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An Intermediate Pilot's Journey
It was a flight just like any other, until it wasn't.
On May 5, 2018, flying my PG on the north side of Palomar Mountain, I deployed my reserve. This is the story.
Steve Rohrbaugh, Josef de Beer, Steve Prairie and I met in the Palomar LZ just after 11:30. It was already hot, light breeze out of the west, and scattered high clouds. We headed up to launch in Josef's car. I had just been expecting to site fly, but Steve R thought big XC might be possible going north. He wanted to fly to Marshall. I didn't think I'd be able to keep up with him or Josef or Steve P, but it would be fun to try. I fly an Advance Epsilon 7, a B wing, with an unfaired harness, and the three other guys were in pod harnesses with C or better wings.
Up on launch, things looked good. Wind was variable, but direction was usually good, with the wind mostly light but occasionally strong. I was ready first, and launched at 12:51. I found lift right in front of launch and started thermalling up. If you want to follow along, this Doarama (http://doarama.com/view/2115273) captures Steve R's, Josef's, and my two GPS recordings.
For whatever reason, in those first few minutes, I decided to feel for my reserve handle, and re-familiarize myself with just where my hand needed to be to grab it. I told myself that it was something I should be doing every flight, but I had gotten out of the habit. Premonition? I don't know. But I'm glad I did it.
I was in a good thermal, drifting out of the west, but at 7100 it felt like the thermal, and the west push, stopped. It felt like I hit a different layer of air, maybe east coming over the back. I decided to head northwest toward Eagle Rock. Before I got to the next ridge line, I found thermals again drifting out of the west. At 7300 I headed north over the spine of the mountain, where I found a thermal that started drifting out of the east above 8100. I topped out around 8800, and started heading NW.
I got to Eagle Rock at 7700. Beyond it, I found nothing but sink and turned around to try to tank up on altitude. Josef and Steve P streaked past me going NW, south of me and 500 ft higher. I wasn't finding lift where I was, so I decided to follow Josef and Steve P anyway. I watched Josef hit some really bad sink as he approached what looked like the NW end of the range. He started heading more north, and soon found a good thermal, and Steve P joined him. I wanted to join them too, but didn't think I had the glide, so I headed north before I reached them, and found my own weaker thermal. I gained 400 ft before it petered out.
At this point I was really perplexed what to do. If we tried to go NW, we were fighting the west. It was an over an hour into the flight and I was maybe 5 miles from launch. Maybe this wasn't going to be a big XC day. The last good lift was back before Eagle Rock. I decided to head back that way and hope to get high enough to make the next move. I left with 5600, but as I headed back, losing altitude, I decided it was too risky to be low on Eagle Rock trying to make it back toward launch. So at 5300 I turned northeast, heading for what looked like landable ranch land on the way to the 79.
I started hitting big sink. I began to think I would have to land at the ranch furthest in. At about 1000 AGL (3700 MSL) I got my low save, a nice 200-300 FPM thermal drifting out of the west. As I climbed, it got stronger, 400, 500, up to over 900 fpm. About 2 minutes before it all went to shit, I actually thought to myself "For a 1000 fpm thermal, this is really smooth. One of the smoothest strong thermals I've been in in a long time!". I had it centered, wasn't hitting any rough edges, and was rocketing up. As I climbed above 8k, I started contemplating my next move. I could see Steve R to the east of me, slightly higher, heading north. I also saw Josef about my altitude, but back to the south.
As I climbed through 8500 the lift was weakening, but I was still climbing at 200 fpm, still smooth. I saw 8800 on my altimeter and then I heard my wing rustle and I went weightless.
Now I should say that I really, really wish I noticed everything that happened in great detail and remembered everything that I did, in the proper time line. But I don't. I remember thinking at one point that I was two seconds behind everything that was happening. By the time I realized what the wing was doing, and thought about what I needed to do, the wing was doing something else. So I realize that what I report may not make sense, because I could have the timeline wrong. And I make no claim that I reacted with the right inputs at the right time. I will admit that as a pilot with lots of experience in the normal flight envelope, once I got outside that envelope, I was a bit lost. I very well could have made the situation worse. Or I could have just failed to adequately correct. Or maybe I hit turbulence that would have gotten the best pilot's wing folded up. I honestly don't know.
