Dave’s 10th Anniversary of Flight

I had an awesome 3-stop flight last night for my 10th anniversary of flying. My favorite flights follow the 80/20 rule: 80% adventure, 20% misadventure. Wind was stiff from the West, so I scrapped my original plan to land at the beach, and instead flew to Sanford airport to land and make some adjustments to my motor. I took off again, then landed in the Blueberry Barrens to pick some blueberries. A couple cycling by stopped and chatted about blueberries. I shared with them locations where I spotted others picking blueberries (the berries themselves are hard to see while moving through the air, even at 5 feet).

A PBY Catalina in the background at Sanford Airport during my maintenance stop.
Blueberries in a rare naturally treeless zone of Maine.
Northern Blazing Star from the Kennebunk Plains. It’s a rare and beautiful flower here. Once a year, the Kennebunk Plains burns so that these flowers can germinate (don’t quote me on that lifecycle; I’m not a biologist).

No-wind launching at the Blueberry barrens was somewhat sketchy– The ground was uneven and the dirt roads were rutted. In my rush to launch while nobody was looking, I’m pretty sure I forgot to attach the right speed bar pulley to the wing. Sometimes they fall off on their own, but I think it was a lax pre-flight in this case. The speed bar line swung back and hit the propeller on take off. The propeller suffered minimal damage, but the netting on the lower right quadrant was destroyed (it was an easy fix). Amazingly, the speed bar line wasn’t badly damaged and had lassoed itself safely around a cage spar. I appreciated the reminder that complacency doesn’t care how experienced you are, nor how long you’ve been flying. I waved at the blueberry pickers down below like everything was normal and flew home.

Oops.

At 300 feet, a familiar apple- or blueberry-cinnammon pie scent was stagnating over the field. I have only once before noticed this pie layer of air, a few years back. I’m not sure what makes it, but it smells great! It only happens this time of year.

Crazy thing– The wind was blowing at least 15 mph at tree-top height. There was no wind on the ground all day.
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July Update

Pushaw Brook near Old Town, Maine.

Summah!

Motor Maintenance

I helped a friend take apart his motor to figure out why it wouldn’t start. The symptom: The flash-start pull-start wasn’t “flashing,” and the motor wasn’t starting. He had already taken apart, reassembled and replaced the flash starter. We also replaced the carburetor, which is often the cause of troublesome motor issues (but not in this case). Spark plug replaced, gaskets replaced, piston/head cleaned, etc. — nothing standard was fixing the problem.

The folding card table got used, and was surprisingly sturdy.

There was no resistance when he pulled the pull-starter handle. The flash-start mechanism isolates the user from the compression of the engine, but you still feel *something*. We were getting nothing. I hooked up a compression tester: 0 psi compression when we rotated the piston– I’ve never seen that before. We took apart the cylinder a second time and looked at the rings. They were not springing out to contact the cylinder wall, and they were stuck flush(!) with the piston sides, allowing air/fuel mix to easily blow by the piston, completely voiding the combustion chamber. The flash-start needs this compression to wind its “flash” spring.

click for larger picture.

I don’t know if the motor would have started even if we could get the first bang to happen. Even if it did run, the power would be extremely lacking. I’m not sure exactly what would happen with so much blow-by (combustion gases migrating from the front of the piston to the crankcase). My friend has a new piston on the way.

The most common cause of stuck piston rings is excess heat when the engine is running, usually due to a lean condition. Not using a 2-stroke lubricating oil might also cause something like this to happen. In my friend’s case, I don’t think he ran it too hot; there was no other indication of heat damage (and perhaps someone with more experience reading pistons can tell me what the picture of the piston tells them). There was an amount of carbon built up on the piston and head consistent with 30 hours of use. He might be changing oil brands though, just in case.

First Flight

Tim got his first flight at the end of June. After 6 towed launches, he was more than ready for motorized flight. His first flight was on the full Moon, so I had him fly a few more laps than usual for a first flight so he could take in the scenery. He’s had a couple more since then, but we ran into issues with his used motor: it wouldn’t shut off when he landed– the kill switch wasn’t working. Now he gets to learn about motor maintenance.

Tim (on the left) on his first paramotor flight.

High humidity and temperature

Wood Island lighthouse.

Temperatures have been in the 80s and 90s over the 4th of July weekend. We flew a few days, and those launches were brutal! There was no wind to help, What little wind we did receive was switching directions, and we ran into issues with the high density altitude. Once off the ground however, flying was calm and warm. I even flew a tandem (one successful launch, one non-successful), which was surprising that we could launch in this stuff.

I’ll briefly explain Density Altitude. Think of it as “the altitude that the weather conditions make it feel like.” High Density Altitude means the conditions are making it seem like you’re launching at a high altitude. Low Density Altitude makes it seem like you’re launching at a low altitude. Note, it’s not (High Density) Altitude, it’s High (Density Altitude)– See what I did there?

Hypothetically just varying altitude, planes have a harder time launching at Denver (5000 feet above sea level, more or less) than in Kennebunk (10 feet above sea level). This is because, assuming equal temperatures and humidity, the air at 5000 feet is less dense than the air at sea level. Less air density at high altitude results in less lift force, and fewer oxygen molecules for the motor to burn. You end up needing to run faster to get the same lift, and at the same time the motor produces less power than it normally does. Mostly it’s the running that sucks.

Besides high altitude, two other things can make the air less dense: High Humidity and High Temperature. The result of higher humidity or temperature is the same as the result of high altitude– faster run, less power from the motor.

Temperatures and Humidity have been high, but if you manage to get yourself off the ground, don’t come down until you’ve had a beautiful long flight! Pictured here: A civil war monument (maybe?) on an island.

In a nutshell:

High Temperature AND High Humidity -> REALLY High density altitude. Launches will be hard.
either High Humidity OR High Temperature -> SOMEWHAT High density altitude. Launches will be somewhat difficult.
65ºF temperature, 50% humidity -> density altitude feels approximately like the actual altitude. launches will be easy.
Low Temperature AND/OR Low Humidity -> (NICE!) Low density altitude. Launches will be really easy.

Pilots wishing for wind on a hot and humid day.

Tandems!

I finished the USPPA Tandem Trainee program– Thanks to all my test passengers, especially Chris Parish, who was in the seat for 15 of my test flights! I am now a Tandem Foot-Launch PPG Instructor. I’m excited to add this new dimension to training. Now your first solo flight doesn’t have to be your first-ever flight.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about doing Tandems in Maine in the summer, it’s that our summer’s high Density Altitude is not helping. If you’re going to fly with me this summer, you’re going to need to run hard for at least 30 feet. To be on the safe side, I’m not taking anybody over 200lbs until I’ve had a chance to test a heavier passenger who has flying experience. I’ve had my first tandem flight attempt during a windless, hot and humid day wherein the motor was not producing enough power to lift us off the ground. Earlier in the evening, I had a marginal launch that took ages to gain altitude.

I’m using an Air Conception Nitro 200 for tandems. It’s adequate, but a more powerful motor would help, so maybe next year I’ll be wearing an Air Conception Tornado 280 for tandems. However, I really like that I have a motor that I can fly solo, and then also use the same motor for tandems. I also like that the Nitro 200 is so light on my back. I like it so much that I have a brand new electric-start, clutched Nitro 200 coming to me in the next week. I may use it for tandems (that was my intent when I ordered it), but I would consider selling it brand new to a former student (warranty included).

The Tandem wing (MacPara Pasha 6 42m with T-Ride risers) has been amazing! It’s like a giant EN-A-rated school wing that rises easily and points straight. I think I’ve flubbed one launch in the 27 I’ve done so far, which is all the more amazing since most of them were done in no wind. This wing has our backs.

Interesting observation: Flying the 42m tandem wing with a 130-lb passenger and my 185-lb self results in the same fuel consumption as when I fly a solo 20m wing; we just fly at a little more than half the speed.

A photo from a 70 minute Cross-country tandem paramotor journey. (photo by Diana McNulty)
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Paramotor Tip: Determining Light Wind Direction Without a Windsock

Sometimes, especially on early mornings, the wind at ground level is too weak to move even the telltale of a windsock. Even on these days it is advantageous to launch against the wind because it’s still subtracting from the speed you must run to inflate the wing, and it insures a gradual climbout angle with respect to the terrain and surrounding collision hazards.

Walk-around technique:

Excuse the awful art, but this is the ground track you’ll be walking. It’s not earth-shattering stuff.
  1. Hold your arms out like you’re a bird; expose some skin, because you’re trying to feel wind/temperature differences.
  2. Walk in a wide circle (20 feet), arms outstretched, at a moderate pace (~3 mph).
  3. Note which way you’re facing when you feel the most wind or or most cold on your face and hands. That is the direction the wind is coming from. Try walking a little faster in each direction to confirm that one direction clearly feels like it’s resisting you more. That’s the direction you will launch.

