Lake Havasu

We drove 3 hours north to Lake Havasue City and the next morning, hooked-up with Johnny Fetz at the LHC Airport. John Fetz is legend in the PPG community, 65 years old, and a lifelong pilot he is a hard man to miss, over six foot and barrel chested with his long silver blond hair tied in a pony tail that goes well down his back. This year during the Alan Chuculate Style Competition at Paratoys, John was decked out in a blue lycra skin suit topped of with a 4-color ball cap complete with a propeller. His flying skills are unmatched and he is welcome anywhere pilots gather. In addition to being an aviation expert, John is famous for being able to repair badly damaged propellers of all kinds and he has a good side business fixing props for pilots all over the country.
John cruising Lake Havasue shore

London Bridge

There were seven of us who had come up from the Paratoys Fly-in; all were seasoned pilots except me. The air was light, no more than 2 knots, but it was shifting on an 180˚ arc, forcing us to either wait for it to cycle back around or reset our wings. Flying his trike, Doug was the first to go up, quickly followed by everybody else. Johnny was amazing, when he was ready to go, the wind had shifted 90˚ away from his take off heading, instead of unhooking and resetting the wing, he simply took several steps to the right and blew the wing into position with his motor. I, on the other hand, was having trouble with my motor, it was either the change in altitude or problems with the carburetor but in order to stand up after getting into the harness I had to bend forward and that’s when the motor would die. Finally, after climbing into and out of my harness three times to restart the motor I was able to stand without killing it. However the wind had shifted during my struggles, and when I started my run it was with a tail wind and the wing collapsed immediately. I stood on the runway hugely frustrated and wishing I had 200 flights under my belt and the ability to take off as easily as my mates. I decided that enough was enough and with great disappointment proceeded to put my equipment away.

The guys had been up for 30 minutes and were on undoubtedly the most scenic flight of the trip. By now they would have flown over The London Bridge and would be exploring the shores of Lake Havasu. At forty-five minutes the wind started to get gusty. It was blowing strong from the north when Doug landed and the gusts were increasing with each cycle. Doug and I searched the horizon and saw no sign of the others. At fifty minutes I spotted a couple of wings approaching from the lake. They were both at about 1000ft AGL but began to descend immediately. In no time at all they were down behind the horizon, we assumed on the ground. Only two others got back to the LZ that day. The first was Johnny Fetz who came in flying around, over and sometimes in between the cactus. The fifteen knot headwind didn’t seem to faze him at all. Once he was alongside us, he popped over the airport fence dropped back down and crabbed sideways over to his truck. I was afraid the wind would turtle him on landing but he dropped the wing to one side and quickly gathered it in. Joel also did a great job landing. He kept his trimmers out and approached low to the ground. When he got close he hovered 5 feet up with the motor running at probably ½ throttle. It’s not often you get to see a pilots face while in flight but he hung there for probably 10 seconds and it was obvious from his look that he was focused on keeping it all together. Modulating the throttle and brakes to keep from flying backwards, he was able to set down and collapse the wing without being pulled over. It was very active piloting at its best …up close and personal.
Brian said that the gust fronts came up very quickly and he was alternating between tremendous lift and sinking at 250 feet per minute. He and the others dropped into the desert where ever they were, as fast as they could. It took an hour or so to round everybody up but once again no harm to man or machine. We laughed and joked about the dramatic change in the weather and got back on the road.
Looking back it was probably a good thing I wasn’t able to launch. More than likely, I would have been at a much higher altitude than the others when the wind front came through and who knows if I would have been able to get back down safely with my limited experience. It’s true when they say, “it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground”.

8th & 9th At the Sea

8th & 9th Flights
2/12/06

It was a perfect launch and a perfect landing! This was the best flight so far! And I think it was because of an equipment breakthrough. After the last flight I adjusted the harness so that the motor rode higher and closer. The shoulder straps are now a lot tighter and the sternum strap is looser. The new set-up allows me to run in a more upright position which made the launch a lot easer! Once in the air I felt a bit constricted but I could certainly loosen it or live with it. The important thing was I was running more upright which used the thrust better and allowed me to glance at the wing to make sure it was flying straight.
I flew north along the coastline at 1600 feet, until I was over the “rebel” camp of Mo Shelton and his entourage. After awhile I was feeling so good that I took a wild ass chance and used my mirror to check fuel level and I even took a few pictures. Then I climbed to 2800 feet and tried some ¾ power turns. What a rush! It didn’t take much brake to get into a mild bank, and for the first time I felt an increase in gravity. I doubt it was more than half a g but it got my attention…and I liked it!

