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By Astroboy2001
People, I have unfortunately come to a point of serious thinking as to whether to continue learning this sport. Last summer I was greatly encouraged by all who urged me to “get back on the horse” and did so with much enthusiasm. But to continue that analogy, if one then falls off a second time and it is worse than the first, the question becomes whether getting back on shows even more determination or whether the most sensible thing is to ponder “is horse racing really the sport for me?”

Last Sunday the weather looked marginally flyable at Catherine Hill Bay so I headed up with half a hope of getting a soaring flight with Tony on the radio. The wind didn’t pick up as much as we would have liked, but he agreed to supervise another new pilot and myself for a sled ride or two. I eagerly set up, pre-flighted and hang checked, happy for the opportunity to get a bit more practice in with not too long since my last training. Now I sit at home with a shattered elbow, waiting for a surgical repair tomorrow (which was supposed to happen yesterday but there were no hospital beds free) contemplating lots of depressing thoughts. I can no longer dismiss an injury as an isolated incident and put it all down to bad luck. There is now a question of how I as an individual deal with situations requiring a fast instinctive response and therefore how wise (or not) it is to continue.

The bug has well and truly bitten as some here have already noted, and until recently I was looking forward, with not much doubt, to my life being greatly enhanced by regular flying of the best kind. Now I find myself asking whether I should continue to put myself in the firing line of situations requiring surgery with uncertain outcomes and long recovery periods, and all the inconvenience to wonderful family members who think nothing of flying from one city to another to be an extra pair of hands for a few weeks. The operation tomorrow is particularly difficult with a risk of damage to the ulna nerve which probably controls as many hand muscles as the radial nerve which escaped damage last time. On the upside, my surgeon is one of the best around and comes with high recommendations from everyone who knows him, and is confident of restoring my elbow to full functionality. However, because cartilage does not heal like bone does, there is a significant probability of this joint wearing out more quickly than normal and giving me trouble in years to come. It is no fun waiting to see what the outcome of this will be – no more fun than last time – and I cannot really enjoy flying with thoughts in the back of my mind that I might be at risk, at any time, of losing use of some part of my anatomy that is fundamental to quality of life – like my preferred hand for instance.

I have a number of things to do, some suggested by my instructor, before I consider making a definite call about this. Firstly, I must lose at least 30kg of excess weight. That will put much less force on bones in “sudden stop” situations. Then I must also build my upper body muscles to provide more protection to the bones. OK, these are good things to do anyway from a good health point of view so there is nothing lost, and indeed lots gained, by doing them. As well as this, I will probably have a bone density test and if there is any deficiency, seek medical advice about rectifying it. It has also been suggested that it might be good to do some sort of gymnastics/tumbling course (to make the “tuck and roll” response to impending bad landings instinctive). Next I need to go about seeing if I can effectively practice control movements in safe situations in ways such as some have suggested on the forum or via PMs. This will almost certainly involve asking local pilots if they can spare some time (on non-flyable days) to help me out. It seems to me at the moment that my in-flight control movements have become reasonable and certainly my instructor was happy enough to send me off a launch much higher than I’d be happy to fall from, but there would be no harm in trying to get them to a more highly tuned point in a safe way. In any case, there were far more factors in my landing than that, as will become clear if you read on. Then after all this, if all looks good, I’ll see about getting a long tandem with one of the Stanwell instructors, explaining my situation, informing them that this is not a “joy flight” and that I need as much time as possible at the controls to burn the skills into my brain.

Then, and only then, will I consider further training, and if so I will pay an instructor their full course fee and start it from the beginning. I consider that there is no such thing as too many practice landings from short, easy, straight line flights.

