My First Soaring Flight to Illinois
C. G. Prince
Thursday this past week (6/7/07), I looked at the weather and decided Friday could be a good soaring day. Winds were predicted from the NW, the temperature-dew point spread was predicted to be relatively large, and a front seemed to be moving through. I started the process of talking to other cross-country pilots and looking for crew for Friday. Don De Pree said he wanted to fly from Faribault (FBL), and needed crew. I offered to crew for him. On the heels of that, Jim Hard offered to crew. I was torn. Don wanted to do a triangle from FBL and I knew that if I was waiting around FBL, it would be torture for me. I would be wishing I was in the sky on a soaring task. After talking to Don, I decided to take Jim up on his offer and fly downwind from Osceola (OEO). I would have like to crew for Don as he has crewed for me, but that is going to have to wait for another day. Perhaps a day when Don is pushing more to fly, and I don't have crew. Sorry, Don, but the sky beckoned! Lee Bradshaw said he would tow, and Andy Power also wanted to fly on Friday, so we were set.
Friday morning I arrived at the airfield at 8am. The Ford soaring forecast was already posted, and looked very nice. A soaring index of at least -3 up to 8,000 feet. I also looked at Dr. Jack's Blipmap, and that also predicted strong lift along my planned course. I was thinking about flying downwind to the South East-- along the East of the Mississippi, avoiding the MOA's and Restricted Airspace, and flying in the direction of Mineral Point. I'd previously been eyeing up Mineral Point (and a few other places, at similar distance from OEO such as Platteville or Wisconsin Dells) as a destination for my first Gold Distance flight. I'd already achieved that goal a few weeks past, but flying towards Mineral Point still looked good. Jim Hard helped me out by drawing a course line on my map for a Diamond Distance task-- 100 miles past Mineral Point, but in the same direction. I also planned an alternate course to the East, in case the winds turned out to be more from the West, or somewhat South West. I wanted to return to the shore of Green Bay, and keep on going North along the coast, again with Diamond Distance in mind. The NOAA forecast was not out by 10am, but Jim had NOAA Chanhassen's phone number (952-361-6673), so we gave them a call. By 10:15am NOAA had their soaring forecast available. They indicated trigger temperature had already been reached, and the cumulus clouds building to the North confirmed that. NOAA also indicated that it was going to be mostly a blue day. Seeing the cumulus starting, I doubted that prediction, but it turned out they were right. I had cumulus to thermal under at most 25% of that day.
Jim had arrived at the airfield at 9am, and we got the glider rigged. (As an operational note, somehow I have to optimize my preparation procedure. I was ready to launch at 11:30am, but it probably would have been better to launch by 10:30am. Trigger temperature had been reached by that time, and some cumulus clouds were already apparent. Perhaps I'll be arriving at 7am at the airfield on flight days). Lee Bradshaw towed me up to a nice building cumulus cloud at around 11:40am, and thermalling immediately off of tow, within a few minutes I'd gained 2000 feet, and radioed Jim to tell him I was starting my task. The wind estimation from my flight computer (a Colibri) indicated wind from 310 degrees, at 21mph. Just as predicted. We were off downwind to the South East-- towards Mineral Point, and farther if the day and my skills would allow.
Quickly I was at New Richmond, and then Baldwin. Durand was my next "turnpoint", and that was made with no particular issues. Near La Crosse I found a bank of cumulus and hoped I'd be able to follow that for the rest of the day, but that was not to be the case. I tried deviating to follow the cumulus, towards Hillsboro, WI (East and a little South of La Crosse), but the cumulus was getting more sparse.
Soaring over Tri-Co airport (not listed as such in my flight computer database!), I headed towards Freeport, IL. Or at least I thought it was Freeport. It turns out there are two entries in my flight computer database for Freeport. One is a private airfield just north of the town of Freeport, IL, the other is the Albertus airfield at Freeport itself (home of a local glider port). I realized this when looking at my map. The first "Freeport" airport seemed to close. Around this time, I started getting low. It seemed clear that the lift was dying. It was around 4:45pm. I stared and stared, looking for the Freeport (Dornink) private airport, but could not see it. I never did see it from the air. I did see the Albertus airfield to the South but it looked too far away. I just didn't have the height to get there without more lift, and that wasn't forthcoming. I saw a nice looking farmers field to the West, which was running East West, and started an upwind leg. I was around 1,500 AGL at the time, and within easy glide for pattern entry at the farmers field. A couple of times in getting near my intended off-field landing site, I felt a thermal, and took a turn or two. It wasn't consistent though, and I didn't gain altitude, so resumed my landing procedure. My landing gear was down, the field looked good except for some telephone lines at the East border, but I could easily clear those on final by staying high and using a steep glide slope with my flaps. The field, it turns out had a crop of soy beans. The beans were only a couple of inches high. I stopped my rollout about 1,000 feet into the field. I probably had another 800 to 1000 feet of field that I could have used. I was down safely.
There were several farm houses nearby, but the first two I knocked at had no one home. I then saw four very nice looking horses walking by on the road, pulling some farm equipment. One presumes horses have a human nearby, so I walked that way. Indeed, there was a farmer named Steve guiding them down the road. I stopped him and asked him to talk to Jim, to give him directions. It turns out Jim was about 1 hour away. The farmer that owned the field, also named Jim, pulled up shortly after and offered me help. I thanked him for the use of his field, and he said he was just happy I was safe. The farmer Jim was very friendly and relaxed. He and his grandson, Anthony used their tractor to pull my glider to the edge of the beanfield to prepare for Jim Hard's arrival and derigging. Just as we were getting the glider to the end of the field, Jim Hard arrived, with glider trailer in tow. Perfect timing!
After derigging with help from both Jim Hard and farmer Jim, it was around 8pm, and Jim Hard and I were ready for a meal. Land owner Jim offered his property for accommodations for the glider trailer over night, as I was talking about finding a hotel for the night. As it seemed easier not to drag the glider trailer to a restaurant and hotel, we accepted his offer. He also gave Jim Hard and I large containers of honey from his farm. I gave him and his grandchildren glider ride certificates, to be piloted by myself, should they make it up to Osceola. After a large meal at a local Mexican restaurant, and an evening at a local hotel, Jim Hard and I picked up the glider trailer from the farm and headed back to OEO. We got back into Osceola around 3pm on Saturday, quite glad it was not 3am! When we were leaving Freeport, we stopped by the private airfield that I didn't see from the air. Dornink has a 2600 foot grass strip running North/South.
The route that Jim drove was important in keeping us in touch on the radio for most of the flight, and also for getting him to my landing field only one hour after I landed. Jim drove from OEO down Wis35 to Cty H East to Star Prairie then South to New Richmond. He then went East on Wis 64 to US 63, and then South through Baldwin to I-94. He followed I-94, and I-90 and then I-39 to just over the Illinois state line to Ill 75 to Dakota, IL and my landing field.
This soaring flight had various "firsts" for me. First, Jim Hard was my chase-crew. Jim came out to one of my cross-country landings before (at Downsville on 5/26/04), and had acted as my in-air standby crew once before, but this was the first time he acted fully as my chase crew. Having Jim crewing for me was a real treat. He has been my cross-country soaring instructor and mentor these past several years, and through cross-country soaring, rekindled my flame for soaring. Second, this was the first time I did a "full" flight along the East side of the Mississippi. I have had some misgivings about this region, with its rolling hills, in terms of cross-country soaring. There are, however, farmers fields on some hill tops and some valleys in those rolling hills. One just has to be judicious about where one lands, in the case of running out of lift. I previously have put my ship down, at Alma, WI with Walt Johnson crewing. I have more confidence about this route now. Third, this was the first time I have flown a cross-country flight into Illinois, and my first time landing in Illinois. Last but not least, this was the first time I've had a failure of my pilot relief system. About 2/3 the way through the flight I realized I burst a leak in this system (condom catheter with leg bag-- e.g., available through Oxford Aero). I usually fly with loose jeans or pants, but alas I had put off doing laundry and was not only wearing tighter pants than usual, but was wearing thermal underwear to stay warm for the flight. I had been using this type of pilot relief system for about a year, and had previously had good success, but this time it seems the tighter pants and bulky underwear conspired to constrict tubes resulting in spillage. However, aside from being a little distracting and wet, there was no real problem. The flight took 5.25 hours and was some 433.4 kilometers (269.3 miles) according to OLC Classic. The OLC link is here. Point to point distance was approximately 255 miles. My best altitude of the day was nearly 7,000 MSL (at 1:30pm) though I was mostly between 5000 and 6000 MSL.