Finishing the 250 mile Closed Course: 5:6:250

Sunday, 5/17/09 (updated 7/16/09 with WI records).

It was a hellaofa day! Wow! Team Zulu Tango finally accomplished the 250 mile closed course! Ooops. I've given away the punchline of the story. Well, read on for pictures and details!

I have made numerous attempts at a 250 mile (approx. 400km) closed course flight. This seemed like the logical next step in close-course flights after a gold distance triangle (300 km). In preparation for today, I had been looking for a crew to go to Escanaba, MI. The forecasted winds appeared perfect for that flight. Initially, the winds were supposed to be out of the South West, and later in the day they were supposed to shift to come more out of the South. Winds later in the day out of the South would help me fly along the coast of Green Bay up to Escanaba. That particular plan didn't work out, though. Not only could I not get a crew that could do an overnight trip, but I also had a final meeting with my department that I should (grudgingly) go to. I set about planning for a closed course flight given the predicted winds. There was a cold front and low pressure system that was supposed to push through leaving us with a Sunday high pressure system.

In the morning, the soaring forecast looked excellent! The Ford forecast was almost smack on what happened at least along the path of my task. The best altitude I made was nearly 9,000' MSL at 2:45pm (I was about midway between Shell Lake and Independence, WI), which is what was predicted by the Ford forecast. Also, the xcskies forcast predicted lift into 4pm on Sunday (see the xcskies forecast for 1pm. and 4pm; color scheme indicates top of forecasted lift). Usually, xcskies is pretty conservative and indicates an absense of lift at 4pm. I took this to predict that the day would be long-- perhaps long enough to support getting back to my home airport (Osceola, WI; OEO) on the last leg of a long flight. It turns out that by the time I made it back home at 6pm, there was still lift at OEO and still gliders flying. In fact, one more glider launched just after I landed.

On the drive down from Duluth, the day looked promising. The skies were nearly all blue.

Here are some pictures at OEO, in the morning also. This view to the South West foreshadows the high cloud that moved in, but kept to the South, later. Pete had also seen the forecast for the high cloud coming into the South and had alerted me to this before the flight.

Dick Beggs was to be my crew for the day. I arrived at the airport at 8am, got the excellent soaring forecasts, and rigged with enthusisam. The NOAA forecast predicted trigger temperature at 11am. Around 10:30pm, Dick pointed out the lack of cumulus cloud forming. NOAA had predicted cumulus clouds (though the forecasted temperature - dewpoint spread suggested otherwise). By around 11am there were some cumulus forming to the North, perhpas around Grantsburg, WI. My first turnpoint was to be Grantsburg, so that was in the right direction. We pulled the glider out to the flight line around 11:30am, and watched as Kelsey Campobasso made her first flight in the Pilatus. I noted her launch time and after she had been in the air for 1/2 an hour, Alan Benfell judged her altitude to be above release altitude, so I said "Let's Go!". I got into the air just before noon. Tim Roska, our tow pilot, had reported fairly smooth air on the first tow. The second tow (mine) was more turbulent (good!), and I found lift quickly upon release. The sky was still blue over the airport, but that was to turn out to generally not be a problem for me for the whole day.

I tried to get some pictures of Kelsey, in air. Here's one:

After a climb or two and touching my first turnpoint (OEO), I headed out on my task. The plan was a closed course consisting of: Grantsburg, Shell Lake, a turnpoint about 5 miles West of Independence, WI, and finally back to OEO. The flight was planned along the predicted winds for the day. It turns out I could have probably flown just about any task and it would have been OK. The winds aloft were light (not above 8mph and usually around 6mph according to my Colibri) and I didn't notice much drift when I was thermaling.

I made Grantsburg just before 1pm, and proceeded to Shell Lake. There were no cumulus on the way to, or over Grantsburg-- they were to the North and East. Along the course line to Shell Lake, I encountered my first cu of the day, and they were pretty honest, usually giving me good lift. Turning to the South just East of Shell Lake, I began my longest leg of the flight. This leg threaded me through Menomonie and Eau Claire. I kept more West, towards Menomonie, trying to give lots of space to the airspace at Eau Claire. I still had the occaisional cumulus cloud at Menomonie and for perhaps 20 miles further South. However, after that until Independence, and back to OEO, the sky was blue. Fortunately, the thermal tops were relatively high for this region. I was typically flying around 7-8,000' MSL. Thermal strength was often good-- between 5 and 7 knots in the initial part of the day, and weakening substantially later in the day.

I was pretty confident about the flight until the third turnpoint (near Independence). Often, I fall out of the sky on my last leg. I kept up hope, however. I had the thought near Boyceville of landing there. The sky was blue, the lift was weakening, and it was getting later the day (about 5:15pm). However, I hadn't gotten seriously low yet (still above around 4,000' MSL). So, I pushed on.

After Menomonie I got one decent climb, and otherwise I was generally on final glide back to OEO. I was typically making about 10 miles of glide per 1,000' of altitude lost, which is pretty darn good for my 1-35! The sink was relatively weak (1-2 knots) and I was also flying through some weak lift. At around 3pm in the day, Dick Beggs had driven the crew vehicle to River Falls, WI. At around 60 miles out of OEO on the last leg, we got back in radio contact and remained in radio contact for the rest of the flight. Dick made a good call by going to River Falls! Once I'd passed I-94 heading NE, I told Dick he should start back North. It was to turn out to be a race between him and I getting back to the airport!