Anyway, I went weightless, and it felt like I dropped about 6 feet. I remember thinking "Oooh, that was a big one", but I wasn't terribly concerned as the harness picked up my weight again. But that was immediately followed by what felt like getting whipped around (or maybe I went weightless on one side of the harness). I grabbed the risers out of the instinct to grab something to hold on to. I know, not the right reaction. And then some moderate G's and then I watched my wing fly down in front of me, below the horizon. Luckily it didn't keep going past about 20 degrees below the horizon, but I thought "Oh Shit", like when you're at the top of the roller coaster and you know the fall is coming. I knew I was going to fall down between the lines, and I tried to remember the right thing to do. I thought, you've got to time some strong brake input to keep it from surging again.
So what happened next is a bit of muddle. It seemed like before I could make that surge correction I was planning, I was getting yanked around. The next clear thing is that I was in a spiral. As I spun around, I could see the wing about 30 degrees above the horizon, pointed mostly down at the ground. The left half of the wing was folded under. I knew that I was dropping fast, but I also knew I had been at 8800 feet when this started. I knew I had some time to try to fix the wing, but I also remembered the warning about pilots blacking out from g-forces in a spiral before they could throw their chute. I didn't feel like I was anywhere close to blacking out, but I also thought to myself that I should not go too long before hucking. So I tried to fix the wing. The left wingtip was kind of balled up, tangled in the center lines, flapping. I pulled a lot of left brake, hoping that might pull the wing out of the tangle. Nothing happened. I started to look for the stabilo line, but started to think, "I don't know if that will untangle that mess, maybe I should just chuck the reserve". Right then Josef yelled over the radio, "Throw your reserve!, throw your reserve!" I thought, if I'm not sure I can fix this, and someone else thinks I can't, it's time. I reached for the reserve and pulled. It was harder than I expected (the G-forces increase the pressure the deployment bag is under). The handle came out, but still no chute. I had just pulled the handle out to the extent of the web strap connecting it to the bag. So I grabbed the strap and pulled again. I'm thinking "Throw the reserve into clear air", but all I had in my hand was flapping fabric. I'm wondering what happened to the reserve when poof, it opens and everything slows down. I'm guessing all this took about 4 seconds (from deciding to pull to getting it out). OK in my situation, but way too long if I had been close to the ground.
From the GPS track, I'm guessing the chute opened at about 7400 feet. And it was about 50-60 seconds between the first collapse and chute opening. My maximum descent rate was over 2400 fpm.
Once I was under canopy, I radioed to the others that I was under canopy, was OK and was going to land on the north side of Palomar. Both Steve R and Josef started flying in my direction to be ready to mark my landing location and assist if they needed to.
Under canopy, the glider was winding itself up. I don't think I had a riser twist when I hucked (I'm not positive), but by the time I established that the reserve was open, the risers had twisted, and as the wing flew in a spiral (the left wing tip was still stuck in the middle lines) it was twisting all the lower lines into a rope. This was a good thing, I figured, because if it kept going, the wing would be forced smaller and smaller. As it was, sometimes the descent was smooth, other times the wing would grab some air, yank me forward, and create some penduluming between it and the reserve. As I got lower, I grabbed the "rope" of twisted lines, and started hauling the glider in. I got to the end of the "rope" where the lines fanned out, and wasn't able to grab the fanned out lines, so I stopped hauling in, and started thinking about where I was going to land.
With incredible luck, I was heading straight for a dirt road. I actually thought I might land right on it, but in the last 500 feet, the wind shifted from west to north, and I missed the road by about 50 feet.
I remember thinking, bend your knees, get ready for a PLF, and roll with it. As I got to 50' AGL, I realized that the slow spin of the reserve meant I was going to land going backwards. At about 15', I looked over my shoulder and saw a bathtub size boulder right where I was headed. "Oh fuck", I thought. I let go of the wing, heard branches crack, and then I was on my back, heart pounding, looking up at the sky, with no pain. Kind of comfortable, as a matter of fact. I immediately radioed to Steve and Josef that I was down, was OK, and if nobody saw me move for a while, don't worry, I was just going to lie there for a minute and catch my breath. And I did.
I was very lucky. I had been set down right in between two boulders. My only injury was a slight scratch on my right elbow from one of the boulders. By landing backwards, my harness (stuffed with my camelback, hat, and glider bags) took the brunt of everything.
