Our nearby Powered Parachute friends, the Granite State Sky Riders, started a Fly-In in Berwick, Maine this year. New Hampshire news channel WMUR9 showed up and produced a really nice piece about the sport, with a bit of Powered Paragliding thrown in the mix (thanks to a briefing from local instructor, Johnson Qu). You can watch it here. As I’ve been asked many times before about the difference between Powered Parachutes (PPC) and Powered Paragliders (PPG), you can compare and contrast the sports of PPC to PPG in this 8-minute segment from the New Hampshire Chronicle.
Since 2013 or so I’ve been following the Red Bull X-Alps race– sometimes from my phone, sometimes from my work computer– watching the dots race over 1000km to Monaco against a map of the Alps. Pilots will be flying as much as they can, but when weather doesn’t allow flight, they’ll be running. I’m really proud that two of our New England colleagues are going to be in the 2019 X-Alps: Eduardo Garza, supported by Bianca Heinrich!
If you’ve followed the X-Alps before, you’re familiar with the degree of mental and physical toughness required to compete. From the X-Alps About the Race page:
From Salzburg, they make their way only by foot and paraglider to Monaco, navigating over 1000km of treacherous alpine terrain. Often covering distances of 100km per day, sometimes more, athletes must combine skill and strategy, while overcoming injury and fatigue. Many will accept defeat and drop out before the end, but a select few will stop at nothing to reach the finish line.
Eduardo is representing his home country of Mexico, but until recently he has held the New England paragliding distance record (only beaten by world record holder, Donizete Lemos!), and both he and Bianca currently co-own the Vermont State record. Eduardo is also an ardent mountain hiker. Bianca will be supporting Eduardo on the flight, which draws on her decorated paragliding experience to develop strategies with the route, logistics and the weather to outfly the competing atheletes and keep Eduardo healthy.
So, congratulations! I’ll be rooting for you Eduardo!
I sort of spaced on blogging for the past couple months– I’ve been really busy running the school and keeping up-to-date on software engineering (I can’t live on flying alone– yet). I’m considering a vast expansion of the school next year or 2020, but the details and the debt are a little scary. Approximately 120 people asked for lessons or details since this Spring, and I’ve had to wait-list almost everyone. I sold my school motors in the Spring… whoops!
Last month Diana and went to France to visit the Coupe Icare. It’s a free-flying festival (with paramotors too!) attended by over 100,000 people. I rubbed shoulders with the manufactures of our wings and motors, and examined new technology. The crowds were a little overwhelming, and I peopled-out after a collective 2 hours of waiting in various lines. The show was spectacular– I’m not going to post all the pictures, but do look up this event sometime! Before and after the Festival, I flew Annecy and Chamonix, two paragliding sites in the Alps. These are European free-flight hubs. There is plenty of infrastructure for moving pilots around in Chamonix.
I didn’t really blog about all the wonderful people I met who came to learn how to fly. Everyone has been enthusiastic about it, and it was fun to watch their skills click. The tandems have been a useful tool for introducing prospective pilots to PPG flight. I’ve been teaching and doing tandems every weekend. I even had the privilege to fly some of my friends, family, and friends’ family tandem and show them what we’re doing up there.
I’m finding it takes A LOT longer to get you flying around here if you can only take weekends off. Though the 9-day compressed courses weren’t ideal (I want to do 14-day courses next year), they did get pilots up and flying sooner.
The season is coming to an end soon, but I’m still available for Tandems and one-off lessons. On the plus side, the Town of Biddeford just started clearing the Japanese Knotweed off the north-facing kiting hill (just in time for the winter’s north wind).
I had an awesome 3-stop flight last night for my 10th anniversary of flying. My favorite flights follow the 80/20 rule: 80% adventure, 20% misadventure. Wind was stiff from the West, so I scrapped my original plan to land at the beach, and instead flew to Sanford airport to land and make some adjustments to my motor. I took off again, then landed in the Blueberry Barrens to pick some blueberries. A couple cycling by stopped and chatted about blueberries. I shared with them locations where I spotted others picking blueberries (the berries themselves are hard to see while moving through the air, even at 5 feet).
