It’s been a while since my last update. I’ve been really busy, which is great!
I had a couple of new students in July/August. J needed some touch-up training and help with Airspace and FAR 103, as well as transitional training on the Trike. He progressed quickly and his launches were excellent after just a few flights. Robbie assembled his new Scout Carbon and joined the ranks of the flying (had his first flight) at the end of July. His launches and landings have been great so far, and he was landing on his feet from the first flights, which keeps that sleek Scout motor clean.
I have to give a huge thumbs up to Miniplane-USA for servicing a motor that was giving a local pilot trouble. Miniplane and Minari stood behind their product 200% and replaced a defective unit. You’ve made a pilot very happy!
We had some beautiful late summer flights, including some pretty long excursions and triangular flights paths. When the summer winds down, the air calms down a bit. As I write this, we’re in a 3-day-streak of some of the best weather I’ve seen in months.
There is still one spot open in the September 16-24 class. First person to pay the deposit gets it! I also added 2 slots for September 30-October 8.
Terms of training have changed, based on results I’ve seen this year. You can train on a school motor for up to 15 flights, but after that you have to buy your own motor. However, you can now come back at any time within a year of your start date for additional training. This flexibility has been added to accommodate those with demanding jobs who can’t take a whole 9 days off, and for people who need extra time learning.
The blueberries were ripe, and there were hundreds of acres of them. I was hungry and a little thirsty. I figured “I’ve had a lot of good flying today. I have a satellite communication device for if I can’t re-launch. Why not do what I’ve always dreamed of doing?” I think every paramotor pilot occasionally dreams of dropping into a tight spot, doing some commando-style raid, then flying back out.
I dropped low into the clearing of the Wells Barrens Preserve to survey my landing options. Blueberry bushes were everywhere, and running through those would be difficult, with a high likelihood of tripping me. I found a recent cut through the bushes, but roots and stumps were protruding along the cut, and the ground wasn’t very flat. I weighed the risk versus the reward of landing and re-launching. I decided to line up for a landing along the cut, roughly into the wind.
Upon touching down, I discovered the approximately five mile-per-hour breeze 30 feet above was non-existent on the ground. I ran off my excess speed, vaulting over a deep rut. I knew re-launching would be difficult, but I was in pretty good shape, so as long as I didn’t trip on a root, stump, bush or rut, I’d make it back up. I balled up my wing and unclipped it from my Air Conception Nitro 200. I walked the motor over to a flatter part of the LZ-cut and set it down. I’m so happy a motor that lifts someone of my weight itself weighs only a touch over 40 pounds! I was born in the generation that these things exist! Missions like this one were the reason I wanted a lighter motor in the first place.
Blueberries were everywhere. I think sometimes there were more berries on a bush than leaves. I ate my fill, raking the bushes with my fingers and shoving handfuls in my mouth at a time. It was a lonely feeling to be in the middle of the barrens with a grey overcast sky casting flat, shadow-less light on everything. My motor and wing were were my only instant connection to the rest of the world. In minutes– assuming launch went well– I would be back at the farm with my friends, flying circles above the grass and chatting on radio about how awesome my day was.
I spread the wing across the cut, carefully keeping the lines from tangling in the bushes. I had just enough space to lay out the 20m Dudek Hadron. Ahead of me, I had about 30 feet of reasonably flat trail. I donned the motor, and clipped into my wing for a forward-facing launch in nil wind. There was no time for hesitation during the launch. I revved up the prop and blasted some air over the wing for a couple of seconds– a nill-wind launch trick I learned from my instructor and his instructor years ago. Then I ran forward, hard. The wing quickly shot through the prop wake and arrived above my head. Rather than checking the wing with my brakes to prevent overflight (the reasonable thing to do, by the way), I juiced the throttle and ran even harder. Guiding my run away from the bushes on either side, I took 5 steps over the rutted terrain and lifted skyward.
The adrenaline high made me whoop a little at 50 feet. I probably terrified a bear or two. I circled back to take a photo of my LZ, then headed for home. Crossing ME-99, I heard Johnson on the radio. He and Kris had just arrived at the farm, and were getting ready to launch. I arrived just in time to see them take off. I spend another hour and half chasing Kris and Johnson, and landed 15 minutes after sunset, strobe flashing, with one liter of fuel left.