Josef radioed that he was going to fly back to launch, get his car, and come get me. Luckily, I had cell coverage, so I was able to identify the road I was by (Cutca Valley Truck Trail), and radio the details. I even called my wife to let her know what happened, before she heard any rumors from someone else.
Then I had to decide what to do next. My reserve had drifted over some bushes to the south, and my glider was hung up on bushes to the north, with my harness in between. The bushes were 6-10 feet tall. I thought it would be almost impossible for me to gather the wing and chute without help. Besides, I was just not up to it.
I admit to being surprised at how much the whole thing affected me. For up to half an hour, I was literally shaking. I had only been flying an hour and a half, but I was very tired. The adrenaline rush had taken a lot out of me.
For reasons that make no sense now, I wanted to get to the road in case someone came by. I thought, find a clear path to the road, take out a manageable amount of gear, and then come back for the harness, glider, and reserve. So I grabbed my helmet, instruments, water, and jacket, and looked for a way to the road.
It is hard to convey just how thick the bushes were. I spent a few minutes trying to see if there was an obvious path out. No. I put on my gloves and started breaking branches to clear a path. It literally took me about an hour to make it 50 feet to the road. I got more scratches from bushes than from my landing.
By that time, Paton W had stopped by the Palomar LZ, heard what happened, and volunteered to drive my car to come get me. That was great news.
My plan had been to drop the first stuff at the road and go back for the glider, reserve, and harness. But I had no energy for fighting my way back through the brush. Also, I worried that the road I was on was behind a locked gate. So I decided to start hiking out, and come back for the glider later. I turned on location sharing on my phone, and started walking.
The next day, I recruited my son-in-law, and Josef volunteered as well, and we went back. With the three of us (and brush cutters) it was pretty easy to retrieve all the gear. Even so, it was a long day.
So, what do I conclude from all this? One, I was very lucky. Lucky that I had altitude. Lucky that my chute worked perfectly, even if I didn't. Lucky to not hit anything hard on landing. Lucky to be so close to a road, in bushy but moderate terrain. As I hiked out, I saw plenty of other places I could have landed that would have been hell to get out of. Lucky to be flying with friends who saw what happened and helped out.
So, what the hell caused all this? I think all day, we were seeing different layers of air moving in different directions. I'm guessing that at 8800', I hit the east shearing over the lower level west. But I don't know for sure.
The more interesting aspect of this whole thing is how I performed. I didn't panic, which is good. I don't think I did anything terribly wrong, but I'm pretty sure I failed to do some right things when they needed to be done. We all like to think we have "the right stuff". Maybe some of us don't.
My one and only SIV clinic was in 2011. Way too long ago. In fact, my chute hadn't been repacked in a couple of years. It's easy to get complacent.
As for the future? I don't know. I love XC. But something like this changes the risk/reward calculation we all do when we decide to fly. Next time I might not be so lucky. My instinct is to jump back on the horse that threw me. But it gets really hard to say "It won't happen to me" when it's happened to you.
Steve R's side bar comments: Jeff is correct in speculating that he had hit a strong East shear overriding the West at around 8.5-9K.
If you view Jeff's track, Jeff was thermaling up in the west side of the convergence. The thermal that I had prior to Jeff's but more south east of Eagle Rock was similar. We were Thermaling up in the westerly coastal air mass flow in areas that were protected from the stronger lower level winds. North into Temecula and flowing up the Aguanga Valley was the typical lower level winds that scrub and cut off the thermals. The trick for this route is to make the jump from the West side to the East side of the Convergence before the lower level cuts off the thermals, or make the jump over areas under the influence of the lower level cutoff wedge.
Jeff's thermal path (Red) location graphically in relation to the main convergence line.
My own thermal, like Jeff's, was the strongest thermal of the day for me and I had heavy banked up in it to load the glider in this thermal. As I was passing through this shear layer, my own glider was heavily being pitched and surged to the point of almost doing asymmetric spirals while while thermaling with active piloting and still going up 500-800fpm. In strong thermals and potentially turbulent ones like this, I find it is best to throw efficiency out the window and load up your glider in a high banked turn with lots of wt shift.
