Alan Chuculate died Nov 6, 2005 in a powered hang glider after hitting wires during approach. It was just after sunset. He was with two others landing just off the beach in a field about 4 hours south of San Diego.
Alan had an immense influence on my flying by showing what’s possible by learning how to ground handle. It wasn’t an academic or show-off exercise: it allowed him to do things I couldn’t and in winds that were too strong for me to manage. While he was not my direct instructor, he was certainly a mentor and inspiration.
One of many fond memories was during a trip in Mexico that we did regularly with Nick Scholtes, his wife Mary, and others.
It was blowing hard enough to be easily soarable from our 50 foot high camp sight and strong enough to be hard to manage from the main launch at 170′. I could get launched up there but barely.
To the north was a sheer cliff where the wind would shoot straight up and curl over in a way that made launching really tough. Landing was easy enough if you land close enough to keep the wing up near the front or tolerate the turbulence farther back. You could be standing 3 feet back from the ridge and feel no wind. Back up 10 feet and a gusty blow starts that would periodically lift me. 50 feet back it was possible for me to kite in it. you can kite in it.
I landed to just to see if I could manage re-launching. I couldn’t. Starting in the lighter wind 100′ feet back, I’d get the wing overhead and start backing up ridgeward. Then a gust would lift me clean up, I’d get turned around facing forward, flail a bit, and lose 30 feet of progress downwind as I regained control and resumed reverse kiting.
This went on for an hour. Mind you, camp was only a mile away, it would be easy to walk but, dammit, I wanted to LAUNCH!
Then Alan, who no doubt had been chuckling at this while soaring above, came and landed. He helped my launch by pulling me towards the cliff so, when I got lifted, he just kept pulling me airborne until I got into the lift band and flew off.
Now airborne I wanted to see how he got off. The key was he would get lifted but was able to stay reversed. Ahhhhhh! THAT was a skill I need to learn. Mind you, I had been trying to learn this skill for some time since seeing him do it at the campsite. He would kite up the road to launch. I would try it, too, but eventually the wind would get light or I would get lifted, turned around, and wind up in the sticker bushes; wing-grabbing velcro to paragliders. 30 minutes of extricating would follow.
He could FLY while still reversed, with his back to the wind and a twist in his risers. He didn’t know how he did it, either, he just did it. Because I would ask “how the hell do you do that without turning around” and he would say “I don’t know, just lean way back.” But even leaned back I would eventually turn around.
I kept working on this until a finally made a magical, accidental discovery of control. By controlling the brakes ABOVE their pulleys you could impart the slight counter-twist force necessary to stay reversed. UREKA!!! Now having the method in mind I set out to really learn it. Using Alan as the example of what was possible, I did finally learn it to a useful enough degree to one day kite it up that road to the high launch site.
Thank you Alan.