As described in my past post, here is the edited result from flying with my chase cam. Get in touch if you’d like to build one yourself- they are really simple.
As a side note, I got some vertigo from editing the footage from the camera. The camera is held upside down in the chase rig, so I have to flip the video in production. Also, the chase cam is constantly swaying back and forth, so the video has a somewhat nauseating quality to it. Best not to make a whole 3-minute youtube video of exclusively chasecam footage.
I competed in the Rat Race US National Paragliding Competition in Oregon during my break (June 14 through June 27). Though I didn’t win anything, I had a great time and learned a lot. I’m going to miss it– this was its last year, at least under the current leadership. It was world-expanding to sit down next to pilots from the Western US and Canada, many of whom I did not previously know, and hear about their flying sites and culture. The weather was rowdy, and there were many incidents (reserve throws, tree landings, midair collisions) and unfortunately, a few accidents resulting in injury. I got more in touch with my new racing wing, but I was not comfortable enough with it to fly the race wholeheartedly. I often bailed out to the valley floor instead of risk other pilots in the tight start gaggles. Having recently met the hard ground, I have been flying more timidly this year than last year.
I spent a lot of time with the Hawaiians (There were 25 Hawaiians at the Rat Race), and their experience, sites, and attitude were so different from us Pine Tree Kickers on the East Coast. Paramotoring is not as common there. Their clouds and mountains are bigger. However, they can fly near those big clouds because their islands are surrounded by ocean, and they can always bail out toward the coast. Maybe someday I will visit.
The weather at the Rat Race was unfortunate. We started the event with a practice day, and I think that was the best weather of the whole event. Many pilots made goal. The first day of the competition brought us hot temperatures and high pressure. This resulted in many wings collapsing upon entry and exit of the “bullet thermals”– tight, narrow thermals with “sharp” edges (quick change between sinking air and rising air). In addition, the ceiling (height to which the thermals climbed) was low. The start gaggle (holding area before the race where all 200+ pilots attempt to stay aloft) was compressed due to the small area of lift and the low ceiling, so we ended up flying in close proximity to each other. There were several mid-air collisions, wings ripping from pilots going through them, and lots of shouting. Luckily no injuries or reserve tosses from the collisions.
When the gaggle got big and fierce, I left it every time. I was taking regular collapses on my new wing, so I didn’t have it under the amount of control required to fly close to other pilots safely. I was bummed to bomb out and miss the whole XC experience, so I asked Diana to mail me out my old Rush 4, no expenses spared! I flew the last 2 days of the competition on my Rush 4, and I was WAY more comfortable, even ass-kicking in it. too bad I messed up flying the last task… I may have had a malfunction in my vario, but I was so thirsty for cooler air and longer duration flying that I focused on staying high rather than racing the course. I didn’t get any inflight video– The air was so rowdy I didn’t dare put a line-snagging camera on my head.
There were many reserve tosses, at least 10, and they all functioned as they should, with good outcomes and healthy pilots. Some tosses were barely above the trees, but still came out fast enough to save the pilot. I participated in one rescue effort for a pilot who was badly broken the first day; he took collapses low and threw his reserve too low for it deploy fully– it was out of his harness but un-deployed when rescuers found him. Though badly injured and hanging upside down with a punctured lung, broken hip, 10 broken ribs and a broken back, he stayed calm on the radio and helped the crew get to him. I was with a group of 25 guys who hiked up the mountain to help carry him down. In the end we weren’t needed, and we arrived at the crest of the mountain just in time to see the helicopter liftng him off the mountain in a dangling litter. The next day my friend broke her back in a bunch of places making goal one day, and one of my campmates at Raven’s Landing broke his leg around the same time.
Enough talk of carnage– even having been that carnage myself once, I still think what I get out of the sport is worth the risk.
LZs were plentiful at the bottom of the valleys. “The longhorn steers are big puppy dogs,” (or something like that) noted the comp organizer, though I never landed in this field. You could land at some vineyards and buy a bottle of wine after packing up your wing.
