Sandwich Diamond: A Four Day Saga

Update: See bottom for WI State records (10/13/08).
Update: Further update to WI State records (12/25/08).

Day 1: Sunday, 7/13/08

The day looked questionable from Duluth. It was overcast, and there was some rain. Not knowing what would happen later in the day, or what would happen at Osceola (OEO), I went to the airfield anyways. (I agree with Jim Hard when he says that optimism is part of what makes a cross-country glider pilot too-- I've seen overcast days turn into excellent soaring conditions). The sky cleared up well before I got to OEO-- it was nicely blue there. And much to my approval, there were some early cumulus clouds popping by 8am when I pulled the glider in its trailer out of the hangar. I should explain at this point that I had not been able to locate crew. Walt Johnson was working, and the other people I contacted (including my guitar instructor!) couldn't make it either. BUT: I wanted to fly. It was to be a downwind flight because the winds were predicted to be strong and indeed they were reasonably strong when I was rigging (they averaged over 30mph that day in the air).

It took me two attempts at launching to stay up. My first tow was rough with quite a bit of slack rope, and turbulence near the ground. Plus, the landing was not so good. It had been a while since I'd done a high-wind landing-- and this is probably the highest wind I've landed in with my 1-35. I achieved currency with the ballooning on that first landing!! That first launch took place at 11:23am, and I stayed up for about 20 minutes. Perhaps the cumulus and lift hadn't developed enough yet. Jim Hard later said that on high wind days he waits about an hour longer to launch. In any event, the second launch at 12:16pm took: I was able to stay up. This was actually earlier than the 1pm indicated by the NOAA soaring forecast. On both of these launches, Roger Lee towed, and we crabbed along the river to keep me with a Wisconsin state release. (I wanted to be eligible for a WI state record, should the flight prove to be a good one). Chris Bolf ran my wing on both launches. Lee Bradshaw was at the airfield helping on the ground, as were his granddaughters and their Nany's! Upon taking his his test flight for the day in the tow plane, Roger Lee commented that the day seemed just like the day a couple of months back that Team Zulu Tango went to Muscatine, IA, and he was about right with that estimation.

I was the only glider pilot to launch from OEO that day. No one else wanted to deal with the winds. Can't say as I blame them. If one was trying to fly locally, you would have spent a great deal of your time struggling to not be blown too far downwind.

After the second launch, I got a couple of good thermals and decided to head out on task. Usually, I like to touch the turnpoints of the task I have programmed into my flight recorder, and my first turnpoint was OEO. However, by the time I had decided to head downwind on my task, The wind had blown me 6 or more miles East of OEO. There seemed little benefit to struggling to arrive back over the airfield to touch the turnpoint. I was pleased to note that the thermals were not broken up-- even with the high wind.

It was a moderately difficult day. There quite a few large blue gaps in the sky that I had to work my way around-- forming reasonably substantial detours or course deviations. I didn't get particularly low, however, until about Freeport, IL, which was my low pooint-- about 2,600' MSL. And after that I found it more difficult to stay in my working band for the day between 4,000' MSL and 6,000' MSL. Climbing away from Freeport, I set my sights on Sandwich, IL. That would give me Diamond distance, and was an airport. I was preferring to land at an airport for this flight because I needed to have some place to tie down my glider while I self-crewed and went back to OEO to get my car and trailer.

I managed to make it to Sandwich, IL with plenty of altitude for a good pattern. Here is Sandwich, IL on Google maps. As is often the case I didn't see the airport until just a few miles away. The airport at Sandwich, the airport runs parallel to a road and railway tracks, which makes it more difficult to see from the air. For the last 10 or so miles I was being blown along while circling in weak lift. Quite possibly I could have made another 10 or 20 miles, but I wanted an airport landing. There were still cumulus clouds in the sky (see picture below), so that made it more difficult to want to land. (I didn't connect the dots until later, but between Freeport and Sandwich, there were fields with a lot of standing water. Quite possibly, the lift was difficult to work because of these wet fields.). I landed on the asphalt at Sandwich, and pulled off onto the grass before I stopped. It was an aiport with houses on it-- what a luxury!! Here's an image of the glider (and some of the sky) just after the landing:

It turns out that the Sandwich airport is a private strip, and the radio frequency is not listed on the sectional, so I landed considering the possiblity I'd have to take the grass to the side of the main runway if someone pulled out to launch while I was in the pattern.

