Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Kahana to the Waiahole Valley

Recently back from flying cross country (XC) at the Rat Race in Oregon, I had distance on my mind. One would think that a week of distance flying would quell the thirst, but I only wanted more. The forecast promised some good light-wind days on Oahu that would facilitate XC, but as the days arrived, the winds stayed. On this day, it was not going to be light and variable as we had hoped. But there did seem to be good potential for getting somewhere with ridge lift.

A ridge-lift XC requires a fine balance. It needs to be strong enough to get high and connect the ridges; like the Kahana Bay crossing, the transitions to Pyramid Peak, the back range and across valleys contained within the back range. But it also needs to be light enough to allow penetration and to NOT get blown over the back (OTB). It's important to be able to choose how far out in front of a ridge to fly in order to choose lift bands. Getting forced into clouds and going OTB are NOT options.

The day seemed to have the balance required, but then not. It ramped up after I committed to the back range. I ended up in trees in the Waiahole Valley.

The events that lead up to my tree landing are open for any arm-chair pilot out there who wants to pick apart my judgement, decision making or general flying. I present this flight, warts and all. I could have done a lot of things differently. There are a lot of forks in the road to Waiahole, and naturally I would have chosen differently at some of those junctions. I'm offering this up for others to experience my "event" and learn from it. I have. And I expect I will learn even more after others see this and relay their input. Thanks in advance for that input (and insight).

Following this flight, my friends rallied to my support, and I'd like to say "thank you" to everyone. From Mad Dog, who kept a close eye on me and lent uncanny insight and advice while I was just a speck in the back of the range, and who relayed my position and situation to Reaper; to Reaper who coordinated support; to Bonbon, who drove my car for retrieve to where I hiked out; to Brazilian Ray, Sidehill Thom and John (Duck) Mallard, who hiked in the next day with me and masterfully climbed and cut the trees that held my wing; and also to Ray for helping to replace the lines that broke on my Synergy 3. Scot, sorry to hurt your old girl but she'll be back flying again soon. I'll be buying the beers for some time to come.


Leonardo Flight Info
Note: The Leonardo track log is a little inaccurate at the end. I'm not sure why.

KML File
for use in Google Earth (appears to be more accurate)

The recovery crew after a successful hike and tree climbing/cutting expedition. Thanks, boyz!


Waianae Jim said...

Big mahalos for sharing your experience JK. The video is invaluable and adds greatly to the selfless effort you have already made to enable others to learn from your trip by posting up & by putting it all out there (warts and all). Super glad you made it out fine that day and that the wing only suffered minor damage. Once again thanks for sharing.

Ka'a'awa Larry said...

Thanks, JK. Lots of puckering just watching! Glad the landing was soft and that there was a handy tree to use like a fireman's pole.

It ain't no fun when penetration is zero and the vario is on the low notes and you might be in hostile territory. Whew, glad things turned out so well. What a great group to be a part of.

Alex said...

Wow, JK. Nice editing as usual - the text commentary is very effective. That video is exhilarating and sickening at the same time. I sort of want to watch it again, but I don't think I can. In fact, after having watched it only once, I think I may never fly XC again. Or maybe just not over Boogaland. I hate that place!

I've flown from Kahana to Kualoa perhaps 100 times. Maybe during the most recent 10 of those flights, I've considered hopping back to Ohulehule, the pyramid. But I haven't done it yet! And not just because I'm more cautious than most folks, although I am - sometimes it's just because I'm by myself. I would definitely not want to go back there first, or alone, on any day. I would let one of my fearless buddies, Mad Dog or Fireman Dave or anyone braver (or more foolhardy) than me go first, and then I'd read carefully between the lines of their radio reports. Even if you think someone's been there already that day, if it wasn't the same part of the day, or if you didn't get to see it, or you didn't get a trustworthy report, then it's no different than going first. And none of us should feel compelled to explore an area first - unless you are the brave and foolhardy type, in which case by all means, show us the way. We need at least a handful of pilots like that in our group. We'll come get you out of the trees if we can, and hopefully that's the worst of it.

Personally, for me to want to make the hop back, I will be looking for a very high cloudbase day, like 3 grand. To jump from there to the back range, I'll want to wait for a day when cloudbase is 3,500 or higher. And I'll want very light winds. Like almost too light to launch and get up from Kahana. You might be thinking: wait a minute - those are the days most of us think are best to fly downrange from Makapuu...just a handful of days a year. Which is my point. We would all love to have the chance to fly from Kahana to Makapuu all the time, but realistically there are going to be very few days where it will be safe to try, and they're the same days we'll be thinking of flying from Makapuu towards Kahana. Not that people won't get away with it sometimes, taking chances with clouds, wind strength and venturis, and we might feel sorry we weren't brave (or foolhardy) enough to take the risks and follow, but I hope I will always be able to wait for a better day. Either way, I hope I have a helmet cam running! What amazing footage you got. Maybe I'll watch it again after all...

