Another Bean Field
C. G. Prince
6/19/07; Revised on 3/21/08 (corrected distance calcuations, some slight editing)
I had high hopes for the flight today, but for me it was a wash. I launched at Osceola (OEO) just before noon, with Lee Bradshaw towing, but landed in a bean field some nine (9) miles NW of OEO. Nothing to write home about. Indeed, nothing to write about. However, there are some particulars that I'd like to mention. Up until this flight, I was three for three in my last cross-country attempts. I attempted Gold Distance/Diamond Goal a month ago, and completed that flight. I attempted a flight to Green Bay, and made the distance. And most recently prior to this flight, I attempted a SE downwind flight and made a personal best distance of some 269 miles. Feeling in the groove, I had high hopes for today. However, aside from the 500 foot per minute thermal that Lee guided me to on tow, I didn't find much.
My plan had been to head to Rush City, then to head West to a private strip (Fedor), and return to OEO for a 300km triangle flight. I was headed to Rush City, and was finding little lift, and getting lower. I should have stayed in a somewhat weak thermal that I was in a few minutes earlier and had been climbing. That thermal was getting stronger. But, having had the taste of the 500 fpm thermal earlier, I thought I'd find better lift pushing on. I was wrong. I was bucking a 25 mph head wind, and too quickly found myself at 1000 feet AGL. Now, the observant aviation reader would put two and two together and think that at this time, I made for my intended bean field, and concluded my flight. Hmmm. I'd like to say I did that, but it would be false. Instead, I was in denial. You remember that river in Egypt, right? I was unwilling to believe my 300k attempt for the day was over. I kept trying to find lift, and work thermals. Getting down to 800 feet AGL, I had to land. But, I had left myself little time and altitude for preparation. I got my gear down. I had a possible landing field that I was eyeing up. It ran East/West (the wind was from the West), and seemed to have only a short crop. I saw wires at the East end, but I could over-fly those on final. In my abbreviated downwind I thought I felt some lift, so attempted to thermal in it. Of course, the wind was strong, so I was going to quickly get away from my turn to base leg. I ended up flying a final approach right from my weak thermal. Not so bad you say? Well, my landing checklist was truncated, as was my off-field landing site evaluation. I normally over-fly an intended landing site, and this is possible because I normally give myself at least a few hundred feet of altitude to burn to make this pass over the field. I didn't do this this time, I was so bent on my 300k.
I stopped my landing rollout perhaps 2/3 to 3/4 the way into the field. No damage to the ship, no damage to the pilot, and I'd put the ship down in an extra-wide furrow and so hadn't done any damage to the bean crop. I got out of the ship, called my crew-- Dick Huber (who got a good laugh out of my short flight!)-- and started walking to the nearest farmhouse. Half-way to the farm house, I heard someone yelling from the opposite direction. A truck had stopped and a fellow was asking if I needed help. I yelled back-- "Yes, I need directions." Walking the other way, towards the truck, the fellow (Butch) gave Dick Huber directions on my cell phone, and offered to have me stay at his house until Dick arrived-- promising a meal also.
Still good you say? An excellent landing (no broken pilot, no broken ship), followed by friendly people and a meal. Well, read on. Hopping into Butch's truck with him and his wife, and starting the drive back to his house, I got a ground-eye view of my landing field. The surface looked good. However, there was a second set of wires about 1/3 the way into the field, that I had not seen in my haste to land. See the Google image here. Now you see my concern? Did I land over the second set of wires or under them? Dick said later "Do you want to know?" It seems clear that my mistake was not giving myself enough time and altitude to ensure that I had looked over the field properly, and finish all my checklists. I was too focused on my goal of making progress on my task. 1000 feet AGL (or better) should have been my absolute cutoff for declaring "I am in landing mode" and starting detailed landing procedures. While it is still possible I would not have seen the second set of wires, even with better off-field landing site evaluation, it would have at least increased my chances of seeing them.
Aside from these significant landing issues, the landout was a success. Butch, his wife, and family were incredibly hospitable. Not only did they have me over to their beautiful house while waiting for Dick Huber (Tyler Hastings came along as well) to arrive, they fed me, and helped us derig the glider. Plus, Butch joined in on ribbing me for landing in a bean field so near to Osceola. I gave Butch and his family a certificate for some glider rides (piloted by myself) to thank them, and we shook hands and they departed. Shortly after that, I heard my name called out (I was at the rear of the glider trailer getting ready for leaving). Butch had told one of his sons that I had given them a glider ride certificate, and his son had said (and I paraphrase): Surely with another pilot, right? Butch thought that was too good, and had to return to share it. I have a lot of fun in my off-field landings, in no small part because of the people I meet. Why then was I so darned reluctant to start my landing procedure?
I've now obtained lat/long coordinates for the ends of the field, and for the position of the unseen pole/wires (the first three lat/longs are from a handheld hiking GPS):
West end of field: N 45 26.452; W 92 43.439
South-most position of wires: N 45 26.457; W 92 43.109
South east corner of field: N 45 26.464; W 92 42.827
Final roll-out position of the glider (from the flight computer): N 045 26' 30"; W 092 43' 19"
A schematic of the field from the air shows these numbers graphically:
(The above distances, and distances between lat/longs given below, were computed using this calculator.)
According to the flight computer (the flight trace for this flight is here), the altitude at the end of the rollout was 930 feet MSL.
From the flight computer, the point of touch down (or more likely, the point of entering into ground-effect) appears to be:
N 045 26' 30; W 092 43' 07"
Computing distances between lat/longs, this puts the touchdown point (or more likely, the point of entering ground effect) at 855 feet East of the final rollout position. I.e., 33 feet West of the wires. The data point recorded by the flight recorder, immediately before this touchdown point was three seconds earlier (lat/long: N 045 26' 30; W 092 43' 04"). Distances between lat/longs reveal that at this time, three seconds prior to touch down (or ground effect), the aircraft was 1070 feet to the East of the final position of rollout, and at an altitude of 943 feet (13 feet above the ground). That is, at 181 feet East of the wires, the aircraft was 13 feet above the ground. According to these estimates, I went under the wires. Trigonometry and these estimates indicate the aircraft was 1.5 feet above the ground when going under the wires. I was VERY lucky. A final figure shows these numbers graphically in a view from the side:
Link to talk given at 2008 RWSA Safety Meeting on this flight (video not included; contact author for video).