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Dixon's Notes & Articles
Dixon White loved to teach beginners and devoted his professional life to competent, enjoyable, and patient instruction. In the early morning hours of Sunday 30 May 2004, Dixon White died in his sleep of natural causes.
The people he inspired keep his spirit alive in their passion for teaching and flying. In 1999, Dixon won USHGA's first Paragliding Instructor of the Year award. In 1998, he received his fifth USHGA Diamond safety award and had over 7,500 injury-free flights. He supervised over 30,000 student flights since 1992. Dixon was one of the first few Master Rated (P-5) pilots in the country and was a Tandem and Instructor Administrator, a certified motorized flight instructor, a towing technician and an instructor of advanced maneuvers. Dixon received two Otto Lilienthal awards for distance flights, and set an Arizona state distance record of 100km, a Mexican National tandem distance record of 65km, and an unofficial US altitude gain record of over 12,000 feet!
Dixon has been featured on the Discovery Channel, in Smithsonian Air & Space magazine, and in the best-selling sport aviation videos "Starting Paragliding", "Weather to Fly", "Art of Kiting", "Lifting Air" "Paraglider Towing", and "How to Fly a DK Backpack Motor". Dixon was chosen to edit "The Art of Paragliding" by Denis Pagen, the most thorough and complete paragliding training manual available.
1. Basic Weather, Preflight Checklist
This is the first in a series of columns that will review step by step concepts concerning weather and flying pointers. Get together with your local instructor and club to discuss these topics in greater detail. Be sure and expand your library of books and videos. This column will recommend certain books and videos, realize that there may be some ideas that are arguable. Practice the weather concepts daily, even when you aren't going flying. Begin to identify the trends that make for the best coastal flying, thermal conditions or exhaust heat sessions. Give your chums a call who flew on days you couldn't and see how close you can get to predicting the conditions. Be thoughtful about going to new areas and how powerful some atmospheric influences may be in contrast to your home sites. There are some sites that become unruly by 9am in August yet others that can be flown all day.
There are a couple of clues in the macro view of the atmosphere that can help you visualize approaching weather as much as 3 days in advance. Planning ahead for the possibility of flying can sure make the "home" scene and relationship with the "boss" much easier. You may rather be at home getting through a list of "honey-do's" instead of driving for 4 hours without any flying.
Through the Internet, television weather reports, and the National Weather Service you can find Jet Stream maps for as much as 5 days away. For example, you can select www.weatherchannel.com (www.paraglide.com has a very thorough weather section also) go to maps and find the Jet Stream forecast for the next 5 days. In general, it seems accurate for only 2 to 3 days out. If the Jet Stream is moving into your area, within 100 miles, there's a pretty good chance that flying will be switchy (changing direction dramatically within seconds), demanding (gust differentials beyond the optimal) or impossible (just too darn strong). Although the Jet Stream is many thousands of feet over the ground it draws cold fronts, which can then drop the pressure and lower upper level temperatures thus reducing stability. The Jet Stream can have an influence on surface winds as strong upper level winds can mix to the ground once the inversion has melted. You may notice on some days influenced by the Jet Stream that surface weather conditions can change within a few minutes. You may also notice fast accumulating cirrus cloud cover with 2nd and 3rd layers of clouds appearing very fast, indicating degenerating stability. Keep in mind that flying sites at sea level, or near sea level, will be influenced less than high mountain sites. If you are going to fly in questionable conditions make sure your glider is user friendly as well as the site - avoid high performing gliders and sites in rough terrain. Keep an eye on the cloud development and landing field winds - land before conditions can make your touchdown eventful.
When hooking into your glider practice a determined routine every time. Always wear your helmet before attaching to the glider. There have been fatalities from people being picked up and smacked into obstacles, each other or the ground while kiting on FLAT ground, let alone at a launch. Check your reserve thoroughly from the shoulder attachment points to the pin and handle. Don't leave your extra gear lying on the hill, pack it or stow it in your truck. Lay out your glider and get set up away from the launch area as a matter of politeness. Always do your leg strap first so you don't forget. Any pre-flight checklist is good. You may use one where you run through a list R,1,2,3,4,R,T,S. The first "R" is for reserve, "1" is for helmet strap (actually pull on the strap to make sure it's fixed), "2" is for squeezing the caribiners to confirm that they are closed, "3" is to remind you to tug on your 3 straps - chest and leg straps, "4" is for confirming that your risers aren't twisted by looking at the 4 corners of the glider - 2 front risers and the 2 brake lines, the 2nd "R" is for a radio check, "T" is confirming that you will be turning out of your reverse position the correct way, and "S" is for making sure your speed bar is hooked up and routed properly.
There have been completely avoidable accidents for lack of a consistent and through pre-flight check list. Go to the park and practice getting in and out of your gear 10 times without a glitch in your preflight.
Look for the next article where we will review "Lows and Highs" and "Isobars" in the weather discussion and then how and why you should hook into your glider from a reverse position.
The videos "Starting Paragliding" and "Weather to Fly" are my favorites, of course. You should read Whittal's "Paragliding: the Complete Guide" and Pagen's "Understanding the Weather". When reading Pagen's book you may want to try learning a new concept a day from the list of items in the glossary. Check the index for Jet Stream to help further your understanding of the discussion in this column.
2. Macro Weather, Glider Hookin
This is the 2nd article in a series of columns that will review step by step concepts concerning weather and flying pointers. Get together with your local instructor and club to discuss these topics in greater detail. Be sure and expand your library of books and videos. This column will recommend certain books and videos, realize that there may be some ideas that are arguable. Practice the weather concepts daily, even when you aren't going flying. Begin to identify the trends that make for the best coastal flying, thermal conditions or exhaust heat sessions. Give your chums a call who flew on days you couldn't and see how close you can get to predicting the conditions. Be thoughtful about going to new areas and how powerful some atmospheric influences may be in contrast to your home sites. There are some sites that become unruly by 9am in August yet others that can be flown all day. Remember - Practice is the Mother of Skill!!
Approaching "lows" and "highs" have powerful effects on the stability of the atmosphere and the wind intensity and direction. Be watchful of your barometer, information sources and the sky for evidence of a low. The low is basically a "puddle" of cool air descending from the poles into a warmer area which is the "high". Weather maps indicate low pressure zones very clearly with an arced line with dangling triangles. The fine gray lines surrounding the "lows" and "highs" (isobars) indicate how steeply the pressure is dropping. Tightly spaced isobars, let's say every 100 miles, generally indicate a high probability of regional wind flow. So, a weather map showing the jet stream over your area, a "low" and tightly spaced isobars isn't promising. Study the weather maps for a couple of days and you'll quickly notice how systems generally move and be able to anticipate the flying conditions.
If a "low" is approaching over night or early in the morning, you may notice earlier thermal activity. This is because the decreasing pressure and lower upper atmosphere temperatures allows thermals to release easier, particularly with direct sunlight. In the scenario of a "low" approaching late in the day, where you've had heating throughout the day, you may notice a thickening cirrus layer of clouds and that your barometer is on the decline. With this late day "low" you may notice more demanding and erratic thermals and strong windy conditions on the ground. The arrival of midday to late afternoon "low" can be of concern to pilots in some areas of the country because conditions can become very intense. In general, the approach of a low will bring winds from the Southwest.
Pilots looking for soft and easy conditions will find some "lows" where the flying is just fine. When a "low" is slow moving, without compressed isobars, there may not be much regional wind flow. If there isn't much solar heating of the ground the air may be very pleasant, but be aware that even a few minutes of sunlight can start the thermals releasing. Be cautious with a "low" that a storm cell can develop and may create strong lift, sink or gust fronts. A thick mid level (stratus) layer of clouds may keep down the solar heating, but it can hide a towering cu nim (cumulous nimbus - raincloud).
As the "high" builds you may notice winds on the surface, and at altitude, more from the Northeast. The jet stream will most likely be far away, to the North is best, and the isobars will spread apart to over 300 miles between each gray line on the weather map. With the increase in pressure and warming of the upper atmosphere you should notice thermals taking much longer to develop and with ever increasing pressure tighter and more sharply edged thermals once they do release. Many pilots fly during "high" pressure systems as the conditions tend to be more predictable. You'll find anabatic flow up East facing slopes in the mornings that can be very user friendly, to a point. Be aware that thermals are ever building and that a heated area (puddle) reaching just the right temperature will suddenly release its power. If you choose to fly as trigger temperature is reached you may need refined glider management skills in pitch and roll control, and be aware that landing zone conditions can be very unpredictable as thermals lift off and change the localized wind flow directions. Keep in mind that thermals will develop and release earlier in the morning in the Summer than in the Winter as a result of more or less sun exposure.
Facing forward while attached to a paraglider is very risky in anything other than completely "soft" conditions. Hooking-in to a paraglider while facing forward in "sporty" conditions can lead to a loss of control very quickly, thus damaging you or your glider. Since most launches are reverse launches, you should hook-in already facing the glider in the reverse position. Even if you plan to do a forward/front launch you may consider making this your hook-in procedure for safety reasons. If you decide you need to duck under your lines be sure and make a healthy bridge of lines using 2 hands so that you don't accidentally turn without a line in hand, or drop some of the lines around your neck.
The reverse position hook-in technique is actually pretty simple. First, a right handed pilot should rotate left, or counter clockwise, from a reverse position and vice-versa if left handed. This will prepare you for doing reverse tandem launches without accidentally knocking open the reserve during the rotation. A pilot with 500 launches looking into doing tandem flight is going to be frustrated by re-learning a different rotation out of the reverse position, so you might as well learn this from the beginning. You're probably thinking that you'll never do tandems flights, but since you can't be sure, you might as well develop the right skills as soon as possible.
While facing the glider shake out the risers so that the lines are clear. Be sure and check for any snags or knots and lay your glider in a horseshoe shape in light wind or a symmetrical rosette if windy, be sure and pull out the tips so you don't get a line caught. The A riser should be on top, facing upward, with no twists. A right handed person will then twist both of the risers 180 degrees to the left, counter clock-wise, the A will now be facing the ground. Put tension on the biner and make sure it isn't twisted. Attach the risers to the biners so that they are crossed with the riser going to the pilot's left hip on top. To double check the configuration pull on each riser so that the tension will prove that the "A" faces away, away from the pilot, and the "rear" faces near, towards the pilot, - all without any twists. The accelerator line is easily attached by bringing it from the harness pulley in a direct path to the riser attachment point.
Head to the local park and give this method of hooking-in a try for 10 perfect repetitions. Try this with the glider in a rosette as well, you'll be surprised how easy it is to see that your lines are clear, despite the glider being rosetted. Remember that you're trying to avoid facing forward while attached to your glider, so learn to do this so you aren't compelled to rotate duck around and face forward to see if you got it right.
My next article in this series will discuss localized upper level atmosphere information and how to perfect the reverse launch. The videos "Starting Paragliding" , and "Weather to Fly" are my favorites, of course. You should read Whittal's "Paragliding: the Complete Guide" and Pagen's "Understanding the Weather". When reading Pagen's book you may want to try learning a new concept a day from the list of items in the glossary. Check the index for Isobars and Pressure systems to help further your understanding of the discussions in this column.
3. Winds Aloft, Reverse Launch
This is the 3rd article in a series that will review step by step concepts concerning weather and flying pointers. If you're a new subscriber to the magazine you may want to order the previous 2 issues from the USHGA to stay on track with the flow of these articles. Get together with your local instructor and club to discuss these topics in greater detail. Be sure and expand your library of books and videos. This column will recommend certain books and videos, realize that there may be some ideas that are arguable. Practice the weather concepts daily, even when you aren't going flying. Begin to identify the trends that make for the best coastal flying, thermal conditions or exhaust heat sessions. Give your chums a call who flew on days you couldn't and see how close you can get to predicting the conditions. Be thoughtful about going to new areas and how powerful some atmospheric influences may be in contrast to your home sites. There are some sites that become unruly by 9am in August yet others that can be flown all day. Hire the local instructor to guide you when visiting new sites.
Be sure and study the actual soundings of the upper atmosphere prior to flying each day. These soundings are taken by the National Weather Service at 5pm and 5am throughout the U.S.. This information can be found through a number of websites as well as through a phone call to Flight Service (1-800-WX-BRIEF). The www.paraglide.com website has a weather section that will lead you to a number of great weather information sources. Select the "Soaring Forecast" and choose the "complete report" for your area through 18,000 feet msl. You will see a few tables and a graph. Take a look at the wind direction and strength. Direction is given in compass headings (i.e. 0 or 360 degrees is North, 180 degrees is South). The wind strength is given in knots, a knot is 15% stronger than m.p.h.. Your analysis is to determine if it is blowing too hard to fly at your local launch or if it might start blowing too hard at some point during the day. Air can layer itself horizontally throughout the atmosphere due to temperature, and thus be blowing at different intensities and directions at different altitudes. It's possible for there to be a "river" of air just a few 100 feet overhead or below your launch area that's blowing the opposite direction and more than you like.
On clear nights cool air can "puddle" up on the ground for 100's or 1000's of feet in depth. This is called an inversion. As you ascend from the ground through the lower atmosphere you will often find that the air actually gets warmer. This puddle of cool air is sitting underneath slightly warmer air and it's very possible that an uninformed pilot may not know that the winds above this layer are actually very strong. Different temperature layers of air don't mix - similar to oil and water. As the sun warms the ground the ground warms the air and the puddle of cool air warms up and mixes with the upper level "river" of air and within seconds you can find yourself in strong wind.
You will also find temperatures aloft information on the internet or through a call to Flight Service and this information helps us predict stability. We will discuss the thermal and lifted indexes in the next article.
The reverse launch gives a pilot far more control over the glider. When a glider is inflated in a reverse position it can be carefully examined for snags, knots, sticks and be adjusted to a symmetrical inflation very easily. When a glider is brought up in a reverse position the pilot has the ability to abort the launch much easier. Standing in the reverse position while waiting to launch is more sensible as well as you can more easily prevent the glider from getting the best of you in windy or gusty conditions.
The reverse launch is harder than a forward launch because you must rotate to a forward position without losing control of your glider, or your footing. It's the first launch technique you should learn, and take the time to learn it successfully before learning forward launches. The reverse launch can be mastered in no wind conditions as well as high wind conditions. Most people gravitate towards what's easiest and what they learned first, thus the reason for learning this technique first. Once the reverse launch is mastered the forward launch is a cinch to learn. Those pilots that have mastered the reverse launch may find themselves never doing a forward launch. Practice is the mother of skill.
Take your time learning each step of the reverse launch. Be sure and review the previous articles about how to hook-in to your glider in the reverse position. Let's start the exercises by leaving the control toggles, a.k.a. the "brakes", clipped in and out of the way. Become competent at raising the glider so that your right hand is controlling what you see as the right side of the glider and vice-versa with the left hand. Don't cross your hands.
Become completely proficient at bringing the glider up slightly and reaching for the "c/d" or "rear" risers. As your hands let go of the front risers you should swing your hands down and around with the palms up as you bring them up to the rear risers, this way you will find them more easily. Do this exercise 50 times and vary the point at which you let go of the front risers to reach for the rears. You need to develop perfect "body memory" of the riser positions. Begin learning to bring the glider up slightly crooked so you can move the glider laterally. Learn how to bring the glider up slightly and allow it to pull you downwind. This practice will be huge help to you in learning how to inflate your glider smoothly for every launch. This practice will also help you learn how to kite up a slope to your launch.
