Safety Notes–Sept 2020

By Brian Stewart on  September 23, 2020 17:56

Safety Notes September 2020


Does the Peter Principle apply to Paragliding? The idea of the Peter Principle comes from a satirical book written by Raymond Hull, based on Laurence Peter’s research. Simply put, it states that in hierarchies, people will be promoted to their level of incompetence, where they languish until they leave or retire. So, you do well at making widgets and get promoted to chief widget maker. If you continue to do this well, you might rise to a position supervising all the widget makers. But your widget-making skills don’t help you in your new HR role, so you are judged to be a rubbish manager, and go no further.

When it comes to buying paragliders, there’s a tendency to promote yourself to the next level of wing. You leave the school with your beginner wing, get on with the local coaches and soon feel ready to step up to a B. Wow! What an improvement in performance – suddenly you’re leaving the hill, but then start fretting about not keeping up with the others. Solution: a C or even a D wing. Maybe that will be fine, and you’ll be ok with this, but what if your skills aren’t ready for this step? Potentially, this could mean a bad accident; or maybe you scare yourself enough to stop flying.

At some point we will all reach a level of incompetence – whether that relates to the wing we fly or the conditions we are willing to tackle – even the sky gods aren’t invulnerable. The hard part is recognising our own limitations and choosing our equipment and risk margin accordingly.

We’ve had some very strong winds lately, and it’s good to see that there are many pilots prepared to walk back down the hill even when there are paragliders in the air. Paragliding is truly a sport where you are responsible for your own decisions, and acquiring the mental attitude that you won’t be sucked into launching by peer pressure is a vital part of your skill-set.

On that note, one of our members was flying in the strong winds on Parlick on Monday 21st. Finding he had very little forward speed he opted to go to the landing field after half an hour. Finding he was still going backwards as he set up over the road at the junction, he had to abandon his plan to land in the corner of the correct field and put down on the other side of the road, in the Wolf Hall field. All was fine, but he knew he shouldn’t be there and quickly bundled everything up and threw it over the gate into the landing field and started packing, just as a quad bike roared up the lane, and its rider spent a few minutes looking around, before giving up and riding off. Maybe coincidence, but it seemed that he was looking for whoever had just landed. So, please take note: set up early, assess the wind speed while well upwind, and don’t push yourself into a tight corner by the road. And if you do overcook it, get out of the wrong field ASAP or prepare for an awkward conversation.

Tight lines


Safety Notes August 2020

By Brian Stewart on  August 6, 2020 20:36


Radios – who needs ‘em? Distracting chatter, something else to go wrong etc. Well, there I was focused on tagging cylinder 9 and getting low. Since it was a busy day, I thought all I had to do was look around to find someone going up, and go to them…. Where is everyone? Then I saw the red helicopter approaching the hill from beyond the glider club. My first thought was ‘why did no-one radio’? The realised the wire dangling from my headset wasn’t actually connected to anything. So, 2 black marks for the safety officer: 1. Not completing my pre-flight check (Radio connected and checked is No 6 on my list) and 2. Not having a functioning radio when it could have been critical to clear the air. Fortunately, no harm done as I was as far away from the helimed’s approach path as possible on the day, but it could have been very different if the medics had been unable to land.

The incident itself raised a couple of issues. The walking party called 999 but there seems to have been some confusion about their location and some delay before one of our pilots was able to talk on the phone to the operator and give a precise location. This emphasises the need for someone to take charge at an incident and direct the flow of information to a delegated person capable of communicating with the relevant services. We will be putting on a First Aid course over the winter (social distancing rules permitting) and one of the key elements of this will be organising an incident scene.

The current restrictions seem to have coincided with a rash of new faces on our sites. Many of these are seasoned pilots who can no longer travel as far as they used to to fly, but some are relative beginners and unfamiliar with busy sites. Be aware that some of these may hold no pilot qualifications or third-party insurance. Such individuals are a perennial issue, and we hope that all our members can do their bit by persuading them that the benefits of joining BHPA and PSC are worth the modest cost. On the day of the incident there were maybe 50 gliders in the air at times, and there were plenty of examples of downwind slope landings, blow-backs over the bowl and careless turning. It’s in all of our interests to do our best to ensure that everyone with whom we share the air has at least CP-level of competence.

On strong days on Parlick, it’s common for PG pilots to launch below the top, sometimes well below the wall. Please remember that HG pilots will still be launching from the top or possibly over-shooting a failed top landing. A conflict between a HG and a PG popping up vertically in their path doesn’t bear thinking about. Part of everyone’s launch routine should be a good look around to ensure that the air is clear. This applies to both PG and HG pilots – we don’t have launch marshals, so it becomes a personal responsibility to make sure you are taking off into clear air without threat of conflict with another aircraft.

