A First-of-the-Season Test-Flight

Saturday, 4/11/09


Well, today's flight was a bit of a slapstick comedy, with no parties injured in the humor, fortunately. As usual, I had high hopes, and Walt Johnson and I (thanks for crewing Walt!) set out with plans for a 250 mile closed-course flight. My longest-distance (nearly) close-course flight to date has been about 232 miles (7/28/07). Rigging went fine, except that I was much later than I hoped. Tigger temperature was predicted by NOAA for 11am, but the flight launch occured at 1pm. As usual, I was a little stressed because of this lateness. This was the third day of flying with RWSA this season, so it's perhaps not surprising that things were a slow. I take some of the responsibility, as I only got to the airfield at 8:30am, a little later than usual.

Once Walt, and I pulled the glider out to the flight line, launching occurred quickly. Perhaps even a bit too quickly. I like to have a good period of quality time slowly getting myself into the aircraft, and going over my preflight checks, before the tow plane gets into position, and is hooked up. However, we pulled out to the flight line with a glider about to enter into the pattern in five minutes, and with the tow plane just having landed and eager to tow me up. I steadfastly stuck to my written pre-flight checklist, but I would like to see a procedure at RWSA where the glider pilot is able to get into his or her ship, slightly off of the launching area, then once the pilot and ship are ready, then, the towplane can be connected. In the last few years we were flying at Benson's airport, we were able to do this-- gliders were off to the side of the runway and were towed from this location. For example, this meant that if another aircraft landed, the glider didn't have to be pushed off to the side (perhaps only the towplane had to move off).

The slapstick comedy started in earnest when I initially got into the glider. I smacked my GPS flight logger with my foot. This was my first flight in my ship this season, and I have a new camera/GPS flight logger mount on the right gunwale of my ship (thanks to Steve Kennedy!). I need to stick with a procedure of getting into the ship from the left side to avoid hitting this equipment on the right side (with the forward hinging canopy, this is no problem). Fortunately, the flight logger was just slightly bent (easily repaired later) in its mount.

With Lee Bradshaw towing, I released at 3,000 AGL and quickly found a 5-6 knot thermal. It was blue day (and stayed that way all day), and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to set off on a cross-country flight. Quickly finding this strong thermal, however, gave me the confidence I needed to set off on my journey. I radioed down on the Osceola (OEO) frequency of 122.9 to try to make contact with Walt. Curiously though, I didn't get a radio response. Hmmm. Odd. It was also odd that my GPS flight logger was indicating that it had no satellite contacts ("GPS Bad"). The second phase of the slapstick comedy. Through the entire flight the only radio contact I had was with Lee Bradshaw, and hearing an aircraft doing patterns at Princeton, MN-- I was only a couple of thousand feet above that aircraft. (We had done a radio test while rigging, and I had not gotten a response to my call out of "Glider radio test" on 122.9, so we ran a radio test with a radio in the crew vehicle-- only 50 or so feet away and got contact-- I assume that this was only working because of the relatively short distance to the car). My GPS flight logger was not functional through the entire flight.

I had a decision to make with the radio and GPS not working. I could land and see if I could solve the technical problems, or I could push on and make the flight without radio and GPS. I decided to push on. I had my maps. Landing would have to be done without radio in any event. (Later I decided that if I ended up landing back at OEO, I would call RWSA ground on my cell phone and ask them to radio my approach remotely. I don't normally fly with my cell phone turned on, but this was a slight emergency, and so the use of the cell phone in flight seemed merited).

My first destination was Cambridge, MN, which I made with no further problems. I pushed on to Princeton, MN. It had been a while since I'd flown with purely map navigation, and it was refreshing to do this again. Perhaps one should do this at least once a year-- Fly a cross-country course with only maps and no GPS. (I think the radio failure on top of this was a bit much though-- God are you listening?!).

From Princeton, I decided to head to Milaca, MN. I was following an abbreviated version of the course that Walt and I had planned. I was doubtful that I could make the 250 mile flight with the thermal strength conditions (I only encountered a couple of other thermals as strong as my first one), and it turns out later that my flight time of 3 1/2 hours was about enough-- my feet were getting pretty darn cold!! I followed a road from Princeton to Milaca. As Walt later observed, I was flying "IFR": I Follow Roads :). From Milaca, I proceeded to Mora, MN, (again flying "IFR"), and from Mora to Hinckley, MN. I was generally maintaining at least 5,000' MSL, and my highest altitude of the flight was around 5,700' MSL. Milaca to Hinckley was pretty low stress. This was the meaty middle part of the soaring day, and I didn't have to circle much in lift to maintain my altitude.