So what of the flight? As I stood on launch I took some time to get the feel of the glider in the prevailing wind as well as for mental preparation. Then when I was good and ready and the glider was well balanced, I started running. After only a few steps, and a few more air swings, I was easily off the hill. Probably the best, and easiest, launch I have done. I settled in to trim with fingertip control, making it obvious to Tony by wiggling my fingers as I’ve been told to in the past. As I was headed straight out to sea I would need a 60 degree left hand turn to fly down the beach to the target LZ, so I waited for Tony to say that it was time to do it. The turn was slightly flaky at first but looking where I wanted to go, I soon completed it without any trouble. Then I noticed I wasn’t sinking very fast, if at all. It felt like there was some lift – more lift than I had expected. For a moment I wondered if it might be possible to do a couple of passes of the ridge, but that was not my flight plan so did not consider doing it. I was following radio instructions. Then I noticed the landing target, unfortunately far below and slipping beneath me. That IMO is where the problem started. I pulled in for speed, but more so for losing height. When I became uncomfortable with the amount of speed I had, I let it out again and zoomed along at zero sink for a few seconds, probably at least still 50 feet above the sand and with the LZ a long way behind. The beach was on 2 levels – down near the sea where there were people here and there that I did not want to hit, and higher up with a bit of grass, closer to the hills where wind gradient might be an issue. And as you got closer to the end, both parts narrowed! First mistake: Being too distracted by the thought “where the heck am I going to land?” to concentrate properly. Tony told me to take a right turn then another turn back towards the left, then look at the horizon. 2nd mistake, not looking at the horizon, but the ground instead because I was still in a left hand bank, I was now down low and I wanted to see where I was going. Then I heard the instructions to flare and run and tried to do so, trouble was I was still in a 20 degree left hand bank which was accentuated by the flare, causing the left wing to hit the sand. By now I was facing downwind away from the sea, but my ground speed was not, by any standard, very high. 3rd mistake: trying to save the landing for too long. I still had the bar out and was trying to run, but my legs had got behind me and I had not enough height to recover. Instead of letting go with one hand and swinging through the bar for a harmless impact, I held on too long, felt or heard the SNAP in my right arm and then had the familiar useless floppy arm feeling.

For many minutes I sat there in dumbfounded disbelief that I had broken the same arm twice, this time from such a low speed impact, and absorbed all the implications – out of action for a while, certainly no flying for a long time. Abandon plans to purchase equipment, make radical alterations to Easter holiday plans (no flying at Byron Bay, Armidale, Canungra, Sunshine coast…) There were nearly tears of frustration and despair, though not pain, but I held it together somehow. The low level of pain compared to last time made me hope that the steel plate had held it all together and I’d just need some immobilization for a while. I even dared to hope that it was merely a dislocated elbow. No such luck. Another complex fracture, just below the end of the plate used to repair the first, requiring (to give it its proper name) “open reduction and internal fixation of right elbow” including the use of 3 more plates to put it back together.

I will still read this forum for a while, but in the near future will be a less active contributor. There is a lot of thinking to be done between now and next summer. First of all, I must hope and pray for a successful surgery tomorrow. Once I wake up and confirm I still have use of my right hand, I will go from there.


User avatar
By relate2
Oh Andrew, what a bummer, I am so sorry for you mate, that just stinks. You may be right though in that at this time, flying may not be the best thing for you. Take heart though I held onto my dream for over 40 years and didn't get my wings till I was 54 so your dream can still come true.

I think it is great advice to drop those 30kgs, you will be amazed at how you will feel not carrying around that extra weight. I know when I dropped the 10 kgs to get into my Lightsport 3 I was amazed at how much better I felt.

Take care Andrew, heal well, I will miss your stories. :)


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By Paul H
Perhaps it is time to give some serious thought to how you might be trying to progess too fast. Your recently posted videos showed some poor launch skills( hopping off the ground before the wing was really lifting you). You need to have solid basic skills. Sustaining injuries while trying to learn what should be a fun activity will put the brakes on your desire to continue for sure. The fear of another injury will be in the back of your mind and you will be easily distracted by it. A lot of student pilots have gotten out of this sport because they tried to do too much before they were ready for it or they were pushed to do too much too soon. Being more physically fit is never a bad idea, but it's not necessarily a big problem unless you just can't run or lift a wing. Good technique if more important than just physical ability.
The distraction you mention is big problem. You need to think of alternatives if your flight doesn't go exactly as planned. If you overshoot your planned spot, then you shouldn't waste any time worrying about it. You should instead do your best to take it in stride and think about where the next best place to land is and then the next best place after that. Always think ahead and leave yourself an out. When you are starting out everything seems to happen so fast. As you become more skilled and experienced you will realize that you seem to have more time to deal with things as they happen. It's a normal perception.
You mention that you have a plated bone because of your last injury. Did your doctor say it was ok to continue your instruction? A plate can be a fulcrum during an impact and cause the kind of injury you just sustained.
If you decide you want to continue flying then you need to make up your mind that you will not be satisfied with anything less than very good basic skills. If any part of your launches don't go just right then keep working at them before you try to progress any further. The same goes for early soaring flights. Don't accept anything that is just ok, only settle for just right.
Good luck and do your best to not be too discouraged at this point. Keep us informed about how you are healing.
Last edited by Paul H on Fri Feb 27, 2009 2:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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By CHassan
Crimey that sucks! Obviously it is your decision to continue learning or pack it up. You've had a rough start, and things may or may not get better. Do you dare risk it? I think I know what I would do, but I can't be sure unless i were in your shoes.

