An Overcast Personality

Sunday, 5/10/09

Each day has its own weather personality. Today started off overcast, but turned into a weak cross-country day. From Duluth, the day didn't look promising. However, often the weather in Duluth differs widely from the weather at Osceola, WI (OEO; our airfield), so I didn't turn back. Plus the weather predictions had looked reasonable. Here is a picture taken from the road, about mid-way to the airfield at about 6:30am:

I must have set a personal best record for my arrival time to OEO. I was there at about 7:15am. It was still not looking good. Overcast. I got the soaring forecasts, and detailed weather predictions for the day, and was feeling pretty low-energy until I got the Ford forecast, which looked very good. (Tim Traynor had been expecting that Monday would be a better soaring day- and from the forecasts on Monday I hope he gets to fly!). Hopeful that the overcast would clear up and let the soaring day achieve its promise, I got my glider from its hangar and rigged. Here are some pictures from the airfield between 7am and 9am:

We had had several technical avionics issues with my ship in the first few cross-country flights of the season (radio, and GPS antennae issues, and a GPS/flight logger seal problem). I was hoping these would now be cleared up.

Walt Johnson, my crew, showed up shortly and we finished rigging. Sitting in the RWSA (Red Wing Soaring Association) clubhouse talking about the flight plan for the day, Jim Hard called. Kathleen Winters and he were at Stanton, also hoping for a cross-country day. Later when I was on the 122.8 radio frquency, flying by some local airports, I heard quite a bit of activity both at Faribault, MN and Stanton, MN. While I was the only glider pilot to fly from OEO on Sunday, there was quite a bit of gliding activity to the South. Apparently the weather started off at least a little different there. (Later, I heard from Kathleen that the overcast had come in and made soaring too difficult).

I made two attempts before finally staying up. I got some practice at landing back at OEO! I launched at 12:20pm, and again at 12:50pm, and finally stayed in the air at about 2pm. On that third tow, I pulled off at about 2,000' AGL because it seemed clear that, despite the continuing overcast, the thermals were kicking in properly. The tow was turbulent and just before I released, I was getting significant lift past our 6-7 kts on tow. In this first thermal, I was able to climb up to around cloud base (4,000' MSL at the time; later in the day I climbed up to 5,500' MSL). Confident that I could go somewhere, given the turbulence, and lift, I called down to Walt and told him that I was heading East to Amery, WI. If I could make it to Amery, I'd proceed to my first turnpoint, near Cub Acres.

In the first few flights hanging around OEO, I got some pictures of the airport and vicinity. Here are a few:

Roger Lee, our tow pilot, radioed to me asking if I'd want a tow back from Amery, figuring that the sky wouldn't deliver a cross-country soaring day. I thanked him and told him that we'd trailer back from Amery if needed. I was pretty hopefully that we wouldn't need to do that, at least from Amery. The lift was not that strong, but relatively consistent.

I made it to Amery, and proceeded to my first turnpoint just North of Cub Acres. So far so good! Somewhere after Amery, I was somewhat low and thermaling and wondering what I could do to improve my performance in the thermal. I happened to glance at my gear lever, and it was down!! Raising the gear cleaned up the ship and seemed to immediately improve my climb!

After reaching my turnpoint near Cub Acres, I headed North towards Shell Lake. Approaching Cumberland, and scratching low occasionally, I opted to turn to the West. I was too low, and the lift wasn't quite good enough to face the trees to the North. Initially going West I was thinking about Rush City, but fairly quickly decided heading back to Osceola was my better option. The day was still overcast, and lift was generally available but sometimes weak.

Here's perhaps the best in-air image from the flight, taken at 3:35pm (N 45° 30 16; W 92° 07 33) at about 5 miles SW of Cumberland:

I ended up leaving my radio off for about 1/2 of the flight because of low battery power. I opted to turn the radio off and leave the transponder on. I turned the radio on a few times while I was near airports (e.g. Cumberland), and when I tried to raise Walt, but otherwise figured that since I wasn't near an airport, leaving my transponder on would be the safest option.

I ended up low at about 8 miles NE of OEO, around Dresser, and landed in a farmer's field. The field had about 6" of Winter Wheat, was relatively dry, and had few small rocks, but I seemed lucky and didn't impact those. I landed to the North, was on final over a field adjacent to the South, which turned out later to have some cows and buffalo. There was a fence between me and them, but they milled around at the edge of that fence looking on at the strange bird that had decended into the their local field.

I called Walt quickly, and at the same time, the field owner, Chuck, arrived on a four-wheeler. Between my GPS coordinates and Chuck's directions, we got Walt headed in the right direction. I thanked Chuck for the use of his field, and he said it would be OK for us to pull the trailer out onto his field. Walt and I had been out of radio contact for most of the flight, and he had made a good decision. He and I had initially talked about him heading for Rush City (the center of my initial planned flight for the day of 250 miles!!). Walt had decided that since the day looked so crummy that he was better off staying at OEO. This was good because it took him less than 1/2 an hour to arrive at the landing field. With help from Chuck, and another local, Jason, we derigged the glider, learned about snowmobiling, and local Dresser industry and farming, and as usual, generally had fun in the field at the end of the flying day!

With the smoke in the background, the wings off the ship, and Walt's hand gesture, it looks like it was a bad crash! ;).

Here's the OLC link for the flight. The landing was at 4:19pm, with a distance of 77.88 miles (125.34 km; OLC Classic) flown at an average speed of 34.84 mph (56.07 km/h).

Here's a more complete set of pictures.

Other Notes

On the 2nd tow, I bounced the landing. I've been thinking about what I can do to stabilize a bounced landing, so it doens't repeatedly oscillate. The options with a flapped glider are a little different than with dive brakes. With dive brakes, at the top of the bounce, you can close some of the dive brakes, and glide further to gain stabilization and stop oscillating. With flaps, you don't want to remove flaps so close to the ground. The only option seems to be pitch control. Pulling back at the top of the oscillation seems like a bad idea. One could stall the aircraft, and drop the few feet jarringly to the ground. Let's say one is at the top of an oscillation, several feet above the ground. It seems possible that one could ease the stick forward slightly, and then back even less, in an effort to regain glide control. And then once near the ground, start to bleed off speed again. It seems the reason for the bounce in the first place was because I had too much speed on my initial touch down.

I am going to buy some new batteries for my ship. The present ones have been in use since 2005, and the new transponder in my ship seems to have pushed them over the brink.