Look Ma, No Vario!

C. G. Prince

5/11/08, Sunday (Modified 6/28/08 to add WI state record statement)

I headed to the airport today fully expecting to tinker on my glider in the hangar. Little did I know! The weather prediction had not been looking very good, with expected low temp-dewpoint spread, and rain expected too. When I got to Osceola, however, the soaring index looked good (see Ford). A little low, but good. A relatively strong North wind was also predicted (see NWS), so it looked like a possible day for a downwind dash. I called up Walter Johnson, and got Lee (his wife). She said that Walt was on his way to the airport. Good news! It looked like I had a crew! When Walt arrived, we talked about plans for the day. He suggested Muscatine, IA as a goal. Walt is from Iowa, and I had bought my first glider from a fellow in Muscatine, so we both had some connection to the area. I asked him if he had to work tomorrow (Monday)-- he said "yes". I said it would be a late day, and he didn't seem to mind that possibility.

Roger Lee (our tow pilot for the day at RWSA) helped us rig the 1-35 (and the wings went on like butter!). At just before 1pm, I was ready to launch. Hmmmm.... note to self... I need to keep the chatting down with hangar neighbors and focus on getting into the air! NOAA had predicted that lift would start at 10am, so possibly I lost three hours of the day. There had been one other "oops" so far in the flight preparation. I had brought my glider Total Energy (TE) probe home for repairs, and had forgotten to bring it back to the airfield. The TE probe connection goes to both of my vario's. I was very upset, angry, and frustrated. Grrrrrr!!! I thought about the impact of this loss-- I would not have normal functioning of my vario's if I flew. The vario's are indended primarily to enhance the performance of a flight, not the safety of the flight, so I opted to continue with the flight plans. Trying to salvage what we could, Walt and I put a plug in the aircraf's TE connector so the direct airflow would not harm my instruments, and in the hopes that I would have some functionality out of my vario's.

I launched and cloudbase was a little above tow release altitude -- around 4,500 MSL. I was a little hesitant in the first few minutes, but fairly quickly, I set out on task. The wind for most of the day was out of the NNW (around 340 degrees), which turned out to be perfect for a flight towards Muscatine from Osceola, as Muscatine is to the SSE. Most of the flight was spent in the neighborhood of 4,000 MSL. I managed to get up to a high point of about 4,700' MSL (just after 4pm), and I got down low a few times too-- near to landing. Just when I put my gear down on one of these, I spotted a gravel pit on the ground surface under me, and tried a turn in the hopes that the gravel pit was generating thermals-- and it was!! I took the offered ride back up to my working altitude. In general, I kept flying on about the Westward edge of the convective energy of the day. Towards the West, there were fewer cumulus clouds. Farther towards the East there were more cumulus, but I wanted to keep open the possiblity of my Muscatine goal.

In 4.75 hours, with a 25 mph tailwind, I made it to Muscatine, Iowa. We had programmed this as a goal into my Colibri flight recorder, with the intent of a straight out to a goal -- for a possible WI state record. There is currently no record in this class for WI. All going according to plan, this should make a new state record.

Landing at Muscatine was a specific decision. At Muscatine, I was at my working altitude for the day on arriving, and the day was still working (from the ground, after I landed, it seemed like it kept working for about another hour). I believe I could have kept going downwind for another 50-100 miles. However, I landed at 5:39pm. Both Walt and I had to work the next day. And, sitting here in the terminal building writing this at 8pm on Sunday (Walt should arrive shortly), in Muscatine, IA, Monday AM is going to come all too soon! As a result of our need to get to work on Monday, this flight is not the one for my first diamond distance (which needs about 311 miles for 500 km). The farmer's fields through the flight looked very wet -- I'm glad that I didn't have to land out. There were clear signs of standing water in perhaps most of the fields. Given this, it continues to surprise me how strong the lift was.

The airport manager at Muscatine (Mike Bailey) was very helpful and friendly. Mike pulled my glider with his truck to the terminal building, from the runway, and offered me all of the hospitalities of the terminal building. Not only did the new looking terminal building have computers, internet connections, vending machines, tables, nice chairs, and various rooms, there was also a bed in one of the rooms for the weary pilot. Being rather weary, I made good use of this bed for a short nap!

I should say something about flying without a TE probe. As a result of having no TE probe, my vario's were not completely useless, but they did not help to detect and did not help centering lift. For that, I had to rely on the seat of my pants and the altimeter. While not providing high altitude lift to be sure, the day was pretty consistently good, and so this proved workable. My vario's would show indication once established in a thermal (or flying straight and level for a period), but again they were useless at determining the strongest part of the lift (or the weakest). The seat of my pants also helped to detect the initial surge while turning in the thermals.

I'm learning more and more to take wind shear predictions with a grain of salt. Wind doesn't necessarily mean thermals that are difficult to work. Here is the BLIPMAP for the day, and here is the BLIPMAP with wind shear. It seems clear to me that the BLIPMAP with wind shear was inaccurate.

Here's the OLC Link for the flight, and here's an image of the flight trace in Google Earth. The flight was some 297.12 miles (478.18 km; OLC classic), with an average ground speed of 63.08 mph (101.51 km/h). This flight was a personal best distance. My best prior distance was 269.3 miles from Osceola to Freeport, IL (see writeup).

Here's a picture of my car GPS indicating that indeed we were in Muscatine:


This flight now officially has achieved two WI state records for straight distance to a goal! See the current state of the WI state records below: