Book of Risk

Hi fellow pilots, too many of my friends have been seriously hurt or killed by accidents related to our way of flying.  Nonetheless, I personally choose to fly although I am more conservative about what risk I am willing to accept.  Risk tolerance is a personal choice we should all make thoughtfully.  The book of risk is written with the help of our most experienced pilots to be an aid to that soul search.  It is not written to say “this or that is risky; don’t do it!”  You may very well choose to accept some of the risk described in this book.  This book aims to reduce tragedy!  My definition of tragedy is death or injury as a result of risk taken without knowledge!   

Thermic Scratching:

What it is.

Thermic Scratching is flying below reasonable reserve deployment altitude during the sun’s effective ground heating period.  In mid-summer, this is approximately as early as 11AM to as late as 7PM. 

What it is not.

Thermic Scratching is not ridge soaring in laminar conditions prior to the sun’s heating the ground.  (In winter, this may be all day.)  In mid-summer heating may start as early as 11AM and last until as late as 7PM. 

It is not flying close to the ground as part of a launch or landing sequence.

How to avoid it.

  • Don’t scratch in thermic conditions.
  • Minimum thermic flying altitude varies based upon experience but a conservative figure is 500 ft. AGL.  500 feet is a conservative altitude that should allow a glider to recover safely from large collapses and for a pilot to recognize an out-of-control situation and deploy a reserve.  Having said that, remember, it is never too low to throw if control is lost!
  • Using your variometer learn to identify what 500ft AGL looks and feels like.
  • As you get lower and closer to the ground, fly-out (downslope) to maintain 500 ft.
  • Be willing to end your flight early as the “price paid” for this reduction in your personal risk. 
  • The risks involved in thermal scratching are why we do not fly the south side nor the lower north side bench mid-day in the summer.  Spring and winter, however, become more tempting.  However; late in the morning, on a sunny day, if the ground in front of launch isn’t covered in snow, thermals can collapse your glider close to the ground.  The higher the sun in the sky more you are pushing your luck.  

How to mitigate consequences. 

(Your glider is out of control, think tip stuck in g-forces increasing, or riser twist or extreme angles when compared to straight and level…especially when low.)

  • Throw your reserve.  Look at the handle, pull the reserve out the say it went in, throw it aggressively into clear air, pull the bridal back toward you until you are sure the nerve is opening.  Above all else do whatever it takes to get the reserve out.
  • If you have the experience and the time, many acrobatic pilots who throw a lot recommend keeping both brake toggles in your non-throwing hand and holding them steady to just above carabiner level.
  • Get out of your harness feet down prepared to PLF.
  • PLF (practice PLF)
  • Create some kind of simulator in your garage or use a club simulator to practice your reserve toss at least twice per month.  Practice consists of actually pulling the reserve out of the harness and practicing the throwing motion.  At least twice per year you should actually throw it.

Distracted Flight Initiation:

What it is.

Distracted flight initiation is directing attention to making harness, seating, instrument or toggle adjustments while in the danger zone (below 300 ft. AGL.)  Focusing on anything other than the pressure on the brakes and the seat of the harness during this critical time is distracted flight initiation.  The most egregious form of this risky behavior involves butting both toggles in one hand to use the other for other things.   

What it is not. 

Sliding back in the harness with a shift in balance or using the foot on a stirrup or speed bag while still focussing on the pressure in your hand and on your butt.  This is more of an advanced skill and beginners and low hour intermediates are better off not attempting to get into the harness until 300+ ft. AGL.

How to avoid it.

Inflate and launch with the brake toggles in the flying hands.  Hang in the leg straps until 300+ ft. AGL.

How to mitigate consequences.

If you have a collapse low in the launch sequence keep your legs down for PLF and weight shift hard away from the deflation.  Try to get the brakes in the flying hands and pressurize the glider attempting to regain normal flight and steer away for the hill.

Late or No Reserve Deployment. 

What it is.

Delaying to throw or not throwing the reserve when the situation demands it.  Examples are loss of control under 500 ft. AGL, Seeing the glider in a configuration you do not recognize under 500 ft. AGL, a tightening spiral that you cannot control at any AGL, not in control of the main and feeling sick or seeing spots, entangled with another pilot,

What it is not.

