A couple of things to write about this month, a bit of a long read so strap in . . .
First up – Pre-flight checks.
We all know we need to check very carefully that every bit of our flying machine is in perfect condition for every flight (including ourselves . . .). We all do this every launch, don’t we? Here’s a report from an incident that went well but could have ended badly. Not me, but a very experienced and skilful pilot, and I don’t need to add anything as he has carefully analysed what happened and offered very useful tips on how to avoid this.
This was a typically busy day at Col de la Forclaz take off. I had launched from here earlier in the day where other pilots had told me to hurry up, so there was a certain amount of pressure.
On this launch, I unpacked and checked my glider and lines in the pen behind the launch area, clipped in and bunched the glider up to walk to launch. I did not observe any knots or issues with the lines. When a space was available in the launch area, I laid out the wing and prepared for launch as quickly as I could, due to the time pressure. I did do a test inflation ("building a wall") but this wasn't sufficient to fully check the status of the lines.
I then carried out a reverse launch. After turning and braking the wing, I did notice the right brake felt stiffer than normal. However, I was committed to the launch and did so. Once airborne I noticed a knot on the right hand side involving an A, C and brake lines. The inner portion of the right hand side of the wing was braked (trailing edge deflected), but fortunately this did not generate a large turning moment and the wing was stable and controllable.
I did attempt to undo the knot with brake input, a decision I regret as it could have made things worse, but fortunately did not. After I got over this urge, I took better actions by flying away from terrain, heading straight for the landing field and only carrying out left hand turns to reduce the risk of spinning the wing.
The landing at Doussard was uneventful, and the knot released as soon as the wing was unloaded, so I could not inspect it! I checked the lines and glider for any damage, but there the lines were fine and ground handling the glider was normal. I flew again later that day and all was well. I felt very lucky, it would have only taken one more realised hazard to have created a more severe incident or an accident.
Lessons I've considered:
- I had never had a knot in my lines in flight, so it shows complacency and that past success does not equal continued success
- Never rush pre-flight checks no matter what external pressures there are
- Check lines much more thoroughly before inflating the wing, particularly when launch conditions do not enable ground handling of the wing before committing
- Abort launch if something isn't right
- If knotted, don't try to recover it by pulling lines as it is unlikely and potentially risky
- I've changed how I bunch up the wing, by putting each loop of lines between the next two fingers and releasing in the reverse manner, making it much less likely to become knotted. From the rest of the trip, this has worked well.
Thermalling and Ridge Soaring
I’ve been asked to write something following some conflicts between pilots circling and ridge soaring. Both are essential skills and both are equally important and neither the ridge soaring pilot nor the circling one have any special rights. If everyone joins the thermal, and turns the same way, no problem. If it’s a ridge soaring day, provided some sort of order is set up about which beat is closer to the hill, equally problem-free. The issues arise when someone starts to turn in a thermal, close to the hill while others are using ridge lift. It’s easy to get focused on using the thermal to climb, that’s what we all want but the turning pilot needs to be fully aware of those who may not want to join in at that moment; a glider turning a circle close to the hill suddenly presents a massive obstacle to a ridge soaring wing. Equally the ridge soaring pilot needs to be aware that if a thermal comes along then pilots are going to turn in it, and mustn’t just blithely continue beating back and forth. No-one has priority, except to avoid a collision. It’s all part of being a pilot, and being aware of what everyone else is doing. I’ve been pointed towards the excellent 50k or Bust by Nigel Page – I have a copy and refer to it a lot, and several of his sources are in the public domain, and there is a wealth of good advice in there about this topic. http://www.50k-or-bust.com/PG%20Safety%20And%20Training%20Articles.htm
Tight lines, everyone