April 2009

Monthly Archive

Thursday, 9th April 2009

09 Apr 2009 | : Boring stuff

We get back to the UK after a week where people have flown 160km (well done John, Andy and Jean-Luc) and what happens… it’s raining and a howling gale! I’m not blaming us. It’s all the people who said “Bring back some Spanish weather with you.” It started raining there continuously the day after we left, so we did indeed bring it here with us.

Wednesday, 8th April 2009

09 Apr 2009 | : Boring stuff

We arrived at Geoff’s brother’s house late, but had time for a quick whiskey and then off to bed. 30-something hours in the van and we were exhausted. We spent the day with Ken, Liz and Molly and then headed off back to Norbury. Now unpacking…

Tuesday, 7th April 2009

08 Apr 2009 | : Flying, France

Driving back to the UK┬átoday we have been reflecting on the course. It was absolutely brilliant. I had assumed that I would just be taken through a series of maneuvers, like ticking off boxes, but that isn’t Fabien’s way. He made sure that we got the basics right first and the progressed each of us at the right level. He pushes you when you need it, but will allow you to back off if you want to. Having been through the course I feel more confident to deal with incidents generally and I have lots of ideas for skills to practise when I have height.

In hindsight, maybe I should have pushed myself more to do more maneuvers faster, but I discovered a lot about myself; both as a pilot and as a person. I really need to ease myself out of my comfort zone gently as far as SIV is concerned. In my heart I am still a hang glider pilot and I think it will take a lot more experience on a paraglider to convince me than all this collapsing is fine. Acro is definitely not for me.

I also learned huge amounts about the glider and my harness. We have a copy of the videos of all our maneuvers and I will be studying these in the coming weeks to learn more. I wish we could have also videoed all the talks and debriefs. Fabien gave us a huge amount of information and I wish we could have recorded more of it for posterity. Despite the fact that I was very nervous before the course, sometimes terrified during it, and very relieved when it was over, I am really, really pleased I did it. I couldn’t recommend it more.

Flyeo were a great company. Fabien is a fantastic instructor. Always smiling, he knows so much about gliders and he inspires huge confidence. We were amazed how he could instruct us on tiny details from 1000 feet below, being able to observe and correct us just by looking at little creases in the canopies, shadows, hand movements, etc. The whole set up was mega professional and ran like clockwork. Gil and Jeremy, our marshal and driver, were lovely and clearly the whole team work well together to make the operation seamless.

Finally, it was really nice to spend the weekend with such a nice bunch of people. I’d never met Cris or Richard before, but as a group we really gelled. All of us were there to learn and supported and encouraged each other. There was no machismo and everybody was quite open about any nerves or concerns. Having the others on hand to be able to ask questions or getting tips (like standing up before your b-line stall) was great. We all had a laugh as well as learning a lot. Roll on the reunion in Piedrahita. I think it’s Tony’s round….

Monday, 6th April 2009

08 Apr 2009 | : Flying, France

De-brief with Fabien.My programme for today included a twist, B-line stall, accelerated collapse, autorotation and finding the negative spin point. Geoff was doing similar stuff, but no twists. All the others had progressed onto stalls and spins. I changed my speedbar and then headed out to do my twist. Everyone else I’ve ever seen doing a twist made in look effortless, they just spun around and flew backwards. I mean, how hard can it be? I yanked and pushed, pulled and prodded and didn’t even get a quarter of the way round before flipping back into the correct flying position. I was grunting like a weightlifter giving birth but no way could I twist myself round. I still couldn’t find the speedbar, so on to the B-line. I liked it. Nice and gentle, not scary, just the kind of SIV I like.

I was disappointed with my performance the previous day, when I really discovered my inner wimp, so I decided that I didn’t come all this way just to piddle about, and I decided to just go for it. I pitched the glider properly, whacked the collapse in and did a big autorotation. What I forgot to do in the excitement was to bend my knees. The pod and your outstretched legs cause a big pivot effect, so you swing more violently, making twists more likely. Seeing the video later really reinforced this. I did a few exercises to find the spin point of my glider, by progressively burying the brake (“More, more, more, Judith, more brake!”), until the glider deforms and starts going backwards. You then let your hands up symmetrically and damp the dive. I did manage to fix the speed bar and did the accelerated collapses, but realised that my pod wasn’t properly connected so bending my knees was made much more difficult.

The other guys were getting to grips with the stalls and we made the mistake of standing on launch watching. Nigel’s stall and subsequent thrashing about looked scary; as did Pat’s. I learned over the weekend that Richard is a man who doesn’t do things by halves. In terms of SIV, he is all the things I am not. On the way up I was saying to him that it would be interesting to see how his stall worked out given how radically he had done all the other maneuvers. Possibly the wrong thing to say….

