Postby Rick Masters » Fri Jan 12, 2018 10:36 pm

The risk inherent in paragliding is often referred to by paraglider pilots as a "risk vs. reward" judgment. That is, they will risk their lives, their future and the future of those who may depend upon them by choosing a deficient wing that can suddenly fail in turbulence - if the pleasure they receive leading up to that event is prejudged as substantial. Incredibly, this choice is made over robust footlaunch wings with airframes that exist, used, within the same price range as new paragliders. The excuse given in accepting this additional risk is that hang gliders "are not as convenient."
    Hang glider pilots also share a risk vs. reward judgment but their wings do not fail in the type of turbulence that fails paragliders. The risk that hang glider pilots face, flying in the same air and at approximately the same speeds as paraglider pilots, is almost inconsequential. This is never acknowledged by paraglider pilots. In their risk comparisons with hang gliders, paraglider pilots without exception will state that, because hang gliders can also fail in turbulence, it follows that the two types of aircraft are equivalent in risk. This is not true. It is, in fact, a lie.
    Paragliding itself possesses, by far, the greatest inherent risk in popular aviation sports. This is due to the Paragliding Dead Man's Curve - the PDMC - that illustrates why a paraglider must travel through a zone of no recourse twice on every flight. Unlike the helicopter, which has a genuine option to always avoid its own Dead Man's Curve, the paraglider is completely unable to avoid the PDMC. It must fly through the PDMC at least twice - on takeoff and landing - and the paraglider often spends a great deal of time within the PDMC while ridge soaring or seeking lift. If the airfoil fails within the the PDMC - that is, if a collapse cannot be recovered - the pilot will be killed or severely injured because within the PDMC the deployment of the reserve parachute is not an option.


    The majority of PDMC-related injuries, which is inarguable, are spine and leg injuries which can doom survivors to paraplegic futures. These types of injuries are not common in hang gliding accidents where the tensioned sail and airframe often absorb much of the impact energy. Paraglider accidents are, in fact, a massive step up in severity. This brings us to the fundamental difference between paragliders and all other types of aircraft - including helicopters. Paragliders present an added layer of risk to the pilot. This risk is directly related to the PDMC. It is the added risk accumulated from flying within the PDMC. This risk is additional to the risk inherent in all other types of sport aviation. It is also additional to to the risk inherent in flying paragliders above 366 feet - which represents the lower practical limit (4 seconds) of a successful reserve deployment. Therefore flying paragliders involves two layers of risk - the inherent risk of sport aviation plus the added risk from flying within the PDMC - compared to all other types of aviation, which involve only one.
    How large is this risk? Clearly flight within the PDMC, even for a short period, is much more dangerous than flight above it. Therefore it is at least twice as dangerous and could easily be assumed to be 100 times or even 1000 times more dangerous. What is the actual significance of such risk when paragliders are commonly seen to experience safe flights? The answer is qualifiable - which adds an element of confusion to the issue. Paraglider pilots will point out that the vast majority of paraglider flights are done safely. They use these statistics to demonstrate that paragliding is a relatively safe sport. They will claim that only one accident occurs for every 1000 hours of flying. This is true. But what does this really mean? Paraglider pilots, almost without exception, learn to fly in smooth, laminar, turbulence-free air. This type of air is commonly found coming in from the ocean or lakes or smooth terrain, often in the morning or later in the evening. The numbers used to represent paragliding as a relatively safe sport are taken from these areas - where the majority of paragliding occurs. But the PDMC deals only with an instance of 4 seconds following collapse: the remaining 4 seconds of rapid descent (instigated by turbulence) where a reserve parachute deployment is not possible. These 4 seconds do not compare well to the three million, six hundred thousand incident-free seconds that make up the claimed 1000 hours in laminar air. These 4 seconds are significantly weighted in any discussion of paraglider safety. In fact, the 4 seconds are so significant and the 3,600,000 seconds are so insignificant that the 1000 hour claim is meaningless. Why? Because the pilot's life can be lost or forever changed in those 4 seconds. Those 4 seconds carry real weight. They mean something. You cannot compare 4 seconds spent floating peacefully around in the sky with the 4 second emergency that can end or forever change a pilot's life. Therefore the comparison is invalid.
    Risk involves the factor of accumulative time. Risk assessment assumes that over a period of time and under unchanging conditions, a singularity will occur between Point A and Point B. This type of analysis - static analysis - is accepted in general aviation, rail and ship travel, and automotive accidents. Actuary tables are built on static analysis. But in paragliding, static analysis is meaningless because the novice pilot will frequently progress in skill, experience, equipment choice and site choice to arrive at the new risk realm of inland thermal sites and their dramatically increased risk. The paraglider pilot will now begin to launch from inland mountains and fly in turbulent conditions. Sooner or later, turbulence will induce a partial or full collapse of the wing at altitude. Usually the pilot will recover from the collapse and throughout the remainder of his or her flying career will attribute his recovery to skill and training. Luck will not be a factor in the explanation. (This is denial.) But then, sooner or later, turbulence will induce a partial or full collapse near the PDMC. This will frighten the pilot, but again, the pilot will recover from the collapse and throughout the remainder of his flying career will attribute his recovery to skill and training. Here, luck may be acknowledged as a minor factor.
    The pilot's odds of encountering turbulence at takeoff, while ridge soaring within the PDMC or descending toward landing increase with the pilot's airtime. Paraglider pilots encountering a collapse during takeoff, low soaring or landing within the PDMC will not have time to deploy a reserve parachute and therefore must attempt to recover from the collapse before impact. This often fails, resulting in serious injury or death. This is often observed and can be studied on YouTube. To compound this problem, paraglider pilots frequently do not know how close they are to the PDMC because the specifics of the PDMC are often ridiculed by their peers, so they will continue to attempt to recover from a collapse or nose-down spiral dive until they enter the PDMC, eliminating the option of a reserve deployment that may have saved them.
    To bluntly recap in an unavoidable way that paraglider pilots in severe denial appear to find offensive, I will state that
    1) Paragliders are not true aircraft because they can lose their ability to fly during flight in conditions that all other forms of aircraft can tolerate. They are therefore stunt parachutes and should be acknowledged as such - particularly to avoid liability issues.
    2) Paragliders are not equivalent to any other aircraft, including parachutes, hang gliders or helicopters.
    3) Paragliders are the most dangerous of all aircraft when flown in turbulence.
    4) Paraglider pilots accumulate risk at a rate of 2 to 1000 times more quickly than pilots of other aircraft flying at approximately the same speeds in the same conditions. This accumulative risk is qualitative and is a function of the average level of turbulent air the paraglider pilot has flown in.
    -- Mythology of the Airframe, Rick Masters, August 13, 2009

