A buffet-style closed course!

Saturday, 6/20/09


Walt Johnson and I talked on the phone a couple of days beforehand. Walt agreed to be my crew for the day. The weather forecasts were looking promising. Winds were forecasted out of the WNW, and the long-term soaring forecast had been gradually getting better.

Driving down from Duluth, the day started off blue -- even in Duluth there was no coud to be seen. There was some slight haze on the horizon, and once I got down to Osceola, WI (OEO), there was a little high cloud to the South, but nothing apparently to be worried about-- the day was still starting off blue. There had been a little fog to start off the day. (I have no idea what this means, but there had been a significant fog bank in Duluth and Superior the night before -- I had been out for dinner the night before and going across the bridge to Superior, WI, the bridge had been fully fogged in).

Here's a picture enroute from Duluth:

I got into the airport at about my regular time of 7:45am, and ate a scone and had some orange juice while getting the weather in the terminal building. The xcskies forecast didn't indicate a long soaring day, but the blipmaps were very encouraging.

Andy Power was FOO and arrived at exactly the right time to help me with my wings. I wanted to wash my ship (again!) because I had landed in a field on Monday, and I also wanted to get the bugs from that last flight off the leading edge.

After rigging and washing, Walt and I talked about flight plans for the day. The measured and forecasted winds aloft seemed on the strong side and suggested that a closed-course flight might be difficult. However, as one of our alternate plans, we had the closed-course flight as follows:

This is a 275 mile task, planned with winds expected from the NW. I like to avoid flying directly into a headwind, and a basically four sided task can achieve that. I was thinking that the winds aloft might be a little more out of the NW. We also were thinking about going either straight East or straight SE should the winds prove too high for a viable closed-course flight. (It turns out with the light winds that we actually had for the day, a triangle shaped task could have also been viable).

With Lee Bradshaw towing, I got into the air at 12noon (thanks to Steve Kennedy for letting me cut in front of him in the flight line!). NOAA had predicted that the trigger temperature would be achieved at 1pm, but on Monday of this week they had been conservative about this, so I wanted to be ready earlier. In retrospect, I think I could have stayed up at 11:30am. The winds aloft were light. Through the day, the winds were around 10 mph or slightly less. I inadvertently released in Minnesota! That should remind me to focus on where I am in the glider before releasing. (Usually I like to release in Wisconsin to be elegible for WI state records.)

I called out to the ground that I was going to start heading East, on the closed-course flight. My first turnpoint was to be about 8 miles South of Rice Lake, and 8 miles West of Chetek. The first two turnpoints went by relatively quickly. In the first hour, cloudbase was a little low, and I wasn't getting much higher than 5,000'MSL. While some of the lift was strong (about 5kts), much of it was weaker. It seemed the day hadn't quite "gotten off the ground" yet.

By the time I made Shell Lake, my 2nd turnpoint, the day was cooking. This third leg was to be my longest -- some 118 miles, and all looked promising for that. I did spend a little time getting low at Shell Lake. And there was some nasty sink just as I was trying to touch the 2nd turnpoint. Here's a picture, low to the ground, near Shell Lake:

I flew over quite a few trees on this flight. I usually had fields within sight for possible landings, but the lift was consistently strong, and I generally wasn't worried about landing.

Leaving Shell Lake at about 1:53pm, I made good time on the first 40 miles of that third leg. I only stopped 2-3 times to thermal for that part of the leg, and was surprised how quickly I came to Grantsburg. Mostly, I cruised along at cloudbase running fast to avoid going higher! Grantsburg is where the story changed, however. Near Grantsburg, at about 2:45pm, I could see a lack of cumulus to the West. As observed by Andy Power before I got into the air, there was a different set of conditions happening to the West. While there might have been blue lift to the West, near Grantsburg I opted to head North to Moose Lake. There was lovely cumulus along that path.

I had some momentary radio contact with Walt Johnson as I was making this Moose Lake course change, and asked him to drive to Hinckley. He was still at OEO. If he drove to Hinckley, that would reduce the length of our day in case I landed off-field.

I continued making great time on the leg to Moose Lake. I was at the Moose Lake airport at 3:45pm. At Moose Lake, I thought of continuing to Duluth. I haven't yet made a flight to Duluth, and would like to land at the Bong airport in Superior one day. However, I wanted to make it back to OEO and there are lots of trees as you continue to the North, so I decided to turn around and head back to OEO. Thoughts of the xcskies forecast also percolated into my mind. They had predicted a somewhat short day. (I like to be optimistic about the soaring day, but after Grantsburg, I was making up my task as I went along on the flight, and perhaps was more easily influenced into changing my task).

Somewhere on these legs of the flight, a male informed us on the radio that we should not be using 123.5 for air to air communications. Without being irritable, I corrected him and informed him that this was an acceptable frequency for glider use. I heard nothing more from him.

