Chase Camera Test #612 Vance Brand

Flash Gordon Chase Cam

It was blowing 8 to 10 when I got to the field.  The heavy snow from Monday had melted making it a little muddy but I thought it was doable.  I tied a bridal to the C lines in the middle of the right side of the wing.  The camera would come up and swing into the lines every time.  It was hard to tell if I had enough tether to get the camera flying in the right spot without going into the prop, but it looked right.

The launch was a mess.  The wind, that had been blowing hard, came down dramatically.   I set up the wing and took great care to prevent the camera from crossing any lines.  Well, … while I was setting up, the wind shifted. I wasn’t aware of it because, (like a dummy), I’d put up the wind sock by the truck instead of out where I could see it from the trike.  Needless to say the wing came up hard to the left and I had to abort.  I reset in nil wind.and blew it again because the wind had come up from the wrong direction just as I started my run.  This happened one more time before the wind settled down and I was able to get up.
I could see that the camera was flying off my right shoulder but I could also see that it was swinging left. and right.  The are was mixing and bumpy so maybe that was it.

When I got home and viewed the video the camera was positioned well but the swing was not acceptable.
Maybe Mike will have an idea when I visit him on Sat.

Salton Sea 2011

The Adventure Continues

Walking the Big Wheel

The weather was terrible. 

A huge storm , sweeping north and east from San Diego to the Great Lakes was shutting down the middle of the country.   Denver was snow packed and frigid with snow showers and high winds.  Driving to California without new rubber on the Ford was not an option.  This was the first time in 6 years that the weather was an issue.  The storm came in 24 hours early and I missed the window that would have insured dry roads.  Mike Miller was a huge help when he cancelled his service calls to free me up to buy snows and get out of town a few hours quicker.  The plan was to head south to Albuquerque and try to get under the storm instead of punching through the backside somewhere West of the Rockies.

Loading the truck was slapstick, all exposed surfaces were covered in ice and the blizzard was blowing into every nook and cranny.  Every time I tried to pull the trike up into the pick-up the ramps would slip under the back wheels  Finally after 5 failed attempts I figured a way to secure the ramp and loaded the Falcon.  Wasting no time I just threw the tent, wings, gas, big wheel and everything else on top. The only silver lining was that 15 mph winds helped me kite the big tarp over the pile.  Using my best frozen dock lines I lashed the tarp and said a prayer…

It wasn’t pretty but at 1:00pm I was southbound on I-25. The roads were packed with snow and visibility was horrible but I was feeling good driving a  loaded truck with new tires.   It was a tough drive, the average speed was 40mph with long spells of 10 mph when the visibility fell to 50 feet.  I was happy to hit 50 miles per hour after passing Glorieta.  Finally I arrived at the Route 66 Casino outside Paramotor City at 12:30pm.  In Albuquerque the roads were wet with intermittent small storm showers.

The storm had caught up but the highways were plowed headed west.    I had not noticed it yesterday because I never got up to speed but now the truck was bogging down and unable to get over 70 mph. I stopped in Gallop and wasted $300 bucks at the Goodyear store where they diagnosed the problem as a clogged fuel filter.
But… I thought it was fixed and headed out into the storm. It wasn’t until was 30 miles out of town and hit clear roads that I realized that the truck was still having problems. In Holbrook I bit the bullet and went to the Ford dealership. Even though it was 4pm they took the truck and thanks to a veteran Ford Tech the problem was diagnosed as a bad igniter coil. At 6:30 they cut me loose. I was at the very southern edge of the storm going in and out of blizzard conditions about every 30 minutes. It was amazing how the roads would be clear one minute and almost instantly turn to packed snow and ice.  I’m guessing that the fast moving edge of the storm was being focused by the terrain with fingers of blizzard crossing the highway. The winds were gusting 50+ with only the big rigs and I braving the weather.  I finally made Blythe and stopped for the night. So much for power driving all the way to the Sea.

