Sunday, September 5, 2010

~ Airborne in a Lawn Chair, My First Ten Flights ~

For quite a while now I’ve been wanting to learn how to Paraglide.  Paragliding is a form of aviation in which you take a king size bed sheet and tie a bunch of shoe laces together  to each sheet corner and secure the other end to a pair of suspenders that you can buy on eBay.  You then spread out the bed sheet behind you and run off a mountain top hoping that the sheet opens up and allows you to glide around a bit before you realize you still have to land and begin your descent towards car traffic below and end up crashing into a tree. 
In my case, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to jump off mountains and “free” fly, or use a window fan duct taped to my back to allow me to launch from the ground instead of using gravity to act as my initial launch platform.  After doing lots of research on Facebook, I decided to go with the window fan method because I didn’t want to have to drive to a mountain every time I wanted to fly. I figured this would get me in the air more often and allow me to present you with more frequent spectacular crash videos.
Morgantown Air Force Base - Click Map To Stalk Us.
After spending a week in “ground school” where I learned everything about everything, I met the instructor, Kevin, out at the crash site in Morgantown.  I hadn’t crashed yet of course, but give it 20 minutes and I’ll have crossed that bridge. 
Kevin had had me “kiting” the wing for hours on end which is running around on the ground while pulling the wing above me.  I spent all morning running all over Morgantown and he expected me to be happy about it.  I ran about 400 miles that first day and was as soaking wet as a mountain mule.  The others that were with me didn’t seem to mind as much – those lil narrowed arshed younger pups all probably in their 20’s or something.  Hell, I was ready for a beer just after finally getting tied in to my kiting harness.  Now that’s a contraption. You take this tiny little girdle thing that is about 3 sizes too small and it has these narrow bands that you stick your legs through and they pull up tight around your bidness and make your butt knot up and all.  It really ain’t comfortable wearing one of these things.  Then, you attach a wing to it so when the wind blows through and tries to lift you up, your parts get pulled up over your head and get all numb and such.  I spent the next 30 minutes gigglin’ cuz my pointer had pins and needles and every time I moved it shocked me. After Kevin couldn’t stand watching us run all up and down the country side anymore, he called to me and said to get ready to fly.  I could feel my heart begin to beat faster and bowels begin to aerobicize a little. I was gonna do this today and I didn’t think I could get out of it.  I suited up with every thing I could think of to bring along with me and stood ready to fly.
The plan was to run S T R A I G H T towards Kevin, squeeze the throttle, keep the wing centered overhead, continue running straight into the wind, and pull a little on the brakes when I felt like I was being lifted off the ground. Ok. I can do that.  I’d be airborne before I reached him and would safely fly over him and then I’d expertly fly the pattern and return for a feather lite touchdown and we’d all  celebrate.
I was wearing a headset that was plugged in to a radio so Kevin could give me instruction as the flight progressed.  After I let the engine warm up for a little bit, Kevin gave me the green light to launch. Now it was time to shine.  I took off running and could immediately feel the drag from the wing as it lifted above me.  I could see [kill it] Kevin down at the far end of the field even though I was beginning [Kill It] to arc towards the right.  I could still see him and didn’t understand why [KILL IT] he was running towards me.  I kept watching him and kept running faster and [KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT] and was waiting for the feeling of lift to come to me.  That’s when I realized that I was about to crash right smack into the parked cars.  I never heard Kevin yelling at me on the radio to kill the motor and I just kept running, kept arcing to the right, and kept getting closer to the vehicles.  I didn’t event have time to process what to do next, so I kept running fast, kept squeezing the throttle, and finally felt lift.  I went between two parked vehicles with less than 6 inches of clearance (we later measured it) on either side.  I may have missed Kevin by 120 yards but I sho’ nuff nearly took out his van. Oh, and me too.  I spent the next 5 minutes dropping airborne turdlettes on downwind.
Although I hate to admit it, I totally “froze” and not only did I not register what was being hollered to me, but I wasn’t even paying attention to where I was running.  I had long since made my mind up that I WAS going to get airborne and I WAS going to fly this thing.  I got really lucky that I missed those cars and I know it would have left a mark. Not only that, it sure would have caused a lot of work for a lot of people to get me and the PPG gear out from inside of the van after having flown into it via the hole I would have made.  “Entering” the van with the prop spinning at full throttle would have been about the same as sitting in a running dryer with a chain saw fired up.  Not purty!
My entire first flight lasted about 4 minutes.  After landing, Kevin could have yelled at me but couldn’t talk yet. He was so happy that 1. I wasn’t inside his van, 2. I was Ok, 3. His PPG gear was Ok, 4. His van was Ok, and 5. I was on the ground.
No sense in crying over near catastrophic events, so after a bit of “how not to arc” retraining, I set up for flight number two.