This technique works even when the windsock is still, and dropping leaves, grass, tissue etc. doesn’t indicate a wind direction. Your nervous system is more sensitive.

Genie in a bottle:

If you don’t want to look silly walking around in a circle, some people use a product called a “wind checker” that indicates wind direction using a mist of fine powder. It works by squirting fine powder into the air, which then drifts in the slightest breeze. It’s sold as a hunting supply. Here’s a link to one such product on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2yHypOT.

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June Update

Wells and Moody Beaches, with a cool marine layer moving under a warm, moist sky, creating low clouds along the coast.

Ok, so I’ve been slacking on the blog, big time. I’ve been teaching every flyable day since I got back from competitions in Florida, but that’s no excuse– we’ve had some non-flyable weather up here too. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Teaching new pilots

I’ve taken on 3 new pilots this Spring: Troy, Tim, and Jon. Troy and Jon have had their first flights. Their hours (or maybe in Jon’s case, dozens of hours) of kiting have paid off, and their launches have been spot on– well controlled with no oscillations after leaving the ground. We did have one launch that veered toward some trees in a rare North-East wind (the only wind direction where we have a tree hazard), and during the abort of that launch, the pilot lost the tips of the prop. Remember to hold down that kill button until the motor is cold!

Troy carving a turn over Southern Maine (photo by Troy Dionne)

Tim is ready for towing, and shortly afterward, flying.

The weather has thrown us a few curveballs; we’ve been stuck in some sort of everlasting Spring– but it’s a New England Spring, not that Eternal Spring that Colombia seems to have. Rain has been driving, wind has been high, and the windows for flight have been short. It seems to be coming to an end mid-June, but as I type, it looks like weather is going to be unflyable for the next 4 days. C’est la vie. We get what we get.

The Scooter Tow. Simple, Cheap, effective for short training tows. (photo by Troy Dionne)
Troy under tow (photo by Troy Dionne)

When the students demonstrate safe technique and ability to steer the wing overhead, we progress to towed launches so that landing flares can be practiced without $8000 strapped to the student’s back. The tow also gives me a chance to see how the student reacts to the sensation of feet leaving the ground. Tow-day is when flying gets real, and piloting mistakes have consequences. It can only be undertaken once mutual trust between the student and myself is established. Safety-wise, I feel towing is a little more mortally dangerous than paramotoring (Like if paramotoring was an ‘8’, this would be a ‘9;’ but a hell of a lot of fun!). Mostly, we’re towing to save the motors.

A closer view of the Scooter Tow. See the force gauge, used to regulate the pressure pulling the pilot into the sky.

Troy and Jon both towed really well, having controlled launches, minimal need for steering on tow, and slow landing flares. Jon probably had the highest, longest tows the Turf Farm has seen; we used nearly the whole property. The paraglider inside me was a little jealous.

Flying with former students, “knocking the rust off”

I’ve had a couple students from last year come up and fly around. Some folks didn’t get their motors until late in the summer, then didn’t have much opportunity to fly them until after winter. Other students started late in 2017, and need to refresh their skills (I provide continual, casual education up to 1 year after a 9-day course start date).

Early morning flight to the coast. It hurts waking up at the crack of dawn, but it is usually worthwhile.

Well, it’s Summer now, and it’s time to fly! I’ve been looking forward to not just standing on the ground coaching y’all, but going on adventures as your wing-man. Keep your eyes peeled in the coming weeks– I’m planning something big for Late Summer or Early Fall. Windy flying and spot-landing skills will be a must for any XC adventure in Maine, so a USPPA PPG2 rating will be required. Flotation may be required depending on where the adventure ends up.

Working on the USPPA Tandem Certification

Tandem Flight with a brave and willing test-passenger. (Photo by Diana McNulty)

For the past 2 years I’ve been working toward a tandem certification. I was delayed in the winter of 2016 due to my injury in Mexico, but I got back on track September 2017 and finally made it out to a tandem trainee course with Chad Bastian in California. Since then I’ve bought a beautiful new MacPara Pasha 6 Tandem wing, taken USPPA PPG2/USHPA P2 pilots on tandem flights, and I’ve taken the FAA Fundamentals of Instruction written test. I have to make 14 more flights with experienced pilots as passengers before I can take students up– which is good, because I’m going to need a few more flights to sort out the pilot-passenger balance point anyway! You’ll be happy to hear that all passengers have reported smooth flights and landings.