Delaying to throw or not throwing the reserve above 500 ft AGL while correcting a non-flying configuration that you understand or have practiced.  Delaying to throw or not throwing under 500 ft. when you are able to fly your glider in a straight line at trim speed.

How to avoid it.

  • Decide ahead of time under what circumstances you will deploy your reserve.  
  • Learn what 500 ft. AGL looks and feels like.  
  • Practice the motion of securing both toggles in one hand and throwing the reserve regularly during flights.  
  • Remind yourself verbally of the situations under which you will throw your reserve when these situations become possible.  For example, whenever flying under 500 ft. AGL in thermic conditions say, “ if I lose this glider I will throw!”

How to mitigate consequences.

Throw the reserve…there is no “too low!”

Flight Outside of Conservative Weather Parameters.

What it is.

  • Flying a paraglider with cumulus congestus, cumulus nimbus, mammatus, or virga in the same valley system.  
  • Flying mountainous terrain with winds more than 12mph at peak level, more than 9 mph at the level of any ridges or spines you may be flying near.  
  • Flying a paraglider anywhere with surface wind at or above 15mph.  
  • Risk in the mountains caused by winds is increased when the winds are cross; particularly so when cross from the north.  
  • Flying a paraglider in mid-day temps above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  • Flying a paraglider during times of extremely high pressure, pressures above 30.4 inches of mercury. 
  • With regard to wind in the mountains: 
    • Mechanical turbulence and rotor downwind of obstacles start with winds at about 9 miles per hour.  At 12 miles per hour that turbulence has the strength to collapse a paraglider.  At 15 miles per hour, the collapses become difficult to block.  At 18 miles per hour, even the very best among us will lose their wing. 
    • Cross winds are more likely to impact the terrain at near 90-degree angles and cause the strongest turbulence.  
    • Winds cross from the north create turbulence above the sunny aspects that most thermals rise through.  As a result, thermals gain turbulence which they can carry over 1000 ft above the ground.
    • High pressure creates smaller, stronger, higher thermals that can collapse a paraglider. 
    • Pilots new to mountain flying and all intermediate pilots should look for flying days with the following winds aloft maximums:
      • 12mph at 12,000 ft.
      • 10mph at 10,000 ft.
      • 08mph at 8,000 ft.
      • Surface winds below 9mph

What it is not.

Flying a paraglider in calm air from a gently sloped launch to a large obstruction-free LZ is the most risk-free form of paraglider flight.

How to avoid it.

Begin your day early studying weather forecasts.  Learn to read them and what they mean.  Watch the wind, clouds and birds as you travel to and set up on launch.  As you fly continually assess the wind strength and cloud development.  Know that the cloud above you is likely similar to the other clubs you see, particularly with regard to height.  

How to mitigate consequences.

Know how to get down quickly.  If you see a weather risk you do not wish to accept fly out away from terrain.  Find the greenest most obstruction-free landing area you can and land as far away from even the smallest obstacles as possible. 

Flight Outside of Conservative Equipment Choice Parameters.

What it is.

  • Flying an EN class paraglider without adequate education, experience or annual flight hours to prepare for the challenges of flying that class.
  • Education: 
    • P2 pilots should have the training required to fly a familiar site in conditions recommended by their instructor or, new sites under the supervision of a qualified instructor. 
    • P3 pilots have the training to access a site and its conditions with the aid of pilots familiar with the site and its conditions.  
    • P4 pilots should have the training to access any site and its conditions for their own abilities.  
    • Before attempting to learn cross country flying a pilot should be a P3 with at least 9 SIV flights.
  • Experience: 
    • 0-30 hours EN A 
    • 30-300 hours low EN B
    • 300-500 hours EN B (wear this glider out)
    • 500-1000 hours EN C (wear this glider out)
    • 1000-2000 hours EN D (wear out at least one 3 liner before flying a 2 liner)
    • 2000+ CCC 
  • Annual hours.
    • 50 hours EN A or Low EN B
    • 100 hours EN B
    • 150 hours EN C
    • 200 hours EN D
    • 250 hours EN D 2-liner
    • 300 hours CCC

What it is not.

Flying with a patient eye to the future enjoying an unhurried learning progression with unwavering faith that you can and very well might be hurt or killed by what you don’t know.

How to avoid it.

With the aid of counseling, mindfulness meditation, religion or whatever means of your choice, understand your ego.

How to mitigate the consequences.

