Kevin came to powered paragliding training with a knack for kiting the wing– though he swore he hasn’t done this before.
At any rate, we spent a few hours kiting (10 is a good minimum, but I think all together over the course of 2 days it was something like 7 hours); you can never have enough kiting. After kiting, we returned to the simulator and rehearsed handling emergency situations (what to do if you hit turbulence, a reserve toss, steering without the brakes, etc…), and the simple stuff like getting in and out of the harness while flying.
Towing: Always have a plan B (and a plan C!)
When I was confident Kevin had the control necessary for a safe launch, we progressed to tow training Sunday evening. After one short tow, a broken line on the scooter tow forced us to wrap up for the night.
With the scooter tow out of commission, and a wind forecast ideal for short flights off a nearby training hill, we woke up early Monday morning and hit the training hill. The forecast turned out wrong (wind was blowing downhill slightly) and the bamboo at the bottom of the hill had doubled in height since the previous week. I launched the wing to test the viability of flying, and we found ourselves picking the wing out of the bamboo for the next 5 minutes. On top of this, it was a hot morning. The nearby Biddeford Glacier was slowly melting to reveal an aggregate of Fireball nips containers and undelivered newspapers*.
We took a coffee break then hit the hill again later. Wind was even more unfavorable. We gave up on the hill and headed back to base.
The Hand Tow
Back at home, we built a 150ft hand-tow rig out of unused tow line. I had a handle from a weed-whacker that served as my connection, and we spliced a loop for the tow bridle to attach. I have towed with trucks, towed with scooter tows, and once towed with a wonderful two cylinder snowmobile engine rig which later took me to a cross country record, but I’ve never hand-towed. I called a friend who had done it before for tips, and I researched it online, finding educational videos of what to do– and what not to do. I even came across some kind of relay race event where the participants race in teams towing a paraglider pilot behind them! Fun for another day I guess!
We hit the field at 11am. It was hot out. Thermals were starting to pop. Not wanting to tow in the stronger midday of a hot day, we towed immediately. I played the part of the draft horse and tow operator, moderating the tension on Kevin as I hauled him into the air, careful not to let him stray too far to one side. It was hard work in such light winds. We finally got a few good tows– one about 40 feet, which gave Kevin time to set up for a landing and practice his flare– but the sun and heat were exhausting us. I felt like puking after that really good tow, so we called it good after a couple hours. Did I say it was hot out? It was 97ºF and humid!
Back home, we re-hydrated and watched paramotoring videos, including several previous students’ first flights. Totally beat, I took a nap and Kevin got lunch. We reconvened at 5pm and rehearsed motor control on the ground and in the simulator, including a motor-on dry run of Kevin’s first flight. I had to meet another student on the field at 6pm, so we headed out, unsure if we would have the energy to fly ourselves.
Wind was variable in strength through the night. Kris (the other pilot) launched a bunch of flights. He is starting to dial in his landings. His launches are for the most part very good! Every attempt at launching resulted in a flight– excellent for someone with 17 flights.
In the last 30 minutes of Part 103-legal flying hours, with a strobe light donned, Kevin put the motor on his back and clipped into the wing. He performed one flawless inflation with the motor running– just to get a sense of what a running motor feels like while inflating the wing– then he killed the motor and put the wing back down. We set up at the rear of the field (runway behind you is useless) and prepared for the flight.
Again, Kevin brought the wing straight up over his head and immediately continued his forward motion. The wing under control, I radioed for him to add more power and keep running. In a few more steps he was off the ground! Kevin climbed to about 400 feet above the ground and got into his seat. He did a left-hand lap around the field and lined up for a graceful landing. Maybe he could have flared later, but with a slow school wing, there isn’t much flare to work with. He sat down softly and stood back up. I couldn’t be happier- his launch and flight were well controlled, and his landing was slow and safe. Congratulations Kevin! Much more flying is in your future!