4 September 2010
A Meaningful Flight: A Tribute to Kathleen C. Winters
(The Kathleen C. Winters Memorial Flight).
Before the Airport.
The story for this flight begins on August 19th, 2010, the day that my girlfriend, Katrina, and I arrived into Victoria, B.C., Canada. We were on a road trip to see my family. I hadn't had a chance to do much with my email until the day after we arrived. On the 20th, we started unpacking in the room in my sister Hazel's house and I got out my laptop computer. I saw email with subject headings "Kathleen" and was concerned, and in instant emotional distress when I learned that Kathleen had passed away. It was good that I had Katrina there and that my family was there too. Katrina helped me get through this and we spent the next part of the day at my Mom and Dad’s in no small part because I needed the support in my grief.
I called Jim Hard (Kathleen's husband) and told him that I was not going to be able to make it for the funeral. I was upset about this, but it just wasn't in the cards for me to make it back. Jim and I agreed that I would give him a call when I was back in Minnesota, and we could get together then. I really wanted to see him. I hadn't seen either Jim or Kathleen since the 2009 soaring season banquet on 3/20/10. Later in the day on August 20th, we had a family gathering at Hazel's house, and my other sister, Tamara, brought over some sunflowers for me-- she was being kind because she had heard that one of my friends had just passed away.
I had seen more of Jim and Kathleen at Jim's birthday in December of 2009. I had gone out with Jim and Kathleen on Jim's birthday for two years running. Here are pictures from 2008 and 2009:
Jim Hard and Kathleen Winters have been the mother and father of my cross country soaring. Jim has provided a great deal of my training and knowledge, in cross country soaring, and Jim and Kathleen have acted as huge supporters for me. One of my first memories of their support is a meal spent with the two of them at the Trophy House restaurant, in New Trier, MN. One or both of them exclaimed that they saw great things in my cross country soaring future! They saw my passion and interest for this sport before I did and dug in and supported me. I take off my floppy soaring hat to Kathleen. I have experienced many excellent adventures with Jim's and her support. Memories of her will be in my future soaring too. Though, it must be said that she wasn't a big fan of me landing in farmer's fields. I appreciated her emphasis on landing at airports to keep things safe. I'm sorry though, Kathleen, I do like to meet farmers! Kathleen provided me with my first experience with a soaring flight recorder (a Colibri). This was my flight of 6/12/06, my eight cross country flight, my second flight with my Schweizer 1-35 (here's the OLC data from Kathleen's recorder), and a flight I made with Jim also flying from the same airport (Osceola, WI)-- we were mutually crewing for each other, in the air!
Katrina and I finished up our cross country road trip and arrived back into Minnesota on Monday, August 30. I called up Jim then. We decided on Saturday (September 4) as a day to spend time together. Jim suggested that the weather might be bringing conditions good for soaring on Saturday, and that maybe we should go flying. I laughed when he suggested flying! On the surface it might seem odd to talk about going flying immediately after the death of Jim's wife and my friend. However, Jim was and is my cross country soaring mentor. And Kathleen was also a soaring pilot. What kind of activities are suited when you get together with your mentor in this moment of mutual grief? And you have to realize what kind of a man Jim is. And what kind of a woman Kathleen is. They are both driven. Jim Hard has set numerous state records in his flying, and has a World Distance Award in gliding (set in a Schweizer 1-26) but that doesn’t really capture it. He’s driven. And Kathleen was driven. This was a highly fitting way to spend time together. I told Jim that if he flew, I would be there to crew for him. For personal reasons, I wasn't going to fly. Getting closer to the date, we arrived at the plan that I would come down Friday night to Jim's place, and the flight would be with Fred Hewitt and Jim flying in Fred's (and Dick Andrew's and Paul Remde's) graceful, longwinged DG 1000. I would be co-crewing with Tom Kuhfeld. This would mark my first cross country soaring activity this season since the end of May.
A couple of days before the flight, I had been noticing that the temperature had dropped down in Duluth. I believe that we were starting to get the cold front up here (that appeared later down South). My current hypothesis is that, with a NW wind, we get the cold front in Duluth and a few days later, the people down in the Minneapolis area get it. Mileage may vary on that, but that’s my current running hypothesis. (This is perhaps one of the few advantages I get as a soaring pilot living in Duluth and flying in the Minneapolis & St. Paul area-- that sometimes I literally feel the cold front before the pilots do further South in Minnesota).
