Kevin’s First Paramotor Solo

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*.

Biddeford Glacier. All the street snow from Biddeford ends up here in the Spring– A boon for future archeologists.

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.

The Flight

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!

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Continuing Education

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 🙂

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Keith’s First Solo

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.

Paramotor flight simulation. Some imagination required.

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:

A picture of me looking teacherly, and Keith looking like a badass.

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.

 

Keith slipping the surly bonds of Earth

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!

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Classes have started!

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!

The starting line
Neverland, start of the 2017 Spring Fling

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.

New Motors

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.

Hang Test

The hangtest at Aviator PPG that I’m trying to emulate in Maine

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).

oops. Sorry Diana!
Completed hang test. Come hang out sometime!

First Class

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.

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Blackhawks and Traffic

Chris and I after the Mousam Lake expedition. There’s still snow, though it’s melting fast.

Sanford Out-And-Return to Mousam Lake

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).

Blazing Stars

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.

Heavy metal over runway 32

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.

 

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First (unofficial) lessons in 2017

Feels like Summer…

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!

That silvery colored part with the slots cut into it is supposed to be attached to the pull-starter. With 4 out of 5 pull-starters on this motor, the failure has been that bolt (center; has a spring around it) unscrewing.

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):

 

Pre-Season Instruction

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.

The old Eden 4 28m rising under human power

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.

 

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Spring is here, and it sucks. But summer is around the corner!

My hopes for a warm spring were dashed. I’ve gone flying a few times this spring, but the windows of opportunity were short- always nestled between frigid dry jet stream days and the calm before a looming storm from the North Atlantic.

April Fools Day, 2017- but the weather people were not joking!

Memorably, I teamed up with Johnson Qu to demo the sport in Massachussets for a couple of interested folks. I lasted about 10 minutes before my fingers froze and I had to land. The field was littered with mercifully frozen-solid dog turds, so no foul debris made it into my car or on to my wing.

Then a couple weeks later, some new wings came in, and an old one: A Dudek Hadron 20-meter. It is actually new from the factory, but has been in a box since 2015. The design is from 2011, but they nailed it, so they’re reproducing the same design in 2017 and labelling it the Hadron 1.1. People loved this wing, and I can see why– it’s easy to launch, fast, efficient, and has simpler controls compared to the newer Hadron XX. I had the opportunity to test its surprising stability in turbulence (air has been weird around here). Before flying it for the first time, I kited it for at least an hour. After my cavalier approach to new wings in Mexico and the damage inflicted to my body, I took a rightfully cautious approach.

In the end, the Dudek Hadron is a fun wing for an experienced pilot looking for an fast and efficient cruiser. It is by no means a beginner wing, but the positive pitching moment of the reflex profile kept the wing open and over my head even in chaotic Spring convergence lift. Though the Hadron XX is unquestionably a more efficient wing, this highly-loaded Hadron 20 kept me climbing in 100-300 foot/minute lift for 10 minutes while I coasted, engine idling, back to the airport.

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Months with the Most Flying in Maine

I have been deeply immersed in spreadsheets for the past week as I plot the course forward for my business. I’ve been so busy that in my free time, I’ve found it fun to clean up my Google Sheets Flight Log. I keep detailed records about every flight I have ever taken. I’m not OCD much, but after a couple of years of record-keeping it’s hard to let the habit die. Besides the obvious time and date, I record observations about the motor, the wing, the weather, and any maintenance tasks I have done, or need to do. With these logs I once discovered, for instance, that my original PAP Moster 185 Classic pull-starts only survive 8.5 hours on average!

Here’s a sample entry:

Date Location Time of day Inflation Flight time (minutes) People Motor Wing Comments Maintenance
 528 10/3/2014 Turf Farm Evening Forward 35 Mike Sherwood FB Solo Rush 4 26 Engine occasionally missing a fire in mid/high throttle replaced spark plug, changed carb jet from 155 to 160

The opportunity presented itself to do a little analysis on 9 years of logging. I discovered interesting trends. I found out how many hours and flights are logged on each of my motors and wings. I visualized my gradual transition to “The Light Side” (unpowered paragliding, free-flight). Most useful to all, I learned

The Best Month to Paramotor in Maine.

Best Flying Months in Maine (Click to Enlarge)

It turns out it’s August.

Followed by July.

Then May.

