Next Stop: Madeline Island?

Sunday, 5/4/08

With Walt Johnson crewing and a tow by Mark Robotti, I launched shortly after 1pm. My original plan had been to fly East. The predicted winds aloft were out of the West. However, on talking to Jim Hard about plans I decided to wait until getting into the air to make my final decision. Jim suggested Hayward, and Cable (to the North East of Osceola) as possible destinations for a downwind dash. He also mentioned Ashland, but warned me that North of Cable until Ashland was forest. It would take strong lift to accomplish such a flight. Just before my launch, I also talked to Craig Cowell, who had just had a flight. He indicated the winds were out of the South West.

I hadn't been seriously considering a downwind dash for the day. It was Sunday. I had to work on Monday, and Walt had things to do on Monday too. However, once I got into the air, and got going North East, and the day started working, I decided to go for it.

Lift was somewhat weak initially, but by about 5 miles NE of OEO, I entered a thermal that in a few more miles got me to over 6,000 MSL. The rest of the flight was fairly low stress. Only a few times did I dip down to just below 5,000 MSL. Continuing on to the NE, and a few miles NE of Hayward, I was at near 8,000 MSL, and realized that with only about 40 miles remaining to reach Ashland, WI, I was effectively on final glide for Ashland. I had a tailwind of about 20 mph, and I figured I could make about 10 miles per 1,000 feet of descent. That would put me at about 4,000 over the Ashland airport. Because of the great tracts of butt clenching forest over that route from North of Hayward to Ashland, I took a few turns in thermals, but for the most part, I was indeed on final glide to Ashland. I called out "final glide to Ashland" to Walt over the radio. Walt was driving in my car & trailer, and heading NE. Walt and I were out of touch for most of the trip because, with the tailwind, I was outpacing him aloft. He did hear my call indicating final glide for Ashland, though. (A good thing to remember -- even if you can't hear your crew, it is worthwhile to still call out your position and plans over the radio-- they might be able to hear you but their transmissions might not be making it).

I indeed arrived at Ashland at about 4,000' MSL. At this point, I have to admit to making two mistakes on this flight. First, for some odd reason, I decided to land at Ashland upon arriving. I think it may have been because I was feeling a little guilty about my downwind dash. I had told Walt that I was going to try to make it back to the airfield today, and my downwind dash would put us arriving back to OEO later than I had planned. I also wanted to call Walt and let him know I was at Ashland-- because we had been out of radio contact. I didn't want to attempt a return flight back to Hayward, and back to OEO because of the forest. While I felt safe with 8,000' and tailwind making the last 40 miles to Ashland, there is far more risk in trying to punch into a 20 mph headwind to make a 40 mile flight over forest. So, I landed at Ashland, having only been in the air for 2.2 hours. Hindsight being 20:20, I should have stayed in the air for the next hour, waited for Walt to get within radio range, and told him I was enjoying the day over Ashland, and would land when he arrived at the airport. Instead, I enjoyed the day from the ground. Truely, it was a fantastic day.

My second mistake of the day could have been more serious. As should be obvious at this point, the winds were out of the SW. When I arrived at the Ashland, I switched over to the local radio frequency, and radioed that I would overfly the airport to look at the windsock. I saw the windsock on the ground, and it indicated winds out of the NW on the ground. Read that again. The winds were out of the NW on the ground. I wish I could have written this down and read it again when I was in the air. My eyes did not register this wind direction, even though looking back in my memory, I saw this direction of the wind sock from the air. HOWEVER, I was so focused on the fact that the winds aloft were out of the SW, I could not believe it. I didn't become conciously aware that the surface winds were out of the NW until I was on the ground. Fortunately for me, the surface winds were light. Perhaps there was a breeze coming in off Lake Superior, counter to the weather system aloft? I ate up a reasonable amount of runway (which seemed odd to me at the time), but came safely to a stop, pulling off the asphalt before I slowed down too much.

There I was, on the ground in Ashland, at the John F. Kennedy airport (yes, indeed). Walt arrived about 1.5 hours later. He wasn't upset that I'd changed my plans and gone downwind. Not at all. Thanks Walt!! After derigging, and generally enjoying the beautiful day, we had dinner at Hugo's pizza in Ashland. I'm told by a colleague that Frankie's pizza in Ashland is also good. Walt and I can recommend Hugo's though-- definitely good after a day's worth of flying!

My flight time was 2.2 hours. The distance was 133.25 miles (214.45 km; OLC classic), giving me an average ground speed of 61.85 mph (99.54 km/h). This is about 10 mph faster than any average speed I've had on a cross-country glider flight. Perhaps someone will do this flight one better and land on Madeline Island?! Make sure you have enough altitude to clear the forest!!

I'd like to close this flight report by saying that the BLIPMAPS were not quite in line with what happened this day in the sense of winds. After looking at the BLIPMAP for the day, I was concerned that the lift might be broken up and hard to center because of the winds. However, that was not the case. The lift was strong, often between 4 and 6 knots, relatively easy to center, and aloft there was little indication of a strong tailwind. Dick Huber had suggested this early in the day too. A strong wind doesn't have to mean that the lift will be broken up. Here is the OLC link for this flight.