A Nearly Perfect Day

5/2/09, Saturday

Yesterday was the best soaring conditions I've ever experienced. It was nearly perfect. It would have been perfect had I made my goal, but let me tell the story in sequence.

So far this season I've had one cross-country flight. It had been three weeks since that flight, and I was getting set up with Saturday as my second cross-country attempt. The weather looked promising. Forecasts indicated reasonably strong winds out of the West (e.g., 15 mph on the ground). I was hoping for a downwind dash with a destination of Escanaba, MI. However, the potential crew I contacted were unable to do a two-day retrieve-- it would take one day to do the flying, and we'd come back the next day. And given that I had to work Monday, a self-retrieve wasn't going to work either. So, I went with a plan of a relatively narrow rectangular course, with all the legs at a cross-wind. Since I'd seen Brian Utley do this last season, this flight course has seemed like a good plan to me. At worst, you end up flying at 45 degrees into the wind, and never fully into a head wind.

My trailer was up in Duluth because I'd gotten my transponder calibrated this week, and was doing some other minor maintenance. Tim Traynor and I drove down to the airfield together, early. We left a little after 5am. Upon getting South of Duluth, the day looked promising. Getting to the airfield it looked even better. The sky was pure blue. The morning temperature was cool. The soaring forecasts looked Amazing! Here is the Ford forecast. We had the glider rigged by around 10am, and with a predicted trigger time of 12noon, I decided we had time to wash the glider. There was still some dirt on the belly from my gear-up off-field landing three weeks ago, so why not?! After Walt Johnson and I washed the glider (Walt was to be my crew), we had lunch and headed out to the flight line.

I launched just shortly before noon. A Blanik had already launched and was staying up. Plus, Steve Kennedy had also just launched in the Pilatus and was climbing in a thermal. I radioed to Mark Robotti, the tow pilot, that I would release at 3K AGL, but ended up pulling off tow at 1700 feet AGL. The thermal was there, so why not just climb up myself to where I wanted to be? In retrospect, I could have launched before the Blanik at around 11:30am, and stayed up. The cumulus started popping at around 10am, and were reasonably well developed by the time I got into the air.

Brian Collins, a local biology teacher and photographer, came to the airport to take some pictures in the morning. Thanks for the photos, Brian! Here are some of what he took:

I headed out on the first leg of my planned course, to near Menomonie, after my first climb. Heading nearly fully downwind, that leg went quickly. And I was out of radio contact with Walt almost immediately. Heading on to my second turnpoint (a couple of miles NE of Bloomer), I finished this second leg within about 1 hour of total flight time. I then started my hardest leg of the day-- about 100 miles nearly fully upwind-- at 45 degrees to the wind. The wind was out of the West, and on this 100 mile leg I was flying North West, with a third turnpoint goal a few miles NW of the Hinckley (Field of Dreams) airport. Walt had positioned himself, with the crew vehicle and trailer, near the mid-point of the course, at Grantsburg airport. At about 3:30pm, I was over Grantsburg, and did a fly-over of the field so that Walt could see me. Here's a picture of the Grantsburg airport. If you look carefully, you can see the glider trailer and tow vehicle. Hi Walt!

Between turnpoint two and three, I had my best lift of any soaring day ever. Cloud bases ranged from about 6-8,000' MSL, and in a few cases, lift was 9kts at the 8,000' cloud base!! Wow!! I was feeling like God was giving me an experience of flying out West even though I'd decided to not fly out West this season. My best altitude of the day was 8,500' MSL.

Some of the images of the day certainly reinforce that feeling that God was helping out:

Making it by Grantsburg, and heading further to the NW, the day started to look dicey. Even earlier than this, I'd started to see less definition of the cloud bases, and some of the clouds seemed to be producing rain or at least virga. When I was around Hinckley, it seemed that the clouds to the South would not likely allow for a flight back to Osceola. But, hoping for the best, I continued on to my third turn point. There were still some viable looking cumulus in that direction. As luck would have it, once I rounded my third turnpoint, the weather had cycled, and the clouds to the South were looking better. The overcast had turned again into nicely formed cumulus. I headed out towards my fourth turnpoint (midway between Mora and Milaca), staying between 4,000' MSL and 7,200' MSL. It was about 30 miles to turnpoint four. At about 10 miles away from that turnpoint, I was getting confident that I'd make it back to Osceola, so I radioed Walt who was still at Grantsburg, and excitedly told him he should head back to Osceola.

