Sunday, September 20, 2020

Inappropriate Pattern or Preparation for Landing

Mid Summer on the South-side, mid-morning, with light winds, an H0 pilot under instruction flew off course of the the planned approach to the lower LZ and struck a vehicle parked near or possibly in the LZ. 

Mistakes happen and getting off course was a mistake.  The crash, as with most crashes, was caused by multiple mistakes.  The pilot’s second mistake was inflexibility in reacting to getting off-course.  At the time the pilot realized the mistake the pilot was fixated on landing in the designated LZ.   As a result the pilot was not able to recognize that better options existed for a landing point outside of the park.  This same fixation resulted in a crash on the North-Side this year and a PG mid-air.  

Practicing flexibility might help.  Ken HudonJorgensen teaches a mental drill wherein you stop in random places and devise a landing approach for that location.  This drill could also be adapted for designated LZs.  Walk to a spot away from the normal pattern and devise a landing patten to land form that spot and altitude.  This would be a great drill for instructors to do with students.  It not only teaches mental flexibility; but, also the skill of devising landing approaches.  

From the Book of Risk:

How to avoid it.

  • Study good landing pattens.
  • Learn to judge angles over distances.
  • Arrive over your LZ with enough altitude to make at least one full 360 and to begin the patten form any direction.
  • Always keep a safe lZ within reach.
  • Do not get downwind of your LZ in strong winds.
  • Practice flexibility by randomly stopping at any location and devising a landing pattern for that location with existing conditions. Also do this exercise around your designated LZ from points outside of the normal approach (include looking for other places to land outside the designated LZ, but safer from the unusual point or unusual conditions.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Published with permission of the pilot.  By Ian Brubaker

The hang gliding accident that occurred on August 16th, 2020 at the Point of The Mountain, North Side had several key decision making factors that ultimately left the pilot in a position where he had no outs and crashed breaking his femur, and breaking both downtubes. The following is an analysis of his flight.

The pilot is a H2 rated pilot and has held his rating for many years. On his most recent trip to The Point, he was getting back into hang gliding not having flown in some time, though he had flown the site years ago. The pilot flew a similarly rated site the previous day, Crafwords Ridge, without issue.

Upon launching, the pilot remained low on the ridge, as it was late day and the lift was becoming light. The pilot set up an approach after making a couple passes along the ridge. He was heading Eastbound along the ridge and turned once he reached the East corner of the lower LZ. He traveled away from the ridge before heading Westbound towards the pond. The pilot continued this path until almost reaching the farthest West end of the LZ, and attempted a left 180 degree turn back towards the hill. During that

turn he was downwind, entering a severe wind gradient, and had little airspeed left due to his lack of altitude at that point in the approach. He completed about 150 degrees of the turn before impacting, stating that he had “no airspeed” despite looking like the glider was diving fast towards the ground.  The pilot also stated that he did not realize how low he was until already in the turn.

There are three main factors that contributed to this accident: Lack of a proper flight plan, lack of currency, and misjudged altitude cause by not looking back at the desired landing zone. These are the factors that lead up to the accident, but the final cause of the accident was a low turn to the ground, combined with lack of airspeed near the ground, exacerbated by a strong wind gradient. 

A flight plan was not formulated before takeoff, as reported by the pilot. Such a plan is imperative in each flight, and planning for different outcomes, alternative flight paths, and emergency procedures are as important as the original flight plan.

The pilot had many opportunities to land in other LZ’s, but was unaware of the risky situation building because he was not looking back on his desired landing target. His focus remained ahead on his downwind leg, causing him to incorrectly judge his altitude for landing. The base turn had a steep bank angle. Then, 90 degrees into the turn, the glider slowed down, likely due to the pilot realizing he was low to the ground. Finally, the glider appears to have stalled in a turn into the ground as confirmed by the pilot reporting he had “no airspeed” all the way to the ground. It should be noted that where the pilot was turning to land, a consistently strong wind gradient exists there, especially in Northeast winds.

While proper planning, pilot decision making, and pilot currency are important takeaways from this

accident, the most critical error was not looking back at the desired target for landing, and insufficient airspeed when approaching the ground. Though sometimes unnerving, it is imperative that pilots constantly look back at their desired landing target to judge their angles of approach and adjust their approach as necessary. Had the pilot looked back at the target, realizing how low he was, he may have initiated the turn sooner and kept more airspeed throughout the base to final turn.  

Below is a visual depiction of the flight path (red), possible alternatives (blue), and alternative LZs (yellow).


Thursday, September 3, 2020

The random factor. Lack of physical or mental preparedness

An experienced P4 XC pilot flying tired in very strong thermic conditions was slow catching a forward surge of his glider resulting in a full frontal collapse.  The glider, a two liner, recovered aggressively from the collapse again catching the fatigued pilot off-guard resulting a late block of the surge.  This time the glider dove horizontal with the pilot and twisted three times.  

