8/18/09, Tuesday

Tip-Toeing to Escanaba!

We made it! It took more than a year of trying, but we did it!! I got a full night's sleep last night. It's amazing what that'll do for you!

About nine days ago, I started seeing that a cold front was supposed be pushing through, on about Tuesday, today. This forecast held out for the days up to today, and so, I recruited crew and a tow pilot. Chuck Sullivan and Mike Scholz, who also live up here in Duluth, were to be my crew. I had given them glider rides a couple of months back, and they were both retired. They said "yes" even though I said the adventure might take more than just Tuesday, and I told them my goal was Green Bay. They were still up for the challenge!! Cool!!! :). Roger Lee was to be the tow pilot. Lee Bradshaw often tows mid-week, and was willing to tow. However, he had an appointment that morning that would have him potentially arriving too late to catch the start of the soaring day. Mark Robotti had stepped forward too, offering a tow before noon. However, without knowing the detailed soaring forecast for the day, I wasn't sure if I could stay in the air before noon.

We also had a camera man for this day!! I have been working on a book of gliding photos (think-- Coffee Table book), and Brian Rauvola, from Duluth, said he would help out (even with only one day notice!!). Brian said he would come down to take pictures of rigging, and the launch.

In the past couple of years, Team Zulu Tango has been to the Green Bay area twice. The first time was on 5/27/07 and Dick Beggs was crewing. On this first flight, we made it to Oconto, WI. The second time was on 6/17/08, with David Hallberg crewing. That second time, we made it to Menominee-Marinette, MI. On the flight to Oconto, my goal had been Menominee-Marinette. On the flight to Menominee-Marinette, my goal had been Escanaba. Today, we again had a goal of Escanaba. My intended flight path was to first fly to Wausau, WI, then because there are lots of trees North and East of Wausau, to head SE to Shawano, WI, then to head to the coast of Green Bay to Oconto, WI, then to continue North along the coast past Menominee-Marinette, to Escanaba, MI, which is near the top of Lake Michigan.

I picked up Chuck and Mike at 5:30am in Duluth, and we made our way down to the airport at Osceola, WI (OEO). Brian Rauvola drove down from Duluth separately, and was at the airport minutes after us. The day was looking great! At 8:30am, it was blue all around, and there was a light wind from the South West on the runway. Checking the weather forecasts at OEO, the soaring possibilities looked really good. Though I've lately been having a distrust of August soaring forecasts, this one turned out to be pretty accurate. NOAA predicted that soaring would start at 1pm. I called up Roger Lee and asked him to be out, ready to tow, by 12:30pm, when I wanted to launch. In retrospect, 12:30pm seemed about the right right time to launch for today. Cumulus clouds had started developing quite a bit earlier, perhaps around 10:30am, but they were not forming very quickly. At 12:30pm, there seemed to be about enough cumulus cloud, in my soaring-pilot's eye. Consistent with the weather forecasts for the days prior, the wind forecast was around 15mph out of the West (though the measured winds out of Chanhassen with the sounding were much higher, somewhere around 30 kts, I never did see these wind speeds aloft; I mostly saw 15mph to 20mph winds out of the West).

We set out to get the glider from the hangar, and rig, with Brian documenting with photographs.

Several others came down to the airfield too. Tom Binger (instructor) and Darryll Dodson (student pilot) were going to some instructional flights. Steve Kennedy was planning to make a Silver Distance flight to Menomonie. Mike Carver, our OEO aviation mechanic, was also there (so I showed him the puka I'd put in the front of my glider on a recent pasture hard landing). With so many people around, it seemed like a weekend day operation!!

We pulled three gliders (an L-13, Zulu Tango-- my Schweizer 1-35, and the Pilatus) out to the flight line and I launched first, at 12:30pm, off of the grass runway 27. Brian was set up near the RWSA hangar to take launching pictures with his MASSIVE telephoto lens.

There seemed to be good lift, so I pulled off the tow a little early, at 3,500' MSL. I struggled for a while, but found lift over the gravel pit to the West end of the main asphalt runway, and climbed up back to around 3,500' MSL. Cloud base was around 4,000' MSL, memory serving. After about 15 or so minutes in the air, I gained enough confidence in the lift to set out East on my task.

The first 50-100 miles of the flight was reasonably tough-- I wasn't getting very high. Lift wasn't particularly strong early in the flight, though there was quite a bit of it. And of course, the tailwind helped too, to push me through more possible areas of lift.

