Thursday, March 29, 2007

Another Scary Lesson

Scary, no doubt, and also humiliating, and I'm guessing it will be expensive as well. In front of about twenty onlookers, I blew a launch at Manics yesterday in near-perfect conditions, ending up with my wing wrapped around the utility pole behind launch. I snapped four lines and ripped the canopy along a seam in my frantic efforts to get it down quickly. I would not be surprised to find that one of those onlookers shot a video clip - keep your eyes on Youtube and let me know if you see a red-white-and-blue streamer snagged behind a familiar unrecommended launch area.

Don and Bob were already in the air (they launched from Cactus) but apparently they weren't watching as I started to pull up with As and Cs at Manics. I didn't pull the A risers with quite enough commitment, so the wing wasn't coming all the way overhead - it was in that powered zone just above the ground. But I was confident I could fix it without having to put it down - I'd just walk up the slope a bit, and the wing would come overhead nicely as I continued to pull up the A risers. As I walked up, one side started to dip, so I let go of the Cs and plucked an individual A line on the dipping side. That helped, but then the other side started to dip, so as I continued walking up, I plucked the A line on that side.

By this time, I think the wing might have been almost overhead and flying, but I had lost too much ground - I found myself right at the wall and the utility pole, and the wind was really pumping at that height. Whether the wing was ready or not, my only remaining option was to turn around and hope to fly it away from the pole and tension lines behind me. But just as I turned, my back hit the wall and the wing draped completely around the pole behind me, just below where the tension lines attach. I continued to flail on the brakes in hopes of unwrapping and re-inflating the wing right off of the pole, to magically fly away from this nightmarish debacle.

I finally admitted to myself that I was stuck for good, and I unclipped and started to yank the wing down. It was not easy to bring it down in the strong airflow, and some lines seemed to be snagged hard on various sharp bolts and metal parts. I don't think there was any damage up until this point. But it was in such a visible spot that I wasn't willing to take the time to engineer a more delicate unsnagging solution, so I intensified my efforts, finally hearing lines snapping and fabric tearing as the wing started to give way. I bundled it up quickly and drove it down to the LZ to take stock of the damage. Don and Bob had landed to help me, but by that time the damage was done.

I was inclined to drive home and sulk in self-recrimination, maybe slap a new wing order on the old credit card. Perhaps I'd order a nice DHV1, to protect me from my obvious lack of judgment or skills. But instead, Bob and Don encouraged me to resurrect my previous wing (which I always have in the car for kiting practice), and launch again at the same spot, to repair my wounded confidence and patch up my bruised ego.

After some agonized deliberation, that's exactly what I did - I laid out the old faded beater, hooked in, and inflated with a solid tug on the A risers, and no steps up the slope. I flew away and enjoyed a nice flight with the guys before the clouds overdeveloped and shut us down with sprinkles about an hour later. Thanks to Bob and Don for convincing me to try again - repairing my wing will be time consuming and expensive, but a good flight turned out to be the perfect quick band-aid for my psyche.

As I pack up my wing to be shipped off to Idaho for repairs, the primary lesson I can draw from this incident is to firmly acknowledge that a spot like Manics offers no margin for an imperfect launch, even for an experienced pilot in good wind conditions. If the wing doesn't come up perfectly on the first try, I recommend using the C lines for their intended purpose to kill the wing right away, then lay the wing out again and start over.

I welcome your comments - I look forward to hearing any advice you may have for me, or for anyone in similar circumstances.

9 comments:

launch potato said...

For some remotely similar circumstances, a clubmember advised me to decisively take off backwards and leave the vulnerable turnaround step for after you are in air. Dunno where and when this is appropriate. P.S. I have an old beater that isn't responsive to the A/C style launch, so I don't want to hear critiques of my technique with it - just offers to buy (grin).

JeffMc said...

Alex - I spotted the perfect glider for you:

For Sale

-Jeff

firedave said...

Launches are for launching, save the kiting display for the park. Single A-line plucks, I give you an "A" for style points, for execution errr....
Might sound harsh, but I had others comment to me on this, so I am giving you your due.
Now I am finished, sorry buddy.

Bob said...

If you hadn't posted this story there would only be three paraglider pilots who knew about your botched launch attempt. (Um, unless one of those tourists did get something on their camera phone and know how to upload to youtube, but let's not quibble.) What's important here is that you're willing to share with our community of flyers (and it's a large community at that, not just Hawaii pilots reading) to help us all make better decisions on launch. Many pilots become defensive about a bad launch and reach for reasons why it went badly. Those are also the pilots who think any form of criticism is something to defend as oppossed to embracing. Everyone in our club knows of your kiting prowess and if this can happen to you...... Thanks for being open and giving us a reason to think about where to launch.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, four of us knew, Bob.

Ya Alex, I've been in that damn pole a couple of times. I've been lucky I guess with only a small tear in the trashed old tandem. Hopefully soon they'll go underground. Hopefully it won't be too expensive to fix.

I love that wing.

Maybe Bruce will have a new wing for ya at the Rat Race. Since you kept up with him last year on the M4...hehe

Lets ask Rob for a sponsership this year at the Rat Race...?

Reaper

Jayson said...

I really admire your candor Alex.

If more pilots had your humility and perpetual willingness to learn, this would be a different sport for all of us. Your attitude is something I aspire to.

Given your circumstances, I am sure that I would have done something similar. Glad that your wing and your ego were the only injured parties.

You can rest assured that Rising Air Bill will fix up your M4 nicely!

~Jayson
www.VIParagliding.com

Brazilian Ray said...

yes, Bruce has one bargain for Alex.... like Jeff McC posted earlier: http://www.paraglidingforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=11114

go Alex, Go!

Anonymous said...

Hey Alex, Thanx for your lesson in humility. Means alot to a rookie like myself that has alot to learn still. I'll keep my eyes open for any unsuspecting poles...lol. Good luck with the wing repair. Cant wait to get back home and join u all.
Not too many PG's out here in the desert!! but i got my eyes pealed.
Fly em high.... P3Joey

paliglydr said...

Alex,

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences with us, as always. For every PG "adventure" (*ahem*), lessons may be learned if our minds are open and willing. You've always shown you have that spark. I've come to view both launch and landing sites with a different eye over my (admittedly few), years of flying. I now try and calculate for myself a "margin-for-error" factor at each one. Many of our launch sites provide for a very low margin for error (Manix for instance), and should be treated with great respect. Each is unique in its own way, and will tolerate various classes of launch error to a greater or lesser extent. I'm just glad that in this case Manix inflicted no physical injury upon you beyond that of your poor glider ;-). It is a much more challenging launch than appearances might otherwise suggest. I would not recommend Manix to anyone anymore.