The pilot attempted to clear the twists with the brakes resulting with tendencies to spin.  The pilot then threw his reserve.  

The reserve was a rogallo attached to the rear attachment points.  The pilots head was forced down by the rogallo risers which deployed twisted making steering control difficult resulting in brushing against a tree damaging his equipment slightly.

Recommendations:  First, keep in mind that the glider here was a two liner.   Two liners often react very unpredictably in a non flying configuration.  Even advanced pilots will find them hard to bring under control during a cascade.

With that in mind, avoid flying strong conditions fatigued.  Almost always, even in strong conditions, you can avoid a frontal collapse with timely and adequate brake or B-line inputs.  

Even if you cannot fully prevent a collapse, strong inputs at the time of collapse pull the trailing edge down preventing cravats and keeping the tips of the glider apart.  

Experience is necessary to time the release of the glider to recover flight with a controlled surge.  Too late and the glider can deep stall; not enough control of the surge and the glider frontals again resulting in a possible cascade.

When your glider is cascading you have to kill its energy.  Locking the brakes in down low below your chest might be enough.  If not a stall and back fly will kill the energy and allow you to assess your altitude and or throw your reserve.  This works even with twists.

If you are already too low you must throw the reserve before the energy builds.  Whenever you are below 500 feet consider already making the decision to throw immediately upon losing control of the glider or entering a configuration you are not familiar with; again before the energy builds.  

If you allow the energy to build the glider could interfere with your reserve deployment or cause you to black out.  

From the Book of Risk:  Lack of physical or mental preparedness.

How to avoid it.

Learn to recognize it.

Separate your ego from the decision to fly.

Stand down and fly another day.

Practice the above at least once by repacking your glider on launch and standing down with out explaining why.  Just say something vague such as “I’m just not feeling it today.)

From the Book of Risk:  The random factor.

How to avoid it. 

The random factor cannot be avoided.

Acknowledge that with the safest practice paragliding carries a higher level of risk of death or injury than most other activities.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Flight in known/knowable turbulence

In Early July at about 0900 an intermediate rated paraglider pilot impacted the ground on the east end of the South Side soaring ridge.  The pilot reported that earlier the wind meter behind and above the ridge reported 20-25 SSE.  The pilot was flying a 13 meter zero for the first time.  The pilot was flying east of the main gash and turning to the west when a large collapse occurred on the left side of the glider.  Despite weight shifting to the open side the collapse rotated the pilot around and into the hillside.  After the incident the trimmers were found to be set differently with the right trimmer at trim and the left fully let out.  The pilot reported that other pilots also concurred that the conditions were “weird.”

Strong winds from the east (20-25 SSE) have long been known to cause turbulent conditions at the South Side.  Even before construction of all of the homes in front of the ridge this has been the case.  If you look SSE of the ridge you will see small hills not too far away out in front of  the ridge.  They are far enough away to be overlooked by most pilots.  Nonetheless, mechanical turbulence is known to reach as far as 10 times the height of objects downwind of those objects.  The stronger the wind the farther the turbulence reaches.  Turbulated winds in excess of 20 mph is more than enough to cause a serious collapse in even a mini wing. 

The wind meter at the south side is more that 50 feet above the ground and does not measure the compressed wind speed found just out from the edge of launch.   It is likely that the wind that collapsed this glider was in excess of 25 mph. 

Flying in strong winds is an advanced skill.  Many advanced pilots will not fly when conditions are as strong as cited in this incident.

From the UHPGA website safety briefings for the South Side:

Known Hazards:

Strong east wind rotors off the hills south-east of launch and become turbulent enough to collapse paragliders.

From the Book of Risk:

How to avoid it.  (Flying in known turbulence)

Study the weather a lot, read a lot of books about weather especially related to paragliding and hang gliding:

Understanding the Sky by Dennis Pagen

Thermal Flying by Burkhard Martens

Mastering Thermaling by Kelly Farina

Weather for Dummies

Talk about the weather to other pilots you fly with.

Violation of Traffic Norms. Pilot Vigilance (mid-air collision).

At the South Side, a newly passed off P2 pilot was flying the eastbound ridge soaring pattern followed by another pilot also flying eastbound but against the pattern and close to the ridge.  Two other pilots flying westbound turned left to avoid the pilot flying eastbound close to the ridge.   The P2 pilot felt cut off by the left turning westbound pilots and made a hard turn to the right followed by an attempt to immediately regain the ridge by flying between the other eastbound pilot and the ridge resulting in the mid-air collision.  

The following steps could have avoided this collision.

1.  When the green flags are up do your best to fly the pattern. 

2.  Use common sense and be flexible.  

3.  If you see someone not flying the pattern, learn the colors of the glider and stay clear of it. 

4. When westbound, avoid trouble by keeping right or top-landing or side-hill landing and not by flying through opposing traffic.   