This time, I did stay on course and didn’t come close to the cars. Well, Kevin made us move them all to a different field so the only way I’d come close was if I went on a search and destroy mission.  I didn’t and I wasn’t.  The flight plan was for me to get airborne, fly a small rectangular pattern and come back in for a landing.  The first flight I didn’t remember even getting airborne so this second flight would be like the first flight had never happened. I launched on the first try and held that throttle down for all it was worth.  I could hear and register what Kevin was saying about  a minute after each of his transmissions.  He’d tell me to begin turning back and I’d fly another mile out.  I finally did turn around and start heading back in.

I was more aware of what was happening on this flight and actually had time to even look around.  Nuclear John, who was a student in an earlier class was doing all the videoing and picture taking for me.  He made landing look so easy so I thought I’d follow his lead and softly touch down on this flight and we’d call it a day. Instead, I came in at about 120 mph (or so it felt) and ended up landing (sliding about 20 yards) on my behind again.  This landing on my feet like the others were doing was my next big goal. That, and steering it of course.  I had survived my first two powered paragliding flights and I had met a dream that I’d had from way back in my youth.  Nice!
I came back the next morning to give this thing another go. I’d spent most of the night before rereading from the Powered Paragliding Bible and was ready for flight number three. I had no idea that in 10 minutes time, I would have a skid mark on the side of my head and dirt up both nostrils and in my britches.  I’d had an uneventful departure, except for the fact that I had to run nearly 1300 yards to get airborne in the calm wind.  Preferably, its nice to have a 4-8 mph breeze to make launching less difficult.  I’d have said easier but right now just getting all the gear on without falling over is difficult.
I flew around the pattern for a little bit and could smell the morning and the fields below. Come to think of it, the fields smelled like what I did during my first flight yesterday. It must be that time of the year again to get some of the fertilizer down and keep those fields growing.  Soon I was on final and Kevin radioed me to remind me to cut the engine.  As I progressed, I wouldn’t continue to kill the engine before landing but for now with my affection for parked cars and crash landings, it was best that all moving parts that could be stopped prior to splash down were shut down to avoid dismantling. 
I killed the engine and began an immediate arc to the right.  I still had plenty of left brake available but I entered my take off and landing mode in which nothing processed, nothing registered, and I was pretty much along for the ride at this point.  Kevin radioed to steer left and I watched him fade to the left as my steer continued to the right and the field just south of where I was supposed to land.  If only had I listened, I wouldn’t have the green mark on the side of my head.  Only 10 feet on the wrong side of the border between landing field and bean field.  I pulled my legs up in fear that they would be tangled in the vines allowing my knees to hit first which lunged my face forward to strike the beans hard and soften the blow for the rest of me and my ppg that were in close proximity.  We all ended up in the same hole that my face had plowed.  Kevin radioed to ask if I was alright and I was afraid that if I said anything but Yes, he’d not let me fly anymore for the rest of the day.  It took about 3 minutes to get the wind back inside me and get back on my feet.  When the others started calling me “Sprout” I knew that I had resurfaced with battle wounds from the bean field.  I’d get the last laugh though because since then, they’ve all crash there too. HAH!
It’ll take about 3 days for bean burns to wear off the side of your face, just in case you ever find yourself having bean skidmarks.   I decided to wait until that afternoon before going up again.  I was still looking for my spleen and trying to work all my innards back to where they belonged after that last crash landing.  We broke for lunch and all went up to the Morgantown Sonic and I had Onion Rings made from Vidalia onions and a burger that that was made from a French-fried chicken.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, they do serve 44 oz. cherry lime-aids.  hmm hmmm. 
Flight Four was really cool I think.  I forgot to charge the battery but if I remember correctly, I did some aerobatics, a couple of touch and goes, some advance wing walker maneuvers, and I think I landed softly on one foot with a no errors. Not!
Flight Five came a few days later and with it some counseling from Kevin.  I was feeling kind of good about my new found PPG’ing skills and now that I had a few flights under my belt, I figured I was able to go here and there with ease.  Actually, I almost hit power lines, a silo, and the ground – all in five minutes.  I’m good huh?
Flight Five began and ended quite well; everything in the middle was a bit of a stool squirter.   I launched to the East this time, into the wind and immediately began the “Watts Arc” to the right and headed for the nearest high-tension power lines situated about 150 yards away.  I was a bit closer aligned with the power curve this time, but still getting used to hanging out there in a lawn chair whilst banking to the left and right.  I missed the power lines only to be faced with a big ol’ silo laying straight ahead with impact less than one minute away.  It was time to pull the brakes, either the left or right – but I better make my mind up quickly as I only have about 45 seconds.  I can hear Kevin on the radio the whole time reminding me to look ahead (in addition to left and right).  I successfully maneuvered around the silo and turned to the downwind leg of flight number five.