However, some LZs were marked on our maps as “Do Not Land.” We would be penalized for landing in one. The landowners have final say in whether they want guests on their property, and many people don’t want intruders on their front lawn (particularly the marijuana growers… they think everyone’s after their lucky charms). In a safety emergency you land where you are able and the FAA will have your back, but that won’t keep you out of court.
Since returning from the Rat Race, I’ve been working with a student to get him his 25th flight, and I’ve been experimenting with a Chase Camera that attaches to my wing and follows me where ever I fly.
Kevin came to powered paragliding training with a knack for kiting the wing– though he swore he hasn’t done this before.
At any rate, we spent a few hours kiting (10 is a good minimum, but I think all together over the course of 2 days it was something like 7 hours); you can never have enough kiting. After kiting, we returned to the simulator and rehearsed handling emergency situations (what to do if you hit turbulence, a reserve toss, steering without the brakes, etc…), and the simple stuff like getting in and out of the harness while flying.
Towing: Always have a plan B (and a plan C!)
When I was confident Kevin had the control necessary for a safe launch, we progressed to tow training Sunday evening. After one short tow, a broken line on the scooter tow forced us to wrap up for the night.
With the scooter tow out of commission, and a wind forecast ideal for short flights off a nearby training hill, we woke up early Monday morning and hit the training hill. The forecast turned out wrong (wind was blowing downhill slightly) and the bamboo at the bottom of the hill had doubled in height since the previous week. I launched the wing to test the viability of flying, and we found ourselves picking the wing out of the bamboo for the next 5 minutes. On top of this, it was a hot morning. The nearby Biddeford Glacier was slowly melting to reveal an aggregate of Fireball nips containers and undelivered newspapers*.
We took a coffee break then hit the hill again later. Wind was even more unfavorable. We gave up on the hill and headed back to base.
The Hand Tow
Back at home, we built a 150ft hand-tow rig out of unused tow line. I had a handle from a weed-whacker that served as my connection, and we spliced a loop for the tow bridle to attach. I have towed with trucks, towed with scooter tows, and once towed with a wonderful two cylinder snowmobile engine rig which later took me to a cross country record, but I’ve never hand-towed. I called a friend who had done it before for tips, and I researched it online, finding educational videos of what to do– and what not to do. I even came across some kind of relay race event where the participants race in teams towing a paraglider pilot behind them! Fun for another day I guess!
We hit the field at 11am. It was hot out. Thermals were starting to pop. Not wanting to tow in the stronger midday of a hot day, we towed immediately. I played the part of the draft horse and tow operator, moderating the tension on Kevin as I hauled him into the air, careful not to let him stray too far to one side. It was hard work in such light winds. We finally got a few good tows– one about 40 feet, which gave Kevin time to set up for a landing and practice his flare– but the sun and heat were exhausting us. I felt like puking after that really good tow, so we called it good after a couple hours. Did I say it was hot out? It was 97ºF and humid!
Back home, we re-hydrated and watched paramotoring videos, including several previous students’ first flights. Totally beat, I took a nap and Kevin got lunch. We reconvened at 5pm and rehearsed motor control on the ground and in the simulator, including a motor-on dry run of Kevin’s first flight. I had to meet another student on the field at 6pm, so we headed out, unsure if we would have the energy to fly ourselves.
Wind was variable in strength through the night. Kris (the other pilot) launched a bunch of flights. He is starting to dial in his landings. His launches are for the most part very good! Every attempt at launching resulted in a flight– excellent for someone with 17 flights.
In the last 30 minutes of Part 103-legal flying hours, with a strobe light donned, Kevin put the motor on his back and clipped into the wing. He performed one flawless inflation with the motor running– just to get a sense of what a running motor feels like while inflating the wing– then he killed the motor and put the wing back down. We set up at the rear of the field (runway behind you is useless) and prepared for the flight.
Again, Kevin brought the wing straight up over his head and immediately continued his forward motion. The wing under control, I radioed for him to add more power and keep running. In a few more steps he was off the ground! Kevin climbed to about 400 feet above the ground and got into his seat. He did a left-hand lap around the field and lined up for a graceful landing. Maybe he could have flared later, but with a slow school wing, there isn’t much flare to work with. He sat down softly and stood back up. I couldn’t be happier- his launch and flight were well controlled, and his landing was slow and safe. Congratulations Kevin! Much more flying is in your future!
