Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Two Scoops From My Bag of Luck

According to Dave Z, “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.”  I read his encounter with a squall a few days ago, and thought it was well written and had a great message for all of us.  Like most of us, “it would never happen to me” though.....

Today, Alex, Woody and I flew a later afternoon flight at Kahana.  Alex and Woody being super men that they are were up the hill in a flash.  Woody asked if I would like him to hang around while I launched.  A thought and gesture that frankly I very much appreciated.  Knowing that conditions were just about perfect for a lower North Launch, I declined and thanked him for his consideration and aloha. 

Soon, Alex and the super space ship were visiting another alien planet.  Meanwhile, Woody and I flew the rhino point.  I was high most of the flight and was very much entertained and awed watching Woody demonstrate some of the advanced flight maneuvers that I had gotten a chance to hear him speak of last Sunday.  

Each time I was able to get 900 feet above launch,  I flew out over the water and (mostly unsuccessfully) tried to emulate his expertise.  It was a blast.  After all, flying a DHV-1 glider, if I totally screwed the pooch, all I have to do is put my hands in the flight suit pockets and enjoy the ride.  Well, I am here to tell you that nothing bad happened.  I had a wonderful flight and very much enjoyed the opportunity to watch a real pro in the air having fun. 

Well, all good things must end in a proper landing.  I went out to land at about 1,500 feet above mean sea level.  Out in the bay, I played around some to burn off the surplus.  While approaching the tree line, my brain evidently went into “Park Mode”.  For some reason that I cannot explain, I executed a 360 degree turn to burn off a bit more surplus airspace.  Mistake #1:  Never, never, never do a 360 degree turn in a paraglider when on “final” approach.  “S” turns are the preferred maneuver.

During a very nice 360 degree turn, I then committed Mistake #2:  Never, never, never not be aware of just where the tree line is while on final approach.  I ASSUMED (As in I made an Ass out of ME) that I was just over the surf line.   Problem was that I had failed to consider the strong drift effect that trade winds have on a paraglider. 

The next thing I knew was I was just a bit over and behind the tree line of our Kahana landing pattern.  OOPS, a bad place to be.  I completed the turn pointing my glider back out to sea.  I then realized that I had already committed Mistake #3.  Never, never, never run out of Altitude, Air Speed, and Options in the same flight.  I was out of altitude, had little airspeed, and my options had vaporized.  My best option at that point was to take a step off the tree tops and try to get clear of them. In fact, I took a couple of them.   

About this time, I committed Mistake  #4.  I learned to fly Hang Gliders back in 1982.  Then and in subsequent years, we were drilled that during an emergency, speed is your friend.  When shit happens in a hang glider, kick that control bar to warp mode.  That means push it downward, or to the rear as quickly as you can.  Like many hang glider pilot’s that are now flying paragliders, the natural tendency is to push the control bar to their knees to get speed to maneuver out of danger.  My Mistake #4 was to forget that in a paraglider, that means  put those “Hands Up”, not put the brakes to my knees.  For sure now my altitude, airspeed, options and bag of luck are all heading down the tubes.
But wait friends, it’s not over quite yet…..

My bag of luck was not fully depleted and I thank Dave Z for that good karma.  By jabbing the brakes, my body had been propelled through the last few branches and I was in clear air.  I then realized that my glider was still over the trees.  I quickly went hands up and the glider surged forward.  This was both good news and bad news. 
The good news was that we both were in front of the tree line.  The bad news was that I now had to check the glider’s forward surge very aggressively.  I then gave the brakes a hard second application and stopped the surge.  This was what may have been Mistake #5.  My glider was now nearly parachutal.   

But no, as my Dave Z bag of luck would have it, I knew that I needed to get the glider flying again.  I went hands up and my DHV-1 glider began to recover as we were falling to the sandy beach.  With at least some forward movement, just before impact with the sand, I grabbed a wrap of brake lines and gave it a mighty Geronimo John flare.  Followed, I may add, by a very well executed PLF (parachute landing fall).  My glider was in a nice pile about fifteen feet from the tree line, and I was in a nice pile about 20 feet ahead of it.  Other than damage to my pride, there was no damage to either the glider or myself.   

Thanks to Bonnie for the pics of last month's rough landing! Today I took a couple of scoops from the bag of good luck and put it into the bag of experience.  As I look back on the landing, the total time from a bad decision to impact was probably less than 15 seconds.  If any one of the five mistakes had not been consummated, an uneventful landing would have been committed.   It was good luck, not pilot skills that carried the day. 

What is amazing to me is how fast things went from great to Oh Sh__it.  Five mistakes in 15 seconds or less.  Think about that, but not when you are flying.

Geronimo John


Alex said...

John, glad you got away with that one. From my perspective above the bay I could see that something had gone wrong but I couldn't tell what. There are a lot of good lessons to be learnt here, and it's great to see you analyzing your mistakes. Please keep coming out to work on your skills as often as you can, preferably on weekdays like today when the beach is less crowded with bystanders!

Thom said...

Thanks for the brief, dido glad your ok.

I called it falling asleep at the helm, when one mistake cannon balls into various other mistakes trying to make up for the first one.

As I have learned, when I started, I was not that good. So I have gotten remedial training and I hope to practice more PROPER kiting. Not just seeing if I can get it over my head, hoping its loaded then literally jumping off.

I have gotten a little better but sometimes that bag of skill gets a hole in it over time and you gotta sew it up and take a refresher.

Again glad your ok, gear can always be replaced.....well maybe not easily in your size, but none the less.

It's Time to Fly, Maybe kite first, Then Get Your Gear and Go!!!

DaveZ said...

John thanks for the story. We are all prone to lapses of good decision making and its always good to remind one another how quickly things can go south.
Glad you are ok and everybody reading this will be that much the wiser. Cheers.

p.s. thanks again for the S.O.S. - delicious!

Joey said...

Thanks for sharing Big John..So glad it was just your pride that took the hit and not you!

- Joey

Sharky said...

Wow! Thanks for the write-up Johnimo, great analysis and summary of the longest 15 seconds a pilot ever wants to go through.

Glad you're safe and managed to move scoops from one bag to the other!

Look forward to seeing you in the air again soon.

=-) Sharky