I was surprised to see the amount of ice still remaining on the lakes. For example, Lake Mille Lacs seemed still to have a great deal of ice (I'm very glad that my camera didn't also choose to give up the ghost on this flight!). Here's my favorite image from the flight (a lake by Lindstrom, MN):

Here's some ice on a lake:

And here's an image of Lake Mille Lacs:

From Hinckley, I turned South, planning to fly a return course to OEO from there. However, this leg had my strongest headwind component of the day, and I ended up getting low and landing about seven miles south of Hinckley. I chose a farmer's field, and started my downwind. On downwind I decided that the field on my right was longer, and decided for that instead of the field to my left, making a right hand pattern. I cleared the trees to the North of the field, and pulled on full flaps. Here's a Google Earth view of the field (the lat/long mark the spot and coordinates where I rolled to a stop, landing to the South):

On touching down, the last part of the slapstick comedy enaged itself-- I had failed to fully lock my gear in the "down" position. In this soft spring hayfield, I landed gear up! Ooops. That was officially my first gear-up landing. I'm glad it happened on soft ground as opposed to asphalt. I realized the gear up landing was happening as I touched down because of how far down the glider was settling, plus the sounds were quite different, and the "rollout" after touch-down took less time!

Someone driving on a road to my immediate West, stopped-- they were concered that I was injured. I gave them a thumbs-up sign, and they drove off. I got out of the glider, called Walt on my cell phone, and took pictures of my landing area. Here's one of the images:

The last Walt and I had talked (before I launched), we had agreed that he would head to the center of my planned course and wait there to hear from me. The hope was that we would have radio contact for most of the flight that way. Well, we had no radio contact at all, but Walt had decided on Harris, MN as the center of the planned course. Once I had figured out where I was, and told him on the phone, Walt was at the my landing "airfield" very quickly!! Excellent!! Usually, I just use my GPS to read off my Lat/Long and pass that along to my crew, and they use my car mapping GPS to find my landing field. I had no GPS, however, so I flagged down a passing truck, who turned out to be Jerry, the field owner. I thanked him and he told me where I was-- about 2 miles East of Beroun, MN.

Jerry and his son, and daughter-in-law helped us derig, and Jerry stayed until we had everything packed away in the trailer, ready to leave. All in all, a fun day. A first cross-country flight of the season. Many pictures on the flight. No serious damage to the glider. We met some new people in an off-field landing. And I learned the real meaning of "IFR" :).

In retrospect, I suspect that the simultaneous failure of the radio and GPS was not coincidental. It does not seem to be a power issue (the radio has a voltage meter and that was reading 12 volts plus-- I have a 14 volt battery). We had done work on the glider over the winter, and somehow this seems to have caused a problem. Debugging of the specifics of the problem will have to wait until this coming weekend when we can spend some quality time looking into it!

Other Notes:

I need to establish some camera procedures in my checklist for rigging: I forgot to connect my remote shutter relase on the camera, I didn't hook up a safety "chain" to the camera, I ended up taking pictures with a little more wing in view, and I didn't set the camera to automatic settings before the flight. Also, I believe I didn't look at GPS flight logger on the ground to make sure that it had connected to sattelites.

I've got to get my sunglasses checked. I wasn't well-able to read the fine text on the sectionals giving airport radio frequencies.

In my landing procedures, I need to include a check that gear is LOCKED down.

I need to do something next time to keep my feet warm. Perhaps I should have worn my jacket, and not just a sweater. This could have kept my body core temperature higher and perhaps my feet would have stayed warmer.

The flight launch was about 1pm, and the landing was at about 4:30pm. This was my 18th off-field landing. Here's the text of the landing coordinates: Lat: N 45 54.414; Long: W 92 55.057

Flight legs:

  Flight Leg Distance (sm)
1 OEO to Cambridge (CBG) 32.68
2 Cambridge to Princeton (PNM) 16.69
3 Princeton to Milaca (18Y) 14.73
4 Milaca to Mora (JMR) 18.99
5 Mora to Hinckley (City) 18.38
6 Hinckley to landing field 7
  TOTAL 108.47