Courageously follow your logical mind disregarding what you believe others think.

Flight Outside of Conservative Experience Progression Parameters.

What it is:

Pilots with little or no cross country experience flying mountain thermal sites.  Flying a mountain thermal site mid-day be benign and mellow one day and rowdy and nasty the next.  This unpredictability is the reason new pilots can have an exhilarating flight one day and scaled way back or quit the sport soon thereafter.

What it is not:

Learning with an instructor or experienced mentor and willing to patiently put in the time knowing that what you don’t know can and likely will hurt or kill you.

How to avoid it:

  • Begin your cross country flying with 30 mountain flights starting at 10AM and gradually working up to 12PM (times given are for mid-summer, times can vary with site and season). 
  • Follow by 30 flights working down gradually from 8PM to 5PM.
  • Now start flying mid-day beginning at 1PM.

How to mitigate the consequences.  

  • If you find yourself in uncomfortably turbulent air, fly out away from terrain to the greenest most obstruction-free landing area you can.
  •  Land as far away from even the smallest obstacles as possible.

Flight in known/knowable turbulence.

What it is

Turbulence can be knowable with some education in weather and wind effects.  An example would be a thermal born in the lee of a ridge creating a strong rotor.  Turbulence from that rotor can make the thermal turbulent over 1000 feet above the rotor.  Not knowing this, can result in flying in knowable turbulence.

What it is not.

It is not flying in turbulence caused by invisible phenomena such as wind shear, mixing thermals, inversions, etc.

How to avoid it.

  • Study the weather a lot, read a lot of books about weather especially related to paragliding and hang gliding:
    • Understanding the Sky by Dennis Pagen
    • Thermal Flying by Burkhard Martens
    • Mastering Thermaling by Kelly Farina
    • Weather for Dummies
  • Talk about the weather to other pilots you fly with.

How to mitigate the consequences.

  • Don’t fly closer than 500 feet to the ground, except at take-off and landing, anywhere that turbulence might be present.  See Thermic Scratching above.
  • Learn and follow set guidelines for throwing your reserve.  See Late or no reserve deployment.  

Distracted Pre-Flight Preparation and Checks.

What it is.

  • Anything that distracts your metal focus from preparing your equipment for safe flight.
  • Having conversations with others during the setup or preflight of your equipment.
  • Motivational talk, “GO FOR IT,” “LET’s GET SOME,” “KICK ASS.” 
  • Loud music on launch.

How to avoid it.

  • First of all, you can’t fix stupid and people around you are just going to do these things; accept it and don’t further distract yourself by arguing with them.  AVOID CONFRONTATION ON LAUNCH.
  • Focus is the key, practice mindfulness.
  • Use checklists.  If you notice your mind has wandered at any point during a checklist start over from the beginning.  Starting over helps to increase mindfulness by practicing noticing that your mind has wandered.
  • Let people who are trying to talk to you that you need to concentrate on your preflight.

How to mitigate the consequences.

  • Know how to sidehill land.
  • Learn and practice techniques for recovering from forgetting to fasten your leg straps.
  • Buy a harness that makes forgetting your leg straps difficult.
  • Land in the bail LZ.  
  • Correct the problem and go back to launch.
  • Position critical equipment where you can access it during flight. 

Pilot Vigilance (mid-air collision).

What it is.

  • Focusing your attention on any one thing for even a full second can allow another pilot to get dangerously close without your noticing.
  • Initiating a turn without a visual check for clear sky can put you on a collision course.
  • Focusing on an area of the sky in your immediate area can leave you missing the big picture and reacting to others rather than proactively establishing and adjusting a safe line.

How to avoid it.

  • Keeping your head on a swivel is the saying we most often hear, and for good reason, it illustrates the concept very well.
  • Vigilance is all about flying a safe line with all of the other pilots around you.  
  • While constantly moving your head to take in as large a view as possible look as far away as possible to give yourself more time to adjust a safe line.
  • Don’t stare at one thing for even a second.  
  • Let your brain register what you see and keep your head and eyes moving.
  • How to mitigate the consequences.
  • Learn how to make quick turns by leading with and maximizing weight shift.
  • Do an SIV and learn how to recover from a spin.
  • Do an SIV and learn how to turn your glider with a spin.
  • Do an SIV and learn how much brake you can pull without spinning.
  • If you get hopelessly tangled with another pilot everyone throws their reserve.

