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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Ok, this happens on blogs— I went a really long time without blogging. So,
I’m currently in Mexico. I’ve been here 3 weeks with my family, and now, with my friends. I have participated in one paragliding competition, which ended yesterday. I did not crush it, but I had some great, fun flights. Today I’m taking a break from flying, as I’ve been doing 3-5 hour triangle XC flights for the past week. It’s also time to do my Sales Taxes, so I needed a day on the ground.
I get back to the US Jan. 22. I’ll be around to ship parts, help with motors/wings/kiting, and maybe I’ll even get in a flight if it’s warm. I’ll be honest though– I’m adapting to the daily 85ºF here.
I leave for Colombia in February for more competitions, and lots of XC flying. There should be a good contingent of Maine pilots down there this year, so let me know if you want to come! I’ll be in Roldanillo for the 2nd and 3rd weeks of February, then I’m open to travelling around after that.
It’s October [edit: Actually November now– I really slacked off on blogging this fall] in New England, and the leaves are changing color. Days are getting noticeably shorter, sometimes almost 3 minutes shorter per day! The Northwest wind is blowing from the Canadian shield, bringing with it colder temperatures and high winds aloft. What’s a pilot to do?
It’s flyable, but not as often as it was in the summer.
If you can stand the cold, and your wing is fast enough, you can fly some winter days. The days are are shorter though, so with the sun setting before the workday ends, you may find yourself limited to only weekend flying. A strobe light is a helpful piece of equipment to have. Per FAR 103, if you wear a strobe light that is visible for 3 miles in all directions, you can fly up to 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset, which might make the difference between driving home after work or flying for a few sweet (cold!) minutes.
Just in time for winter 2017-2018, I started importing the brightest strobe lights I could find that still held up to the vibration of our motors. I have a long history with strobe lights, but that’s a story for another post. See my HsCOM STR1 Strobe Lights if you want that extra hour of flying time per day.
What’s with the wind?
In the winter months, the Jet Stream descends from its summer home around the North Pole to cripple flying in the Northeast. OK, so that’s anthropomorphizing the weather a bit , but basically, we have the polar vortex to blame for our speedy winds. Today for example, as I write this, winds are 59mph at 3000 feet. Generally whatever is happening at 3000 feet is happening almost as fast just about the trees; What’s to stop it? Fortunately, the Jet Stream, like all air and water currents, snakes back and forth– sometimes whipping us, and sometimes giving us a break from the breeze.
How do I stay warm?
With your hands high above your heart and thrust out into the fast-moving air sucking past your propeller, your hands WILL be the thing that will make you want to land (and maybe cry a little).
Gloves are a must. Some of us launch while wearing gloves, but beware that it may be hard to hit your kill switch with thick, soft gloves. Also, you won’t be able to feel the lines and brakes quite as well as you could with no gloves. You can launch without gloves, climb to altitude, and put them on in the air. As a middle ground, try buying gloves that come with removable liners. You can launch with the liners on your hands (giving you some protection from the cold) then put the outer gloves on in flight.
Many of us fly with heated gloves. I don’t personally wear them, but that’s because I’m a bit of a weight snob, and my machismo doesn’t allow me to wear warm clothes in the winter. I’m working on that personal issue, as it’s clear that heated gloves are the way to go. Those pilots who wear heated gloves swear they are incredibly comfortable, and make all the difference for winter flying. Don’t leave them on and heated for too long on the ground– sweaty hands are miserable if they get cold again!
I’ve tried heatpacks. On moderately cold days (above freezing), they seem to work. On really cold days, hand heatpacks aren’t adequate. I use foot heatpacks in my gloves, but they just create a hot spot on my hands, and my fingers still freeze. Heatpacks in your boots are recommended, though.
With it being cold, there’ll be no thermals, right?
Not so, I’m afraid. You’ll still want to avoid flying midday most days if you want to avoid thermals. It is indeed still possible to thermal in the winter, as thermals are pumped by differences in temperature.
Thermals aren’t causing most of that turbulence, though. If it’s windy out, that wind is spilling over the terrain, trees and buildings. 15mph wind causes rotor turbulence during the summer, but when the wind just about the trees is approaching 30mph on an otherwise warm winter day, you can expect the turbulence to be 4 times stronger. Sometimes though, wind is much faster than that for days, and it should be pretty obvious that you shouldn’t be flying a craft that only flies around 25mph.
I get asked about paramotor thermalling very often. I love both motoring and thermalling, but I rarely combine the sports. I’ll admit I love thermalling free-flight more than motoring, and I feel the motor dampens the sensations I’m accustomed to in my free-flight harness. Nevertheless, it can be done, if you’re into that sort of thing.
It’s like a different sport you can do with mostly the same equipment
Practice bump tolerance and appropriate reactions for free-flying
Paragliders are designed to fly in thermals. Beginner wings are more stable and more likely to recover on their own. Advanced wings have a complicated outcome, and can get out of control really, really fast. For that reason, a pilot who motors a hot paramotor wing at 55mph might fly a slower, docile, EN-A or -B wing in thermals.
What extra equipment do you need?
Variometer (App or Instrument). Turn the volume up all the way so you can hear it beep over the wind noise of your paramotor frame.
Sunglasses and Sunscreen
Some extra safety equipment– beyond your standard kit, which around here, should include a hook knife and flotation.
Reserve. Definitely carry a reserve and rehearse using it.
In New England– tree rescue kit, or at least a SPOT or Garmin InReach (satellite communication, long battery life)
How do you prepare for this undertaking?
Accept the risk. Risk is increased due to turbulence when entering and exiting thermals, and potentially due to rotor near the ground as the wind picks up throughout the day. You are forfeiting the safety that was inherent in flying the non-thermic mornings and evenings.
Get lots of practice flying in bumpy air. I got mine through my paragliding career, where I flew in turbulent air most of the time. If all you have is a motor, rack up lots of hours flying your wing in air a little bit bumpier than you usually tolerate. Stay high. You need to be comfortable and calm when the air tosses you around– and it will, especially at first.
SIV (Simulation d’Incident en Vol). These are courses usually taught over water with a rescue boat. You are guided through a series of self-inflicted inflight maladies, and then guided through their solution. Attending one is highly recommended, especially if you can practice in your motor. For most people it builds confidence. For all, it builds familiarity with the wing. If you thermal long enough, you will eventually see something that resembles an SIV maneuver, and you’ll know how your wing respond to it, and how you should respond to your wing.
In this post I’m just describing the extra considerations required to fly midday. Don’t take any of this information as instruction– Midday flying is really ramping up the risk, and flying without significant weather experience is foolhardy at best.