Number nine was just a quick victory lap. I should have stayed up longer but I was worried that I would run out of gas and I didn’t want to do a dead stick landing. I climbed out, flew over the dome then turned left and followed the beach for about a mile then turned left again and headed back. I kept the power up and climbed all the way back to the LZ and was at 2500 feet when the LZ was right below me. I let the motor have just enough power to engage the clutch and keep the propeller spinning, then I did “S” turns and 360’s for a long time while I descended. This time I made sure to have my legs in position and did a neat little two step landing. I was a great way to end the last flight of my first Fly-in.

It was absolutely beautiful when we left. The air was dead still and the sun had just set. The last bit of twilight was painting the mountains purple, and there was a full moon reflecting off the sea. I marveled at how different the place had become in just a few hours. Where before, there had been the cacophony of dozens of paramotors, now you could hear the occasional sea bird. The crowd was gone and with it went all the furious energy that had driven the event. Everybody was moving slower, strolling instead of trotting. In the air was the silhouette of one last pilot who had gone up for a final flight. I listened to his motor wrap-up as he climbed out over the sea and then drop in pitch when he would glide back toward shore, then power up and out to sea again. I enjoyed his solitary flight for ½ hour. He was really quite good, doing all kinds of maneuvers, which would not have been tolerated when the sky was crowded.
He did wingovers and spirals and a move I had never seen before. The pilot would thrust forward and at the peak of the swing kill the power causing the wing to surge forward and dive. I kept expecting to see the leading edge of the wing collapse but he displayed fine control knowing just when to add a little brake and he consistently pulled out of the dive cleanly with a minimum of pendulum effect. He was still playing in the moonlight when Doug came by to pick me up.

Learn from the mistakes of others.
You won’t live long enough to make all of them yourself.

The Paratoys Fly-In had been great. I doubled my flights, saw lots of different equipment, and even witnessed some honest to god incidents. The first was Doug who tried to take off in terrain that was too rough and obstructed for a trike. It was amazing how fast the trike swung around when he got caught by a small pinion tree. And there were a couple of other trike incidents, one was a guy who rolled his trike when he insisted on taking off with his wing oscillating forty-five degrees. Fortunently there were no injuries and it was certainly a well-built trike because he was able to crawl out from under, reset the wing and launch. Another trike incident was a guy who was taxiing off the field with his wing bunched up with him in the trike, a loose line got caught in the prop and sucked the wing right out of his lap. He broke the prop and parablended his wing.
I also saw a couple of classic mistakes that led to injuries. One was a fellow who didn’t check his carburetor during preflight. When he started it the motor ran up to full power and got out of control. He received a couple of pretty serious lacerations on his arm and leg. The worst injury of the weekend was a fellow who had been flying for a several years but had not often. He took off and apparently didn’t think he was climbing out fast enough. He pulled some brake to increase the climb and for some reason kept pulling brake with full thrust until the wing stalled and he dropped out of the sky from ____ft. up. Both legs were broken and I learned later that he required several surgeries and pins to rebuild his legs. The most dramatic incident I witnessed was a new pilot’s first flight. It was the last day, late in the afternoon and the guy had been training all weekend. His instructor gave him the go-ahead so he could solo before it was all over. I didn’t see the whole flight, but what happened was, he overflew the landing zone and crashed into the cab of a pickup. Just like Dave had done a couple of months earlier he lifted his legs and stuck them straight out in front just before impact. The bottom of the frame hit the cab just above the window and crumpled. Then the pilot slid across the roof and impacted the ground about 10 feet past the truck. Lots of damage to the equipment with only the motor and wing salvageable but luckily the pilot was not hurt. He sat there for quite some time and was obviously shook up but in the end …he walked away.