I talked to Jim before the flight about me taking pictures. It was important to me to take pictures. I have taken pictures on many of my own flights, and photography has turned into a big part of my flying. I've also been fortunate to have a few other people help take pictures of my flying, such as Brian Collins, a friend from St. Croix Falls, WI, and Brian Rauvola from Duluth, MN. However, so far it has not worked out to get someone to come along to take pictures as part of the crew. This would be my first opportunity to take pictures as part of the crew of a soaring flight.
I drove down to Jim's place on the night of Friday, September 3rd, and we had a nice meal together. Jim talked about Kathleen's funeral, and how she passed. It was difficult to hear some of this. It was still hard to believe I was showing up at Jim and Kathleen's house, and Kathleen was no longer there. Jim was somewhat overwhelmed by the turnout of glider pilots at Kathleen's funeral service. He told me that there were 40 glider pilots in attendance. He was greatly appreciative of this support.
Before the Launch.
Jim and I arrived at Stanton on Saturday around 9am. Fred and Tom were getting the DG 1000 trailer ready. Fred and Jim went off to get the aircraft ready, and Tom and I tried to problem-solve some trailer lighting problems. Just where is that darn switch that changes over from one lighting connector to the other? I had not known Tom before this flight. I knew that he flew a PW5 (of course, I'd know his ship, but not know him!), I knew he’d done at least one flight to retrieve the Delbert from Osceola, but I did not know much more about him. I had talked to Fred a few times, briefly, before.
The basic plan was that the pilot and co-pilot would attempt Morris, IL (not Morris, MN!!), and if conditions merited, proceed further. Jim tells me the winds tend to be more from the West once you get South of Chicago, so the plan was to proceed roughly East from Morris if the day was strong and the winds were high.
At the flight line with Jim and Fred, Jim says that Tom and I should get on the road. Tom wasn't nearby and so I tracked him down. After a couple of more discussions with Jim and Fred at the flight line, we got the crew vehicle and trailer on the road. We left from Stanton around 11:30am with me driving initially. I started feeling the need to take pictures of clouds, and asked Tom to drive. We learned later that Fred and Jim launched at 12:12pm.
The Driving to Hinckley
As we drove, Tom and and I found there were some things that the crew vehicle needed and didn’t have. Some kind of electronic display would be nice. A glass panel? A GPS built in to the car? I said we should make a wish list of what we needed for crewing. I was thinking about maybe some simple additions like a handheld compass. Start small and work bigger? Tom jumped right in and said--what we really need is a brand new crew vehicle! (On the drive back from the landing site, Tom joked with Fred about this and got a good rise out of him.) I learned that Tom makes great sound effects when driving. The most memorable was Tom making the sound of the brakes of a semi-truck pulling into rest stops!
Tom and I had lots of good conversations. And some times of quiet too-- I'm sure he needed a break from all my picture taking!!
We drove out South-East on US 52 to Rochester, I-90 to La Crosse, through Tomah, down to Madison, and did some scenic touring West of Rockford, IL (taking Exit #1 which I believe is South Beloit at the time), until taking US 39 South to the Aurora, IL (US 30) and driving East until the Hinckley airport. Here's a Google Maps link to our route. Here's a map of the same route:
We drove mostly continuously from the time we left Stanton around 11:30am until 6:55pm, stopping only for gas, snacks, and crew relief. The drive afforded a nice opportunity to view the clouds developing throughout the day. And of course, since I had the camera in my hands (thanks Tom for doing most of the driving!!), and I love to take pictures of clouds, I have a sequence of pictures of clouds along our route.
Here are more pictures of the clouds, enroute.
The following is a slightly edited version of some notes I made on my ipod touch hand held device while Tom was driving:
At 5pm, I think the day is still looking strong. Tom thinks it is dissipating. At that time, we had had no contact with pilot and co-pilot since 3pm when they were at Prairie du Chien, WI
Driving through Rockton, IL, there was a fun, interesting looking pub.
It is a beautiful beautiful day!!
At 5:30pm, some clouds are looking weaker and some clouds are still looking strong.
At 5:42pm, Jim called on the radio. The word is: "Proceed to Morris, IL". At that time we were at Winnebago, IL, stopped, waiting from word from our pilots. We waited a grand total of one hour (or five minutes, depending on how you want to count it), at Winnebago. The actual number was five minutes, but we wanted it to sound more impressive to Fred and Jim (like we REALLY had to wait!), so we’re sticking officially with one hour! "We were at Winnebago for an hour if it was anything" (Tom).
At 5:50pm, we are driving (getting near to US 39), and Jim is on radio, telling us they are landing at Hinckley, IL. We returned the radio call with a confirmation that we were enroute.
