Monday, April 28, 2008


Many years ago, I was hanging out at Kahana, on Low Launch, with Ken Berry; wind whipping at my long curly ponytail. (Anyone got a picture of me with long hair? I’d LOVE to see it!) Ken was a great pilot, even then. I was a wild-eyed P-2 hoping to learn whatever he would teach me.

Those of you that know Ken would probably attest to the fact that he is an intelligent, yet, rather quiet, private person; not prone to flowery locutions. So when he speaks, it’s because he has something important to say; one would do well to pay heed. That day he gifted me a golden nugget that has forever enriched my free flight career.

Dear reader, I will now share this precious stone with you.

Your preflight check is, arguably, the most important phase of your flight. If you’ve ever left the ground and discovered the sudden strangling sensation of your chest strap squeezing your throat; if you’ve ever looked-up and found one of your risers twisted in its carabineer; if you’ve ever been in very light lift, waiting for a nonexistent “Beep Beep Beep;” if you’ve ever found yourself parked (or flying backwards) with no speed bar; if you’ve ever been waist-deep in mud, an unfriendly/annoyed looking bull staring you down, with no way to contact your buddies to ask for help; if you are simply NOT perfect, you should read on . . .

Acronym: a word formed by the initial letters of a phrase or title.

We use acronyms all of the time: L&V, L/D, N/NE, USHPA, etc.

Here is the best one you can ever learn: “L.A.U.N.C.H.

L: Leg Straps – “Are my leg straps buckled?”
A: A’s on top – “Are my risers connected appropriately?”
U: Undo speed system – “Is my speed bar still stowed away?”
N: Network – “The electronic 'Network.' Is my radio, vario, cell phone, MP3 player, etc. switched on?”
C: Chest Strap – “Is my chest strap (and all other buckles) buckled?”
H: Hope & Pray – “Have I made things right with God? . . . just in case.”

This simple preflight checklist will help to ensure that you are strapped in, risers connected, radio has batteries; etc.; thus, increasing your odds of a safe launch, great flight, and perfect landing.

To be fair to Ken, I have modified the acronym slightly. “Hope & Pray” is my mnemonic device. I say a little prayer and beg forgiveness of any offense I may have caused. BECAUSE . . . In the unfortunate event that, during any phase of my flight, I find myself speaking to Saint Peter, I’d like him to open up the Pearly Gates for me . . . I’m just say’n.

The original “H” was “Heeners.” Those of you who do not remember Reaper’s dog “Heeners” cannot possibly understand why this fat old puppy was so important in Ken’s preflight ritual. Those who do remember Heeners are probably laughing your asses off. (Pete may be wiping away a tear.) You see, Heeners was a great dog. Heeners loved to play fetch. Heeners loved food. Heeners loved the ocean. Heeners LOVED paragliders. Heeners would chase after any wing that moved; bite the fabric; roll around in the lines; and generally wreak havoc on any and all unsuspecting paraglider pilots. Therefore, Ken wanted to make damned sure that, while he was tied to thirty-one square meters of SkyTex, Heeners was tied to a tree.

After many years of using this acronym, I have come to rely upon it. It is a great habit to add to your own ritual. It ALMOST always works. (We can call that last sentence “foreshadowing.”)

Sometimes, even such a masterful device as “L.A.U.N.C.H.” needs to be re-engineered.

Perhaps, I’ll blame it on the “Purple Haze” of vog that had constricted my chest, scratched my throat, burned my eyes, and, in general, “put a spell on me” . . .

Perhaps, I was just in a huge hurry; trying to get out of Manic Depression before the wind speed increased from “Merely Ridiculous” to “Absolutely Ridiculous” . . .

Perhaps, it was the disconcerting sight of Alex fighting out a less than perfect launch. (You know how seldom that happens) . . .

Perhaps, I was just looking forward to some in-flight posing for the hundred or so camera-laden tourists that had gathered; "Suicide Shaka Pics" on refigerators from Illinois to Istanbul!

Regardless . . . for some otherwise unfathomable reason . . . I found myself thirty feet off of the deck doing my best possible Dave Goto impression!

That’s right . . . I launched sans helmet!


So . . . there I was, wind in my face (and both ears and the top of my head), looking back at my beloved 4Flight full-face helmet baking in the sun. Luckily, Czech Pete was there to rescue it; no sense landing prematurely. (Mahalo Bra!)

I managed to eek out a good flight in very weird conditions. It took thirty minutes to get to Waimanalo. Who’d a thought that Manic’s to the hang glider launch would be a technical X-C?

I landed near the heiau without bumping my noggin. So, I guess I got lucky.

