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The Upper Midwest Comes to Life

The Upper Midwest Comes to Life

By Jim Hard


When April arrives in southern Minnesota, it is as though Mother Nature has thrown a Winter-Spring switch to the "Spring" position.  This year was no different and April 1, 2005 gave us the best soaring day so far in the year with high cloud bases and strong winds, but with, unfortunately, farm fields that were still wet and muddy from the melting snows.  So, no one went cross-country on that first good day of the year.


Nearly a week later, however, things had dried up enough to encourage me out on course toward Iowa on a day with light NE wind and blue sky with no Cu.  This flight spanned about 118 miles and ended after 5 hours in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and was the first glider cross-country of the year in the Upper Midwest.  Kathleen volunteered to be Crew Chief on that flight.


Then the rains began.  And, it was not until April 23 that another serious attempt was made at a long flight.  On this date the wind was predicted to be out of the north at 10-20 mph at the surface, the barometer was rising, and the air was cool and dry with a dew point in the teens.  When Crew Chief Paul Esser and I left my house at 8:30 am the air temperature was about freezing and I left the tulips covered to protect them against the more serious frost predicted for the following night.


We drove to the Faribault MN municipal airport (FBL) and assembled #271 in preparation for a tow from the Rallye towplane owned by Don Ingraham’s Cross Country Soaring Inc. By 11:00 am we were assembled and a few minutes later were on the flight line waiting for the convection to get a little better.  At 11:30 I declared that I would be the sniffer for the day and proceeded to launch behind the Rallye with Grant at the towplane controls.


Grant took me straight into the wind at my request and on reaching about 2500’ AGL I released to explore the thermal status before turning #271’s tail to the wind.  After only a few minutes I found myself at 5000 MSL, called to Paul to get going down I-35 toward Owatonna, and set sail in that direction.  The sky around FBL at that time was mainly blue with only a few small fracto-Cu clouds in the area.  For about the first hour the soaring would be mainly in a blue sky with a few puffs here and there.


From that point on we followed the Cu, which was forming east of our planned course down I-35.  And the wind instead of being northerly was more out of the NNW.  So we headed off to the SSE and shortly thereafter, in order to stay as close to me as possible, Paul left the high-speed comfort of I-35 to run down the back roads of Iowa.  We both knew he would not be able to keep up with me since my average speed was running over 50 mph. However, I kept broadcasting to him my position every 30 minutes or so, and though I could not hear many of his responses, I found out later that he could understand me even though I was as far as 50 miles ahead of him. Our little portable transceivers were doing a pretty good job.


The last three hours of this 6-hour flight are not worth much discussion other to say that eventually, late in the afternoon, cloud base got up to about 7500 MSL and cloud streets pointed almost straight downwind permitted running for long stretches without circling.  Though there was still some convective activity at 5:30 in the afternoon, I put in at Monroe City MO at 5:30, partly since my electric variometer had stopped operating because of run down batteries (only use the best you can find) and because a tube came loose on the total energy system.  Besides that, I was cold from flying for many hours at   a temperature of about 20 F and tired and the airport looked friendly with nice grass strip along the hard-surface runway so I put in.


The wind was still blowing with enough velocity that I did not dare get out of #271 until someone came along to hold the nose down.  My savior here was “Art” who showed up with a large orange airport cat.  Art helped to push the ship into the wind shadow of some hangars and found some tires to hold the wing down in the gusty conditions.  A quick call to Crew Chief Paul revealed that he was still in Iowa about 85 miles back.  I estimated that it would take him 2 hours to get to Monroe City and that estimate was fairly close.  He showed up before 8:00 pm, we trailered the ship and headed for home.


The flight was about 334 statute miles straight line and 342 miles by OLC optimization.  This distance was worth 901 International OLC points for the 1-26 Association.  The flight was my ninth Diamond Distance flight in #271, all made in the Upper Midwest.


It had been a good day with a super retrieve effort.  We got home at 5:00 am


Jim Hard