Kevin asked me about 12 times if I’d successfully gotten seated in my chair, I finally acknowledged after dodging the power lines and a building.  It seemed to me that I spent 4 minutes getting seated only to be told that it was time to get back out of the seat so I could prepare for landing.  I was still damaged goods after the bean event two flights earlier so I decided I’d delay my landing prep for a second and take advantage of the glide down and rest up.  It was a beautiful day and the morning temps of August weren’t actually all the bad.  I was determined to land on my feet this time (and stay on them); all I had to do was everything I’d learned over the week before. Uhm, chances are I was about to crash again, I had 4 flights, 4 crashes, and video to prove three of them. 

I slid back out of my seat and did a descent check to guess which field I would land in.  It looked as though I’d land in the same field I took off from so things were feeling pretty good.  I stretched my legs out and got ready to pull the brakes all the way as soon as I thought I was about to plow into the field.  If I did it right, I’d not even make a dent in me, the gear, or the ground.  I thought it was about time just as Kevin hollered for the 3rd time to flare and pull I did.  I landed on my feet and was tickled to pieces.  I turned around quickly to lower the wing in front of me so the running motor and spinning prop wouldn’t eat my wing. That’s when I realized that I forgot to turn the motor off. I sheepishly press the kill switch and wondered if Kevin had noticed. Certainly he didn’t hear the engine running right beside him, feel the air blowing past him, or see the prop spinning around him, certainly.  That’s when he started counseling me. For the next 2 minutes I relearned what I should have learned a week ago and then learned it again.  Boston John was with me videoing my first stand up landing.
Flight Six occurred that same morning immediately following show (flight) Five. I still hadn’t unstuck my face from grinning from ear-to-ear.  I had landed and stayed on my feet and I wanted everyone to know it.  I told folks I didn’t even know including the young Amish kids that came riding by on a midget horse that was about as tall as Ella, my lil French Bulldog.
Kevin had me do a “fast-taxi” and told me to wait until he gave me the go ahead to launch into the sky.  This was to improve my ground handling ability (boy you should have seen my lack there of) of the wing and make my departure runs more successful.  Instead of running straight into the wind, I took the scenic route and went up the hill, down the hill, and back up the hill.  Put a silent-movie piano tune to it and I would have been the star.  I did keep the wing kinda sorta above me and the second Kevin said go, I squeezed full throttle and ran into the air.  This time I stayed away from all immoveable objects and  really had a nice flight.  When it came time to land, Kevin said it would be up to me this time to determine when to flare.  I began flaring about 200 feet and then unflared, reflared, sudo-flared, kinda flared, and then ended up landing not even in a flare (as observed in the picture to the right). I did stay on my feet though and now had two in a row for successfully landing on my feet and in the same field that I  had launched from.  I was really loving this PPG thing and couldn’t wait to go again.
I had to wait a whole week to get back out and fly again.  I wondered if I’d forgotten everything I’d ever learned about PPG flying but figured I’d remember it in time to avoid hitting something stationary or not moving faster than me.  A couple of things changed for me on this flight and added to the complexity of things in my novice PPG world.  First, I would be flying a different paramotor and second, I had a new camera that my buddy let me use. I had it attached to my helmet and even remembered to turn it on. 