Around the fourth turnpoint, there were some lenticular clouds in the sky. Here are some pictures. Look at the lower left of the images for the lennies.

The story that I told Walt was not to be so easy though. I made my fourth turnpoint, and progressed about 20 miles past this, headed to Osceola, and ran out of altitude and ideas. I was about 6 miles West of Rush City, and despite some attempts at thermaling at below 1,000' AGL, I had to land in a hay field (I had my field picked out while I was doing this-- and I was generally staying upwind of my intended landing field). Here's the thermaling attempts just before the landing, and the landing field (the final stopping point of the landing is the small green dot):

Getting out of the glider, after about 6 hours in the air, it was clear I was tired. I started walking away from the glider, then realized I needed the GPS coordinates for the landing site to give to my crew (my cell phone was not working at that location, and I needed to walk to a house nearby to find a phone to tell my crew where I was). Getting the GPS coords, I walked to the farmhouse, and thankfully found the homeowner inside. Jeane, the lady of the house was a jewel. I immediately felt like a grandson. Within one minute of entering her house, she was dialing Walt to tell him my coordinates. Within five minutes, I had my feet in a pan of hot water, warming up my toes. Wow! :). That was the best part of the flight, surpassing the 900 feet per minute at 8,000' MSL. Well, almost. :). A close second anyways!!

Virgil, Jeane's husband, came downstairs shortly. And another local person, driving by, dropped in too-- to see if anyone was injured in the "crash", and to render assistance. Several more locals dropped by before Walt and Steve Kennedy arrived. Jeane and Virgil owned the field I landed in, but another gentleman farmed the field. It was a hayfield, with a few inches of growth.

I landed at 6pm. Walt and Steve arrived at about 8pm. We derigged, just before the sun set. Two other locals stayed to talk and see the derigging of the "crashed" aircraft (I jest-- the landing was excellent-- the aircraft was usable for another flight!).

I took pictures of the field sometime after the landing. I'd like to be able to claim that the clouds looked as bad as in these pictures, but it wasn't so. After I landed, the clouds looked like they were still producing lift for at least an hour. The following image is from 7:35pm, but my landing was just shortly after 6pm:

I stopped at the farmhouse before we pulled the loaded trailer out of the field to take some pictures of Virgil and Jeane, and their cats :). I do hope to see them again. Maybe they will come by Osceola and take me up on my offer of a flight.

I have to work out some way of keeping my toes warmer. It was 30 degrees at cloud base, and I had two pairs of socks on, light pants, with thermal underwear, and four layers on my torso-- a shirt, a fleece shirt on top, and a sweater on that, and a fleece jacket pulled on backwards on the flight line. That wasn't enough to keep my toes warm, however. They were too cold at about 4 hours into the flight. I usually kept all vents closed on the ship except for times I was shooting pictures with my camera.

The OLC flight trace is here. The flight trace has a V circled in red. It's invalid. On Friday night, 5/1/09, I was downloading my planned task for the next day to my Colibri flight logger, and managed to corrupt the Colibri airport database, settings, and caused it to read out "SEAL NOT VALID". That is, the Colibri now thought that I'd cracked it open, without authorization! Ouch! I had been using a new Windows XP laptop, and had just downloaded a fresh copy of See You, and was using a default turnpoint database (some 13,000 or so turnpoints I think). I had defined one task, and attempted to upload that data (one task and the thousands of turnpoints) to the Colibri. See You told me that I had too many waypoints, but I was hoping it would do something intelligent like load only the turnpoints I need for the task. Now, it may be coincidental that my attempt to upload this large amount of data happened alongside the "SEAL NOT VALID". Perhaps at the same time, the lithium battery backup in the Colibri started to go bad, or some static electricity discharge caused the problem. Anyone willing to fully replicate this? (Fresh See You, the default thousands of turnpoint data base, and 1 task, upload?). Of course, if you succeed in your replication, you will have to send your Colibri to someone to get the unit resealed!

The flight duration was 6 hours 7 minutes, and the distance flown was 224.07 miles (360.61 km; OLC Classic).

The landing location was 45° 40' 00" N; 93° 04' 30" W.

Some more pictures from the flight.