Soaring on the Shore of Green Bay

C. G. Prince

5/28/07

I had planned to spend the memorial day weekend at the airfield, and so I headed down to Osceola on Saturday morning, the 26th. Saturday was spent on the L-13 work crew, stripping paint from the ship that Pete Kroll and Paul Esser brought back from Canada. Sunday though was showing potential as a cross-country down-wind-dash day. Dick Beggs had agreed to crew for me for Sunday. It looked like a front would roll through Saturday, leaving some good soaring in its wake. Sure enough, Sunday morning, the sky was blue, satellite imagery indicated the front was far gone to the East, and the soaring forecast looked good-- the soaring indices were negative through 6000 feet.

Saturday evening, I had planned two potential soaring tasks for Sunday, depending the wind. One task was to the East, from Osceola (OEO) to Boyceville, Abbotsford, Wausau, Shawano, and onto Menominee Marinette. The other was to the South East, to New Richmond, Baldwin, Durand, Holland (a private strip), Viroqua, Boscobel, and Mineral Point. Both of these tasks were planned as a series of waypoints in no small part because my flight computer (a Colibri) accepts tasks programmed as a series of waypoints. Following the suggestion of Don De Pree, I also "flew" the routes with Google Earth. (If you haven't used this software, it's possible to configure it with a soaring pilot's view-- to simulate flying at about 6,000 feet). The Eastern route I selected avoided large sections of forest. Flying straight East from Osceola puts one on in relatively heavily forested areas fairly quickly (e.g., East of Chetek). By going to Boyceville first, and following 94 East this avoided some forested area. Another block of forested area comes up East of Wausau. In the map below, you can see the forest to the East of Wausau and North of Shawano.

It should be noted that there are some odd features in the above map. For example, the vertical brown rectangle through Wausau and Stevens Point. From more detailed views in Google Earth (and flying over this region), the green area to the East of Wausau and North of Shawano is actually forest and not some imaging artifact!

On Sunday, with Mark Robotti towing, Kathleen Winters launched near noon in her Libelle, and I launched in my 1-35 at 12:30pm. The NOAA soaring forecast indicated trigger temperature would be reached at noon (the cumulus actually looked soarable perhaps as much as an hour before this). I quickly found lift, climbed up to cloudbase (around 5,000 MSL), and with the strong lift and great looking cumulus clouds, I decided to head out on my task. Initially, I was thinking this would be the Southeastern route, so I radioed Dick Beggs to get on the road. I quickly changed my mind on the task, however. The wind direction estimates produced by my flight computer indicated the wind was almost directly from the West. So, I radioed Dick to tell him we were changing to the Eastern route, and that my first goal was Boyceville. I made Boyceville at about 1:20pm, flying between 3,600 and 5,000 MSL. Shortly after at 1:30pm (just West of Tainter Lake), I got to my low point for the flight-- about 2,800 MSL. Throughout most of the flight lift was plentiful, though the cloudbases were somewhat low. My next waypoint was Abbotsford. Skirting the tower controlled airspace at Eau Claire to the North, I made Abbotsford at about 3pm, and then Wausau at about 3:30pm. Curiously, the lift got stronger past Wausau. While from OEO to Wausau I was flying mostly between 3,500 MSL and 5,000 MSL, after Wausau, I never dropped below 4,000 except when getting near my destination. After Wausau, I also got to 5,400 MSL, my maximum altitude for the day.

Somewhere along the flight, I think between Abbotsford and Wausau, one particular thermal was particularly turbulent. I usually thermal at 50mph. In this thermal, however, I could not retain control of the glider at 50mph. Flying near 60mph was necessary. I assume that the gusts kept changing the relative wind on the glider, resulting in stalls.

I had flown much of the flight from OEO to Wausau last year (6/3/06). On that flight, I didn't have a tailwind, and it took me about 6 hours to fly from OEO to Wausau. I was happy on this flight to see the airport at Wausau-- eminently landable! On my flight last year, I had run out of lift SW of Wausau, and couldn't make it to the airport, instead landing in a farmer's field. Continuing on past Wausau I was satisifed that the route from Wausau to Shawano (sticking basically to the highway) had a reasonable supply of landable farmers fields. This agreed with my route planning using Google Earth. Again, to avoid forested area, I did opt to go to the South around Shawano, instead of to the North. Continuing North and East past Shawano, and getting within 20 or so miles of Menominee Marinette, I reconsidered my options for landing. Both Marinette runways had about 45 degree crosswinds with the Wind from the East (now around 25 mph at altitude). There was also 5-10 miles of forest just before the airport at Marinette. Lift was continuing to be plentiful, and so I didn't feel pressured to land. Looking on my map I noticed that a nearby airport, Oconto, had an East-West runway, and there was no surrounding forest. That looked like a better option. I changed my heading towards this field. Arriving there with a couple thousand feet to burn before pattern altitude, I surveyed the field. The asphalt looked somewhat odd-- possibly in disrepair? The airport was on my sectional, and the sectional was current. There also were no large "X"s painted on the runway. However, because the asphalt looked odd, and there was plenty of seemingly flat grass immediately to the South of the asphalt, I opted to land on the grass. My landing at 5:30pm disturbed a pair of large birds on the grass. Sorry birds! It turned out that the asphalt was a little discolored, for some reason, and also had some tar repairs. It would have been fine for landing.

After deplaning, and excercising pilot relief options, I found I had no cell phone coverage, so was off in search of communication. I had mostly been out of contact with Dick on the radio. The terminal building at Oconto had a phone, and fortunately enabled long distance calls (silly me, I had no credit card-- I left them $10 for the calls). So, I reached Dick on the truck cell phone. It turned out he was about 2 hours away. In the meantime, a local Sheriff came to visit and asked if I was OK. He had had a call from the locals thinking there might have been a plane crash. I reassured him that I was fine, that the landing had incurred no damage, and that it was normal for a glider to sit on the field with one wing down.

Dick and I derigged on the grass runway as there had been no traffic. Large swarms of mosquito-like insects made derigging a fast process (I say "mosquito-like" because someone from that region recently suggested that the insects might be "lake flies"-- I don't recall any bites actually swelling up or itching). I had told Dick before the trip that it might be a long day. I was true to my estimation-- we got back to Osceola somewhere around 2am.

The soaring near Green Bay was spectacular. This is the first time I've had the opportunity to soar by a great lake. It was worth it! The entire flight was 256.6 miles (413 km; OLC Classic), and took 5 hours. Here is the OLC link. Average speed for the flight was 51.9 mph. Looking at the sky while waiting for my crew, I suspect one could have kept flying until at least 7pm. This was my first 400 km flight.