Being committed has limits

A dozen little variables affect e ach 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 run.

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 safety.

Accidents are far worse than aborted launches.