Followup note from Jeff:
I had a good chat with Phil Russman about what could have been happening with my wing during my incident. He said a big surge (wing flying down past the horizon) is usually caused by stalling and/or spinning the wing. I doubted that scenario because I never pulled a lot of brake. In fact, I was thinking "get your hands up" and don't pull a lot of brake. So that led Phil to propose that probably, some part of the wing collapsed and got behind me, and then as I fell and re-loaded the lines, it started to shoot forward just as I was putting my hands up. That sounds very reasonable to me. So, as far as the first part of the incident, I made two mistakes; not looking up at the wing to see what was going on, and releasing the brakes just when I should have been applying them to stop the surge.
After the big surge, when the wing was below the horizon, I think that the line-loading went to zero as I fell down between the lines. Probably, with the wing completely unloaded, the left wing tip folded under. Again, I didn't keep my eye on the wing. If I had seen the cravat and immediately applied right weight shift and some right brake, I might have kept the wing from winding up into a spiral. Phil says once you have a "stuck-tip cravat" wound up in a spiral like that, it is very difficult to remove. Even if right weight shift and brake couldn't keep the glider flying straight, a slower turn and lesser G forces would have given me time to find the stabilo line and try to pull the cravat out.
Given the first couple mistakes, once the glider was wound up in a spiral with a stuck tip, throwing the reserve was the right thing to do.
My intent in writing up my account is not to suggest that unknowable crap will happen to your glider while you're flying. I believe that if I had reacted promptly and correctly, I would have lost a bunch of altitude, but not had to throw my reserve. My intent is for all of us to learn from my mistakes.
On multiple occasions with this past Sunday being the most recent, pilots flying into rotor and possible venturi locations have been observed. All should be reminded that Palomar is a complex mountain site and all should review the Soaring notes of the Palomar Site Guide and also Review the Flying Effective Faces article pulled from our XC clinic talks.
Palomar is a complex mountain site
Fly effective faces that are perpendicular to the prevailing wind conditions. Note that on light and variable wind pure thermal days, the effective faces can be constantly changing and influenced by thermal activity. i.e. If the prevailing winds are west, trying to ridge fly the big south face or into the canyons will not be productive and can be turbulent. See Article on Flying Effective Faces and scroll through Palomar examples for different wind directions. Also Note that winds and effective faces will shift to thermal activity and geographic location / topography influences.
June 15th 2017 Meeting Agenda & Notes:
Was a small meeting mostly attended by Board Members.
Site Information and Updates - Reminder for all on Site Protocols:
Palomar Main LZ Gate Update:
Main LZ access on Sunday is now available to SDHGPA Club Members along with all other days.
Call for SDHGPA Weather Station Proposals: - Approved
The Board voted unanimously to spend up to $2K per weather station and associated data plans and installation for two initial trail stations. The first trial stations are proposed to be at the Palomar Main Launch and Little Black.
Aug Update: After initial proof of concept install at Palomar, the Board decided to approve a 3rd station for installation this year under the 2017 budget and the first 3 Stations would be installed at Palomar, Horse, & Laguna as being sites that are undeserved by current weather stations and being lease susceptible to being vandalized.
Example Holfuy stations and web module samples:
Accident Awareness & Prime Season is here.
Reminder to follow USHPA Pilot Proficiency SOPs for flight condition parameters per rating level. - Midday flying should be reserved for advanced pilots only at all Mt sites off of the coast.
Recent Accident reports were also reviewed. Without getting into details for two recent accidents at our San Diego and other US sites, some things all pilots should be reminded of when flying home sites or abroad in another country:
Traditionally there is no scheduled SDHGPA Meeting in July. The Aug Meeting time slot has too many conflicts for Board Members and will be canceled. The Next Scheduled SDHGPA meeting will be in September on the 21st. Follow the SDHGPA Calendar for updates.
Photo Cedit: Alex Turner
HG tips from a Jedi Master that cross over to the PG side.
Spring is here and ,maybe you are getting ready to fly after a bit of a layoff. Review your take off procedure. Do you like to have a wire crew? If you need a wire crew to stabilize your glider at take off you shouldn’t be at take off. You may want help getting to the spot where you start your run. This is especially true at the Laguna cliff launch where you have to get your glider up over a hump and get your wing tips past rocky bumps. It’s good to have some help, a little insurance, to keep the glider from getting away from you as you negotiate the obstacles. But once on launch you should be able to control the glider by yourself no matter what the wind does. Why? Well, when you say “CLEAR!”, you are the only one controlling your glider. What if at that instant, or during the first step or two of your run, the wind conditions where you need help, suddenly occur? You have to control the glider on your own.
