Tuesday I made my third flight in the PW-5, and first cross-country flight. I flew all the way to Mattoon and back, 4:40 hours, for a silver distance and altitude gain. [The "silver" is one of the badges of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI); 50 km distance, 5 hours duration, 1000 m altitude gain.] This is the story of this flight.
Silver Distance route declared before the flight
Weather was the promising "after cold front but not too windy". Soaring weather (from Kevin Ford site) called for cloud bases at 8100' AGL [above ground level]. Go. My ground retrieve crew was Laszlo, my aero retrieve crew was Mattia, with Roberto as a back-up in the evening.
Preparations for the flight took an inordinate amount of time. First, my camera did not work. [A camera is required to validate turn points.] Laszlo loaned me his but it shut down after shooting the flight declaration sheet; battery (rare type) dead. I "fixed" my camera, but it wound up the film completely in the canister; had to rush in town to buy another roll. Then the camera mount had to be rescrewed in, with copious amounts of tape. All this to say that the cool & relaxed mental attitude said to be necessary before a cross-country flight was quickly vanishing. Mine was gone completely. Also, Laszlo decided to fly too. We had to put back the [dismantled] 1-26 together. There goes my ground retrieve crew for my first X-country flight, I thought. Not a day to land out, then!
I took off first (to have a wing runner [and spare the fragile PW-5 wingtips]) at about 1 pm, and Laszlo 10 minutes later in the 1-26. An important FAI rule is that you cannot release from tow higher AGL than 1% of the distance goal, here 63 km, so I released at 2500 MSL [above Mean Sea Level]. From that time, I spent 40 minutes struggling between 1400 and 1700 MSL [Monticello is 740 MSL], and I was thinking that it would not be that day that I would reach Mattoon. On the radio, Laszlo cruising at 5500 MSL told me to be patient! In the end I did find a very narrow 200'/mn updraft to get me out of there.
There was a total of 6 clouds in the whole southern horizon, small, and dissipating fast. By the time I reached one, it had exploded in the shape of the Crab Nebula, but it was still possible to milk 200'/mn out of it. Going to Tuscola was not too stressful, as there are 3 private airstrips on the way, but Tuscola to Mattoon is like crossing the desert. There are also fewer thermals there. Laszlo thinks that it is because earth in that part of Illinois was wetter, being lower than around Champaign.
The distance between bumps indicating the possibility of thermals was surprisingly large. I think that the most difficult decision in a no-cloud day is that of circling or not when bumps are encountered. That Tuesday I circled in nearly each of them, so few they were, as I suspected that below 2500' I would be in dire straits. The surprising thing too is that once, I hit a 600'/mn thermal, cloudless, up to 7000', but it never materialized into a cloud when I looked back.
Required picture of my turn around Mattoon Airport, looking North. Nowadays a certified GPS logger does the job.
I reached Mattoon shortly after Laszlo, and his 1-26 at 3000' should appear [it did not] on the pictures I took of the airport at 6000', the only time I saw his glider during the trip. Originally, I was planning to land there and have Mattia tow me back, but I was curious to know if now I could go back to Monticello against the wind, probably 20 knots at my altitude. Laszlo too elected to soar back to base. It was difficult. Twice I thought of zooming back to Mattoon. Then I lost radio contact with Laszlo, which given the circumstances sounded ominous like in a WWII movie. Finally he called me; he had landed out between two rows of growing corn, nearly in the courtyard of St. Paul Lutheran Church. The Pastor and volunteer hands helped him to dismantle the 1-26 for the trailer to come. I finally reached Tuscola, and then it took for ever to progress towards Monticello. None of the thermals were more than 200'/mn. I probably had the Cooch private airstrip in front of the nose for 30 minutes.
On arrival at Monticello, ironically, there were several thermals around the airport and I circled back to 5000 MSL from pattern altitude [1500 MSL] without effort, and then they all died simultaneously and I had to land, just 20 minutes short of the silver duration (5 hours). Darn. Shortly after, George showed up and we drove practically all the way to Mattoon to retrieve Laszlo and the 1-26. It was a great day, that will be long remembered. Sunlight, cool air, sitting in the sky for hours; life could be worse.
Barometric recording similar to one sent off for certification. Note initial dip to show tow release, and painfully low altitude mid-flight!
I want to thank Mattia for driving to tow us (sorry for not towing either of us back from Mattoon, though), Laszlo for moral support at the beginning, when it seemed I could not leave pattern altitude, and Roberto whom in the end I did not have to call.
I think the PW-5 can fly any time there is sun visible and it is not Winter. I encourage everybody to fly it and get SSA and FAI badges, it is a goal just as good as another, so why not? It can definitely can go against the wind better than the 1-26.
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