The next article will expand on the skill of learning the reverse launch. In the meantime, add the David Sollom book "Paragliding from Beginner to Cross Country" to your library. Review inversion topics in Pagen's "Understanding the Sky". Renner's book "Northwest Mountain Weather" is an interesting weather book. The videos "Starting Paragliding" and "Weather to Fly" are also excellent resources.
4. Lifted Index, Reverse Launch
This is the 4th article in a series on weather and flying pointers. Contact me or the USHGA for the previous articles which are important for following the thread of these discussions. Spend time with your flying group reviewing your experiences, knowledge and lessons. A recent local club discussion reminded members to be supportive in making wise flying decisions as opposed to challenging each to daredevil activities. A serious accident had recently occurred where there was some possibility that the pilot felt pressured into flying demanding conditions. Do your own homework on the weather and make your own decisions on whether to fly - you're the one who gets to either enjoy the flight or suffer through it.
The "lifted index" is the "thermal index" at the 18,000 ft msl level, which is generally higher than the realm we fly within - so we'll simply look at the thermal index, which is the surface puddles of heat compared to any level above the ground. When you gather temperatures at different AGL's you can chart how strong the thermals may develop. Air basically cools at 5.5f/1000ft. i.e. if it's 100f at sea level you'd expect air at 10,000ft above sea level to be 45f. If the "sounding" (see previous articles) shows that the air at 10,000ft was 35f then you have a -10 thermal index. The stronger the negative number, the stronger the thermals, usually.
Different ground surfaces heat differently - a golf course is pretty "cool" compared to an exposed dirt field. Take a thermometer and place it on different surfaces to get an idea of how much heat can develop on the ground - you'll be shocked. You'll find temperatures of 130f within 10 minutes midday on some "hot" surfaces. We take the forecasted high for the day and the temps we get from actually measuring the surface heat and split the difference to derive a "puddle" temperature basis, i.e. forecasted high for Denver is 85f and the dirt slope below Lookout Launch showed 115f after 10 minutes, so the puddle temperature would be around 100f. We'll use 6,000ft as our ground level and compare this 100f to a reported 32f at 12,000msl. This gives us a thermal index to 12,000msl of -35 (VERY STRONG!!). You will also want to note the barometric pressure level and keep some notes as to how the flying went for you, or your buddies. Didn't like the air because it was too bumpy? Learn to anticipate it by knowing the models of thermal index, pressure, and the other factors we discussed in previous articles. We'll talk about the "K" index in the next article.
Now that you have practiced inflating the glider in a reverse position, let's get the brakes in hand so that you can bring the glider up and turn around to a forward/flying position. We find that pilots achieve much higher launch success rates if they smoothly inflate the glider to its flying position and rotate to the forward position without hesitating. Pilots who try and stand in a reverse position kiting their gliders with the brakes in hand have a higher aborted launch rate, which isn't good for the glider and can be dangerous.
Add the brakes to your hands by putting your right hand on the carabineer on your right side and follow the rear riser to the brake handle, detach it and now do the same with your left hand - the brakes are now in their proper hands so that when you inflate the glider and rotate forward they will be in the correct flying position. Be sure to now retake the front risers ("A's") so that the front riser attached to your left hip is in your right hand and the one attached to your right hip is in your left hand - which is what you've been practicing since the last article. Practice inflating your glider and making the rotation to a forward facing position in different wind conditions and on varying degrees of slope at least 100 times, and do so in a soft user friendly field. Bring the glider up, turn and go forward while looking primarily at the horizon. While running forward you will develop a feel for the glider position over head, the better you get at feeling the glider the better pilot you will be - so this is a terrific exercise all the way around. You should challenge yourself to practicing this in no wind and in high wind conditions while on flat ground and slopes, as well as in gusty/switchy conditions. In no wind make sure you have the glider in a very well laid out horseshoe shape with all the lines cleared. Be sure the slope behind you is a known quantity - remove things that may trip you. Take 3 or more quick steps backwards while looking for some pressure on the leading edge of your glider. When the leading edge loads lift your arms so that you rotate the glider up and into the flying position and then smoothly make your rotation to your forward/flying position. A slope really helps in making a no wind launch, but practice is the real key, we'll discuss forward launches in the next article.
In high winds you'll want to practice moving towards the glider as it moves up off the ground and then feel the point in which you should then take a couple of steps backwards while releasing the front risers and adding a bit of brakes to keep the glider from shooting overhead. Don't lift the glider too fast in high winds without stepping towards it or it can pull you off your feet and then drop you while it overshoots and then folds in on itself. Be ready to apply the brakes even while you're making your rotation to a forward facing position.
We have noticed that pilots who have trouble ground handling not only have launching difficulty but frequently have trouble flying in turbulent air. If these skills are difficult for you then you should fly in soft conditions. Learning ground handling in gusty/switchy conditions is best, steady ground handling winds can overdevelop a pilot's sense of competence. Finding the right atmospheric conditions for good ground handling will help you model the best conditions for actually flying. If you want to eventually fly in dynamic thermal conditions you need to have a sense of the air and the intuition to react accordingly. Become "one" with your glider and be ever vigilant of the atmosphere you fly within.
5. Clouds, Forward Launches
This is the 5th article in a series on weather and flying pointers. Contact me or the USHGA for the previous articles which are important for following the thread of these discussions. Remember that practice is the mother of skill and get to the park frequently to refine your ground handling - remember to kite in the a forward facing position, for best glider integration training. Study the tests you originally took from the USHGA to stay current in your modeling. Do your own homework on the weather and make your own decisions on whether to fly - you're the one who gets to either enjoy the flight or suffer through it.
The "K" index makes an attempt to "rate" the possibility of thunderstorms. An index of 15 is low and 40 is high. We want to avoid flying in conditions where thunderstorms are likely. If you note that cumulous clouds are starting to billow taller than they are wide you may expect strong areas of lift and sink that may exceed your abilities to manage turbulence. Growing cumulous can create such strong lift that you may become trapped in the cloud, which is illegal, cold, disorienting and can lead to hypoxia. Some cumulous clouds can be 10's of thousands of feet in height. Even if rain or virga is miles away it can create sudden gust fronts (called "out-flow boundaries" by the NWS). Virga, which is rain that doesn't fall all the way to the ground because of evaporation, can create strong gust fronts because the chilled air falls to the ground and flows outwardly. Keep in mind that a cloud dropping virga or rain as much as 10 miles away from your flying site can cause high winds. Virga looks like a veil or can appear wispy.
When studying the underside of cumulous clouds or a layer of clouds, "stratus", look for lumpiness, called "mammatus", in addition to virga. These can indicate the possibility of impending rain. To fly uneventfully shouldn't mean you survived a potentially dangerous situation, it means you've learned to anticipate what may happen and then either choose not to fly or to land to avoid flying under duress. You wouldn't knowingly walk across a thin layer of ice, don't fly in conditions that are clearly dangerous. Your accident could shut down a flying site.
The weather section of www.paraglide.com was recently improved to help you follow a step by step process of making weather evaluations. You may need to adjust some of the sections to specify your local flying area.
Forward launches may be useful in situations where the air is very still, you are launching from difficult terrain, you have an ankle or knee problem, and if you're at a high altitude site. The advantage to the forward launch is that you eliminate the rotation to a forward position that the reverse launch requires. Using a forward inflation in even moderately gusty or windy conditions can be tough or dangerous due to a lack of glider control. It's very important to carefully preflight your glider so it's completely open with the center pulled further back than the tips, thus loading the center of the glider upon initial inflation. If your leading edge stands up ready to grab air your inflation will be even easier. Be sure and thoroughly clear all of your lines, look under the trailing edge for hidden lines that may be snagged. Place the each riser set so that they are laying over your arms, palms facing up, without any twists. Detach the brakes and place them with the "A" risers in each hand, check the routing. Be sure and look over your shoulder and confirm that you are in the middle of the glider and that you will have an equal pull on the risers. You may initiate the inflation with your arms either back behind you or with your elbows bent and hands in line with your shoulders. In either method it's important to sense the symmetrical inflation of the glider and to compensate for subtle tilt in the inflation before it becomes too difficult to recover. You can make some correction to an uneven inflation by stepping towards the side that is pulling hardest and lifting the softer side more. As you sense that the glider is arriving overhead you will let go of the "A's" and add a bit of brake, if needed, to keep the glider from over flying. You will want to scan the glider to confirm it has no tangles or line overs.
Solid ground handling skills directly correlate to competent active piloting. In addition, being able to land accurately shows a solid ability to manage the energy in your glider, thus more competent active piloting skills. Active piloting skills are a prerequisite to flying in dynamic complex conditions. If you're having launching problems and trouble landing accurately avoid anything but simple atmospherics. Try and practice your ground handling in gusty/switchy conditions so you are forced to perfect your sense of the air and reaction timing to the needs of the glider. Although the video "Fly Hard" demonstrates some very dangerous flying maneuvers that should be attempted over water and supervised by a professional, there's a great deal to gain from studying the precision ground handling techniques.
6. Flying Site Weather
If you want to become more successful in your ability to fly with confidence and competence it's not only important to develop your weather model for the day and your glider management skills, it's important to start noticing what the air is doing on launch, then within the mass of air you're currently flying and then at your targeted landing area. Notice and consider whether or not the air is moving because of regional flows, localized valley/sea breezes, or from the anabatic/thermal flows. You want to make the best choices of when to launch, where to locate yourself within the air mass and then make an uneventful landing based upon your skill to make sense of the micrometeorological airmass. Monitor conditions from the moment you arrive at launch, note everything while preparing your gear. Note what was occurring on launch before and after the other pilots take-off and see what they get - if they do well catching the "right" air, you can use the model of what was occurring on launch. Knowing when to launch can make a HUGE difference in your success at getting off launch easily and then finding the air you want. Many newer pilots launch at the end of the cycle and then wonder why they get non-lifting air. Quite often the best thermal is out in front of launch which requires launching when conditions are very soft on launch, a good reason to practice light-wind launch skills. While in the air be sure to continually observe the other pilots, birds and what you are sensing of the conditions. Take advantage of that information to help you move to areas of lift. Keep an eye on the landing areas and note which direction the other pilots face when landing and that they have, in fact, landed into the wind. If there aren't easily readable wind indicators in the landing area be sure and observe your ground track as you fly nearer the ground to determine your drift and thus the wind direction.
Simple air should be easily identifiable as air movement from one source, like flying a coastal site late in the day. Complex air could include regional air flows compressing through valleys then merging with anabatic flows with a large thermal within and a microburst gust front pushing the whole area. If you want ridiculously complex air fly in rotor on top of everything else, (just kidding). Until you begin to appreciate how different flow sources work together, purposely stay well within very easy flows, or combinations of flows.
An example: Although a sea breeze coastal site seems simple they can develop glider tossing thermals. Flying a coastal ridge site midday in the Summer can be turbulent, just like most sites at midday, you must still look at your stability models.
Another example: Many evenings offer heat release conditions that may be smooth and simple, but if the pressure is dropping and the upper level temperatures drop late in the day the evening conditions can become very windy and even bumpy. Be very thoughtful in the evenings, stay out in front so that you aren't blown back if the winds increase.
Another example: Many mornings are very mellow with nice light breezes, but can become very windy with strong turbulent conditions within a minute or two towards midday. Be sure and check for an inversion that may mask the strength of upper level wind flows. As the inversion warms up it can spontaneously mix with the upper level winds and be more than you bargained for.
Another example: A dark cloud showing virga/rain some miles away may lead to a gust front. Although you don't feel any wind for the time being, it's very likely you could have what is technically called an "outflow boundary" (gust front in some books) blow through. If the cell is 15 miles away and the outflow is 30 miles per hour is will take about 30 minutes to reach you.
Another example: The pressure is high, the stability index is moderate to high. The atmosphere seems pretty stable and mellow. At some point midday, between noon and 3pm, the whole area triggers and it becomes very windy with all of the oppressed heat letting go for extremely strong conditions.
The previous articles have addressed many of the above mentioned wind sources, contact me or the association for those articles. A quick description of terms not previously defined. Anabatic flow occurs on a heated slope. Stand on a sunward facing hillside without a strong countering regional wind or thermal blocking and you'll usually find a steady upslope flow from heat rising. Thermal blocking can be felt/seen as a wind sock slows down to a stand still or has a possible "blowing down" type of appearance - the wind sock is being drafted towards a thermal in front of launch. The huge mass of thermal lifting in front of launch can actually block air flows and suck air away from a hillside. A windsock that is whipping around and/or changing intensity may indicate the influence of regional and or thermal flows affecting the anabatic flow. Valley/sea breezes are from warm air being replaced by cooler air. Stand on a warm sea cliff and you'll feel a breeze as warm air rising is fed by the cooler air over the water.
Rotor is found on the backside of an object facing the wind, not a happy place. Rotor can be found behind hills, trees and buildings. You need to know that you aren't trying to launch, fly or land in rotor. Your upper level model should help you determine this as well as your observance of valley flows and gust fronts. You need to make sure the thermal strength is within your abilities, so do your stability models, look at the pressure and monitor the gust differentials on launch. You'll notice that large mountain sites can have booming thermals with light conditions on launch. Small hills may be more manageable in stronger cycles, but be sure that the gust differentials, how fast the gusts increase/decrease in a few seconds, aren't beyond your skill. As you spend more time ground handling in different conditions you'll become more aware of how gusts and top wind speeds put demands on your skill. In general it's best for recreational pilots to restrict themselves to winds less than 15mph, but if you're flying in the mountains you need to restrict yourself to winds less than 8mph, or less. Recreational pilots should restrict themselves to gust differentials of no more than a 5 mile per hour change in less than 5 seconds. Take the time to actually monitor these winds with a good wind meter. If you get in the air and don't like the conditions, make sure you know what was going on and make notes to yourself so you can avoid those conditions in the future. Obviously make notes about the atmosphere you like as well.
All in all, it's best to fly in pure base wind without heat, or within pure heat without a base wind.
If you don't develop your observational skills you're not training an important aspect to your flying success. REMEMBER, this sport is unlike anything you've ever done before, you need to learn a whole new set of rules - watch, listen and read.
7. Student Stories
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Some inspiring memories from this past year....
We had three students in their 70's (all from different areas of the country, all at different levels of skill, and coincidentally flying on the same day this past Summer) grace us with the broadest most infectious smiles after each flight. Gary landed right near the cone and simply laughed as the other pilots, many at least half his age, gave him congratulations. John had the longest flight of the day, even flying further than Mark Telep "That Speck" on an XC flight from Chelan (an unforgettable moment of Mark bowing down deeply in respect to John). Joe spent the early morning hours knocking large, truck pitching rocks off of our access road and, for even more exercise, then carried his glider pack to the flying area. They all three fly in perfect form, they do their homework, and they have a deep love for paragliding. All three of these gentleman shared stories that kept us mesmerized. Stories ranging from one being a smokejumper in the 1940's to another being an Air Force Fighter Pilot/Instructor to another being an intermediate hang glider pilot. The entire class was beaming, excited and energized - these guys were the REAL thing. We younger folks found ourselves humbled. The unasked question, which would be impossible to answer, was whether or not any of us would be as "capable" when we, hopefully, found ourselves their age. Some may have wondered how they could be as talented at their own current age!
How easily they have become solid pilots. Gary showed up his 2nd day of class with all of his week's worth of homework finished and a complete weather briefing, which sure "wide-eyed" the other, and younger, students. Gary's smile was continuous as we suffered through difficult training weather, he simply relaxed by telling stories, playing with the kitties and reviewing his lessons - and in the end he completed his Novice course with ease. He inspired the other students to respect the weather and to appreciate our fortune when it blossomed into a flyable day.
John hadn't flown since his 3 weeks in Flagstaff 6 months earlier. John also showed up each day with a complete weather briefing and racked up more XC miles in that clinic than any of the other, and younger, students. John was proud of meeting his goals - he got high, stayed high and flew far. John wasn't afraid to pursue every little detail, often with questions he thought were "nit-picky", because he was determined to fully understand what we instructors could share. He inspired others to be patient with their timing on launch, making the most of the thermals and then gliding thoughtfully.
Joe has been flying the longest of the 3, but knew he was behind the curve with currency this Summer, so he asked for help without any ego-related concerns. He simply said that he wouldn't want to burden Susan, his wife, with an injury from an unnecessary accident. Within a few lessons Joe proceeded to make the flights, once again, without instructor aid. Joe flies so smoothly you'd swear he was a seasoned pilot. Turns that are graceful, landing approaches that are perfect and style that many a young person would love to have.
We spoke with a talented XC pilot in Chelan who told of an experience in Europe a month earlier. He had run into an American woman, probably in her late 40's, who pretty much out flew everyone, everywhere she traveled. He told of her careful analysis of the conditions, timing on launch and then reasons for continually modifying her flight plans, when necessary. He was thrilled with her infectious enthusiasm for flying. We knew who he was describing and we weren't surprised. What he may not have known was how hard this pilot has worked to develop her competence. She has taken clinics in everything from many different instructors, and generally two or three times. Aviation, both academically and athletically, were tough for her. Unlike our threesome mentioned above who arrived at their first class with a "sense" of aviation, she had had no previous experience that was remotely similar. Although she is well-coordinated, her knees were shot which made her very cautious. Her passionate love of flight gave her the determination and energy to overcome any obstacle. When we caught up with her this Fall she was overflowing with happy stories of her flying trip to Europe, she was taking full advantage of having finally moved her last kid out of the house.
There are so many stories and so little room to print them. The themes are similar, maybe yours is also. Flight offers our reality the stuff dreams are made from. We are so very lucky to live in these technological times, that there's the USHGA to offer guidance and structure to our sites and training, and that we have the time and means to pursue the sport. The key thing that's prevalent in all 4 of the folks mentioned above is how appreciative (cherish, prize, treasure, value - having a high regard based on critical assessment and judgment) they are of everything. Appreciation gives respect which leads to success and all the more happiness.
8. Winter Flying
The low Winter sun angle in our Northern Hemisphere heats less surface area. Behind every bush, blade of grass, and tree is more shadow throughout more of a shorter day than during the Summer, so less heat is accumulating. Thermals may still exist even in the Winter when the pressure is low and the upper atmosphere is cold, so still do your "thermal index" modeling and don't ever get complacent. Expect the triggering of the thermals to generally occur later in the day than in the Summer and for a shorter duration and interval. Very late in the day look for thermals over the forest areas as they give up their accumulated heat. Just because you're freezing cold doesn't mean there aren't thermals, heat still wants to rise. Get yourself some long johns, a good windproof flight suit, a bali clava, and some warm gloves. The thermals generally won't rise very far and for very long, but it's a hoot to make the most of light conditions. Getting good at using nominal lifting air may very well become your favorite kind of flying. It's sure fun to work super light lift as a possible welcome change from the Summer time "events" of "hanging on" in "nuclear" air. Leave the vario behind and fly by the "seat of your pants". Keep horizon reference, even while making circles. Try and feel yourself being lifted, the sink and being pushed sideways through the air. Work on using every bit of buoyancy to maximize your stay in the air.
Winter flying might also bring your local area widespread regional wind flows that can be soared for hours with relative ease. Watch for a day when you have a stratus clouded sky and look at the winds aloft for a model of upper level wind flow that isn't too strong for your skills and aircraft. Be aware that a cloudy day that breaks into sunshine may develop thermals very quickly and be sure to account for this potential increase in your ever updated evaluation of your immediate atmosphere. It can take only a few minutes of direct heating for the air to get turbulent on an unstable day, even in the Winter. More advanced pilots that have solid active piloting skills will look for areas of direct sunshine and boat around those potentially "productive" spots looking for a "lift". This can be a great time of year for pilots to begin flying unfamiliar sites that have been unapproachable in the Summer.
Take advantage of the soft Winter conditions to make loads of flights. Sled rides are great, really! You can often fly all day in the Winter and make many flights and thus perfect your abilities on many levels. Try bringing up your glider in all sorts of conditions and make clean and straight launches. Actually make a mark on the ground and try to make your launch without running to the side. To "loaf" off launch as you stare up at your glider often causes failed launches. A key to your success is to keep moving with your eyes on the horizon so your glider has more airspeed and is consequentially more manageable.
Get those accurate landings down pat. Keep your eyes on your landing target with your knees as a reference point. If the target is getting higher on your horizon you'll need to straighten out your flight path and get a better glide with your hands at "trim". If your target is getting lower on your horizon, then you better do something to reduce your glide. Glide reduction to avoid over-flying a target can be accomplished by making "s" turns while holding about 1/3rd brake. Keep an eye on your target, as well as the traffic, while making the turns and you'll notice your slope angle changing and you'll be able to straighten out your path and make your target.
9. Practicing Skills
Remind yourself prior to every flight that you want to work on skills that may be weak. "Big ears", "speed bar", flying one handed and getting in and out of your seat are skills that all "novice" pilots should be very comfortable performing. More "advanced" pilots that have completed training in wing-overs, spirals, symmetric folds, asymmetric folds and b-line stalls should consider practicing these skills when conditions and altitude allow. By working on your weak skills in soft atmospheric conditions you'll be able to perform them more easily when you're under duress in a stressful situation. If you've forgotten how to do these skills, or lack confidence, then be sure and seek supervision from a qualified instructor before flying in strong conditions. Having only done "big ears" or b-line stalls a couple of times a year ago while at a clinic isn't good enough. Take advantage of altitude and smooth conditions and give every skill at least 30 tries over the course of a number of flights. These skills are a very real part of being a competent pilot and you shouldn't be flying in anything but simple conditions without them. We've seen novice pilots who aren't comfortable doing big ears or using their speed bars launch in very dynamic air - this is not appropriate. Dynamic air should be flown by more advanced pilots - and real advanced pilots should be proficient in the use of b-line stalls, spirals, wing overs and pilot induced symmetric and asymmetric folds.
An initial skill that's a must for a novice pilot is flying one handed. Letting go of your brakes to get into your seat, find the speed bar rope or to take a photo is very risky and should be avoided with determination. Flying one handed allows the pilot some surge and roll control if the atmosphere suddenly gets thrilling - this is VERY important. Have your instructor show you on a simulator how to bring your control toggles, aka the "brakes", together in front of your face on the inside of the risers. Don't reach around the outside of your risers as your arms will be restricted in movement. If you have taken a wrap on the brake line you should let it go prior to putting both brakes in one hand. Put the brakes in your dominate hand, or in the hand that's on the side of your reserve handle. If you have a front mounted reserve then either hand can hold both brake toggles. The reason for using your reserve throwing hand for steering one handed is to avoid an accidental reserve deployment if reaching down to your seat bottom to help pull your seat board under your legs. Flying one handed feels strange at first as you need to actually pull your hand opposite of the direction you wish to turn. Practice making turns while flying one handed and doing gentle porpoising (pitch control).
Now that you feel comfortable flying one handed you'll want to practice getting in and out of your seat - (seems dumb, but letting go of your brakes or grabbing your risers with both hands to get in or out of your seat might lead to an uncontrolled pitch and thus possibly an asymmetric fold while near the ground - read ACCIDENT). Side note - many of the full protection harnesses, which we can't recommend enough, make getting into an upright position a little tough, you MUST get out of your seat when getting near the ground and be in an upright PLF position so you can land with your feet. Landing on your "bum" is statistically ridiculous!!! Even though your harness has protection you can still land hard enough to compress a vertebra.
You'll also want to practice finding your speed bar under the front edge of your seat so that you can quickly get it in place without hesitation. Some pilots fly with a speed stirrup which can really help with getting in the seat and for finding the speed bar, but you still want to feel comfortable flying one handed.
Now that you're in your seat you should take a "wrap" on the brake line. All of the gliders we've seen from the factory have had brake lines that were adjusted to allow for kiting/launching considerations - thus a little long, which is just fine, don't shorten your brakes. By taking a wrap you're giving yourself additional "feel" of the glider and the ability to make more commanding surge control inputs when needed. When you advance to dynamic air you will find yourself using the full extension of your arms to dampen pitch oscillations, might as well get used to this skill early on in your development.
The next article will cover more skill development suggestions.
10. FAA Regulations
There's no doubt that the WTC bombing is the most powerful event in our lifetimes, let along all of United States history. The implications of this event and the ensuing restrictions on our lives may be unrecoverable. That we foot-launched VFR sport pilots were temporarily restricted in our activities really brings home the fragility of our flying freedom. Most have thought they would always have the right to fly, most have never considered restrictions, most of us have never thought our very lives might be in jeopardy. My deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured Sept 11, 2001.
Considering the amount of passion that flight evokes, this restriction and the potential for FAA increased regulations may be keeping some folks up at night. Imagine all these passionate pilots grounded, energetic pilots unable to get their flight fix. Might there be a rise of insanity? Non-pilots already think we're insane for wanting to fling ourselves off of the planet - they don't know what insane might be!!
We must tread lightly as VFR pilots, let alone the pilots of the "silliest" aircraft in the sky. Let's face it, a paraglider can climb faster than most motorized aircraft, but then can't even get out of its own way as the sailcloth tries to strum the suspension lines. The FAA was already in a stew over our flying future before the Sept 11th event, they now have even more reason to restrict our activities. It's simple, don't give the FAA or ANY government entities a reason to frown upon our activities. Know the rules the FAA mandates and abide by them. Review FAA rules with your instructors and at club meetings, and make sure there's plenty of "mail" on how everyone is interested in abiding by the rules. Publish the rules in newsletters. Give the USHGA plenty of solid evidence that the membership is determined to abide by the rules. Back up the USHGA's efforts to represent us by being responsible pilots. If you know someone who doesn't understand the potential consequences of his/her actions, then get an intervention going. It's no damn fun being grounded!!
Some of the key rules, in a nutshell:
1. Don't fly between Sunset and Sunrise without a strobe light that's visible for 3 miles. Yes, it's sunset - why aren't you on the ground? This doesn't mean you quickly launch before sunset and then claim you couldn't get down.
2. Don't get near a cloud, know all the different cloud rules. (Yea, you say you were 500 feet below? - well we couldn't SEE you - you must have a really bizarre way of estimating, so you need to be 1500 feet below from now on!)
3. Don't fly within MANY miles of an airport. Own the local sectional, you can buy one at the local airport.
4. Don't fly over anyone/thing that might not like it and complain. Just because they aren't home doesn't matter. If you take a reserve ride down through their roof you screwed up!!
5. Don't fly over 17,999 feet. Go stand in the mirror and note how goofy you look when you say you only flew up to 17,999 feet, but didn't go any higher - NO ONE BELIEVES YOU!! Don't print things like this either, we can still imagine your goofy face.
6. Don't drop anything from the air but sand or water used as ballast. Pee counts as ballast doesn't it?
7. Give COMPLETE right of way to ALL other air traffic. This means you should check for NOTAMs. If the NOTAM says training flights at 1300 at 10,000 ft msl then DON'T be there. If the President is going to Anytown, USA then you can't fly your motor or tow until he leaves.
8. You may NOT fly commercially, except in two place training, we don't give "rides". Remember that you must have the proper licensing to fly tandem and then do ALL the proper paperwork each and every time.
We actually wear a wing and move through the air as never before in human history, enjoying simple smooth descents, ridge lift or the absolute supreme intensity of using thermals just as birds have done for all of human existence. What's been admired and envied in birds, what's been completely foreign to humans, has just been possible for less than one generation. To think we might have lost this brand new shiny wonderment was a shock to all of us who have seen the "light" of this activity. Terrorism temporarily did its determination to disrupt and destroy in so many ways, I'm so glad that our government found a way, in it's potentially restrictive authority, to not casually disallow free flight in the USA. Among all the horrors that have transpired, the loss of free flight was blasting the heart of many pilots.
For the professionals in aviation, I'm sure that many, as I was, were ready to sell all but the spouse, kids and dog - I thought I was doomed (paragliding instruction doesn't bank much bucks). SPECIAL thanks to all the staff at the USHGA, Regional Directors and anyone involved in lobbying the Feds to relieve the restrictions - you are heroes. I was impressed with our national association's hard work in staying on top of every angle of this horror's worth of insanity. We members should sit down and send thank-you cards to the USHGA!!!
There's little in life as enthralling, dreamlike, imaginative, Zenfull and beloved - the leading edge of human potential. Paragliding.
11. Big Ears, Speed System
You may want to read through the previous "Dixon's Notes" to follow the terminology and concepts. You can order back issues of the magazine by contacting the USHGA, or me. The website www.paraglide.com also has a reprint of the articles.
Novice pilots(P-2) should be comfortable doing "big ears". "Big ears", or symmetrical tip folds, is a pilot induced maneuver that should be a tool in your quiver, but you must realize the drawbacks. The advantages are plenty - you can achieve a higher sink rate, which may handy when trying to leave lifting air, a crowded sky, to avoid clouds, or descend into a tight landing zone. You'll also find that your glider is more solid in turbulence, more resistant to asymmetricals.
There is some concern, although I've never witnesses this problem, that a glider in big ears may be prone to deep stall. I think this could be a problem if a pilot were attempting to hold big ears and use the brakes at the same time. With a small surface area creating lift a glider will stall at a higher speed. Big ears is achieved on most gliders by reaching up on the outside "A" lines, the ones that go the last open cells, and then pulling about 12 inches of line down towards you.
All Novice pilots (P-2) should be comfortable using their speed system, big ears, reserve parachute and doing circles (360's). Be sure your instructor helps you through these skills prior to accepting your license. Keep in mind that it's almost a given that pilots will need one, if not all, of these skills at some time. When flying without an instructor we often see Novice pilots flying in conditions they didn't know they were going to get; inexperience leads to an inadvertent lack of weather or site judgment. Being confident in your ability to use the above mentioned skills requires practicing them more than once, set a goal of practicing them until you "know" you can do them in an instant. This usually means no less than 20 repetitions. Be sure and re-try these skills in smooth conditions on a regular basis, especially if you haven't flown in a while.
Use of the speed system generally gives a glider 2 to 4 miles per hour in extra speed, which can make a difference in getting you where you need to go. The reality of finding your speed system in flight requires practice. While in a simulator keep in mind that your speed system isn't being blown back by the wind. You can often lean forward in your seat while reaching your heel to your bum and hook the bar/rope with your foot. If you still can't reach the bar/rope with your foot, then fly one handed, as reviewed in the previous article, and reach your free hand under the seat to find the rope/bar and hook it under your foot. When pushing out on your bar/rope it's important to have your hands at trim. Many gliders become less stable with the application of the speed system and applying the brakes can aggravate the instability. If you encounter turbulence be sure to return to normal trim and use your normal surge control techniques. Be careful to NOT push against your risers with your hands while applying the speed system, or at anytime, you still want your hands "floating", as reviewed in previous articles. Active piloting is always a must! Try and lay back while pushing on the speed system so you profile less of your torso to the wind. You're trying to fly fast with this configuration and a more aerodynamic position is desirable.
