Perfect in the Plains

Sept 3, 2007 West Chicago to Peoria and the places in between | Chicago S.O.A.R.

I'm behind on just about everything in my life which, admittedly, isn't unusual. It's always a battle--do the supposed to's or go have fun. Hey, these are my days off and perfect weather waits for no man.

The mêlée started early with Dave and Eugene. We met for morning air at the polo field and it was good. Gene arrived later to finish off the morning remnants of smoothness.

Polo balls, by the way, are much harder to pick up than beach balls. Harder to nail the target (Gene's stuff sack), too. Gene was nonplussed by all the little white balls laying around his bag and no, none went in it.

Dave and I toured the area west and northwest, avoiding golf courses, this time. We flew the same quarry that Lance Marczak drug his foot through a few weeks ago.

Another fun place was Metra's line-ending train station. Elburn is apparently the western terminus and a bunch of cars were lined up all neat like. Oh did I want to go lower but it was too bumpy and too public anyway.


We deal with the smallest of micro meteorology. This morning made it apparent, the more I fly the more I realize there is to know.

We launched into a slight south wind, maybe 2 mph from 200° then headed west, northwest, about 280°. Winds were forecast to be light all day. I climbed up to about 400 feet AGL and noticed Dave, on a relatively slow wing, was zipping ahead. Hmmm. Then I looked straight down—I wasn't moving. I'd climbed through a perfectly smooth transition into a mini jetstream packing a 23 mph headwind. I've seen this before and usually, when the ground heats up and starts mixing with upper air, the bumps come calling.

Not today. I kept thinking "in another 30 minutes it'll be rough." Eugene, a fairly new and conservative pilot almost didn't fly because of it but eventually did launch and flew until 10am. "That wasn't bad at all!" It didn't get rough at all.

So I was curious and went back up to see what was happening aloft. Don't you know that strong wind was gone. Earlier, I used my GPS and measured it blowing 23 mph at 500' AGL. Now I climbed back up, above the inversion (now at about 800 feet) and it was 12 mph. Go figure. This area is completely flat, too, so it's not any kind of drainage.

Row One: 1) Dave shortly after launch. 2 & 3) Jeff with Samba.

Row Two: 1) Dave's dog Guiness watches his master. 2) Train tracks.
3) Eugene inflating. Where's that helmet? 4) Dave does fly by for a spectator.


After some lunch, Eugene joined me at Harryport where I share a hang glider trike with Harry. Eugene is building a hang glider trike of his own and plans on taking lessons from Dr. Jeff, the same instructor who suffered through teaching me.

Harry had finished getting the Samba back together and it was good to put some air back under her wings. Eugene was kind enough to snap pictures. He got some good ones and I, of course, enjoyed flying around to get them.

She ran great and, after tightening the exhaust bolts, was quiet to boot. Harry got the prop balanced perfect and she ran great. Tightening the exhaust bolts solved excess noise problem. 2-strokes. Gotta love em'.


Getting home, Tim and I went for a cruise in Ellie to check things out locally. There's always something going on and today, while heading southwest, we stumbled on the largest gathering of model sailplanes I'd ever seen.

As I found out later, it was a big deal. This was the selection competition to determine who would represent the United States in a world R/C soaring competition. And these folks are extremely talented. I drove over there in the afternoon to talk with some of them and they are as passionate about their flying as we are about ours.

First, they have to be able to soar a sailplane from afar—no small task on its own. No telemetry, like a remote vario that reports the model's climb/sink condition, is allowed.

Second, they have to be very good spot landers. A competitive pilot will be able to land within a few inches of the spot.

Third, they have to be in tune with time. A round lasts exactly 10 minutes. If you're airborne when the ending PA horn goes off, you lose a lot of points. Planting a perfect spot landing at 10:01 is nearly worthless.

It starts with a countdown and then the most dramatic launch I've ever seen. They're towed up by hand but not how you think. Using a pulley, spring coil (I never saw the launch rig so envision its structure this way), multiplying gear and a preferably burly guy, the process starts during a 5-second countdown to competition start. Reaching about 5 seconds, the burley guy starts running, presumably winding things up. Then at 0 seconds, 10 pilots or so launch their $2000 carbon fiber sailplanes in a nearly vertical whistle skyward. A few stressful seconds later they're all 500 feet or more. The tow ring falls off when the angle gets too steep or the burly guy gives up.  The glider rockets upward on momentum alone for probably another 100 feet. It's a sight to behold.

Then it's kind of boring to watch for another 9 minutes as they gaggle in various thermals, slowly gaining height. It doesn't take much to keep these slick soarers aloft--I was amazed at both their incredible glide ratio, upwards of 30 to 1, and low sink rate.

The craft were nearly as impressive as their pilots. They have flaps, ailerons, rudder and elevator, all of which can be programmed to behave differently depending on pilot desires. One pilot explained they've obviated spoilers and now get down with flaps that droop down 90°. The flaps reflex (where have we heard that term before) up about 10° up for high speed.

That these guys were good was best demonstrated as the last minute was counted down over a PA. The gaggle started congregating downwind. Each pilot has a 50 foot (or so) tape, aligned with the wind, laid out before him with distances written on it. His goal is to touch down at the pink bow (pictured left) just before time runs out. Sure enough, with seconds remaining, a half dozen sailplanes could all be heard plunking down, most within a few feet of their target.

I was impressed.

The local club that flies this site is SoarChicago.

Ellie Ending

Pictured below is Marcello, Ted and Victor, Photos by Tim Kaiser.

After returning home, I introduced several victims to the joy (or terror) of helicopter flight. Now mind you, I try to be completely boring. The only way I want a passenger to know they're flying is because the ground gets farther away. Still, there's no denying the fear of flying. These guys, Marcello, Ted and Victor all seemed to enjoy it. Ted used to work in a helicopter for National Geographic so it was no big deal.

We flew around the town center where a big concert is going. After having a number of engine failures with paramotors and one in the helicopter I'm pretty paranoid. Consequently, even though I'm allowed to fly low over the town, I can't bring myself to do it--nowhere to land power off. But I also discovered it's not a good idea to talk with you passengers about that thought process. They'd rather not hear about why you're flying so high.


1. Dave over the quarry.

2. My partner Harry after I got back. I did three flights, on two of them I shut off the motor and glided in for a landing just to keep proficient.

3. Having some steepish fun at the polo field.

Photos with Jeff Goin taken by Eugene.




Sailplane: Chicago S.O.A.R

The landing area as seen from Ellie. This field is great for foot dragging but we keep our distance when these guys are flying. 


Launch and landing are the hard parts just like paramotoring. The timer is a competition official assigned to this pilot. Probably 60+ pilots entered the competition, each paying $100 for the chance to be selected to the U.S. Team.


In between heats the pilots and craft get a break.

© 2015 Jeff Goin   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!