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