Symmetrical tip folds, a.k.a. "big ears", is an important skill that should also be easy for a pilot to install with ease. Big ears can help a pilot descend more quickly, target a small landing area and stabilize a paraglider in turbulence. Ideally a pilot would never need big ears by avoiding conditions that might force their use. Ideally a pilot would have the skill to use other descent and stabilizing techniques. The use of big ears is a two-edged sword, but there are times when it may be the best tool. More on this next time.
Dennis Pagen's new book "The Art of Paragliding" is an excellent resource and you can order it, along with other book and video resources at www.pa.com
12. Paragliding Protocol
As with most activities in life, there are loads of little details that can smooth the way to greater success. There's a real plus to feeling like your "jazz" is just right. Running into trouble with your flying mates and getting some level of scorn isn't a great way to engineer your flying experience. Here's a few ideas, send me yours and I'll do another Protocol Article - firstname.lastname@example.org
It's not just a matter of you being gracious and thoughtful, being too gracious can be really annoying. Don't help unless you're asked, i.e. grabbing at someone's glider to spread it out without asking isn't a good idea - besides, a gust may catch the glider and the pilot off guard, and it would have been better left in a rosette. On the other hand, helping load gear on or off the truck, picking up trash, showing up with WX info, landing to help a treed/injured pilot, pitching in more than your share of gas money, riding in the bed of the truck because you're sweaty and buying your local guides dinner is a great way to make friends.
When road tripping, give a call a couple of days ahead of your arrival so that the local pilots know you're coming. This isn't necessary everywhere, but can't hurt. If you ask the local instructor for help ask what fees you might expect if he/she shows you around the site and watches over you. Show up on time to meet the gang and have ALL your gear ready to go. Slowing down the group because you can't find your vario, boots, sun glasses or some other poop is rude. Don't fly with your car keys, let everyone know where they're hidden so that your car is useable for the group. Stow your wallet and stuff so that the group isn't stuck for hours looking for the items that fell out of your pocket.
Dogs at a flying site are usually annoying, especially when they run/piss on gliders, snap at pilot's heels or provide non-stop barking. Spending hours looking for a lost dog isn't considered "fun".
Set-up your kit away from the launch pad, unless you have permission. Don't walk below another pilot to set-up, unless you have permission. Always ask hang glider pilots who are alone if they need help. Hang pilots should be careful parking their trucks and/or then setting up their gliders right behind the paragliding launch area - paraglider pilots can be easily dragged back across the hill. Yell the word "STOP" if someone should abort a launch, "NO" sounds too much like "GO". Buddy up and check each other for pre-flight errors, have contingency plans for conditions changing. Land before you're flying illegally and certainly before someone in the group is late heading home.
Give launching pilots some room to exit the launch area without creating a possible collision. If it's a crowded flying site, land and give someone else a chance to fly - don't be a ridge hog.
Don't head out on stupid XC jaunts when there's no way in hell retrieval will be simple and cost the gang loads of time finding you. It's unreasonable to simple say you'll manage your own retrieval because it's really not cool to simply blow off a missing pilot. It's not cool to ditch ANYONE!
Always fly with a cell phone and everyone should know everyone's numbers. Know how to call for help, know where to direct help.
Kick dust for pilots setting up a landing or simply lean forward into the wind with your arms out and a leg up to make a human arrow. After landing, move your glider right away so that other fliers know you're "ok". While waiting for a retrieve, or on launch to fly, and there's a bunch of rosetted gliders laying on the ground, lay them all on top of each other to keep them all from getting extra UV damage.
Learn how to use your radio and practice transmitting so that you can be clearly understood. Trying to interpret wind noise, static and garbled speech is REALLY annoying. Don't talk on the radio unnecessarily, listening to stock tips, mindless dribble or blow by blow bragging about your flight status sucks. Don't even own a voice activated (VOX) system. The finger switch push to talk switches (PTT) are famous for creating open mic problems, so be leery of using them too.
Get with your local hang glider pilots and see if there's anything you and your flying buddies can do that would help them enjoy their flying with paraglider pilots.
Please be sure and send me some more ideas on this thread.
13. Attitude and Sensibility
There's a big difference between a circus and a carnival. In the circus very little is left to chance. The athletes prepare both their equipment and their skills to perform difficult tasks - they would rather have skill than luck. When attempting something new proper safety equipment is put in place and many hours are spent perfecting the skills. In the carnival the participant is an unwitting risk taker without much, if any, preparation. He hopes to "win" something, using equipment (like rings thrown over coke bottles) that he's really not used to using, to get a result. He'd better be lucky.
How do you see yourself as a paraglider pilot?
A pilot, who barely survived a horrible accident while scratching a ridgeline a few years ago, recently said he emulates another pilot who often finds himself low in completely unforgiving terrain, i.e. over dense forest, and usually manages to make his way back to cloudbase. He said that he thought this pilot was a great teacher, he admired someone who puts it all on the line. A newer novice pilot was seen standing in his harness, over terrain, not water, in mid-day thermal conditions, because he wanted to try tricks seen in a video. An intermediate pilot barely missed a young child, the mother and me when attempting a "death spiral" while landing. He sheepishly apologized and explained that going to a lake to attempt these maneuvers was too much of a hassle, "boring soaring" could be relieved through a little excitement, besides, everyone is doing maneuvers over the ground. Just then we watched another pilot attempt a spin about 300 feet over the ground, which exited violently, and only through luck did the pilot happen to land without getting hurt, although dusty with a badly scuffed harness. They both said that they didn't have any medical insurance.
A very novice pilot, at a lake clinic (luckily), admitted to being coached into trying a never before used rigging to make B-lining easier. The student ended up using the reserve parachute before hitting the water. Novice pilot turned test pilot, what a leap in faith.
Very talented and well-trained professional pilots might push the envelope, but not without substantial practice and experience; AND they even make mistakes.
Last year I thought I'd push my limits of thermal intensity and chose to fly on a minus 45 thermal index day, just to see if I'd been too conservative flying in less than minus 35 thermal indexes. You would think that after over 6,000 flights I'd know better. What a ride, the glider and air had their own agenda. It truly felt as though I could easily be gift wrapped in my glider. No problem getting really high, but getting down was wild - I was lucky not to land in one of the intense dust devil releases that were abundant.
Gather intelligence from the experiences of others. Stop and evaluate how sensible your next move may be. Do you really need to repeat the mistakes of others and end up never getting to fly again? Each of us enjoys certain levels of risk, variety is the spice of life, but there's certainly a limit. Many folks think our interest in foot-launched aviation is pretty nutty, so just going after our sport is, for many, a huge proposal.
Enjoying most of your life before being dead, crippled or scared is an important consideration. We teachers are often dealt difficult hands in balancing the student, weather and lessons. Even teachers have trouble keeping the lessons from turning into a carnival, and we're the "experts". It's no fun seeing one of our students leave the sport, whether from an accident, fright or lack of challenge. Some would say that none of our paragliding activities are prudent, some would say that pushing the envelope to the very limit, sacrificing safety, is what they "need" to "feel" alive. To each his own, but take a moment to reflect on what you really want to "own". It's one thing to waste your life smoking pot in your apartment and another to put other people and sites at risk.
In any case, bottom line, if you're going to participate - be sure that your medical bills and family won't be "crippled" by your potential accident. At the very least, have medical insurance. There have been many hospitals stuck with huge claims when pilots have been injured without insurance. This isn't something simply absorbed, it has, in some cases, given reason for site closures. It puts pressure on lands management people to close a site when a community hospital has to find a way to absorb the cost of an uninsured accident.
The maturity of an individual can be measured by his ability to recognize the consequences of his actions. Are you flying "lucky"?
14. Spring Time Considerations
The sun is spending more time above the horizon, birds are soaring, it's actually getting warm during the day, ahhh it's spring!
Had to dig my glider out from under all the ski and skate equipment and blow off the dust. There's a nagging voice that I should have sent the glider off for an inspection and reserve repack while it was still Winter. I said out loud, to override the sensible voice in my head, "It can't hurt to take advantage of at least one weekend, it looks so good and all my friends are heading out." It's amazing how one weekend leads to another and another and then it's mid Summer and that inspection and reserve repack are destined to get done the following Winter. Chances are that I'll never need that reserve anyway.
The sky is clear; it's a crisp morning, but quickly warming. It's early in the season and it doesn't seem like conditions could be too strong, maybe someone else will have checked the weather. Where are those notes on how to check the weather, does checking the weather ever pay-off anyway? What was the rule about checking for NOTAMs, there won't be any XC anyway, will there? What's the phone number for calling the weather liar, (the briefer)? Heck, you just have to fly what you get, if you can get off launch, that's all that counts. Gotta fly no matter what, a little excitement is a good thing. It doesn't matter if I chose to add a little risk to my life, if I'm dead and they close the site because of my accident, what will I care? This pattern could continue throughout the summer, it's amazing how one weekend leads to another and then another and getting into the habit of studying the WX, and making sense of what conditions are best, never seems to happen, oh well.
How embarrassing, just laid out the glider upside down, hope no one saw that bonehead move. Man oh man, just hooked the glider to the harness with everything's all screwy, and everyone is watching, they must be laughing. What can anyone expect, that I might have gone out to the park and worked through my stuff and practiced some launches before getting out to the mountain? Who really has time for that kind of anal behavior? Must admit, the tension is mounting, if only I could get off launch, I'm really good in the air, maybe should have done some practice at the park. Maybe a forward launch will go better, can't afford to blow a 6th try at a reverse launch. Whoops, while facing forward for the launch a gust came through and the glider was blown over some rocks, only 2 attachment points got pulled out, should be "ok", if it will launch it should fly just fine.
Sure wish I'd had something better than a bicycle helmet, looks like my nose is flat as a pancake from the face plant, will blood clean off the glider? While turning the glider right side up it was easier to undo the leg straps to move around, would have been nice to have found them undone during a pre-flight - how does that pre-flight checklist read? Hope someone helps get me out of this tree, has a tree saw, has a rope, called 911 and knew the coordinates of where I'm hanging. Wait, it looks like everyone is having so much fun flying that they don't want to help me! Maybe they can't see me down here, sure wish the radio battery were charged, guess 5 months in the closet drained the battery.
Now there are 2 more broken lines and a slight 15-inch rip in the wing from the tree landing. Might have to send the glider off next week for a repair, then the inspection can get done and the reserve can be repacked. I should probably go through the reserve deployment sequence with an instructor at some point, hmmmm.
Great, lost yesterday to that silly leg-strap pre-flight error, but today seems ok, at least the sky is mostly blue; man those higher clouds look like space ships. Wonder if anyone will show up with the WX stuff today, seems like no one had a clue yesterday. Got to get off launch, maybe my friend can spot me. Yippeee, 'in the air again, like a brood of geese we fly through the ridge lift.' Man is this harness uncomfortable, need to let go of the brakes to grab the seat and get myself just right. What's with the guy yelling something about following ridge rules, I was here first, he should have gotten out of my way - jerk. Seems as though the wind is picking up, I'm right over the top of the hill and can't seem to penetrate forward. Whew, just barely made it out and away from the hill, would have been loads easier if the speed bar had been hooked up, need to remember it next time, where's that pre-flight check list?
Can't seem to get down to the LZ, going to have to land in that tree-lined drive way. Pulling big-ears is done with the outer "B" line, right? Oh crap, pulled the one outer "B" and the glider is spinning, guess I should pull the brake on the other side. Now the glider is spinning to the other side and I've got a terrible riser twist, how come my reserve won't pull out of the deployment bag? Now that I'm looking at the reserve I see I wasn't pulling the handle but the side strap, should have looked at the handle. Should I land on my butt or my feet, how does that PLF position work?
Had no idea heaven would provide such a great view of the flying site. Too bad about the site being closed, too bad about the whole sport being regulated by the FAA because it turned out there was a NOTAM for no VFR flights on the day of my wreck. At least I'm an angel and get to fly around heaven, but wait, isn't that God over there with a paraglider bag, I didn't know he flew? He's looking over at me and pointing at the "down only" elevator…
It's spring, get it? Study, practice, review take it easy.
1. Quest Air Adventures for Scott and Dixon
Quest Air Adventures for Scott and Dixon
As a kid I loved being towed around the lake water skiing or towed down the street by a bike with me on a skateboard and we used to do everything we could to throw each other off the tow - line. That kind of fun is nothing compared to being aero-towed around the sky on a hang glider by an ultralight, and they do their best to throw you off the tow-line when you give them a nod, hang on man!
Beg or borrow to get the time and money to head to an aero-tow flight park, what an efficient way to train - WHAT FUN! If you go to Florida take your whole family and get them the "E ticket" for Disneyland, which is just a few minutes away from either Quest or Wallaby. You can even catch up with your family at Disneyland while you take a break and wait out the stronger midday conditions. We're talking a huge roller coaster that skies out 5,000 feet above the ground and literally glides you around the clouds. Although the thrills were huge we didn't feel like we were on the brink of destroying ourselves - fantasy fun come alive all within "safe" boundaries.
Scott and I couldn't get the grins off our faces after every one of our flights. At the end of the day we'd obsess on our experiences until late at night - oh to be "new" again. I had 40 flights in 6 days, Scott got 35. We both completed our Novice Ratings with an Aero-Tow sign-off. We were generally towed to around 2500'AGL - these were BIG flights, probably 25 minutes each.
Scott and I are long time paragliding junkies, always flying and never enough. Taking this training made sense, we were both going to be at the USHGA board meeting a short distance from Quest. It's not a bad idea, as a teacher, to experience what it's like to be "new" again and this training expanded our concepts of what this aviation stuff requires. Scott had done a day's worth of running in the sand at Kitty Hawk with a hang glider a couple of years earlier. The Cage, which I flew for a few years, is similar in handling to a hang glider and a motorized trike, which I've trained on for over 7 hours, lends some context - but we were basically both new to this activity.
I had my 7,000th paragliding flight 2 days before heading down to Quest and Scott had over 3200 paragliding flights, all of our flights ending injury free. We've done all sorts of hugely fun things on paragliders, who would have thought we could be so "wowed" by hang gliders? The key element to our adventure was the brilliant training. We didn't have to pause and consider whether or not our instructors knew what they were doing. We just let them do their job and every step of the process made sense and prepared us for the next level. I can't imagine trying to learn any type of aviation, let alone aero-towing, without the thorough guidance. Bob Lane, the manager of Quest, and Paris Williams, world-class hang gliding competitor, worked us through the ropes with discipline and teaching mastery. Rich Cizauskas, from Salt Lake, filled in with us here and there and he was just as talented at keeping us on the leading edge of our learning curve. Heck, the whole staff was excited to give us pointers and coaching. It was truly a vibrant and professional operation. When I went over to Wallaby Ranch Malcolm Jones, the owner, and Rob Kells, the owner of Wills Wing, coached me through using a drop away cart and stand-up landings. Scott spent time a Wallaby as well and just loved the careful attention he got from Malcolm.
Aero towing helps you get loads of airtime and practical in-flight training. We started out doing many tandems, I had 22 before going for a solo flight. On tandem, with our teachers above us, barely noticeable, we were quickly left to try and manage all aspects of the flight. The pre-flight, the hang-check, the launch, the positioning behind the tow plane, the release, the landing and all the other little details. It's really counter-intuitive banking up and pushing up on the hang glider, but not that tough when all's going just peachy, that's why our instructors would keep throwing us into fast action situations. Before we knew it we were near lock-out, in the tug's prop wash or even released un-expectantly from tow. You had to really mind the store or find yourself getting an over-ride control from the instructor, always a little embarrassing, at least they were there to get it all back together. We'd make mistakes, and the guys grilled us over them, but they made sure we knew that we were loved, "It's back in the simulator for you!"
