Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Luck of the Irish

Now that spring has officially begun, we are suddenly blessed with perfect wintertime conditions every day. St. Patrick's Day marked our third straight day of wintry spring flying missions. Following Friday's guerrilla mission to Makua, and Saturday's record breaking skunk mission to Motocross, on Sunday we mounted a massive monkey mission to our favorite remote mountaintop pasture launch above Kaena Point. Twenty five pilots reached the pasture from three separate starting points, and many lucky monkeys spent the day launching, top landing, thermaling and flying our hearts out along the entire ridge from the airfield to the point.

Reaper and Harvey made plans to get a permit to drive up the back, and we ended up with three truckloads of eager pilots making that long roundabout journey up the backside of the point. Some of us were interested in checking out the direct route up the front, an unrelenting vertical ascent which I'd hiked before but never with a pack. All I can say is I hope I never have to hike down that way with a pack. Finally, Doug and Roland hiked up the Kealia trail at the airfield, to launch there and then fly over and join us.

The thing about flying out there is we never quite know what it's going to be like on launch til we get there. It's a huge commitment to find out, whether we get the permit and drive around the back or hike up the front. And if we drive up, the top landing becomes a requirement, which is challenging on some days. But somehow this day worked out largely according to plan, and our commitment paid off with good flying conditions all day. In fact they seemed to just keep getting nicer as the day wore on. I don't know how many of our crew hail from the Emerald Isle, but at least one of our crew, Steve Phillips, did his best to bring us some of that Irish luck.

The conditions were stronger than we would have liked and a bit cross from the east, so many launches and top landings were more exciting than they needed to be. Duck and Harvey are both out of commission for a while after hard landings up there. Duck posted a cautionary video of the little flight that brought him down hard.

Nova entertained us with a beautiful aerobatic display the whole afternoon, and we were amazed at how low he could get and still climb back up. Doug climbed to 3,500 feet in a fat strong thermal over Kealia, which is higher than many of us have ever climbed there.

Congrats to Carolyn on her first Oahu flight. What an unlikely place for it! And congrats to first time Kaena point flyers, including four visitors and Roland and probably others. After we'd had our fill of flying, we returned to our respective starting places. Those of us who had hiked up landed next to our vehicles at the end of the road for an after party, and we celebrated our good fortune while watching the last few pilots in the air. TX Chris and Sandy joined us down there to round out our numbers. Thanks to Steve for driving them back to their vehicles!

The driving crew headed down and back around the west side for a dinner at Spicy House in Maili. On the way they picked up JK who had landed just past Makaha after a wild and crazy leeside flight all by himself at Nanakuli, which took him up as high as 5,200 feet at one point. He described the flight in a text to me: "Exciting, a little stressful, a lot of fun, a little scary. Not rotor, but certainly not laminar. Big lift, big sink, and an impenetrable wall at the end."

Thanks to Harvey for picking up the permits, and to Pete for loaning us his big truck. Thanks to bus drivers Harvey, Flystrong and long suffering Thom. Thanks to Woody for a heroic job helping out with launches and top landings all day long. Thanks to Steve for the St. Patrick's Day spirit, and the cold green beverages. Thanks to Bonnie for the title of this story!

I know we have lots of pictures and videos from our many adventures on this long day. Post them up and I'll include as many as I can here when I get a moment.

Roll call: Roland, Doug, Duck, Bonnie, Woody, me, Thom, Sandy, Johnimo, Gaza, LE, Ben, BC Kevin, TX Chris, Steve, Nova, Laurel, Travis, Colin, McStalker, Carolyn, Harvey, Gary, Ike, Flystrong, and probably others I'm forgetting.

And a reminder for pilots flying near the airfield: do not land in or fly low through the approach corridor on the makai side of the runway. Some of our pilots were confused about this issue and the tower personnel made it clear that we need to stay on the mauka side of the runway. If anyone has questions about that let me know.


Thom said...

Ok, I was one of the drivers, but who cares it was an awesome day of flying. No better way to celebrate being irish than getting a flight and a cold beer at the beach.

May the luck of the irish be with us the rest of the year.

Duck said...

OK, I was gonna type up a seperate story; but, I'm being lazy and gonna start a comment thread for my incident. Please feel free to extend this comment into a discussion on the events of the day.

First and foremost, I need to acknowledge that my crash was due to my own mistakes. I should have known by the way my wing launched that something was wrong (in fact, I felt that something was wrong when I was fluffing, but I pushed it to the back of my mind). I think that paragliding is a FLOW sport and I did not listen to my own instincts (in the 1/4 second that I had to fix the issue) when I launched for the second time.

I aspire to be the best pilot I can be. Lessons like this will help me get there--I was lucky in that I did not get seriously hurt!

I think that in the moment of my launch, I had three main options.
1. Try to kill it. (lots of energy, big rocks, high potential for personal damage).
2. Fly the wing and top land (my chosen course of action).
3. Fly the wing and land out (I thought about this as an option. Fly out, cut the stabilo line and land at the beach or pull big ears and land out).