In my opinion, the PDMC is high caliber safety information that is vital to the newcomer in making a balanced decision in regard to the choice of aircraft type he will fly in his sport aviation hobby. It will also a serve the sport as valuable visual tool that can demonstrate safety improvements such as ballistically-deployed reserves.
    I strongly recommend that the paragliding community immediately and rigorously present the PDMC to every person interested in learning paragliding. New pilots should be tested on their understanding of the PDMC and required to provide a signed statement acknowledging their understanding of its significance to both the national governing body and their training entity.
    The PDMC is about paragliders.
    Both paragliders and helicopters are subject to sudden and random loss of aerodynamic function. No other types of aircraft are.
    This means DMCs exist for both helicopters and paragliders.
    Helicopter designers provided the DMC chart to helicopter pilots so those pilots wouldn't wreck their helicopters and make the public think that helicopters were too dangerous to have around.
    Neither the helicopter designers nor the helicopter pilots actually believed their helicopters fell out of the sky because their engines stopped. This was the simple explanation offered to the general public. As pilots, which you all claim to be, the designers and helicopter pilots knew that helicopters could fly and safely land with the engines on or off. The problem was with the sudden and random loss of aerodynamic function that resulted from engine failure or fuel starvation within the DMC.
    Helicopter pilots are very respectful of their DMC. Few fly in it for fun. This is evidence of competence.
    Paragliders are relatively new. But paraglider designers don't provide a PDMC chart to paraglider pilots. (Why?)
    Paraglider pilots ignore the thought of a PDMC, despite the fact that paragliding worldwide has the highest fatality and injury rate of any aviation sport. And despite the serious problem that the vast majority of injury and fatality accidents can be traced directly to the PDMC, paraglider pilots laugh at it and obfuscate the issue. This is evidence of denial.
    No one in denial has ever solved a problem.
    I don't think I can help make paragliding less dangerous but, because the paragliding community has relinquished their obligation, I would simply like to warn people about the PDMC.
    First, I will repeat that aircraft with fixed wings, with or without engines, do not have a DMC. Fixed wing aircraft have nearly a 100 percent probability of maintaining aerodynamic integrity in flight. Helicopters which choose to fly within the DMC, and paragliders, who must fly twice (at the very least) for every flight within the DMC, do not.
    Second, I believe knowledgeable or advanced pilots may choose to fly in any conditions they wish, on any type of aircraft they wish. I believe that is their right. I have no issue with that. I will defend that for every branch of sport aviation. I have never seen the risk of flying hang gliders or sailplanes presented dishonestly. The risk was always clearly described.
    Third, my concern is with the honest presentation of risk by the paragliding community to novice and potential pilots. Clearly, there is a Paraglider Dead Man's Curve. It exists between altitudes of about 20 to 300 feet or so. It can be a little less depending on pilot skill and equipment. But regardless of pilot skill and equipment, I contend that paraglider pilots pass through this PDMC twice on every flight, and that this accumulates additional risk - beyond that of all other aircraft, including helicopters.
    Fourth, because this is a fact, the danger inherent from flying within the DMC must be stated by paraglider manufacturers to every paraglider consumer. It is not. Therefore this is dishonest and, in my opinion, absolutely criminal.
    Furthermore, this issue is so serious that every new pilot must attest that his upcoming exposure to the PDMC is fully understood and that it is unique to paragliders only. Only this will absolve the national organizations from some liability. I would even suggest hang glider pilots consider abandoning organizations that mix paragliding and hang gliding so as not to be caught up in potential liability issues that have nothing to do with them.
    My primary concern - as a father who survived a decade of dangerous sport flying, then quit - is that my children may wish to follow my footsteps in footlaunched flight. Unfortunately, a lie is currently being promulgated about aircraft safety that implies that aircraft without airframes are equal in safety to aircraft with airframes. This is not so. Aircraft without airframes frequently collapse in flight. If an unrecoverable collapse happens below the altitude where an emergency reserve parachute might be deployed, my child (or others) may be subject to serious injury or death without full understanding of their risk. At present, our children are not provided the information that paragliding has a Dead Man's Curve, that they will be exposed to it twice on every flight, and that DMC exposure is an accumulative risk that is additional to any other type of fixed wing sport aviation. This is deceptive advertising. I want them to be aware of the PDMC and the accumulative risk inherent in flying within the DMC.
    --Mythology of the Airframe, Rick Masters, June 24, 2009

