A Soaring Day, Delivered!

Sunday, 7/19/09

Well, today was a delightful surprise! My last two flights had ended all too quickly, in farmer's field landings, and I was thinking that the soaring season was drawing to a close with our impending August-typical "dog days".

In the day or so before this flight, I had to turn on the heat in my house to take off the chill. The cold fronts passing through really dropped the temperature down. The forecasts for today, memory serving, suggested a 30° F temperature increase from the previous night to today. The temperature-dewpoint spread was supposed to be around 20, but the day of (today), that forecast came up to 22.

Driving down from Duluth there was some fog, which I usually take to be a sign for a good soaring day.

Getting down to the airfield and checking the weather (I had my glider in tow, from Duluth-- I had it up there to give a talk on gliding to the EAA at Superior), NOAA predicted that the soaring day would start at 11am! Ok, gotta be quick getting ready! NOAA was actually conservative, at least about the cumulus-- there was well-formed cumulus throughout the sky by about 10:30am, and we were starting to see it pop much earlier.

Steve Kennedy helped me put my wings on. He was there shortly after me and put his truck in place in front of the Pilatus trailer. He was planning a cross-country flight for his Silver distance.

Walt Johnson arrived in not too long. Walt had agreed to be my crew for the day. Walt and I continued preparations and then went to the terminal building to talk about flight plans. Paul Campobasso was taking his instructor rating with Andrew Wood and they were deep in conversation in the RWSA clubhouse.

The winds were predicted to be light. The measured winds from Chanhassen were out of the North, and according to forecasts, the winds were supposed to turn around and come from the South later in the day. It turns out that this wind prediction was generally about right. The winds were light and from almost every compass direction ranging from East to South to West early in the day, and then later, as the soaring day was ending, the winds were from about the S or SE. Walt and I decided to fly a task attempting to make the best advantage of the winds as we could see fit. I would attempt to fly a 275 mile rectangle: to near Winona, over to Arcadia, WI, back up to near Grantsburg, over to near Rush City, and back to our airfield at Osceola, WI (OEO).

Steve Kennedy was making his flight plans and we helped him with some lat/longs for turnpoints. Sorry Steve, with the impending 11am launch opportunity indicated by NOAA I was in a bit of a rush to get to the flight line. Let's talk more about flight planning when we don't have a soaring day about to start!!

I had a bit of an annoying time getting my flight declared in my Colibri. I thought I had my task already downloaded into the unit, but apparently not. So, I spent a little more time than I had expected fussing with flight computers before the flight. I was the first person to pull out to the flight line, and with Ted Perron towing, I got into the air at 11:45am. As I mentioned, the cumulus had been present for sometime, and I was getting seriously antsy about launching. Ted said before the launch that cloud base was low and as advertised, I couldn't get above 4,000' MSL for the first while. I released at 2K AGL thinking I had connected with some nice lift, but had to search around to find it again. And it wasn't nice! I scratched around for about the first 1/2 hour or so and thought that the day might not support a cross country flight. However, I started gaining confidence and radioed down to Walt that I'd head to New Richmond and see if I could make it that far at least.

I kept gaining more and more confidence about the day, and decided to head out on my task, to my first turnpoint near Winona. Somewhere just past New Richmond, memory serving, I was overflown by a jet, that couldn't have been more than about 1,000' above me. God, I hope they saw my transponder on TCAS or through flight following!

Leaving New Richmond, I hadn't yet gotten much above 4,000' MSL. Through the flight down to my first turnpoint, I didn't make it above 4,500' MSL. I was in radio contact with Steve Kennedy and Don Depree (who was also flying a cross country flight out of OEO), and both were about 1,000' above me in altitude (somewhere around 5,500' MSL). I needed to make it back North!! I crossed the Mississippi river twice getting to my first turnpoint and leaving it, and spent more time than I wanted around the river. Through the entire day, I got seriously low perhaps only once, though it felt like more times than that. This low point was about 2400' MSL, and was just after my second turnpoint. I can still recall the WI river valley calling out to me to land! I think I was only about 1000' AGL over a hill, thermalling, when I made the save.

In retrospect, I'm amazed the day went as well as it did! For about 1/2 of the day, I didn't get above 4,500' MSL. This first half of the day reminded me in some respects of the flight Walt and I made to Muscatine. While the lift was low, it was consistent, and I made good time on my task.

After my second turnpoint (near Arcadia), I was headed back North.Walt and I had been out of radio contact since about 45 miles out of OEO (I had turned my radio squelch down relatively low and that helped hearing him). On my leg back up to the North, I overflew Menomonie, where Walt waiting with the tow vehicle and trailer, in case I had to land. Somewhere around Menomonie, the cloud bases climbed and I was able to get higher: 5,000', and then 5,500'. My highest climb of the day was at 5:30pm to around 6,200' MSL, mid-way between Grantsburg and Rush City.

Continuing North past Menomonie, I told Walt to make for Grantsburg. Walt and I had been talking on the radio about whether or not I'd be able to complete the task. It seemed to me that I'd need the soaring day to continue until about 7pm for that to happen (I was flying by Menomonie at around 3:50pm). Of course, if I flew faster, I'd get home sooner too. Walt did an excellent job as a crew/cheer leader and told me I'd be able to finish the task-- GO, GO, GO!!! I was a little tired, and the encouragement was good! A little farther North, when Walt and I were loosing radio contact again (I was making great average groundspeed!), I faintly heard him say "3 and 4" on the radio. I wasn't quite sure what he was saying, but then I realized he was making sure I was remembering to continue on to both my third turnpoint (near Grantsburg) my fourth turnpoint, after Grantsburg! I laughed, sitting up there in the cockpit! :).

