Sunday Evening Thoughts


A fellow pilot recently asked me about my flight, wanting to know how long it lasted and how many steps it took to launch. I was taken aback, having never been asked about my steps to launch. It actually took me three and I was ashamed it was so few as the more steps the clearer it is that I am keeping my nose down and waiting for the glider to fly itself. I shared this with the fellow pilot and he was a bit perplexed at my answer. I have a friend who died because he had a well known tendency to push out at launch to get in the air more quickly. Please, take as many steps as you can, keeping the glider nose down. See you in the air.

I usually try to keep my feet on the ground for two extra steps once it starts to lift me during the launch run.

There's more than one way to launch, depending on conditions, the pilots skill level and choice of kite, and who's watching.

  We all should want to set a good example, so if there are H-2's present it is a good idea to let them know beforehand just what type of launch you wish to demonstrate, being sure to make it clear that they either should or shouldn't emulate you.

  What I'm getting at here is that there is a launching style that is a lot of fun for the well experienced advanced rated pilot, that while fun for me and you, shouldn't be practiced by those with lesser skill and experience.

  Here's the scenario: I weigh 145 lbs. and I have a large single surface glider, one that is well known for it's good roll rate and response time. I'm standing on Crestline launch, it's blowing in steadily at 15+, and sunset is a half hour away. In other words, it's the wonderful "glass-off" condition for which Crestline is famous.

  I decide it's time to go for it. I let the nose up gently, and as the glider starts tugging I lean forward, slowly going to a semi-prone attitude. I take my time, feeling out just how much lift the old Harrier is getting, and the lift vector, often referred to as "ramp suck", starts pulling me forward.

  The beauty of this is the slo-motion of it, what normally takes one second now takes several, I get to really relish the process of leaving the planet and taking to the sky, a most wonderful moment in my life. ( insert John Gillespie Jr. here).

  As the glider starts pulling me forward, I relax to finger-tip pressure on the down tubes, alert to any tendency for the glider to bank or yaw, and  as I pick up a few knots of groundspeed and thus airspeed from falling forward, I gently fly away and upward into the glass smooth slope lift. It's rare, but sometimes not a step is taken, and in fact I've done this with one foot already in the harness boot. Just for the fun of it I've bent my knees a bit and actually jumped off the mountain, momentarily proving wrong the statement "No, we don't jump" often spoken when conversing with whuffos. (A note to newbies: A "whuffo" is someone at the launch site asking "wuffo you do this, wuffo you do that?" )

  But of course I don't want to give the idea that this is the way to launch for those not ready for it, so I try to make sure that anyone watching is experienced enough to understand the situation. You know, "Monkey see Monkey do", which is why I now no longer perform past vertical wangs over the LZ, as I have no way of knowing who might be watching and getting the idea that maybe they oughta try it. 

  When novices are present the only way to do it is to run down the ramp with the nose pulled down enough to prevent lift-off until I've reached min sink speed + 2 mph at least. Novices need to understand that roll control is at a premium when flying low, and that the lower the angle-of-attack the better the roll response, and having some extra airspeed in the bank can allow for a brief climb if the rocks get too close for comfort.

  I think that the experienced and skilled pilots would do well for themselves and others by always pretending to be an instructor making a demonstration of the safest way to launch a hang glider. Take the time to really think about what you're doing, and put your best foot forward, as if the launch is being recorded and observed by experts that will hold up signs with numbers on them. Always try for that perfect score, demonstrating good control of pitch and roll, and never hesitate to admit it when you don't get it right, as your ego is a minor sacrifice to make as you strive for a perfectly controlled launch every time, and ALWAYS with a little extra airspeed in the bank, "Just in case I need it".

  It's all fun until somebody gets hurt. So practice practice practice, but make sure you aren't practicing the wrong thing.I know from experience that old habits die hard, so don't let bad habits become old habits. Your ego can be your worst enemy.