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A Fighter Pilots Guide to Safe Kiting

Forum with lots of safety info - a must for newbees
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A Fighter Pilots Guide to Safe Kiting

Postby kitegrab » Mon Mar 05, 2012 5:25 am

There are old fighter pilots and crazy fighter pilots but never old crazy fighter pilots. This seems to directly translate to kitesurfing. I am an instructor pilot in the F-15E fighter jet and a graduate of the Air Force Flight Safety School (similar to the NTSB aircraft crash investigation school). I wanted to discuss some of the corollaries between kiting and flying to 1) Give you an idea of how we execute an inherently dangerous job of flying fighter jets and 2) How you can apply this to kitesurfing safely and confidently.

1. Know Your Jet- Fighter pilots are required to know the ins and outs of every aspect of their aircraft—their life depends on it! This includes the intricacies of the mechanical and emergency systems but most importantly the flight limitations of the aircraft itself.
The difference in kites, bars, quick releases and harnesses is similar to the differences in different fighter jets. Read the owner’s manual, visit the manufacturer’s site, familiarize yourself with your gear and most importantly, HOW the safety features were built to function with your gear.

2. Emergency Training- Engine fires, ejections, spins, electrical failure are just a few situations we train to countless times in simulators before we even start the jet. The more you train to bad situations, the more your mind is able to store the appropriate actions in your subconscious; this is where ‘muscle memory’ pays the bills!
I have read many kitemare stories where the mishap kiter had his hands frozen to the control bar with the kite fully powered. Simulate bad situations such as getting drug through the water, lofted into the air, etc. and practice the exact hand movements and actions needed to save your pink butt!

3. “Chairflying”- I have logged 1500 hours in military jets but probably have logged twice that “chairflying”, which is literally sitting in a chair visualizing myself going through the entire flight; movements, actions, etc. Flying at over 1000 mph is not the place to be going over something for the first time.
I am sure that most most kiteboarders visualize their tricks, jumps, transitions on the beach beforehand, but it’s important to mention how much this helps with any action sport.

4. Risk Assessment- Consider having a glass jar full of change. Bad weather, inexperience, complex missions--take money out of the jar for each of these factors. The less change you have in the jar, the higher the risk. No change left in the jar? This is where the reward must outweigh the risk or it’s a no-go.
Bad weather/tides, offshore winds, obstacles/rocks, experience level, practicing new jumps/tricks- these are all things to consider the risk level when you kite. A smart kiter mitigates these risks such as wearing a helmet/impact vest, kiting with a buddy, safety boats in the area etc.

5. Contingencies- If something can go wrong, it probably will. Chances are Darwin will rear his ugly head. Taking a bird down the #1 engine intake while flying at 600mph at 500 feet was never part of my plan, however briefing that ‘hip-pocket’ emergency airfield sure did save my bacon.

Kite malfunction, line snapping, dead wind while 1 mile off the coast, high gusting winds, losing your board? Do you have a plan? Think about these ahead of time and always have an ‘out’.

6. Preflight- Ten minutes is spent before each flight performing a “walkaround” of the jet looking for potential flaws. It’s a good thing I noticed a sheared link in my landing gear before I jumped in; that would not have ended well!
This is preached in ad nauseum in the kitesurfing community for good reason. Don’t blow it off. Frayed lines, small tears in your canopy, quick release frozen up due to sand are all things you can quickly catch on the beach.

7. Wingman – Cheesy Top Gun lines…got it. Having a good wingman when you are partying downtown on a Friday night…always. But no kidding we always fly with at least one wingman to “check your six”.
Don’t kite alone, look out for other kiter’s, and always help a fellow kitesurfer if it looks like he/she might be in trouble. Same team Farva, same team!

8. Don’t exceed your capabilities- Air Force Fighter Weapons School Graduates (Top Gun) are the only ones qualified to fly at low level down to 100 ft. At 600 mph that’s about 1 second of reaction time between livin’ and a smoking crater. I know I’ve been trained down to 500 ft. so that’s where I stay. My mother thanks me.

At best I’m an intermediate kitesurfer, which means I don’t go trying the same stuff Hadlow is pulling off. Progression is continuous improvement with realistic steps and risk. Push the limits but within reason. “Progressive steps” keep you safe and keep others from having to rescue you from being an idiot.

Lastly, I’m simply a guy with a kite, hoping to pass on something that might get the brain pistons firing, and subsequently save someone from a “what the hell did I get myself into” situation. I’m sure I have only scratched the surface on this subject so pitch in your experience and we all can continue to learn to avoid being that ‘mishap kitesurfer’.
Pray for wind and pay it forward,

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Re: A Fighter Pilots Guide to Safe Kiting

Postby CaptainArgh » Mon Mar 05, 2012 7:18 pm

Great insight from your career.
Thanks for putting this together!