You build a weather model in your head. At launch you study the wind conditions and see that there are times when the wind is too strong, or too cross, or too blustery. Then there are nice conditions. You decide that the nice conditions last long enough for a controlled take off. So you stand at launch with help controlling the glider during the not nice conditions and wait for a nice condition. It occurs and you say “CLEAR!”. What if you space-time weather model is wrong? What if the nice condition does not last as long as your model expects? What if the wind 20 feet down the ramp is not nice, that is the spatial aspect of your model is wrong? What are you willing to risk based on the weather model you have created in your head?
If you can’t control your glider during any conditions that could occur while you are standing at launch, you should not be standing at launch. This of course also involves a model. The model says that what you will experience at launch will be no worse than what you have observed over the past period of time.
Light wind conditions pose a different problem. Suppose you need a 10 mph wind on a shallow slope launch, and that is the maximum speed of the wind. Sometimes it is less. So you wait for a good cycle and off you go. If the wind holds, you are fine. If it gets lighter, then what? Again, you are basing your decision to take off on a model you have created in your head. If the wind is light you must be able to take off in no wind conditions.
Photo Credit: Hadi - Henry Golian
SDHGPA meeting, Sept 17 2015
Meeting called to order
3 board members present (SR, BH, DM)
Torrey Pines Soaring Council:
Peter Hill was appointed as SDHGPA's new Torrey Pines Soaring Council representative replacing David Metzgar following this month's TPSC meeting on the 21st.
David Metzgar reported the results of the survey of SDHGPA Members, taken at the request of the Torrey Pines Soaring Council, on the question of the possible re-regulation of Torrey Pines as a Hang 3 site requiring 50 hours of flight time, to replace the current Hang 4 requirement.
Thanks to all who answered, these results will be reported to the TPSC:
An announcement was made regarding USHPA's Safety notice letter. Some had not seen it yet. All were advised to look in their email spam folder or social filter folder.
For those that missed the USHPA Safety Notice, it can be downloaded at the following link:
Topic: (Discussion topic lead by Steve R)
Palomar & Laguna XC - Finding lift in all the right places & Avoiding the Hazard Zones
A big thank you to Angela for organizing the BBQ along with all those that pitched in!
So… the safety review was, as expected, total chaos. . . But, we had some good discussion points, and some important take-aways could be found in the mess.
Ultra-summarized version of this Safety Review:
(Facilitated and Written by Dave Metzger; corrected by both the pilots involved and the instructors who took part in the review.)
Safety in Flight Reports & Round Table Discussion meeting notes 5-21-15 :
Little Black Incident (1-31-15) :
Steve Poretta described his accident at Little Black. In short, he was flying close to the hill, intending to do some S-turns down the NW face of Little Black to land at the LZ. Steve had flown the same site over 100 times without incident, and the evening conditions were quite smooth.
He reported encountering some lift, causing the wing to drop back a bit, and simultaneously initiated an intended 180 degree turn from west to east, in order to fly back towards the trail and say hi to another pilot climbing up the trail (me, Dave Metzgar).
He initiated the turn with a strong right brake input, which ultimately caused the right wing to stall and became a spin. After the spin was occurring, he realized what had happened and released the brake, whereupon the glider recovered with a strong surge and swung him into the face of the mountain, resulting in a broken vertebra, broken ribs, etc.
Steve noted that he did not pull the brake any harder than he would have at altitude in order to enter a thermal, and he was surprised when it caused the glider to spin. Moreover, his reaction to the spin was the same as it would have been in a similar situation elsewhere. He believes his accident was the result of complacency – not focusing on flying, his altitude, and his safety margin, but rather on going back to the east to say hi to the pilot climbing the hill, and going in to land.
Bill Davis noted that complacency is a guaranteed killer in situations where lots of things may damage or kill you, like combat situations. Other pilots noted this was not a combat situation, but rather a recreational sporting event where the goal was to have fun. [Note from Dave: that is part of the problem – yes, paragliding is a recreational sport, but it is an extreme sport where all manner of difficult-to-predict situational effects can damage or kill you – I agree with Bill, paragliding requires constant attention and consideration of all possible threats].
