Are we experiencing stronger than normal winds recently? Hard to say but there have been many days of marginal conditions, with the evening shift workers on Parlick having to wait until late for a safe flight. Strong winds bring a whole new suite of problems for foot-launched flight – with take off and landing speeds limited to running pace at best, our wings are trimmed for relatively low speeds so straying outside these boundaries makes for difficult launches and landings where precise and swift control actions are essential. In flight, the problems of increased turbulence and lack of penetration add another layer of stress.
So why do it? In the UK it is part of our sport: it’s a windy country. You can of course opt to only fly in gentle winds but sooner or later you will find yourself launching just as the strong gust arrives; landing backwards, possibly in turbulence behind trees or buildings when the wind strength increases suddenly; unable to penetrate as you drift back over the ridge. It’s definitely worth practising on the ground in stronger than flyable winds – choosing a safe place with soft downwind options for when you get dragged. There are plenty of online videos to find tips for safely controlling your wing – Greg Hamerton and Mark Leavesley have some very good examples (other providers are available). I find that having a ‘strong wind routine’ for getting set up on the hill takes away some of the stress; trying to wrestle 25 sq m of flapping nylon while you’re struggling into your harness is not a good way to start a flight.
One of our members recently had a serious crash on Parlick – getting blown back over the saddle from the west bowl and was dumped hard behind the wall. Fortunately he’s making a good recovery from his injuries. He was rescued by the Air Ambulance after some excellent on-the-ground support and coordination by the pilots on the hill, benefitting from Paul’s mountain rescue experience and the presence of a doctor. John has bravely put his helmet-cam video on YouTube, both as a warning to low airtime pilots and to invite constructive comments from the more experienced, and has stated that this was a completely avoidable accident – he should have known better but for some reason went to the venturi in the saddle to find lift. He also sends his apologies to the club for causing such a fuss!. The video link (https://youtu.be/YBNQEZ69y5s) is also posted on Pennine Flight Club, so please contribute if you spot something that would help the analysis: how could it have been prevented and how could it have been handled to avoid the outcome. Positive comments only please, I’m sure John feels bad enough about crashing already.