I decided for a flight line crossing back to the East across the St. Croix river. The river was near the cumulus dividing line -- with blue to the East, and cumulus to the West. On one of my several low spots for the flight, I got low about 13 miles East of Hinckley, but managed a climb back up to a less anxiety producing height.

For this portion of the flight I was in good radio contact with Walt. He was nearing Hinckley. Just when he made it to Hinckley, I was starting to progress back to OEO. Walt suggested that he follow my ground track, going through Grantsburg instead of taking I-35. That sounded like a good idea! As I was approaching Grantsburg, I started to see Blue to the South! Ouch! Hmmm. I started considering landing at Grantsburg or Siren. What I really wanted though was to know if there was still lift at OEO. Possibly there was still lift in the sky even though it was blue.

I radioed down to Walt and asked him to call OEO on the cell phone. In short order Walt was talking to Steve Kennedy and he indicated there were still gliders in the air at OEO. Aha! It seemed like there might be lift in the blue between Grantsburg and OEO, so I headed out. There was 36 miles of blue in front of me. I managed to get within 16 miles of OEO, and was getting seriously low. I scratched in a zero-sink thermal, and was about 200' from pattern altitude with a field picked out, when I got something that seemed stronger. A few more turns and it seemed promising! I called out my vario and my altimeter to Walt every 500'. I climbed up to 5,200'MSL on that thermal, topping it out-- I wasn't racing the day any more. With only 16 miles to glide, that should do it unless I encountered massive sink! Walt and I both switched our radios over to 122.9 to start finding out what was going on at OEO, and I headed back. Walt was closing in fast too.

I was 7 miles north of OEO at Taylors Falls, and am reminded yet again of how far away airports look in the air. Man, OEO looks far away from Taylors Falls! Tom Binger was still aloft in the Pilatus, and I could hear him calling out his position when I radioed in.

Around this time, I found another thermal, and climbed back up to about 4,500'. I had enough altitude to make it back, but hey, why not have more! I wasn't in a rush to land. Plus, I was thinking about doing a transponder check. Woody Minar had supplied me with a procedure to call MSP approach to do a test of my transponder. I'd been flying with it for most of the season, and while it was calibrated, I had yet to do an actual tower-test.

Re-educating myself on how to change the code on the transponder, I decided to contact MSP tower. This was the first time I've had radio contact with a Class B airspace tower, so I was a little nervous. Woody's procedure worked, however, and MSP asked me to sqawk and ident on 0347 (if I recall correctly). I switched over my transponder code, and pressed the ident button. Shortly after that MSP told me I was at 4 miles North of OEO (I was actually closer to 6 miles), and they correctly read off the altitude that my encoding altimeter was sending (I think it was 4700' at the time). They also asked me if I wanted fries with that (really this was something like asking me if I wanted flight following, but that wasn't part of the script that Woody had given me, so I just got flustered and said "Thanks, I don't need that" or something like that!).

I continued on to OEO, and did some wing overs to celebrate the flight. There was no other traffic apparent at OEO. I did the power pilot pattern, with a long and wide downwind, base and final, and extended my glide out so I rolled out not too far from my trailer. (I had entered the pattern with 1,000' altitude and encountered some lift in the pattern).

I've now taken a page from Don De Pree's book, and I've started up a "flight plan" book. From week to week, I'm accumulating old tasks in my Colibri flight logger, and I'm going to keep my old task plans as pages in that book. So far I have three slightly different (depending on expected winds) 275 mile closed course plans.

I heard Jim Hard ("Zebra") aloft on 123.5 for most of the day, though didn't hear where he was.

When I landed at OEO, Walt Johnson and Andy Power were right there to pull me back to the trailer, with the golf cart. Walt had arrived just a few minutes ahead of me. I forgot to take my landing pictures, so ended up taking some pictures when we were part way through the derigging process.

It wasn't quite so disorienting this time to be back at OEO after a long flight. After my flight on 5/17/09, I had found it quite disorienting to be derigging back at the airfield where I started. Perhaps it helped to have Walt there. He's often the one helping me take the ship apart in a farmer's field!

There was quite a bit of high cloud in the sky at the end of the day. Here's a picture aloft:

And here is a picture from the ground:

The high cloud, the blue sky to the West, and to the South (from Grantsburg), and the beautiful cumulus otherwise all contributed to this buffet-style variety in the day. Here are some images of the cumulus in the sky:

I learned that Woody Minar had climbed up higher than 7,000' MSL that day at OEO. My best height for the day had been about 6,400' MSL.

The day was closed off by a nice celebratory dinner with Kelsey C., Paul C., Steve K., and Walt in Scandia at Meisters. They were having a party, set up just for us, of course!

I think this was one of the top five soaring days of the season so far. I think if the cumulus would have been consistent throughout the day, I could have easily made my 275 mile closed course. That will be for another day!

The flight was 232.52 miles (374.21 km; OLC Classic) flown at an average of 37.44 mph (60.26 km/h) in about 6 1/4 hours. Here's a link to the OLC, and here are more pictures.