A member reported getting bitten above the ankle on Tailbridge, which resulted in very painful swelling and immobility for some days. Be aware that ticks lurk in the grass waiting for some tasty flesh to pass by, and ticks can carry some pretty horrific diseases including Lyme disease, babeiosis and tick-borne encephalitis. Keep your legs covered, check yourself over for ticks at the end of the day, and report to a doctor if you feel unwell after getting bitten.

Tight lines


Flying Alone

By Brian Stewart on  July 1, 2020 16:37

Shouldn’t be done? But many do, and not only when we’re alone on the hill . . .

Maybe you’re the early riser, catching the rising sun on the east-facing slopes; or you’re snatching a quick sunset flight after the rain clears, and there’s no-one else daft enough to be out there. Or you may be out on a vol-biv adventure or visiting an out-of-the way spot that’s not popular with the crowds as it’s a long hike to get there.

You can also be ‘alone’ on a crowded site: if you’re new to the area and nobody knows you, or you turn up late after everyone is in the air, or you were first there and take off before others arrive. So, by ‘alone’ I mean a situation where maybe no-one will notice should you crash in an obscure hidden spot. We all look out for each other on a normal day, but it’s easy not to notice a stranger, or assume someone is with another group of pilots.

· Ideally, go with others, have an outline of each other’s flight plans and how you will keep in touch in the air and on the ground. Check radios are working.

· If you’re alone, make contact with others on the ground, get to know each other, try to share radio frequency and flight plans

· Use a flight tracker, and make sure someone at home knows how to follow you and what to do if you’re in trouble. Satellite location services work just about anywhere but cost money; even a simple app like AirWhere can broadcast your position to sites like or LiveTrack24

· At the very least tell someone responsible where you are going, and what your plans are. But be sure to let them know when you’re back on the ground to avoid worry or false alarms.

Also, be mindful of others on the hill who may be flying ‘alone’, they may not have anyone else looking out for them.

Pendle Crash Analysis

By Brian Stewart on  June 6, 2020 11:52

Listen to yourself. . .

I thought I’d write a few words about my crash on Pendle, early June. The video and commentary can be seen here:

Many pilots contributed their thoughts on this incident, and I’m grateful to everyone for their input to help make sense of events and try to learn and prevent future accidents.

The pilot, as always, is the major factor in PG incidents. As has been pointed out, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to go flying at that moment.

Currency? The UK was just coming out of lockdown. I’ve been particularly concerned about this, shielding someone at home, so hadn’t flown for over 3 months, and only have a few hours since October. So, currency very low, and a bit anxious about mixing with too many people.

Too eager to fly? Last chance before the weather turned bad for a long spell. I was hoping for a short flight just to get back in the air, early doors. We ended up waiting around for the wind to start and come on to the right direction. Not being current isn’t just about flying – it’s also how acutely our senses are tuned to assessing the conditions. I knew all about the probability of rough turbulence on such a hot sunny day with dry air, visible stability, wave clouds, wind across the hill . . . Definitely too eager. It’s not like me to be first off the hill but I thought I have to go now, expecting not to find much lift and to go down to the landing.

Misjudging conditions? Take off was fine, wind swung onto the face. Light lift all the way across to the gully, then gentle sink on the way back. Nothing to raise alarm bells. That went well . . .

Dealing with the collapse? The thermal that hit me was like a rocket, and the vario peaked at 7.8 m/s, looking at it frame by frame on Ayvri (great tool for analysing flight). Possibly it was so small that only the left half of the wing, closer to the hill, was in it, so the right side was either in still air or even the sink outside the thermal. Whatever the cause, I just had time to anticipate that something bad was about to happen before the right side completely went – looks like 70% or more on the video. But instead of turning towards the collapse and taking me away from the hill, the wing turned violently left 90° to face the hill, and surged violently, the lines almost horizontal. I don’t clearly remember doing it, but I must have braked sufficiently to catch this – thank you SIV instructors – as without inputs, this would have gone much worse.

As I swung back under the wing, you can see from the video that it stalls, and the tips almost meet.. Probably excessive brake, but possibly the horrible air I was in. Whichever, this turned out to be the best possible outcome, as I descended at about the speed of a reserve ride to land on my back without even bursting the camelback. I hardly felt that impact, just the horrible whiplash effect on my neck as my head bounced around like a loose button. There was enough wind about to start dragging me, and this felt like I was being pulled along, and slightly down, the slope. More evidence of some horrible turbulence as it had been almost calm all morning.

So, I walked away from it intact, but I wouldn’t dare to refer to it as a landing. Big thanks to Tim Gridley and Andy Elliott for landing nearby to assist, to everyone on the hill for their support and encouragement, Mark Wilson for helping carry my glider bag back to the car and to everyone who contributed words of wisdom.

See you in the air.

Brian Stewart