High Wind Launches
By Had Robinson
updated January 9,2023
Please reference the YouTube video
here. The actual launch
is in 1/4 speed. What follows in the video is a
rowdy but fun flight in the high winds of that day. The landing
was also turbulent but there were no hazards about.
The secret to a successful high wind launch is, first of all, being an expert kiter. A pilot cannot expect to maintain control without this skill. He must know precisely how his glider handles.
The hardest thing to learn in a high wind launch is what is just the right amount of "A" input to get the wing overhead quickly. Too much A and the glider will do a frontal. Too little A and the pilot will likely get dragged out of control. When the glider gets nearly overhead, the brakes must be applied just enough to keep the glider from going too far in front and collapsing. The pilot in this video at one of our local sites did exactly the wrong thing while launching in high winds.
Pilots should not attempt to launch when winds are more than 18 mph at launch because winds just above launch will be higher and the pilot will likely go backwards right after launching. Applying speed bar close to the terrain where there is more turbulence is also dangerous. In the YouTube reference YouTube I applied a slight bit of speed bar after I shot up from launch and was out in front. The higher I went, the greater the wind speed was and I had to apply a little more speed bar. Was it safe to apply some speed bar a few hundred feet away from launch? Probably…but a pilot can never be too careful.
There are some other ways to inflate a glider in high winds but this way is the most reliable and safe. Furthermore, the launch can be aborted without going out of control.
WARNING: DO NOT CONNECT THE GLIDER TO YOUR HARNESS UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO LAUNCH.
Preparation for the Rosette Launch
Hopefully, you will have some help but this maneuver can be done alone.
Careful and detailed preparation is essential for safety. If you do
have help, have the other person stand right behind the glider ready to grab
it if things start to go out of control. Most people have no idea of
the correct way to assist a pilot who is about to be dragged so you will
have to clearly instruct them.
Where it is not as windy, form the glider into a rosette (see photo in video). It has to be done perfectly with the leading edge clearly visible all around. The shape must be like a "C".
Take the glider to launch and then carefully arrange the lines in an “S” or "snake" pattern on top of the rosetted glider so that when the lines are pulled out they will not tangle, much like how a parachute would deploy. A tangle, a twig, or a cravat could cause the pilot to go off to one side of the launch area out of control. Lay the risers in such a way that you know how to connect them to the harness without stretching out the lines. In case a sudden gust rolls in and starts to inflate the glider, a pilot can immediately stop it by falling on the glider and grabbing it. If he clips in with the lines stretched out and then has an accidental inflation, things are a lot harder to keep under control.
The advantage of the rosette is that high winds will not as easily inflate it before the pilot is ready. Also, the tips will not come up with the center of the wing which helps ensure that the glider comes up square. A fully laid out glider is almost impossible to control in high winds nor can it be inflated in a safe manner consistently.
It is important to never back away from the rosetted glider until
you are completely ready to launch.
Standing right in front of the glider, clip in. Do your preflight check at this time. With the brakes in the hands, get the A’s in one hand and the C's or D’s in the other. If you are not absolutely confident in using this method to handle the glider, do not attempt a high wind launch.
At this point, you are ready to begin the launch sequence.
Slowly and carefully, step backwards into the wind while watching the rosetted glider for the slightest twitch that might cause it to inflate prematurely. You must also watch the lines as they pull out to be sure they are not tangled or compromised in some way, like with a twig. If anything is amiss, quickly run back to the rosetted glider and start over.
When the lines are just taunt, the pilot is ready to bring the glider up. If the pilot rosetted the glider perfectly, the center will inflate first and rise as he pulls the right amount of "A". He has to be extremely alert to any deformity in the inflation and be able to quickly abort the launch by pulling the C's or D’s and making a dash to a tip of the glider and grabbing it.
As the glider rises, there will not be enough time to brake one side or the other (in order to steer it) so he must decide in a moment if it is coming up square. If all is well and the glider is almost overhead, he can release the risers. Now, he must apply a slight amount of brake to keep the glider from going too far. Too much brake on one side or the other can cause a spin.
This is the most difficult part of launching in high winds.
The pilot is now committed to launch. He will probably be yanked off the ground (as in the video), experience some serious pitching, and start to spin around to the forward position. If the glider is properly inflated, this is not an issue – it will fly safely away. The pilot in the blown launch video did not understand any of this and buried his brakes.
It might be possible to stop things at this point by grabbing the A's and pulling them down hard if he is not too far from the ground. Things are happening so fast that there may not be time to find the A's and grab them – the pilot will be too far from the ground. If he does the maneuver successfully, he will have just a moment to grab the glider to keep it from re-inflating. On the other hand, applying a lot of brake at this moment in order to “stop things” would do just the opposite and create a dangerous situation.
As the video shows, the pilot is already off the ground before he had time to turn and face forward. At this moment, the tendency is to apply brake. THIS MUST BE RESISTED SO THAT THE GLIDER CAN FLY STRAIGHT AHEAD AT FULL TRIM. A pilot's only concern at this point is, "Is the glider safely overhead and flying?"
LET ‘ER FLY!
As the pilot goes up and forward, there will be pitch, roll, and yaw. It is of minor concern because the wing is flying at trim and that is all that matters. Once he is off the ground and well in front of launch, he can get comfortable in the harness using a foot stirrup.
It is just
plain dumb to fiddle around in any way while close to the terrain whatever
type of launch it is. A sudden collapse, although rare, can become a
disaster if the pilot is not 100% focused on flying the glider while he is
near the terrain.
Continue to fly straight out from launch – and enjoy a great flight!