Finally, I was out of the storm, the winds were still strong but the skies were clear. I had hoped to hook up with Jeff Goin and the Australian contingent at Glamis. The idea was to fly the dunes Wednesday night, camp there and head to the Salton Sea Thursday morning but after talking with Jeff and hearing that it was a blow out; I stayed on Hwy 10 and headed to the North Shore to visit Salvation Mountain.

Pligramage to Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain  (  ) is located in the lower desert of Southern California in Imperial County just east of the Salton Sea and about a hour and a half from Palm Springs. Salvation Mountain is Leonard Knights’ tribute to God and his gift to the world with its simple yet powerful message: “God Is Love.” Leonard’s passion has lovingly created this brilliant “outsider art ” masterpiece resplendent with not only biblical and religious scripture such as the Lord’s Prayer, John 3:16, and the Sinner’s Prayer, but also including flowers, trees, waterfalls, suns, bluebirds, and many other fascinating and colorful objects. Salvation Mountain must be seen to be fully appreciated as those who have made the journey will attest. Its 50 foot height and 150 foot breadth is made totally of local adobe clay and donated paint and is truly unique in the United States and probably the world. From its Sea of Galilee at the bottom, to the big red heart in the middle, to the cross at the very top, the reoccurring theme of “Love” is everywhere at Salvation Mountain.

Leonard’s house

My daughter Olivia had seen Salvation Mountain in the movie INTO THE WILD and very much wanted to go there so I thought it might be fun to visit and send her a few pictures.

Dinner at the Mexican Resturant

Chad Bastian, Bob Peloquin John Fetz and I went to the local Mexican place which was packed with tables of pilots from around the country. It was great to catch up with the guys. Bob was enjoying his retirement; Chad was officially healthy and gaining weight. Greg and I were just plain glad to be out of town. After dinner Bob graciously offered me a berth in his RV.  It was plenty cold out and I grateful to have a warm place to sleep.

Was a blowout. I spent the day catching up with friends. A few of the Professionals were flying and Jeff put on a display of reverse launching with a Paratoys quad.

Jeff Going doing Quad Reverse

Sometime when I was wandering around Leon Wacker put the complete set of charts for the Tom Bigbee and TVA and Mississippi River into the truck.  He remembered talking to me at Bubbas about maybe taking the inland waterway down to New Oleans.  What a Guy!
The big event of the day was Perry Molter’s amazing double riser twist. There were plenty of witnesses when he launched into 10 mph wind with a powerful and unfamiliar motor. Almost immediately he torque into a riser twist and started to spin into the ground. At 20 feet, he reapplied power and avoided impact but twisted again, at the last possible moment he regained control and flew off to enjoy a 15 minute flight. I wasn’t sure if it was a display of extraordinary skill or a very lucky newbie … Perry has amassed an amazing number of flights in just a few years and is a good pilot on his way to becoming a great one. He was awarded the Bonehead Award at the banquet for the double riser twist and accepted it with good humor.

Mike Robinson presenting the Bonehead Award to Perry Molter

That night we had dinner again at the Mex Place which was still struggling to handle the unexpected rush in business.    Later at Bob’s RV after a shower and hot tub I watched the movie  Danny Deckchair, about halfway through I fell asleep. 
Was a good day, I got in two long flights. The first was an hour and a half spent mostly skimming the beach to the north. I visited the old dome site and practiced the low and slow. After lunch and a visit to the vendor booths I went up again and did the same thing to the south. The sea has receded a bit from last year and there were several areas where you could see a recent fish kill. The beach was loaded with dead fish and there were patches of carcasses visible just off shore. I would have liked to spent some time inland but the thermals were popping all over and it was really only nice on the beach.  On thing caught my eye was a good size boat abandoned on the beach, it looked like it had been there a long time.  But the best eye candy of the show was Jeff Hamman flying his Manta Ray complete with a remora fish hitching a ride.

by Elisabeth Dufour

  As I was packing up the Nirvana team launched and did a night show.  LEDs embedded into their props projected graphics linked to a computer.  I don’t understand it but they were able to program lettering and graphic onto the spinning props. 

Team Nirvana

Night time synchronised aerobatics with a light show….
WOW!   Watch the video

View it here… 

That night the Mex place was ready for us, we were greeted by Jose like long lost cousins. The food came quick and the portions were large.   Lots of pilots having a good time,  Later,  back at the ranch I hit the hot tub with Marek and Robert we were entertained by a precocious little boy who so wanted to fly like his daddy.
Was the best!
I got in 6 flights including the X-country race to the Knob. The air was good all day. There was an inversion at 1800 feet that had to be powered through but the air at altitude was as nice as it could be. I climbed to 7000 feet and took in the sights. It wasn’t crystal clear but I was able to see from one end of the Sea to the other. Unfortunately my camera’s battery failed and there are no pictures.

ParaToys new field Photo bt Para-Flyers of Florida

The Falcon performed like a champ. It’s climbing at better than 500 feet/min from the beach and was still over 400ft/min at 7000ft ASL.  Below the Japanese Slalom was taking place it was safer than the cloverleaf but not as interesting to watch.  I caught three or four runs with Robert Jerry Alex and Marek and decided I’m better at participating than spectating.  It’s just much better to be in the air!

Michelle and CC Our …”First Ladies of PPG”


Elisabeth Dufour …  Eric’s  “First Lady of PPG”

After the morning flights Jim Doyle gave me a set of Pulstar iridium pulse plugs that he installed on the falcon.  It made a nice change, the idle came down slightly and top speed increased 250 RPM. It seemed to run smoother at idle and run up a little faster. Jim is representing the company for love of the sport and they are well worth the money! 

After lunch was the X-country Competition. Early in the event Dean Elderedge broke the world speed record with an early morning flight and a so it is not surprising that a common topic among the pilots was speed. There were 4 classes … Footlaunch reflex and non and wheeled reflex and non. I launched in the 3rd heat wheeled non-reflex. Initially I followed the beach until I climbed above the inversion then I turned inland and followed the highway out to the knob. Once at the knob I had a heck of a time spotting Brian who was monitoring the goal box. The idea was to overfly the box low enough to read the “secret number” painted inside. When we got back to the LZ we reported to Brian and gave him the secret number to prove that we had completed the objective.

On the way back to the LZ Bob Peloquin caught and trotted passed me . He was flying a  Viper2 26 with the Simonini Trike Buggy. There may be a controversy as to the stability of the reflex wing but there is no doubt as to it’s speed. He should have won the class except for a misunderstanding as to how to finish. ….Seems he needed to overfly Brian before landing and did not. I was not aware of the rule either but by pure dumb luck did the right thing. Pierre and Greg were also flying in my class and got off a little later than I. The Eden III was loaded heaver than their wings and unless I made a real mistake I should have been plenty faster.

Later I spoke with Brian and offered to help with next years race.  I’m sure using some of the techniques from yacht racing we can make it more competitive and fun to watch.  I shudder to think of the variables involved in PHRF ing different wings and weights but …At the very least a NOR ( Notice of Race can make it more competitive and fun to watch.  I’m sure it’s done in the European Comps. 

The Flock

After the race I had some Empanadas and wandered the vendor booths.  Alex Varv came with his modified Kangook paramotor.  He has helped me out over the years with parts and advice and I was looking forward to finaly meeting him.  It was too bad that his motor was getting so much attention because the booth was full and we didn’t really have an opportunity to chat.  Next Time.  The paramotor looked great and if his claim of low torque is correct it will be a great boon to the sport.  The harness was by far the nicest I have ever seen.  

That evening was the Banquet Hosted by Paul Anthem and Michelle Danielle.  They get better every year.  This year Paul showed his skill as a vocalist NOT! …  but it was better than last years outhouse skit.    Michael Purdy and Eric Dufour announced the winners of the first comp of the season and Jeff announced Dean Elderedge’s  World Speed Record. 