It would seem that experienced hang glider pilots may look at the tow as simply a method to get airborne, but Kari Castle told says it's still rip-roaring fun for her. It was the most intensely fun thing I've ever done. You learn loads of subtle methods to keep the hang glider following the ultralight. As you get more confident the ultralight pilot starts to make more turns, dives and pitch ups. Just like being towed on a water ski you have to anticipate and keep from getting out of position, but this is 3 dimensional. They call this "chase the ace", which is a perfect name.
The first solo is easier than the tandems, just as our teachers predicted. The solo glider handles like a dream in comparison and we were prepared to handle a wide variety of possibilities. Paris says, "Learn to avoid mistakes and train to be prepared for them". Paris grilled me over and over and it truly paid off when my weak link broke just coming off the cart all of 10 feet in the air. I pulled in quickly and then pushed out for a sweet landing. It could have gone poorly- ruined my day. When things happen quickly you want your skills to be reactive, body memory needs to take over, Paris and the team prepared me well! My first solo spot landing was literally on the cone, but I must say that loads of paragliding spot-landings had to have helped prepare me for this. It might even be easier to spot land a hang glider as they have a wider speed range than a paraglider, you can speed up much easier.
The 39th and 40th flights, my last 2 for the trip, were the best. With a sky half full of sweet cumulous we towed all around the clouds at about 2,500' AGL. When I cut loose, at over 3,500' AGL I was over the clouds about 1000 feet and actually got an unforgettable view of my "glory" - your own shadow image on top of a cloud. The thermals were so easy to find and it was truly satisfying to bring it all together, coordinating turns and managing energy, coring back up a 1,000 feet and gliding around the sky to find another thermal. Both of us can't wait to go back and fly more. Maybe we'll get to aero-tow paragliders the next time we go.
2. Seeking Nirvana #1
Copyright Dixon White March 24th, 2002
This is the first in a series of columns that will review step by step concepts concerning weather and flying pointers. Get together with your local instructor and club to discuss these topics in greater detail. Although this column will help define some step by step concepts for solid piloting development, it's very important that you seek the advice of an experienced certified instructor. As you research candidate instructors be sure and interview a few of their graduates, see how happy they are with their paraglider training experience. Listen carefully if their graduates seem focused on barely surviving the sport as opposed to finding it easy and rewarding. Although an instructor can't have 100% success, he/she should be graduating pilots who are mostly having loads of fun without taking unnecessary risks. Take the time to research the sport through the internet, library, watching educational videos and reading training manuals. When working with your instructor, be sure he/she takes the time to fully engineer your training environment. If you've done your homework, you'll know if you're not getting the training you need to go forth with confidence. There's no reason paragliding can't be taught and then "lived" without accidents, but if your training is poor, you'll put yourself at great risk. If you naively get involved in the sport you may not realize that the instruction you've received hasn't prepared you for reality, and reality can hit very hard.
The knowledge, skills and attitude that you'll want to develop with paragliding can be counter-intuitive. In the movie "The Gods Must be Crazy" an African Bushman finds himself involved with the modern world. He's never seen many things that we take for granted. At one point he stands on the hood of a run-a-way jeep and leans over the dash to try and steer. Although he doesn't wreck the jeep, there's no doubt he isn't remotely prepared to drive a vehicle in traffic. Our children learn to drive after years of sitting in the back seat listening and watching. By the time they get to drive they've had loads of semi-involved experiences, but they still have an ungodly rate of accidents. Try and maintain this same type of perspective about your own development as a paraglider pilot, that you not only don't know very much, but you certainly know very little about what you DON'T know. It may take years for you to fully "arrive" with the body memory, academic modeling and the attitude that are necessary for competent piloting. Let's not develop as paraglider pilots through luck, but through a thoughtful approach to something that's altogether the leading edge of human potential.
Paragliding seems so simple from a casual observation, it looks as though the pilot isn't doing much but sitting in what looks like a recliner and gently pulling on 2 hand controls. We've trained many pilots from other aviation disciplines, folks like Bruce Comstock who is not only a 3 time World Ballooning Champion, but the crew chief for Steve Fawcett's around the world attempts, Jim Cowan the 5 time World Sky Diving Champion, a few USAF Fighter Jet pilots, loads of helicopter pilots and many commercial airline pilots; they all insist that paragliding is more refined and requires as much or more thoughtfulness and skill than their other aviation disciplines. Aviation in any form is unforgiving of gross errors, and paragliding is just as risky. We might compare the complexity of paragliding to back country skiing in avalanche terrain or deep water scuba diving.
Let's take a moment and review why this sport is far more complex than it appears. First, paragliders are the slowest winged aircraft and must be flown in the most modest of atmospheric conditions. Excellent paraglider pilots are keen observers of the weather. These observational skills are very refined, to a micro-micro meteorology. Weather observations will originate from observing the macro elements – the Jet Stream and then the Lows and Highs and then the Upper Level Winds and then the Thermal Index, but the observations are then refined to the immediate presence of gust differentials, the observation of cloud formations over your current position, what's happening to birds and then what you are actually feeling in the wing. Many WX (abbreviation for weather) models are running through an experienced paraglider pilot's mind as he hunts around the sky. One of our best paraglider pilots from the US, Dave Bridges, had a BS degree in meteorology from the University of California, San Bernardino. Dave actually won the US National championships two years in a row. Great pilots tend to fly fewer days than less experienced pilots, but the days they do chose to fly usually result in the best flights.
All the while the paraglider pilot is running mental flow charts on the weather the well-trained pilot is keeping the paraglider wing safely balanced overhead and also trying to maximize soaring efficiency. The paraglider wing is unique as a flying tool as it has no rigid structure. Most pilots of other types of aircraft can't imagine how a "soft" wing could ever manage the intense turbulence that they have experienced. The softness of the paraglider wing is actually something that can give it an edge over other types of aircraft. A paraglider wing isn't broken by severe turbulence, as can happen in other types of winged aircraft, it simply dissipates the energy by folding and contorting its way through the "bad" air. With proper preparation a paraglider pilot will first use his/her knowledge of the conditions to avoid flying in turbulence that may be beyond his/her skill and will secondly begin to refine his/her sense of how to manage the wing through bumpy air. With skill bumpy air becomes something worked for lift, without skill it's something that can be terrifying and dangerous.
There are a few different ways to fly a paraglider. First, there are sled rides. These are simple flights in simple air from the top of a hill to the bottom. The goal is to experience a very smooth, comfortable and non-threatening flight. Any time someone chooses to fly in lifting air they need to have some thorough training. Although we can identify some types of lifting air as being more simple than others, there’s a great deal of complexity in comparison to simple sled rides. Lifting air is usually found where air is striking a hill or ridge, or it is the result of heat rising through the atmosphere. Birds use lifting air as much as possible and can be seen flying in the lift bands of airflow moving over buildings, billboards and even the sides of parked trucks. Birds will also circle to great heights over the ground using thermals for lift, and this all can be done with paragliders. Those who become accomplished at flying in a variety of different types of lifting air often want to try flying cross country. The current world distance record for a paraglider is 208 miles.
In recent years a new aspect to paragliding has evolved where pilots are towed by ropes over water where they perform aerobatics. All of these activities are loads of fun and most paraglider pilots like to try a little of everything as they progress.
Be sure and expand your library of books and videos. This column will recommend certain books and videos, realize that there may be some ideas that are arguable. It's amazing how many "crummy" ideas still exist from the early days of the sport, which was only 15 years ago, so be sure and try and study the most current information and ideas. When you decide to get involved with paragliding, practice the weather concepts daily, even when you aren't going flying. If you don't know much about paragliding you can still make notes about how pleasant some days seem compared to others. Great paragliding days always surround pretty mild weather. Winds should be less than 15mph and the gust differentials soft and gentle. It’s recommended that newer pilots avoid conditions where gusts exceed a 5 mph change in less than 5 seconds. Most of our students invest in some type of wind meter, we carry a few different types. Try and get to know the local flying group, call those who flew on days you couldn't get out to the flying site and see how close you came to predicting the conditions. Be thoughtful about going to new areas and how powerful some atmospheric influences may be in contrast to your home sites. There are some sites that become unruly by 9am in August yet others that can be flown all day.
There are a couple of clues in the macro view of the atmosphere that can help you visualize approaching weather as much as 3 days in advance. Planning ahead for the possibility of flying can sure make the "home" scene and relationship with the "boss" much easier. You may rather be at home getting through a list of "honey-do's" instead of driving for 4 hours without any flying.
Through the Internet, television weather reports, and the National Weather Service you can find Jet Stream maps for as much as 5 days away. For example, you can select www.weather.com (www.paraglide.com has a very thorough weather section also) go to maps and find the Jet Stream forecast for a specific day. In general, it seems accurate for only 2 to 3 days out. The Jet Stream indicates the macro-meteorological. If the Jet Stream is moving into your area, within 100 miles, there's a pretty good chance that flying will be switchy (changing direction dramatically within seconds), demanding (gust differentials beyond the optimal) or impossible (just too darn strong). Although the Jet Stream is many thousands of feet over the ground it draws cold fronts from the poles, which can then drop the pressure and lower upper level temperatures thus reducing stability. Stability refers to how easily thermals will want to rise up through the atmosphere. When the sun heats the ground puddles of warm air eventually release, and as the upper atmosphere cools the surface heating wants to rise more easily. The Jet Stream can have an influence on surface winds as strong upper level winds can mix to the ground once the inversion has melted. An inversion is a circumstance that usually occurs overnight when cool air settles out of the atmosphere to blanket the ground for hundreds or maybe even thousands of feet in depth. Different temperature layers of air don’t like to mix and they will simply lie on top of each other. If there’s a cold layer of air near the ground it’s possible, even likely, that there’s windy layer of air up above, especially when the Jet Stream is nearby. As the sun heats the ground and the ground heats the layer of cool inverted air, the upper level wind will eventually mix down to the surface. This means that it can get suddenly more windy than is comfortable for paragliders. You may notice on some days influenced by the Jet Stream that surface weather conditions can change within a few minutes.
3. Seeking Nirvana #2
Sam Gaylord wrote a wonderful editorial in the first teaser issue of Paraglider Magazine on his dreams of seeing the magic of foot launched aviation reach the masses. Why has the pilot population in Europe dropped off as much as 50%? Why has the U.S. pilot population remained so low? I believe that a lack of pilot competency has caused serious real and psychological problems in both pilots and the non-flying public. In the early 1990’s the Euros went nuts for paragliding and the sport grew exponentially. BUT the threshold for terrible accidents and bad experiences became the focus of conversations as opposed to the beauty, certainly a distraction from the appeal.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s too many hang glider pilots were maimed or killed and that image still prevails. Paragliding accident statistics have generally been poor. You want to appeal to the masses, allow the sport to be beautiful. Change the flying habits, and thus the resulting post-flight discussions, to those of absolute joy. Just listen to many post-flight discussions and there are far too many, “… and I thought I was going to die!!!” How can this type of resultant be the least bit encouraging to all but the most extreme? Paragliding and hang gliding should be 99% simple, easy and beautiful – they can be genuinely appealing. Instructors and leaders in the sport need to embrace setting examples and coaching joyful flights. This means slowing down the use of dynamic air and aerobatics. Encourage clinics, supervision and simple sled rides. Both the instructor and the student need to be dedicated students of the weather. I believe through a less naïve approach to foot-launched aviation we will fewer unhappy participants.
Where did these smooth and completely easy, sled ride conditions come from? Remember everything about the day and go look at the variables in the weather maps and make some notes. It would be best if you did your studies prior to flying so that you can see if your predictions were correct.
Where did this very fine and happy boaty air come from? Launch, fly out 100 yards, hook gentle rising air, turn a few figure eights until high enough over launch to make full circle, climb up 1000 feet, gently float down to a top landing, and do this 4 times within an hour. What happened today that this sweet air made it all so simple? Did your pre-flight weather check indicate you would get this type of atmosphere? Go back and look at information available about the weather if you didn’t get enough information to explain the day.
Where did this difficult, downright frightening, glider tossing air come from? A super long launching run, wondering when you’d ever lift off, trouble getting away from the hill, feeling the glider pitch back, roll off to the side, a sudden dive, a frontal, and then a large asymmetrical fold. What’s going on with the air? Only a practitioner of some intense religion or well-medicated person could have called this type of flying enjoyable. Being within just a couple of hundred feet of the ground in this environment makes this very serious business. Go study the WX maps and information. Get with instructors who teach weather information and learn how to access and interpret the available information.
We have a choice. We can either just “hope” we get a good happy flight or we can stack the odds in our favor. Although sites are different, they do have many similarities.
One very common issue in evaluating each day is the strength of the inversion. A clear night, especially in high pressure conditions, can result in cooler air pooling near the ground. The air actually gets warmer as you ascend some number of feet. There are 3 problems with inversions, from my experience. I’ll cover the first problem in this article and continue with the other 2 problems in the next.
The inversion can mask the fact that there are strong upper level winds. It’s hard to believe, but different temperature zones of air can stratify the atmosphere. You can compare this to descending in a deep pool of water and suddenly finding a different temperature. Different temperature layers of air don’t mix very well. Ever notice that one layer of clouds flows one direction and another layer of clouds may be flowing a different direction? For this reason balloonists can launch and float one direction at one altitude and then, occasionally, float a different direction by ascending or descending into a different stratum of air. The concern for us foot-launched aviators is that if it’s blowing hard above the inversion it will most likely, eventually, blow hard on the surface. When the puddle of cool inverted air finally warms as the sun heats the ground and, in turn, heats the air above it, a mixing will occur resulting in the upper level winds sweeping the ground. Let’s suppose you are launching at 2,000’ MSL and there’s no wind on launch, you may be in an inversion. You can research upper level winds by locating the “Winds Aloft Forecast”. Our website www.paraglide.com has an easy access to this chart. The W.A.F. lists forecasted winds for the next 6, 12 or 24 hours. You’ll note in the attached chart that there are abbreviations for cities within different regions. You will need to select your own region and then determine the abbreviation for your area by going through the NWS website and selecting the list of city abbreviations. You may also call 1-800-wx-brief and press #1, and ask the briefer what the winds are doing at 3,000’and 6000’ agl (above ground level)for your area, the upper level winds are given initially in increments of 3,000’ agl. As a side note, we are supposed to check in with the briefer prior to flying to confirm that there aren’t any notams (notice to airman) which might have shut down our airspace. This requirement was put in place following the 9/11 disaster. Keep in mind that you need to call from a local phone in order to get the local station. If you use your cell phone you will get the station near your cell “home”. If you discover that the winds in the next “layer” overhead are predicted to blow hard, more than 12 knots, you may want to launch and land early in the day or wait until the evening.
We’ll expand on the specifics of this data, and how to interpret it, in the next issue. In the meantime, treat your flying like you’re supposed to treat your spouse, with love, affection and complete respect.
4. Seeking Nirvana #3
Had a brilliant flight the other day! Climbing to a little over 13,000'msl and gliding under perfect flat-bottomed cu, nice easy glides over the Painted Desert. We knew the day would be good, and it was - 50 miles worth.
