Wednesday, February 7, 2007


Today’s task was a downwind dogleg to Quirindi. The turnpoint was inserted just to keep us out of the Tamworth airspace. It was a relatively short task of 60 miles, and we were expecting a moderate tailwind the whole way. Yesterday we didn’t fly due to strong north winds, and it overdeveloped in the afternoon with a strong line of thunderstorms that lasted into the evening. Today promised more possibility of overdevelopment and thunderstorms, hence the relatively short downwind task. The challenge today would be to get off the hill safely and get up and away. By the time we got up the hill there were small cumulus around, and even a towering one in the distance. The forecast was for northeast winds, but it was blowing mostly north on the hill with occasional cycles coming straight in from the west.

I was feeling a bit nervous about the task, mainly because I knew it might be hard to get up at the hill, and I didn’t want to end up in the bomb-out LZ. I’ve had a run of poor landings lately, and the bomb-out is tough at the best of times. I tried to remind myself that I have had good luck climbing out if it was at all soarable, and a nice line of clouds was starting to form out in front of launch, indicating good lift. As I got ready to go, pilots started to line up. I was a few places back in line, but everyone wanted to get off soon. There was a long delay while we waited for launchable conditions – it had been blowing almost due north most of the morning. Finally a nice cycle started and pilots started piling off. By the time it was my turn a few were climbing above the north spine and there were a line of gliders headed that way. I launched, turned right and followed them. As luck would have it I didn’t hook the climb, but watched the other pilots climb out above me. I moved further out front to try and find something, but to no avail. Now I was north of the official bomb-out, and low. Several paraglider pilots had landed in a paddock just out front, and rather than working my way back to the bomb-out I flew out over the paddock to see if anything was triggering off there. I didn’t find anything, and since there was no windsock in this field I yelled down to the pilots on the ground to give me the wind direction. I didn’t get any signal from them, so I assumed that it was still north and set up my approach that way. Later I learned that the pilots had yelled the wind direction back to me, not realizing that due to the wind noise you can’t hear voices from the ground in a hang glider. Too late I discovered I was downwind. I was headed straight for a large pile of rocks at the end of the field. I tried to avoid the rocks and I tried to flare, but everything was happening fast. I pounded in hard just in front of the rocks, banging my right knee hard on a rock that had escaped from the pile. Amazingly both I and my glider escaped relatively unscathed. I ended up with a large hematoma on my knee and the glider got a small ding on the leading edge near the nose plate. I was feeling very lucky, but also very frustrated for getting myself in that position.

I find that landings seem to run in cycles for me. If I am landing well, I seem to have good landings no matter how challenging the conditions, but when I am landing poorly it is devilishly hard to break the cycle. It is surely a psychological phenomenon, but of course the psychological challenges of flying are the ones I am struggling with right now. In any case I will have a few days to relax and think about it while I give my knee a rest.

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