Enleau noted that he was surprised the glider spun given the brake input, as seen on the video. Dave noted there may have been some rotor involved, as the wind was switching between SW and NW. Dave noted that the spin initiated rather slowly, and greater awareness of the “barstool rotation” feeling imparted on the pilot during spin initiation could have allowed an earlier response (brake release), and thereby a less vigorous surge away from the hill rather than the strong surge towards the hill that resulted from a delayed release of the brake. Greg noted that, in similar situations, he has recognized that releasing the spin immediately could swing him into a hill, and chose to allow the spin to continue until he was turned away from the hill, so that the surge would carry him away rather than towards the slope.
Dave noted that both earlier recognition of the spin and a more controlled exit could only have been made by a pilot with experience in spins, something that can only safely be gained by practicing deliberate spins at an SIV clinic over the water.
Ultimately, the take-away here is primarily that we need to increase our focus on flying, our situational awareness, and our safety margin (increased airspeed and decreased angle of attack) when we are close to the ground – as is often the case as we are coming in to land in apparently benign evening conditions that would otherwise lull us into complacency. Close to the ground we are more subject to unpredictable changes in wind speed and direction caused by the terrain, and thereby more subject to various stalls and spins. As Enleau would put it, we have very little reserves in our altitude account to allow for recovery if we do stall or spin. So keep your airspeed up and your senses trained on inputs from wind indicators, glider position, and pressure feedback from your glider, and always maintain awareness of your altitude and position relative to the ground.
Bill Helliwell noted that, once a person realizes they are going to hit the ground, it is critical to do so correctly – in the case of a hang glider, by allowing the airframe to take the bulk of the impact. Bill Davis noted that, in paragliders, the important thing in an impending impact is knowing how to do a proper PLF (parachute landing fall) and remembering to do so. If you weren’t trained in proper PLF technique by your instructor, you need to learn and practice the technique yourself until it becomes second nature.
Palomar Incident (5-2-15):
We watched Sophia’s video of Esperanza’s incident at Palomar. Both Phil and Angela provided second-hand testimony from Esperanza related to her experience. The various descriptions were generally consistent with the following interpretation:
Esperanza was several hundred feet over the terrain, in air that was unlikely to be affected by rotor or other terrain effects. She was thermal flying in moderately turbulent conditions.
Esperanza's glider suffered a significant collapse, to which she responded by pulling relatively hard on one or both brakes. She noted that this was how she had learned to fly her previous glider, on which she was quite light, and that she tended to fly with quite a bit of brake on that previous glider. Her initial brake input caused the glider to spin and/or stall, to which she responded by (at least partially) releasing the brakes.
In the video, it appears as a collapse (apparently wind sheer-induced, likely by a thermal), followed by a spin, which resolves quickly into a stable parachutal stall, followed by a series of nearly-full stalls and partial recoveries. The reserve was thrown just prior to impact, without time to fully open.
In her testimony, Esperanza stated that, when the glider did not spontaneously recover from the parachutal stall, she repetitively pulled both brakes hard in an effort to full-stall the glider, then released the brakes to allow the glider to recover. She stated that this was how she had being taught to recover when a glider did not spontaneously recover from a non-flying configuration. She then threw her reserve when she realized she did not have the altitude to regain normal flight.
Phil noted that the pilot was flying an uncertified extra-small glider of a model that, in other sizes, is certified as a “hot” B-class glider. Such uncertified extra-small gliders often have unpredictable performance and recovery differentials as compared to larger sizes.
Enleau noted that he had flown the same glider, and felt it had very light brake pressure and a relatively short brake travel to the stall point. In any case, the pilot reacted to both the initial collapse and the later parachutal stall with the incorrect action (pulling the brakes rather than fully releasing them), and in both cases did so consciously on the basis of either misinformation or misinterpretation of information.
Phil, Enleau, and others noted that the best reaction to a collapse is, under most situations, to release brake pressure and allow the glider to speed up/increase angle of attack – a momentary brake input can be used prior to a collapse to prevent or limit the collapse as it is happening (on the side of the glider experiencing the collapse), and some counter-steering and weight shift may be necessary to prevent being turned into a hill or another glider - but prolonged brake inputs should be avoided when the glider is trying to recover from a collapse.
