Monday, July 21, 2014

Remembering

One year ago, an exceptional hang gliding pilot left us. Rest in peace, Luis.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

5 Days to go!

5 Days to until the start of the 2014 Belgian Hang Gliding Nationals. Let's hope the weather gods play along!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pre-worlds accident report

The Pre-worlds accident report has been published (also published on the OzReport). As you know, I stopped flying that competition after 2 tasks because I thought it was too risky. The reports mentions

Winds were shifty, and landing zones small and scarce.

Sounds like a fun place for competition flying! The report continues:

as was expected, several bad landings happened. Broken down bars, for instance, were in the 2 digit mark, but this is only speculation.

Nice to know it was expected. Then a summary of the accidents is presented. There is no evaluation in the report on whether those pilots were rather lucky or unlucky with the outcome of their incident. But I personally think we were rather lucky nothing worse happened during that week. The report also does not mention Christian's accident who crashed his glider at elevated speed on final glide (landing at an estimated 2700 m). Christian tore or damaged a tendon and was not able to continu.

Out of 75 pilots initially competing, at least 5 stopped flying due to injury. For each of the last 3 days out of the 7 day comp, more than 20 pilots did not fly. Is this really what we want for competition flying?

Valle de Bravo presents an environment demanding of the highest skill level. Reason for which - we consider, the competition was very first rate and extremely technical.

Is this what makes a comp first rate? I'd suggest the FAI thinks about our sport. Organising a Worlds has become too expensive and too time consuming, we're only an amateur sport. As a result there are few or no bids. Which results in places like Valle de Bravo (whilst very well suited for free flying during the right time of year) now being selected for our Worlds. Well, may the bravest win, I will not take part.

By now, the European comp season is heating up again and Jamie's organising the Flytec Americus Cup in Georgia, US. I wish you all the best of flying!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Task 3 - Decided to land

I've aborted task 3 after 20 minutes in the start cylinder. There are many contributing factors, but the bottom line is that it didn't make sense anymore to me. To be more specific:

  • The terrain is too high to my liking. We land our gliders at 1800 - 2500 m if we are in goal and possibly at 3000 m if we need to land out. Our gliders are not made for those thin air conditions. Many landings will be perfect, but I feel that if I continu to fly here, the chance for an accident is too high.
  • There had been talks about cancelling the results of task 2 after the double goal fiasco. So, what was I doing up there, competing while not being 100% OK with the safety situation and on top of that, the results risk being thrown away? (I fully support the organiser's extended goal cylinder solution, this is the solution which provides the most accurate results for the competition.)
  • I've got Rudy's very severe accident of 3 weeks ago in Belgium in my mind.
  • I'm not in a financial situation where, if I wreck my glider, I can just buy a new one.
  • What actually triggered the landing were two bad turbulences.

So, I'm taking it easy now. I'll just be a tourist for the next few days. And I won't forget the views of the volcano from 4500 m (with the business jet passing by on it's way to Toluca), or the view from straight above the town of Valle de Bravo with it's lake.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Busy days - 2 tasks done

It's busy here in Mexico. We head for launch at 9 AM and yesterday we were back at 8 PM, so it's hard to keep you updated...

But, we had 2 tasks until now. The first was a 108 km out and return task which took us to the foothills of the Nevado de Toluca, which is a huge volcano. We launch at 2400 m, but as the terrain rises towards the volcano, you find yourself flying over 3000 m high landing fields. I really don't want to land there, because the thinner air seriously increases your landing speed. It's hard enough at 2500 m already.

Anyway, the first task started well for me, but the whole middle section was slow. I lost half an hour on Christian, but ended up 7th, which was way better than expected.

Yesterday we had the second task, which took us around the volcano. Cloudbase was at 4400 m and that really gets to me. I actively remind myself to breathe deep and hold my breath for a short while to make sure I get enough oxygen in. It is special flying here.

Sadly, they made a huge mistake with the goal coordinates yesterday. We ended up with 2 goal fields 2,5 km apart: one defined by GPS coordinates and another with a physical line on the ground, Red Bull tents, music and a whole crowd. I made both, but a few only did the physical goal line. I fear there's always going to be somebody unhappy with whatever compromise we could get for the result and that the day will be canned after protests. It's a shame.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mexico - First days

Glider transport is always a bit tricky and I'm happy to report that my glider has arrived well and without major issues in Mexico. I feared the worst when they instructed me to go back to the departure hall after I had already been waiting for half an hour at the gate. But in the end, all went well. In Frankfurt, I met Johnny Nilssen and Genna Markhov, and we saw 7 gliders being loaded into the plane. This is how it looked at baggage claim for us:

Sunday started with carefully inspecting and unpacking the gliders, followed by a nice evening flight. It's a different world, here in Valle de Bravo. To start with, we're at 2000 m. There's also a non-stop procession of cars through the village, almost at walking pace, because of the uneven cobblestones. It makes me a bit short of breath. But, the city is very relaxed. There are food shops/stands everywhere you look and the central plaza really was alive on Sunday.

Back to flying. The altitude plays a role there as well. We launch at 2500 m. So we need more speed to take off. A good breeze or a good run is required. But we also land at 2000+ m. And that's more tricky. The extra speed requires a nice flare.

I tested my drogue chute on both landings and twice, it didn't open, which never happened to me before. On the first landing, I held my chute in my left hand for quite a while before releasing it. Because I flew with it for 2 minutes, the lines got entangled and created a number of knots. Of course, it didn't open anymore. But the flare was a beauty and I didn't have to walk the glider far ;-)

So yesterday, I wasn't going to make the same mistake and pulled the drogue way later. But I didn't pull it all the way out of the pocket before releasing it... So that didn't do anything either. The field was a bit downslope and it all ended in an unstable high flare, followed by a hard landing, just as Laurent did a few minutes earlier. Me and the glider are ok, but it's not the way I want to continue landing here.

Yesterday's flight was the first bit of XC flying here. Flying at 3000 m is low and I exited thermals at 3800 m, about 200 m below cloudbase, because I'm not adapted to the height yet. Let's see how it feels today! Competition starts on March 1st, so we still got a few practice days here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lufthansa takes gliders

Not a lot of airlines take gliders. The British are regularly using Virgin Atlantic and I just found out (thanks to Gordon and Regina) that Lufthansa takes them as sports equipment as well. Not cheap (400 Euros for an intercontinental out-and-return), but at least it is a way to get it across the pond!