"It's The Tow!!!"
It was the official start of the Memorial day long weekend. After the flight, the drive back from our airfield at Osceola, WI (OEO) to Duluth, MN was pretty hideous. The first 1/3 of the way North along Interstate 35 was a parking lot, but not so bad after. But back to my point. The Friday soaring day.
Troy Pongratz had said he would mutually crew for me. We'd both fly, and if he landed out, I'd come get him. If I landed out, he'd come get me. Now, Troy hasn't yet started flying cross-country tasks, so this was a one-sided arrangement, and this influenced my thinking somewhat during the day. My planned task was a 275 mile out and return. The out and return goal was based not only on having a "mutual crew" (it would be rude to fly downwind and then say to a mutual crew-- Oh, I landed out!), but also on the fact that there are opportunities for out & return tasks in the WI state record books (e.g., the longest out & return record in the WI Free Out and Return Distance category is about 200 miles).
I arrived out at OEO at my usual time of 8am. While the day was pretty blue at Duluth (yet another reason to fly from Duluth), there was high cloud to the South. Here is a picture in the AM at OEO.
The NOAA forecast predicted no cumulus cloud, and they were true to their word. The day had plenty of high cloud (Cirrus?) and no cumulus. The Ford forecast predicted lift to 5-6,000' MSL and it also was true to its word. My highest climb for the day was about 6,500' MSL.
Dick Johnson and his wife Carolyn helped me with my wings in the morning. The rest of our pilots arrived a little later-- Tom Binger and Troy.
I launched at a little after noon. Beforehand, Lee Bradshaw, our tow pilot did a flight around the patch and said there was lift. Inded there was. I pulled off the tow before 2,000' AGL and climbed up the rest of the way myself (well, me and the thermals, and my aircraft). Initially, the top of my climbs was about 4,000' MSL, but later this thermal top altitude increased.
I lingered a little around OEO trying to determine if there was lift. I'd rather not land off-field 5 miles away from the field! The lift wasn't particularly strong yet, but it was consistently available. I called down to RWSA on the ground, and got Lee Bradshaw. We switched over to 123.5 MHz and I was talking about the lift, saying it was consistent. Lee piped up and said "It's The Tow!!!" I laughed!
I headed out, making for Amery, WI first, still not fully convinced I'd be able to stay up. Making it to Amery, I set Boyceville as my next goal. At Boyceville, there was high cloud overhead, and more of the same to the East. I cancelled my 275 mile out and return plans. I had planned to fly to just West of Wausau, WI and then come back to OEO. My expectation was that since the route to the East was under the high cloud that the lift would be poor because ground heating was cut off. I still don't know if that was true or not. However, my flight spanned a little over 100 miles in about 4 hours, and so it seems unlikely I could have made 275 miles in the soaring day.
From Boyceville instead of continuing East, I pointed the ship North to Cumberland. I made it to Cumberland, but got a little low near there (2,500' MSL) and was consdering landing. However, I got a good climb over Cumberland and departed at around 6,000' MSL. I thought initially to then head for Grantsburg. However, the combination of knowing Troy wasn't flying a cross-country and that the mutual crew deal was lopsided, and the fact that I'd been getting low and thinking about landing, influenced me to head back to OEO. After flying a little ways toward OEO, I headed for Amery again, still flying airport to airport. 12 miles North of Amery, I was in a thermal, and noticed an aircraft on the ground below me. Aha! There was a private strip 12 miles North of Amery. I looked at my sectional map and saw Romeo, a private strip. I called in to Troy and said "There's a private strip 12 miles North of Amery!".
I made it back to OEO with about 6,000' of altitude, and spent a little time looking for St Croix Valley aiport. I still can't find it. I'll have to program it into my GPS as a waypoint. I did some relatively high speed connected turns with my gear down to burn off my extra altitude, calling into OEO that I'd do a landing on Runway 22. For the first time, I dialed my radio into the AWOS at OEO from the air to get the ground wind direction and speed. Since I don't usually land back at OEO, I usually don't have a need for the OEO AWOS. I did a right hand pattern, landing on Runway 22. The winds were relatively light (7-8 mph), and I wasn't sure if some other traffic would decide on runway 10 or 28. A right hand pattern on 22 seemed the safest approach. There was an aircraft at the end of 22, but just off to the side, seemingly getting ready to launch. When I called out my downwind, this aircraft came onto the runway and launched while I was on downwind.
Setting the ship down on the grass ( runway 22), I saw Troy off to the side in a club golf cart. He'd been listening on the radio. Good crewing!! I guided my 1-35 off to the side of the runway between the cones and within seconds of being stopped, Troy had the cart in front of me.
Here's the OLC link for the flight.
The flight was some 117.17 miles (188.56 km; OLC Classic) at an average speed of 30.6 mph (49.24 km/h), with a duration of about 4 hours. Here are a few more images from the flight.