After pulling the glider further off the grass on the side of the runway, and some quick phone calls (to Jim Hard to tell him I'd made my task, and to my cat sitter-- I'd not be back home to feed my cats for a few days), I started to look for locals. Within a few minutes of walking around the aiport two people, Sue and Ed, came out of their house. They lived next door to the part of the runway where I'd stopped. They wondered where I'd come from. When I told them I came from Minnesota (only a slight lie-- since my launching point was about 1 mile East of MN-- stating MN rather than far West WI just seemed easier to communicate), they were impressed! Sue and Ed turned out to be awesome people. They helped me tie my glider down on their property (Ed also fabricated a tail tie down for me, and later gifted me with this-- I had not included a tail tie down in my emergency landing kit), fed me a very nice dinner, and drove me to a nearby hotel so I could recuperate! The people you meet on these trips are really amazing. I had set out on my flight not knowing where my glider would spend the night, and Sue and Ed came to my rescue and were extremely helpful.

Here is Ed in front of his house, with my glider already tied down:

It was fun walking into the hotel with my parachute on my shoulder, and not too much more. The girl at the hotel was making conversation and asked what brought me to their town. She was taken aback at my explanation. Like many people she didn't know gliders could fly these kinds of distances. I showed her the parachute too!

Day 2: Monday, 7/14/08

Phase 2 of the flight is coming to a close. Ralph, the hotel owner (Best Western, Timber Creek Inn & Suites) turned out to be a pilot also and spent several hours with me, giving me books to read on the bus back to MN, popcorn and a beverage from his movie theater (Wow7) and showing me around. Ralph dropped me off at the Greyhound bus station in Aurora, IL. Again, I am struck that it is really amazing how one can land at a new place, and the locals pitch in to help. This morning when I was trying to figure out how to get back to Osceola, the women at the hotel front desk (Michelle and Karen), spent a couple of hours with me working out transportation options. Rental cars for a one-way trip seemed a good option, but none of the possibilities worked out (there were no cars available at the time for one way rental, even though some of the companies indicated they provided this service). One-way flights from Chicago O'Hare ran some 371$, and the bus was 61$. Since I was not in a hurry (as I don't teach in the summer), I decided on the bus plan.

This relaxed pace enabled me to spend more time with Ralph, too. We shared a great deal in common-- and he noticed this before me. Our parents had similar educations, we both started off college in Chemistry, we are both readers, we are both interested in technology, and both are pilots. Ralph regretted not being current in his own aircraft, or would have flown me be back to Osceola.

Looking at the sky outside today, it seems like an awesome soaring day. Here's a picture of the cumulus clouds from the Aurora, IL bus station:

I got my bus out of Aurora, IL at about 7:30pm, which got into Chicago, IL at 8:30pm. A pretty young girl sat down beside me at the bus station and started talking to me. She appeared tired, and wanted confirmation of when her bus was leaving (about 4 hours later!). She was also a Canadian, and was returning to Canada after having been in the US for a few years. My bus departed Chicago at about 9:30pm, sadly leaving the pretty young girl to her venture.

I set out on this flight without a crew thinking that it would involve the same faith that cross-country soaring did. When cross-country soaring, you have to trust that there will be a place to land, and that you have the skills to do that landing. (Of course, this cannot be based entirely on faith-- there have to be some real landable areas out there!!). And so far on this trip, my faith has been repaid many times. First with Ed and Sue at the Sandwich airport, then with the women at the hotel, and just now with Ralph, the hotel owner.

While I made my Diamond distance yesterday (see below for distance statistics), it seemed like I should have been able to go further. When I flew to Muscatine, I am confident I could have flown for at least another hour- giving me more distance than yesterday, and my average speed to Muscatine was slight better (101.51 km/h on that earlier trip). It is also further odd that going to Muscatine, I didn't often get above 4,000' MSL, while yesterday, I got up to 6,500' MSL several times. I think there was more blue sky yesterday, and it seemed like I deviated more from my course line around that blue. I also was not flying fully downwind because of the need to skirt the MOA's in Wisconsin, to avoid tower controlled airports, and of course to fly South of Lake Michigan. One further reason could be that the fields SE of Freeport, IL were quite wet, reducing the lift that I obtained.

Day 3: Tuesday, 7/15/08

My bus arrived into St. Paul at about 5am. On the entire bus trip, no one noticed that I was carrying an unusual backpack—my parachute. Or at least no one showed any signs of noticing. I slept at the St. Paul bus station until 7am when it seemed a reasonable time to call Jim Hard to let him know I’d arrived. Jim arrived at the bus station in his car at about 8am, and we headed up to Osceola. Having breakfast at a nice little spot in Somerset, we completed the trip up to OEO. Jim stayed until I uploaded my flight recorder trace to the OLC web site. There is a Tuesday deadline on OLC uploaded flights, so I wanted to get this chore done by the end of the day.

Here's Jim dropping me off to get my car and trailer:

I got back on the road, headed to Illinois, about an hour later. It took around 7 hours to make the drive back to Sandwich, IL—I drove into the airport there at 6pm. I had called Ed a few hours out, and had told him when I’d arrive. When I arrived, he was at his house, and acted as my local crew, helping me remove the tie downs, take off the wings and get the glider back into the trailer. I received an email later from Ed saying I was more than welcome to return at a later date!

