Backwards Tandem Landing

After 3 years of talking about it, my cousin Seb finally accepted a ride in the Tandem hot seat…. Shortly after launch, he has his hands on the Tandem’s dual controls, thermaling above the lake at 1400m AGL, everything is perfect!!! Suddenly the radio bursts into life and I hear Justin warning me from the boat, “the wind has just switched 180 degrees and its getting stronger”. “No problem” I reply, “we will land at the alternate landing zone”. 2mins later I receive another radio message, this time from the ground crew, “you need to get down now, it’s already 17knots and increasing”………..

Tandem Paraglider landing backwards in strong wind

coming into landing backwards.....

We had been boat towing at the lake since 0930. Our primary goal for the weekend was SIV testing the new 2013 Ozone and AirG wings, as well as a little acro fun. It was a blue sky day with a light thermic breeze from the Sth West. The conditions had remained constant all day, with moderate-strong thermic activity in the afternoon. At 1600 I decided the last flight of the day should be my cousin Seb’s 1st paragliding experience…..

There is nil wind on the lake at the time of launch. Facing the lake, 30m in front of us I say “No wind Seb, we’ll have to forward launch and run”. He nervously replies “Bring it on”….

After a nice smooth tow, we release the tow line at 750m above the lake. There are still big smooth thermals to be had and with the help of the dual controls, Seb is circling above the lake in 1.5ms watching the Hunter Valley landscape open up around him. As we approach 1400m, we can see Muswellbrook in the distance and I suggest a little XC to finish off the day. Seb declines the idea saying that the flight on its own is adventurous enough, and going XC puts too much distance between him, his tent and that cold crate of beers. That was our first bit of luck as no more than 5mins later we received our first warning from the ground crew regarding the sudden wind change.

XC Tandem Paragliding Hunter Valley

After we receive the second warning from the ground crew, I tell Seb that we have to descend immediately. At our current height, we are above the wind layer and fly 500m upwind of our new landing zone. I radio my wife Claudia, who happens to be in the new LZ (and is an ex pilot) and tell her of our plan and the possible need of her help whilst landing. We begin to spiral down to lose height. I keep the tandem in a deep spiral, letting the leading edge drop in and out of a nose down spiral for Seb’s comfort. We pull out of the spiral 100m above the lake and 60m upwind of our LZ. Immediately we feel the 50km/h wind gusts and with trimmers all the way out, I am actively piloting the tandem to keep it open, getting blown backwards over the lake and into the landing zone. I radio my wife and tell her exactly where we will be coming in and tell her to be prepared to grab the brakes and help me collapse/kill the wing after landing. We are now 30m high, flying 5km/h backwards into the LZ. Seb, oblivious to the seriousness of the situation is waving to people on the shore and all in all having a great time; it reminds me that ignorance is bliss.

Tandem spiral dive

Seb not enjoying the spiral, he is leaning away from the G forces....

I tell Seb to get into the hang position and be prepared to run towards the wing once we have landed. As our feet touch the ground Claudia grabs the brakes and runs backwards at the same time as I heave down on the C risers. We are dragged back for a couple of meters and come to a stop, Claudia and myself amazed how well it all worked and Seb complaining that it wasn’t a very smooth landing :)

In hindsight, I don’t know if I should have done anything differently. No one from the SkyOut Team expected or foresaw the sudden weather change, and it shocked all of us how quickly the wind velocity increased after the change of direction. It’s frightening to think what could have happened had I not had an experienced and professional team with me.

All pilots know and except that our sport is weather dependant and that conditions can change quickly. On this day, there were no visual clues of a sudden weather change and gust front, nor had it been forecasted. The most important thing I learned on this day is that if you find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation due to weather and other environmental factors (cloud suck, gust front, rain shower etc), you must make a decision and act on it. To do nothing and freeze, or delay making a decision turns a potentially dangerous situation into a potentially life threatening situation. Had I waited another 5mins to descend, I would have found myself landing into 65-70km/h winds (The wind stayed at +65km/h for the next 5 hrs). This experience has reminded me that no matter how prepared you are, and regardless of the instruments you carry, the weather is constantly changing and it’s up to you to stay vigilant and asses your environment.

You can see the full video of this flight at the http://youtu.be/36nx26sk1yw

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