Monday, August 21, 2017

Some days you realise that it was your turn to be the cautionary tale and not the shining example.

Some days you realise that it was your turn to be the cautionary tale and not the shining example.

Today was my turn.

Schwengimatt is a hang gliding and paragliding site in Solothurn, Switzerland.

There are 2 take-offs. They both take a Northerly wind but are mostly flown as thermal sites.
Neither take-off gives you a nice clean start from the side of a hill, both take-offs are set back a long way from the edge of the tree covered hill.

I’ve taken off from the higher take-off many times, both with HG and PG. However you have to go between a couple of trees on take-off and it gets pretty rowdy when it’s thermic.

The bottom take off is lower and shallower, but you have a great big sloping field between you and the trees and so aborting is an easy low risk option. I also found the take off to be much easier as you can run on the shallow slope.

According to my gps the starting elevation is 1020m and to clear the the tops of the trees by a few meters you need to be at 980m when you arrive at the point 380m away from where you take off. That means you need a glide ratio 380/40 = 9.5 to 1 in still air.

Of course it’s rarely still air. With a light facing breeze your ground speed and hence your glide ratio reduces, but the extra lift tends to overcome that.

I think that with a chainsaw and the use of an excavator for the day I could make one amazing take-off that would be the kind where you don’t have to worry about your glide ratio as you are heading towards the trees.
But of course, in the real world one has to contend with the trees.

Today was my first time at the lower launch. My first take-off was fairly uneventful, I got out over the trees and onto the ridge and went looking for thermals.

After landing down at the bottom I got a ride back up to the top for another go.

For my second launch it was getting more thermic. I watched a couple of pilots fail to clear the trees and then land just before them.

Both guys seemed to have higher performance wings than me, and so that made me worry that my inferior glide might not be enough.

I’m flying a straight EN-A wing, that’s as safe and simple as it gets. It sacrifices performance for a very forgiving nature, and that’s exactly what I need to be flying.

So I took off at a moment that I thought was good and had one of those, will I, won’t I clear the trees flights, where I would hit some lift and gain a few meters and then hit some sink and lose a few meters. I was totally fixed on the trees in front and was waiting for my decision point where I would abort if I was not going to be several meters above the trees when I got there.
Having the wing pitching about all over the place made it very hard to judge my flight path, so with a couple of seconds to go I aborted by turning right and landing along side the trees.

I picked up my wing and walked back to take off for another go.

There were some pilots there who seemed to be in spectator mode. I know it’s one of those sites. Whenever anyone takes of in marginal conditions (or a marginal pilot in good conditions) everyone watches and says “Oooh” and “Aaah” as they glide towards the trees. It’s quite hard for people watching to judge whether a pilot will clear the trees and always exciting when it’s close.

At this point there was another pilot there who had failed to clear the trees and was having another go. I took of shortly after him. Neither of us made it over the trees, he aborted right, I went left.

When It was time to flare I realised my canopy was in front of me and as I pulled on the brakes in an attempt to slow down and round out I suddenly realised that I had been so fixated on the trees I had forgotten to fly.

I’m a low hours paraglider pilot, flying a new wing. I’ve just got to the point where I’ve done enough ground handling and take-offs with this wing to feel relaxed during take-off.

I know the site fairly well and so I don’t have any stress about where I’m going to land.

I’ve even seen enough other people abort flights to realise that it’s just one of the things that can happen and is nothing to worry about. I’ve only ever seen one guy end up in the trees and that was because he left it too late to abort and then stalled and spun his glider in, that was one mistake I was not going to make.

So as I packed up my gear I though about what had been happening. About how my wing was pitching all over the place in the turbulent air. About how I would gain several meters and then lose them again.

My whole thinking had been to fly the best glide I could manage in order to clear the trees. Most paragliders get their best glide wherever they are trimmed, touching the brakes will reduce your speed and your sink rate, but also your glide. For this reason I was trying to fly as hands up as possible, I was even trying to weigh shift to steer to avoid using the brakes.

In hindsight now of course I realise that was the reason the wing was pitching all over the place. I should have been active flying the wing. The small losses from touching the brakes would have paled in comparison to the huge loses I was getting from the massive pitch changes.

I was one of the guys that the experienced pilots on the hills were pointing to and saying, look what happens if you don’t manage your pitch well.

It’s easy to fly a paraglider. It’s hard to fly one well.

I’ve put the video of the aborted flight up on you tube to serve as a reminder to myself and others.