Violation of Traffic Norms.

What it is.

  • Flying contrary to norms established to make flying with other pilots safer.  
  • For example:
  • Turn to the right during a head-on approach.  Joining thermals in the same direction as pilots already there and enter behind others.

What it is not.

  • Enlarging or extending in a certain direction while in a thermal with others.
  • Turning a 360 while in a ridge soaring pattern.

How to avoid it.

  • Get competent instruction to learn to fly.
  • Study and learn how to fly in various circumstances.
  • Mentally review potential patterns before launching.  If you are in doubt ask an 
  • Instructor or competent pilot
  • Establish a turn direction for the initial thermal when large groups get together to fly a site.

How to mitigate the consequences.

  • Observe all pilots at or near your altitude and try to predict their flying patterns and ability to fly the established pattern.
  • Keep a large safety margin between yourself and pilots who can’t or won’t fly the established pattern.
  • Never try to enforce the pattern or rights of way while flying.
  • Talk to pilots who you see violating norms in a nondemanding/confrontational way.
  • Learn to turn quickly without spinning or stalling your glider.  See Pilot Vigilance.

Inability to Correct Abnormal Flight Configurations.

What it is.

  • Inability to keep the glider open and flying.  For example:
    • Inability to steer and clear a cravat or stuck in collapse.
    • Inability to prevent a cravat or large collapse from entering a stabile spiral (auto-rotation).
    • Inability to open a horseshoe.
    • Inability to recover from a spin or stall

What it is not.

  • The ability to prevent abnormal configurations from happening.
  • Practiced knowledge of wing recovery techniques.
  • Good Pilotage.

How to avoid it.

  • Lots of kiting in turbulent conditions.
  • SIV 
  • Do not fly in strong or turbulent conditions when not current.
  • How to mitigate the consequences.
  • See late or no reserve deployment.

Lack of mental and or physical preparedness.

What it is.

  • Flying fatigued, angry, sad, depressed, uncle to focus etc.
  • Showing off.
  • Flying with an injury that can effect abilities. 

What is not.

Inexperience

How to avoid it.

  • Learn to recognize it.
  • Separate your ego from the decision to fly.
  • Give yourself permission to be human and not superman.
  • Stand down and fly another day.
  • Practice the above at least once by repacking your glider on launch and standing down without explaining why.  Just say something vague such as “I’m just not feeling it today.)

How to mitigate the consequences.  

  • Practice focusing on a single point amid distractions such as mindfulness practice.
  • Fly to the LZ and land.

Inappropriate Pattern or Preparation for Landing.

What it is.

  • Getting too far downwind of your LZ to reach it.  
  • Landing downwind.
  • Landing without enough time to survey the LZ.
  • Landing in an unsafe LZ.
  • Fixating on landing in the designated LZ to the point that you perform unsafe maneuvers to get there.

What it is not.

  • Having your landing pattern disrupted by sink, lift, gradient, etc.
  • Encountering turbulence during your pattern.

How to avoid it.

  • Study good landing pattens.
  • Learn to judge angles over distances.
  • Arrive over your LZ with enough altitude to make at least one full 360 and to begin the patten form any direction.
  • Always keep a safe lZ within reach.
  • Do not get downwind of your LZ in strong winds.
  • Practice flexibility by randomly stopping at any location and devising a landing pattern for that location with existing conditions. Also do this exercise around your designated LZ from points outside of the normal approach (include looking for other places to land outside the designated LZ, but safer from the unusual point or unusual conditions.

How to mitigate the consequences.

  • Learn a hierarchy of landing dangers to choose the least of two evils.  For example:
  • Land in a tree before power lines or moving water.
  • Land downwind before in still water

The Random Factor.

What it is.

  • Accidents caused by conditions or events that cannot be foreseen nor anticipated.
  • Violent anomalies in the air caused by rare combinations of normal forces.

What it is not.

  • Accidents caused by unknown but knowable factors.
  • Bad luck.

How to avoid it. 

  • The random factor cannot be avoided.
  • Acknowledge that with the safest practice paragliding carries a higher level of risk of death or injury than most other activities.

How to mitigate the consequences.

  • Stay current.
  • SIV
  • Learn as much about handling your glider as possible.  An XC pilot learning basic acro is a good example.
  • Do not scratch.