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Re: A Fighter Pilots Guide to Safe Kiting

Postby kitesurfingcollectiv » Tue Mar 06, 2012 2:58 am

Nice post.

You're completely right, the amount of times that you see people taking undue risks is much higher that it should be. If everyone was as educated in risk analysis of you, there wouldn't be any of the videos of people flying across car parks attached to their kites.

TKC :)

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Re: A Fighter Pilots Guide to Safe Kiting

Postby Gioro_T » Tue Apr 09, 2013 11:20 am


deserves a bump :naughty:

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Re: A Fighter Pilots Guide to Safe Kiting

Postby nzwindy » Thu Apr 11, 2013 9:07 am

How do you know if a pilot is at your party?

He will tell you.

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Re: A Fighter Pilots Guide to Safe Kiting

Postby windybrit » Fri Apr 12, 2013 2:44 am

roflmao :)

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Re: A Fighter Pilots Guide to Safe Kiting

Postby Eli90 » Thu May 23, 2013 10:50 am

This article is great, well worth a read. Thanks for this!

In fairness, if I was a fighter pilot, I'd tell everybody :lol:

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Re: A Fighter Pilots Guide to Safe Kiting

Postby dobiewan » Thu May 23, 2013 12:01 pm

Thanks Kitegrab - great article that will impact my kiting behaviour. All the best!

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Re: A Fighter Pilots Guide to Safe Kiting

Postby piccio » Tue Apr 15, 2014 6:21 am

believe me,if you want to have years of kiting fun forget completely what you are!
water and waves are different than airplanes !
cannot say which is more dangerous,sure flying needs years of brain training,experiences,not for everybody,fighting plane even more.
having your head full of you can only cause danger or hurting or at least will not let you enjoi kiting ,you will always mix it ,it is dangerous for you!
try to make the most difficult thing for a fighting pilot after landing...forget!
until you enter airbase again.
that's not only for kiting,for everything,let others talk and listen !think only that you are stronger !never saying it !never let others suspecting what you are thinking! life will be better for you

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Re: A Fighter Pilots Guide to Safe Kiting

Postby mr moon » Thu Sep 04, 2014 5:16 pm

Very interesting insight, well done :thumb:

Kitesurfing is a complex recreational sport, a water sport which for many wrongly falls in the windsurfing, surfing, wake boarding type, while is actually the combination of more sports and a lot more dangerous than these.

One is very close to gliding / flying involving a chute like canopy = PULL
The other one is boarding (mainly on deep waters) = DRAG

Our body is connected between the two and joins them together, creating this kind of surface flying :D

A major risk factor (among many others) is that we perform this 'flying' sport during high winds, often in unstable weather conditions, deep waters, land, rough seas and waves (love these :D ), currents, reefs etc.. We land and take off on land, very close to all sort of hazards, such as rocks, buildings, cars and all sort of other objects, need say more?

We are the only 'pilots' who take off, fly and land so close to all sorts of objects without wearing helmets (so uncool)…

We are the smallest floating vessels (so we are considered by the international maritime code) without even 'have' a floating vessel as such, cruising deep seas without wearing life jackets :-?

Despite all of this, unlike with planes and jets, in kiting there is hardly any training involved, especially on safety and on the possible worse case scenarios (too many!) which can so easily lead to death.

Not even the IKO apparently top standards of school/teaching in this sport, covers the essentials of safety (or just marginally and inefficiently) not to mention the worse case scenarios on either land or water, which all of us in one way or the other, and with more luck or less soon or later will have to face when the **** hits the fan :worry:

In my death ride / loop accident, although I followed all IKO safety standard procedures and much more, I ended up with a severe near-drowning experience miraculously rescued by some fellow kiters who luckily knew some kind of basic CPR rescue technique (not from any kitesurfing training of course!) and managed to give me my second chance...

I often take a look at this section of the forum, but by the comments I read I've realised that there is only a handful of people who actually care about safety.. and take it seriously.

I think it might be something to do with the image that both brands and magazines are marketing the sport with, the kind of cool surf kid, long hair, branded up head to toes with the irritating dumb attitude typical of the Burt** snowboarding teenage videos, rather than to appeal to the more 'pilots' or 'extreme sports' types :cool2:

Have you ever seen a kite video with someone wearing a helmet? …Or wearing a safety knife? Or checking the sky above his head in pre-flight assessment to see if perhaps a major squall is about to wipe him out from the beach in a few seconds??? No dude, that is uncool in kiting, so uncool!

And what is even worse is UNAWARENESS, which is also so popular among kiters, and the biggest killer sometimes, just read some of the comments in the safety posts in this section and you'll realise :D

Kitesurfing is a new sport, unfortunately many more people will have to die or experience severe injuries in order to get some kind of standard safety guidances into place and make safety part of a compulsory training program, or we might even end up in a total ban beforehand! :roll:

Safety my friend is unKool, so unKool in Kiting!


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