March 17th, 2005 St Patti’s Day
Zillertal Austria… beautiful day… time to fly my paraglider.
Launch site: Rastkogel – southwest of Penken
Launch: 2100 meters, 6900 feet.
I’m flying with a local guide. We arrive at the top and its time for the briefing. He has already shown me the landing sites. Wow, it’s actually pretty windy up here – wind from the west, northwest at about 15kph at launch. Guide says if it gets any windier than this we aren’t flying. The commercial tandem pilots taking up skiers are barely penetrating into the wind higher up and they carry the weight of 2 people. Still, the thermals, [rising warm air that take a glider up up and away] are working – the ‘house thermal’ is located. Going up today before I go down. Awesome!
Briefing: There is a lot of wind – and wind and flying in the Alps don’t mix. It can kill you. Stay out away from the hill and away from the lee of the hill, there, there and there. Also, it’s bumpy out there, this is what we call an ‘all hands on deck – active and not passive flying day. Darrell you must fly very actively today, every second be in total control. No relaxing. Total concentration. Mind focused. Fly smart.
You will need to bury the brakes when the wing the surges forward to keep it from giving you a frontal wing collapse where you drop out of the sky like a lead weight. It’s very warm in the valley. The sun is down right hot – but the air at 2100 meters is cool. They are going to be small rising thermals, but harsh and bumpy – especially with all this wind.
Hmm, I haven’t flown in ages. I flew once in Scotland the Ochils in October and one top to bottom glide in Feb in cold and non-thermic air – straight glide down. No really flying. Falling in style.
I am rusty and out of practice, and anyway, last season I was just starting to get the hang of thermal flying and climbing. I was hardly good at it. Think Darrell, be conscious of what you know, and don’t know, and remember the way thermals work. Fly actively but not ‘ham-fisted’. Don’t over do it. I need to apply more brake and really dampen the forward wing surges, more dampening than I did last May at Killin Scotland when I had my full frontal wing collapse. I can do this. I remember. Ok, I’m ready.
Launch: Ok, not my best but fine. Now out and away from the hill toward the house thermal and… Woaaa… a giant vacuum cleaner is trying to suck my wing’s leading edge out in front of me and pull it straight down, and it’s a bit bumpy and windy too. Scary. Dampen brakes hard to keep the wing overhead, and then whack – I ran into the front face of something… oh wow it’s the thermal, a column of warm rising air cutting upward through the cold mountain air, like a riptide of air upward. It’s an elevator ride up… BEEEEEEEEP-uupppp goes my flying instrument (7m a second upward). Woah, rocket up, climbing, but it IS bumpy. Getting tossed around a bit.
I have to let up on my brakes more quickly from my damping in the pre-thermal wing surge or I’ll be in big trouble. It felt a little funny when I hit the column of air, wing went a little too far back [toward a ‘stall’] for my liking. I’m a little slow letting up on the brakes and when I hit the thermal it really pushes my wing backward. If I’m flying slow and near a stall and this happens – look out! It’ll be the devil to pay.
So, over and over again, feel the surge, bury the brakes to damp, then try to feel the timing, to release them, and then smack, hit the thermal and climb. It’s not pretty, but I’m getting it. Kind of like riding a bull through. But, I’m hanging on to the take of this dragon.
30 minutes of this… very active flying. I have never flown this actively or had to focus on my flying this much. Never. It ain’t smooth but I’m in control, I think. I don’t quite have the feel to keep the wing smooth and steady above my head, but hey, I’m in control and the wing is more or less doing what I ask it. I’m am flying it, it is not flying me. I think.
But boy is it bumpy up here for my level of flying experience and current lack of practice. But OK. I’m getting climbs – from 2100m at launch up to 2550m (back down to 2250 then up again) until I have to leave the thermal and press forward into the valley to avoid the lee of the hill. That would be disastrous to get sucked back over the hill. People die that way. I learnt my lesson last year at Avdou. Leave the thermal and push out into the valley and avoid the hill. A friend smashed into the hill last year and he is now in a wheelchair permanently.