He did an autorotation, but got a cravat. To get it out he did a full stall twice, but it didn’t come out. Fabien said to get ready to use his reserve, but by the time he’d finished the sentence, Richard had thrown it, pulled in the main canopy and landed gently in the water. Textbook stuff. He was rescued instantly and turned up at the landing field in his underpants. The beers were on him this evening!

Pat’s second flight also made for interesting viewing. Despite concentrating on not letting off the stall asymmetrically it came out that way and the pivot motion of the pod put him in a double twist with the glider not recovered. He sorted it all out fine and landed with a small cravat.

Before my last flight we had fixed in my cocoon properly, but made it too short, so I couldn’t get my legs in properly. I spent so much time trying to undo the buckles to release the straps that I didn’t have time to practise more stuff. I was gutted.

Cris, meanwhile, had taken off after me and was practising finding the spin point. He then did another stall and a perfectly controlled tail slide, but had a cravat when coming out. By the time he had recovered it he was too low to reach the landing field. Fabien told him to head back over the lake and placed the boat underneath him. Cris executed a perfect landing and Fabien powered up the boat and they flew the glider all the way to the shore. Coolest thing I have ever seen.

As soon as we got back to the HQ, we all realised just how exhausted we were. The lads had to leave at 6pm to get their plane, so we said our goodbyes. We drive to Dieppe tonight to catch the ferry back to the UK tomorrow.

Sunday, 5th April 2009

08 Apr 2009 | : Flying, France

Our tasks for day two all involved collapses. I wasn’t so worried about this part of the course because it isn’t so violent and it seems the most relevant to me. First exercise was inducing a frontal, by pulling down both A risers. As usual, my first attempt was a little hesitant, so I got to do it a second time – lucky me! Tony showed us all up by not pulling the risers, but pulling the centre A lines only. The glider shrimped (a big horseshoe, where the tips touch in front of you). I’m not sure if it looked more impressive or scary.

The second exercise was to induce a big collapse and fly with it, steering straight and then doing 360 degree turns into the open side and then into the collapsed side. It’s just like flying normally, and I could have happily done just this exercise for the rest of the course, but Fabien had other ideas. Next came dynamic collapses. We had to start a big oscillation and on the forward pitch, you grabbed one of the A risers and yanked it, causing the collapse, then correcting the rotation, and getting out the collapse. Next was collapse with full speed bar (not for me though! I couldn’t find my speedbar despite an extended rummage in my harness).

Then we did autorotation. This involves pitching, inducing the collapse on the swing forward and holding it to get into a rotation which you need to then sort out. I discovered on this exercise how strong my subconscious self-preservation instinct really is. Reluctant as ever to really go for it, I wasn’t pitching enough (“More, more, more, Judith, more brake!”) to really get the swing on the collapse, and I would then unintentionally keep a little inside break on, which dampens the rotation straight away. So I did the right thing for the real situation, but the purpose of the exercise was, of course, to do things full pelt in a safe environment to learn stuff. The other thing I was finding difficult was the co-ordination thing. I’ve always thought of myself as having quite good general co-ordination, but making your hands do different things and then remembering to pull my knees up at the same time, proved to be quite a challenge for me. Pulling your knees up is really important if you fly a pod harness, for reasons we were to discover later.

Meanwhile, Geoff was getting the bigger picture a lot better than me and was trying to do the maneuvers more radically, despite the fact that it’s more difficult to bend a 1/2 glider out of shape than a higher performance glider. On his last flight he was doing one more autorotation when his radio failed. He was supposed to only do one rotation and then recover, instead he did four, waiting for the instruction to pull out. Fabien meanwhile was shouting for him to pull out, then to pull his reserve. On the fourth rotation Geoff realised that he was very low, pulled out elegantly, but just in time. One more turn and he would have plopped straight into the water. On top, our launch marshal, Gil, was saying that he though someone was in trouble. When asked how he knew, he pointed out that you could hear the outboard in the background of the radio transmissions. Fabien was calling to Geoff to abandon his landing and go for the water, but not having heard him, and given how much Geoff hates cold water, he went for a downwind landing beyond the river instead. He only just managed to scrape onto dry land. A cut eyebrow was the only damage, and he got a ride in the boat as it was easier to collect him by water than walk out and be collected by car.