I received the trophy for Classic Wing Quad  X-country Race and  Michell gave away lots and lots of swag.  Mike Robinson said a few emotional words and a new Memorial Airfield was dedicated by the owner who pledged the land to us.  Later The Pilot Project Band entertained us with classic rock.  It was a great party followed up by the hot tub and bed.

My first PPG trophy !


Up early and into the sky.   Beautiful morning to go high and say goodbye.  Everyone was packing up when I walked the flight line one last time to say my farewells.  I hooked up with Pierre and Greg and we made plans to convoy to Glamis together.  When we got there the wind was blowing 8 mph gusting to 12 or 13.  I set up but aborted after seeing Greg parked at 50 feet.  Watching him fly the trike buggy made me remember just how great the combination of Simonini and a Trike Buggy is.  Very nimble machine.   We made a wolf camp and sat around the fire until well after dark telling stories and enjoying the moment.  I used Roberts Pop-out tent since my was broken and slept like a baby.


The next morning we all flew.  There was a good breeze but the surface winds were low enough for an easy launch.  I stayed up for a little over an hour the winds were against me on the way back but I was in no rush.  The non event of the flight was when I lifted off I realized that I’d forgotten ear protection.  No problem I looked around and saw the answer in the closed cell Styrofoam I was using to mount the tiny tack.  I pulled off a couple of pieces and stuffed them in my ears… Worked like a champ.

The trip home was a bitch.  The snow was back with a vengeance.  I drove straight through except for two 20 minute naps in the cab of the truck.  Lots of vehicles had run off the road including one little jerk who had honked at me earlier for going too slowly.  Good trip… Lots of good memories … Thanks Guys

Kiting the Sting

The winds have been blowing steady for the last two weeks.
Too soon to put the boat in and to windy to fly.
So for the last couple of days I’ve been taking Monte’s wing out for a little high wind kiting. It comes up good but I’m having a hard time finding the right brake input. Either it wants to overfly and tuck or I’m using too much and the trailing edge puckers and the wing falls back. I’m not sure if it was a combination of trim and wind speed or just the nature of the wing. I think the lines are strung different because it’s a tandem wing.

1. The Beginning ….Learning to fly

You start with a full bag of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck.

I was sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee and enjoying our view of the Rockies when I saw what I thought was a skydiver. He was swinging in big arcs and I wondered why wasn’t he descending. It was too far away to make out more than the vague shape of the canopy, it looked like a parachute…but… Why wasn’t it descending? How was that guy staying up? My kids and I watched for several minutes until we couldn’t see him any more.

A week later I found out…
I was sailing at Chatfield Reservoir, it was an hour before sunset and light air had slowed the race to an “inches per minute” crawl. I sat at the stern, minding the tiller and watching for any sign of breeze to could exploit.

The flashing of a strobe caught my eye and I saw a strange looking contraption fly over the top of the dam. As it got closer, I could see the pilot, was sitting in a small three wheeled vehicle about the size of a go cart. The cart was suspended from an elliptic canopy marked with a zigzag design. I pointed him out to the rest of the crew as he descended and flew along the swim beach. It was amazing how slowly he could fly, gliding over the sand, maybe 50 feet up. The motor sounded like a small motorcycle but the prop gave it that special timbre that says aircraft.

That night after the regatta, I went to the Internet, and discovered what I was looking for is called Powered Paragliding. There were a variety of sites and newsgroups dedicated to the sport. The local group was called the PPG Flock and the national group is, “The Big List. There was even a weekly Internet Talk Show where experienced pilots gave advice and told hanger stories. All of the previous shows were available in the archives so I listened to a couple of segments. They sounded like a great bunch of guys who had been involved from the beginning and were immersed amazing new sport. The PPG podcast turned out to be a wonderful resource for a wanna-be pilot and I listened to probably fifty hours of PPG Radio over the next several months. There was plenty of information available, all I had to do was sort through and try to absorb the best. At the end of my first night of research I came away knowing.