At 6:25pm, we are turning off US 30 going East.
The skydivers were really friendly at the Hinckley, IL airport skydiving operation. Tom and I pulled in there first--the first entrance to the airport, not knowing that there were two separate access roads to the airport, one for the skydiving and one for the sailplane operation. Some of the skydiving people didn’t know what the trailer was that we were pulling. They didn’t have an understanding of what was going on 300 yards down the road. Perhaps those people were visitors to the airport, perhaps taking some skydiving lessons. They were kind and directed us to the next entrance to the airport. There was a couple of young attractive ladies, complete with cleavage, that were flirting with us. The safe older gentlemen? ☺ We always have to hope they were flirting with us. We don’t want to loose that hope! Some guys were just about to leave in their car, and we were about to hit them with our trailer as we were backing up (or at least this is what my anxieties said!). Tom showed superhuman skills in backing the glider trailer out of a tight spot there. The guys helped us by moving their car and creating more space for backing the glider trailer, as we were trying to proceed on to the sailplane part of the Hinckley airport, where Fred and Jim were waiting by the roadside for us to come in and complete the retrieve. Jim and Fred were very happy to see us. Fred had a headache. I think he was dehydrated. Maybe insufficient electrolytes? I always think of cross country soaring and long flights and a lack of fluids. As Dr. Dan would say: Stay Hydrated! Fred had some vanilla coke and this seemed to help.
The Hinckley Airport and Derigging
Here is Jim flagging us in at the entrance to the sailplane operation at the Hinckley, IL airport (6:53pm). You can see Fred and the DG 1000 in the background.
Derigging involved a well-coordinated but tired group of people.
Here are more pictures at Hinckley, IL.
There were some really exciting moments at the derigging site. There was a collection of skydivers and their Twin Otter aircraft, in an incredibly nose high configuration, simultaneously making a landing. It was very exciting to watch. Towards the end of derigging, there was a sound that made me turn around. I looked up, and there was a flock of skydivers 1000 feet above us. Here is a Flash video of the skydivers landing.
The Drive Back
I said something on the drive back that didn’t seem to be well received. I said something like: It was a really awesome day! Maybe Fred and Jim thought I was criticizing their flight? I was just saying that I had a really good time and that the day was beautiful. Through the day, I really enjoyed taking pictures, talking to Tom, talking to Fred, talking to Jim, spending time with Jim, and the nice flight Fred and Jim made. The Whole Deal: It was an amazing day! Honestly, it was one of the best flight experiences I’ve ever had despite the fact that I’d never gotten off the ground.
Apparently the day had a mass of unstable air. This was another point of learning or emphasis for me on this flight. I learned more about the characteristics of unstable air during this flight. Tom had brought up earlier, in the drive to Hinckley, his experience of flying over an area in Iowa, where the ground was soaked with water, but he was getting lift. Somewhere during the return from Illinois, I said to Jim, what in the heck is that? How can you get lift over ground that is soaking wet? He responds: That’s an unstable airmass. My inference is that the actual ground conditions don't always matter so much. This meshes with my experience in 2009 of flying over 80 or 90 miles of trees just NE of Wausau, WI to the UP (Escanaba, MI) and my conjecture is that that was a really rock’n unstable airmass. And it didn’t matter so much that I was flying over trees. In my mind, the trees are like the soaking ground (except worse for landings!). Perhaps if you are flying in an unstable air mass, there will be lift and sink, sometimes independent of the specific ground conditions.
I had really good discussions with Fred on the drive back. I hadn’t talked to him much before. I learned he has worked in various areas not too far away from topics that are familiar to me. We had some incredibly interesting technical discussions about his involvement in intelligence transportation technology, lighting, and human factors in technology.
Tom did the majority of the driving on the way out. On the way back, the driving was mostly equally divided between everyone but me! I drove from the Hinckley airport to South Beloit where we stopped for dinner. I was having sleep problems and I felt that I was not competent for much driving. Sorry, Tom for not doing much driving. Between my sleep problems and my picture taking frenzy you got faced with more of the driving than I intended!
We stopped at Denny’s in South Beloit for dinner at 9:15pm. I brought the trailer into a truck parking stop, just like we had called ahead and they had reserved a nice slot for us to park. Denny’s was a really really good plan. It was really good food at Denny’s. I had a Tilapia dish and there was a nice waitress. I consumed lots of coffee in the hope that I’d be able to contribute to the driving. There is nothing like having a well-deserved meal after a hard day of flying or crewing! My last meal had been at around 1:30pm, eating the sandwich that Jim had packed for me in his crewing kit. Thanks for the meal at Denny's, Jim!! It was delicious!
