Hope is in the air: A first flight of Spring 2011

4/17/11, Sunday

Text blocks in this style through the article are Walt Johnson's flight writeup. The other parts of the article are authored by myself, Chris Prince.

I've had a full plate at work these past weeks, and with the end of the semester approaching I wasn't sure if I was going to go flying. The need to stay sane won the argument, so I headed to the airfield Sunday morning. Walt Johnson and I talked about the weather, but while the winds early in day were forecast to be somewhat strong (from the NW) that strength was supposed to decline over the day. Dr. Jack predicted good lift, and Walt agreed to crew for me, and the elements for a cross country soaring adventure came together. Walt was up for a downwind flight, but I had a long day at work Monday, and so ending up near Chicago on Sunday didn't seem like a good idea. We decided to stay generally somewhat near the airfield, or at least not go to Illinois!

Arriving at the airfield, the day-of soaring forecasts looked good. Lift to 5500' - 6000' was forecast, and I climbed up to 5200'. Steve Kennedy said he climbined a little higher than that too. Winds aloft through the day were between 20 mph and 10 mph. The clouds coming to the airfield looked good, but wasn't it too early in the day to get cumulus with lift under them?

I didn't take quite enough time in route planning the night before. Usually I have a few flight options programmed into my Colibri, but I spent all day Saturday working and didn't leave enough time for this. Instead, Walt and I decided on an ad hoc flight path in the morning.

The glider rigged well, with help from Walt, Alan Benfell, and Mike Finegan. The wings went on and pins went in like we've done this before! In checking out the batteries, the transponder went out, however, and it took us a few minutes to figure out that a fuse had been blown. Walt and I had re-wired the glider a few winters earlier and had fused the daylights out of the system (one fuse on each electrically powered instrument in the forward part of the wiring, near the panel, and one fuse on each battery, in the aft part of the wiring). The transponder fuse had blown apparently because I'd left the transponder on while switching in and out batteries to check voltages. After replacing the fuse, I again had a working transponder!

Tow Pilot Bob Lee was initially concerned about cross winds for the tow plane. I told him I'd have no problem canceling if he felt unsafe. I had no problem on launch and from what I could tell the tow plane had no problem either. My wing had no tendency to drop in the cross wind, though it could have just been the luck of the draw that we had no gusting at the time of the launch, at 1:30pm. Perhaps the lack of my wing dropping was the quality wing running by Don DePree! The launch was a little later than I usually start. I was waiting a little because of the winds, and I thought that the cumulus would develop more. Plus, I was a little sluggish with the first day of flying. I am going to have to give myself a little more time in getting out of Duluth. The Duluth end of I-35 is being ripped up yet again, and I avoid it and get out of town using surface roads.

Bob Lee was accurate about his statement, before the launch, about the conditions. He said it was bumpy up to about 3500' MSL and that's what it was. Fairly quickly, I got my first thermal, and it was good! About 4 kts. While I only climbed up to 4,000 MSL, I quickly made my decision to head out task, with a first destination of New Richmond, WI. I had asked Walt to get on the road early. He left just as I was launching. I wanted him to get ahead of me so I wouldn't outpace him on my intial downwind leg. We had agreed that I would head towards, Durand, WI, and from there, I would make a decision about where to head next.

Walt made good time and was on I-94 around the time I was crossing it in-air.

Trip Report from the Road Crew

I left the airport at Osceola, Wisconsin past noon as soon as glider ZT was positioned at the runway. After getting the hand held radios ready I was on the way to Menomonie. Mike directed me through the yellow gates. I was trying to get a head start because it was windy. As soon as Chris would leave town he could get out of radio range real quick. I listened to one radio as Chris was on tow. I heard him tell the tow plane thanks for the tow. He called me on the other radio as soon as he headed for New Richmond. I was near Somerset and well on my way toward interstate highway 94. When I got to 94, south of Somerset, Chris was crossing 94 ahead of me near Baldwin. There was a fast tail wind. This head start stuff was a good plan.

There was a snow fall in Duluth the previous day, Saturday. I only saw a little snow in the fields from altitude, however. Just like the last weekend flying out of Osceola, the fields look mostly dry. As usual for this time of year, the trees are ugly and bare. The lakes, as usual, were dazzling. The day was mostly blue and beautiful.

Initially there was a few sporadic cumulus clouds that helped in finding lift. However, for the most part, after I turned and headed to the NE, these clouds went away.

Chris continued to Durand I stayed on the freeway to Menomonie. I remember one short conversation when he was 15 miles from Red Wing. I didn't hear much from him until he was flying toward Menomonie. I already was at the rest area and waiting to hear something more. He sounded busy so I went toward downtown. He had decided not to go westerly on our plan toward the Mississippi River and then cross to Dodge Center.

He was going easterly, to my surprise, and toward the small towns. I was thinking about Wausau. I didn't know what the wind would do so I went toward Eau Claire. It was a slower mode. I was watching the sky for a glider and not quite going the speed limit. I took the 4th exit at US53 and waited near a shopping center. An executive jet was flying high and ordered fuel at St. Cloud. Remember, that the FBO and unicom at St. Cloud uses 123.5 mhz. We never did loose communications over the radios again. It seemed safe to hold still because I had passed beyond Chris and he was not flying as fast or in straight lines.