More Salton Sea #7 #8 #9

7th Flight

I blew the first couple of attempts and was getting frustrated when Alex (Dizzy) came out to help me with the wing. It’s a real pain to have to get out of the harness and go through the whole starting sequence everytime you blow a launch. It wouldn’t be so bad, if I had an electric starter, but getting into the harness with the motor running is stressful and each successive attempt makes it worse. Finally I got a good inflation with the wing stable overhead and after a few rough steps… I was flying. Dizzy had been watching and later was able to give me some good feedback, he said that I was leaning forward for most of the run. Once the wing started to take the weight off, I straightened up and looked good. He also said that my hands were too far forward, which added brake that made the wing hang back. He suggested that the harness was riding to low on my back and to try adjusting the harness differently and see how it felt.
The landing was a new experience. I thought I was coming in alright, but on final approach I started to “float”. It looked like I was going to over shoot the LZ, so I decided to power-up and go around again. I had already gotten out of the harness and for some reason was hanging lower than normal, and I was hanging crooked because one of the leg straps was lower than the other. It was tough getting back into my seat and I ended up having to use both hands to do it. I worried about accidentally hitting the kill switch, but with minor contortions, I managed to get back into the harness. I probably should have just hung until I was back on the approach but I was getting “pinched” pretty bad by the leg straps and flying over the whole damn fly-in, hanging like a puppet is bad form.

8th & 9th Flights
2/12/06

It was a perfect launch and a perfect landing! This was the best flight so far! And I think it was because of an equipment breakthrough. After the last flight I adjusted the harness so that the motor rode higher and closer. The shoulder straps are now a lot tighter and the sternum strap is looser. The new set-up allows me to run in a more upright position which made the launch a lot easer! Once in the air I felt a bit constricted but I could certainly loosen it or live with it. The important thing was I was running more upright which used the thrust better and allowed me to glance at the wing to make sure it was flying straight.
I flew north along the coastline at 1600 feet, until I was over the “rebel” camp of Mo Shelton and his entourage. After awhile I was feeling so good that I took a wild ass chance and used my mirror to check fuel level and I even took a few pictures. Then I climbed to 2800 feet and tried some ¾ power turns. What a rush! It didn’t take much brake to get into a mild bank, and for the first time I felt an increase in gravity. I doubt it was more than half a g but it got my attention…and I liked it!

Number nine was just a quick victory lap. I should have stayed up longer but I was worried that I would run out of gas and I didn’t want to do a dead stick landing. I climbed out, flew over the dome then turned left and followed the beach for about a mile then turned left again and headed back. I kept the power up and climbed all the way back to the LZ and was at 2500 feet when the LZ was right below me. I let the motor have just enough power to engage the clutch and keep the propeller spinning, then I did “S” turns and 360’s for a long time while I descended. This time I made sure to have my legs in position and did a neat little two step landing. I was a great way to end the last flight of my first Fly-in.

It was absolutely beautiful when we left. The air was dead still and the sun had just set. The last bit of twilight was painting the mountains purple, and there was a full moon reflecting off the sea. I marveled at how different the place had become in just a few hours. Where before, there had been the cacophony of dozens of paramotors, now you could hear the occasional sea bird. The crowd was gone and with it went all the furious energy that had driven the event. Everybody was moving slower, strolling instead of trotting. In the air was the silhouette of one last pilot who had gone up for a final flight. I listened to his motor wrap-up as he climbed out over the sea and then drop in pitch when he would glide back toward shore, then power up and out to sea again. I enjoyed his solitary flight for ½ hour. He was really quite good, doing all kinds of maneuvers, which would not have been tolerated when the sky was crowded.
He did wingovers and spirals and a move I had never seen before. The pilot would thrust forward and at the peak of the swing kill the power causing the wing to surge forward and dive. I kept expecting to see the leading edge of the wing collapse but he displayed fine control knowing just when to add a little brake and he consistently pulled out of the dive cleanly with a minimum of pendulum effect. He was still playing in the moonlight when Doug came by to pick me up.

Salton Sea Paratoys 2006

5th Flight
Salton Sea
Feb. 10th 2006

My first perfect landing! I spent half the day hassling with equipment. The carburetor needed to be adjusted for low altitude and the starter cord broke twice. The first time was when Bubba was giving me a start. He pulled the knot right through the handle and I felt every bit the newbie that I was. The second time I slipped a washer between the stopper knot and the handle and solved the problem. Eventually everything got put together and at 1:45 I laid out the wing and on my third attempt…finally, got into the air. The actual take-off was a lot easier than at 5500 ft ASL. I still had to run but not as far and not nearly as fast. The snap was taking longer than normal to come up to full power but sounded good when it got there. I noticed that the wing also climbed faster. Most of the other pilots were flying at 300 to 500 feet so I climbed to 1800 and tried to take it all in. For the first time in three months I was flying and it felt great!