From my experience, these have been the best months. I tallied up the number of minutes I flew each month since 2010 (when I started PPG). Then I split the months up by year and averaged the number of hours I flew each month. Starting late 2014 I flew mostly paragliders, increasingly shunning the motor (and the cold), preferring the tropics to glide in warm thermals through the winter.

Minutes Flown in Month
Month 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 Average # Hours
January 20 97 0 0 0 0 0 0.2785714286
February 60 15 30 45 0 30 0 0.4285714286
March 20 223 154 25 35 120 30 1.445238095
April 62 157 694 30 54 145 3.172222222
May 60 397 840 299 433 165 308 5.957142857
June 160 100 450 127 221 257 186 3.573809524
July 115 559 880 325 119 629 315 7.004761905
August 415 675 681 582 644 189 351 8.421428571
September 30 428 548 145 147 468 462 5.304761905
October 115 260 246 420 104 255 98 3.566666667
November 75 30 112 30 30 173 88 1.280952381
December 30 146 0 120 0 0 0 0.7047619048

I was surprised. I only averaged 8.5 hours in Augusts, and that is my longest month. So why so few hours per month? Did my full-time job at Boeing during 2010-2014 slow me down? No; I actually flew my motor more in the years that I had a full-time office job. The hidden reason: it’s because free-flight has been creeping into my life! In fact, while in Colombia this year, I finally passed the point where I have flown more hours without a motor (288 hours) than with one (285 hours). I have another chart that plotted free-flight versus paramotoring over 9 years, and it’s clear that my flights are longer and more frequent when I fly without my motor (sadly, I deleted the chart… there went 2 hours of my day!).

Other interesting stats:

 (All my flights, broken into motoring and free-flying) Hours: Flights:
Total: 573.2666667 966
Freeflight: 288.4666667 400
Motor: 284.8 566
Unique Canopies Flown: 35
Unique Motors Flown: 25

 

And my Rush 4 is just over 2 years old, but look at her experience:

Rush 4 Flights: 268
Rush 4 Hours: 256.7666667
Rush 4 Competitions Won: 2

So pilots– keep good logs! You’ll never regret it.

A flight recording device such as a cellphone with a flight-tracking app, or a variometer such as one of these pictured, can help you keep a complete and accurate flight log.
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Back in Maine, Gearing up for Summer ’17

The buses that pick us up all along the Valle Del Cauca. We’re rockstars there!

After a few months in Mexico and Colombia, I’m back in Maine preparing for the 2017 powered paragliding season. I’m a few shades darker, and I’m a total wimp in the cold now. From my flying and volunteering, I’ve developed some of my weaker skills in mountains thermals, side-hill landings and Spanish. I’ve got stories! My broken ribs have mostly healed, and I’ve been carrying a bag around South American that weighs much more than most motors– I’m in the best shape of my life. I can’t wait to start paramotoring again!

It’s freezing cold and gusting 50+ mph outside, but NOW is a good time to schedule a visit, and if you’re committed to flying, purchase your gear. Warmer weather is just around the corner, and if you want your gear in time to fly this summer you’ve got order soon (especially if you want custom colors on your wing).

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Monarca 2017 Recap

Registration:

The registration line. It got even busier!

My first job at Monarca 2017 was helping to register all the pilots in the competition. I helped them verify their information on the forms was correct. Most importantly, I verified that they had insurance, they had a way to be contacted while in Mexico, and they had signed the liability waiver. It was an all-day task, and with my broken ribs, leaning over a table was more painful than hiking with a backpack or flying. By 8pm or so, we had finished most of the registrations.

Task 1:

Yakin, one of the Monarca 2017. I worked mostly with Yakin and Dani, checking in pilots, looking for pilots, and double-checking safety before launch.

The first task was a rather long first task. Hector Martin (Fink), the Meet Director, chose this longer route because there was a cold front coming our way, and it could have arrived before the end of the competition. Launch was windy, but all the take-offs were reasonably safe. I checked off pilots who were flying the task so that we could account for them later when they landed. If a pilot who launched wasn’t marked as “landed” by 5:45pm, we started a Defcon 5 search for them (try to call them, text them, email them, facebook them). If the pilot wasn’t accounted for by around 6:30, we started calling friends and other pilots to find out if anyone had seen them since the task ended.

