Monday, November 26, 2007

No Wind is Good Wind, or Humiliation Vacation

I have this recurrent nightmare; a fright so profound as to awaken me, panting & sweating with fear. I’ve discussed the matter with several HPA members. After analyzing the admittedly rather “unscientific” survey data, it has become apparent to me that this particular nightshade is a shared phenomenon; variably experienced by all Oahu pilots (with the possible exceptions of Bob, Brazilian, Doug, Alex, Mad Dog, Jorge & Reaper).

I, as your therapist, am duty-bound to speak to this issue; and, if possible, provide you with the appropriate means of correcting your pathology. You know, dear reader, I am about to address and, most certainly, expose a secret wound: a shame, an inflammation, a defect in our programming; one which binds so many of us to the ridges of Oahu, never venturing to the high peaks of Haleakala, Chelan, or Chamonix. Be strong. Take a deep breath. Prepare yourself to face this demon. I’m here with you . . . don’t be afraid. We’ll begin with a little “Guided Imagery.”

You are standing in the middle of a massive well-manicured lawn, a thousand meters above a spring-blossomed river valley; surrounded by the pine-forested slopes that lead upwards to the serrated, glacier-cloaked peaks of a site you’ve never flown. Several local pilots are on hand; discussing flight plans, cloud base fluctuations, GPS waypoints, etc. They’ve all heard of the helmeted, harnessed, DHV 2-3 winged visitor from Hawai’i: A hot-shot, high-wind flying, P-(insert your rating here), from Oahu. “This guy/gal flies Makapu’u & Diamond Head!” “He/She has HUNDREDS of hours of airtime!” The locals are just hoping they will be able to keep up with you! You’re feeling pretty good. The chatter all around you is about big fat thermals, screaming varios, epic XCs, and para-drivers with 4x4’s and cold beer. This is going to be the flight of your life!!! Then, it happens; you realize (to your horror): The only way off this mountain side is a FORWARD LAUNCH!

That’s when the panic sets in: “I . . . I . . . haven’t done a . . . a freak’n forward since I was a freak’n P-1 . . . even then, I was attached to Reaper’s freak’n scooter-tow-rig!” "Holy Freak’n Crap! . . . There isn’t even a freak’n hint of a breeze!” “That freak’n student that just launched has cored that house-thermal like it’s her freak’n job!” “I might as well start freak’n hiking down right now!”

You rack your brain; desperately trying to remember the “textbook technique.” You set up, raise your A risers, and run like a fullback at fourth & goal from the five-yard-line, paraglider dragging behind you like a dying pterodactyl. Miraculously, the one & only hole on the entire launch site finds your foot and envelops it; sending you tumbling helmet over Hanwags -- gift-wrapping your self in Mylar & Kevlar. That’s the point where you wake-up . . . panting & sweating with fear. Admit it. You’ve had this dream . . . we all have.

For the record: I SUCK at forward launches! A few months ago, I asked Bob & Alex to help me improve my forward launch skills. I used my old Ozone Vulcan (recently re-named “Patches.”) After a new line set, new risers, and SEVERAL repairs, patches, and bits of tape, the wing doesn’t launch like a “new" wing. Bob & Alex suggested that the wing might not be the “best choice” for forward launching; it seems to have “issues.” So . . . I bought a new wing . . . the OZONE ADDICT. I made plans to fly to Maui, with my new wing; go to Poli Poli, and practice forward launches until I could join the “Bob, Doug, Jorge, et. al. Club.” Except . . . the new wing DID NOT arrive in time. So, I went to Poli Poli with my Vulcan . . . you know . . . the wing that should only be launched in high wind with A’s & C’s . . . ‘cause it doesn’t perform well when attempting a forward launch.

I spent four days at Dexter’s Playground, with NO WIND, demonstrating my absolute ineptitude; dragging my wing behind me like a dying pterodactyl. I fell flat on my face. I gift-wrapped myself in Mylar & Kevlar. I humiliated myself in front of God and every pilot on the island of Maui. I felt the shame, the pain, and the plain old humiliation of learning a skill (as a P-4/T-3) at which every P-1 on Maui is an absolute expert. Of course, all of the Maui pilots were extremely helpful and generous; offering advice, instructions, and demonstrations -- insisting that, (in return) when they visit Oahu, I help them work on high-wind launch techniques and power line evasion. Everyone was wonderful . . . including, but not limited to: Woody, Chris, Jason, Dexter, Jon, Zack, and Khadija (pronounced “Hadeejah”; the “K” is silent.) Each of which surrendered precious flying time in order to help me develop the skill I so desperately need.

I had some success . . . especially at the end of the last day. I left Maui feeling like I could manage to launch in a “No Wind is Good Wind” situation. I am, by no means, the expert that I’d like to be, but I am determined to become the next Bob, Dexter, Jorge, et. al. So . . . now that I have my BRAND FREAK”N NEW OZONE ADDICT . . . I intend to return to Maui and perfect the forward launch. It is a skill that I need. And . . . dear reader . . . So do you! Therefore, as your therapist, I recommend that we organize a weekend trip to Maui, lay-out our wings, and perfect the art of running off the grassy knoll . . . face-first! Admit it! You need the practice as much as I . . . maybe more! Remember . . . when you travel . . . seeking thermals & cloud bases . . . you will need to be proficient at forward launches.

