The Wild Goose Chase
Friday night, I called up Dick Beggs to see if he could crew Saturday. I'd left it to the last minute, but Dick kindly said he would. He'd be at the Osceola, WI (OEO) airport by 11am on Saturday morning so we could talk about cross country tasks for the day.
Getting on the road from Duluth at 5:30am, it was blue skies all the way down. This time (as, the blue skies gave me some motivation. The high cloud from last Sunday had left me disappointed. Blue could be better.
Having set my sights on a 500km task, Friday night, I was planning a 500km rectangular pattern. This task was planned with all legs at 45 degrees to the wind, with the winds aloft expected to be approximately from the North. On Friday, the forecasted winds for Saturday were supposed to be relatively high. In hindsight I should have left myself more alternatives. I need to slowly build up to larger (closed-course) tasks on higher wind days. The Saturday morning weather forecasts were still indicating somewhat high winds on the ground (15 mph), and the measured winds aloft from Chanhassen sounding were high. The actual winds aloft during the day Saturday were 18-25mph.
I was rigged and ready to go by 11am. NOAA predicated the soaring day (trigger temperature) would start at 11am. After talking to Dick (and not having good alternatives tasks), I stubbornly stuck to my 500km rectangle course. Mike Finegan, who was also rigging to fly his PIK Saturday, put the idea of a triple crown flight in my head-- Osceola, Stanton, and Faribault.
I launched twice. After the first try at noon I remembered what Jim Hard had said about high wind days: It's best to wait a little longer to launch. My second attempt at 1pm kept me in the sky. Heading out on my task, I quickly decided a 500km flight seemed insane. I was just getting low too quickly flying even a cross-wind flight. Drifting downwind and getting lift, I decided to try the triple crown task as Mike had suggested. Having in mind landing at Faribault, I radioed down to Dick that, different from our plans (which had him staying at OEO), I'd be heading to Faribault, and that he should drive there. He said OK, and I proceeded towards Baldwin, and onwards to Redwing.
I think it was between Baldwin and Red Wing that I started feeling like I'd be putting Dick through too much driving to make him head to Faribault. I was also gaining confidence in the day, climbing to my highest altitude of the day a little West of Baldwin (7800' MSL). I decided that once I got to Faribault, I'd head back to OEO. I radioed back to Osceola, but couldn't get Dick. Mike was in the air in his PIK, and said he would relay my request to Dick-- to have him stay at OEO.
Arriving at Redwing, I proceeded to the South West to bypass the Minneapols-St. Paul airspace TCA corner, and managed (looking now at my flight trace) to bypass the TCA more than necessary. Part of this was the drift of the wind, and part of it was my reliance on GPS (as opposed to map) navigation.
I made it to Stanton at 3:20pm and 4,000' MSL, and there seemed to be little activity there. I saw one glider in the air and the ground operation seemed inactive-- there were no gliders lined up to launch. I was radioing in my approach to Stanton, but had no return radio contact from them. I headed towards Faribault (FBL) and made it there at 4pm and 5,700' MSL. Again, I was radioing in my approach to FBL, but had no return radio contact from them. I learned later that Don DePree was in the area at FBL and had heard my radio call.
After leaving FBL to head back towards Osceola, and at about mid-way between FBL and the Red Wing airport, I had radio contact with Dick. He came through very clear on the radio, like he might be directly below me (I was near the I-35 freeway). I told him that I was returning to Osceola, and making for Red Wing. Or at least that's what I remember! It turns out we had some radio mis-communication at this point. Later, I learned that Dick didn't get my transmission clearly. I also didn't hear him again. I hadn't set up the roof antenna on the crew vehicle, which could have part of the issue. Also, I should make sure to callout my intentions multiple times if I'm not getting clear confirmation from my crew.
Arriving at Red Wing, I got some lift just on the North side of the river. Here is a picture, while I was thermaling and drifting back South over the river. It was very pretty!
The route from Red Wing back North was nearly a complete headwind, and it was 6 steps forward and a few steps back each time when thermalling. I set my first goal as New Richmond, and about 5 miles south of New Richmond, I was 1400 AGL. At that altitude and with a 20mph headwind, New Richmond wasn't going to happen. I started flying cross-wind to the West, trying to cover more ground to possibly locate a thermal, and as luck would have it, I flew over a big gravel pit, and started climbing. I managed a 2500' climb by a couple of repetitions of thermaling and flying back over the pit. I made it to the New Richmond airport with plenty of altitude to get into the pattern. In the 5 miles to the airport, and while maneuvering a few miles to the West, thinking about my options, I decided it was best to land there. It was nearing 7pm, and the day seemed to be shutting down. I landed on the main runway (32), and pulled off onto the grass between the lights on the left side. The winds on the ground were 10mph at 33.
I called Dick and learned that he was at Cannon Falls, MN. I started apologizing for the Wild Goose Chase I'd led him on. From my car mileage later, I'd made him drive about 240 miles, mostly all unnecessary! Oooops! Sorry Dick! After taking my usual landing pictures, I headed to the New Richmond Terminal Building, and Mike, the airport manager interrupted a flight lesson he was just about to give, and pulled my ship back to the tie down areas. Thanks Mike! Another local pilot, Joe, helped me pull the ship to underneath a light so we'd have light to derig when Dick arrived.
I'd also called Steve Kennedy after calling Dick. Steve Kennedy showed up at about that time, and we talked about the day and when Dick arrived at about 9pm, the three of us derigged the glider and put it back in my trailer. Dick and I drove back to Osceola, and I thanked him and apologized again. Earlier, Steve had kindly offered to have me stay over night at his place, and I took him up on his offer. I usually make the drive back to Duluth after a day of flying, but I was particularly tired, and while my cats would have go hungry until I got back in the morning, it seemed best to get some sleep before driving. Thanks for your hospitality Steve!
I'll be submitting this flight to JC Cunningham and Jim Hard, who initiated the Triple Crown award.
The flight was some 191.54 statute miles (308.26 km; OLC Classic), flown an average of 32.37 mph (52.09 km/h), with a 5 hour 58 minute duration. Here's a link to the OLC entry for the flight. And here are more pictures.