I could see the Fly-in below. There were lots of wings being laid out for take off and the rows of campers, trailers and tents between the take-off and landing zones. This was the first time I had been in the air with other pilots and watching the gliders from above was a nice change. I especially liked being the LZ and watching them land. The whole area looked like a development in its first stage. Apparently twenty years ago, somebody got the wise idea to turn the Salton Sea into a luxury retirement community. They built the infrastructure but they couldn’t sell the lots. I’m sure that if the water were good this would be prime real estate. Sea and desert surrounded by mountains. I can see it now, …millionaires and moviestars … Cigarette boats and beach bars. On second thought if the water had been good, we wouldn’t be here. So I guess toxic water can be a good thing. I would have stayed up longer but after 45 minutes I knew there wasn’t a whole lot of gas left. I decended into the flight pattern and did several “S” turns to bleed off altitude. The landing was great, a perfect two point touch-down. My altitude and forward speed reached zero at the same instant. What a feeling! I threw up my hands and shouted…YES… to the world. It was just what the doctor had ordered. After dozens of days of walking off the field without getting into the air and trips and falls and twisted knees and broken equipment…it was all worth it. No matter what happens from here forward, now…I am a pilot.
I carried my rig back to the trailor in a kind of euphoric fog where several of the guys were hashing over their flights. Bo grinned at and said, “I saw your landing “.

6th Flight Salton Sea

6th Flight

I chilled for about an hour and launched again. This time it was dead calm and my run was a lot longer and faster than I thought possible. At take-off, I took a bad step and felt my knee twist and I knew that I would either fly on the next step or fall on my face. If I’d had a little more experience I would have pulled some brake and popped myself right up, I was certainly moving fast enough, but what I think happened was that when my knee twisted I stumbled a little bit and that caused me to throw my arms forward tightening the brake lines. Whatever…I got into the air and that’s all that mattered.

I was still having a hard time with the motor coming up to power slowly and it might have been part of the reason for the long run. There still wasn’t any breeze when I landed, so my glide slope was long and fast. I came in hot and remember thinking, “this is going to hurt”. I should have put one leg forward so that I could start running as soon as I touched down, but my knee was throbbing and I hadn’t put on the knee brace so I was afraid of dislocating it. I came in with both feet forward and hit the earth flat footed, most of my forward speed had dissipated, so I didn’t slide; it was a simple three point landing, feet…knees…face. I’d like to think that if my legs had been in the correct position I could have run it out.Nothing was hurt but it reminded me that I’m still a novice and have a long way to go.

One of the great things about going to a fly-in is seeing the other equipment and meeting the manufacturers. For a variety of reasons powered paragliding is a cottage industry, with many of the paramotors being built in small shops around the world. I had a great time talking with Leon Wacker the owner of Paracruiser. Over the last several months he had been my only contact when I was having equipment trouble. More than once he talked me through a carburetor adjustment or how to balance the propeller. While I was there, we did a hang test with my paramotor and tweaked a few things to make it easer to get into the seat. I also met Wayne Mitchler and his wife Suzy, who weighs less than 100 pounds and was both, the inspiration and namesake for my machine.

The Salton Sea lived up to its reputation for great flying conditions and even though I was content with two relatively short flights, other guys were literally flying all day. Fifteen-minute pit stops were not uncommon. Several times I saw pilots land, carry their gear out of the LZ, stop at their trailers to gas up, drink a soda, and… back into the sky.
The last hour of daylight was magnificent. There were probably more gliders in the air at sunset than any other time. The full moon attracted the photographers and probably extended the flyable twilight. I think it was also because the guys had been sharing the sky all day and were now beginning to feel comfortable with others pilots around. Proof of that was it wasn’t uncommon to see groups of three or four flying in formation. Also it was the end of a day that nobody wanted to see end so we stretched the air time till we could just barely see to land.