Enleau noted that once a stall has been initiated and stabilized, the action required for a recovery is complete release of the brakes – even a small amount of maintained brake pull will prevent the glider from regaining a flying configuration. Furthermore, a full stall should be a last-resort measure, and is only useful in a very specific situation – when the pilot has a lot of altitude to spare, and when the glider has a significant forward cravat (wing tip stuck through the front lines of the glider from the front to the back, which cannot be released until forward motion ceases and allows the tucked wingtip to come forward out of the cravat). The full stall will not fix other types of cravats or tangles, it is a difficult and technical maneuver to perform correctly, and it requires a lot of altitude to perform with any degree of safety.
In a situation such as Esperanza’s (a stall or spin with several hundred feet of altitude), the order of action should have been:
1) Recognize the stall (feel the glider, look at the glider),
2) Assess altitude (ask if there is enough altitude for a safe recovery), then either:
Similar to Steve’s situation, the cascade that led to this accident was initiated by a large brake input from the pilot, and a lack of awareness of the risk of stalling or spinning the glider that this represented. In this case, the glider’s inherent tendencies may have contributed, as may have questionable habits gained from flying earlier gliders [Dave noted that flying light, as Esperanza noted she had been on her previous glider, is good reason to fly faster, not slower – being underweight on a glider increases the inherent likelihood of a stall or spin].
In this case, the initial accidental stall was exacerbated by the pilot believing that the correct action following the stall event was to deliberately full stall the glider (increase the angle of attack) when the correct action was actually the opposite (use A-riser or speed bar input to decrease the angle of attack and encourage the glider to restart). Furthermore, at low altitudes, a recovery to normal flight and the ensuing surge may result in a high-speed impact, as Steve’s accident demonstrates.
Pilots need to be constantly aware of altitude, and have a clear understanding of the altitude needed for recovery from various sub optimal configurations. If we ever find ourselves in such configurations with less altitude that what is needed to assure a safe recovery, we must choose to throw our reserve without hesitation. And if we find ourselves in such configurations at even lower altitudes, where both recovery and reserve deployment are impossible, we’re left with PLF and prayer – really, the only sensible options are to studiously avoid being low to the ground, or to be hypervigilant and maintain plenty of extra airspeed if we must be low to the ground (for example, on landing approach).
We have two “safety accounts” in our sky bank – an airspeed/angle of attack account and an altitude account. The first one becomes overdrawn when you stall the wing, and the second one becomes overdrawn when you hit the ground. The more of both that you maintain, the more secure you are in flight. When the airspeed/angle of attack account appears to be running out (following a collapse, in an imminent spin, glider pushed back behind us by wind sheer or thermal) or runs entirely dry (glider stalls or spins), the immediate necessity is to assess your altitude and determine whether the correct action is to attempt recovery or to throw the reserve. If you choose the first, remember that it almost always initially involves putting your hands all the way up to increase the angle of attack and allow the glider to fly again, thereby regaining wing pressure, full inflation, and lift. If it doesn’t work, be ready to move to option 2 immediately. If you choose instead to throw the reserve, throw it immediately before circumstances either make it useless or impossible. Finally, make use of our community – discuss flying styles and practices with diverse pilots, see what they do and what they think. Then watch them to see how their different styles work out in practice. Know what you are doing and why you are doing it, and constantly seek to learn. None of us are perfect, we all know that our sport is fraught with complex hazards, and we all seek to help and be helped in the process of becoming safer and better pilots.
[A discussion of the benefits of maintaining a healthy reserve in the airspeed account should be accompanied by the adage... if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In other words, flying with your hands up all the time might work out at Torrey, but it won’t keep your wing open very long on a typical summer afternoon at Blossom. Hands up equals low angle of attack, and a collapse is caused by the angle of attack getting too low. Often referred to as active piloting, the ability to apply higher brake pressures rapidly and safely with the correct timing drastically improves safety by preventing collapses. These brake inputs are used to prevent a collapse, not as a response to a collapse that has already occurred.]
SIV Clinic Incident (5-1-15):
Upon inspection after the incident, the pilot had one hand tangled in the lines, which may have prevented a reserve throw. The pilot was using an acro harness with double ring cutaway and two reserves; both were rendered inoperable by packing errors – neither would have worked had the pilot been able to use them.