We left Denny’s somewhere around 10pm. We got into Stanton around 4am, with Jim driving to the entrance of the airport. Fred drove from the Stanton entrance over to his spot in the glider tie-down area, and we tied the DG 1000 down in its trailer.
On the drive back, I was talking about something that led to me bringing up Libelle sailplanes. I felt a little uncomfortable. I was wondering what Jim would be thinking. Tom kept the conversation going, still keeping the conversation on Libelle's. Why not talk about the type of ship that Kathleen flew most recently? Kathleen was on our minds. Why not talk about her, and subjects related to her? She was part of our lives.
There was an interesting moment of tension in the driving back. We were leaving from a gas station. Tom was driving, and there was a cat making its way across the road ahead of us in a fairly quick manner. It was after sunset, so the car headlights were illuminating this feline. When I pointed out there was a cat ahead, Fred called out--“No, it’s a large squirrel”, which got some laughs. Tom started fake driving towards the cat, like he was going to run it over. My reply to this fake driving was “Tom Kuhfeld doesn’t know that Chris Prince has three cats.” And Jim came back with “Tom Kuhfeld pitches cats underhand”! I cracked up laughing.
In the driving, I saw many names that I had only seen before in the air. For example, La Crosse. I saw geographical and man-made features that I'd only seen before from the air-- the dam to the North of the road as we passed through La Crosse coming back. I didn’t know what the dam was before and apparently it is not hydroelectric (Tom told me, but I forgot!). Tom told me a story about someone he knew who had involvement with the dam. Another name while driving was Bangor, WI. I have used Bangor several times in the air as a waypoint for navigation. We also saw a road sign for the Burr Oak Winery. I’ve landed at Burr Oak, WI and the winery seems like it might be fun to visit sometime. I might have the chance to visit the Burr Oak farm again where I landed. I rarely go back to a place where I’ve landed. I was really energized to see these places not just from the sky, but from the earth. I’ve seen places on a map, and from the air (e.g., Bangor); I’d seen the aerial vantage. I’d seen it from a hawks, birds eye view, and pilots eye view. And now, I saw a different, perhaps narrower perspective from the roadway. Before this trip, I had never seen the Mississippi at La Crosse from a car. It was really nice!
I shook Fred’s hand at the glider hangar and was glad to have spent this time with him. Tom escaped off into the night in his vehicle, exhausted I'm sure.
Epilogue: Jim’s House.
Jim drove him and I back from Stanton to his house. It was a good drive back from his house. As we were driving by some refineries in the dark and the fog, Jim suggested that I might do some photography of these sites. He knows that I enjoy photography, and some shots, especially at night from a distance of these locations might be really worthwhile.
We arrived back at Jim's house at about 5am. It feels so good to sit down and not move!
The couple of days I spent with Jim and the flight were about a month experientially. I find that when experiences are very intense and rich, they seem much expanded in time. Perhaps like Dr. Who’s space ship is expanded in space inside? ☺
Jim had packed two beers in his cooler for the crew, Tom and myself. Neither Tom nor I drank them at the end of the day at the Hinckley, IL field. This probably would have made me fall asleep. (Which in hindsight wouldn’t have been such a bad thing. With my sleep issues and the excitement of the day, I wasn’t able nap on the drive back from Hinckley. Perhaps the beer could have helped me relax and sleep and enabled me to contribute more to the driving on the way back? ). Rotating between the three able drivers turned out to work reasonably. This morning (the 5th) at Jim’s house, I took one of the beers to bring home and that will be a celebration for a little bit later.
Every experience doesn’t have to be a high accomplishment experience. We went on this gliding trip. I was crewing, and Tom was crewing. We had two pilots. I wasn’t flying. While the overall trip distance was perhaps below the maximum possible for the day, and the aircraft (what day and flight isn't?!), not every flight has to be the maximum performance flight in terms of specific performance numbers. I think the overall experience was awesome. It was a great day. An awesome day. I think maybe if it had have been a record breaking flight, something would have changed, and we might have been too exhausted to enjoy it. I think the flight turned out the best way possible. Perhaps the only way possible. Sometimes it's about getting together to spend time with people, and not about a flight that sets records or personal bests. I will remember this flight for spending time with people to remember Kathleen Winters. I will miss Kathleen's passion and keen mind. It is hard to believe she is gone. If there is life after death, I hope there is a Libelle there for Kathleen and many more books.