I had two memorable saves from low altitudes. In the first one at about 2:30pm, near Rock Elm, WI, I was probably too low (around 700-800' AGL), but made for a raggedy cumulus cloud and found some lift. In the second one, I was near Bloomer, WI. I had a field picked out, and was just about ready to enter downwind to meet the famer when I found some lift and worked it back up from approximately 1,000 AGL back up to 5,000 MSL. Walt was very close during this save and would have been at my landing field within minutes if I'd have needed to land.

Chris was flying east of Eau Clare so I drove north on 53 toward 29. He was having good luck but once answered my call and didn't talk. Roger to that, I went east on 29 toward Caddott and waited. He told me he turned around and was heading west toward Osceola. I needed the rest so I walked around the truck stop and listened.

One local patron or trucker asked what it was that I was pulling in that trailer. I told him it was for an aircraft that I am chasing and might be flying out toward Medford and then toward Bloomer. I told him alligators would fit in it.

I thought the wind had subsided as predicted. Chris said he was at Stanley and going west. He was flying down the road. I was watching but I couldn't see him until he was directly over at 5000 feet. I went west on highway 29 after I lost sight of the glider in the west. I drove to Eau Claire again and then north on 53 to Bloomer. I didn't think I would over drive him again but I did so I waited in Bloomer by the city park. He said he had a good look at the lake at Chippewa Falls. North and West bound flying may have been difficult. To save on expensive gas I could have stayed at Cadott.

I made good use of slow speed in thermaling, and I am trying to be more specific about not entering thermals if they are not strong enough.

Approaching Menomonie, at about five miles out, I couldn't yet see the airport or the town. I don't know how much of this was due to the fact that I was flying into the Sun, and how much of it was my usual problem of not being able to see airports from the air until I am nearly on top of them.

Chris said he had 15 miles to Menomonie so he was going to land at the airport. No more talk of Bloomer or Osceola. I switched the radio to the frequency for LUM and heard him announce for down wind, base and final. That was the end of the flight.

Walt loaned me his gloves for the flight because I had brought along two left handed gloves. It turned out I didn't need them in the cockpit-- my hands stayed warm the entire flight. My feet, however were cold in the last two or so hours. I am thinking about putting 1/4" plywood on top of my metal rudder pedals because I suspect that even through the soles of my mukluks, the metal conducts some of the heat away. I don't know how people stand wave flights where the temperature drops down to considerably below the the coldest temperature of 32F I saw on this flight. Though, only my feet were cold on this flight. The rest of me was fine.

My back was starting to get stiff in the last couple of hours too. I didn't take my pilot relief system along as I find that difficult with all the clothing to keep me warm, and my mukluks.

Chris said he had 15 miles to Menomonie so he was going to land at the airport. No more talk of Bloomer or Osceola. I switched the radio to the frequency for LUM and heard him announce for down wind, base and final. That was the end of the flight.

On landing at Menomonie at 6:30pm, and attending to pilot relief needs, I could see people walking towards me. I walked in their direction and was met by Jim Coulthard and Paul Randall. They saw me from the terminal building as I was landing. I was informed by Jim and Paul that they had a special event going on-- there was a meal to be had in the very fine and new Menomonie terminal building! Walt and I were being treated well! Walt arrived shortly, and we both partook of the food. Thanks again for the food! I also learned from Paul Randall that the Menomonie club has purchased a winch. It will be exciting to now have two winches in the vicinity (one at Faribault, one at Menomonie).

Chris called me on the cell phone when I was 15 miles out and the folks were having an airport supper. When I got there I couldn't believe it, a real nice turn out of flying people and goodies. I was invited to get some food and sit down and visit. Like all airports, this is a happy place. After eating we had volunteers help with wings and putting the glider away.

Jim and Dr. Dan Johnson helped Walt and I derig the glider at sunset. We derigged the glider on the edge of runway 36, which had a slight bank to it. It would have been better to pull the glider up to near the edge of the taxiway. Rolling in the wings, the wing dolley's tended to jump their track because of the angled position of the trailer. Walt drove when were first leaving Menomonie, but I took over once we got off I-94. We were both tired, but my energy picked up once I started driving. We arrived back at Osceola, both tired, putting the glider to bed in its hangar. Walt headed home, and I headed for Duluth. Thanks again Walt!

It was dark out side and time to roll. The Tom-Tom GPS, HILDA, showed the way. She, electronic voice, is so crabby and says "turn around when possible" and to "use the motorway." We got back to Osceola at 10:30 pm or so. I was home at midnight. This was the first cross country for this season for me. You may need a sectional chart and a Wisconsin road map to follow this. I wanted to tell you about the road. It twists and turns all over the place. Walter Johnson

I got home at 2am, Monday morning, and Monday was a daze, with the only saving grace that I felt good about the flight.

This was the first extensive road test of the glider trailer with the work we (Walt, Steve Kennedy, and Roger Lee) had done over the Winter. We did an extensive reinforcement of the trailer skin (because many of the pop rivets were bad). Walt was pleased with the results-- he thinks it runs on the road better than before. At least I'm not worried it's going to break in two at the axle!

Safety notes:

I didn't use my landing checklist. Have to remember this next time! My airspeed got a little high for a few moments on final before I reined it in.

My reasoning seemed to be starting to go during the last part of the flight. Perhaps because I was tired.

I need a stronger prescription in my glasses. I was barely able to read the 122.7 frequency for Menomonie from the sectional map. While I was tired, I have been noticing this in general about my glasses.

The flight was some 186.3 miles (299.9 km) according the OLC. The flight was some 4 hrs 49 minutes duration, with an average speed of 38.6 mph (62.2 km/h). The OLC record of the flight is here. Here are a few more images.