Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Don't be a Lawn Dart

It has been a week and a day since my last flight ended with me lawn darting into a Haiku back yard. I would like to say it felt good to get back in the saddle today, but I am still a little sore. I never posted an incident report, due to stubbornness and the thought that it was not an incident but a mere miscalculated landing. But after a week of hobbling around and hearing about others flying while I stayed grounded, licking my wounds, I figured it was about time.

Last Monday, several of us started on a quest from Makapuu to Who Knows Where. I think all the other exploits of the day were well documented in Alex's flight log. Well, here is my summary.

I flew for a year and 10 months on my trusty Sport 4, before opting to upgrade to a DHV-2 wing, the Synergy 4, to add to my arsenal. After a few flights, I convinced myself it was time to take it for a walk down "Green Walls" and beyond.

I got as far as The Stairway to Heaven, and stupidly went into the bowl in search of lift, and didn't find squat. I came out of the bowl low, and had to search for an alternative LZ. I spied what seemed to be a very large, wireless field. I was getting low.

With only a few S-turns, rounding some tall pines, I started my approach down a driveway, over some work trucks and into the now much smaller back yard. The new wing has glide and speed … damn, wish I was on the Sport right now. I had the brakes only slightly applied, but then I descended through the gradient and the wing stopped flying. Plop, from about 6-8 feet, on my arse.

I got shaken and stirred on this one, and I felt my old back get rattled. I laid there on the ground for a few seconds to analyze my situation and get my breath back. Apparently, that was long enough for Mr. Deeds to call 911. As I stood up and walked around, I realized my pride had taken another hit and I would, yet, live through another lesson of hard knocks.

Mr. Deeds came down with his truck and informed me that help was on the way, and sure enough, within seconds, there was HPD, HFD and the EMTs. Not quite the Christmas lights the Deeds had in mind, but I am sure they will be talking about the parachute that landed in that back yard for quite some time. After filling out some paperwork with HPD, and packing my gear, I got a ride from Mr. Deeds out of the gated community, and Duck picked me up at the gate. For a week I have had to keep my feet on the ground due to a very achy back. Serious withdrawal.

OK, what did I do wrong this time?
  • First, I was low at Stairway to Heaven. I had a reachable LZ, but decided to go back into the bowl for lift. I found squat. NOTE: never go back there - the bowl can be bad. I headed out to the front and searched for alternatives. Got lower. Marked one and headed for it.
  • Approach was a little high, and I was coming in fast, so I applied gentle brake. Then the trees at the end of the runway approached. I may have applied more brake, or I simply ran out of air with the little brake I had on, and the wing stalled. When landing out, most often it is best to fly hands up fast until the final flare. Speed is your friend in this case, to fly through the rotor of a wooded area.
I got lucky this time, but as others will tell you, hitting the ground is not always a walk away. After many debriefings, Ike came up with a few more lessons to practice on those days when you're just flying around local and landing on a familiar LZ.

After confidence with landing in our regular LZ has been achieved, start throwing yourself an imaginary curve. Approach at a different angle to avoid made up obstacles such as a grove of trees, try to pick a specific spot, shorten the runway, land faster by losing altitude away from the threshold, then complete a simple approach, base and final without having to do many S turns. Perfecting the fast landing will come in handy at comps when there are 150 gliders all trying to land on a postage stamp. You can't be on the threshold clogging the final to LZ. At the rate our club is growing 50 gliders in the air at one time could be just around the corner.

Some days we are just boating along up there, and need to really keep practicing to hone our skills. You don't even have to land, just set your mind to 500' being 0. Start at 1000' at MPU on an easterly day, head out over the water in a clear area. Start losing altitude, take a left to start your approach while watching your altitude, do a base and then final. If you end up over the brown spot exactly at 500' you've landed. Now go back and do it a hundred more times.

Unfortunately for most of us, we don't listen, nor do we practice these basic skills until we have to go land in someones back yard like a lawn dart. Thankfully this time without injury.

Ok, enough of the rant. I had a good flight today with Ike, Scott and FireJack. I had to fly stick man style for a few minutes to give my back a stretch, since I got a little stiff after being seated for an hour and a half. No XC today, but honing some skills was long overdue.