No-wind launching at the Blueberry barrens was somewhat sketchy– The ground was uneven and the dirt roads were rutted. In my rush to launch while nobody was looking, I’m pretty sure I forgot to attach the right speed bar pulley to the wing. Sometimes they fall off on their own, but I think it was a lax pre-flight in this case. The speed bar line swung back and hit the propeller on take off. The propeller suffered minimal damage, but the netting on the lower right quadrant was destroyed (it was an easy fix). Amazingly, the speed bar line wasn’t badly damaged and had lassoed itself safely around a cage spar. I appreciated the reminder that complacency doesn’t care how experienced you are, nor how long you’ve been flying. I waved at the blueberry pickers down below like everything was normal and flew home.
At 300 feet, a familiar apple- or blueberry-cinnammon pie scent was stagnating over the field. I have only once before noticed this pie layer of air, a few years back. I’m not sure what makes it, but it smells great! It only happens this time of year.
I helped a friend take apart his motor to figure out why it wouldn’t start. The symptom: The flash-start pull-start wasn’t “flashing,” and the motor wasn’t starting. He had already taken apart, reassembled and replaced the flash starter. We also replaced the carburetor, which is often the cause of troublesome motor issues (but not in this case). Spark plug replaced, gaskets replaced, piston/head cleaned, etc. — nothing standard was fixing the problem.
There was no resistance when he pulled the pull-starter handle. The flash-start mechanism isolates the user from the compression of the engine, but you still feel *something*. We were getting nothing. I hooked up a compression tester: 0 psi compression when we rotated the piston– I’ve never seen that before. We took apart the cylinder a second time and looked at the rings. They were not springing out to contact the cylinder wall, and they were stuck flush(!) with the piston sides, allowing air/fuel mix to easily blow by the piston, completely voiding the combustion chamber. The flash-start needs this compression to wind its “flash” spring.
I don’t know if the motor would have started even if we could get the first bang to happen. Even if it did run, the power would be extremely lacking. I’m not sure exactly what would happen with so much blow-by (combustion gases migrating from the front of the piston to the crankcase). My friend has a new piston on the way.
The most common cause of stuck piston rings is excess heat when the engine is running, usually due to a lean condition. Not using a 2-stroke lubricating oil might also cause something like this to happen. In my friend’s case, I don’t think he ran it too hot; there was no other indication of heat damage (and perhaps someone with more experience reading pistons can tell me what the picture of the piston tells them). There was an amount of carbon built up on the piston and head consistent with 30 hours of use. He might be changing oil brands though, just in case.
Tim got his first flight at the end of June. After 6 towed launches, he was more than ready for motorized flight. His first flight was on the full Moon, so I had him fly a few more laps than usual for a first flight so he could take in the scenery. He’s had a couple more since then, but we ran into issues with his used motor: it wouldn’t shut off when he landed– the kill switch wasn’t working. Now he gets to learn about motor maintenance.
High humidity and temperature
Temperatures have been in the 80s and 90s over the 4th of July weekend. We flew a few days, and those launches were brutal! There was no wind to help, What little wind we did receive was switching directions, and we ran into issues with the high density altitude. Once off the ground however, flying was calm and warm. I even flew a tandem (one successful launch, one non-successful), which was surprising that we could launch in this stuff.
I’ll briefly explain Density Altitude. Think of it as “the altitude that the weather conditions make it feel like.” High Density Altitude means the conditions are making it seem like you’re launching at a high altitude. Low Density Altitude makes it seem like you’re launching at a low altitude. Note, it’s not (High Density) Altitude, it’s High (Density Altitude)– See what I did there?
Hypothetically just varying altitude, planes have a harder time launching at Denver (5000 feet above sea level, more or less) than in Kennebunk (10 feet above sea level). This is because, assuming equal temperatures and humidity, the air at 5000 feet is less dense than the air at sea level. Less air density at high altitude results in less lift force, and fewer oxygen molecules for the motor to burn. You end up needing to run faster to get the same lift, and at the same time the motor produces less power than it normally does. Mostly it’s the running that sucks.
Besides high altitude, two other things can make the air less dense: High Humidity and High Temperature. The result of higher humidity or temperature is the same as the result of high altitude– faster run, less power from the motor.
In a nutshell:
High Temperature AND High Humidity -> REALLY High density altitude. Launches will be hard.
either High Humidity OR High Temperature -> SOMEWHAT High density altitude. Launches will be somewhat difficult.
65ºF temperature, 50% humidity -> density altitude feels approximately like the actual altitude. launches will be easy.