As you noted, if you are navigating the main range on a windier day, be vigilant about where the very front of the lift band is located, and don't let yourself get any closer in than necessary. You have to balance the lift against the reduced penetration. Also, the terrain shape matters a lot more than people realize. In addition to the ridge line itself, each bowl and gap on the ridge is likely to be a potential venturi zone with massive suction effects. Be very wary of irregular ridge lines. The closer you get into the bowls or gaps, the more pronounced those effects will be, just like with valley winds on the mainland, as the flow is squeezed between those formations.

And finally, my thoughts on big ears: I find they tend to increase drag even while they speed you up, with a net loss in forward penetration even though you are sinking faster (or at least rising more slowly). If you do use them, they always recommend putting ears in first and then engaging speed bar, and reverse that sequence to come out.

Also, I didn't see a good compass or GPS with a map on your flight deck - I don't fly XC without them when there are any clouds at all. Rather than put big ears in like you did when you hit cloudbase back there, I would have wanted to just power forward directly into the wind on speed bar, (or slightly crosswind if it might get you out of an area of increased flow quicker), watching my compass and GPS closely while in the clouds to maintain a heading.

Duck said...

Wow JK! What a ride. Thanks for sharing all of the raw footage. It is defintely a learning clip for the rest of us. I saw you benching up at the Pyramid as I drove home from work and saw MD on the side of the road in Waihole.

I, for one, appreciate the video and the commentary. Glad you came through unharmed and that your wing was salvageable.

Anonymous said...

JK great video.
I have done the tree top thing in Punaluu Valley years ago, but when you are in the moment reacting to your situation, you dont have time to be scared. that video makes things look pretty grim, which they were. But the outcome was fine and that is what is important.

The only time I flew from Kahana to Makapuu, it was super light at Kahana, and everyone else bombed out at Kualoa or before, i got a really low save at the foot of the pyramid ridge, tanked up to the top and had another low save in the back over some houses.

After I passed Waihole, the conditions got strong, but cloudbase was 3000+, so i couldnt stop and flew to Makapuu.

Anyway, I is great to have you out there charging, and I hope to fly with you soon.

Fireman DAVE

Anonymous said...

Wow nice vid and write up JK. Good choice on the Guavas at the end some of those others looked like trouble.

Only comments are 1) I find big ears really useless. A quick bank one way then pull it nose down for a turn or two works better for me. Obviously you have to have some room behind you though. and 2) Check your speed bar adjustment. At the point you said you had zero forward speed there was still a couple inches between the pulleys. That wing will take pulleys touching really well.

Glad to see you're all undamaged. And see you in the air soon.


MauiDoug said...

WOW JK! I'm glad you made it out of the jungle OK! What a great XC tutorial video. It's a good reminder that the wind strength can change quickly at anytime. Thanks for sharing your adventure!

Bill said...

Whewwww, why am I sweating so much after watching that video?? Thanks JK, good lessons here. I echo Scot's comment about the pulleys. I saw that extra gap too. If I knew I wasn't going to get a frontal collapse in that rocky air I would've had those pulleys mashed so tight together they'd be fused together!!

See ya in the air,
Bill "FlyStrong"

Thom said...

Been there done that with a little more rotor on the side.

After my Makapuu to KNA trip, I got a big head and thought I can do this anytime. A few days later, I got sucked over at Ahuimanu Ridge and into a tree on the other side. It was a horrible experience. Trees can be your friends.

I also noticed that the speed pulleys were not "Clinking". A little more speed and you might of landed closer to the main road so I would not have to hike so far!!!!! Laura knows I hate to hike.

Fingers on risers are recommended by some when on speed bar but usually on the rear to steer if needed and feel inputs from wing.

Also notice no COMPASS. Can't rely on B1 only in a cloud.

Big Ears are a drag, I would like to try Dave's method after more detailed directions.

It's adventures like this that make us all aware of the perils of this addiction. But with out pioneers pushing the limits we will be stuck with only "Taking a left at KNA".

I hope to do the trip from KNA to MPU some day. The more intel we have, the better our decisions during flight maybe.

Get your gear patched cause, "It's Time to Fly Get Your Gear (compass too) & Go!!!!!!!!!!

Oh ya, you do owe me a beer, I am still hurting from that hike.

Brazilian Ray said...

wow! I found myself grasping for air during your flying backwards and landing part of the video...
I liked the fact you were standing out of you seat way early (in case of a collapse, better chance of landing on your feet instead of your back... I learned the hard way).
Big ears = drag! B line stall or even deep spirals if away from terrain can be better options if you are being pushed backwards. I remember once getting out of the harness to stand up on my speed bar, so it would pull pulley to pulley!

Thanks for sharing, we all gain from your experience!! of course we are taking a chance every time we decide to fly, specially when we push ourselves out of the comfort zone. I think you were caught in the changing conditions of the day and your way of thinking wasn't wrong when you decided to go a little further.
At this point and like Alex, I like to follow someone to go out of my comfort zone, but it is good to have people like you to push it and not just going nutz...

