Sep. 3rd, 2012

dreaminghope: (Flying)
An important part of safety in paragliding is taking an SIV course. SIV is a French abbreviation for "Simulation d'Incident en Vol", which translates to "simulation of incidents in flight". Over water, you do things to your wing to imitate bad things that can happen while flying and practice recovering. You learn how to recognize problems, learn what actions you should or should not take in various scenarios, get a feel for long it takes for normal flight to resume, and figure out about how much altitude you lose in the meantime.

For various reasons, I was not able to do the iParaglide SIV course in my first two years of flying, but this year, I made it a priority and headed off to Pemberton with another pilot on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, Russ wasn't able to go this year (he has done SIV for the past two years, though), so I was without my usual support system when facing new flying experiences. Fortunately, I'd been flying with three of my four fellow SIV students all season, so I wasn't doing this with strangers.

For iParaglide's SIV, we go to a remote little beach on Lillooet Lake and we use a boat with a special winch to tow each of us, one at a time, to about 3000 feet above the water. Getting towed up isn't a passive process, but one where you have to constantly monitor the boat and steer to follow it and constantly monitor your wing and brake to keep it steady and overhead. The boat gets you up, but you are also flying the whole time, which, as one participant put it, has some advantages over driving up a hot and dusty road to a mountain launch.

Once high over the water, our instructor, Dion, uses the radio to remind you about what you are going to do, then guides you through the process. For example, to do a frontal, he'll remind you that what you are going to do is pull down all the A risers on both sides. He'll say: "So grab all the metal carabiners for both A lines on both sides. On my command, you'll pull them both down hard and then release. Ready? Three, two, one: huy-yah!" And on the "huy-yah", you haul down on those lines and the entire front of your wing collapses and you release the lines and you fall a little until the wing opens again. And as it happens, Dion says: "OK, release. Great. The wing is open again. Good." And then he gets you ready for the next move. It is all progressive: you start with a move called big ears, which is easy and benign, and move up to slightly more exciting incidents that are likely to happen at some point in your time in the air, like frontals and asymmetrics (where some portion of your wing collapses, usually because of turbulent air, and you have to shift on to the good side of the wing and fly with that until the collapsed portion pops back out).

If you are responding well to commands on those first moves, you next learn b-line stalls and spirals, both of which will help get you down should you encounter cloud suck or other undesirable weather conditions. Then you move to the Big Scary for most of us: the full stall. You pull both brakes all the way down and hold on to the bottom of your harness while your wing turns into a flapping mess above you and you rock back and forth and plummet downwards. The important part of the full stall is to release the stall only when your wing is in front of you; if you release while it is behind you, it will start a cascade, so you'll be swinging drastically forward and backwards in a fairly uncontrolled manner, still losing altitude. Dion gives clear instructions, saying "hold, hold, hold, and release", but if you don't respond quickly to the commands, it can still lead to some crazy stuff. Before going out for the clinic, I was worried about my physical ability to hold down the brakes during the stall and about my ability to do just the right thing at just the right time while my wing is flapping around above me. Then there was an incident on my first tow that lessened my fear quite a bit. Afterwards, Dion called it "the most harried thing I've ever seen at an SIV" and if it had happened lower, I would have been in quite a bit of trouble and may have had to throw my reserve parachute and do a water landing:

A graphic representation of my first tow launch. )

After that, pulling asymmetrics and even the full stall didn't seem so bad. I was a bit discouraged when I couldn't do a B-line stall - I pulled as hard as I could on those suckers, but those nothing was moving - but Dion and I discussed the characteristics of my particular wing and my physical strength and decided to try a C-line stall instead. Usually a C-line stall is a bad idea, but it works really well with my small Icaro Instinct and accomplishes the same thing as a B-line stall: increases your descent rate a lot while staying relatively stable. You drop quickly - it feels a bit like a descending elevator - and you only rock around for a couple of moments until it steadies. As long as you wait until everything is steady before releasing and release slightly more gradually than exiting a frontal, all is very safe and sane feeling. It's a really nice tool to add to my paragliding toolbox, so the whole weekend was worth it for that discovery alone.

I was coming down with a bit of a cold and was so anxious through the whole weekend that I barely ate or slept, so I only managed four tows (most of the other students did six each), but I learned so much and am looking forward to doing it again next year.


dreaminghope: (Default)

February 2014


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