Tuesday, May 01, 2018

OTB at Greenwalls

I was flying with my new Ozium 2 Pod and Delta 2 wing at 2,900 feet, following Don this morning to the Pali. Noticed cloud bank moving in. I turned and headed away from the ridge flying out towards the ocean. I was soon enveloped in the White Room and talking to myself not to panic or get vertigo. Look down at your compass and fly the compass, heading out and away from the ridgeline. Don called me on the radio and asked if I was all right. I told him I was okay. But soon, I saw the compass spinning 360, and I knew I was circling. I attempted to correct and fly a straight line but did another 360. The vario was making a steady beep indicating I was going up at a leisurely pace.

When I did pop out of the clouds and saw the ground below me, it didn’t look familiar. Orienting myself, I saw I was about ¼ -½ mile behind the ridgeline, and at 3,150 feet. I knew I would not make it back to the ridge and turned, then immediately hit sink. I was at the back of Aina Haina Valley. I pushed on the speedbar to get out of the sinking rotory air. I flew down the Waialae Iki ridge, heading for the soccer field down by Kalanianaole Hwy. I arrived over the field between 1,500-2,000 feet, then flew over the Waialae Golf course to lose altitude, then glided back to the soccer field for a landing. Noticed that the grounds were white lime lined for a soccer field, and saw a circle in the middle. Got a couple of tiny rotor pop ups on approach. I aimed for the center but touched down on the far edge of the circle.

Lesson learned: a Pod harness will turn quicker than my old harness. Keep your mind clear and thinking straight. You don’t want to panic. While in the White Room, it is very disorienting, and I kept telling myself to keep your eyes on the compass and head away from the ridge lift. You will eventually be able to fly away from the cloud. After coming out of the cloud and orienting myself and position, I made the correct call, not to try and get back to the ridgeline. I had altitude and speed to get me over the no mans land, and look for a good LZ to land in. When in sink, bang on the speed bar and fly as fast as you can through there. The winds were light so I was able to pick an LZ to land and walk away.


firedave2 said...

Way to keep it together and search out new lines. Not great getting into that predicament on an easy day. Always entertaining.

firedave2 said...

I have had similar experiences with magnetic compasses in clouds. I think when the clouds are thick enough, they lose north. I can remember once being deep in a cloud going up and my compass rotating. I actively turned to maintain a compass heading. When ever I stopped turning the compass just spun away. Very disorienting. I still believe it was the compass that was made inaccurate by heavy cloud.

Of course we try to avoid clouds, but for XC I always have my GPS and my ball compass, and often check that they agree on direction.

Mike F said...

That is interesting about the compass losing magnetic North in heavy cloud cover. Thanks for the insight Dave.
A thought came to me last evening. I had let go of my controls because the air was smooth in the cloud to answer a radio call. Usually, I don't answer until I'm clear of the cloud or rough air. I was lulled into thinking that I would be out of the cloud quickly and it would be safe to do so. NOT!

Nour said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nour said...

Great story and well documented and explained. As a beginner I was looking for such article to guide me through such event when it will happen for first time. Thank you for sharing.

JK said...

Glad to know everything ended OK. In Hawaii, there are those that have and those that will visit the white room. When you do go there, you know why it's such a bad place to be and realize it's a place you need to avoid. There are a few things to think about if you find yourself there.

1. GPS-based instruments are unreliable in thick clouds. Don't trust them.
2. A magnetic compass is the only reliable instrument for navigating out of the white room. Practice using it in the clear BEFORE you need it in a cloud. Have a wingman watch over you as you look at nothing but your compass to fly upwind and out of a simulated cloud and away from terrain. Scan all your instruments, but trust your compass.
3. Practice turning with weight shift only. With no discernible horizon, brakes are overkill and unnecessary and can result in steep turns and disorientation.
4. Thick clouds for a long time = wet wing. This will be evident when you have big drips down your brake lines. Wet wings are another threat. You are heavier, stall speed is higher, and collapses don't clear as readily. Avoid large brake inputs (see 3. above) and consider 50% (or more) speed bar to decrease the AOA to get away from stall speed.
5. Your reaction to OTB was good... turn and run. Just remember that a collapse in lee side turbulence with a wet wing can get ugly.

Accidents and incidents are really important to share so others can gain better understanding and so we can all fill our individual clue bags with plans to deal with threats as they present themselves. We shouldn't need to learn from just our OWN experiences. Thanks for sharing.