5. Clouds, Forward Launches
This is the 5th article in a series on weather and flying pointers. Contact me or the USHGA for the previous articles which are important for following the thread of these discussions. Remember that practice is the mother of skill and get to the park frequently to refine your ground handling - remember to kite in the a forward facing position, for best glider integration training. Study the tests you originally took from the USHGA to stay current in your modeling. Do your own homework on the weather and make your own decisions on whether to fly - you're the one who gets to either enjoy the flight or suffer through it.
The "K" index makes an attempt to "rate" the possibility of thunderstorms. An index of 15 is low and 40 is high. We want to avoid flying in conditions where thunderstorms are likely. If you note that cumulous clouds are starting to billow taller than they are wide you may expect strong areas of lift and sink that may exceed your abilities to manage turbulence. Growing cumulous can create such strong lift that you may become trapped in the cloud, which is illegal, cold, disorienting and can lead to hypoxia. Some cumulous clouds can be 10's of thousands of feet in height. Even if rain or virga is miles away it can create sudden gust fronts (called "out-flow boundaries" by the NWS). Virga, which is rain that doesn't fall all the way to the ground because of evaporation, can create strong gust fronts because the chilled air falls to the ground and flows outwardly. Keep in mind that a cloud dropping virga or rain as much as 10 miles away from your flying site can cause high winds. Virga looks like a veil or can appear wispy.
When studying the underside of cumulous clouds or a layer of clouds, "stratus", look for lumpiness, called "mammata", in addition to virga. These can indicate the possibility of impending rain. To fly uneventfully shouldn't mean you survived a potentially dangerous situation, it means you've learned to anticipate what may happen and then either choose not to fly or to land to avoid flying under duress. You wouldn't knowingly walk across a thin layer of ice, don't fly in conditions that are clearly dangerous. Your accident could shut down a flying site.
The weather section of www.paraglide.com was recently improved to help you follow a step by step process of making weather evaluations. You may need to adjust some of the sections to specify your local flying area.
Forward launches may be useful in situations where the air is very still, you are launching from difficult terrain, you have an ankle or knee problem, and if you're at a high altitude site. The advantage to the forward launch is that you eliminate the rotation to a forward position that the reverse launch requires. Using a forward inflation in even moderately gusty or windy conditions can be tough or dangerous due to a lack of glider control. It's very important to carefully preflight your glider so it's completely open with the center pulled further back than the tips, thus loading the center of the glider upon initial inflation. If your leading edge stands up ready to grab air your inflation will be even easier. Be sure and thoroughly clear all of your lines, look under the trailing edge for hidden lines that may be snagged. Place the each riser set so that they are laying over your arms, palms facing up, without any twists. Detach the brakes and place them with the "A" risers in each hand, check the routing. Be sure and look over your shoulder and confirm that you are in the middle of the glider and that you will have an equal pull on the risers. You may initiate the inflation with your arms either back behind you or with your elbows bent and hands in line with your shoulders. In either method it's important to sense the symmetrical inflation of the glider and to compensate for subtle tilt in the inflation before it becomes too difficult to recover. You can make some correction to an uneven inflation by stepping towards the side that is pulling hardest and lifting the softer side more. As you sense that the glider is arriving overhead you will let go of the "A's" and add a bit of brake, if needed, to keep the glider from over flying. You will want to scan the glider to confirm it has no tangles or line overs.
Solid ground handling skills directly correlate to competent active piloting. In addition, being able to land accurately shows a solid ability to manage the energy in your glider, thus more competent active piloting skills. Active piloting skills are a prerequisite to flying in dynamic complex conditions. If you're having launching problems and trouble landing accurately avoid anything but simple atmospherics. Try and practice your ground handling in gusty/switchy conditions so you are forced to perfect your sense of the air and reaction timing to the needs of the glider. Although the video "Fly Hard" demonstrates some very dangerous flying maneuvers that should be attempted over water and supervised by a professional, there's a great deal to gain from studying the precision ground handling techniques.