Thursday, June 3, 2010

When Things Go Bad - Part 1

What to do when things go bad

This is Part ONE of THREE in this series - Links to the next part are at the end of this page.
I’ve spent much of my life in simulators; often practicing “worst case scenarios.”  While practicing the handling of these types of situations, I work with my crew to utilize the procedures that have been practiced and designed to ensure the proper response.   We also discuss alternative courses of action.  It’s not pessimism that drives this behavior – it’s a healthy respect for the value of mental preparation.   I believe that a similar mindset is valuable in our flying of paragliders.

Even if you never leave your home site, and never land anywhere but your own LZ, “dry flying”  - thinking abnormal scenarios through, can be good practice.

All of the scenarios in this post are situations that are best avoided in the first place.  Use proper preparation and judgment, and you will eliminate the need to deal with these situations.  It is still of value, however, to consider what you would do, to avoid panic and brain-lock, should you encounter them.

Rule number one is KEEP YOUR HEAD.  Don’t stop thinking just because you are confronted with an abnormal situation.  There is a way to handle the situation to minimize your peril and maximize a positive outcome.  Rule number two is TAKE YOUR TIME.  Often the time for ‘immediate action’ has passed – Now you need to make a considered reaction to ensure a safe outcome.

SCENARIO 1 – Parked.
You are soaring at 100 meters (300’) over launch, along your ridge site when the wind picks up suddenly.  You realize you are parked and unable to penetrate into the wind.  What to do?
Assuming that your normal LZ is upwind and below launch, your first course should be to increase your speed to penetrate into the wind.  Use of your speedbar will achieve added ground speed.  If the air is rough, you may not be able to use your speedbar to its full extension, but use as much as you safely can to achieve a visible groundspeed into the wind.  As you get in front of the ridge you will often leave the lift band that can increase the velocity of the wind as it is compressed over the ridge.  You will soon note an increase in your groundspeed.

If you are still parked while accelerated, or unable to use speedbar due to rough air, then you need to explore your other, less attractive options.  You might want to consider descending to the level of the slope in front of launch and side-hill landing.  You may need to land using big-ears to pull this off.  It is often possible (since the wind may be slightly less than 90°  to the ridge) to creep along, parallel to the ridge, so as to get to the end of the ridge and get to an alternative LZ next to the ridge and/or downwind of the ridge.

It also may be a viable alternative to fly over the back to land downwind of the ridge.  You must take into consideration that there may be sink and rotor caused by the wind flowing over the ridge.  You can increase the viability of this choice by utilizing lift on the ridge to get high and choosing your spot to go back carefully, to maximize the distance from the ridge of your landing.  Generally landing as far downwind as possible is your best bet.  Why not take the next thermal over the back and embark on a cross-country flight?  This is a far better choice than panicking and rushing the reaction, or attempting to get to your normal LZ in a vain attempt against the wind. 

You get the idea?  We need to consider these options so they come to mind when you realize you’re in a pickle.

SCENARIO 2 –  High Wind Landing
You have had a great flight and are landing in a stronger wind than expected or comfortable.  
First, plan to land in a LZ with sufficient room to allow for downwind drift, should it be encountered.  Next, plan to land in the upwind 1/3 of the LZ if this has clear air.  When dealing with a lot of wind near the ground, consider any obstructions that may create rotor turbulence.  Make an approach to the LZ that allows you to maneuver without turning away (downwind) from the LZ.  Your approach should be made with the minimum necessary speedbar.  If speedbar is used, then plan to touchdown with minimal bar and then kill the wing by pulling down on your “B” or “C” risers.  An optimum way to achieve a nice high-wind landing is to lean forward slightly, with legs extended and risers ready to pull, so a PLF may be achieved or a quick turn may be made while pulling the “C” risers to kill all lift.   A video of such a landing can be viewed below.  I opted to make the approach and landing without speed-bar since none was necessary.  If speed had been required, I would have landed on the beach since it afforded a bit more space. 

An alternative procedure that I have not employed, but I’ve heard can be successful, is to twist 180° and land while facing backwards so any downwind drift may be handled by running backwards while killing the wing.

SCENARIO 3 – Cloud Suck
You are thermalling up in a nice thermal, when suddenly you realize that you are in rapidly increasing lift and may be sucked into the cloud above, soon. 
As the thermal rises, and the air reaches its dew-point, the increased energy of the thermal can reach a point that causes a climb much faster than intended and anticipated.  Prior to being lifted into the cloud you should attempt to exit the area of lift.  The best way to do this is to roll-out and fly in the direction of the closest edge of the cloud (and the adjacent clear area).  You should have noted the nearest clear area while well below cloud-base since you will not be able to see which direction is best while close to the cloud.  If necessary, use speed-bar and big-ears to increase your speed and sink rate, to evade the lift.  If you have a compass or GPS, use them to provide heading information.  If not, then use the sun as a reference and hold your heading relative to the sun, if possible.  It may be best to hold this heading even if you are lifted into cloud since horizontal escape of the lift is the best method.

Alternative methods are to use descent techniques prior to reaching the cloud.  Big-Ears + Speed-bar, Spirals, and B-Line Stalls are often employed to decrease the effect of the lift.  When exiting these configurations however, you may find yourself climbing in the lift again.  That is why I recommend the first technique.
If you find yourself in cloud, do not panic.  It is disorienting and vertigo may be experienced, but you are not in trouble unless you just flew into a 35,000’ thunderstorm.  Just remember that a paraglider has more inherent stability than most flying machines so a hands off approach will suffice to allow you to exit the cloud.  If you can safely fly with some speed-bar, then I recommend you use it to expedite your exit from the cloud.  Be patient – when you get into the sink, you will soon exit the cloud.

A note about spirals - Spirals are a very effective descent technique, but need to be practiced.  I recommend you get with your instructor, or better yet, an SIV coach, to practice ‘throttling’ your spirals so you can effectively modulate the G forces and descent rate.

Part 2 is located HERE.  If you have any suggestions, drop me a note.


Sally Loo's Cafe said...

My stomach dropped a bit when I read your title to your post. I don't like to think about 'when things go bad' especially when it concerns my dad.
I do love and cherish the way you have instilled a 'be prepared and keep your shit together' attitude in me. I think of different scenarios all the time in daily life.

thank you

love you

Tim O'Neill said...

Paternal *PRIDE* ;-)

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