Wednesday, June 15, 2016

T8 in a Field

Saturday, June 4, my ambition got the better of me and I landed in a field at North Umberland, NH shortly after 6pm, 59 air miles from Post Mills.

I was flying with Greg near Morrisville and I got suckered by some clouds to the Northeast and the six knot thermal I found there.  Concluding that the day still had some life, I set off for Burke.  Greg, sensibly, headed for Post Mills, it was after 5pm.  My plan was to get a climb at Burke under good looking clouds, hit the high ground on the far side of the Connecticut river valley (more good clouds), then glide to Twin Mountain and figure it out from there.  The wind was 310-ish at 12, I knew I could expect it to be stronger on the White Mountains, there would be ridge lift and a few isolated thermals on the high ground.  I'd get home.  It was going to be epic.  500K on a difficult day. Well, not quite.

Arriving at Burke, I flew under what were now tired looking clouds with  no lift to speak of.  The only decent prospects were to the North.  So North I went.  Unfortunately, those clouds didn't work much better, so after a brief climb, I took a hard look at the bear country to the East.  I could see bits & pieces of the CT river valley between mountains, it looked doable.  The flight computer agreed. There were some clouds on the near side of the CT valley I knew I could reach, but I was getting less hopeful about making it all work.  Clouds over the higher ground on the far side of the CT valley looked very good.  Those slopes were baking in late afternoon sun, but I didn't have the altitude to get there.

Contingency time!  I've still got an easy glide to West Burke and Caledonia Co airports, but I'll definitely be landing when I get there.  I know the CT river valley has numerous landable fields and heading that way at least offers a chance of continuing the flight.  Good enough.  Off we go... with only about 4500'.

The rest of the flight was simple enough.  I made the West side of the CT and the clouds there gave me a couple hundred feet.  Still not enough to get on the high ground across the valley.  It's time to re-order the priorities.  Time to stop soaring & start landing.  I'm well within range of the (abandoned?) airport at Groveton, condition unknown.  There aren't any clouds or any other reason to go that way (North) and the airport doesn't have any secondary landing option close by in case the airport for some reason proves unsuitable.  The valley in my immediate vicinity has a bunch of decent fields, including some really big, really flat corn fields (newly sprouted, very landable) and this absolute gem of a newly cut hay field.  It's airport sized and flat, no obvious obstacles, the approach will be over tall trees (just like home, er just like home used to be!), but no issues at all.  

Decision made, I fly across the valley in the rapidly fading hope of getting sucked up those Western facing slopes.  I'm too low with about 80% certainty, but no harm in exploring as long as I don't get carried away.  I press in next to the mountains and I can feel the air bubbling... it's still working up there alright, but I'm not going to connect -- at least without a little more time to explore -- and I am out of time. I'm right at my comfort limit for altitude and it's time to go.

Back to my field... I set up a high left base, turn final, clear the trees, pick a nice smooth spot.

Retrieve logistics are always a little anxiety inducing.  The actual tale is a little tedious. Here are some key words -- you can connect the dots: cell phone, low battery, poor service, text messaging, charger pack, Spot tracker, GPS gibberish (decimal degrees vs decimal minutes vs deg / min / sec), sunset time.

Retrieve arranged, I have some time to amuse myself, so I walk off the landing roll (70 paces), walk the access road (no issues), take some pictures, make friends with the farmer, his wife and kids.  I'm told this field is popular in Winter months with ski plane pilots, and I can see why.  The kids are eyeballing the cockpit and I don't have to be a mind reader to figure it out.  "Would you like to try on the cockpit for size?"

Future Glider Pilots
Lane and Anne played fetch and arrived just after sunset (it's a two hour drive) and we had just enough twilight to get everything in the box.  Afterward, we had a nice dinner in Lancaster.  It sure is nice having friends willing to drop what they are doing to pitch in and help with a retrieve (I'll promise not to make a habit of it)!



Henry Swayze said...

Thanks Evan for laying it all out bare for us to learn from.
Looks pretty anyway

DG said...

Any landing you walk away from yada yada yada. Thanks for the story.