Ultimately, I chose to try and top land. It may not have been the best decision, but it is the one I chose and the one I dedicated myself to performing. In the end, we only have a few miliseconds to make these types of decisions and I think that commitment is crucial to success.

In the seconds I had between getting plucked, clearing the trees, and veering left to top land, I had at least a milion different thoughts on courses of action--BUT, I had only one course of action that was ingrained in muscle memory and my subconcious--that course of action was to get back down to the ground safely!

My reactions to the line over were, for the most part, automatic--I reacted instinctively instead of thoughtfully. At different points in time, I thought about cutting the line, top landing, flying out over the ocean and throwing my reserve, pulling big ears, and holding on to the tree (and hoping things went well)!

But, at the end, it all come down to circumstance. I figured that I could have a safe top landing--I almost did--but I got rotored twenty feet up and hit hard. If I had 10 more feet to work with or if I had turned earlier, this might have been a non-event. But, neither of those things are at the heart of the issue.

Ultimately, my failure was that I did not recognize how my wing configration was Off, not right, and potentially dangerous--I should have listened to my inner dialogue and gone with my own flow, which was trying to warn me of the danger. I think that much of our sport is subconscious and that the danger is in trying to analyse a situation rather than react to it. Don't get me wrong, if you have time for analysis and courses of action, by all means, make the best decision you can with the information available. But, if you do not, then go with your instincts--they are probably better than you think!

Long and short, I got lucky. I hit hard, but there was no lasting damage (lucky me)!

I would just use this as an example that weird things can and will happen on launch and after top landing. Please use this as a reason to reset after every top landing and before every launch--you will be a safer pilot for it!

Who, in their right minds, ever practices a stabilo line-over...crazy!!

Fly safe!


Alex said...

We don't have a good name for this launch yet. It's not Peacock Flats - that's another area east of Kealia. The name of this ridge is Kuaokala. The pasture itself doesn't have a name as far as I know. I have just been calling it the pasture launch, to distinguish it from the Kealia launch and the climbing wall launch. Kuaoakala is a great name too but that's a lot of syllables. We did once launch from the Peacock Flats area - there's a paved road with a locked gate you can hike up. Maybe we should check that out again someday soon!

firedave2 said...

How about the "High Roller" launch? It is fairly high, the field rolls over the edge, and it has a luxury drive up ( for most).

JK said...

Regrettably, w**k kept me out of the Dillingham adventure. What an amazing day for everyone! Thanks for the write ups and videos/photos. When I got free, NAN was about all there was before it was too late. Fireman Dave must have been watching it as well, since he suggested it on chat. It was flyable, but not in the typical fashion. It was big air that day. Not like the Owens in summer... but maybe spring or fall. And I knew there were three truckloads of monkeys due to pour down Farrington Highway in a few hours. Thanks for the ride, Harvey and crew. Track: http://www.paraglidingforum.com/leonardo/flight/727954>Leonardo

JK said...

I wish to retract my comment about "big air". I've never flown with O2 and 5,000 ft is not "big" anywhere. I don't know what I'm talking about.

Geronimo said...

Under what circumstances should a pilot cut a line over?

Duck said...

I thought about cutting the stabilo--would have given me some level of control back. But, I do not think there are hard and fast circumstances for cutting a line. I think that every case will be different. I could have flown out over the cliff/ocean and cut the line. Like I said, I thought about it; but, at the time, I was more interested in getting back down to the ground quickly and safely--I did not anticipate the harshness of the rotor that I hit on my approach. If the air had been good, I could have realistically made a fairly safe top landing (which was my intent).

I think that every circumstance is different. Each pilot will have different reaction times and different base reactions to an event. There are cases where cutting a line is simply the best of the possible options (for instance, when you water land and are being dragged/drowned) and there are cases where it is simply one of your possible options.

In my case, I was unsure of the wings ability to maintian flight and my ability to control it; therefor, I opted for a quick landing aproach...maybe not the best option. Maybe cutting the line was the best option. I have no way to be sure, so I'll just have to wonder.

In the end, I do not think this is a sport of absolutes. I think that it is a sport based on judgement, intuition, analysis and feel. You will have to balance the four in order to make good decisions on launch, in the air, and on landing. It's just when things go wrong that you realize how quickly time dialates and each decision/reaction is amplified and the outcomes become more definitive.

My .02.

Puka Wai said...

I get the impression that the awesome performance of newer wings comes with a price of less tolerance to minor wing issues like this stabilo line-over. I've found myself in the air a number of times with wing issues and it was obviously and unquestionably less stable (safe), but one gets the impression from the video that it didn't take much to get it to stall. In years past and several wings ago I regularly landed with big ears, and back then it was thought by many to be safer although some disagreed. Clearly big ears are a much bigger "wing issue" that the small line-over. With my current I wouldn't even think of landing with big ears - just doesn't feel right anymore. Thoughts?