At about 35 miles or so out of OEO, I was pretty confident that I could land at an airport-- I was thinking about New Richmond. I wasn't confident that my altitude would allow for OEO yet. I switched my secondary radio frequency over to New Richmond airport, and felt pretty happy that I'd make it that far anyways. I still couldn't see New Richmond (pretty typical in my books, I can't see an airport until I'm almost on top of it), but could see Cedar Lake to the North of New Richmond. At about 25 miles out of OEO, I was confident that I could make OEO, and called "final glide" out to Dick, and started announcing on the OEO airport frequency that I was coming into land. Paul Campobasso returned some of my radio calls, but perhaps due to my tiredness, I didn't realize he was talking to me. At about this point in the flight (nearing 6 hours in the air), I ate my last granola bar, started some water intake, and did some cockpit "dancing" trying to get my body and mind in a good alert state for the landing. My toes were not talking to me very much at that point, but weren't terribly uncomfortable (it took about one hour after the flight for them to be fully warmed up). I jokingly called up to Dick Beggs that I should add another 50 miles onto my flight. There was still lift! However, I was feeling the effects of a long flight, and just wanted to get down safely at that point.

I arrived back at OEO at 2,700' MSL, and made contact with Paul Campobasso, who was in the air flying Pete Kroll's Ka6. I couldn't see him in the air, but he indicated he was several miles (SW?) of the airport. When I was in position by OEO, about ready for downwind, there was an aircraft back taxiing on runway 28, so I waited for them to clear the active runway. I entered downwind high, and pulled on some flaps to get me down to pattern altitude.

I made a decent landing and pulled off to the side of the South grass on runway 28. Getting out of the aircraft, the novelty of landing back at my home airport hit me. Woody and Darryll came over in a golf cart, to help me get my ship back to the club hangar. However, I wanted to take my traditional landing pictures first. Woody and Darrell were my farmers, and the golf cart, perhaps the 4-wheeler of the farmers?!

On the flight line, before launching, Tom Binger had added support when I was wondering if I should take my extra layer of jacket along with me on the flight. With his encouragement, I stuffed it in along side me. I was very glad he had been there to say this. For some silly reason I thought it would have warmed up at cloud base. But, no. Cloud base was 30 degrees F as it had been for the past few weeks. My feet on this flight didn't get quite as cold as on the flight two weeks ago, so perhaps it had warmed up a bit. However, I shook Tom's hand after the flight to thank him for the thermal support!

Derigging after landing back at OEO was disorienting. I rarely make a cross-country flight in which I end up landing back at my home airport. Usually I only experience OEO in rigging, but this time I was experiencing OEO in derigging! Of course, my exultation in achieving this long-sought after goal added to the feeling of an out-of-body experience! God, it felt good to have completed my 250 mile closed-course task! Here's my crew for the flight, Dick Beggs:

Oh. I guess I should explain my "5:6:250" notation at the header of this writeup. I had 5 hours of sleep the night before the flight, flew for about 6 hours, and accomplished 250 miles. Perhaps if I get a full night's sleep, I can do a 300 mile closed course?! :).

The day at the airport closed by saying goodbye to Pete Kroll and Paul Campobasso (and Kelsey) who were the last to leave RWSA. I'd like to take a moment to thank Paul Campobasso. For me, Paul really forms the core of our club. His energy and time have amazingly grown our club, and while he's no longer club president, he still is an extreme contributor to our club. Thanks Paul!!!

The flight was some 257.67 miles (414.68 km; OLC Classic) flown in 6 hrs 13 minutes, averaging 42 mph (67.6 km/h). Here's the OLC link. If you study the OLC trace carefully, you may be able to figure out that I forgot to touch my last turnpoint (OEO). Whooops! I was certainly high enough to do that. I just forgot! Here's a link to a more complete set of images for the flight.

7/16/09: This flight achieved three WI state distance records. See here for a snapshot of the current WI state distance records.

Other Notes

I think I finally have the trick of releasing from tow down with my 1-35. Practice makes perfect. The manual says that one should release with some slack in the tow rope. I have been trying to achieve this both by myself (pulling up and diving a little just before release), and by having the tow pilot throttle back. This time I asked the tow pilot, Tim, to throttle back just before I released, and I then waited for several seconds. I think I could see the slack line form in the tow rope. I then released. This worked well. Of course, if you do this, it's important to have good communication with the tow pilot to ask them to throttle back (communication about this before you start the tow is important) when you are ready to release, and also communication on the radio about when you have released since with the rope slack, they may not be able to feel you release.

My transponder was pinged during most of the flight. This is starting to seem typical for flights in this region. I'm guessing that I was being pinged by the MSP radar.

Tim Traynor had loaned me his Spot personal locator for the flight. I had turned it on, and placed at the top of my turtle deck (which is plastic) to give it a clear view of the sky. However, it seems that having the Spot in contact with the turtle deck caused the unit to deactivate, and so Tim wasn't able to track me (Tim had to work Sunday and wanted to experience the flight vicariously!).

I had purchased two new batteries for the ship on this flight. They are both fully-sealed (no acid filler caps), 12 Amp Hour Werker batteries. I soldered connectors on them in the days before the flight, and they installed reasonably well in the ship. (Though, I need to re-work the straps holding these new batteries into the battery trays.). I ran my glider electrical equipment (radio, transponder & encoder, Colibri flight logger, and Tasman vario) off just one of these batteries for the entire 6 hour flight, and never saw low battery indications. It seems that two 12 Amp Hour batteries was overkill, but better safe than sorry for the transponder (and flight data logger!). I'll rotate between these two batteries as my primary for my flights. This flight was on the "Left" battery; on the next flight I'll use the "Right" battery.

I need warm boots!! I am gradually getting the warm weather gear right for flying at 30 degrees at cloud base, but still this needs some work. My toes could have been more comfortable. I need some boots that are not so massive as to interfere with getting into the glider and working the rudder pedals, and not so high as to interfere with the leg bag of my pilot relief system.