Either way if you back away or stick with it, you should feel a bit of pride knowing you have done what only a small percentage of people have done.

Hope your surgery goes well, and the healing goes quick.
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By phantomflier
Andrew, we'll certainly pray for a completely successful surgery and speedy recovery. I am so sorry this has happened and has made you doubt your future with this sport. Only you can make the call, but rest assured whatever you decide will lead you to where you need to be! I'll be keeping you in my thoughts! gary
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By hiflioz
Andrew, that is indeed disappointing. Although I didn't hurt myself seriously while training, I can remember a number of close calls when I easily could have. Once was very similar to your situation, where I misjudged glide angle and wind direction and was fast approaching rocks at the end of the beach. I was too low to turn and I flared just as I reached the rocks and the result would have been very different with an extra 5 feet - it was just pure luck, nothing more, that I didn't prang into jagged stone.

As Tom said, this is entirely your call, but I very much empathise with your situation because I too was a very slow learner. Also like you, I react very poorly under pressure - I tend to freeze up and/or make poor decisions***. All new pilots are like this, but after hundreds of hours I am still that way. Knowing - and accepting - these things about myself, I'm especially careful about not placing myself in high-pressure situations - it's one of the reasons I'm such a conservative pilot, because I know I can't pull something amazing out of the bag at the last moment as I often see pilots with a different temperament do..

It sounds as if you've thought carefully and sensibly about your own situation - losing weight and getting fit are always a good idea ( I too joined a gym to improve my fitness and upper body strength, purely for flying)! - but might I suggest that it's very early after your accident to be making final decisions. You're probably still traumatised and in pain, and your perspective may change.

Whatever you decide, you'll know for sure 6 months down the track, when you're fit & light, whether it's right if the dream refuses to go away.

And one final option, which I hesitate to suggest on this forum, is to consider paragliding. It's by all accounts easier to learn, and importantly for pilots like you and me, groundspeeds are slower so you have more time to make decisions.

All the best to you whatever you decide, Andrew.

***EDIT: One of the reasons I progressed slowly is that my instructors quickly recognised this trait in me. They therefore advanced me SLOWLY, without overloading me, while they advanced other pilots more quickly. I was frustrated by this at the time, and it is only later in hindsight that I realised just how lucky I was to have instuctors who tailored the learning to each individual student. .
Last edited by hiflioz on Fri Feb 27, 2009 3:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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By Jake 526
TomGalvin wrote:This is a sport one should be talked out of, not into. This one is purely your call.
By day dreamer
Let's be honest. Not everyone had a great time learning to fly. I never got hurt, but I sure have seen alot of wacks, people freezing up in a turn eventually leading to textbook walks of death, turtles, and wheel landings. I hated having to carry my glider at Ed Levin during the summer, sweating, and gasping for air. I think it is part of the right of passage thing, but I think the learning on the training hill is the hardest part. And I think that the learning curve is obviously different for everyone. Only thing is, it is only how bad you want it. If you want it bad enough, you will overcome the hard part. If you can make it past the training hill trenches, then you will start to see more rewards rather than the risks of the dreaded learning process. Take your time, learn every aspect of each step, and then one day, it will all click for you, and you will notice that the mistakes will become less frequent, and your mind will be focused on the main task, fly the glider. The whole learning process can be daunting what with the feet leaving the ground, the thought of getting hurt, where you are going to land, etc. If you stay with it, these things will eventually come easier, and you will realize that when you get there. I think that the lesson are mainly getting your mind hardwired to accept that you CAN fly. BUt you gotta want it. Some people learn without having a single scratch, others not so. But the difference is the person that sticks with it. Sounds like you want it. Don't give up that's my advice. You gotta want it... Glenn
By SlingBlade
Oh man that's terrible. All I can say is that if I were you I'd switch to tandem instruction if at all possible. Hill training is fine for most people, but there is no one there to "save you" if you get into a bad situation. I learned via aerotow tandem, and I can tell you my instructor saved me from a bad situation at least once or twice... I remember one time in particular when I screwed up my landing approach due to inexperience in windy conditions. He said "bars mine" and did a few quick S turns and we were fine. It will give you time to get your confidence back, and the risk of injury will be almost nil.