Remember everything about days you liked, or didn't like, and go look at the variables in the weather maps and make some notes. It would be best if you did your studies prior to flying so that you can see if your predictions were correct. We can either just "hope" we get a good happy flight or we can stack the odds in our favor. Although sites are different, they do have many similarities.
One very common issue in evaluating each day is the strength of the inversion. A clear night, usually found in high pressure conditions, can result in cooler air pooling near the ground, particularly in mountainous or desert areas. Cloud cover, which is generally associated with less stable lower pressure conditions, doesn't usually build much of an inversion as the air under the clouds stays warmer. Within an inverted atmosphere the air actually gets warmer as you ascend some hundreds or thousands of feet, and then generally cools from that point further upward, although there may be more inversions layers at even higher altitudes. There are a few things to consider with inversions.
An inversion can mask the fact that there are strong upper level winds. It's hard to believe, but different temperature zones of air can stratify the atmosphere. You can compare this to descending in a deep pool of water and suddenly finding a different temperature. Different temperature layers of air don't mix very well. Noting that one layer of clouds flows one direction and another layer of clouds is flowing a different direction helps show atmospheric layering. For this reason balloonists can launch and float one direction at one altitude and then, occasionally, float a different direction by ascending or descending into a different stratrum of air. You might note an inversion simply by looking across the horizon and noticing that the air looks dense with pollution, dust or smoke. If reliable forecasts aren't available, take a helium balloon and track its ascent. Simply hiking/driving to the top of some sites isn't enough of the story because the inversions level may be too far overhead.
If it's blowing hard above the inversion it will most likely, eventually, blow hard on the surface. When the puddle of cool night air warms a mixing will probably occur resulting in the upper level winds sweeping the ground. You can research upper level winds by locating the "Winds Aloft Forecast". Our website www.paraglide.com has easy access to this chart. The W.A.F. lists forecasted winds for the next 6, 12 or 24 hours. You'll note in the attached chart that there are abbreviations for cities within different regions. You will need to select your own region and then determine the abbreviation for your city by going through the NWS (National Weather Service) website and selecting the list of city abbreviations. You may also call 1-800-wx-brief and press #1, and ask the briefer what the winds are doing at 3,000'and 6000' agl (above ground level) for your area. The upper level winds are given initially in increments of 3,000' agl. For example, if your area is at 1,500ft above sea level you'll get information Starting with 3,000ft above seal level and then 6,000ft.
As a side note, we are supposed to check in with the briefer prior to flying to confirm that there aren't any notams (notice to airman) which might have shut down our airspace. This requirement was put in place following the 9/11 disaster. Keep in mind that you need to call from a local phone in order to get the local station. If you use your cell phone you will get the station near your cell "home".
If you discover that the winds in the next "layer" overhead are predicted to blow hard, more than 12 knots (knots are 15% stronger than mph), you may want to launch and land early in the day or wait until the evening. Imagine launching in what you anticipate as mellow air only to find that the thermals are extremely bumpy and it becomes very windy. Without knowing the upper level winds you might make a morning launch on an east facing slope, a slope that is generating a little up slope wind because it faces the sun, but be in real danger. This type of thing is extreme in mountain flying sites like Boulder or Aspen, Colorado, Northern Arizona, Northern New Mexico, Utah and the deserts of California. You might be flying when the inversion breaks up and a strong upper level wind blows through. This can have a number of negative consequences. It can put you in the "lee" or "rotor" side of the mountain, it can make landing at your target area difficult, and there are often some unruly thermals mixed into this wind. On high pressure days air tends to flow more horizontally than vertically, so valley winds can get really strong. Sites that are at or near sea level, or that are affected by a marine air mass often have less inversion related issues. Most of the mountain flying sites in Europe and the Eastern U.S are also generally unaffected by inversion issues.
In the Northern Arizona high desert a strong inversion, which usually relates to high pressure, can result in flows that makes surface winds pretty strong. Our local briefers refer to this as a surface jet. This seems to be more pronounced when a low is within 100 miles. You might not have found any strong upper level winds on the NWS, so this can be confusing. Wait out these winds and you might find that they'll completely shut off as the inversion melts away later in the morning. This particular breeze can be good soaring at some locations, but when it shuts off you might look for a strong upslope wind to take over and some strong thermal releases. In a short while the surface winds often pick up again and usually switch from flowing downslope to flowing upslope. Keep in mind that cold air sinks and warm air rises.
Even if the upper level winds are fairly light you might get bounced around as you descend or ascend through the inversion line. This might occur as you are descending from a high mountain launch that is above the inversion. You might also find, that as you ascend in thermals, that you experience some rough air as you bump into the inversion layer. You might track a thermal up to the inversion level and then feel as though the thermal disappeared. Widen your search pattern downwind as it's possible a stronger part of the core made its way through the inversion. Watch smoke and you may notice it changes heading due to winds or an inversion and might even flatten out at different altitudes. As smoke creeps along horizontally it might find a place in the inversion where it can continue rising, this may be what thermals experience. Once you find that thermal you may have to core tightly as it may pass through a small opening in the inversion. If you have launched above an inversion and have done well climbing, be cautious about taking on a glide that might cost you so much altitude that you'll end up under the inversion and have trouble climbing back up. When flying on high pressure days try and fly from large mountain sites and get high and stay high.
Inversions indicate high pressure and thermals rising within high pressure are often very sharp edged and can make your flying less enjoyable. This happens because the air is essentially "heavy" it is referred to as a generally descending air mass. Not all dust devils are dragons, but as the pressure increases and the thermal index gets stronger, they can be glider tossing. We'll discuss the thermal index more in the future. Until then, try and pick your favorite conditions every time you fly.
5. Seeking Nirvana #4
Copyright Dixon White September 29th, 2003
I was on launch watching the conditions and a gaggle of pilots already in the air with a 25 year veteran hang glider pilot and he asked me why I wasn’t in the air. He listed a couple of reasons he had chosen not to fly, the upper levels were blowing the exact opposite direction from what we had on launch, according to the screaming cummies and the NWS report, and there were lenticulars. I added that the gust differentials are at least 15 mph within 5 seconds and it was really switchy. We stood for about 10 minutes not saying anything else. Finally, after watching the gaggle of hangies and para pilots fly with joyous abandon, he said, “Don’t you wish we didn’t know as much about the weather as we do, that we could be so naive?” Even though he said this, and I must admit I know where he’s coming from, neither of us would give up our ability to find reasons NOT to fly. He’s a brilliant hang glider pilot with many note worthy flights. I’ve just crossed over 7,300 flights, at least 99.9% of them were wonderful, so despite the fact we may have not chosen to fly that afternoon, and nothing bad happened, being cautious and respectful of what might happen is a healthy habit.
There are some paragliding sites that are consistent and simple. Very few bits of data need to be interpreted in order to “know” that you’re in a relatively “safe” environment. Don’t take this the wrong way, there’s always at least a few important things to consider at every site, so don’t simply fly without having some level of specific weather knowledge. In general, low elevation, humid sites, like coastal areas, are much more simple than high altitude mountain or desert sites particularly demanding when subjected to a dry atmosphere. Many pilots don’t have access to simple straight forward sites, particularly those that live in the mountains. So, these pilots, if they want to stay on the “smart” side of their flying, need to do their homework. If we are going to fly high desert/mountain sites we have to recognize the diversity of conditions that can exist. Although a coastal pilot may feel overwhelmed by the nuances of conditions that are found in the mountains, most mountain/high desert pilots become addicted to analyzing all the variables that can “cook up” a brilliant day of flying. Mountain/desert pilots sometimes comment that they are a little bored by coastal/low elevation sites. – although this kind of flying can be a guaranteed sweet relief to anyone who’s been tossed violently around the sky when they’ve misinterpreted their home site conditions. For those that want huge altitude gains and cross country routes, nothing beats choosing the right recipe for brilliant conditions and seeing their homework pay-off.
It’s important for you to understand the dynamics of your mountain/desert site on many levels and the power of thermal blocking is a significant issue. Maybe you’ve felt the gentle ebb and flow of cycles as thermals meander up though a launch, and in a “soft” atmosphere, this is just what the thermaling pilot wants. On the other hand, thermal blocking is so “real” and it can fool you into some pretty wild air if you haven’t thought through or researched some other variables. There’s a chance that prevailing synoptic winds and terrain forced flows are blocked from the surface, particularly in a low-pressure environment when there’s strong solar heating. When thermal blocking occurs, picture growing bubbles of heat and when they release we get entrainment of the ambient wind and thus a mixing that can be too turbulent for frail aircraft.
Picture a dome of heat acting like a terrain feature in its ability to block the ambient terrain based or synoptic wind. Until that dome “breaks” the relative atmosphere you are experiencing may seem quite tame. Having a sense of diurnal mountain winds, anabatic flows, and the effect of gaps, passes, and gorges mixed with regional pressure differentials may be an important analysis point. If it doesn’t make sense that conditions are calm, then you’re probably just getting a “sucker lull”. There certainly are some flying zones, those in basins or within treed low level hills or deep valleys that are resistant to ambient winds, and these can prove to be much more user friendly flying areas. Keep in mind that flying sites located downwind of mountains, especially those that are perpendicular to the prevailing wind flows, may be subject to spontaneous down drafts or gusts as a result of wave formation. These are called lee waves, mountain waves or orographic waves. Thermal blocking may very well help temporarily hide the effects from these waves. There have been spontaneous downdrafts so violent that whole forests have been smashed, particularly in areas where there are narrow gaps. Keep an eye on the inversion strength and upper level wind flows. When an inversion breaks it can power up, in almost a harmonic sense of escalation, a blast much stronger than the simple release of a thermal or the speed of the upper level wind flows. In the opposite sense of this situation, when we get pooling of cool air, i.e. in the evenings, the cool puddle of air may also cause blocking, but be aware, as with thermal blocking, the stability of air can shift and once again there can be entrainment of the upper level wind flows.
In many areas of the country a simple way to get a no-brainer data handle on possible strong blow through is to take a look at forecasted T.A.F. predictions for a nearby airport. Ask the briefer for the T.A.F. for a local airport, or even a couple nearby airports. T.A.F. stands for Terminal Aerodrome Forecast and basically lists expected wind flows and cloud cover throughout the day. As you get to know a site, be aware of the T.A.F. forecasts and see if you recognize a correlation to your site. At some sites there isn’t any correlation, but at many you might see a pattern. We actually double the T.A.F. at one of our sites and it pretty much is on the money – if the forecast is for 240 degrees at 11 knots at noon we’ll see S.W. winds at 20 mph an hour before the forecasted prediction – almost like clockwork.
You can find T.A.F listing through the NWS websites and simply need to ask your local briefer for the web address if you have trouble locating the information.
The T.A.F. is just one resource. If you keep an eye on approaching fronts, isobar maps, the jet stream, upper level winds, the thermal index etc. you’ll anticipate the probability of blow through conditions – excessive turbulence is generally NO fun!!
6. Lesser Evils - Big Ears and B-Line Stalls
Copyright Dixon White October 16th, 2003
To use “big ears” or not to use “big ears”? To use “b-stalls” or not. These are important questions, and it’s often the quizzical buzz in many conversations. Here at Airplay we teach our new students to do symmetrical folds, a.k.a. big ears, within the first couple days of high flights. We see big ears as an important tool to have at the ready. We used to teach b-stalls on high flights, but have now passed this on to the “over the water” a.k.a. S.I.V. clinic operators since these clinics have become so prevalent. We’ve handed off the instruction of this maneuver because of the couple of reports that b-stalls have gone wrong. I’ll address this issue in a moment.
Between all of the Airplay staff we’ve supervised, and this is a matter of record, over 55,000 student flights. We haven’t ever seen one event as a result of big ears or b-stalls, nor have any of our affiliated instructors reported a problem. Yet, we’ve seen these techniques come to the rescue frequently and think they should be familiar tools in every pilot’s box.
A blip of concern recently cropped up about big ears. In review of forum discussions about big ears I’m left thinking that a couple of specific gliders, one tandem glider in particular, may be prone to the problem and that there may be a correlation between gliders that are old, porous, lightly loaded, or with brake lines that are so short they are “on” while big ears is installed. It may be wise, if there is any concern, and you are planning on keeping big ears in place for a lengthy period of time, to depress your speedbar after installing big ears. Having the speed bar on while holding big ears will further increase your descent rate, increase your forward speed and keep the angle of attack in a “safer” zone. I think having big ears in place and then adding the speed bar is your best bet. Pulling big ears while the speed bar is already engaged may fold more of the leading edge than you expect.
One famous pilot used to habitually bad-mouth big ears, yet was later witnessed using big ears to get down safely when he was attacked by a gust front. There’s no doubt that we teachers are a little concerned that a naïve pilot may look at big ears as the perfect safety valve and then choose to fly in inappropriate conditions. Don’t let big ears substitute for thoughtfulness in regards to other choices. Big ears should simply remain a tool that may occasionally save the day.
Chuck Smith, probably the most experienced full-time 17-year pilot in the United States says, “I’ve heard that some gliders can have problems with big ears, or b-stalls but I’ve never seen a problem. It may have been more of a problem many years ago.” Chris Santacroce, Lord of Acro, says, “I love big ears! There’s nothing better for a steep approach into a restricted landing area when there’s no turbulence, a pilot who doesn’t know how to “feel” a glider and who’s stuck in turbulence, any pilot who’s nice and high and wants a mellow way to increase his sink rate AND there’s nothing worse for a pilot who’s knows how to “feel” a glider and who is making an approach/landing in turbulence.”
Symmetrical tip folds increase your sink rate by about 300 ft per minute, stabilize your glider within turbulence, and allow a more direct approach into a restricted landing field. They should be practiced under the supervision of an instructor to the point of perfection. The initiation needs to be exacting so that the pilot uses the correct lines and is able to induce the maneuver quickly. It is of concern that a pilot is in “limbo” while reaching up to pull big ears. Active piloting on the brakes is given up, so it’s important to activate big ears within potentially turbulent air with at least 100 feet of ground clearance. Weight-shift turns allow the pilot maneuverability for avoiding other pilots and for setting down accurately. We have watched pilots pull the wrong lines while attempting big ears, or try to pull big ears while in turbulence close to the ground – neither of these is a very healthy approach to the tool and could result in an injury. There’s potential that with decreased surface area creating lift that in a violent shear a paraglider in big ears might stall, but we haven’t seen this type of incident.
As an alternative to big ears, if in need to nail a landing, close to the ground, and at risk of turbulence, we use an asymmetric fold to descend the last 30 feet to the ground. This is a skill that should be practiced in an S. I.V. clinic. If you are going to use big ears as a safety valve then hold it to the point that you are close enough to the ground to begin the flair. Realize that the release of the ears will probably result in you gliding across the ground a little further than anticipated, so aim slightly short. Use of big ears will reduce your speed thus your glide and you won’t fly as far, plan ahead with a 50% reduction in glide as a consideration.
Let’s face it, being an educated pilot who avoids uncomfortable situations that are so demanding that big ears is necessary or being skilled enough with active piloting is always a better idea. Experience shows us that recreational pilots don’t always find themselves in easy conditions nor with the active piloting skills that are best for managing their gliders – big ears can save the day.
