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.
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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