If you threw in the towel though... no one would blame you.
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By Paul H
One more thing to consider is that not everyone can be a hang glider pilot, some people just aren't capable. It is nothing to be ashamed of, it's just like some people can't catch a football (people like me). Not everyone has the requisite coordination and abilities. I have seen some instructors not want to admit that and the poor student just goes on and on seemingly forever and never making the grade.
By SlingBlade
I don't know if I believe that. I knew a guy who took it really slow and had a lot of tandems before he soloed. The problem is that if you are a slow learner and make big mistakes when hill training you are going to break something. If you do that in a tandem session your instructor just takes over and you get to try again next time.
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By Wagner24314
i say you either got it or you dont.

with enough bananas a monkey can learn to fly but is it worth it?
By blindrodie
You are not alone. I always hear Clint Eastwood saying, "A Man has got to know his limitations." I have seen, personally, two fellow pilots have the same issues. One with serious injuries and the other not. They both chose to stop flying and we supported their decisions respectfully.

From what I'm reading from your post at the top of this thread is that it's time to stop flying hang gliders. You can still support the sport and we as pilots would be happy to see your face in the LZ with a cold beer even if you never make it back into the skies on your own. Hay, you can always take a tandem every once in a while and the XC pilots are always in need a good driver. That would help you stay connected and involved without all the stress to you and your family.

Best of luck to you in your choice Andrew.
By SlingBlade
To all the instructors out there... have you ever had a student who showed up regularly, and was never able to get it even after two years? I would be surprised if this were the case, but what do I know, I'm pretty new to the sport.
One of the above cases was a competent pilot that was working on his flying over two years. He always rolled it in.

He was an AT guy that we could not get to commit to landing on his feet. Eventually
he went on to learning to FL and FL at a well known school when he crashed for the last time.
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By flakey
I've broken my arm, sucks, RAD ate the tower and lost his teeth. Poor Deryl broke both arms at once, twice. Try wiping your butt with that one. Everyone still flys. Oh yeah, Spike gave up his ribs BASE jumping. All he can do now is fly. Don't give up, just take your pain pills and drive till your arm is really healed (1 year).
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By mgforbes
It may be that for you, something like a soaring trike would be a better choice.

Yes, it's powered, and yes, it's not "flying like superman", but it's weight-shift-
control flying, and it's soaring, and it's good. I fly HG, PG, a trike and fixed
wing, and they're all different, enjoyable forms of flight. I pick the wing for the
day and the conditions. The advantage of a lightweight trike is that you're free
of the need to run out takeoffs and landings, yet the flying speed is low so you
have pretty near the same landing options. You can also fly when the air is
smooth and thermal soaring isn't a possibility, and gain flying experience in
calm conditions.

A light soaring trike weighs little more than a harness, so you're still capable
of soaring flight in thermic conditions or in ridge lift. Shut down the motor and
you're "hang gliding", albeit in a seated, upright position.

(Who spotted a decent weather window this afternoon and spent an hour
at KCVO doing laps around the pattern in a Cessna 152.)
User avatar
By HangDiver
Obviously trying to forecast the weather has spanked your confidence so much that it's affected your flying... :wink:

Heal up my friend. You'll know what to do over time.
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By Wingspan34

In reading your account, this is what I see. You went to a flying site that apparently had limited LZ options. The best place to land was not a sure thing. The only other LZ option(s) quickly went beyond your level of skill or training.

I really hate to say this, but the above problem was nothing you could foresee. It WAS something the instructor could/should have foreseen.

Every place I've done any higher hill or mountain teaching has had plenty big and open LZs where it's down right hard to miss the place. I'm talking 50+ acres of nice flat field. So, here I am reading your story wondering how an instructor could launch an early student pilot off of a hill, where if the single good landing zone slips by (due to predictable areas of lift?), all other (good) options quickly disappear. I just don't get it. :?

As long as I understand things correctly, I don't see this as your fault. Sounds to me like there was only one good, but limited LZ to land at, at this site. If you overshot then trouble was nearly certain.

It's up to the instructor (who's job it is to supply you with his knowledge and experience - since you haven't got it yet) to judge the conditions and your known skill level, then decide that you can or can't - should or should not - fly the site, considering ALL factors.

I'm wondering, had you flown this site before? If so, was it in the same wind conditions? Had you visited the intended LZ?

There's this safety lesson about 3 or more unpredictable variables. Your average person can usually deal with 1 or 2 unpredictable variables but add a couple more and MOST people's chance of an accident will radically increase. It's an instructor's job to present you with a learning environment that involves maybe one or no unpredictable variables.

Coping with basic flying skills are enough for the new pilot. They don't need and often can't cope with things that might even cause trouble for an advanced pilot.

BTW - Below is a Google Earth image of what seems to be the Catherine Hill Bay area. Where is the flying site? I like to visualize the scene.
St Caths Bay.jpg
St Caths Bay.jpg (75.87 KiB) Viewed 6181 times

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