Because the accident and the preceding cascade are well-described publicly already, the discussion thereafter centered around reserve use and inspection.
Public Posts can be summarized by these two:
Reserve Use and Inspection Discussion:
One of the accident pilot’s reserves was not attached to his harness, and would have simply blown away had it been deployed. Worse, this reserve system was designed to release the main paraglider upon deployment, which would have put the pilot in freefall and likely made use of the second reserve impossible. The second reserve had a short pull strap and long pins, and was thereby “bag locked” – that is, pulling on the reserve handle would not have been sufficient to free the pins, as the handle strap would have come tight prior to the pins being released.
Dave pointed out that there are no certifications for packing paragliding and hang gliding reserve parachutes and they are all different. It is therefore the responsibility of the pilot to assure their reserves are correctly packed and operational no matter who packs them.
Everyone should inspect their reserve upon having it repacked, and again prior to any SIV clinics, competitions, or other situations where reserve deployments are common. Inspection should include checking the riser connections and the routing of the risers, checking that the bag is not locked (by carefully pulling the handle until the pins are almost pulled out of their stay loops, to make sure there is enough slack in the strap to allow the pins to be pulled), then fully reinserting the pins, the handle, and the Velcro or tuck flaps. I also check my pins every flight, to ensure that the reserve is not in danger of inadvertent deployment due to the pins coming loose.
Reserve parachutes are generally provided with specific packing instructions, including descriptions of the required orientation of the bag and the deployment strap and handle relative to the reserve container on the harness.
Jason pointed out that bag lock is a very common phenomenon, having been identified in previous safety clinics as being responsible for the in-operability of approximately 20% of tested reserves.
David Metzgar, SDHGPA Secretary
Open SDHGPA General Meeting Minutes 3-26-2015
SDHGPA is now officially registered and listed as a 501 (c) (7) Tax Exempt nonprofit; thank you Mr. Helliwell for all your efforts.
Blossom: Don't land in the valley below Blossom. Period. It is trespassing, and it will guarantee that we never regain permission to use the old LZ. If you sink out, side hill land on the face of the mountain. If you land in the old LZ, everyone else in the club will hate you, and eventually we will kick you out of the club and you won't be able to launch there either. Please don't be clueless and stupid. Read the site rules before you fly any site (ours or elsewhere), and follow them. http://www.sdhgpa.com/blossom-valley.html
Palomar has lots of Site Rules as requested by our Land Owners. They are clearly described in the site guide, and continued use of the site is dependent on everyone following them. As with Blossom, Palomar is on private property and it is a hard-won privilege to fly there. The owners have asked us to only allow pilots to fly there if they demonstrate that they are smart enough to read. Carry your membership cards, display your placard, lock the gate, call Pala security and John Smiley every time before you go launch. Land only in designated LZs and for sure do not land in areas designated as being close. Pala security and other Land Owners are watching you, and they are calling us.
We have already experienced two injury accidents at Little Black this spring. Recent conditions have been more summer-like than spring-like, and awareness of both conditions and your own capabilities is critical to your survival and continued ability to enjoy this sport.
Contributing factors in both incidences: these pilots were flying in inappropriate locations to prevailing conditions. We are continuing to see this with many pilots at our more complex non simple ridge sites like Little Black and Palomar to name a few.
It is never a bad time to step back to a slightly more conservative flying style, a safer wing, or more mellow hours of the day. Review your training books; read "Understanding the Sky" and "Speed to Fly". For a quick review and practical example of evaluating Palomar's and Little Black's sensitivity to wind shifts see: http://www.sdhgpa.com/minutes-news--articles/effective-ridge-lift-flying-mountain-sites
Again. Remember that paragliding and hang gliding are really dangerous, and your family and friends want you to be safe more than they want you to fly high and go far. Remember no one cares how long you stayed up, if you set XC records, or do cool acro. No one. Really. You are the pilot in command of your glider, or your wheelchair, and of your life.
Spring fly-in will be in May, likely at Palomar May 2nd, or possibly on Memorial Day Weekend. Experiencing some difficulties coordinating with mothers, XC leagues, etc. Any suggestions are welcome!
Doug P and Jody L offered to help with planning and coordination in addition to the social committee.
Keep an eye out for an upcoming Spring Fly-in Flier/ blog post.
The San Diego Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association