The rescue mission was a success and a lot of fun, but I hope to hike with you again just for the fun part of it and with wings involved in safe take offs and landings only, and not on trees. But if that happens, I'll come help you out and have fun anyways...

I am glad you are ok and the wing is not in bad shape!


Mad Dog said...

WOW JK!!! Amazing choice for lz it turned out perfect, in the video trees all looked too big! I went back from Kaaawa school to Triangle & done that route 5 times now, 3 going back & 2 from main range up front & always scarry. I Topped out on side of the cloud street coming from Kualoa in a thermal with only one short pass actually on Triangle as the lift was huge even down low on arrival so I thought things could get explosive higher & further back so I immediatly moved off to the side on Trianlge as I climbed out. My flight was light with 9 mph penitration into wind till after I left Triangle peak in a wild thermal out in front & off to side of Triangle Peak. As I left Triangle angling slowly back to main range I noticed HUGE Tree tops moving wildly in the breeze & also 2+ miles out to sea seen just the start of some Sheep in the pasture (white caps) so the chicken in me started to appear, then I looked carfully at main range to notice a high base but way to many (almost socked in) clouds for my liking & immediately changed direction for Hygienics with my tail between my legs. I was shaking but not sure if I was cold or scared but the decision to head out front calmbed me down a bit. Noticing Hygienics was not in my reach due to bad sideways penitration I headed more into the wind to Maui Dougs kite beach in Waihole & came up short landing safe just short of the road & power lines in a nursery accross from kite beach & a 50 yard walk out to the water.
I was bumbed that I did not press it back to main range especially after seeing you go back & looking good with side to side penitration, but shortly later I seen you low & way back in there coming down & thinking never question my first thoughts of saftey because they are always or usually the best.
Mahalo for your input & glad you could hear my suggestions while you were back there, hope my thought process helps a bit also.
It may seem that I press the envelope a bit but I am always way to cautious keeping at least 10 or more options at my grasp & as My options dwindle down to 4-5 I bail out quickly as my mind is always racing for options & when I can't find them its time to go for bevies on the beach.
Aloha & Thanks agin for sharing your exploits

Mad Dog

DaveZ said...

Thanks JK, nicely explained, and amazing footage.
What great job choosing the best available tree landing. Thank you for sharing the experience.

JK said...

Thanks to all who provided insight and suggestions. Everyone was simply too kind.

To wrap it up, I culled the following from your inputs and some from my own reflection: (1) If at all possible, follow someone to where you haven’t been before. (2) Look for light-wind conditions and a cloud base around 3500+ ft for a day to venture to the back range. (3) On ridge lift, always stay on the very front of the useable lift band to facilitate penetration. (4) Realize that the location of the favorable lift band moves with changing terrain behind. (5) For big ears (if used), outside A’s first, then bar, and out in reverse order. (5.5) I will experiment by marking GPS speed changes with various big-ear configurations for my wing on my next flight. (6) Add a compass (bought one last week) and a GPS map (iPhone with battery pack) to my flight deck. (7) In lieu of big ears, consider a quick-bank turn or two to get down in a hurry to a lower wind gradient, if position relative to terrain allows. (8) Check speed bar rigging and be sure that maximum bar deflection results in pulley-to-pulley (clink). My own input – be wary of a possible frontal with max bar and back off when too close to the ground for recovery. (9) Feel the rear risers while on speed bar (without pressure). A frontal is preceded by, reduced pressure on the D’s and early warning facilitates timely input to correct. (10) Look closely at all wind indicators before committing to the back range (or even Pyramid Peak); trees, water as far out as you can see, cloud formations, other pilots on frequency, WindAlert on the iPhone, etc. Don’t go for it without carefully considering even small increases in wind conditions, as big terrain in the back amplifies those conditions. Respect it! (11) Options, options, option; constantly take in inputs and make up scenarios for multiple “outs”. Never accept one possible success to a forced landing if it does not work out. And from my own experience: (12) Trees can be a friendly place for a forced landing. Don’t fear them. They are better than open space in rotor and they are better than being blown OTB. Think through what you would do (and how you would do it) before you’re faced with landing in one.

Again, thanks to all for your input. I gained so much more than if I had kept this to myself and swept it under the rug. I hope it’s helped others too. Aloha.


JK said...

P.S. For an excellent example of how the D risers go soft on a frontal collapse, have a look at this classic video of Joe Parr's reserve deployment in Mexico. BTW, I couldn't let the last post on this story end on number "13". Go ahead, call me "superstitious"....

Nick Johnson said...


Awesome post and video! Thanks for taking the time to post that video with the edits. One huge take away for me is that trees are your friend...especially when comparing to landing in water, big rocks, etc.

The only thing I have for you that wasn't mentioned by the others is for you to go completely hands-up during your speedbar sessions (conditions permitting)...at least during your max speed segments. I found myself making that mistake until I watched videos of myself grabbing my risers with some brake input still in. I think it robs you of several kph and might be even more signficant than having touching pulleys.

I glad you're okay and great decision on the trees!