Avoiding accidents – Here are the top 3 things you should study

by Had Robinson

There are so many ways to be seriously injured or killed in this sport that are unknown in other types of aircraft.  Most pilots  know only a few of the obvious dangers.

The USPPA prospectus or the online USHPA ground school courses should be mastered.  The PG Pilot's Manual has a DVD which should be watched dozens of times.  Take particular note of what the pilot does with his hands.  The Risk and Reward DVD is the PPG equivalent, though not quite as thorough.  Watch the respective DVD, wait a week or month, and watch it again and again.  You will begin to notice things you never saw earlier.

A former student of ours thought that careful study and training by us (or any other competent school) was optional.  Through his own fault entirely, he had an accident that shattered both of his legs.  It took a long time and many surgeries to get walking again.  He will never be fully functional.  All of us still grieve for him and we are so sorry that the accident happened.  Nonetheless, he was fortunate and did not end up like these pilots.

If you have an accident, it is possible that you will no longer be able to take care of your own personal hygiene.  Who is going to do that for you?  Are you sure your wife will do this task for you for the next few decades?  If you are unmarried, who will do it?  A minimum wage flunky in some care center who could care less?  Search the Internet for quadriplegics and what it was like the first year for them.  What will be the effects on your family and friends?  They may have a mixture of terrible sadness along with anger, "What a fool he was.  Now look at what we have to put up with...forever."  Think about it.

Our sport is reasonably safe if a pilot pays serious attention to his instructors and engages in a lifetime of study and practice.  The USPPA exams (written by an experienced Boeing 727 pilot) note that the most serious danger to all pilots is:  ATTITUDE.  What is your own attitude towards flying these aircraft?  What about your level of fatigue?  It and alcohol have similar effects.  Fatigue has been on the NTSB's "most wanted list" for some time.

There are three major neglected aspects that should be studied carefully:

1. Weather

If you load Pivotal Weather and most of it does not make much sense, you will have a dramatically longer and happier flying career if you subscribe to XCSkies.  This web based software takes most of the work out of what often is perplexing jargon in efforts made by non-professionals in understanding the weather.  It is not free.  The next vitally important program is the cell phone based RadarScope.  It is $10/year – chump-change for a program that gives real time radar data about the gust front that is about to blow you into some high tension power lines....

Pilots must be 100% aware of what is going on in the first 5,000’ of air i.e. presence of inversions, proximity of storms, wind speed, and direction.  Study the first three items in the weather bar on our website.  If you do not understand everything given there, you are putting yourself at a huge risk.

2. Proficiency in kiting

If you cannot easily kite in 12 mph winds, you are putting yourself at a huge risk.  Have you seen someone play “tag” with other kiters?  (I am not referring to the exceedingly dangerous game of "tag" in the air!)  You want to be that good.  If you do not have anyone else around, put out orange cones 20m apart in various formations relative to the wind.   (You have two or more of them right?  Cheap money at Home Depot.)  Learn how to kite from one cone to another.

3. Landing skills

You must be able to land within a 30’ radius EVERYTIME if you are a P2 or PPG2.  Good XC pilots can land with 10' of their chosen LZ every time.   If you cannot consistently and accurately hit the LZ every time, you are putting yourself at huge risk.  Landing and setup must be automatic.  If it is not, what are you going to do if you get popped suddenly when 30' off the ground?  Study the "these pilots" link above to find out.  Concentrate on the relevant sections in your respective pilot manuals so that you understand every aspect of the landing process.


If you ever have any doubts whatsoever about flying at a particular site and/or time, DON’T!

If there are chatty people around and you have moved into the launch area, politely tell them to shut up.  Preflight and launch are LIFE and DEATH situations and requires 100% focus by the pilot.  Flight crews (operator certificate holders) must observe sterile cockpit rules during critical aspects of all flights and the risks caused by non-essential conversation is no different for ultralight pilots at those times.  Obviously, if you see something dangerous about to happen to another pilot and he is not yet past the point of no return, yell "Abort!  Abort!".  Lives have been saved by this being done.  Just a month ago (Feb 2019), a pilot was seriously injured because of a glider collapse.  He threw his reserve but it was disconnected from his harness and it went sailing away while he went straight down.  The cause was that he was interrupted while installing it the day before.  This is why Sup'Air recommends that pilots get in a simulator and do a practice throw (where it does not actually deploy but correctly comes out of the harness compartment) after they install their reserve.  Even Master pilots who know the sport "cold" are at risk at launch doing Q&A with others.

Over the years I have witnessed pilots who lacked sense, even good friends who just would not listen.  Most of the time, they have been OK.  Only very rarely have I seen accidents that were the fault of the instructor(s).  I have never seen nor heard of any accidents or deaths that could have been attributed to equipment failure.  That is, if the pilot chose to go "cheap" on equipment and it failed, it is still entirely the fault of the pilot.

Turkey Vulture