B-stalls get caught up in controversy because there have been some gliders that don’t seem to like this configuration. It’s a shame to not have a glider that can perform b-stalls uneventfully. Review your owner’s manual or the DHV website about your glider to make sure there aren’t issues with this maneuver. This tool gets you out of the air at about 1,500 ft per minute, and it does this without making you dizzy. You’ll give up forward penetration, so account for this when using it to move through the sky. It can take some pretty good arm strength to activate and it needs to be performed smoothly, symmetrically, and with about 2 feet in pull. It needs to be released quickly, symmetrically, and fully. It’s generally suggested that you should exit b-stalls at 500 feet AGL. Although we’ve never seen a problem with b-stalls executed within the correct guidelines, we do know that if they are pulled asymmetrically or too little or too far, or are released asymmetrically, the maneuver can get sloppy, although still very likely to straighten out uneventfully. We suggest that prior to activating the b-stall the pilot makes sure his feet are squarely on the speed bar, a.k.a. the accelerator, so that it can be used to help the glider dive out of the b-stall if it doesn’t seem to be returning to normal flight. I’ve never seen this safety valve needed or used. “Security in Flight” suggested making a turn out of a non- recovering b-stall or deep stall but I don’t know anyone who would agree – this kind of move could easily result in a spin.
Keep flying within friendly atmosphere, don’t put yourself in demanding conditions, and try to surround yourself with other thoughtful helpful pilots and you’ll rarely have to rely on safety valves. BUT, if you need the safety valve that big ears, an asymmetric descent, or a b-stall can offer – you’ll want to know how to use the maneuver appropriate to the situation with confidence. Despite our best efforts, we do occasionally find ourselves in unforeseen conditions and situations. It’s foolish optimism to think otherwise.
7. Convergent Air
Convergent, Divergent, Mixed-Up Air
Seems like almost every new pilot says that they wish they had goggles for seeing the movement of the air. I think we can develop something of a third sense of how the air can move and then intuitively have “goggles”. We can keep in mind many of the different influences that affect the air - observe the layout of the land, the different terrain features and sense the glider’s immediate behavior within the air. The flow of the air reminds me of the ocean. It can be smooth, rippled, choppy, swelling and crushing. There is the saying that, “It’s better to fly either in thermals or in wind, but combining the two can get you more than you bargained for”. Let’s spend some time looking at how complex the air can be as different pieces of air converge or diverge.
At any one time you may be surrounded by air that is moving for one reason or a combination of reasons. Air may move on a large scale because two air masses (low and high pressure systems) are pushing against each other (which would make it “regionally windy” check an isobar map), localized anabatic or catabatic flows, rising pockets or zones of heat, outflows from storms (gust fronts) and the huge truck that drove past your landing area as you made your approach. You may also find yourself in rotor, air that is turbulent from passing around hills, trees, or houses. (Possible graphic here of someone landing with a thermal taking off, rotor from a house, a truck going past and a large wave of upper level air crashing down)
As valleys heat up they generally start a wind flow moving up the valley to higher elevations. In general you can count on landing facing up valley early in the morning while there’s still cool air flowing down valley and then land facing down valley when there’s been enough heating for warm air to start flowing up the valley. Heat flows upward, since the whole valley is heating it’s almost like a chimney of heated air flowing up the valley, and it can get very strong, particularly when the Thermal Index (T.I.) is strong and there’s high pressure and the valley is more narrow. Of course some of the heating breaks lose and moves straight up, isolated thermals, and some of the sunward facing slopes will have localizes anabatic flows upward, but, in general, there will be a strong up valley flow. Suppose there’s an upper level wind, the morning sun heats the ground which in turn heats the air and temperatures equalize the atmosphere to the point that the upper level winds aren’t held at bay by subtle temperature stratification of the atmosphere, so the wind can try fill in the atmosphere all the way to the ground. In other words, the wind that you noticed on the “upper level winds” National Weather Service data are mixing down to the surface because the inversion has broken, or “coupled” as the NWS staff call it. When the upper level winds are directionally opposed to the valley wind they can set-up a convergence point, a point at which they meet and create an area of buoyancy, lift. There can be many different convergences:
1. The valley winds are running into the prevailing winds.
Anytime one piece of air runs into another piece of air you have convergence, and this can be useful to the soaring pilot. Let’s use this same thinking for coastal flying.
1. The sea breeze runs into a prevailing opposed breeze.
In addition, you can have thermals combining with the anabatic flows up a slope for convergence. This can be an explanation for evening soaring sessions as well. There can be tremendous heating throughout the day, so much heating that the upper level winds are lifted away from the surface. Late in the afternoon the heating subsides and the upper level winds mix back down and converge with the exhausting of accumulated heat to create super buoyancy.
We can also learn to predict zones that might be full of divergent air, air that sinks. If you have zones of lifting air you are going to have zones of sinking air. In general, if in the mountains and you want to go up, you need to follow along spines and ridges, you will avoid the sinking air in the center of the valleys. If over flat lands you will want to identify potential “wicks” – fence lines, roads, tractors working a field, power lines, tree lines, etc. that will be potential release points for accumulated heat. You will fly “fast” through the non-lifting zones and slow down in the buoyant lifting zones, making circles when the lift is clearly happening.
In some cases the air all gets long just fine, it works in concert, but in others, it can get downright nasty. One wonderful, but potentially nasty converging event of air masses is the famous Lake Elsinore, California convergence. Here we have an East facing ridge taking morning sun and thus producing an upslope anabatic flow with strong thermals. The Westerly winds eventually push through from the coast and converge with these flows. Mitch McAleer, one of the most experienced local pilots to the area describes this regular occurrence in greater detail, “The lift is gathered somewhere near the smog line, sometimes right in the haze sometimes out away from it. On early spring days when there's still a lot of water in the area, clouds will mark the convergence line making it easy to spot and fly in the abundant lift. In the summer when it's dry, the line will be less obvious but still usually marked by haze domes and water vapor up to 5000 feet to 8000 feet asl to the west with clear air to the south. During the day the haze line will be in constant motion, usually moving north as the southerly winds increase as the heat increases and the pressure drops, sometimes it makes abrupt turns, it's influenced by the local weather, large clouds and down-bursting cells from over-development. Once away from the Elsinore range, the flying is mostly flatland style thermaling, with some 1000ft. rocky bumps making good triggers, and setting up good lee side thermal sources.
Do your homework on the potential prevailing winds and thermal index before you fly so that you can make sense of the air that’s working around you. Put an eye on the terrain and think through how, depending on sun angle and slope angles, air is going to flow. There’s a great deal to consider, but eventually, with practice, you’ll be able to “see” the air.
8. Motor Units
Them dar motor units look like driving a go-kart through the sky, the Jetson’s right here and now. Although a little more difficult than it looks; with a solid start you’ll have a riot using a motor to get you skyward. You can do everything from surf the terrain, and with a little headwind sometimes look as though you’re hovering, to gaining many thousands of feet of altitude and flying long distances. The photo opportunities are unlimited and the scenery from altitude opens up a whole other world. If you’re into “getting away from it all” for a few hours, paragliding can really give you your own “space.
Will Gadd, Othar Lawrence and Jimmy Grossman made huge treks across the US with their motor units. The motors got them going in the morning and then helped if they needed a “low” save. They often went many miles and hours with the motors turned off, over 50% of the time while West of the Mississippi and then about 40% of the time while Eastward. Will had one day where he flew non-stop for 10 hours and landed with fuel left over. They are fantastic free-flight pilots and there’s no doubt that all of their experience flying without motors helped them be more confident as motor pilots.
I’ve launched from my own backyard, grabbed a thermal less than 200 feet off the ground and thermal hopped 10 miles over to my kids' school, then flown over to my brother’s house for a coke and then flown home to my own backyard. I’ve flown for miles down the beach, just a few feet off the sand, playing at staying on a steady course. With just a little throttle and little brake I had a hoot trying to manage a 3 dimensionally perfect line through the air, and then zooming up to 5,000’agl to grab some landscape photos. The motor has also helped us research some new flying areas for free flying, to see where the “house” thermals might live. You can experiment with soaring dynamic lift and thermals, then use the motor to keep you in the air when the lift diminishes.
Let’s review some important concepts. The uninitiated to paragliding might think it would be easier to use a motor than to fly without. A sailboat involves more skill than a motorboat, harnessing the wind and using that energy is much more complex than simply using a throttle, it seems like motorized paragliding would be similar. We’ve actually had folks call, more than once, asking if they can drop by and rent a motorized paraglider to take to the lake for the weekend – yet they’ve never even flown before, it looks super easy to most people. With a motor you can chose when to launch, where to go in flight and where to land, you can change your mind about staying in the air longer with the simple use of the throttle, it does seem like it would be super easy. For experienced non-motorized paraglider pilots the motor does make flying easier, but then there’s the fact that wearing the motor really complicates ground handling, and that’s a BIG deal.
The “monkey wrench” (“wrench” your ankle and knee, you might) is that you’ll be taking off and landing on your own two little feet, so certainly be sure you’re wearing really good boots and possibly knee pads. Things get serious if you biff while launching or landing, even if just a little. If you don’t keep the glider within a manageable zone overhead while taking off or landing you can easily get into trouble, and this is much worse with upward to 90lbs on your back. You’re going to need confidence that you can make every landing as though you’re simply stepping off a curb. If your landings are occasionally as rough as jumping off the back of a pick-up truck you may want to practice this skill a bit longer before adding the motor. The gear is expensive, mishandling can result in loads of wallet damage – just a prop can be as much as $450. I think you should have a Novice license prior to working with the motor, which should indicate you have solid academic and athletic training. By starting your motorized paragliding training with loads of non-motorized practice you’ll refine many important skills prior to putting yourself at risk. Without a motor you should be able to make every launch and every landing easily.
When we add a motor you’ll change your launch posture to an upright position so that the thrust angle of the motor will work to your benefit. We can practice this without the motor running with an instructor helping to provide the thrust, he can also spot you so you don’t stumble and cause injury or damage. Not a bad idea to remove the prop while getting the feel for things. You’ll want to drag a toe while leaving the ground under power, this will help keep your posture correct. When landing you’ll want to be upright and in a PLF position out of the seat, keep an eye on the horizon, same as you would when landing non-motorized, and be careful to stay right into the wind. You don’t want a crosswind or downwind landing with the motor on your back. Anytime you’re near the ground, under 100 feet, it’s best to stay into the wind, just incase you have an “engine out” or sink down to the ground you’ll be set up correctly. When you actually step onto the ground you want to lean forward a bit, a perfect upright landing isn’t a good idea because you’ll suddenly be supporting the motor weight on your back, which means you may fall over backwards, the “turtle”. This is a common mistake that damages the motor unit.
A key to ANY success with piloting, as well with most things in life, is the ability to anticipate what might happen and be prepared for the worst, i.e. the motor fails NOW, can I easily make a retrievable place to land that is nice and open. To quote Will Gadd, “It’s all about scenario training”. Paraglider flying has many rules and situational realizations, so supervised tenure with the sport helps the new pilot absorb lessons and skills to an intuitive level, and this can take many days of lessons. Thoroughly develop your free-flight skills before attempting motorized flying both academically and athletically. Eventually you’re going to risk an injury if you aren’t really confident in predicting the weather, kiting, launching, landing and managing your glider in turbulence.
Although flying in the morning or late afternoon generally promises a more easy going atmosphere, you still want to do your weather homework. If it gets windy while you’re flying you might get blown away from your landing area and be stressed touching down in difficult conditions. Windy conditions are generally turbulent as well.
Turbulence is handled slightly different with a motor on your back. Many of us tend to fly pretty heavy, even slightly over the weight range of our gliders when using a motor. This means we get good penetration and a very solid glider, more resistance to folds. If you get caught with a large asymmetric fold you will probably need more altitude to recover as you’ll essentially be missing the weight shift portion of the recovery. So, if you do get a fold, without the weight shift characteristics of a non - motorized glider, the recovery can be a little more exciting. In addition, the inertia of the additional weight being flung around under the glider could enhance line twist and you may find yourself facing one way while the glider is facing the other, you’ll have trouble following the glider through an asymmetric fold with your body. Be sure you chose a certified glider, there are some really scary non-certified paragliders that seem like a “good deal”. Although many newer non-motorized pilots complain about their harness being slightly sloppy feeling, that ability of the harness to “give” a little does a bit to dampen the effects of turbulence on the glider. The motorized attachment systems aren’t nearly as flexible, although some are more flexible than others, so turbulence doesn’t get as dampened. It generally “feels” better to be under power through turbulence, but the behavior of the glider taking a fold while under power isn’t something I’m comfortable predicting. Some long time daily pilots of motors think that it’s virtually impossible to take a fold while under power, yet I know of at least one case where a very experienced pilot, while under full power, did have a fold with a tremendous surge while encountering a turbulent spot low to the ground– it all worked out, but it scared him. Remember to do your best to keep a “feel” for active piloting. Your arms are in a different position than normal, it’s not as easy to relax your arms, thus not as easy to have a feel for the wing. There’s a good chance that an asymmetric fold while under power could result in riser twist even more easily, so I tend to think that being a medium to no power in turbulence is better. When I spoke with other motor pilots they also had some concerns about what might happen under full power through turbulence, although Jose from Aerolight says, “The fact that the payload and angle of attack increases when flying under power makes the glider solid as a rock. I have never heard in 14 years flying paramotors of such a thing”. The DULV (same as the DHV for motorized paragliders) in Germany is the agency in charge of flight tests, certification and reviews on motorized paragliders.
We often hear from folks who have done a motor paragliding “fast track” training program, one long weekend and they now have spent $$$$ for a set of gear and just a taste of what it all about, yet they are now on their own. They tend to be very naïve about the weather, active piloting, reserve use (they usually don’t even have one), wear sneakers, don’t believe in helmets, have virtually no scenario training and then claim that don’t mind flying on the brink of disaster, they think this attitude is part of the game. As a result they become stressed/damaged by numerous unnecessary situations, which shakes their confidence to the point they give up on the sport all together. It’s one thing to be professionally supervised for a weekend long training course and a whole other thing to be back home at some field across from your house – alone with the family video camera churning away. This is why I believe you should complete a Novice course prior to motoring. As you stand ready to give it a try are you determined to just “go for it”, or are you truly prepared to be a “pilot”, to handle this whole activity with confidence?
After confirming the weather and my “attitude” I fly my motor with a helmet, ankle protective boots, a radio, hook knife, a mirror for checking fuel, a reserve parachute (usually mounted in front, although you can’t get out of the harness as quickly after landing) and I pre-flight everything VERY carefully. If you’re prepared properly and stick to the rules, you’re going to absolutely love this aspect of paragliding!
9. Forward Launches
Copyright Dixon White May 13, 2003
I’d heard that there are “real” situations where even the very “best of the best” at reverse launches would decide to do a forward launch. I really had trouble envisioning this situation and was surprised when I found myself making one out of necessity this past April. It has seemed to me that if a difficult launch situation required a forward launch, you shouldn’t consider launching in the first place. To feel it’s necessary to forward launch may mean you won’t be able to scan the glider for symmetry and cleared lines and then have room to abort – and I hate to rely on luck. Without a great deal of enthusiasm I would teach forward launches, but not without a bit of snobbish comment on how ridiculous and dangerous they seem.
We tend to gravitate towards what we first learn, so always be careful to think through how you train. Work with an instructor who’ll take the time to build your skills and knowledge in a pragmatic fashion. Bad habits are hard to break but it's easy to break a pilot because of bad habits. It seemed to me that forward launching was only necessary for folks with landing gear weakness (like frail knees), such spastically poor athletic skills they couldn’t coordinate a reverse launch, or a result of having been taught the forward launch first and thus simply being too lazy to perfect their reverse launches.