Flight number seven started off by nearly running down my buddy Carl whom had volunteered to video my departure.  As soon as he realized I was about to run him over, he said screw the videography work and took off running for cover.  Luckily the wind steered my departure run (I’d be telling a story if I said I had good taxi skills at this point) to the left and I missed him by at least fourteen inches.  I got airborne and immediately began the “Watts Arc” to the right.  The 2nd picture shows where I’d soon be landing; although I didn’t yet realize it; It only took about a minute to get there.  Picture three shows the scenery that I was enjoying about 1/2 second before the motor quit. By the way, It just quit!  it didn’t say why, or offer any explanations. It just quit.  When it happened, there were too many things going through my mind to remember that this is how I had landed (engine off) the first 5 flights I had made.  The only difference here was I had commanded the engine shutdown on those previous five flights, and secondly – in earlier flights, I was kinda knowing which field I was going to land in.  When the engine quit, I immediately turned into the direction I thought the wind was coming from; the same direction I had departed a minute before.  I took a quick look back at where I came from but knew I didn’t have the altitude to make it back. I picked out a house into the wind and dropped in for an unannounced visit.  I had planned on landing in their back yard but as I got closer to the target area, I realized there were clotheslines in the back yard so I pulled hard to the left and landed in the field just below the back yard.  I landed fairly softly and was kind of proud of myself for not peeing between engine out and touch down, or crashing into the house or landing on their back porch or through their window.  I gathered my wing up and walked to the road for a ride back to the launch zone. My friend Jeff came to pick me and my gear up in his pick’em truck. It turned out loose head bolts allowed the pressure to leak through the head gasket and the engine decided to shut down leaving me and my behind hanging out about 300 feet above the ground with no where to go but down.  I learned much today.
On my eighth flight, I forgot to turn on my new camera so everything I’m about to say could be made up. I took off into the morning sun and ended up pairing up with a herd of geese flying south and…. actually, we did some trouble shooting on the paramotor that I had just had the engine out on and I took off again.  We hadn’t yet realized it was loose head bolts and thought it was an electrical issue.  The engine quit again and I landed much closer this time, able to walk back to the field. This time, however,  we did figure out what the issue was and my next flight would be without shutdown. 
Flight Nine was the first flight that I didn’t take off and immediately land.  It was a short flight but I didn’t just fly a rectangular pattern and land.  As I was turning on to final, the field was full of wings spread out so I continued to fly around a little bit longer before returning.  I was grinning the whole time and know that anyone looking from down below could see my tooth shining in the sun light.  I’m hoping there are wings all over the place next time too so Kevin can’t holler at me for loitering in the sky.  haha.  Look at the hillbilly flying around in a lawn chair.  Look Mama, no hands.  Settle down.
Flight Ten was definitely flown with a bit more confidence.  I flew around the pattern a couple of times and when it was time to land (Kevin gave me a 2 pattern curfew), I decided to come in high above the field and turn the engine off and work out the landing point using turns and descents.   I saw the many wings laid out like they were before and decided that I’d be landing long and would avoid anyone that was getting ready to launch.  Most everyone out there already knew that I was up there and also knew that I had nearly hit everything within reach so they were all so nice and gave me lots of room to work out my final approach to landing.  I landed halfway down the field and was able to stay on my feet.  Boy do I love this form of flying.  Attached below are the youtube video’s of my second five flights.  Flight number eight didn’t have video taken with it due to my own err, but I do hope you will enjoy having a look at the others.  I can’ wait to get out and do some more flying so please stop by often as I’ll be adding more very soon. Thanks!
Here are video’s of flights Six through Ten.  Flight number 8 was not successfully recorded. Hope you enjoy them.
Flight Number OneFlight Number Six
Flight Number TwoFlight Number Seven [HD Available]
Flight Number ThreeFlight Number Nine [HD Available]
Flight Number FiveFlight Number Ten [HD Available]
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


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