PPG’s are the most personal form of flight. They are able to take off from a small field and stay aloft for up to three hours. Having evolved from free flight paragliding it uses the same wing but it has become a very different sport with a whole new set of rules. Unlike free flight, the pilot has the ability to overcome gravity using the thrust of a lightweight two-stroke motor driving a 40 to 50 inch propeller. Most of the flying is done between 800 and 2000 feet but it is possible to fly to 18,000ft and even higher. Best of all, I discovered there are no licenses or certifications required. By the grace of the Federal Aviation Administration’s publication, (FAR 103), PPG pilots are allowed to fly freely, provided they honor restricted airspace and other people’s rights. The object is not the destination so much as it is the art of getting there. The more I researched, the more it resonated with me.

I had participated in potentially extreem sports most of my life , rodeo, sailing scuba, cycling and kayacking ….all good outdoor activities that can get hairy on occasion. Powered paragliding was atractive to me on several levels and it takes place in a medium I’ve yet to experience…The air. Water and air are subject to the same laws of Fluid-dynamics and I was good with water so I thought I might have a clue.

Currents in the atmosphere behave similarly to currents in the ocean or the flow of water in a river. I imagined the hydraulic forces of water in a boulder-strewn river, the water flows around and over the rocks, the same way, air flows over and around buildings, trees even mountains. In both cases the person navigating these currents has to read the terrain to be able to avoid danger. The unsuspecting paraglider can be slammed to ground if caught in the swirling rotor on the lee side of a building just like a kayaker is flipped upside-down in the turbulent currents below a large boulder. The similarities between sailing and flying are striking and numerous; both exploit natural dynamic forces to create lift and forward momentum, the glider works like the sail of a keelboat, and the pilot and motor act like the keel working against the force of air on sail. The combined use of thrust and brakes changes the angle of attack and wing shape the same was the rudder and sail trim work on a sailboat.

Yeah it looks like magic but I could understand how it worked and figured it was something I could do.

There weren’t any schools nearby but I did find one listed in Loveland, called Adventures in Powered Paragliding. I spoke with the instructor, Brian Smith, and made an appointment to meet in Loveland the following Friday at dawn. As fate would have it, I missed the highway exit and was late getting out to the field but as I arrived, there was a guy making an approach for landing. It was beautiful! Like Gabriel the Archangel, he did a quick ninety-degree turn, lost a bunch of altitude, straightened out and touched down. No muss no fuss, just fly and land. Then another guy took-off and flew around the field for about ten minutes and landed right next to the truck. I stood around like a 12-year-old kid with some old-fashioned barnstormers. While the pilots engaged in small talk and packed up, I poked around and inspected their equipment. I was in awe of these fellows, who carried an airplane around on their backs. The whole experience seemed larger than life, but there was no question in my mind that I could do this. It looked so easy; all you had to do was run into the sky. How come it took me so long to discover and why wasn’t everybody doing it? I saw myself flying to work and just about anywhere else I wanted to go. This was the future!

So, I introduced myself to the instructor, Brian Smith, who can only be described as, “all country”. He packed a chew, cut his hair way short and was built like he had been bucking hay. I’d known a lot of guys like him over the years and liked him right away. He quickly put me at ease, showing me around, explaining the equipment and describing the training process. Ten minutes later, I was writing a check for the whole sha-bang; wing, motor and training. I was going to fly… Brian gave me a syllabus, from the Adventure Paramotor Company and had me sign a liability waiver. My career in aviation had begun.

A couple of days later I was at Brian’s field to learn ground handling. Brian had just received a new wing so he lent me his old one for practice. The field where we were working was a horse pasture with lots of holes, high weeds and in one place there was a plywood sheet bridging an irrigation ditch.