Reverse launches are more difficult than forward launches, they require significantly more practice and skill, but students who learn forward launches first often had more trouble gaining confidence in their reverse launches later in their careers. Why? Well, first of all, the student is already confident in one method of launching, they don’t really “want” to learn something new, they just want to get into the air. Second, they are “geared up” mentally to face forward and when we put them in a reverse position they keep mentally seeking that forward facing reference, they have to unlearn that mental configuration. When learning a reverse launch first we are forced to end up in a forward position as part of the launch process and the mental progressions are forced.
Some instructors explain that they are simply too busy and stressed to help students perfect a solid reverse launch. They might insist that the lack of winds in their area make it difficult teaching reverse techniques. It still concerns me that we build students correctly, these instructors should go to the time and trouble to find a place that does have a good wind flow for ground handling practice. Some instructors say that it’s easier to just spot their students on a forward launch and get them airborne, they can move more people into the air faster. This is seemingly all good and well in a highly monitored simple situation and if the instructor doesn’t expect the students to continue very long with the sport. When those students who get the “fast track into the air program” find themselves unattended there are greater opportunities for a non-supervised forward launches to go a foul, and this may mean an injury. The glider might come up crooked and swing the pilot to the side, yank the student backwards and onto their head or back, over-fly the student and take a frontal slamming them on the ground, have a knot in the lines, have a line-over, etc, but now it’s too late because they’re airborne and stuck with the fouled glider. In addition, those students who don’t put in the kiting practice seem to lose control of their gliders more easily when flying through turbulent air and they often don’t use lifting air as successfully as those who are competent at kiting. We note that students who get “air” too early are out of step with their development, they end up scaring themselves unnecessarily for a lack of glider integration from kiting.
Although a reverse launch offers some hazards, they are less in comparison. It’s significantly easier to see a problem, easier to abort/control and easier to run up under the glider when gusted. The problem with the reverse inflation, is coordinating the turn around, it takes practice. Once you get it “down”, it works and protects you over the years from the problems that forward launches can cause even the most expert of pilots – I’ll give you an example in a few moments.
My determination on this got some criticism from other instructors, years ago. This seems to have turned around, many are now saying they see the reasoning and now teach reverse launches first, Pagen recommends this within his training manual, “The Art of Paragliding.
Training to work in the circus, i.e. learning to ride unicycles on the tight wire, we were thoughtful about engineering the training environment for a systematic skill development. We would avoid teaching skills that might screw up techniques down the road, might build a habit or thought process that would be hard to shake. A well - designed training syllabus should unfold a natural layering of habits that don’t have to be changed, “broken”. As a side note to instructors, the confidence your students will have about “how” a glider behaves and works as a result of the reverse launch training process will actually keep them around the sport longer, confidence builds enjoyment.
Once a student is up to speed on their reverse launch it’s a cinch to get them going with a forward. They have already spent loads of time reversing a glider and then turning to stand/run in a forward position with the glider overhead. This has prepared them for the simple addition of the inflation phase while facing forward.
I’m certainly more determined to have our students practice forward launches as a result of some flying I did with “Mad” Mike Kung in Austria this past April. We were literally launching off of snow with a 3 to 5 mph tailwind. There were strong thermals rising out of the valley out in front and they were drafting air down the launching slope. I KNEW I had to do a forward, I couldn’t remember doing a forward one time since 1990 because I felt I needed it. I wondered if I’d actually have trouble, “practice is the mother of skill” and Lord knows I haven’t practiced very many downwind forward launches. Even though I can do no wind and very light wind dynamic reverse launches, I didn’t even consider trying this technique. The good news - my fears of having a fouled glider and suddenly being in the air were unnecessary as the slope was quite shallow and a glider scan and possible abort would be easy.
Well, it all went well for me on my forward launches in the course of my visit, no aborts. I guess the little demonstrations I do for our classes paid off. It was interesting that “Mad” Mike actually fouled one forward launch because it came up crooked – even the very best pilots sometimes loose track of their forward launches. Next time I’m heading to Europe I’m going to practice my forward launches at least 30 times, I did feel a little lucky that they went so well, and you know how I feel about relying on luck!
10. The 2003 "Rat Race"
Rat Race Article and interview with Jose Rosas
Mike Haley, what an amazing guy! Master hang and para pilot, contractor, carpenter, marketer, mechanic, administrator and all with no ego - he’s a bloomin’ genius in my book. Mike casually started putting together the Rat Race about 2 years ago. Mike envisioned a friendly competition that would serve as training ground for aspiring competition and XC pilots. Mike called me regularly reviewing the scope of his intentions and with ever more refined details. I’ve worked with Mike on other projects and knew that everything he touches is done very well. I was honored that he asked me to be the meet director. The whole team was terrific, Gail Haley, Kris Wick, Bill Gordon, Jose Rosas, Katia Rosas, Kevin Lee, Hayden Glatte, Dan Combs, T.White, and the whole Cascade Paragliding Club. Mike surrounds himself with talented capable people – everything went like clockwork and we all loved working with each other. We had great shirts, I.D. tags and the computers quickly summarized everyone’s standings each day. No accidents, but we had everything ready to go if there had been, thanks to Dan Combs. Kris had even secured formal permission from land-owners throughout any of the zones we might task.
BUT, the “real” test, is how well the pilots loved the event – and I’ll tell you, I’ve never heard so many people go out of their way to rave about an event!! It’s the most favorite event I’ve ever attended in paragliding and I can’t wait to do it again. If you hear that this event is being scheduled, don’t wait to sign up, you’ll miss out – it’ll fill up FAST. If we do it again we plan on having it last up to 4 days, which will be better than the 2 day event we ran this year. We lucked out that the 2 days were so perfect, phewwww. 45 competition pilots, most of them first timers, feeling like they had died and gone to heaven.
We’re talking detailed training sessions covering everything from GPS usage to course strategy. Between all of the staff we were able to answer everyone’s questions and make sure they completely understood all phases of the “get high, stay high and fly far” ballgame. The staff reviewed the race course just prior to every competitor’s launch as well as confirmed that their GPS and other pre-flight items were ready to fly.
The meet headquarters, walking distance from the primary LZ, was well decorated with goofy photos of everyone, motivational posters and loads of para-gear just waiting to be bought and used. Food and drinks were always ready and the port-a-potties at the LZ even had hand wash stations. Plenty of drivers scurried folks right back to launch and retrieved those that landed out. Our “big” dinner (included with the event), excellent I must say, at a local eatery, was filled with happy laughing pilots. The first day 14 pilots made goal and the second day 22 made goal. Brett Harding won the event and this was his first ever competition. 2nd place Tim Pfeiffer and 3rd place Hayden Glatte. Both tasks were just under 15 miles and included some interesting turn points. A fast pilot could complete the courses in about an hour. Of course, almost everyone went back up to fly the brilliant evening conditions that made for at least 2 hours of soaring.
Maybe the best part of this event was the camaraderie. It was as though we had all been friends for years. One of the new friends I made, Jose Rosas, has an incredible background. I had heard of Jose for years, he’s made quite a name for himself as one of the top XC pilots in the world, certainly one of the most prolific pilots in terms of flights, (5,000 tandems and countless solos) and hours (4,500). I was fascinated by his stories and it’s these kind of encounters that can make these get-togethers all the more valuable. Whenever Jose spoke at our meeting he had the complete attention of everyone – he effused a sense of the sport that was almost mystical and he was enthusiastically involved in organizing the Rat Race.
Jose learned from the Swiss pilot Franz Schilter and Jose now lists Peru, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Columbia, the USA, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, Austria and Denmark as countries he has flown. One story he told, “Mike Haley and I went for an Urban XC... (XC in the cliffs of Lima Coast) we went to a place were no locals ever goes because is too dangerous, that’s the part of the city that makes the bad parts of L.A. sounds safe, we knew landing there would mean leaving the stuff and running for our lives... that was much more exiting than the strongest lift I ever had... can you imagine an American dealing with these guys? That was pure adrenaline, and high excitement. The rule, NO landing at all!
I asked him what moment in flying was his favorite, “The day I won my first national championship, I was back then a heavy guy (370 pounds). It was so really special to me because I could beat my weight problem and become a recognized pilot. I was the heaviest professional pilot in the world. Nowadays I weight 188 pounds (he has been in about 45 comps, and was twice national champion). I had also some XC interesting flights and moments but no one better moment than when I set my record to 6026 meters (almost 20,000 feet) in a tandem flight! I did it in a tandem flight with my female friend and pilot Giuliana Wong. The moment the Vario announced 6000 m. we just scream a huge yahoo while entering in a spiral, my fingers got frozen and we needed to get down fast.
He shared with all of us continually, never a moment that he wasn’t helping or offering support. I asked him what he thought of our little event. He responded, “ It was a paragliding picnic. I have enjoyed in a beautiful way. A great feeling of friendship, no tensions between pilots, and smiles everywhere... I just love it!” I asked him if he thought this was an appropriate training ground for new competitors. “That’s a question that I’m sure 99% of the people involved will say Yes! No other environment can be better, like kids in school, playing while learning I had a BLAST and I’m not a beginner. Every pilot felt self confidence to make any kind of question, the expert guys were teaching, the beginners learning, and the intermediates having fun in the mean time. So how did it stack? well... just great! A#1.
Seems hard to believe that someone so immersed in paragliding would have time to do anything else, but Jose is a busy man. “I have a bungee site (400') and extreme sports theme park in Cusco we have three continental records and two world-records.” You can see his website at www.actionvalley.com Jose also owns Perufly, which manufacturers the unique and wonderful Perufly flight suits, this is the kind I wear/distribute – and I love it; built in balaclava, hand mitts, etc. MPH Sports, Mike and Gail Haley’s company, is the importer for these suits. Jose hopes to start manufacturing a variety of other paragliding products as well.
Jose was just recently married to Katia, they fly tandem together almost daily, and Katia has her P-3 so she’s always ready to take over if Jose needs a break to enjoy the scenery.
Well, I’ve gone on with unbridled enthusiasm about the Rat Race and folks that I’ve met. Make sure you put the Rat Race on your schedule as soon as they announce that we’re willing to host another!
11. Motor Mania
Motor Mania - February 10, 2004
As a fulltime 14 year paraglider pilot with over 2000 days of flying/teaching only 322 of my 7,441 flights have involved motors. Although I've owned and motored powered paragliders since 1991, I've never felt all that connected to that aspect of the sport, I don't usually wake up and want to go mix fuel and turn money into noise. Two years ago I got my BFI triking (motorized hang glider) and then last year I got my H2 (Novice Hang Glider license) down at Quest in Florida. I like being a student once in a while just to keep that perspective. For a variety of reasons I decided to head on down to the Salton Sea Motor Paragliding event and see if maybe I was missing something. With over 300 motor flights and my background in paragliding I’m not really all the confident, I tend to be pretty insecure when it comes to flying.
The location was truly sweet with wide open fields and beaches for miles and a nice clubhouse next door to the main take-off area. Food aplenty, pool, and hot tub were right at our fingertips as we played all day. It’s a different feel when everyone has ALL their stuff parked right at the flying field. Free flight usually involves leaving your vehicle in some remote spot, and who knows what you may have forgotten, but 30 minutes away bouncing in the back of a pick up you usually remember. If I wanted to give someone a brochure or just chill and sit, my truck was 20 yards from my flying equipment, AT ALL TIMES.
I had a fantastic time! What a hoot! I flew and flew and then flew some more. It was truly cool to simply fire up a machine and head down the beach at 20 inches AGL or to climb up 4000 feet AGL and play with some light acro. We would fly in formation with who knows who just clipping along, just like riding motorcycles in a 3 dimensional plane. It reminded me of the Star Wars scene where they rode the “bikes” through the trees. Everyone was friendly and relaxed, help was always easy to find and the state of the art in new motoring equipment is light years a head of where we were 10 years ago. The machines are durable, lightweight, powerful, have rechargeable electric starts and MOST importantly, we can get parts and service from a variety of solid vendors. Most of the main motor vendors had booths and were great at answering questions.
There was something unusual about the kicked back “atmosphere” and it didn’t occur to me for a couple of days that no one was worried about flying in big bad-ass air. There’s an edge to pilots who are waiting for strong conditions for soaring, this was completely missing. There wasn’t any more stress in these motor pilots than what you’d find at a ski area. Yea, you could get hurt, but at least it wasn’t likely an invisible monster would manifest itself out of rotors or thermal sheer. I still went out and free flight thermaled the day after getting back from the event with a huge smile, but I could clearly see how relaxing motoring could be in comparison. Besides, you can easily combine motoring with thermaling anytime you want. I once launched out of my backyard with the motor and didn’t use it after I ran into a thermal just 100 feet agl, and then did a 20 mile out and return without ever using power.
Competition in motoring has my attention as it is completely accessible for every motor pilot, you don’t have to spend years perfecting your thermaling/xc skills, you can get involved right away. Motoring competition involves spot landings, touch and goes, flying through a course, making distances on specified quantities of fuel and kiting. I spent hours practicing all these things on my own a few miles away from the main flying area at my own little secluded piece of sand. I’d climb up 500 feet and circle down to nail a spot landing and then simply power back up to altitude. I could cruise through the bushes just a few feet from the ground running a race course, getting my aircraft around a turn point as efficiently and quickly as possible. Foot dragging quickly became a “no-no” for me when I realized I was sandblasting my prop, but it was way fun! Although I didn’t practice fuel management, I can see where that would be challenging and interesting – here you would use your soaring skills and think through how far you could go out before heading back – the best out and return on exactly 2 liters of fuel wins. There are even more challenges, and certainly all sorts of things can leap to the imagination. I must admit, although no one got hurt in the process, there was certainly more damage to machines when the competitors were doing there best to beat each other, but then that’s only natural in most competitive situations. The guys who had the most experience had no trouble coming in the top spots, I wasn’t surprised.
I was warned before heading to the Salton Sea event that I’d be surprised at some of the non-traditional attitudes. Seeing so many people without helmets, with only sneakers, without reserves, lack of weather concepts and with such incredibly poor kiting skills did stand out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, they weren’t getting hurt and supposedly they are having fewer accidents as a group of pilots when compared to free flight pilots. Yea, some motor parts got dinged, but that was about it. One key motor trainer at the event complained that helmets keep new pilots from being able to look up and see their wing as they made inflations. He claims he recommends they wear helmets after they get their training finished, yet I met many of his graduates who still chose to NOT wear helmets, habits are hard to break. He also felt that it was easier to start someone on a motor than to convert someone from free flight paragliding – I interviewed many other long time dual activity trainers (those who teach free flight and motorized paragliding) and they all disagreed. I too still feel that there are loads of idiosyncrasies that should be handled prior to adding about 65#’s of extra weight, but I am trying to “listen” to what’s going on out there and am willing to watch folks get trained on motors from the get-go. I’ve only taught 41 people to fly a motor, which makes me pretty inexperienced in this area of flight training.
So, I'm excited to ramp up our motor training here at Airplay and am going to offer clinics throughout the year to get folks up to speed. Our first clinic will be April 9th,10th and 11th near Page, Arizona. Walkerjet will be helping with the clinic and we hope to get loads of people beating the air to submission with HUGE smiles on their faces! If interested, give me a jingle email@example.com Take the time to go to a get together, I didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t having a rippin’ GREAT time. Count me in on next year’s Salton Sea motorized paragliding event, maybe I’ll average even more than the 3 hours of flying per day I got this year!