The task was good, and there were many pilots in goal. Goal was the Santa Maria LZ, a postage-stamp sized grass field next to the lake in Valle De Bravo. If you’re not used to landing in such a tight LZ, it can be hair-raising. Despite the tight LZ, nobody in the competition landed in the water. One pilot did get his feet and just the tip of his wing wet.

First pilot in lands in goal!

I was at the LZ, checking in pilots as they landed. It was confusing sometimes– I would often check-in a pilot who landed, then check-in a bunch more, then try to checking a pilot I hadn’t seen before, only to find out that it was the same pilot with his helmet off! At the end of the task, we had 12 pilots unaccounted for. After some calling around and searching our messages and tracks, we accounted for all but one. It was gratifying when we made contact with the last pilot; To know that all pilots were safe at the end of the day was a relief.

Task 2:

The second task was windy at launch again. The task was a ring of concentric circles, with pilots needing to touch an inner circle, fly back out and touch an outer circle, then fly back into a smaller circle. These tasks are common in Colombia, but it was the first time I’ve seen it in Mexico. The novelty of the task is that the pilot can choose any direction to fly outward, allowing him to choose a superior flight path.

We had one reserve throw, near launch. A ratty thermal blew through a gaggle of 3 pilots, and all 3 visibly struggled to keep their wings open. One pilot couldn’t, and his wing collapsed. He spun the wing trying to recover it, and after a series of cascading collapses, he threw his reserve. He drifted back toward launch and landed in a nearby tree. I ran to help, but upon arriving, I found the pilot 30 feet up, hanging in the branches. With my broken ribs I couldn’t do much except talk English to him until rescue arrived. He suffered a dislocated shoulder, but was otherwise in great shape, mentally and physically. The Mexican tree rescue team is top notch.

At goal, we had one pilot land in the water. He was completely soaked, instruments, wing, harness and all. We had many pilots in goal again, perhaps half the field.

Task 3:

Big task, 100km. Nobody made it all the way to goal. The final checkpoint was into the wind, at Elefante. Pilots who reached Elefante reported massive sink, and some of the lead gaggle landed there. It’s not a nice place to land, as all the hydroelectric power from the lake originates on that side. There are many power lines.

At launch, I noticed that pilots were getting tired, and the safety checks we perform found a few anomalies– one helmet unbuckled, a speedbar line unhooked, a reserve handle half-off its velcro.

Security had big guns. From what I’ve seen, I think most of the money for this competition goes to safety and security.

On an unrelated note, My beard is growing back, and I’m afraid it may be too late to attack it with razors. looks like I’ll be getting a beard-tan this winter!

Task 4:

Overcast! rare for Valle. The front is arriving, and the forecast was for strong winds. Thankfully, the wind never materialized during the approximately 75km task. Goal was in Piano, right below the launch, so I took off for a flight of my own after all the competitors had launched. I landed in time to check-in pilots who landed in goal. Despite the overcast skies, approximately half the competitors flew for a very long time and made it in goal. Everyone to whom I spoke said they enjoyed this task. Lift was weak, so victory went to the patient.

Task 5:

Finally, the wind from the front arrived. The thermals were tilted. The task reminded me of practically every task last year (lots of wind). There were few pilots in goal. The lakeside LZ was uncharacteristically rowdy, and the clouds on distant volcano Toluca were lenticulars. I think some pilots were sketched out by the conditions and landed early.

We had one pilot throw his reserve near launch. He was close to the terrain, so he threw right away (good decision!). He landed in a tree, hanging from his reserve, with his feet just inches from the ground. As such, he was an easy rescue.

Task 6:

The final task was good! wind had subsided, but the thermals were strong– at least initially; A good convergence set up over the mesa, but it dissolved in the early afternoon, leaving many pilots stranded away from goal. I flew XC to the Santa Maria LZ goal to check-in pilots. Thermals were rockets in the early afternoon! I reached the convergence and crossed it as the B- and C-rated gliders were gaggling across, so I whooped and hollered at them from the air.

We had one reserve throw, in view of goal. Weather at goal was strange, but mostly safe unless you got in the rotor of the lakeside mountains to the north. Pilot was OK, and we had contact with him. There was a report of another pilot down along Espina, but the rescue helicopter investigated it and radioed that it was a false alarm– just some coloration in the cliffs.

The lake, for the first time I’ve ever experienced, supported thermals above it! I played around in them a bit before landing. Flying is good medicine, and I’m so happy I got to finish my competition-support gig with an XC in booming conditions.

Santa Maria LZ
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