Low Temperature AND/OR Low Humidity -> (NICE!) Low density altitude. Launches will be really easy.
I finished the USPPA Tandem Trainee program– Thanks to all my test passengers, especially Chris Parish, who was in the seat for 15 of my test flights! I am now a Tandem Foot-Launch PPG Instructor. I’m excited to add this new dimension to training. Now your first solo flight doesn’t have to be your first-ever flight.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about doing Tandems in Maine in the summer, it’s that our summer’s high Density Altitude is not helping. If you’re going to fly with me this summer, you’re going to need to run hard for at least 30 feet. To be on the safe side, I’m not taking anybody over 200lbs until I’ve had a chance to test a heavier passenger who has flying experience. I’ve had my first tandem flight attempt during a windless, hot and humid day wherein the motor was not producing enough power to lift us off the ground. Earlier in the evening, I had a marginal launch that took ages to gain altitude.
I’m using an Air Conception Nitro 200 for tandems. It’s adequate, but a more powerful motor would help, so maybe next year I’ll be wearing an Air Conception Tornado 280 for tandems. However, I really like that I have a motor that I can fly solo, and then also use the same motor for tandems. I also like that the Nitro 200 is so light on my back. I like it so much that I have a brand new electric-start, clutched Nitro 200 coming to me in the next week. I may use it for tandems (that was my intent when I ordered it), but I would consider selling it brand new to a former student (warranty included).
The Tandem wing (MacPara Pasha 6 42m with T-Ride risers) has been amazing! It’s like a giant EN-A-rated school wing that rises easily and points straight. I think I’ve flubbed one launch in the 27 I’ve done so far, which is all the more amazing since most of them were done in no wind. This wing has our backs.
Interesting observation: Flying the 42m tandem wing with a 130-lb passenger and my 185-lb self results in the same fuel consumption as when I fly a solo 20m wing; we just fly at a little more than half the speed.
Sometimes, especially on early mornings, the wind at ground level is too weak to move even the telltale of a windsock. Even on these days it is advantageous to launch against the wind because it’s still subtracting from the speed you must run to inflate the wing, and it insures a gradual climbout angle with respect to the terrain and surrounding collision hazards.
- Hold your arms out like you’re a bird; expose some skin, because you’re trying to feel wind/temperature differences.
- Walk in a wide circle (20 feet), arms outstretched, at a moderate pace (~3 mph).
- Note which way you’re facing when you feel the most wind or or most cold on your face and hands. That is the direction the wind is coming from. Try walking a little faster in each direction to confirm that one direction clearly feels like it’s resisting you more. That’s the direction you will launch.
This technique works even when the windsock is still, and dropping leaves, grass, tissue etc. doesn’t indicate a wind direction. Your nervous system is more sensitive.
Genie in a bottle:
If you don’t want to look silly walking around in a circle, some people use a product called a “wind checker” that indicates wind direction using a mist of fine powder. It works by squirting fine powder into the air, which then drifts in the slightest breeze. It’s sold as a hunting supply. Here’s a link to one such product on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2yHypOT.
Ok, so I’ve been slacking on the blog, big time. I’ve been teaching every flyable day since I got back from competitions in Florida, but that’s no excuse– we’ve had some non-flyable weather up here too. Here’s what I’ve been up to:
Teaching new pilots
I’ve taken on 3 new pilots this Spring: Troy, Tim, and Jon. Troy and Jon have had their first flights. Their hours (or maybe in Jon’s case, dozens of hours) of kiting have paid off, and their launches have been spot on– well controlled with no oscillations after leaving the ground. We did have one launch that veered toward some trees in a rare North-East wind (the only wind direction where we have a tree hazard), and during the abort of that launch, the pilot lost the tips of the prop. Remember to hold down that kill button until the motor is cold!
Tim is ready for towing, and shortly afterward, flying.
The weather has thrown us a few curveballs; we’ve been stuck in some sort of everlasting Spring– but it’s a New England Spring, not that Eternal Spring that Colombia seems to have. Rain has been driving, wind has been high, and the windows for flight have been short. It seems to be coming to an end mid-June, but as I type, it looks like weather is going to be unflyable for the next 4 days. C’est la vie. We get what we get.