The first thing we did was go over the equipment. Brian explained the risers, which were my connection to the wing. He showed me how I would use the “A” risers to help the wing inflate and where the B, C, & D risers attached and how their position affected the wing. He then showed me the brakes and explained how the brake lines were measured and knotted to the toggles.

Next he laid out the wing and put me into a training harness. It must have been a universal size, because when I was finally all cinched up, the left over strap material was dragging on the ground. I got the excess webbing out of the way by tying it around my waist and proceeded to learn how to hook into the wing and hold the risers for a forward launch.

There wasn’t enough wind to kite the wing so we spent the morning practicing forward launch techniques. I would lay out the wing; clear the lines, and hook in to the wing. Then, I would put the A riser d-rings between my thumb and forefinger and drape the rest of the risers over my arms. Brian would then position me so that I would be able to start my and run and take a few steps while the lines were still slack. The idea being that my inertia would pop the wing up quickly. I’d take one last look to see all the lines were clear and that the risers were correct, then, look at the windsock to make sure my heading was right, raise my arms to the ten and two o’clock position and start my take-off run.

Sometimes inflation would be perfect and the wing would come up straight and fly overhead, while I stumbled as fast as I could through the weeds. I was surprised by how much resistance the wing created, both during the initial inflation and even, (but to a lesser extent), when fully up and overhead. All the forward momentum I’d built up in a couple of steps was gone as soon as the lines became taunt. So I would pull and claw for 4 or 5 steps until the glider was flying. Once the wing was fully up, I could run a little better but the aerodynamic resistance from above and slightly behind prevented me from exceeding anything faster than a trot. On grass it would have been smoother but I don’t think it would have been any faster.

Occasionally the glider would come up crooked and when that happened; I would try to get back under the center of the wing to equalize the load and get it flying straight overhead. The main thing is to keep moving forward. It would have helped if I’d had some experience with broken field running, but the more I practiced the easer it got. Later when a light breeze came up I learned that if I wasn’t dead into the wind and putting equal pressure on the “A’s” the wing was guaranteed to come up crooked with one side higher than the other. Another challenge was trying to make longer and smoother strides. I was having trouble because my choppy running style was causing the wing to bounce which disturbed the airflow over the top of the wing. I knew that later when I was “doing it for real”, the smoother my run, the quicker I would reach take off speed. When I had enough Brian and I took a break. We watched several PPG videos including Parastars, Paratoys and Risk and Reward which is an excellent video for new pilots, it features William Shatner and covers a wide range of topics every pilots must understand. We talked about risk management and some of the dos and don’ts and eventually got around to equipment. My selections were limited because of my height and weight, there some 100cc motors which would put out adequate thrust but only a few companies were making frames that would be small enough for me to carry. On Brian’s recommendation, I selected a “SuziCruiser” frame made by Skycruiser with MacPara 24meter Eden III wing powered by a Snap 100 motor made by Cisco in Italy.

That evening I thumbed through the syllabus. It was originally written in French and the English translation was difficult and sometimes comic, but it was all I had. So… I dived in and tried to figure out all the graphs, tables and drawings that I mostly didn’t understand. Terms like longitudinal pitch and sink rate were a little intimidating but others like chord and angle of attack were familiar from sailing and their recognition gave me a bit of confidence. Full of enthusiasm, I became a sponge and spent many nights watching PPG videos, listening to PPG Radio and reading incident reports on the USPPA website.

