2019 flying season has almost started. This winter was long and mostly flightless, save for a few diehard days when a couple of us got finger-freezing 5-minute flights. It’s now April, and temperatures are rising while wind speeds are dropping. I predict we’ll be flying regularly by May. Afternoon classes start May 9.
I often look at the Sanford Airport Weather forecasts to get a general sense of the weather around Southern Maine. This past month, pilots have observed that the forecast has been underestimating the wind speeds and gusts speeds, so keep that in mind. My prediction is that weather will follow the model a little better once summer starts. I have a widget for Sanford weather on the Weather page.
Paramotoring has received a lot of interest locally in the past couple of years, and I am now wait-listing students. Be aware that if you sign up for lessons, you probably won’t be starting until May 2020. There’s no deposit or commitment to occupy the wait-list, so feel free to sign up. You’re still welcome to come up and see training in action– it might help you gauge whether this sport is what you’re looking for. I’ll contact you when a space opens. If you find another instructor or school in the meantime, don’t wait for me, go fly!
An online store is in the making. I am now stocking hook knives and Powerfloat Rescue Devices, as well as recharge kits for your rescue should it become submersed. I have U-Shaped and 2BSure, and recharge kits for both.
Air Conception Parts
I have become a parts provider for Air Conception motors, and I am stocking parts in the US. If you need anything for your Nitro 200 or Tornado 280 in the near-term, shoot me an email describing the part and I’ll send it along!
Our nearby Powered Parachute friends, the Granite State Sky Riders, started a Fly-In in Berwick, Maine this year. New Hampshire news channel WMUR9 showed up and produced a really nice piece about the sport, with a bit of Powered Paragliding thrown in the mix (thanks to a briefing from local instructor, Johnson Qu). You can watch it here. As I’ve been asked many times before about the difference between Powered Parachutes (PPC) and Powered Paragliders (PPG), you can compare and contrast the sports of PPC to PPG in this 8-minute segment from the New Hampshire Chronicle.
Since 2013 or so I’ve been following the Red Bull X-Alps race– sometimes from my phone, sometimes from my work computer– watching the dots race over 1000km to Monaco against a map of the Alps. Pilots will be flying as much as they can, but when weather doesn’t allow flight, they’ll be running. I’m really proud that two of our New England colleagues are going to be in the 2019 X-Alps: Eduardo Garza, supported by Bianca Heinrich!
If you’ve followed the X-Alps before, you’re familiar with the degree of mental and physical toughness required to compete. From the X-Alps About the Race page:
From Salzburg, they make their way only by foot and paraglider to Monaco, navigating over 1000km of treacherous alpine terrain. Often covering distances of 100km per day, sometimes more, athletes must combine skill and strategy, while overcoming injury and fatigue. Many will accept defeat and drop out before the end, but a select few will stop at nothing to reach the finish line.
Eduardo is representing his home country of Mexico, but until recently he has held the New England paragliding distance record (only beaten by world record holder, Donizete Lemos!), and both he and Bianca currently co-own the Vermont State record. Eduardo is also an ardent mountain hiker. Bianca will be supporting Eduardo on the flight, which draws on her decorated paragliding experience to develop strategies with the route, logistics and the weather to outfly the competing atheletes and keep Eduardo healthy.
So, congratulations! I’ll be rooting for you Eduardo!
I sort of spaced on blogging for the past couple months– I’ve been really busy running the school and keeping up-to-date on software engineering (I can’t live on flying alone– yet). I’m considering a vast expansion of the school next year or 2020, but the details and the debt are a little scary. Approximately 120 people asked for lessons or details since this Spring, and I’ve had to wait-list almost everyone. I sold my school motors in the Spring… whoops!
Last month Diana and went to France to visit the Coupe Icare. It’s a free-flying festival (with paramotors too!) attended by over 100,000 people. I rubbed shoulders with the manufactures of our wings and motors, and examined new technology. The crowds were a little overwhelming, and I peopled-out after a collective 2 hours of waiting in various lines. The show was spectacular– I’m not going to post all the pictures, but do look up this event sometime! Before and after the Festival, I flew Annecy and Chamonix, two paragliding sites in the Alps. These are European free-flight hubs. There is plenty of infrastructure for moving pilots around in Chamonix.
I didn’t really blog about all the wonderful people I met who came to learn how to fly. Everyone has been enthusiastic about it, and it was fun to watch their skills click. The tandems have been a useful tool for introducing prospective pilots to PPG flight. I’ve been teaching and doing tandems every weekend. I even had the privilege to fly some of my friends, family, and friends’ family tandem and show them what we’re doing up there.
I’m finding it takes A LOT longer to get you flying around here if you can only take weekends off. Though the 9-day compressed courses weren’t ideal (I want to do 14-day courses next year), they did get pilots up and flying sooner.
The season is coming to an end soon, but I’m still available for Tandems and one-off lessons. On the plus side, the Town of Biddeford just started clearing the Japanese Knotweed off the north-facing kiting hill (just in time for the winter’s north wind).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
High humidity and temperature
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hold your arms out like you’re a bird; expose some skin, because you’re trying to feel wind/temperature differences.
Walk in a wide circle (20 feet), arms outstretched, at a moderate pace (~3 mph).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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.
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!
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.
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.