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Monday, August 2, 2010

A good struggle

On Saturday Leah was line crew at Sunflower and we got out to the airport early.  I did some trouble shooting on the GPS power cable and determined that the ground wire was not getting through to the connector.  So I chopped it off.  Steve came out with some spare connectors and hooked me up with a good power connector and also found me a new cable for the LCD display that wasn't so intermittent.  I plugged in the GPS and viola, no smoke!  So I finished taping up the Cherokee and pulled it out to the runway.

I was pretty much the first of the single seaters to launch I think.  The club trainers had been up on a few flights and the Ka-6 had perhaps been up for one flight but had fallen out.  I took off shortly after 2.  The forecasts seemed to indicate it would be a late starting day and they were right.  It has been incredibly humid here with dewpoints in the mid 70's. 

I released at 3500 ft into a weak thermal and climbed up to 5000.  I had in mind that I would try to run northwest (crosswind) and see how far I dared to go out and return.  Leah was willing to come get me if I landed out but wouldn't be able to leave Sunflower until she was done with line duty.  I didn't want to get too far from home mainly as a matter of convenience.  Well I ran about 6 or 7 miles northwest and found NOTHING.  Not only was there no lift but when I started to return to the airport I quickly discovered that I probably wasn't going to make it back.  Well I wasn't against landing out but landing out a mile or two from the home airport is a little embarassing.  There are plenty of open fields near the airport so I just kept trucking in that direction hoping I'd find something.  Thankfull I did manage to find a few little thermals.  Eventually I was back within a mile of the airport at about 1000 AGL where I caught a decend 2 knot thermal and went back up.

By this time several other gliders had launched and were thermalling around the airport. Included was one of my students in the 2-33, the Ka-6, an HP, Pik 20E, and a Mosquito.  We all did a bit of gaggling together around the airport and eventually I had climbed up to around 6000 feet.  Not too shabby I thought so I decided to head east this time.  I would be battling into a quartering headwind.  Dennis in the Mosquito also was thinking along the same lines and we divided K-96.  He worked to the south of the Highway and I generally stayed north of it.  I found a little lift north of Haven, the first town I came to, and was back up to around 6000. 

I kept heading east, crossing the Arkansas river and making sure my trajectory would keep me north of the Wichita Class C airspace.  My new goal was to fly to the Wichita Gliderport.  My grand plan was to land there and hangar the glider, then try to fly it back to Sunflower on Sunday.  Worst case, if I landed short, I would be more or less on the way home for Leah to pick me up.  So I kept heading east, aiming for the north edge of Valley Center.

The closer I got to Wichita the more airports started passing beneath me.  There are a lot of privately owned grass runways and airparks on the north and northwest sides of Wichita.  I had most of these in my GPS and some of them were marked on the map.  That coupled with the recent wheat harvest left me with plenty of options for places to land.  I kept struggling along in 1 - 2 knot lift.  Once I think i hit a thermal with several circles of fairly steady 3 knot lift. That was like riding an express elevator.  The lift actually reminded me a lot of Kowbell.  I was flying gingerly, conserving as much altitude as possible.  I don't think I ever pushed much higher than 60 mph.  It seemed like the workable thermals were about 5 miles apart which was a bit of a struggle considering the headwind and the low altitudes.  I once again spent a lot of time on this flight below 2000 AGL.

I did find one good thermal between Haven and Mount Hope that also contained a few red tail hawks.  It is always a joy to soar with the birds.  As I continued though things started to weaken and I found it a struggle to get much above 3500 feet.  I kept pressing on as much as possible but was definitely exploring every bit of lift that I encountered.  I was headed towards High Point airport but comparing my altimeter to the distance on my GPS i could tell it was going to be close.  There was another airport, Hidden Valley, just to the west of High Point.  was within 10 miles of both airports and couldn't see them.  Trees and buildings lined the sides of both airports and the runways were north/south and I was headed east at relatively low altitude.  However there was a few good fields directly north of Valley Center so I had good options.

Airport Ho!  I could see some hangars and houses at High Point.  But I was still 3 or more miles out and down to 1000 AGL.  I could tell immediately that I didn't have enough altitude to make the airport and manuever to the runway.  Plus the area right around the runway contained a lot of houses, trees, and other green stuff that didnt' look very landable.  The Hidden Valley airport was somewhere between me and High Point but I couldn't see it.  I had picked out a field just north of the football field in Valley Center and was ready to land there.  I didn't find a thermal so that is just what I did.

The approach was over some power lines which I made sure to clear by a large margin then a big slip intot he big field.  I stopped about in the middle of the field, maybe a quarter mile from the road.  One witness came out to make sure I was fine and then left. I tied down the glider and walked over to the road to scope out access. Leah was on her way.

I met some friends who were sitting on their porch and saw me fly overhead but missed the landing.  I guess they weren't expecting me to land in the field.  They gave me food, water, and beer and a nice shady place to sit and visit while Leah was coming.  I had visited with the land owner and worked out a way to get the trailer in and out of the field with no issues. 

We made quick work of de-rigging and took 373Y to the Wichita Gliderport where we tied down the trailer.  I ended up with 118 points on the OLC for the flight.  I was pretty satisfied with the flight considering the conditions of the day.  Not to mention I got home before sunset!

Here is the OLC trace:
Here is a really lousy cell phone picture of the Cherokee in its field. I've updated the map with this landing point, I think i'm up to 21 landouts in 373Y now!

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