I really want this Tandem Certification because there are things I can teach in a tandem flight that are hard to teach on the ground. For example, I can explain oscillations, and I can instruct pilots to go hands-up (or slight pressure on one brake) to eventually fix the oscillation. However, I would rather be right next to the pilot when I show them how to fix a large oscillation. The pilot can associate their input with the actual, real-life feeling of the oscillation coming out. This is especially important flying out of the many tree-lined airports around here, where you sometimes need to straighten out rotor-induced oscillations immediately after launch or before landing.

A tandem flight can give prospective pilots a taste of the sport without a large commitment of cash, and a tandem can break up the monotony of the sometimes frustrating kiting phase of training.

Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport Open House

PPG Row at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport Open House 2018

All sorts of aircraft showed up for the Open House at Sanford Airport on June 9. Johnson Qu brought his Air Conception and Scout motors, Jaime brought his Fresh Breeze Monster and Grasshopper Trike, and I brought my Air Conception and a wing. There were a lot of curious people asking about these machines; the lightest of the ultralights. The Skydive New England crew visited our section of the tarmac after their demonstration jump, so it was nice to meet some fellow canopy flyers.

More…

A Titan ICBM
Cold but pretty.
Jaime’s trike reflected in the wet sand over Parsons Beach
The great Sanford Forest Fire, May 2018.

Looking for images for this blog post, I came across everything else I’ve been up to– refining my software skills, rebuilding another paramotor as an electric start, and… other stuff. And none of this even touches on the wild last 2 weeks of my Colombia trip, nor the Florida Crazy that is Spring Fling / East Coast Paragliding Championships. The competition stuff is coming in another post– I’ve already written a lot about it. Stay tuned!

Sunset over marine layer clouds, and mountains! I should also note that during this flight, we were flying almost 70mph ground speed.
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Calendar of Maine Fly-ins and Events

Thanks to the Maine Aeronautical Association for publishing its calendar of events. You can find the events scheduled through July on the MAA Calendar webpage. They also provide a document with all the known events for the year of 2018, which I’ll reproduce here. I’d recommend checking with the MAA or the contact person listed for an event before showing up– weather has a way of changing dates.

Fly-ins are great fun! You’ll be bringing the lightest aircraft to the show, so be prepared to answer lots of questions. Make sure you talk to the airboss or someone in charge to understand the norms of the fly-in– radio frequency, take-off windows, pattern, where to loiter in the air, etc.

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New England Weather Seminar

Southern Maine Aviation at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport is hosting a weather seminar this weekend. This information will be New England specific. Judging flyable weather contributes immensely to our enjoyment and the safety of powered paragliding. I highly recommend attending if you can find the time. It’s this upcoming Saturday morning.

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First Flight of Spring 2018: A harrowing tale of surprisingly smooth air

Sunset over Wells Beach

After a couple of good forecasts that turned out to be way off-base, on Tuesday I flew an evening between Nor’Easters. March flying can be wild, but it wasn’t weather phenomena that made my flight interesting– I had an equipment malfunction on my face. More on that later.

In Like a Lion

This has been a stormy March. We’ve had 4 Nor’Easters, and March is barely half-done. Nor’Easters– so named because the counter-clockwise system of low-pressure generating them is usually out at sea, creating a North-East gale– Are strong enough to stop the lower tropospheric effects of the North-West airflow entrained by the winter Polar Vortex. As such, they tend to create an eddy in the air currents. Just before the storms hits, air can briefly calm down before it switch direction and blows mercilessly. Sometimes it lasts just a few hours.

Last Tuesday, The wind gently transitioned from a strong South flow to a weak North flow. The earth was wet and snowy, and the tide was going out in the afternoon. The temperature was 39ºF. The allure of the beaches combined with an unusual and significant South wind (our beaches face south) brought me to a beach in Kennebunk. I arrived ready to fly, able to take to the skies in less than 5 minutes if need be (I setup and fly out quickly to avoid attention).

Upon arrival at 4:30pm, the wind was still blowing strongly onshore from the Southwest; perhaps 18-20 mph. The gulls were having trouble penetrating. I left my gear in the car and walked around the beach, checking out the ancient tree stumps that had been uncovered from the beach erosion. There was a lot of storm damage evident. Somewhere out there on the beaches are a couple of Revolutionary War-era shipwrecks, and a March 2018-era tugboat wreck. My mission for the day: search for fuel barrels from the sunken tugboat that had possibly detached and floated to shore, or up a river. In the past I’ve found parts from shipwrecks aground far up the tidal zones.