At Grantsburg, I could start to see the cumulus thinning out. I was still getting good lift however, and with that, and Walt's encouraging words, I headed for my fourth turnpoint, near Rush City, and made that fairly quickly too. From that point, however, the prospects didn't look good. It was getting pretty seriously blue to the South East, where I'd need to fly to get back home to OEO. I was just a few miles out of Rush City, and could easily make a landing there. Walt and I were back in radio contact and we talked again about the possibilities of finishing the task. Walt said he was still seeing cumulus and continued encouraging me to attempt to finish the task, or make it as far as I could along the course line of the last leg. I connected with some more lift, and with 5,000' MSL beneath me near Rush City, I decided I'd try my last leg. I had about 35 miles in front of me, and certainly 5,000' MSL was not enough for final glide. I'd need a couple of more climbs to make it back.

I started calling out my altitude and distance from OEO every few miles. I made it to Steve Kennedy's first turnpoint of his task for the day (the turn in the St. Croix river heading from OEO to Rush City), and was down around 4,000' MSL with about 25 miles to go. Continuing on my glide I got to 3,000' MSL and had about 16 miles to go. I told Walt I was about 1,000' AGL before pattern altitude and was going to start, in earnest, looking for landing fields (I was keeping general track of them, but now it seemed the flight would really end in a field landing). I was pleasantly suprised, however, to find a weak thermal. I turned in it, and gained about 1,300'. Aha! Maybe I would make it back!!

I radioed Walt, who was stopped at North Branch, to get on his way back to OEO. I was now believing I could make it back! I connected with lift a couple of more times on the way back to OEO-- all blue thermals. There wasn't much lift, but there also wasn't much sink. At 10 miles out of OEO, I switched over to the OEO radio frequency and started to announce my intent to land. There was some other traffic approaching OEO, and they indicated they would be landing on runway 10, so I made my plan for 10 as well. Getting within a couple of miles of the airfield (I still had about 3,000' MSL), I radioed that I would make a quick dash over the West end of the runway, and then come in for a landing on runway 10. This quick dash would let me touch my last turnpoint to complete my task.

The only bad part of the day was my hard landing! Aghhh! I came in high on final, and pulled out full flaps to bring me down. The winds were light, and I was landing with about 60 mph airspeed, but when I got to within about 50-100' of the ground, I had a sudden loss of airspeed, and poked the nose down to compensate. Unfortunately, I didn't regain full control of the airspeed before I had to round out and this made for a bounced landing. An ungraceful way to end a great day. Though, the pilot was not damaged, and there was no damage to the aircraft as far as I can tell. I think what may have happened is that I got into some low-level wind shear, despite the relatively low apparent wind speeds on the ground. The last part of my final approach was just to the North of the RWSA and other hangars on the South side of the field. It seems possible that with the winds out of the SE (about 140 from AWOS, memory serving; my flight trace indicated 144), there may have been some turbulence there. In hindsight, I could have landed longer, past the row of hangars, and avoided this wind shear possibility.

Kelsey Campobasso was waiting in the club golf cart, and was there beside my aircraft soon after I rolled to a stop. She was my "farmer", and despite her desire to not have her face in the pictures, I took my normal landing pictures!

Walt was back at OEO with the car and trailer just a few minutes after I landed.

This was a personal-best closed course flight distance. My best previous closed-course distance was 250 miles and about two months ago (5/17/09). Now, we're going to set our sights on a 500km closed-course flight! Perhaps an FAI triangle so it can be eligible for the Hilton Cup! (Though it seems difficult to fly large FAI triangles out of OEO because of the trees and other geographical issues).

I'm going to be submitting WI state record claims for this flight, for Free 3-Turnpoint Distance and for Distance up to 3 TPs. I think this flight should count for 6 WI state records.

This flight was total distance of 283.86 miles (456.83 km; OLC Classic) flown at an average ground speed of 40.82 mph (65.69 km/h). The flight duration was 6:57. Here's the link to the OLC, and here's a link to more pictures.

3/7/10; This flight earned six WI state distance records (click link for current snapshot).

Other Notes

I'm working on my turn coordination in thermals. I'm noticing that, for some reason, I'm slightly bottom rudder heavy on turns to the right. I'm feeling pretty good about thermal centering these days (I tend to use my mechanical vario more lately to determine where the weaker part of the thermal is, for centering). Of course, if I'm snapping pictures when thermaling, this doesn't exactly help my turn coordination!

I also wanted to mention the fact that cross-country soaring, at least for me generates an ongoing level of anxiety. On a regular basis, one is getting low, wondering if additional height will be gained. Can I make the task? Will I make a reasonable amount of the task, at least? Will I have to land in a field? And then, if you find that thermal, you have a reprieve. Some assurance of making the task, of not having to land yet. Perhaps it's just me? Perhaps others don't have have this ongoing level of anxiety when they are soaring cross-country.