Somehow when I hit the road about 7pm, glider in trailer, it seemed fitting to play classical music on my car stereo. The sun was getting down on the horizon, the fields were beautiful (if still wet), and I was quite alert and awake, having had the exercise of derigging the glider. I called Walt Johnson at this point and told him of the flight. Walt, as usual, was happy to hear about the flight. I was a little sad that he had not been able to join me as crew on the flight and share more in the adventure, but it made up for it some by talking to him and relating the events of the flight.

It turned out that I was driving only because I had some derigging energy, and this energy went away at around 9:30pm. I pulled off the road to stay at a Motel 6. A night’s rest would still get me into Duluth the next day at around mid-day to do a few activities.

Day 4: Wednesday, 7/15/08

Leaving the Motel 6 in Janesville, WI at about 7:30am, I got back on the road. I was much better for the rest. There was a small bird twittering at me on the balcony at the hotel before I left. He or she might have been protecting a nest. I enjoyed their company for a few minutes. Birds don’t have to venture so much by land after a long flight! What about that next generation of gliders that you can pack up in a suitcase, and bring back with you on the bus?

I got back into OEO at about 12:30pm, and tucked the glider in its trailer back into my hangar. There had been no rain or other bad weather coming back. A storm looked spectacular (and threatening) coming through Menominie, but I avoided it. I got back into Duluth from the road trip at about 3pm on Wednesday.

Statistics etc.

The flight was 543.37 km (337.63 miles) in OLC classic at an average ground speed of 59.89 mph (96.38 km/h), and comprised 5:38 hours soaring duration. This flight is a longer distance than any previous flight launching from Wisconsin currently on the SSA records (the previous longest, non-handicapped, flight in the WI state records is 327.99 miles). I will be submitting it as WI state record for the 15-meter class for straight distance. It is also a personal best distance flight, and accomplishes my first Diamond distance (500 km or better) flight. Here is the OLC link. This is my fifth flight of approximately Gold distance or better this season. When I checked on July 17, this flight was ranked seventh internationally on the OLC. (I was pleased to note that that day I made a better OLC distance than one of my former glider instructors in Canada, Kevin Bennett!). Here is the full set of pictures from the flight.

After Thoughts

Lee Bradshaw asked me to comment on my thermaling technique for my cross-country flights. I fly relatively fast between thermals, perhaps 70-80mph. And maybe 10mph faster when in stronger sink between thermals. I put in one notch of negative flap at the faster speeds. I fly 45-55mph in thermals, with one notch of positive flap (I think it's 8 degrees). I could probably slow this down some and fly 40-45mph and fly a tighter circle. I think one of the most critical times is deciding when to pull up into a thermal. All too often they trick you. You'll feel a surge, hear and see it on the varios, and when you pull up into it, turning, there's nothing of interest. I am trying these days to slow down when I get the first indication of lift, wait a moment longer to turn, to confirm the presence of lift, then within the first 1/4 turn in the putative thermal make sure there is lift. If the lift is not relatively consistent in this first first 1/4 turn, I turn back onto my course line, hoping that I just turned too early. If I get further consistent indications of lift when I'm immediately back on my course line, all else being equal, I turn in the other direction, hoping that my first turn was just in the wrong direction.

Safety Analysis

My first landing, after the launch where I couldn't stay up, was hard. I jarred my teeth. I came in too fast and didn't bleed off enough speed before making contact with the ground. I also felt some difficulty in maintaining control in those bounces-- I didn't quite know what I'd done wrong. I need to keep rehearsing to myself that landings in high wind should be done at my normal landing speed (50mph) plus 1/2 of the wind speed.

Sitting in the glider after my first launch, I didn't get out. It was difficult to remember to go through my check list again before this second launch.

When I was over Freeport and getting low, I literally didn't see the cross run way there. I'm reminded of the motorcycle slogan: "Start seeing runways". Jim Hard told me of the cross runways at Freeport when we were talking about the flight later. I was also told by some locals that there is a grass cross runway at Sandwich. I also didn't see that runway (though the main runway at Sandwich was preferable on the day of my landing because of the wind).

Before my first launch, I left my tail dolly on and got in the glider. My (printed) launch checklist has as its first item-- "Tail dolly removed?" Chris Bolf kindly removed my tail dolly.


This flight achieved two WI state records for "Free Distance" flights. This is nearly the longest glider soaring flight on record in the state of Wisconsin. See this current snapshot of the WI state records. It is just shy of the longest WI soaring flight (by 0.3 miles). Perhaps next season I can best this one!?