I want to become an Old Pilot, OK, older pilot, so flying safe has got to be always on my mind, especially while I still have one.

Its Time to Fly Get Your Gear and Go Practice, Practice, Practice.


Anonymous said...

good posting ,Tom. Hope you get yourself checked out to be sure something isn't lingering 'back there'. It took 6 months for the bone spure in my ancle to become visable on a 'cat' scan ,but I felt it very soon after my accident at work.
'one hopeful to an" old pilot" '

Duck said...

Thanks for the coffee read! Your analysis and deliberation in looking at the incident shows that you are at least taking it seriously. I appreciate the writeup and the lesson. Hopefully it is one that not many of us will ever have to learn directly.

JeffMc said...

Thanks for the write-up Thom - glad to hear you're on the mend.

I know it's oft stated, but I respectfully disagree with the "hands up on final" as a blanket statement being the best way to land. If by "hands up", you mean the pressure of your hanging arms, then I'd agree with that. But I'm afraid most people understand it as "100% hands up, 0% brake", and to me that's just not a good idea.

If I'm landing into a rotory area, you can bet your arse I'm going to be actively piloting. That's HOW you prevent collapses - with the brakes. The balancing act, to me, is to use them sparingly... enough to (try) maintain your desired speed and glide, but while still being able to feel the wing through the brakes so you can keep it "open" in the event of weird air that could cause a collapse. BUT ALSO... to NOT gradually use up the whole range until you stall it high off the ground (as it sounds like you did, Thom?).

It's quite a bit like kiting in a rotory spot: Sometimes you go hands up or close to it if the wing feels like it's falling back, and sometimes you "check" it heavily with the brakes - sometimes even on only one side - to prevent the wing from collapsing or stalling. THAT is active piloting, and you should be ready to do it at all times including, and perhaps especially, while landing (IMHO).

This thread from PG forum comes to mind:


I like these two quotes in particular:

James Bradley: "Hands all the way up means nobody's home"
Adrian Thomas: "Not all landings are equal. Therefore there is no right way to approach a landing"

OK, 2 cents dispensed. Flame suit on :)


MauiDoug said...

Glad to hear that you are back on your horse! Good timing as it looks like it's going to be windy for the next several days. Thanks for the write up and the reminders to fly and land safe! See you in the air soon :-)

Alex said...

Good writeup Thom! Beeman is right, you should definitely get an x-ray or something to be sure your back is really okay.

Jeff makes a good point about brakes and active flying. It's not about making a hands-up approach. There are a zillion in-depth discussions on this subject on the paragliding forum that are worth reading.

It's hard to know all the factors that contribute to an incident like this - I know I rarely remember the details of mine. But it's a good bet that if you were descending into a yard and trying to slow the wing down to avoid a rapidly approaching tree line at the end of your runway, your wing could have stalled as it transitioned from an area of wind to an area of no wind behind those trees. That's a super common scenario. You have to raise your hands to let the wing fly, which is counterintutive because you are hoping to avoid zooming into those trees. But better to zoom in and flare with some authority than to have your wing stall and drop you when you're still high enough to get hurt.

And about the "bowl" you flew back into - it may not be clear to everyone that you're referring to the back of Haiku Valley above the H3 tunnel. Most pilots will arrive at the Stairway to Heaven and stop there to work the tall ridge with the stairs (Puu Keahi A Kahoe), before crossing in front of the valley to continue downrange. If you're getting low on that ridge, then you should probably just head out. I would never suggest venturing back into that deep and low valley. I think that valley is too deep and the back of it is too low to be any use getting up and across to the Kahaluu side of the valley. If there's any wind (which would be most days we fly past there) that valley will act as a huge venturi because of how it dips so low in the back. And there are no good bombout landing zones in the back there, notwithstanding the fact that I've seen one nutty pilot land back there when he couldn't penetrate back out. Stick to the big peaks out front! They are often very good thermal collectors.

Brazilian Ray said...