The wind hadn’t subsided in half an hour, so I got back in the car and drove to the other nearby beaches, hoping that if I didn’t get to fly, at least I’d get to see the ancient shipwreck on Mother’s Beach. Tide wasn’t at its lowest, though, so the wreck hadn’t surfaced. I hung out with the friendly young seagulls, who seemed as anxious as myself about the wind.

Around 5:30 the wind seemed to be getting reasonably (10-12mph), so I figured I’d make something of the day and kite my wing. I broke out my kiting harness and Dudek Hadron and did some jump-flights, running, then flaring and jumping at the same time. A couple of dog walkers stopped to watch. Around 6pm I realized that the wind was totally fine for a reverse-launch in this laminar wind. I laid out the wing on the sand in a rosette so that it wouldn’t blow away, then put the harness back in the car.

I untied my Air Conception Nitro 200 from the car’s hitch carrier and gave it a quick check to make sure everything was how I left it when I put it on the car. I verified the strobe light was operational. I checked the flotation for friction holes. I connected the battery to the electric-starter, but I left the master switch OFF. I disconnect the battery when transporting the motor for two reasons: it’s really easy to accidentally hit the master switch the way I tie up my motor, and people are touchy when they see a shiny piece of technology within arm’s reach of the pavement. I put my phone in my chest holster, checked for my hook knife, and got my earplugs ready.

Sun-blocking Nose Protector does double duty as a wind-blocker

So that my nose wouldn’t freeze, I put a sun-blocking nose-protector on my glasses, hoping that it would block the wind, too. It was an experiment. This turned out to be the variable that changed my plans mid-flight on Tuesday.

I brought my motor down to the beach, flipped the master switch and fastened the motor to my back, taking care not to bump the electric-start button. After checking that nobody (or dog) was near me, I did a brief but thorough warm-up; I had previously warmed the motor at home, though it had cooled by 6pm. I hooked up to the wing for a reverse inflation, but there was a frustrating problem– the wind had calmed down to maybe 4-5 mph in the space of the 5 minutes I took to get setup. A few fluffing attempts to get the wing from a ball-shape to a wall-shape and I was ready to go. Launch was uneventful, except for a slack speed-bar line that had snagged over the weight-shift bars (TODO: tighten speed system).

Out Like a Lamb

I flew Southwest down the beach, marveling at the storm damage in the multi-million-dollar properties abutting the shore. Crossing 1200 feet over into Wells Beach for some photos, I found that the nose-protector was catching the wind and blocking some of my view when it flipped up periodically. My hands still in their winter gloves to prevent finger grease on my lenses, I took my glasses off my face so I could remove the nose protector. I undid the velcro on the protector with my frozen, unfeeling hands and noticed a piece pop off and fly away. I didn’t think much of it immediately, and put my glasses back on. The right lens was REALLY smudged up. My gloves must have been dirty.

I reached up to wipe my lens clean, and poked myself in the eye. There was no lens. In my numbness, I had popped out a lens while removing the nose protector. My vision is really bad, so I found it easier to shut the watering right eye and search for the piece that flew away, knowing now that it was my lens and hoping that it had landed in my seat. I got lucky! I found it in a fold in my jacket. Rather than risk losing it again, I stuffed it in my chest holster. I abandoned my wreck-spotting mission and turned home.

Landing with one eye was intimidating, but it turned out to be a very smooth landing. I was probably hyper-focused on executing a perfect landing. The lack of depth perception inspired me to use my left foot as a “sensor” for when I touched the ground. When I felt the foot touch, I started a gentle speed-bleeding flare, which transitioned from a skiing-slide to a slow jog. I think I could get used to flying and landing with one eye– as long as I was landing in large, flat LZs in laminar wind.

I took a selfie of my dumb face and popped the lens back in for a sunset flight in the now almost nil wind.

I probably shouldn’t fly with just one eye…

 

 

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2018 Spring Season

Here’s an update on my plans for the 2018 season:

I didn’t meet income goals for 2017. Consequently, I need a second job. To accommodate the second job, I’m eliminating the intensive 9-day training. After May, I’ll just be teaching weekends and afternoons. This will work very well for most of the people who have approached me over the years, but I realize it’s a bummer for folks who were able to take a whole week off at a time. I recommend a program such as Aviator PPG‘s for those who can make it down there. I think immersion is superior to splitting training up over the whole summer.

Tandem Flights

This was one of my goals for 2017, but it was delayed due to a thoracic injury last winter. Finally, in 2018 I’ll be available for Tandem Foot-Launch flight training. I’m still working on all the certification steps, but I expect to be operational by May. I’m really excited about this, as I’ll be able to show prospective pilots what flying a paramotor is like without the stress of them being the pilot-in-command for their maiden flight. We’ll be able to safely practice and practice things like Pitch and Roll oscillations– the gremlins of the sport.

