Bong, bong, bong!

Saturday, 7/4/09

Well, straight off, this wasn't my best flight. It was one of my poorer flights. In a dangerous sort of way.

With Walt Johnson crewing, and with Tim Roska towing, I had set off to make a 200 mile cross-country-- to Duluth (Bong airfield at Superior, WI) and back to Osceola, WI (OEO). From the ground, the day looked promising, though overdevelopment of the cumulus was common even by about 10am.

When I launched, cloudbase was low (around 4,000' MSL) and the lift was weak. Probably because I'm so comfortable with heading out on a task, I left the airport, and headed North almost immediately. I got a couple of thermals (at best, 2 kts up), and made it about 15 miles North before starting to get low.

Seeing the nice cumulus around, and just having set out on my task, I didn't want to land. I kept trying to work the weak lift close to the ground (just before landing, I did a few minutes of turns at around 700' AGL, with a landing field in sight). My first mistake on landing was choosing to land without thinking about the wind. When I launched at OEO, the wind was weak, so I wasn't too concerned about it. However, the field I'd selected was relatively short (about 1/2 or 1/3 of the length I often have). I should have realized by the amount I was drifting that the winds were slightly stronger at that point (I hadn't checked my wind indicator on my Colibri flight computer recently-- I was busy-- but apparently not too busy to take a few pictures. See below for some pictures taken just before landing.) Note to self: Thermal to the left when really low. With the camera mounted on the right of the ship, when turning to the left you are not tempted to take pictures of the ground!

I learned of another problem with the field just as I was about to touch down. It had some small rolling hills! My first touchdown was hard-- "Bong"! I bounced up quite high (it seemed like about 20 feet up), and realized I had to get the aircraft under control. Sometimes these hard landings lead to a series of oscillations, and since that fence ahead wasn't moving, I couldn't afford oscillations! I damped out the impending oscillation, got the aircraft onto the ground, and held the brake on with a good force. The aircraft stopped perhaps about 200' away from the fence. I was undamaged. I tried turning on the radio (I'd turned it off when I was thermaling low-- not wanting the distraction), but it wouldn't power up. My other instruments were still on, though. It turns out that the main radio connector had come loose with the hard landing, and when I got out of the ship, I was able to reconnect it. I tried hailing Walt on the radio-- he was nearby somewhere on the ground in the crew vehicle-- but couldn't hear his response.

It turns out the field was a cow pasture. I hadn't seen the uneven terrain from the sky. In a turn of events, I had cell phone coverage in the field and was able to get my lat/long to Walt in short order. I took my usual set of landing pictures, and proceeded to walk out of the field to try to find the land owner. Below are some pictures in the field.

To the North:


To the South:

There was no response at a nearby house. After trying this house, I called Walt again on the cell phone, and asked him where he was. He said he was coming up a hill, and I asked him what direction he was heading. He said to the East, and I looked over on the road I was on, facing West, and there he was, coming over the crest of the hill. Good Crewing Skills Walt!!

We proceeded to drive to a nearby house, and asked that fellow who owned the field I'd landed in. He said the field owner lived in Minneapolis, so having done our best to field the owner, Walt and I proceeded to find a way to drive the vehicle into the field.

One of the issues that made field selection more difficult on this flight is that the corn fields were higher now. Here's a picture of Walt standing by some corn in a neighboring field. Clearly more than "knee high by the 4th of July"!

The landing location was: N 45° 32' 07" W 92° 47' 31", and was about 3 miles East of Sunrise, MN and 3 miles North of Almelund, MN. Here's a map-view (the green arrow marks the landing field):

The bottom of my ship, near the release, has a new dent, and a crack in the paint. We had to spend sometime working with the release when we got back to Osceola. It's functional still, but the cover plate on it is bent a little. Apparently, either on the initial hard landing, or because I was jamming on the bake hard, I nosed over causing the dent and causing the release cover to bend. Thanks to Paul & Mary Jo Campobasso for helping me get the cleaning equipment set up. Some vaccuming was in order to get dirt from the field out of the glider, which had jammed up through the release opening.

The flight lasted 52 minutes, and I made 24.7 miles (OLC Classic). If you're keen to see the details of this short but memorable flight, here's the link to the OLC. Here are some more pictures.