The hang glider pilot advances much more quickly than the paraglider pilot
Posted on Oz Report on November 8, 2009 by Rick Masters

    On each cross country flight, a hang glider pilot encounters dozens or hundreds more thermals and can fly a hundred miles farther than a paraglider. Yet in working thermals or ridgelift, a hang glider can slow down within the upper speed range of a paraglider.
    This kind of experience allows the hang glider pilot to advance much more quickly than a paraglider pilot.
    In fact, there is no comparison. In a few short years a hang glider pilot can exceed the total of meteorological phenomena and terrain overflight incidents that a paraglider pilot might gather during his entire flying career. The hang glider pilot then continues to grow his knowledge base and experience far beyond what a paraglider pilot might ever hope to achieve.
    In addition, the hang glider pilot explores conditions that are unsurvivable or unreachable to the paraglider pilot.
    There is a lot you could learn from hang glider pilots but you don't listen. You are too full of yourselves to understand the obvious. You call me a "non-pilot" and you can't even fly a real aircraft. That's pretty funny.
    Every time I try to talk about paragliders, the paraglider pilots turn the topic to hang gliders or jumbo jets crashing into the sea. There are irresolvable psychological issues at work here that result from the dichotomy of regularly flying within the PDMC and truly coming to grips with the potential deadly outcome. Non-pilots and pilots of other types of aircraft do not share this conflict often easily understand it. Those seeking to understand the Paraglider Dead Man's Curve can find no insight in most observations by paraglider pilots - only levels of circular logic, delusion and denial.
    It has been apparent to me for months that most of the paraglider pilots are (somewhat transparently) struggling (rather inadequately) to obfuscate the argument. The key issue is that paraglider pilots accumulate risk at a much faster rate than other flying sports. The consequences of collapse within the PDMC can be fatal or permanently debilitating, therefore the risk at take off, during low flight and again at landing can be viewed as unacceptable by the reasonable person.
    Pilot skill can only marginally lower the entry point for the PDMC. Pilot skill is not a factor in PDMC risk. Probability is. The probability of an accident for paraglider pilots who accumulate airtime within the PDMC continues to grow throughout their flying careers. An additional element of risk is the factor of average turbulence the pilot has flown in. Pilots entering turbulent PDMC regimes carry and accumulate much more risk.
    Flying paragliders in Owens Valley is an example of the worst possible judgment made in the face of the PDMC.
User avatar
Rick Masters
Posts: 3046
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2011 5:11 am
Location: Owens Valley

Return to Rick Masters: Dangerous Thoughts

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests