It really is the crew!!

Wednesday, 6/3/09


It was one of those mid-week flying days, with the exception that my car was in the shop (having killed a deer with it just before my last flight), and so I had no crew vehicle. Tuesday I got the bug to fly, however. The weather forecasts looked promising, and Steve Kennedy was also up for flying. So, after some negotiations, Steve said he was willing to use his truck for the job of crewing (about 50% of my cross country flights end up in a farmer's field-- but that number is a little inflated as on some flights I fly downwind, not intending to make it back to the airfield). Lee Bradshaw came through for us, right after getting back from a trip to Kentucky, and said he would tow us up. So, all was in place-- now just to see what we could do with the day!

If you've read my flight reports before, you may know that I like some fog early in the morning, and there was some fog coming down from Duluth.

Enroute to the airport, Steve called me and told me he would have to cancel for the day. His cat was sick (throwing up body parts), and he was going to have take care of the cat. Being a cat lover, I fell for it and started suggesting backup plans. At that point Steve was amused I'd not caught on to his joke. Don't do that Steve! Cancelling a soaring day is not a joking matter! :).

The NOAA, Ford, xcskies, and Blipmap forecasts all looked like it was going to be a good day. NOAA predicted that it was going to be blue, but we could work with that. What turned out to be more of an issue was high cloud. At the start of the day, there was some high cloud to the South and West, and that continued to roll in, seemingly limiting the soaring day.

I called in from the airfield, cancelling an appointment I had for the day. I just told them that I was flying for the day. Everyone needs mental health (flying) days! I had a loaner car from the autobody shop which got me and most of my gear down to the airfield. Steve brought his truck, with its tow bar, over to my hangar, and we pulled my glider & trailer over to the RWSA clubhouse.

We were rigged, inspected, and ready to fly at about 11am. Lee towed us up (I launched at 11:46am), and I got off tow at 2,000' AGL. There was lots of lift, so I might as well use it to climb up the rest of the way-- I'd be using it for the rest of the day, all going well, anyways! My first climb was to 5,200' MSL, and I headed in to touch my first turnpoint (our airport, Osceola, WI; OEO). I radioed down to Steve, who was about to launch in the Pilatus, that I was heading out on my task. I was hoping for the soaring conditions (and pilot skill) to accomplish a 275 mile closed course task. My goal was an out and return with a turnpoint about 10 miles West of Wausau, WI.

It took me 3½ hours to get to my turnpoint (N 44° 57' 4", W 89° 54' 3"; near Marathon City, WI). A little slow given that I wanted to make it back to OEO, but not too bad! On my first cross country flight in my 1-35, I had flown to Wausau, WI (on a day with good lift and excellent cumulus clouds!) and it had taken me 6 hours to make that trip. I was improving my flying! As promised by NOAA, the day was indeed blue. I was fortunate to be missing most of the high cloud by flying to the East, but was going to have to face that, flying back to the West to OEO.

Heading back to the West, I continued to make pretty good progress. Around the location of my turn point, it seemed the lift was poor. I got the impression the fields might be damp or wet-- perhaps there had been some rain in the previous day? However, I got my best climb of the day on this return leg-- for me that was 6,500' MSL.

At 15 miles East of Boyceville, I started getting low and wasn't getting much lift (or sink), so started seriously considering my landing options. I had seen some fields that looked decent, and now was time to make my final choice. I had a few hundred feet before pattern altitude, so I spent that time sniffing for lift (didn't find any) and taking pictures of the scenery, low down. There was a river and some hills so that added to the beauty of the area.

I was able to get images of my landing field from the air. Here is a zoomable image of the landing field (e.g., click where you'd like to zoom; this needs Flash installed).

I decided on a green looking field, hoping it was a hayfield. It turns out I was right in my field selection, but wrong about the specific crop in the field. I learned it was an alfalfa field (about maybe 10 inches in height), and that farmers call alfafa, hay. I set up for a landing to the South to come in near a farm house to help the derigging process. (The wind was light and I had every reason to think it was also light on the surface, so landing direction wasn't really an issue). I saw one set of wires to the North of the field, and no other buildings were apparent that might indicate other sets of wires running across the field. I don't like those mid-field wires!!

My final rollout put me at about 150 feet from the South edge of the field, and about 200 feet from a fence holding in some very curious cows. I had seen the cows from the air-- and it had seemed they were being held in by a fence (about the last thing I want to do is to land amidst some cows!). Here is an image of the landing location, from the ground. I did a slow motion turn when I was just about stopped, hence the turned glider.

I had cell phone reception in the field, and called Steve. He and I had been in radio contact for most of the flight. He stayed aloft in the Pilatus, near OEO, for most of the time I was aloft (he was in the air for a little more than 6 hours). About 15 minutes before I landed, I heard Steve's radio call that he was going to land. I suspect that the day was just dying. We got good use out of the day, but not quite enough to complete my task! Now that Steve had my lat/long (and a car, mapping GPS), it was time to set out and find the land owners. It turned out that no one had seen my landing. I spent some time with the cows at first (they seemed like little kids-- curious and wanting to have fun).

The farmhouse on the property was owned by Jeff and Angela. I met Jeff at the door, and he laughed when I explained who I was and why I was there. The hobbies of some people! As I sat by the door, taking pictures of their outdoor kitty cat, Jeff went back inside for a moment.

Jeff reappeared and asked me if I wanted to join them for dinner. They were about to head out to a local bar for dollar burger night, and wouldn't mind my company. I shake my head now as I'm writing. It's truly amazing the hospitality of people when I land in their fields. I was a little concerned about Steve. I wanted to be present in the field when Steve arrived, but Steve hadn't quite yet gotten on the road to my landing location, and the restaurant that Angela and Jeff were planning on going to was nearby, so I said yes. I had a very enjoyable time at dinner with Angela and Jeff. Seeing as Angela and Jeff were my adopted crew, it seemed fitting for me to pay for dinner.

As we were driving back from the restaurant to the landing location, and Angela and Jeff's house, Steve called. Ooops! Steve had arrived at the field before our return! The actual farmer's, and owners of the field I landed in, were there too. (Angela and Jeff had the house nearest to the field, but it wasn't their field that I landed in). We were just a few minutes away from the field, so arrived pretty quickly and I identified myself as the pilot who had made unplanned use of their field. Thanks for the use of your field!

With the various people that were now present, we pulled the glider to the edge of the field so as to avoid more damage to the crop. The field was very flat, and so this was easy. It was getting near sunset, and we just managed to get the wings and fuselage in the glider trailer as we were loosing light.

My hat is off to Steve Kennedy. He really went beyond the call of duty on this crewing venture. Not only did he come to get me out of the field, but he used his truck! Of course, if he was 24 years old, female, attractive, 140 lbs, 5' 7", a tow pilot, and willing to use her truck to retrieve, the picture would be even better, but I'll keep looking ;).

In hindsight, looking at the soaring forecasts for Thursday, the day after we flew, we should have waited until Thursday! Jim Hard said he was going to fly on Thursday not Wednesday-- it looks better. Oh well. You pays your money, you takes your chances!

Here is the OLC link for the flight. The landing location was N 45° 04 21; W 91° 43 14, about 7 miles North of Colfax, WI. The gliding distance was 237.01 miles (381.43 km; OLC Classic), with an average speed of 35.31 mph (56.83 km/h), and a soaring duration of 6 hours 43 minutes.