At about 3:35pm at Wausau, WI, I was tuned into the Wausau airport radio frequency (122.7) and heard Steve Kennedy call out his approach to land at Menomonie! Wow! Not only had he made it, but I was serendipitously on the radio frequency he was using at his landing airport!! Cool!! I thought a moment, then broke radio protocol, and said "Congratulations Alpha Sierra!" (AS is part of the club Pilatus' N number). Steve recognized my voice and said "Thanks, Zulu Tango!".

Here's a picture of the airport at Wausau (look in the upper left corner of the image):

Leaving Wausau, I started heading towards Shawano. Shortly, however, I didn't like what I was seeing along my course line: Lots of Blue!! It seemed doubtful that there was lift along my course line. It also seemed like I was approaching the backend of a weather system. There was a line of high cloud to the South and East. Perhaps this was the backend of the front I was flying in? Looking at the satellite imagery (thanks to Dan Johnson at Menomonie for providing this), it seems, however, that the high cloud was coming up from the South--

2:45pm (below):


4:02pm (below)--

Look closely, you should be able to see me there West of Green Bay!! :).

Looking at my map, I decided to change course to the North East for Antigo, and announced my intent on my radio to my crew. I was no longer hearing them reply, but was hoping they could hear me. The sky looked much better (more cumulus) to the NE. At that point, I had pretty much given up on making it to Escanaba. There were lots of trees in the direction I was flying, and I doubted it would be safe to proceed, that way, to Lake Michigan. There were however, plenty of farmer's fields along the course at least NE to Antigo. I had made about 175 miles flying distance, and that exceeded my expectation for the day, so I wasn't too disappointed. While proceeding to Antigo, I was vaguely thinking, that I might try to push back along my course line to Wausau after Antigo.

I should say at this point that I had been skirting forests to the North for much of the flight so far. I had generally kept a little North of my planned course line to Wausau because the cumulus kept looking better to the North. I didn't want to go much farther North though because the trees were too dense to make for safe alternatives for landing.

As I mentioned before, my original plan to proceed to Shawano (and then Oconto) was designed to avoid flying over forest. Once I made it to Antigo, I was seeing MUCH forest in any direction but the SW return to Wausau. I did see a few farms, however, so I tip toed a little past Antigo to the NE. At this point, studying my map and looking at my GPS, I saw that it was about 35 miles to an airport to the East-- Crivitz. There were LOTS of trees to the East. I thought: if only I could gain some decent altitude. That distance to the Crivitz airport wouldn't be so bad in that case. Plus, I did have a tailwind, and there were plenty of good looking cu's along the flight path towards Crivitz. Very nicely timed, a few minutes later (about 4:30pm), I got one of my stronger thermals of the day and climbed up to nearly 5,900' MSL (my highest point of the flight so far; the highest altitude of the flight was 6,020' MSL at 4:39pm). I called out to my crew on the radio that I was making for Crivitz!! Perhaps about 1/2 way along this course line to Crivitz, I noticed on the sectional map that Crivitz only has a North-South runway. With the somewhat strong wind out of the West, that could make for a difficult landing. I hoped I didn't actually have to land there!!

Here's a Google Earth view of the forest between Antigo and Crivitz. The blue line is my flight path.

Yes, indeed, that green forest is enough to clench your butt!! Below are some of pictures of the trees after leaving Antigo. I took these pictures while thermaling, and include the times with the picture, so you get an idea that it was green with trees all around.

Time: 4:34:32 (below)

Time: 4:34:34 (below)

Time: 4:34:37 (below)

Time: 4:34:39 (below)

It turned out that altitude wasn't an issue. I made Crivitz with plenty -- about 5,400' MSL at about 5pm. I had another decision to make there: Where should I go next? I could see the shore of Green Bay, and Menominee-Marinette now, BUT much of the sky was blue towards Menominee-Marinette. Towards the NE and Escanaba, there was plenty of cumulus. Plus, there was an infrequent farmer's field (oddly though, most of the fields seemed oriented towards the North-South, the wrong direction for landing today). I decided to continue to Escanaba. It was about 57 miles away.

I got good gliding along this flight path-- about 10 miles travel per 1000' MSL of altitude, with my tailwind. I tuned into Radio Escanaba (the airport frequency!!) at about 20 miles out, and I was glad I'd done this early. There was a fair amount of traffic, and some Mesaba Airlines commercial traffic. This was my first time landing at an airport with scheduled commercial traffic. I was having plenty of altitude, so I let some traffic land ahead of me. I checked the wind direction on the airport AWOS, and it was 12 mph out of the West, and Escanaba had an East-West runway.

