I did not imagine flying today as the forecast looked fairly banana pants at the outset. As the day panned out, however, some hope glimmered and I kept my radar perked up for potential. Shortly before 1600 Ariel remarked that conditions had become really nice and that I ought hurry over to FPN. I thus wrapped up some work, suited up in adequately warm clothes, and zipped on over.
On my drive I noted a distinct lack of wings in the air. This had me imagining that things had trended back toward the excessively spicy. In fact the opposite was true. By the time I arrived at ~1620 the wind had attenuated to the point that most pilots were packing it up. The windsock seemed to indicate moderate intensity (8kts?),a fair amount of directional variability, and a bit of gustiness.
I unpacked my wing and harness from the sack, spread the wing fully out, hooked into my harness, and ran through the usual preflight safety checks. Configured for a reverse inflation I stepped back enough to build a wall but immediately regretted not just going for a full launch as the wind dropped off and the leading edge flopped over forward. I heaved backward once more, this time with authority, and… the wing just dragged. Guh. With such marginal and variable wind I debated doing a forward inflation but instead decided to just do a reverse inflation with greater attention to the wind strength of the moment and an intention to turn and burn immediately. This proved a workable approach. As the wing came overhead it began dumping leftward but I spun forward immediately, ran laterally to get under it, and then began sprinting toward the cliff.
My forward kiting proved uneventful right up until the point of launch. Just as I was getting tugged airborne by my harness I had a “uhhhhhh this feels a little weird” moment but it was late enough that aborting would have assured a hot mess of tumbling backward down a bramble-filled hill if I was lucky and a launch-then-crash mess if I was not so I just rolled with it. After getting aloft I found that snugging my hips back into harness with one hand was unusually difficult so I ensured that I was pointed squarely away from the hill then used both hands to effect the maneuver before banking into my first turn.
The wind of the moment proved moderately complex. I kept thinking I might get enough loft to perform a top-landing and yet the wind consistently attenuated in a way that kept it just out of reach. It also seemed on multiple occasions to suddenly shut off, causing my wing to want to surge past the 12 o’clock position, but I was always on the guard for this and applied enough brake to prevent shenanigans. In any case, I found myself a bit uncomfortable with how turbulent things felt and so instead of making a few more passes and hoping to top-land I opted to sink out.
To that end I took a descending westward track to bleed off most of my altitude, swung eastward for a base leg, and then… found myself sinking out faster than I expected, presumably owing either to the highly variable wind having shut off at just the worst time and/or the wind lower down being generally weaker. This was not a huge issue as I was highly confident that I could land on the leftward portion of the large berm at the bottom of the hill and worst case scenario perhaps come up a bit short of this and land on a slightly downward sloping bit. Shortly before landing I found myself imagining that the latter scenario would be my situation but the wind turned on again just before touchdown, allowing me to extend my glide to the upward sloping portion. I touched down gently, began jogging forward to clear some bushes, spun around to a reverse kiting position, began deflating the wing in a way that looked like it would be really clean, and… OOF. I tripped over a bush behind me and tumbled over backward. The wing came down in a nice crescent but draped over a couple of bushes. Alas. So close to elegance but it was not meant to be.
After collecting myself I went to unhook my harness and… well, fuck oh dear, in fact my left leg buckle was already undone. That no doubt explained the weird sensation and slightly messy experience I had on launch. WTF. My harness is triply redundant owing to not just two independent leg straps but also torso strap, and yet FUCK, I don’t want to squander any of my safety margins. I messaged Ben, wondering if maybe I had gotten some ice or snow into the buckle in a way that was temporarily deceptive. He mentioned that a small bit of clothing was the most likely culprit and suggested that I give the harness a few test hookups at home to ensure that it seemed to be functioning reasonably.
After I packed up my wing a hang-glider pilot drove over in his truck and asked if I wanted a ride up. I graciously declined on the grounds that hiking back to the top would be my exercise of the day. I spent the return trek reflecting on what I could do differently to prevent this wasteful expenditure of safety margins in the future. A few things came to mind:
- Be a lot more careful where/how I put my harness down on the ground
- Be a lot more aggressive in how I inspect the state of harness buckles
- Be a lot more suspicious of novel circumstances (e.g. snow in the launch area)