The Launch Decision: Powered Paragliding Hotel Hell
Being committed has it's place but we must know where
A dozen little variables affect
each launch decision. Some are settled when we plop our wing down and lay
it out. Others get processed quickly and almost automatically during the
precarious initial inflation until the wing is overhead and you're
running. Unfortunately, for some pilots, there is little cognitive input
even at this stage. There should be.
Any pilot not skilled enough to throttle back and run with the wing
overhead while adjusting his direction should avoid launching in tight
quarters. At least he should be spring loaded to abort such an effort.
When faced with obstacles, it's easier than you may think to press
ahead into a questionable decision. After all, it's worked every time so
far. Plus, you've done the hard part, got the wing up, got it under
control, and don't want to have to go through that again. It was probably
this mindset that netted one pilot a trip through the trees.
I didn't see it since I was airborne but several did, including one
pilot who was on the 7th floor looking down. He was kind enough to produce
a graphic (at right).
The pilot setup to launch East. The wind shifted so the pilot had to
launch southeast—more towards the hotel. There was also now less room to
The launch went well enough that he continued but the light breeze provided
little help in climb and he was headed for the hotel. He quickly ran out of options and
turned towards an
opening that proved too small. When his wing hit the tree it collapsed and
he hit the ground hard. His motor provided enough protection that he
suffered no more than a bruised shoulder. We were all relieved that the pilot
he's OK. This is a capable, conscientious flyer who just made a
bad decision. It's amazing how fast it can happen and a testament to
the value of rehearsing our options in advance.
This incident should serve as a reminder to all of us how quickly our
margins can deteriorate if we don't make the right decisions ahead of time
and keep evaluating them along the way. Most importantly we have to be
ready to abandon a failing plan before it gets even close to this point.
It's hard to do.
An early abort shows good judgment. Pressing on, even if successful,
shows the opposite. It's a split second decision where the bad far, far
outweighs the good.
This is reminiscent of the accident in Florida where a competition
pilot was launching and ran into another pilot sitting on the ground.
There was plenty of room to steer around. If the launcher is not skilled
enough to steer well clear, then an abort is the only option. To do
otherwise shows very bad judgment and a callous disregard for other's
Accidents are far worse than aborted launches.