Two weeks later Brian called and said, “Your equipment is here”, and so, I cleared my schedule and was out there the next morning. We assembled the motor and hoisted it up, using his garage door frame to support the weight. Brian’s “simulator” wasn’t sophisticated; a set of toggles and a BMX brake lever were my controls, the garage held me up and his little boy made motor noises. We practiced getting into the harness, getting out of the harness and other moves I would need while in flight. Then it was back out to the field to practice with the motor. I put the motor on my back and tried a forward. The equipment overwhelmed me. Getting into the harness was harder than I thought it should be and then dealing with the risers and a throttle… How was I going to be able to keep everything straight at once?
I was very concerned that I didn’t have enough strength to run with the weight of the motor on my back. It weighs right at 50 pounds, but it felt like 100. I could do one or two forwards, but then, had to sit and take a break. A couple of times I was able to launch the wing and run but for the most part I would blow it as soon as the wing started to resist my forward movement. I was also having trouble with my left knee. Sometimes while running it would pop out and I would either fall or drop to a crouch with the wing falling on top of me. Brian assured me that when I did a forward with the motor running it would be much easier. He explained how the thrust would help push me forward and that as I built up speed, the wing would lift the weight off my shoulders. I later learned how to adjust the harness to make the motor ride higher and closer to my back but those first several weeks were agony. I was beginning to have real doubts about my strength. At home, I was walking around the house and running on the treadmill with a weighted backpack. I was also doing some weight training and anything else I could think of to help me run with the motor.

Over the next ten weeks I alternated between driving up to Brian’s place or kiting in local fields and parks. Along the way I met some of Brian’s other students. The guy most often at the field with me was Doug, Brian’s business partner. Doug had decided to fly a trike, early in the game, due to an old knee injury. I also had knee issues and he advised me to pick-up a knee brace to prevent further damage.

I also trained with Roshana. She was a petite gal who had been driving out from Kansas on a regular basis. I was impressed that she would take a chance on good weather and drive 5 hours to get in a couple of days of instruction. I also took heart that someone lighter than I was deemed, strong enough to hoist a motor and fly. Her kiting skills were impressive; instead of using a training harness she would hold the risers and fly the wing by moving the top and bottom of the risers in opposite directions. One evening I watched her practice forwards with her motor on. Because she was light, Brian and Doug ran alongside with one hand on the harness to provide additional thrust. It was obvious that the weight of the motor was holding her back but with two strong guys pulling, the wing was lifting most of the weight and they were able to get some impressive ground speed. It was encouraging because she was definitely ready to go to the next level and I was sure that if she could get the wing inflated the motor would take care of the rest.

I also met a professional solder named Dave who was hoping to get the basics of powered paragliding down before being rotated back to Iraq. I only trained with Dave once, it was memorable because it was his first flight. Looking back it was a little spooky but I didn’t know it at the time. Brian’s field wasn’t very big and there were a few obstructions to contend with once he was in the air. On the day for Dave’s first flight, conditions looked perfect. There was just enough breeze to help with takeoff and all of us looked forward to a great first flight.

As soon as Dave left the ground he started to turn directly toward a barn and a group of trees. Brian coached him to use a little left brake to stay clear of the barn but he continued to head straight for it. I was blissfully ignorant but Brian let out an audible breath of relief when he cleared the barn by 20 feet and the trees by ten. You could tell the barn was creating some turbulence by the way the wing was moving, side to side and back and forth. Dave dropped a few feet and then started climbing. Brian must not have liked what he saw because he directed the pilot to come in and land almost immediately. Apparently the radio had failed because he flew downwind a couple of hundred yards, turned and started to fly big circles over the field. Brian tried several times to reach Dave with the radio but something must have come loose because he never did show any signs of hearing us. Eventually Brian gave up on the radio and made hand signals for him to come down. After about 30 minutes with Brian waving and trying to get Dave’s attention, he finally turned into the breeze and started to descend toward us. He was coming in a little short and I was afraid he was going to fly right into a wire fence, but at the last second he raised his legs, cleared the wire and slid in on his butt. It wasn’t pretty, but no harm was done to man or machine. I celebrated by slapping Dave’s back and congratulating him on his first flight. Dave was completely unfazed and ready to go again.