Kris started his training in the country of Poland, then returned to the US to continue his paramotor training in Maine. Already having a number of towed flights, and 6 paramotor flights under his belt, He’ll be training for just 5 days. This past weekend he took flights 7 through 13. I’m really impressed with his endurance and ability to launch in no wind! His kiting ability is impressive too, as is his familiarity with the motor (a Polish brand I’m not familiar with; maybe I’ll write about it when I know more). He obviously had good instruction in Poland.
Nevertheless, the first couple hours at School of Personal Flight were spent in the hang test/simulator going over the syllabus to make sure between his two instructors no topic was missed. In addition to coaching Kris through more practice flights, I’ll be teaching him FAR 103 and US Airspace. We’ll also let the trims out on his Synthesis 2 and apply speedbar to see how fast that thing can go. The lucky guy lives really close to the training field, so I think we’ll be flying together a lot 🙂
After lots of practice kiting, and a short flight off a nearby bunny hill, Keith took his first flight on a paramotor Sunday evening. It was gratifying to see his hard work pay off.
Keith’s journey started last Wednesday. We focused on kiting and getting a feel for the wing without the motor. Thursday was more kiting. We found some really good wind for it at Biddeford Airport, and the concept of wing control began solidifying in Keith’s muscle memory. Friday was really windy (like, REALLY windy), so we went to the hardware store and improved the hang-test / PPG Simulator. Once we had it really nice, Keith rehearsed the first flight in the simulator– starting the motor, stowing the brakes, getting in the seat, sliding out of the seat, and flaring for landing.
We also did some reserve throw practice using a dummy reserve that Diana (my lovely wife) sewed up while we were playing with the simulator. I made a little infographic with the results:
Saturday morning Keith got his first gliding flight on a gopher-hole-wracked hill near Biddeford. He demonstrated gentle brake inputs and a cool head. Later that afternoon, we went to the field with several local pilots and kited until the wind calmed down enough to fly. Keith was rocking the inflations. In particular, he was doing well with reverse inflations (facing the wing to inflate it, then turning around and running with it). Toward the end of the evening, we did some motor-on “taxiing” inflations.
Sunday morning, we drove all around looking for a place to kite. It was just too windy near the coast. Even the small Dudek Zakospeed 16 was yanking us around. Sunday evening, though… You couldn’t ask for better weather for a first solo! The sky was overcast, blocking any thermal turbulence. The breeze from the sea was still blowing, but dropping in strength steadily. Keith had a generous 5mph headwind to help with his forward inflation launches, which he nailed twice in a row! I’m proud! We had to stop the evening after 2 flights as the sun set.
Monday was rainy, but Tuesday afternoon yielded beautiful flying. Keith flew another 4 times, nailing his first attempt at a reverse launch. More flying on Wednesday, and then more rain on Thursday. We called it a week as Memorial Day weekend was upon us.
I start up another cycle of paramotor training this weekend. What are you waiting for? come on up to Maine for some sweet flights!
I just got back from the Florida paragliding competitions (Spring Fling and East Coast Paragliding Championships). Weather was subpar for this time of year in Florida, but we still had a couple 100+ mile days! Congratulations to Dustin Pachura for setting the new Florida paragliding distance record at 140 miles!
In Spring Fling, I took 3rd place in Serial Class. I only made it to goal once, but I made it fast! I didn’t place in the ECPC this year. I blame my mental state after my December accident, and getting to know my new wing. After flying almost 90k with David Prentice and Chandler during one task, I know it’s not my wing, it’s me. Despite the uncooperative weather, I had a great time. Neverland Flight Park is growing fast, and the people there are like family to me.
Ok, now to business: I picked up two Air Conception Nitro 200 motors from Aviator PPG in Lake Wales. One motor is a pull-start, the other is electric start. These are the two School motors that you will be learning on if you purchase the $2500 no-gear-commitment package, and I think I’ve picked the best motor family to accommodate most pilots. A lot of thought went into this choice starting from my first demo on an Air Conception at Beach Blast 2016. You’re going to enjoy learning on these motors!
