Unhooked Launch

Please tell what happened and how it might have been avoided. Names should be ommitted. This forum should help others learn from mistakes that caused or nearly caused a mishap.
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Unhooked Launch

Post by MikeI » Sat Oct 10, 2020 8:57 am

Hi Everyone,

I launched unhooked at Garlock last weekend (Sat Oct the 3rd). I’m completely fine, the glider has some damage. But I wanted to use this time to write up my thoughts on what contributed to try to help other pilots.

This was my second flight back since a long break. I had flown at Avenue S the previous week, but the last flight before that was in June.

We started the trip with plans to fly Ave S again, but when it looked weak in the LZ in the morning we pivoted and went out to Garlock instead. After helping launch the other pilots, I launched last. I carried the glider to launch unhooked, this is my normal habit. However, when I got to launch, I stopped to take a breather. The cycles had been on and off all day, and soon after a good cycle started, so I picked up the glider and began my launch run.

Luckily I had picked a long ramp and it was a good cycle, so I was still on reasonably flat ground when the control bar reached my head and I realized something was wrong and stopped my run. Second lucky thing was my brain jumped the right way at that point and I let go of the glider instead of grabbing on tighter. The glider flew off, banked left, and slid into the hill to the left of launch.

So why did this happen? Like most failures to hook in, it's a confluence of factors and a failure of habits. After stewing on it a bit I’ve identified the following as contributing:
  • Because we were going cross country, I had all my gear in my harness and my winter clothing on, so my harness felt much heavier and tighter than normal. This put me out of my comfort zone and muscle memory during my walk up.
  • I had not flown in a while, so my habits were a little rusty. Combined with that, I was at an unusual site, so there wasn’t anything (like a hook-in sign) to reset me and habits.
  • I was pretty nervous about the flight overall. It was the first time flying my higher performance glider in a cross country situation, so I had been thinking a lot about my plan for the flight to ensure I could have a good landing site I was comfortable with. I was thinking about this a lot on my walk to launch as well.
  • Unlike Kagel, there is no good or obvious “setup” area by launch to stop and do a hook in check, so when I stopped at launch it was basically at the top of my ramp run. Typically I will stop and do a hook in check before I get on the ramp proper - but I wasn’t able to do that here because of the geography.
  • As stated above, the launch conditions were shifty so I got impatient and based my actions on the conditions, not my checklist. I did not do a hook in check before my launch run, I used to do one but haven’t in a while.
Overall, my takeaway is that I need to revisit the habits that I had thought were sufficient - notably letting my hook in check habit lapse and letting my hang check be mentally triggered by the Kagel geography are major long term issues that I need to fix.

Hope this helps, this was a (relatively) painless way for me to learn this lesson, and it's definitely a preventable mistake.

Last edited by MikeI on Sat Oct 10, 2020 9:02 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Unhooked Launch

Post by MikeI » Sat Oct 10, 2020 9:00 am

Janyce suggested that Greg Kendall's hook in procedure has been a helpful one for people to review in the past, so I dug it up from an old post and will share it here as well. It's given me a few things to think about - especially the point about hooking in at setup vs the ramp is one I'll have to reconsider.

From Greg:
I thought I'd share what I do for hook-in verification just in case it might be useful to someone. My system has been working for me for about 20 years now. If you're a new pilot, talk to your instructor before following any advice that I might give.

The theme here is redundancy through doing multiple different checks. Redundancy is the only way to get high reliability from a system of not-so-reliable components. In this case a component is a human trying to remember to do a check.

I hook in where I set up. I don't ever move a glider toward launch without first hooking into it. If you see me doing that, please stop me because it means that I'm having a major brain fart. I recognize that there is a tradeoff between the danger of getting flipped over while walking to launch and the danger of launching unhooked. I think that the former is far less likely to result in disaster.

I also define an imaginary boundary around any launch that cannot be crossed without stopping to check everything. My checks don't take long, but the boundary should be far enough (30 feet or so) from launch to allow room for anyone who's in a hurry to go around.

The main check I do at the boundary involves kneeling down until my hang strap and my leg loops are tight. The advantages of this check over the traditional hang check are: you can do it by yourself, you get a leg loop check in the process, you can more easily see your carabiner, and it's quicker. I don't do a traditional hang check unless I've changed something (glider, harness, hang strap, biner, etc.) that might affect hang height.

Once within the boundary, I stay hooked in. If I back off launch, I go back outside the boundary before unhooking. After that, everything starts over (or I start pulling battens).

Once on launch, I set the glider down and reach back and tug on my hang strap before lifting the glider. I've tried to make this an unconscious habit that will still happen even if my brain is shut off. I often do it several times per launch. By the way, when I pack up my harness, I don't hook my biner to anything. I don't want it to feel like it's hooked into a glider when it's not.

Finally, let's try to get into the habit of checking the hook-in status of anyone that we see on or near launch with a glider, whether we're currently helping them or not.

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Re: Unhooked Launch

Post by vannoppen » Tue Oct 13, 2020 12:57 pm

Glad your OK

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