Keep in mind, passengers will still need to be fit enough to launch a paramotor themselves in order to fly as a passenger. Sign up is here: Training Season 2018

No More Borrowed Motors

I’ll no longer be supplying school motors for training, at least not in 2018. When ground handling and towed/tandem flight training is complete, I’ll expect pilots to buy their own motor (and I am here to help you do that; whether you’re looking for a new motor or used).

I’m going to miss teaching with school motors– I could always depend on them, and I always knew their batteries were charged, fuel was new, structure was intact, etc. It was an excellent value proposition for pilots who weren’t sure what motor they really wanted. However, I’m not going to miss maintaining a fleet of them, doing taxes on them, and storing and transporting them in my little car.

I will have some wings and harnesses for teaching the difficult parts of paramotoring (wing handling), and I plan to utilize tandem flight training in 2018, so students will have some idea of what flying is like without needing to buy a motor right away.

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Colombia Dispatch 1

Going XC under humid Colombian Skies

I arrived in Bogotá Wednesday morning at 2am. I had a hostel bed booked for that night, but the receptionist left much earlier than I arrived. The night played out like a puzzle game (Myst, etc.), which I entered a code into the front door, unlocked it, found a paper message hidden behind a sign on the front desk, found room 201, and snuck into an empty bed. I had perhaps 4 hours sleep.

Later that afternoon, I boarded a plane to Pereira, close enough to Roldanillo to take a bus. I met up with a pilot friend from Romania (Ovidiu) and together we bused to Rolda. Scenery was familiar on the ride down. Bogotá was at 8660 feet of altitude, whereas Rolda and the Valle del Cauca were closer to 3000, so the temperature in this equatorial region was much hotter. We arrived around 6pm.

My first night in Roldanillo was spent greeting friends from the flying community and locals I knew. Some pilots I had flown with 2 weeks earlier in Mexico. It’s a common rotation to fly Valle De Bravo (Mexico) before coming to Roldanillo later in the winter. The air in Valle De Bravo gets pretty strong in February and March. I had a few beers and a Patacón (Arepa with meat and cheese on top of it. very dense) for dinner.

Sunscreen exploded inside my paraglider bag. I’ve been warned that this could happen for years. It finally happened.

Thursday was my first flying day, and my first flight on my new wing, a red Advance Sigma 10. I bused up to Aguapanela and put my gear down in the back of launch. First observation: this used Sigma 10 (40 hrs) looked fresh and crispy! I really like how the left and right risers are labeled with colors (red-Left, blue-Right). Second observation: My sunscreen had exploded in the accessories compartment of my paraglider bag. I smeared the leftovers on my face and invited other pilots to take the free sunscreen; sunscreen is surprisingly expensive here.

Before I could lay out my gear for launch, it started raining. lightly at first, but steady. I was worried that I might not get a flight at all, so seeing that it was sunny out in the valley, I launched toward dryer air. The rain felt much harder when I was flying through it at 25 mph (trim speed of this Sigma 10 is about the same as the Ozone Rush 4).

The Shark Pod eating some of the weird fruit. They looked like miniature spherical watermelons growing on a bush.

Indeed, the air was dryer, and thermals were popping above the town of Roldanillo. I got to cloud base and went XC north. After arriving at the town of La Union, I crossed the valley toward La Victoria. La Victoria is a pueblo in these scraggly mini-mountains in the middle of the valley. I got there high, but thermals were not working there yet (it wasn’t yet even noon!).

In a last desperate attempt to stay flying, I flew over a dry, brown corn field with a farm in the corner. Dry corn both collects and traps solar heat– the brown leaves soak up radiation and the tall stalks keep the hot air in one place until something triggers it to leave. I was hoping the farm would trigger the thermals (machinery moving air down there, people and animals walking about). I got nothing. Landed on a small hill next to the farm.

Part of my enjoyment of flying in Colombia is the walk out. It’s hot, yes, but I don’t mind it. I love seeing the variety of birds, the bulls with their weird camel-like back humps, and the weird fruit that grows everywhere. The people I have met in the past 3 years have been nothing but kind and helpful. Colombia is a friendly place.