Out of the 26 motors I’ve flown, this is the first Electric start, and man is it fun! it makes flying whimsical. The motor weighs only a little over 40lbs, so I can kite the wing to feel out the air for half an hour, then just turn around, hit the electric start, and take off. You don’t need to do a superhero lunge to stand up with the motor, either; you just put it on like a backpack and stand up like a normal human being. Mainly, these motors are light and powerful, and they’re going to fly my 260lbs guys as well as my 150lbs guys.
I built a large hang test in the backyard, as the previous hang test– my woodshed– really didn’t look like it can take any more abuse. This things is a behemoth. It’s 10 feet tall and weighs more than twice as much as I do. I was able to construct it single-handedly, but not without sacrifices– I destroyed one lawn chair when a 4×4 went through it. In the near future I plan to have pilots run their motors at full-throttle while attached to a realistic set of risers hanging from this thing (I was inspired by the excellent setup at Aviator PPG).
One of my students couldn’t make it this month, but one student will be the inaugural graduate of the new 9-day flash-course format. We’re starting a little early since it’s just him and it fits his schedule better. Weather looks excellent for the next week, so we lucked out! It’s going to be hard teaching the classroom subjects when it’s 75 and sunny outside.
Last weekend I escaped for a couple of paramotor flights with my friends. I had yet to test my pull-starter fix (using Loctite on the screw holding it together). After a couple flights, one of them over an hour, the pull starter has not fallen apart. If the pull starter makes it more than 10 flights, I’ll be impressed, and will modify all new pull-starters I receive.
Saturday evening I flew with Chris from Sanford Airport to the edge of Mousam Lake (near Shapleigh, Maine). The air was twitchy for being so late in the evening. It got cold fast as we went North and the sun set. I saw Chris turn around just short of Mousam Lake, so I turned around and followed him back to the airport. We had a tailwind all the way, until we reached the airport. Like nearly every day I’ve flown this Spring, the coastal air made a push into the mainland late in the evening. The windsock was blowing the opposite direction, strong. Crossing into the convergence was bumpy, it smoothed out once we were through.
Coming in to land, I could hear the GA pilots on my radio. Someone was 6 miles out coming for a straight-in landing on runway 25. I was near runway 25 at about 1000 feet. Sanford has 3 runways, and is often pretty busy for a non-towered airport. Jets and helicopters routinely stop in. I steered toward the center of runway 32 and set up to land midfield next to it (near where we took off). I killed the motor pretty high to play with the glide on my new wing. I overestimated it this time, and had to walk for about a minute to reach my windsock.
Chris had landed next to the windsock, and was checking over his motor when I walked up. His pull starter had lost all four of its bolts holding it on. The bolts went through his prop, mangling it a bit. That was the reason Chris turned around short of the lake. He flew the 15 minutes back to the airport on a chipped prop and a killswitch wire that was in all likelihood intermittently touching the crankcase. Thankfully the kill switch worked when he needed it! These things happen, and it’s important to know other ways you can kill your motor (like cover the air intake, turn off the the fuel, flood it with carb adjustment, yank the spark plug).
Since the gremlins in my pull-starter had hopped into Chris’s, I was able to fly the next morning with Chase. Chase had never flown Sanford Airport before, so I offered to show it to him. We pulled up at 7:30am. I brought my windsock onto the tarmac. An instructor from the Flight School opened the door as I was walking past and flagged me down– She wanted to let me know that 3 blackhawks were coming in to land at 8:30am, and they would be flying over the place we usually set up. I thanked her and told here we’d be out of there by 8:30.
Well, Chase and I ran a little late, and the Blackhawks a little early. I watched my windsock take a beating as the awesome beasts hovered past it.Traffic in the air had backed up a bit too, so the helicopters were followed by planes landing every minute or so. Breakfast at the Cockpit Café is irresistible to the surrounding aviation community! To top it off, my airband transceiver wasn’t transmitting. While not required at Sanford, I didn’t feel safe flying there without one that morning. We bailed on Sanford and drove down the road 5 minutes to Kennebunk Plains.
I had never launched from the Plains, but I had flown over it and played with it many times. It’s a unique feature in Maine– flat gravel terrain. It was formed thousands of years ago by receding glaciers, and is home to the largest population in the world of Northern Blazing Star, a rare flower. The unusually long distance vision afforded by the Plains made it a favorite hunting spot for primitive man– a use that is still allowed today. I haven’t hunted there, but that connection to the early hunters is something I’d like to ponder out there.