Today, I flew my new Ozone Addict . . . I love her. Yes, I launched Manic’s with A’s & C’s (it is Oahu after all!), but I intend to perform forward launches every time I find myself on Cactus or Kahana with light-to-no-wind . . . even if it is just a sled ride. It comes down to this: become proficient at Forward Launching or wake up sweating and screaming for the rest of your flying career. Either that, or you can limit yourself to Makapu’u, Kahana, Lanikai, and Diamond Head; all of which are wonderful places to fly. I love them!!! However, I would also like to fly the high peaks of Haleakala, Chelan, Chamonix, etc, etc, etc.

I’m just say’n.



firedave said...

Peter, It is good to see you are working on your weaknesses. You can forward launch in most any conditions as long as it isn't too windy or snaggy. The euros do it all the time.
My theory is to load up all the A lines, pull a couple of steps to inflate the glider, wait for it to come overhead, keep the wing loaded, peek up to see all is good and launch. I think many people forget the "wait". to get the glider overhead and just tow the thing downhill like a parachute.
Try it off the little rise at the Makapuu LZ.

Brazilian Ray said...

In the "been there, done that" part of your "dream" it happened to me, but it was for real... in one of my first pg trips to so. california I went to Lake Elsinore and for my "surprise" there was NO wind and the other pilots were launching forward (to scare me even more). It wasn't grassy and after the flats it was a steep drop (no room for errors, much worse than poli-poli). After the two other pilots launched, I lay the glider down to launch and the wind started blowing from the back (good, so I don't have to launch at all, I thought). I immediately balled up the glider to practice some runs at the LZ. but the bad luck turned around and it was blowing "in" just enough for a reverse launch. too bad it was too early in the season and nobody was able to stay up, but I started practicing forward launches that day!

with good practice, you should be able to launch even the Vulcan in forward position... actually, today looks like a good day to practice, with no winds. GET OUT THERE!

Brazilian Ray

Anonymous said...

I'm never, EVER, leaving the comfortable environs of Oahu to attempt to fly (but mainly humiliate myself) again. Problem solved.


Anonymous said...

Suicide, for the very little experience that I do have flying, I can totally appreciate what you are talking about. I went to Maui in August and had no clue how to do a forward launch and had to overcome that. Then I went to the big island and had to learn how to land when everytime I started to come down a thermal would pop me back up in the air again... and Big Island LZ's are much scarier than Oahu. (lava rocks are no fun to land in) In fact, I had to pretty much learn what thermal flying was! Everytime I take to the air, I feel like I am learning something new, and sometimes I get apprehensive and have to land so I can figure out what to do next time I encounter that same issues. I guess its normal for me to feel that way as a beginner, but I think its great that someone who has been flying as long as you can also write about how it feels to be new or clumsy at something. Thanks for the blog, I enjoyed it!
-Your newest P2, YAY!, Nicky

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Nicky. From >>possibly<< the oldest P-2 on Oahu to the newest. I can tell you that for me, every launch, every landing, and all in between is a learning experience. Never lose that sense of wonder about flight, and always approach it with brain, intuition, and senses fully engaged. It's an amazing and humbling experience every time, right Pedro?

Suicide said...

Thanks for all of the comments, feedback, tips.

For once, I just wanted to post an article that didn't invlove the words "Poor Decision Making," "Crash," "Broken Bone," "Loss of equipment", "Tree Landing" "Water Landing," etc.

I think it is important that each of us recognize or strenghts & weaknesses . . . and improve upon both.

Maui has some great pilots and really cool folks.


Doug said...

Just for your info this is one situation that gives me sweaty palms as well. Nothing like a forward launch to make you sweat :) After my last one I vowed to do a running reverse the next time!

JeffMc said...

This is a good article from Dixon White on the subject. He clearly prefers reverse launches in almost every situation, and claims to have gone 13 years without doing a forward out of necessity:

Click: Forward Launching


firedave said...

The problem I found with the running reverse, is that I can't turn around efficiently without pulling more on one riser than the other, which usually causes a tip collapse on my barely flying glider.

Plus on those nil wind 4 step cliff launches there is no time to hesitate or turn. The Rigi in Lucerne, Switzerland comes to mind.

JaysonB said...

An experienced pilot once told me, "The more you know, the more you can fly". Sounded like good advice.

I teach all of my students to forward well before learning to reverse (granted, in BC we don't have the consistently strong winds of you HPA folk).

One suggestion: once you are solid with solo no-winders, hook yourself up to a tandem glider AND try some on flat ground.
That'll fix your wagon.

firedave said...

Jayson, That is an evil trick ( like seeing who can punch the lightest), because you will suffer cardiac arrest before a tandem will sit overhead on a no wind solo launch on flat ground. I find that I never have enough weight to get it fully overhead and running faster just makes it fall behind. I guess the solution would be to drag it to the egde of the cliff and just jump off!

How are Terrence and Phillip doing?

Anonymous said...

I don't think there are any good forward launch options on O'ahu.

You can always practice the basics while kiting!

And I certainly WOULD NOT recommend doing any launch at Cactus if there's no wind! At least at Polipoli we have nice long grassy slopes you can abort on if you don't like something...