In addition to the onshore breeze, a large sugar cane burn upwind filled the entire sky with a smokey haze, there were no cumulus overhead, and it was breezy. Sigh. I knew it was time to go even if the conditions weren't inspiring.
After Neil hooked me up, I had to wait a few minutes for the wind to become manageable. I quickly climbed in the brisk headwind and released after hitting a strong shot of lift before Neil even made it halfway down the tow road. I quickly centered the climb and drifted away happy I found something.
The smoke squashed thermals downwind on the way to LaBelle. I was coughing as I flew through the thick irritating haze as I searched north and south of my course line looking for anything going up. I got on the radio and announced that I might be landing south of LaBelle if I don't find something soon. The large series of fields south of the airport finally offered the lift I needed.
LaBelle and airport
Conditions improved as I move west of LaBelle, but the texture of the air didn't. The predominate wind was from the northeast at 24 k/h, but dropped to 8 k/h closer to base. The changes in wind speed churned the air into a challenging mess of surges and snaky climbs.
I kept pushing north to avoid drifting into the controlled airspace around Fort Myers. Three large plumes of smoke arose from a clearing project northeast of the Route 78 and Route 31 intersection. I spent extra time getting high to cross that area; no way did I want to deal with rowdy fire-based climbs in that wind.
Once past that obstacle, I had the choice of blowing downwind a few more miles towards I-75 or flying crosswind to the north and trying to land at the Babcock Ranch housing development. I chose the nice restaurant at the housing development over a cow field along I-75. It wasn't really a tough choice!
Babcock Ranch development (right with lakes)
I was a little worried about the surface wind. There was a peninsula in the development that was surrounded and also downwind of open water that would provide the best chance of laminar air. The downside was downwind of the peninsula was another lake; if I got blown backwards I could get wet. I positioned myself over my potential LZ and flew directly into the wind. I was still managing 12 k/h into the wind and I didn't see any whitecaps on the water. Peninsula it was.
Had a nice landing and was soon talking with the grounds crew about my flight. After a quick pack, I walked 5 minutes to the town center and started looking for a ride while sitting in the shade next to a fountain.
LZ peninsula across the water in both photos
Lucky for me, Jim was already on the road west of LaBelle and was willing to fetch me. We had a nice lunch outside overlooking the lake and the peninsula where I had landed. Thanks Jim!
Flight details available on Leonardo.
Flights: 1, Duration: 1:45, Distance: 51km