The rules for the park stated that visitors need to stay on marked trails after May 1, and motorized vehicle were prohibited after May 1 as well. Since this was still April, we walked onto the fire-culled, snow-flattened dead brush and launched into the rapidly increasing wind. Chase and I got a few minutes flight, then landed when we found the air had become more spicy than the typical 9am window. Above 500 feet, the wind was very strong out of the West. This fast moving air was mixing with a RAPIDLY heating surface– I left the house at 30ºF. Temperatures reached 87ºF by noon! That’s a 57ºF temperature change in a few hours with hot, dry air. I think the decision to cut our flight short was wise.
And today, it’s snowing up the coast a bit. That’s Spring in New England. I’m heading to Florida tomorrow. I leave you with this memorable flight along Old Orchard Beach from September, 2015:
The motor in video is for sale. I can’t guarantee you every flight will be as beautiful as that one, but it creates the opportunity.
The weather is changing– It even hit 74ºF yesterday. I took my rig out to Biddeford Airport and got a quick 10 minute flight in before sunset. I could have easily taken this flight in my T-shirt. Not bad for April!
When you drag your motor out of winter storage, give it careful checkover before taking your first flight. Launch is the most likely time to have a motor failure, and a motor that hasn’t flown in a while may have degraded parts or issues from last year that you’ve forgotten about (Did you replace those vibration isolators? Did you check your sketchy-looking-but-still-holding exhaust screws?). Your motor changes even when it’s sitting inactive in a garage or basement. It’s still chemically active.
One of my motors (the PAP 1450 Moster 185 Classic) has a recurrent pull-start issues that seems to crop up every 10 or so flights. The starter pawls that extend out to grab the crankshaft pulley unscrew themselves from the rest of the starter assembly and fall out. This then cuts up the crankshaft pulley, and usually damages parts of the pull-starter. After replacing damaged parts from my bucket of pull starters (this is starter #5), I put it back together with some PermaTex Threadlocker Blue on the medial screw that holds everything together. Hedging my bets, I also ordered several more pull starters that fit this motor. If you need a pull starter that fits many of the paramotors out there (Cors-Air, Vittorazi, Minari), let me know!
My other motor, the venerable Solo 210, has a power issue that I’m troubleshooting. The motor starts great and runs up until mid-throttle great. Somewhere between mid- and high-throttle, the engine feels like it’s “skipping” a stroke. I checked belt tension, fuel supply to the carb and motor, electrical resistance of the primary coil, and carburetor settings. Everything is normal when I test it. Electrical can be tricky though– If there’s a short in my primary coil, it may not appear until heat causes the wires to expand. I’ll keep on trucking. In the meantime, I’m reading up on two-stroke medicine. I found a great YouTube video about bogging 2-strokes (not exactly my problem, but I’ve had it before):
This weekend I invited a couple of students out to a former airstrip in Byfield, Massachusetts, for some pre-season practice. I delivered one student’s pre-purchased gear, and taught the other student on school-owned equipment. Watching how easily the student kited his new 2017 Dudek Universal 1.1 in comparison to the school’s 2010 MacPara Eden 4 has convinced me I need new wings for school. The Eden 4 is a docile, safe wing, but it was created in a time before plastic-rod reinforced leading edges and light fabric.
Johnson (Massachusetts instructor) also showed up with a student, and many friends from the flying community came out to knock the rust off their flying skills. We had 8 pilots and students kiting and flying on the gorgeous weekend, and everyone was enjoying themselves. Just about when everyone was tired out, the police showed up and asked us to leave. They thought a permit might be required for using the land. That would be highly unusual, as the public walk their dogs and fly RC planes there. 8 wings in the air might have been too much attention. Nevertheless, we’ll work with the town to see what, if any, permitting requirements are involved. In 7 years of PPG flying, this is the first time I’ve been asked for papers.
When dealing with the police, recognize that they have jurisdiction over the ground, not the air. If they are motioning for you to land, absolutely do not put yourself or anyone else in danger by landing without due planning. Land only when and where it is safe to do so.