5. When eastbound, avoid trouble by keeping right and flying away from the ridge.  Keep right to avoid others cutting you off from these options (read number 2). 

6.  If you leave the pattern to avoid trouble, or for any reason, be very careful reentering; land out and get a ride up if you cannot safely reenter.  

7.  Look around constantly and look as far ahead as possible to anticipate trouble.  If it feels crowded to you, go land until traffic lessens.  

8.  Clear your turns. 

From the Book of Risk:

Get competent instruction to lean to fly.

Study and learn how to fly in various circumstances.

Mentally review potential patterns before launching.  If you are in doubt ask an 

instructor or competent pilot

Report of Object Fixation included as reported by Steve Mayer

Early June:

I was instructing a P2 pilot on day two of mini wing instruction. Day one went flawless with 6-7 excellent flights. Pilot is an experienced sky diver and we spent a lot of time reviewing bad habits sky divers often make, mostly over controlling and being "heavy handed". Instructions were to fly like "a little old lady" and make slight turns and always go back to hands up as your "get out of jail". On day this day we moved down in size from a "mini wing" to a "Hybrid" so 18 meters to a 16 meter. Instructions were to have a first flight like yesterday, nothing new and get used to new wing and feel., I wish I'd stressed the little old lady thing and not being heavy handed again.  

Pilot kited a while and launched without incident, went right and got close to the hill. He started pulling harder and harder turns towards the hill then away (I was saying MOVE AWAY) and think he would pull away and then correct back the other way. There were quite a few students on the lower hill and all saw him look right at them and pull HARD toward them and the hill where he banked up and slammed into the hill. We have video of the incident and it appears he looked and flew right at them.  

Pilot was conscious and alert complaining of back pain. Emergency services were called. We stabilized the pilot. Several EMS trained people were on the scene as well as myself. He was evacuated by ambulance and taken to an ER where he was released several hours later with fractures to his lower back but no long term damage and was told he could fly in 4-6 week's. He kept a great attitude and is planning on finishing. up soon.

Lessons learned... slow down on progression down to smaller wings.  

Don't assume a pilot can handle something smaller without more education

Remind all pilots about object fixation and how real it is.

Remind all pilots that when in doubt or in trouble look toward the LZ and SLOWLY turn that way.  

Remind pilots that Pilot Induced Ocolations are real and happen.

Take extra time to work with sky divers and drill in these points and the bad habits and trends we see.

a similar accident happened to another of my students 10 years ago. Also a sky diver, also day two where day one went great. I didn't spend the time reminding them how fast things go bad and he did similar and got LEFT, Right, Left, Right, trying to correct and actually went upside down in a barrel roll and slid into the LZ and was lucky enough to walk away. I often talk about this story with my sky divers as a "no way, that could never happen to a pro sky diver" and now I'll be adding this second story to help drill in the point. I've taught over 100 mini wing courses and still believe mini wings are far safer to fly than even paragliders but special precautions need to be observed.

I also recognize and know that hearing a radio is often difficult as the speeds are high and the timing is critical. In this latest incident the pilot did hear he but panic's and really doesn't remember why or how he turned to hard into the hill but after reviewing the video it seems he looked and steered at exactly what he was trying to avoid.

Final lesson is that I will never let a speed flying student fly under my supervision without an airbag harness. I follow this myself and am a huge fan of airbags for this reason but still the majority of mini wing pilots and harnesses do not have an airbag. I will preach the savings grace that back protection of any kind can help if the worst case happens. We now have replaced all our speed flying training harnesses with new updated airbag models. I am not sure if the outcome would have been any different but it's possible.  

Steve Mayer
Cloud 9 Paragliding

Distracted Pre-Flight Preparation and Checks.

Distracted Pre-Flight Preparation and Checks. 

In early May a novice pilot was preparing to launch when another pilot saw that the novice pilot's chest strap was not buckled and one riser was attached backwards.

From the Book of Risk:

What is it: (distracted pre flight)

Anything that distracts your metal focus from preparing your equipment for safe flight.


Having conversations with others during the set up or preflight of your equipment.

Motivational talk, “GO FOR IT,” “LET’s GET SOME,” “KICK ASS.” 

Loud music on launch.

How to avoid it:

First of all, you can’t fix stupid and people around you are just going to do these things; accept it and don’t further distract yourself by arguing with them.  AVOID CONFRONTATION ON LAUNCH.  

Focus is the key, practice mindfulness.


Use checklists.  If you notice your mind has wandered at any point during a checklist start over form the beginning.  Starting over helps to increase mindfulness by practicing noticing that your mind has wandered.


Let people who are trying to talk to you know that you need to concentrate on your preflight.