Glad you're back and flying! thanks for sharing, we appreciate it!
If I may add, preparing for landing (specially on unfamiliar places) includes getting off the seated position on your harness to put your landing gear (feet) down... DO IT EARLY! I know you were already at position, but this is just a reminder for all pilots.
Speed is your friend and yes, you want to keep some pressure and wing feel with the breaks. Also, keep a GOOD LZ at gliding distance all the times if you are flying conservatively, which should be the case with a new toy (wing) or new situations such as xc, conditions, state of mind and etc...
Speaking of practice, some spin landings can save you from a crash in a tight LZ. practice it first close to the ground, preferably at a soft or sandy lz (kahana). I did not check this on the pg forum, but I can attest from experience at diamond head one night... I'm gonna get my flame suit now... laters

Brazilian Ray

Thom said...

Thanks Jeff for the inputs and I should correct that did not mean hands up but just enough for control and leave some brake till the end.

I gotta stop using that term.

That's what these write ups are for so everyone can get there 2 cents in, the more info we have the safer we can fly.

Thom said...

Wow, while I was entering first comment Alex and Ray chimmed in with more info. Up to 6 cents now.

The Bowl is a nono in my book from now on. Last time I crossed so high that when I did venture over the tunnels it did not even matter, this time I was just below the radar tower and thought the opposite edge would give me a little more. Well we all know that did not work. Got lower and had to push out.

Alex, yup the landing issue was right on the trees took my wind out, still had some brake left for a flare at end but should have let up more when dropping behind tree line. Light brake and speed is something we all need to practice before going to thermal landing sites.

Ray, would love to try some spin landings. Have only seen a few in tight spots, one by Cheri up at Tantlus was perfect. I will read up on those the next few days but Kahana sand and an air mattress but be the call.

Thanks Again
Keep the pennies coming.
Looks like we will be reading about flying for the next few days.

Alex said...

To clarify yet further, it's not that we need to automatically put our brakes up as we descend behind a tree line - we just need to be super sensitive to the fact that our wing needs a minimum airspeed to stay over our head, and be on the lookout for signs that our wing is hungry for a bit more speed as we lose the headwind. A given amount of brakes in a headwind may be too much as we drop into an area where the wind is blocked. We need to take the time to learn the feedback from our new wings, to get an idea of what that stall point feels like, during normal landings and toplandings. Toplandings are especially good for this. We can also develop a very good feeling for this stall point if we ground handle a lot, whether in a park or on the hill.

Anonymous said...

Nuff daid already, but I like to either flap my wing or throw on some big ears until im ready to flare. Although some say that big ears can be dangerous low if you get frontal?

I have found that canyons never work to get you up, only peaks and ridge lines. Also going xc is all about connecting the dots, wether its high in the sky following the clouds or low and working the terrain. All great xc pilots have a limp. If your not willing to risk injury, then you shouldn't be flying xc?

While your venturing out xc you have to constantly adjust your flight plan to include reachable lz's.

I will never venture to the next waypoint before I have a bomb out plan. Then after I pass that point i'm already looking for my next potential safe lz or beer store...

You can practice all the landing options you want, but I say "get your head outa the clouds and think before you leap".


Doug said...

Great write up. I have also ventured deep in the valley and have found great lift above the tunnels BUT depending on the direction one side or the other of the valley is in the rotor. Getting out is often more difficult than getting in. I have escaped from being very low and would just remind all of us the the best landing is often further away from where we want to be and don't get set in the mind set that you have to push out to get to a good LZ. Often the best LZ you can reach will be behind you and may require a bit of a hike. A long hike is always better than a short ambulance ride :)

Keep the lessons coming they make us all smarter.

See you guys soon


sandy said...

Thanks Thom for posting and drawing the good advice out of our most experienced pilots.

I especially like Don's ideas of practicing landings. Good excuse to fly more :-). Especially on those days when it's light, and not a sure thing to soar -- say a nice sledder from Cactus or Kahana -- good chance to practice a low-wind landing that could at least approximate a back-valley landing (although perhaps not simulating the ground effect wind gradient so well).

Lots of nil wind (and low air density) landings in Utah -- come visit!