When the students demonstrate safe technique and ability to steer the wing overhead, we progress to towed launches so that landing flares can be practiced without $8000 strapped to the student’s back. The tow also gives me a chance to see how the student reacts to the sensation of feet leaving the ground. Tow-day is when flying gets real, and piloting mistakes have consequences. It can only be undertaken once mutual trust between the student and myself is established. Safety-wise, I feel towing is a little more mortally dangerous than paramotoring (Like if paramotoring was an ‘8’, this would be a ‘9;’ but a hell of a lot of fun!). Mostly, we’re towing to save the motors.
Troy and Jon both towed really well, having controlled launches, minimal need for steering on tow, and slow landing flares. Jon probably had the highest, longest tows the Turf Farm has seen; we used nearly the whole property. The paraglider inside me was a little jealous.
Flying with former students, “knocking the rust off”
I’ve had a couple students from last year come up and fly around. Some folks didn’t get their motors until late in the summer, then didn’t have much opportunity to fly them until after winter. Other students started late in 2017, and need to refresh their skills (I provide continual, casual education up to 1 year after a 9-day course start date).
Well, it’s Summer now, and it’s time to fly! I’ve been looking forward to not just standing on the ground coaching y’all, but going on adventures as your wing-man. Keep your eyes peeled in the coming weeks– I’m planning something big for Late Summer or Early Fall. Windy flying and spot-landing skills will be a must for any XC adventure in Maine, so a USPPA PPG2 rating will be required. Flotation may be required depending on where the adventure ends up.
Working on the USPPA Tandem Certification
For the past 2 years I’ve been working toward a tandem certification. I was delayed in the winter of 2016 due to my injury in Mexico, but I got back on track September 2017 and finally made it out to a tandem trainee course with Chad Bastian in California. Since then I’ve bought a beautiful new MacPara Pasha 6 Tandem wing, taken USPPA PPG2/USHPA P2 pilots on tandem flights, and I’ve taken the FAA Fundamentals of Instruction written test. I have to make 14 more flights with experienced pilots as passengers before I can take students up– which is good, because I’m going to need a few more flights to sort out the pilot-passenger balance point anyway! You’ll be happy to hear that all passengers have reported smooth flights and landings.
I really want this Tandem Certification because there are things I can teach in a tandem flight that are hard to teach on the ground. For example, I can explain oscillations, and I can instruct pilots to go hands-up (or slight pressure on one brake) to eventually fix the oscillation. However, I would rather be right next to the pilot when I show them how to fix a large oscillation. The pilot can associate their input with the actual, real-life feeling of the oscillation coming out. This is especially important flying out of the many tree-lined airports around here, where you sometimes need to straighten out rotor-induced oscillations immediately after launch or before landing.
A tandem flight can give prospective pilots a taste of the sport without a large commitment of cash, and a tandem can break up the monotony of the sometimes frustrating kiting phase of training.
Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport Open House
All sorts of aircraft showed up for the Open House at Sanford Airport on June 9. Johnson Qu brought his Air Conception and Scout motors, Jaime brought his Fresh Breeze Monster and Grasshopper Trike, and I brought my Air Conception and a wing. There were a lot of curious people asking about these machines; the lightest of the ultralights. The Skydive New England crew visited our section of the tarmac after their demonstration jump, so it was nice to meet some fellow canopy flyers.
Looking for images for this blog post, I came across everything else I’ve been up to– refining my software skills, rebuilding another paramotor as an electric start, and… other stuff. And none of this even touches on the wild last 2 weeks of my Colombia trip, nor the Florida Crazy that is Spring Fling / East Coast Paragliding Championships. The competition stuff is coming in another post– I’ve already written a lot about it. Stay tuned!
Thanks to the Maine Aeronautical Association for publishing its calendar of events. You can find the events scheduled through July on the MAA Calendar webpage. They also provide a document with all the known events for the year of 2018, which I’ll reproduce here. I’d recommend checking with the MAA or the contact person listed for an event before showing up– weather has a way of changing dates.
Fly-ins are great fun! You’ll be bringing the lightest aircraft to the show, so be prepared to answer lots of questions. Make sure you talk to the airboss or someone in charge to understand the norms of the fly-in– radio frequency, take-off windows, pattern, where to loiter in the air, etc.
Southern Maine Aviation at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport is hosting a weather seminar this weekend. This information will be New England specific. Judging flyable weather contributes immensely to our enjoyment and the safety of powered paragliding. I highly recommend attending if you can find the time. It’s this upcoming Saturday morning.
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.