Blown launch at Palomar

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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Ken Andrews
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Blown launch at Palomar

Post by Ken Andrews » Tue Jan 19, 2016 1:49 pm

The rumors are true; I blew a launch at Palomar on Saturday, and I might as well tell the story.

While visiting Sylmar a week earlier, Martin Palmaz of USHPA told me that he’d be at Palomar for their fly-in on the 16th. That sounded like a good enough reason to go explore a new site, and in response to my queries, the Sylmar contingent eventually consisted of Joe and Kris Greblo, Will Ramsey, Richard and Kat Shaw, and myself. There were one or two other visiting hang gliders, and a whole lot of paragliders, both locals and visitors. It’s an attractive site, with a west-facing launch about 2300 feet above the LZ, and the drive up is direct and easy.

Most of the launch area has a very shallow slope, and it gets somewhat steeper towards the bottom of the cleared area. The wind was more or less zero on Saturday, with the streamers near the top of the launch area showing a tailwind more often than not, while those at the bottom would sometimes show that it was blowing in. I’ve logged several tailwind launches recently on various gliders, so I figured this would just be another one and it wasn’t a big deal. In retrospect, I think that was my basic mistake; tailwind launches are always a big deal. The result is that I didn’t guard my margin, and let lots of little things eat away at it.

I suited up and moved my U2 in line amongst a sea of paragliders. As those ahead picked their cycles and launched, I moved my glider down the shallow area until finally nobody was in front of me. In the process, I unwittingly let go of quite a lot of shallow-slope running area, and was left with a pretty short ramp that still wasn’t very steep. There was a long line of people waiting impatiently behind me, so I didn’t make much effort to pick a good cycle, and just figured I could make it work. The streamers in front of me showed a little life, so I started my launch run, though undoubtedly the streamers behind me were blowing down. Others report that I had the glider’s nose too high; I’m a little surprised given the shallow launch, but they’re most likely right. At the end of the ramp, the glider was still heavy on my shoulders. I continued running through the brush below the ramp, and I’m fuzzy on the details, but evidently that didn’t go so well. My right wing dropped, started dragging through the brush, and the glider and I skidded sideways to a halt. I have a vivid image of the control bar going through a couple little yuccas, along with all those yucca-thoughts: I’m sure glad my hands aren’t there! Are there bigger yuccas ahead? How many holes will I have before this is over with? In fact, I got away with only a couple of scratches, and the only damage to the glider was three bent battens in the right wingtip. Curiously, my left leg was so sore that I couldn’t really operate a clutch, and Joe Greblo had to drive home. I can only figure that this was from tensing my legs before impact. I do know that I end up with stiff legs after flying low over tiger country with limited landing options, and that doesn’t make any sense either.

Maybe there’s a moral here about complacency and managing one’s safety margin. Maybe this just indicates the amount of risk I choose to accept in my flying style. I suspect that both are true.

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Post by JD » Tue Jan 19, 2016 3:43 pm


Thanks for posting your accident report. I'm glad you and your glider escaped largely unscathed. After reading your report carefully I came up with a “How I might have handled this differently� mental checklist:

Am I observing and heeding what the locals ahead of me are doing?
Am I giving myself as much runway as I need in these conditions?
Am I willing to not launch?
Am I really picking good launch cycles or is my mind somewhere else?
Am I putting my safety ahead of the convenience of the pilots behind me?
Have I asked the other pilots to report on the streamers I can’t see?
Does my glider feel heavy at the beginning of my run?
Do I have room to abort this launch run?

Feel free to add to this list of self-checking questions.

The last time I flew Palomar was in 2011, and the pilot ahead of me launched poorly but got away with it. A few years later they blew a launch at an extremely unforgiving cliff with jagged rocks. By some miracle a fire department was doing rappel rescue training a few hundred yards away. The glider was toast but the pilot escaped serious injury.

The Big-O Loop 390’ launch with rapid-turnaround cart is up and running in excellent shape. Ken’s example is a good incentive for pilots to get out and do multiple launches and landings on any afternoon they can coordinate with No-Fly Steve who is responsible for driver the Ranger at Crestline.


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Post by mrobin604 » Tue Jan 19, 2016 6:33 pm

Thanks for your report Ken, and I'm glad you're OK!

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Finally ...

Post by Bob Kuczewski » Wed Jan 20, 2016 12:23 am

mrobin604 wrote:Thanks for your report Ken, and I'm glad you're OK!
At least we can agree on something!!

I think it's the "Director's curse". As soon as you're in the spotlight, Murphy is there just waiting for you.

Maybe a full day of launching at Dockweiler this weekend would be an appropriate penance. :wink:
Join a National Hang Gliding Organization: US Hawks at
View my rating at: USHGRS

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Post by r8pistol » Wed Jan 20, 2016 8:18 pm

Just glad you are OK Ken.

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Blown Launch

Post by Steve90266 » Thu Jan 21, 2016 12:51 pm

Thanks for sharing, Ken. I learned a lot from your narrative. In particular:

1. Always leave yourself enough room on the ramp for an effective launch, given the conditions.

2. Never allow the pressure of pilots behind you, or any other perceived pressures, to influence your decision to launch.

I appreciate you sharing this. You may have saved me a broken down tube or worse.
Steve Murillo

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Post by Steve Clark » Thu Jan 21, 2016 5:30 pm

Glad you are okay Ken :)

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Re: Blown launch at Palomar

Post by dhmartens » Mon Mar 14, 2016 9:44 pm

Ken Andrews wrote:
I suited up and moved my U2 in line amongst a sea of paragliders.
Reminds me of the ending scene from Alfred Hitchcock "The Birds"

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Post by Fat Fred » Thu Mar 17, 2016 10:50 am

Thanks for posting this, Ken.

I am happy that you came through this in pretty good shape.

This will help to remind all of us to not be complacent at launch time. I always look to you as one of the more diligent pilots.


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Post by Malury » Thu Apr 21, 2016 11:30 pm

It must be humbling to share your thoughts at launch and their outcome.
It's valuable to all of us who fly. You are a fine pilot Ken. I admire you.

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