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Flying Within Your Limits Article

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Mark Dowsett
Joined: 10 Dec 2014
Posts: 9
PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2006 02:45 pm    Post subject: Flying Within Your Limits Article Reply with quote

I wrote this for the Winter 2005 Edition of AIR and it was recently republished in the Soaring Association of Canada's FreeFlight magazine (http://www.sac.ca/freeflight/06_05.pdf). Marlene asked that I post it here as well.

Enjoy! I hoper it helps someone out there...

Flying within our Personal Limits

We drive the idea of flying within your personal limits right from the onset of instruction in hang gliding and paragliding. For the most part we call it "intermediate syndrome" as I think we find it an excuse to warn rather newcomers to keep them alert to the dangers awaiting them as we release them from the formal instruction part of our learning. I don't think anyone can argue is the key to success in our sports is just this, flying within our personal limits - how many pilots have you seen leave the sport after flying beyond their limits, getting spooked and calling it quits. The ones who realize it before they are injured (or worse) are the lucky ones.

I mean I am sure we have all gotten in situations where we wish we would not have flown - I know I have. Whether its launching into conditions that you think you can handle or flying into terrain while going XC and things not go as smoothly as you wanted it to.

But when should we stop warning our fellow pilots about the dangers in our sports? The obvious answer is never. Why am I writing about this obvious issue? I have had some interesting experiences this year in this regard. I am not sure if I can speak for most pilots, but I maybe get caught up in being too politically correct...or polite...or whatever you want to call it but don't you wish you could tell other pilots more often you disagree with how they fly - without losing them as friends? It's tough sometimes to judge ahead of time that flights may not go so well for any given pilot and if you are not CLOSE flying buddies, maybe they have racked up more skill since you last flew with them? So who are you to judge?

This hit home to me this year, actually since August. I was in Golden for the Willi and ran into Charles Warren in the LZ on the first day. I hadn't seen him in years and we quickly got caught up. One of his first questions to me, which is a typical question between pilots that haven't seen each other in some time was, "so have you been flying much lately?" I answered and posed the question back at him - his reply was that he hadn't flown in well over a year. I hate to use him as an example (so I hope he doesn't mind that I do) but I had thought to myself while talking to him, "why would an East Coaster that hasn't flown in quite a while come to GOLDEN in MID-SEASON and fly a PARAGLIDER there in a COMPETITION". I was forced to think, "this is Charles Warren, he's flown paragliders longer than I have, he's got tonnes of air time, he is usually on the podium at the Willi when he comes". I didn't vocalize my concerns to him and we both went on our holiday. That was the last time I talked to Charles. It still gets to me today asking myself, that what if I would have said something - would he have listened? would he have flown different? would he still be with us?

But then I became a hypocrite. I should have known better, but I flew outside my limitations later on in the season. I took risks that I knowingly shouldn't have. Everything worked out fine, with little stress but I took risks that I shouldn't have - and I should know better! I was called on it (thankfully) but I knew I shouldn't have done what I did and knew I wouldn't do it again but I am glad that that friend said something to me about it. I have been flying for 13 years now - it just goes to show that we all need guidance all throughout our flying career. I mean someday I am going to be too feeble to fly - I hope I know when to call it quits...but if not, I hope I have a friend around to urge me to hang it up.

And then there was a third incident, all within a month of each other. I was at the ECC at Yamaska and there was a competitor show up with a model of wing that was almost banned from the West Coast years ago. It was a comp wing had a bad reputation for doing crazy stuff for no reason. But here I was in an area I had never been in, was hired to come and run a competition, didn't know the pilots...and didn't even speak their language very well. This time I chose to say something about it. It was right at the beginning of the comp so I wasn't in a position to say too much but I was glad that I vocalized my opinion. Sure enough, on the last day of the meet, the most stable and least windy day, the glider locked into a spiral for no apparent reason. Luckily he miraculously came out of it less than 100' off the ground and landed rather softly.

I then took the opportunity to take advantage of this situation and vocalized my concerns again. I got to know that pilot a lot more over the weekend and was this time successful in discussing with him more about what I thought about the glider and by the end of the conversation, he handed the wing into the dealer to get it modified into windsocks. It made me feel good that I was able to do this as I know he will excel more on a modern wing than he would on that old, bad comp wing - and more importantly, he will be safer.

So that was my little experiment. I hope my later experiment helped keep my new Quebec friend around so I can fly with him again some day soon. I have to think of it as redemption for not saying anything to Charles when I had the thoughts and opportunity to help him. I urge you to perform the same experiment with those around you - and if someone gives you tips or is critical about what, when and where you are flying, keep in mind that they are only concerned for your longevity.
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