All was looking good for landing. Bleeding off altitude to get ready for the pattern, I entered left downwind for runway 27. I made a picture perfect touch down and pulled off the asphalt to the South side onto the grass before I stopped. Immediately after I pulled off the runway, I heard on the radio something like "Thanks for the demonstration; we don't see many gliders here!!". I replied "You are welcome!".

I had been out of touch with Chuck and Mike for much of the flight. I should have explained to them that on a downwind flight the glider may get considerably ahead of the crew, and that this can happen pretty quickly. I think my last good radio contact with them was not quite at Wausau where they were West of Eau Claire. After getting out of the glider and taking my usual landing pictures (I was using a loaner point and shoot from Brian-- my Canon Power Shot G9 was in at the factory for repairs to a blotch on the sensor), I called Chuck and Mike. They weren't quite yet at Shawano, and so were a couple hours out-- they were making good time. Aside from stops for gas and snacks, they had been driving continuously.

Randy Gascon, one of the Escanaba airport managers, was very hospitable and friendly, and pulled the glider with his truck to the tie down area by the terminal building. He told me that once the last Mesaba airline flight was finished for the day, we could pull the aircraft closer to the terminal building, under some lights-- that would make it easier for the derigging process. Escanaba is one hour ahead of Minnesota, and the sun was going to be down before my crew arrived. This was also a novelty: The first time I'd flown a glider to a different time zone!!!

I passed some time in the terminal building at first by starting to write some notes for this writeup (unless I get the specifics out of my head quickly, I loose them!). A Cessna Citation Jet landed, and I chatted with the pilots. One of them used to fly at Osceola. The other told me a story about a composite glider being hit by lightning. The pieces resulting were no larger than a frisbee. It was fun talking to them. I think they were just as impressed with my flight as I was with them flying a Jet! Another fellow pilot, Jerry, and I had a nice conversation in the pilots lounge. He had launched just after I landed, and I think it was him that called out on the radio just after I landed. Some girls from Mesaba airlines at Escanaba were out on the tarmac, in the tie-down area, looking at my glider, and with a big smile one of them told me my glider is CUTE :(. AHEM! A woman's glider might be CUTE. A man's glider is SEXY :). While I was waiting for my crew to arrive, I called up Paul and Emily Weber who recently moved from Duluth, MN to Michigan, and live about 150 miles NE from where I landed.

When Chuck and Mike arrived at about 10:30pm (MN time), we started the derigging process. While we were derigging several young men arrived. They had just gotten back from some flying and were surprised by the appearance of a glider at their airport. They asked many questions, and when they left, they said "God Bless." Chuck heard that parting comment, and remarked that they were nice young men. Indeed, I think they were!

I offered to put my crew up in a hotel for the night, but Chuck wanted to get back to Duluth. It was OK with me to bring my glider back to Duluth (that's the reason I made sure when I bought my house that it had a long, flat drive way). So, we headed out on the road near midnight (MN time) to Duluth. Chuck drove at first, and then I took over after I had a chance to relax. We got back into Duluth at about 5am. Our driving route took us through the "upper path", which was only about 300 miles from Escanaba, taking US-2 going through Iron River and Ironwood. This was my second time through Ashland-- the first time was last year when Team Zulu Tango flew to Ashland.

It is interesting to me that the three times I've flown to the Green Bay area, each time has been with a brand new crew. That is, crewing to Green Bay has been their first time crewing for me. And this is not necessarily because I'm hard on crew! (Which, I think, I'm not!). Dick Beggs has crewed for me other times!

My low point for the flight, after leaving the OEO airport area was about 2,800' MSL -- not low enough for me to be worried enough to have picked out a landing field, or even get very anxious! This low point was at 2:53pm and about 40 miles West of Wausau (about 6 miles West of Medford, WI). However, flying over the trees after Antigo generated its own anxiety! The flight altitude profile shows a classic increase in working altitude band correlating with an increase in cloud base, from a starting average around 4,000' MSL to an ending average more around 5,000' MSL.

The flight was some 295.35 miles (475.32 km; OLC Classic), flown at an average ground speed of 55.26 mph (88.94 km/h) in 5 hours 20 minutes. Here's a link to the OLC, and here a link for more of my pictures, and more of Brian's pictures.

This flight should make 3 WI state records. It was one of my top three longest distance flights.

Other Notes

While I made a picture perfect touchdown on landing, I only had 30 degrees of flaps on, and touched down near the numbers on the East end of the runway. In retrospect, the heavy slip I had on on base leg could have been avoided. My full flaps setting would have been just fine thank you to bring me down early on the runway. I touched down at about 65mph.