I searched far and wide for good places to practice. Anytime I could duck out of work, no wind or too much wind, I was out there, practicing my kiting. Suburban parks looked great but I soon learned that the trees around most parks create rotors that would collapse the wing without warning. Even thought it was easy to run on well maintained grass, I needed wide open spaces to get clear air. One time, I tried some ground handling at the top of Ruby Hill which is a large park with a great hill overlooking Denver. I think the sight of the city stretching out below attracted me and I can’t say for sure, but was probably considering of the possibility of doing a sled ride / flight down Ruby Hill. Common sense prevailed though, because the first time I kited the wing, the upslope lift spooked me and I never went back.

My first experience in the air was at the Aurora Air Park, east of Denver. After kiting awhile Brian decided I was ready for my first tow. He clipped me to a length of nylon line and I’ve never seen this done before or since, but… Brian pulled me into the air, with him acting as the winch and me running a forward launch. I probably wasn’t more then 10 or 15 feet up but it felt high and watching Brian below pulling on the tow line made me feel even higher. The whole experience probably only lasted forty five seconds but after a lot of time on the ground I’d finally got a taste of flight and it was sweet.

When the wind was over 3 or 4 knots I would inflate the wing using what is called the reverse launch. You lay out the wing in the same way as a forward but face the wing and step backwards to start the inflation. Once the leading edge is a couple of feet up, the wind finishes the job. Then, when it is overhead and stable you turn toward the direction of the breeze and start the take off run. I was having a terrible time routing my brakes so that when I turned, the brake was on the outside of the risers and free of tangles. Sometimes it worked and other times I would get the wing up and have to flail with one hand to free the brake line, which had threaded through or around the risers. Adding the throttle to one hand just seemed to complicate the problem. I couldn’t consistently do it and was doubly frustrated when Brian could take one look and have it set up for me in a second. It was months before I could set up for a reverse with confidence.

In late October we met at the Aurora Air Park

Brian strapped on my motor and checked the conditions. There was a light but steady breeze from the east. Brian was grinning from ear to ear and claimed that it was, “smooth as butter”. Now it was my turn so I strapped in and set-up for a reverse. The wing came up nicely but when I squeezed the throttle to add thrust the motor bogged and died. I’ll never forget standing there, with a perfectly stable wing overhead, watching the moon rise while Brian pulled several times on the starter cord. When the wing collapsed I unhooked and started it back up, it died as soon as I tried to run it up.
Two-stroke motors were unknown territory and my little Snap 100 had its share of peculiarities to be discovered. The way it would bog down during rapid acceleration was probably the biggest hassle and it wasn’t until much later that I finally learned how to tune the carburetor so that I could hammer the throttle when I needed it. That October the problem was still a mystery, the motor died when I needed it most, and all we could say was, “Well…it is what it is”. That evening I coined a new term while updating my training log, NFD, it is short for, No Fly Day and it might be used because of bad weather or equipment failure or attitude or just because I just couldn’t get into the air. That memorable evening was the first, but not the last… “NO FLY DAY”.

My second attempt wasn’t any better; Brian and I were at the Airpark at dawn. We launched a pilot balloon and saw that there was a light but steady ground wind which increased to about 10 or 15 mph at 300 feet. It was marginal, but flyable. The take off would have me running down a slight grade which made me happy. I set up for a forward and took off running. The wing came up straight and I could tell it was bouncing with each step but I could also tell it was getting faster and the motor was getting lighter. Then I pulled the classic newbie blunder, just as the weight of the motor was gone and I started being lifted I allowed myself to be scooped into the harness. Instead of running into the sky, I jumped into my seat. For a couple of seconds I was flying but almost immediately started to drift back down. I was moving forward at a pretty good clip and it looked like if I touched down I would do a long slide… face forward, so I lifted my legs. It delayed the inevitable but only for a couple of seconds and then, I came down on my seat. I heard the prop cutting through the high weeds just before it struck the earth and shattered. I had been so close I could taste it. My hopes for the day were dashed but I knew that as soon as I got a new prop it was going to happen. Leon Wacker at Paracruiser was great about rushing me a replacement but the way I was feeling, even “Next Day” wouldn’t have been fast enough.