 

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The Future of Powered Paragliding in New England

I let this blog post sit for a month before I decided to publish it. It’s not a call out, and nobody has done anything wrong that I know of; in fact, we’ve had a much better experience in Maine than in the rest of the country. I generally want to build enthusiasm for PPG, but it’s important to keep the enthusiasm shared by our neighbors, too.

When I announced my intentions to ‘go big’ in PPG instruction a couple years ago, a respected friend in the industry told me something like, “One paramotor is a beautiful butterfly. Ten paramotors is a swarm of angry bees.” What he meant is that as the sport grows, its impact on the community scales to a different metric.

I’ve spent some time thinking about the endgame of training so many new pilots to fly in the New England region. It’s great that more of us are getting into PPG. It’s fun, and I love the adventures we have when we fly together. New motors and wings are flowing into the region’s schools, and a used-equipment market is forming under us, allowing pilots to get into the sport cheaper than ever before. Expertise and support is no longer on the other side of the country; it’s just down the road. LZs are opening up as pilots share their spots with friends. Maybe one day para-sports will enjoy a European level of popularity, or dare I forecast– a ski-industry level.

But there are some pitfalls that could snag us on our way to becoming mainstream. If we fail to avoid them we may go the way of the drone– tightly regulated and controlled by the government. Of more immediate concern to me is our regional impact. Our pilot population has grown exponentially in New England, and we need to do our best to control our profile. We have lost access to launches before; it will likely happen again. If it happens quickly, the problem will snowball as more pilots are concentrated into fewer, sketchier launch sites. We hardly have any public land, so every LZ we use is by the graces of a private citizen who doesn’t want to regret their generosity!

Our profile consists of several factors: Noise, Visibility, and Information.

Objectively, we are not very loud when compared to all other powered aircraft. However, we are slow; consequently, we expose observers to a level of noise for a longer time. Flying high (>500 feet) and flying below tree lines and mountain ridges attenuates our observable noise (but don’t fly in rotor).

Flying low is pretty noisy to people on the ground. If there are people on the ground, don’t fly circles in that area. If another pilot has already circled near the ground, avoid the area and maybe play low in the next open area along your route. Flying with a constant RPM is preferable to flying like a revving chainsaw. If you like to throw down and rev it up, at least transition to and from your acro-arena with a constant cruise RPM. When coming in to land, decrease your RPM before you are within earshot of the LZ. I like to idle my motor miles out, and kill it once I know for sure I’m making the LZ. It’s good practice for motor-out days, and it’s rewarding to nail a spot-landing from a mile away.

As any pilot who has flown the coast can attest, tourists love to take photos of this weird flying thing they saw. Some of us got into the sport after having a similar encounter, and to many people, this experience makes their day! But consider that a person who is photographing the 10th PPG they’ve seen flying around them that day might be seething mad and want some evidence of the thing that ruined their morning walk. Don’t get me wrong– most of the people around here have been supportive and excited to see us. But, as it has happened to several friends, you might get a scolding by a stranger because they think you are the same aircraft (real or imagined) that has been terrorizing them for years. Don’t give them ammunition.

Over Hills Beach, Biddeford. The tide was way out, and few people were on the beach in the 38ºF weather. Four of us carved up the air and the sand to our hearts’ content.

Information takes the form of news articles, internet posts, and videos. I had a saying for a long time, “Don’t make the News.” I don’t say that anymore because one local pilot made the news in a good way, raising money for charity. But generally, you make the news if the police pick you up, you land in someone’s hedges, or if you hit a power line. As for internet posts and videos: share publicly your cool experiences, your beautiful flights, your adventure stories (even if it involves crunchy metal). Don’t share FAR 103 violations (like cloud flying and flying near people), and don’t share anything that could be interpreted as chasing animals and people. If a less experienced observer might interpret your photo/video as a violation, you should include a mitigating disclaimer. For example, if you made a video of a Bald Eagle flying alongside you, explain that you didn’t seek it out; it found you. If you are flying near clouds, describe the airspace rules that you’re following which allow you to fly near them (e.g., in Class G you can be just “clear of clouds,” not a specific distance from them. Or maybe your video is from another country that doesn’t follow the same laws as your audience). When you create information, ask yourself how it can be used against you.

If this all sounds sickeningly paranoid, you’re right. We walk on eggshells because sometimes we have line-of-sight to a thousand people. Our sport isn’t yet well understood by the public; and people still call 911 when you nail a perfect landing. We have to keep in the public’s good graces, but at the same time, flying isn’t worth doing if it isn’t fun. We’re going to slip up sometimes, and we’re probably going to lose sites. Recognize that if you’re the pilot on launch who is informed that we can no longer fly a site, it’s not all your fault— it’s the pressure of our sport on the community.