5th Flight

5th Flight
Salton Sea

My first perfect landing! I spent half the day hassling with equipment. The carburetor needed to be adjusted for low altitude and the starter cord broke twice. The first time was when Bubba was giving me a start. He pulled the knot right through the handle and I felt every bit the newbie that I was. The second time it broke I slipped a washer between the stopper knot and the handle and solved the problem. Eventually everything got put together and at 1:45 I laid out the wing …and on my third attempt…finally…, got into the air. The actual take-off was a lot easier than at 5500 ft ASL. I still had to run but not as far and not nearly as fast. The snap was taking longer than normal to come up to full power but it sounded good once it got there. I noticed that the wing also climbed faster. Most of the other pilots were flying at 300 to 500 feet so I climbed to 1800 to get out of the traffic take in the sights. For the first time in three months I was flying and it felt great!

I could see the whole Fly-in below me. There were lots of wings being laid out for take off and the rows of campers, trailers and tents between the take-off and landing zones. This was the first time I had been in the air with other pilots and watching the gliders from above was a nice change. I especially liked being over the LZ and watching them land. The whole area looked like a development in its first stage. The roads and water were in and there were a few scattered houses. Apparently twenty years ago, somebody got the wise idea to turn the Salton Sea into a luxury retirement community. They built the infrastructure but they couldn’t sell the lots. I’m sure that if the water were good this would be prime real estate. Sea and desert surrounded by mountains. I can see it now …millionaires and moviestars … Cigarette boats and beach bars. On second thought if the water had been good, we wouldn’t be here. So I guess toxic water can be a good thing. I would have stayed up longer but after 45 minutes I was afraid there wasn’t a whole lot of gas left. I descended into the flight pattern and did several “S” turns to bleed off altitude. The landing was great, a perfect two point touch-down. My altitude and forward speed reached zero at the same instant. What a feeling! I threw up my hands and shouted…YES… to the world. It was just what the doctor had ordered. After dozens of days of walking off the field without getting into the air and trips and falls and twisted knees and broken equipment…it was all worth it. No matter what happens from here forward, now…I am a pilot.
I carried my rig back to the trailer in a kind of euphoric fog where several of the guys were hashing over their flights. Bo grinned at and said, “I saw your landing “.

At the Fly-In

6th FlightI chilled for about an hour and launched again. This time it was dead calm and my run was a lot longer and faster than I thought possible. At take-off, I took a bad step and felt my knee twist and I knew that I would either fly on the next step or fall on my face. If I’d had a little more experience I would have pulled some brake and popped myself right up, I was certainly moving fast enough, but what I think happened was that when my knee twisted I stumbled a little bit and that caused me to throw my arms forward tightening the brake lines. Whatever…I got into the air and that’s all that mattered.

I was still having a hard time with the motor coming up to power slowly and it might have been part of the reason for the long run. There still wasn’t any breeze when I landed, so my glide slope was long and fast. I came in hot and remember thinking, “this is going to hurt”. I should have put one leg forward so that I could start running as soon as I touched down, but my knee was throbbing and I hadn’t put on the knee brace so I was afraid of dislocating it. I came in with both feet forward and hit the earth flat footed, most of my forward speed had dissipated, so I didn’t slide; it was a simple three point landing, feet…knees…face. I’d like to think that if my legs had been in the correct position I could have run it out.Nothing was hurt but it reminded me that I’m still a novice and have a long way to go.

One of the great things about going to a fly-in is seeing the other equipment and meeting the manufacturers. For a variety of reasons powered paragliding is a cottage industry, with many of the paramotors being built in small shops around the world. I had a great time talking with Leon Wacker the owner of Paracruiser. Over the last several months he had been my only contact when I was having equipment trouble. More than once he talked me through a carburetor adjustment or how to balance the propeller. While I was there, we did a hang test with my paramotor and tweaked a few things to make it easer to get into the seat. I also met Wayne Mitchler and his wife Suzy, who weighs less than 100 pounds and was both, the inspiration and namesake for my machine.

The Salton Sea lived up to its reputation for great flying conditions and even though I was content with two relatively short flights, other guys were literally flying all day. Fifteen-minute pit stops were not uncommon. Several times I saw pilots land, carry their gear out of the LZ, stop at their trailers to gas up, drink a soda, and… back into the sky.
The last hour of daylight was magnificent. There were probably more gliders in the air at sunset than any other time. The full moon attracted the photographers and probably extended the flyable twilight. I think it was also because the guys had been sharing the sky all day and were now beginning to feel comfortable with others pilots around. Proof of that was it wasn’t uncommon to see groups of three or four flying in formation. Also it was the end of a day that nobody wanted to end, so we stretched the air time till we could just barely see to land.