This morning’s forecast looked pretty much perfect. Last night, however, I noticed that the Nova Bion I had been demo’ing had had the sheathing on one of its brake cables come open. This might not prove an issue, as it is the internals that bear the load, but as such a novice pilot I felt the gamble nonsensical and declined to fly. Perhaps if I had many more flights under my belt and were supremely confident in my ability to steer and land with the rear risers then I would have deemed the risk reasonable, but that’s not me today. Instead I went to Superfly first thing this morning to pick up my own brand new Bion that had finally arrived after being marooned in customs for some time owing to someone having lost a decimal place, causing the purported fee to go from $110 to $11000.
Chris went out in front of the store with me where I unpacked the wing and he inflated it to perform some last minute acceptance testing. It did indeed appear to be a paragliding wing and I was grateful for his diligence. Proper wing function, along with pilot skill, combine to make the difference between joy and tragedy.
After packing up and paying up I headed over to FPS where the wind was blowing a bit too intensely for top-hill play but was reasonable for the training hill. I first inflated the wing in the parking lot and felt it out for a bit. The handling is a bit different owing to it being a 37 m^2 setup versus the 41 I had been training on. After this preliminary experimentation I began a trek up the hill with a mix of wing hauling and uphill kiting. I got myself to a point where I could do a baby flight with my feet just barely off the ground to convince myself that in fact it was a wing. It was.
After some lunch and administrivia I came back to FPS ~1530. I hiked fairly far up the training hill at the outset and then did some uphill kiting to arrive at a reasonable-ish launch point. Ideally I would have hiked farther up but I wasn’t doing a great job at keeping my wing airborne for extended periods and kept getting it entangled in brush so decided to go for it. I was just a bit too low to plug into the lift band and slowly but surely sunk out. My landing and deflation were clean. I looked at my watch and found I had ~30 minutes until sunset and so balled up the wing and hiked the switchback up to the shelf for another go.
From the shelf I worked at uphill kiting as long as I could before the setting sun nudged me toward a second and final flight. Something started to click in my brain around inflating with just the center As and leveraging precisely timed uphill steps as a brake analogue to depower the wing before it got too high while also claiming some uphill progress. I still have a lot of work to do to perform this in a nuanced fashion but the gross movements started to make sense in my brain.
Eventually I said to myself “alright, time to fly, clean Vs on the brakes, bring it up”, the wing came up, I stabilized with brakes, I spun around, stepped forward to keep pace with the wing, looked to my left to confirm a clean brake line configuration and… crap, somehow I had wrapped the brake line around the risers. I was already trotting downhill to keep pace with the wing as I flung the left brake toggle around the risers and re-grabbed it in a clean configuration. No sooner had I corrected this problem did the wing loft me off the ground at which point I realized the the right brake toggle was in a similar state. I ensured that my trajectory was squared with the fall line of the hill, released the brake toggle, slapped it so it would spin around the risers, re-grabbed it, and then was on my way. Later I would have time to be annoyed with myself but in the moment it was just rapid fire problem solving that rested on a bedrock of training that offered enough fault tolerance to muddle through the situation. Having spent most of my altitude untangling my brake cables I banked left then right then came in for a landing and then forward kited until I reached my car.
- My training has provided a collection of skills that gives me wide margins to deal with a variety of hairy situations
- I really don’t want to squander those margins unnecessarily because sometimes multiple uncontrollable things will go wrong and in those situations I want all the controllable things to have gone right
- I need to ensure that I’m running my entire safety check more regularly instead of assuming that a recent full check and subsequent partial ones are adequate because some steps are tightly coupled (e.g. carabiner position and clean Vs on brake lines)