I am high and the thermals are out there for good climbs, and I can get back to the house thermal with my height and catch it again and get even higher… I’m pushing into the wind forward, pushing slowly forward, headwind a little overly strong, but pushing…
Woaaaaa, my leading edge is exploding forward and straight downward toward the ground. That’s not supposed to happen. Bury the brakes really hard, push more and more…. Woaah it’s bumpy and this is going to be a big thermal ahead. Nope. I need to get out of here now! In over my head.
Weight-shift right and a little more brake… oh no… not good… I forgot to let up on the break first and get the wing flying at full speed after that monster wall of air, and my dampening. Smack – just ran into that wall of air again…
Hey what the…, God or somebody just grabbed me by the back of my neck and slung me backward, – what’s this…? I’m falling out of the sky like a rock. Crap.
Woosh, one. Woosh two. What is this? Oh, I know what this is, it’s a collapsed wing and a spin, or a negative spin I think they call it, since I’m spinning backward toward the ground.
Right, ok now what do I do to get out of this? I have loads of height – no need to panic. Now what is it you do to get out of a spin?
I don’t know, I can’t remember. Bob talked to me about this on the day of the pilot exam didn’t he, I’m sure he did… woosh at least three times around then woosh 4 again and again (maybe up to six before I get out of it)… now what do I do, I’m sure pulling half way on the brake like I am doing now isn’t doing a thing to help me. Maybe I pump the brake… woosh, woosh – backward. This is not good. I am in trouble.
Whew. Great news, I no longer need to worry about getting out of a spin. I’m no longer in one. The slight pumping action instead, took the one wing tip – I cannot remember but I think might have been the left one – and tucked it all the way through the lines into the right side. I’m not spinning any longer, I’m flying on half a wing and am now locked into a nose over spiral dive, a ‘death spiral’ they call it, with a 40-50% of my wing tucked into what they call a cravet.
Round and round and the G’s I’m pulling are getting stronger and stronger. Force my hand forward to find the reserve parachute handle. Found it, but hey, let’s not panic. I’m still really really high, maybe 3k meters, and nowhere near the hill. I’m out over the valley. Good let’s try to get this cravet, this collapsed and tangled mess of the wing, out and start flying. Which line do I tug at, try this one and now this one… no luck.
It’s time for a full stall again but this one on purpose – to get me out of this mess. I remember what I was taught. Everything now in slow motion. Training kicking in… That’s how you do it.
Let’s puulllll and bury the break handles…Woaaah I’m stalling, falling backward out of the sky… OH WOW a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bag of laundry above my head [oh, no, that’s right, that’s my wing above my head, or is it behind my head…? Can’t tell. I’m dropping like a ton of bricks backward out of the sky.
Now what do I do… oh yea, remember not to let up on the breaks too soon. Oh no, my arms just went limp, just a little, not too much but just a little. Too limp too soon – wing surge again… I can’t stop it – bang – a full frontal collapse again. Dropping again, and then all of a sudden, bang – woosh…
Hey I’m out of it, and flying again, straight and proper – still high and bang – I hit a huge thermal and am now climbing again, a fast elevator up, up, and away.
Ok. I’m Ok. Hey I’m not even sick like last year when I puked in my face-mask and all over myself. I can keep flying, active flying the whole time of course. 2300m back up to 2500m, back down to 2300m, back up to 2500m. 20 or 25 more minutes.
UGH… after 30 minutes I can now feel the adrenalin subsiding in my body – weird feeling. Oh, hmm… A funny feeling creeping into the tummy. Woah, a cold sweat starting. I recognize this. Better land now before I puke pretzels and Landjäger sausage all over Mayrhoffen…
What is it about extreme sports? Why do we do them? Its dangerous. Why not just play a board game? Why risk everything? What do you think…?