We headed back for the de-brief and had an individual planning session for what we would do on our final day. By this time, we could see what Fabien was trying to achieve. All the maneuvers end with a big surge, so if you can control the pitch, control the rotation and maintain your course, then you have the basics for a recovery from most problems. Building up our skills to reinforce these lessons allowed us to progress to the next level with each exercise.

Unfortunately, Tony had to go back to work, so couldn’t do a third day and we had to say good bye to him.

Saturday, 4th April 2009

08 Apr 2009 | : Flying, France

Eight musketeers...We met up with the guys at Irwyn Jehu’s house on Friday night and reported to Flyeo at 8am this morning for our equipment check and safety briefing. There are eight of us doing the SIV/pilotage course: Tony Blacker, Richard Butterworth, Pat Dower, Cris Miles, Nigel Prior, Roger Purnelle, Geoff and me.

I’ve been very nervous in the run up to the course, and Geoff and I have discussed our fears and what we hope to achieve this weekend. I am terrified of doing a full stall and getting it wrong, and Geoff will do pretty much anything not to have to throw his chute and land in water. Having talked to lots of people about their SIV experience, I’m not really sure what to expect, but I haven’t set my pod up properly, believing that I’ll have to take it off for the course, and I have asked to do certain manouvers which I’ll need for the advanced pilot exam. Within the group we are all experienced XC and/or comp pilots, but Geoff and I are the least experienced in radical conditions on a paraglider. Suddenly, starting hang gliding again seems like a quite good idea.

Our instructor is Fabien Blanco, test, acro and competition pilot. He wants us to do the course with exactly the set up we usually fly with (minus instruments). Three of us have cocoon harnesses, which he says will add to the entertainment factor. It hadn’t occurred to me that flying with a pod makes a big difference when doing maneuvers. He talked us all through the safety briefing and spoke to us individually about what we want to achieve. Our first tasks were to practise our pitching, so pulling the brakes until the glider is behind you, then releasing it and letting it pitch forward, then braking hard again to get an oscillation. When I first started paragliding, Len Hull drummed into me that hands up meant life and hands down meant death. I never knew how ingrained that lesson had become. Fabien had his work cut out trying to get me to resist the urge constantly to dampen out the pitch and fly normally again. His mantra became “More, more, more, Judith, more brake!”. Next came spiralling and exiting the spiral fast, with a big pitch movement on exit. It took me a lot of attempts (“More, more, more, Judith, more brake!”), but eventually I did lock in and felt myself being pushed into the back of the harness. I know now that the couple of times I thought I had done a spiral in the past, it was a steep 360 at best. On the video it looks pretty tame in comparison to the others, but I did manage to do it in the end. I also now know why I used to stick to steep 360s… I hate the high G stuff. I find it disorientating and it makes me feel sick.

Roger was the action man of the day. On his first flight, Fabien told him to to turn by pulling on his right brake. He yanked it down with conviction and did a helicopter!

After three flights we headed back to HQ to watch the videos of our three flights and to have a thorough de-brief. We didn’t finish until 8pm and after twelve hours, lots of adrenaline and sunshine, I was exhausted and very, very hungry. The pizza went down a treat and we all headed to bed ready for day two.

Friday, 3rd April 2009

03 Apr 2009 | : Flying, France

Flying high over Lake Annecy.We woke up to sunshine and clouds burning off. After a leisurely breakfast we headed to Talloires and Jerome from Flyeo confirmed that the forecast was very, very good. Cumulus were popping off and it was looking like an epic day. Only problem was that we were the only ones there! Each day there have been people already flying at Plan Fait when we arrived (even yesterday when it was nearly clagged in), but today, not a soul, either on launch, in the cafe, waiting for a lift. We hung out waiting to grab a lift with someone, but by 12.15pm we were getting fidgety. A cheery ‘Hello’ behind us revealed Tony Blacker, and we decided to go up with him, although as we were getting the cars sorted we got a lift up with Flyeo instead. People lobbed off and got straight up. I assumed it would be a bit rough, with the sky being as it was, but it looked pretty smooth from launch. Tony launched and climbed up the mountain. Geoff and I took a lot longer, in weak thermals, until I flew around the north side of the ridge and hit strong lift. I climbed up the rocks, but didn’t let myself go all the way to base, as it was very sucky and people were going in an out, one set nearly hitting each other when one big-eared out just about on top of the other. There seemed to be paragliders everywhere you looked around the lake. I flew out into the valley to the north east and then back out to the lake, then hit mega sink and decided to take it down to the landing, to chill out before the big SIV excitement starts tomorrow. Excellent day, stunning views and a real pleasure to be in the air.

See photos of today.

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