Friday, August 24, 2012

PARACHUTAL, or, Finding Nemo in a Tree

There's an old pilot saying: you start your flying career with two bags, one bag full of luck, and an empty bag for experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck. The morning of Reaper's wedding, I made a significant transfer from one bag to the other. Here's what happened.

I was planning to be one of the wings in the air during the ceremony. Squalls were visible and had come through all morning but it looked like it was going to be clear for a while, so I launched and scratched a little to get up over launch. As I boated around it began to drizzle, but I thought I could fly around the rain and stay up as it passed through. I had no experience flying a wet wing, and while I was busy trying to cover up my vario, the rain got heavier. At that point I really should have booked it straight for the beach, but instead I tried to fly out over the water where it looked clear. I had plenty of altitude at the start, but due to the heavy wet wing I lost a lot of it. I turned back to the hill to regain altitude, but when I got back there I found turbulence and heavy sink.

Then my wing started to feel "funny". I was descending quickly without much forward progress, starting to go parachutal, but I was slow to realize this condition. Once I realized it, I made an attempt to pull on the As to get it flying again. Looking up, the wing appeared fine, and I felt more wind on my face, so I mistakenly thought the situation was corrected. But of course it was not, and by the time I realized it, I felt my only option left was to manage the crash.


1. Wet wings don't fly well. Take care to avoid squalls, even if it means landing out. In addition to rain, squalls bring turbulence and heavy down drafts.

2. Recovering from a parachutal condition requires AGGRESSIVE correction. Some have said push out hard on the As, others have advised using speed bar, and others have suggested a quick hard pump on the brakes to induce a pendulum swing surge. Feel free to discuss. The main point is to be assertive with your corrections and keep evaluating and responding as needed.

So, I was descending quickly due to heavy sink and a heavy parachutal wing. I was maybe 200 feet over the road near the boat ramp, and I had some directional control and some forward speed, so I assessed the options. Road, power lines, boulder shoreline, concrete boat ramp, ocean, trees. Of course the road and adjacent power lines were the worst threat. I felt that I was coming down too fast for the boat ramp to work, so I maneuvered back over the trees. All in all, I got lucky, with no injury and only a minor tear in the wing. In hindsight, the water may have been a better choice, since it was pretty calm and I'm a confident open water swimmer. But there's always risk with the water, so who knows.

I owe a ton of thanks to everybody who helped with the pilot extraction, and later, the wing extraction. Especially Sidehill, Gaza, Andrew, JK, Fireman Dave, Duck, Ginny, and there were more I'm sure. Reaper, I'm glad I could contribute some entertainment and decoration to your special day. Thanks again for the tremendous hospitality.

All in all I was lucky it ended with no injury and minimal loss. The wing is already repaired. But I did use up a scoopful of luck. I can only hope it all went straight into the experience bag!

~Dave Z


Alex said...

Dave, I got your story today, thanks, and I have posted it here as you asked. I appreciate your willingness to share your lessons. I'm glad they came as cheap as they did, and I hope you still have some luck to spare in that first bag! You never know when that'll come in handy.

Ka'a'awa Larry said...

Hm-m-m. Tried to post a comment earlier but it didn't go through....I'll try again.

Pemberton and the people, scenery, flying, weather, & experience were a memory that I will always have. Being with the constantly bickering old married couple (Dave & Thom) made it even more of a hoot as I was NEVER without something to laugh at. I loved every minute of the week and want a repeat, the sooner the better!

sandy said...

Tough choices, and all in a fairly short span of time! Those squalls can be quite fickle; like our clouds, sometimes they're so benign, we forget they can have a mean Mr. Hyde side. I'm so sorry this one turned ugly on you. I hope it doesn't sour you for our fair shores. We enjoy your visits -- and as nice as it was as a wedding decoration, we'd rather see you and Nemo in the air with us!

Gravity said...

Big Mahalo Dave Z for contributing your lovely wing to our decorations. That was a special treat for the wedding. Glad you and your wing were OK.
Funny, it's in all of our wedding photos...LOL

Uh, Larry. Wrong story Broski. Hehe

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave...Thanks for the write-up. You might have used up a little of that bag of luck but you have gained some valuable experience. Talking with you about your experience has helped me by thinking about the proper response to initiate when faced with that scenario. It is easy in hindsight to question your decisions but bottom line is that you walked away with no injuries and that is the most important thing. Nice to meet you and look forward to flying with you again.
Aloha Brent

Thom said...

Great write up, we will stick with DaveZ as your call sign, at least we'll try.

This is a great write for people to learn from and this is what our site often brings. We always hope pilots will take words of wisdom from these reports. Yours was perfect.

My only 2 cents is, Trees are your friends, water can kill and has, I have been there and if it weren't for some people close by, well it could have gone another way.

Stuff can always be replaced.

It's to Time To Fly, Get Your Lucky Fin and Go!!!

firedave2 said...

I have thought about you incident a bit as Reaper and I watched it happen. I remember my first thought was ' nice bine stall' and i said it over the radio. Then we realized you were parachutal, i think Pete radioed to 'push on your A's'.

I had never seen a glider go spontaneously parachutal before. Assuming the glider got wet enough, and most of the inflight load is on the A's and B's, the glider got into a slow braked configuration. Any normal touch on the brakes would only add to the problem.

Usually you can tell a glider is parachutal by as Nova says ' you see nipples', the tabs pull on the bottom surface starting back to front, as the glider heads parachutal. This doesn't always happen, especially in a strange configuration like you had. The obvious sign is that the wind stops blowing in your face and your brakes are spongy.
The fix, as taught, is to push speedbar or push on the A's. While this can work, it never feels natural to me. The old school fix, a quick pump on the brakes feels normal and most effective to me. The effect of this is to rock the glider back to have it shoot out front a bit to make it bite in and start going forward again. Pete brought up the risk of a whip stall, but the glider is already stalled, so it will barely move back much.

The risk of a wet glider is that even after it starts flying, it might try to get parachutal again, so i think brakes should be avoided as much as possible as well as steep turns.

This is just my thoughts on the situation, others might disagree, but i have watched you deal with it and turn out well and pondered what my response to the same situation would be. I love happy endings.

firedave2 said...


DaveZ said...

firedave2 said...
"I love happy endings. "

Don't we all.