I think, from now on, I should change the mnemonic:

L: Leg Straps
A: A’s on top
U: Undo speed system
N: Network
C: Chest Strap
H: HELMET!!!!!



Anonymous said...

Yet another entertaining article, however it isn't the best way to find out you were flying without your helmet. I will save the verbal reprimand for private :) I am glad that everything went well during launch and landing.


Gravity said...

Yes, for a minute I was concerned that the loss of your brain bucket would end up being the loss of our memories of our old mascot Ha'Ina; a.k.a. Heiner's.

Dogs and gliders. Should be another article. They will be forever tied together as one due to the simple fact that everyone has one on launch and they just want to chase us (they're masters)...

Damn visitors screwed with my account... argh!

Alex said...

At first I thought the title of this article was an acronym for a cool secret organization, like A.P.E. (Agency to Prevent Evil) or C.H.U.M.P. (Criminal Headquarters for Underworld Master Plan). But now I see it's more of a psychological syndrome like OCD or ADHD:

(A)tonement for

I have never used a preflight checklist, but it's never too late to start building good habits. If I did use one, I think I would choose this one popularized by the late great Dixon White: R,1,2,3,4,R,T,S. It stands for

(1) one helmet strap,
(2) two closed carabiners,
(3) three harness straps (chest and legs),
(4) four corners of the glider with untwisted risers,
(R)adio check,
(T)urn direction from reverse position with properly crossed lines, and
(S)peed bar.

Any pre-flight routine is good if it's one you can remember to use every time.

Suicide said...

Wow, Alex . . . "(U)xorial"!

I thought I had a pretty strong vocabulary, but you are TRUELY the master.

For those (like me) who need a quick definition:

Uxurial: "wifely" -- befitting or characteristic of a wife

So I suppose "Uxurial Communication" is a nice way to, "Nag . . . Nag . . . Nag!"


By the way, "R,1,2,3,4,R,T,S" is way too freaking complicated for my simple mind.

I will stick with "L.A.U.N.C.H."

Afterall, I am hoping to "launch" anyway. So, I should be able to keep track of that.


Alex said...

I can thank four years of high school Latin for words like that. There aren't many situations that call for them outside of scrabble games and facetious mnemonic devices.

If remembering R1234RTS hurts your tender brain, you could make up a key phrase to help. How about: Relax, 1234, Ready To Soar? But I think even your sensitive cerebellum would manage to retain R-1234-RTS after a few repetitions in real launch situations.

The hardest part is making sure you go through your preflight list every time, even after toplanding, or while dealing with distractions or interruptions. The best preflight checklist in the world is no use if you forget it when you need it most.

Puka Wai said...

I says Here that "Uxorial" is ranked (usage wise) 245,945 out of 700,000 words in the English language. That means there are over 450,000 words that are used enven less often. Absolutely mindboggling! It is probably because of the countless useless bits of trivia like this that are cluttering my brain that there is no more room for trying to remember what the letters in R-1234-RTS actually stand for.
Now, if a Vario or a GPS contained such a checklist, one would only have to remember to turn it on... assuming, of course, that one didn't forget to bring it in the first place!

volfik said...

Pete, yeah, s**t happens, people forget, everyone makes mistakes.

Once in Jackson, I saw one of my instructors, one of the best XC pilots in the US, one of the most responsible and conservative tandem pilots, to forget his leg straps ( flying solo ). He launched, realized he's not clipped in and jumped out, glider hitting the hill right after.
Pretty funny to see how it happened and scary to realize that even the best pilots make the worst mistakes.

In my opinion, more difficult your preflight, more complex the acronym, more of a chance you'll skip it when you're in a hurry or altered state of mind, or just not feeling good ...

Personally I try to keep it really simple.

I've noticed you do the little cross thing with your hand when you do your little prayer thing ( sorry, don't have Alex's vocabulary yet to know the proper Latin term ).
I was thinking, if you just did it twice, once as a preflight check, second as a prayer if you want.
It has 4 points, right ?
1. helmet strap ( assuming you have one on ;)
2. leg straps
3. speed bar and reserve handle
4. risers and carabiners

Well, ok, I guess the reserve handle and pins make it a five steps, but whatever, modify accordingly, I'm not Ken, don't "pay heed" to everything I say.

I guess I missed some of those other ones too, like Networks, Chest strap, Prayer .... well, I'd rather do a preflight check that saves my life and remember the leg straps every time, then listen to Michael Jackson on my iPod, or scream mayday mayday into the radio, as I'm falling down out of my harness.

But, that's just me.