In my opinion, the biggest impact you can make to preserve the sport is behind This slogan: Get up and get out. (Alternatively, “Don’t shit where you eat,” or my favorite, “Take off and fuck off.”)

It’s covered in the USPPA best practices [in much less crass terms], but it bears repeating: minimize your impact on your rare and treasured Launch/LZ spots by not loitering over them. Often if you’re surrounded by farmlands, there are other fields you can play over– out of earshot of the VIP landowners that gave you permission to fly. If you land out anywhere in Southern Maine, call me and I’ll come pick you up; the weirder the spot, the better. I like adventures.

Consider this recent memorandum from the USPPA. It contains best practices for flying that aim to preserve our sport. Take them to heart.

USPPA Best Practices, republished here:

Best Practices for Paramotor Activity

 

Dear USPPA members active PPG pilots in the United States and Worldwide:

On behalf of the US Powered Paragliding Association, we want to extend our hand to you and thank you for your support over the years and for your participation in paramotor flying in general.

While we provide what we believe to be a fantastic value for a very nominal cost, we also understand that not every pilot will be a member of our organization.

Still, we have a profound interest in the long-term viability of paramotoring in the United States.

We find ourselves at an interesting crossroads where we have a vastly increased visibility due to a large number of new pilots.

This is quite welcome in general but we do have to reckon with our increased impact as time goes on. We create more noise pollution, we are subject to the increased likelihood of conflict with other aircraft, and we have far more integration with landowners of all kinds.

We propose a set of best practices for Paramotor activity and ask your cooperation over the next few years so that we can preserve the freedoms that we currently enjoy.

The cornerstones of the philosophy that would we like to suggest are:

– We aim for paramotor pilots to be well thought of and to be included with gentlemanly aviators of all kinds. We want to be know as being courteous, as discreet as possible and thoughtful about how we handle our aircraft.

– We aim to preserve paramotoring for our long-term enjoyment and for future generations. All of our decisions should be made with this in mind.

– We aim to enjoy and exercise all of the liberties that have been preserved for us by ultralight pilots and advocates over the years.

Here are the best policies that we suggest:

– Tuning paramotors, warm up and run up should be as discreet as possible, try to avoid noise pollution when on the ground and in anything other than wide open spaces.

– Choose flying locations wisely and avoid over flying homes, streets, people etc.

– Once airborne, depart the area and enjoy your flying in the least populated and most discreet area that you can find.

– Keep moving, don’t fly around in the same area for an extended period of time.

– When you return to your take off area, do it in the quietest way possible. Use minimal throttle and try to land with the engine off.

– Consider packing up and departing the area as quickly as possible and utilize an alternative location for debriefing and socializing.

– Don’t fly the same location on a daily basis. If you have a location that you value highly then use a rotation and fly other locations in order to minimize your long-term impact. Consider taking off at one location and landing at another to minimize impact.

– If you have an interest in flying at an airport then consider consulting with someone who already has a relationship with an airport to see how these situations are best handled. The USPPA can help you whether you are a member or not. Contact us at theusppa@gmail.com.

– If you happen to be self-trained or casually trained then please make it your responsibility to learn the intricacies of all of the FAA regulations pertaining to ultralights. Familiarize yourself with the airspace around your area in an effort to avoid conflict. Take into account things like nature preserves, wilderness areas, restricted areas, military operations areas, daylight operations, cloud clearances etc. Realize that it is a Pilots responsibility to know about NOTAM’s and TFR’s and that this must be checked on a daily basis. If you have questions about airspace then feel free to contact the USPPA at theusppa@gmail.com.

We would like to hereby thank you in advance for considering all of these ideas and would like to ask you for the huge favor of sharing this information with your peers. Please forward it via email, print it out, share it via social media and please know that by embracing these ideas you can work to ensure the long-term viability of paramotoring.

Please consider the subtle difference between the experience where you spot something like a bald eagle and then it subsequently flies away leaving you with a sense of mystery about where it came from and where is going. On the other hand please consider how annoying it can be when you have a fly that is buzzing around inside your car. Let’s aim to be the former.

When we are flying our paramotors, we can all agree that there are few sensations and experiences that compare. It’s easy to think that spectators and neighbors would feel the same but we would all do well to embrace the idea that after about 30 seconds we are nothing but annoying.

 We remain at your service if you should have any questions or if we can help to improve relations with fellow pilots, landowners, airport managers etc.

~ The USPPA

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