sense to give the crew a head start. So, with Roger's help, using Roger's car, we pulled the glider back to the end of runway 04.

Sometimes one forgets things one has learned before. We literally pulled the glider right back to the end of runway 04. Right under the landing path of runway 10. It wasn't until a landing aircraft called out short final on runway 10 that I realized I was going to be giving them very little space!!!! BIG OOPS. I made haste, as the aircraft was on final, to push back further. Then, I walked to out to talk to Roger who was getting the towplane ready. Better not compound a problem. Using the towplane as a ground vehicle, we quickly pulled the glider forward, past the immediate location of the final path for runway 10.

We launched again, and this time it took; I was able to stay in the air. I set out for my first destination-- New Richmond. Through this first part of the flight, all the way to Red Wing, I struggled. Lift was inconsistent and I was not able to center it. It seemed like the winds (15-20mph from the NNE) were breaking it up. I find that sometimes decent winds break up the lift, and sometimes aloft, you cannot really tell from the thermals that there is a strong wind (aside from your drift while thermalling).


Here's the airport at Red Wing:

Heading downwind after Red Wing, the lift got more consistent fairly quickly. I was now getting 4-6 knots of lift, consistently, all around the thermalling turns. After flying in these conditions for 1/2 an hour or so I was starting to feel more optimistic about the day. Jim Hard also seemed excited about the prospects for the day judging from his radio calls. My excitement was short-lived however. Nearing Albert Lea, I started to descend.

I was nearing Interstate-35, and about 15 miles out of the Albert Lea airport and saw what might be Darryll on the freeway. I called down to him and asked him his position. He said he was also about 15 miles out of Albert Lea. I told him to look off to the East. And he spotted me! He had me in visual contact for most of the rest of the flight. We had been in radio contact for the entire time I was aloft, even while he was driving through the Twin Cities.

I kept descending and not finding lift. I made thermalling attempts, that were undoubtedly too low-- around 500', not ready to give up the day. I was flying over a series of landable fields. In my last turns, I saw I was over some small gravel pits. I made an irregularly shaped circle flying over one pit and then another. I gained a little on one turn, but lost it on the other. I finally decided enough was enough and made a brief right handed pattern and put it down in a field that had corn in it last year. The landing was no problem and I managed to keep the aircraft mostly between the old rows of corn.

I stepped out of the glider, and saw that Darryll had just pulled up on the road beside the field, not more than 1000' away. Good crewing skills Darryll!!! I pulled my camera off its mount in the glider, and shot some pictures of him approaching.

Two other vehicles were also approaching. A waste management facility was just across the road, and they had seen me circling in the sky. One of these gentlemen gave Darryll and I a ride over to the farmer's place that owned the field. The farmer was not in but we got the go-ahead to drive our vehicle onto the field.

I scraped my head on the roof of the trailer, adding to my humility lessons. Last winter, we had reworked the skin of the trailer, and had left many bolts protruding through the ribs of the inside of the trailer. I need to put some kind of protective devices on these so as to not cause myself or others more head injuries. Plus, I didn't want to end up like some others nearby this field:

I feel I should say something more about why I was trying to thermal so low. I have made numerous low saves on flights. It never seems clear to me when you should hang it up and land and when you should keep persisting on the goal. There is a safetly threshold, to be sure. There was a frustration factor. I hadn't gone nearly as far as I wanted to. I was shooting for Nebraska. I had my eyes set on this 400 mile downwind flight. As part of my personality, I tend to push myself-- I like to know without question I've given my best. In this flight, I had to land. I'd give it my best. I have no question. With more knowledge, perhaps I could have avoided the Albert Lea sink hole. However, I didn't have that knowledge. I was on a track with a goal, but these goals have double sided blades. On the one blade edge, I find that I acheive more if I have goals on a flight and try to push myself to reach those goals. On the other blade edge, having a goal can make you disappointed when do not reach that goal-- and makes you struggle to stay up, perhaps beyond the point of safety, when you have not made too much progress towards that goal. But to be sure, better to live to fly another day, to try for that goal again. When you persist too long, safety can surely be an issue.

Darryll and I talked about trying to obtain information about the amount of precipitation in the previous days for various locations on an intended flight plan (here is NOAA the link he passed along later). I asked the people who we met in the field about rain on earlier days. They told me there had been quite a bit of rain in the days before. I joked with Don Ingraham (we stopped at Faribault to see what was going on there) that "there was lot of standing water". But I think this may have truly been what happened. At least, there were some local conditions where I couldn't obtain lift. While I have made long flights on blue days, the lack of cumulus clouds certainly provide less information about potential lift.

It may, however, have been that I was truly shot down at the end of the day. Here's a sign to the immediate South of my landing field:

To cap off the day's humility lessons, I nearly high centered my car as I was turning, with trailer attached, as we were about to stop at a bar to get dinner. Plus, for a few minutes, I had the road blocked with the glider trailer, with me semi-stuck in a ditch. Darryll, good naturedly, got out of the car, and helped me get out from my precarious position. No apparent damage was done to anything but my ego.

From Darryll the next day:

"I was glad the bleeding had stopped and your wound was starting to heal by the time we made it back to the airport last night and hope you are recovering well today. And never forget, we are safer flying than when you're driving to the bar!!!"

The flight was some 129.7 miles (208.8 km) OLC distance flown at 50.7 mph (81.6 km/h) in 2 hours and 33 minutes of soaring flight. Here's the OLC link. Here are a few more pictures.


It's good to be reminded of conflicts between runway 04 and final approach for runway 10 at OEO. Darryll also reminded me later of the general issues with taking off on runway 04. There is little or no safety areas if you have a low PT3 (Premature Termination of Tow) on runway 04.

Aside from entering into downwind low on the landing, I could have made my turn onto base leg earlier. The field was about 3000' long, and I extended the downwind leg a little too long, past the end of the field. On final, I was somewhat nervous about making the threshold, over a road. I didn't feel precariously low, and managed to keep my head and keep the stick forward to keep up my airspeed. I didn't succumb to the desire to pull back on the stick to extend the glide. This would have been potentially fatal when landing on this day, since there had to be significant wind shear with the wind speed and gusts.

One consequence of being relatively low on final approach was a lack of knowledge about wires on the South side (final approch side) of the field. I had been focusing on staying in the air, and on my frustration with not making appreciable progress on my task, and had not focused on determining if there were wires running parallel to the field and road. Presumably there would have been wires.

I still don't have a strong personal decision on the altitude where I should give up a flight and land the aircraft.

I need to put protective covers inside of the trailer ribs on the protruding bolts!

I have new glasses, but need to get clip on sun screens for them. Heading SW had quite a bit of sun in my eyes.

When your shadow appears large on the ground, you are pretty near the ground!