When the Moron Speaks … Listen

Paul Anthem talks about meeting
“Monument Rotor”

Paul Anthem:

On the second morning of flying at Monument Valley in southern Utah four of us planned on flying together out to the monoliths and mesas so that professional paramotor photographer Franck Simmonet could get some photos.
“You don’t need to get close to the mesas” he said, “just stay close to me so that you are big in the frame”.
We launched into almost no wind. It could have been because we were in the wind shadow of the huge mesa beside the LZ. Whatever it was, as I flew out to the mountainous monuments, I was doomed to misjudge the winds.
The day before I had flown out to the large horse-shoe shaped area of monoliths and felt a few mild bumps when I was right in the middle and below the top of the mesas, some of which reach almost 1000 ft. Just about everyone was flying fairly close to the towering structures– but the wind was mild then.
Apparently, this day, the winds were much stronger AND I had completely misjudged the wind direction. I always stay away and above of the leeward side of any large obstruction but, as I slowly descended towards the largest mesa, I mistakenly thought I was on the windward side.
That’s when I heard Franck over the radio, “Go heighter, go heighter!” (Yes, I know it’s “higher” but he was saying “heighter”). By the time he radioed that warning I realized that I was NOT climbing very fast– in fact, I think I was sinking at full throttle.
Then, maybe 20 or 30 seconds later I felt my wing start to vibrate. This is not a very happy wing, I’m thinking. I can feel that I’m loosing brake pressure on the right side (the monolith was to my left several hundred feet). Franck and Matt are a few hundred feet above and behind me. My wing was deforming in such odd and obvious ways that it prompted Matt Witchlinski to radio his concern, “Paul, are you in some bad air ! ?”
I didn’t even try to answer. SOMETHING is going to happen soon, I thought. He had barely finished his sentence when my wing was smacked out of the air.
Now, I often play around with my wing and induce asymmetric collapses but the wing is STILL flying. This was nothing like that. My wing was batted down and folded up and I was falling instantly. It happened so fast all I had time to do was let off of the throttle and hope I didn’t fall into the wing.
The wing recovered with a few violent jerks as I checked the surge. I later learned that after seeing my predicament Franck and Matt instantly turned around to avoid the same fate– they didn’t get to see what happened next.
I’m pretty sure that Matt radioed back about ten seconds later to ask if I was alright. I didn’t answer. I was too busy concentrating and trying to control a wing that was dancing around and vibrating like I was on a drum. You know that feeling you get when you’ve vomited and you can feel it coming on again… I was waiting for it but nothing could have prepared me for the violent collapse that came next.
My wing was hit in the center and thrown back behind me and to the side. For a second I was laying back looking up at the sky. Then the balled up wing swung over to the other side and I was sideways. I dropped down and the wing swung me to the other side and on my back again. Then, next thing I know, it’s in front of me, below the horizon and smooshed up into a ball I could probably fit into my stuff sack. Well at least I can see the wing now. I drop under it again as I tense my arms in a braking position. The wing re-inflates with some rocking and surges, but thankfully, I’m flying again.
I look down and see that I still have several hundred feet of altitude. If I get hit again I might have to throw my reserve. I don’t want to do that while caught in a rotor with only jagged rocks and a cliff face below.
I don’t know if I can take another thrashing like that, I thought. I was lucky that I didn’t fall through the lines or get a major cravat… and I’m still being rocked.
I could feel that I was caught in the huge rotor- it was like a vortex. I couldn’t climb and I couldn’t get away from the monolith. The other guys had got away, maybe they can look back and see some way out. I pressed the radio button on my helmet,” I can’t get out! I’m stuck in the rotor! What should I do ?”
“Climb out”, they said.
“I can’t, it’s pushing me down!”
For a second, I considered going low but then decided that if I had another collapse like the last one that I wouldn’t recover in time. I thought about heading TOWARDS the mesa but decided that although it might get me under the down rotor, it might also suck me up and put me through the wringer again.
So I just kept at full throttle, heading away from the mesa, hands clenched on the brakes trying to keep the wing as stable as possible with every twitch and twist.
Finally, after what must have been 15 minutes, I felt the air smooth out and I started to climb again.
I headed straight back to the airport.
I had had my excitement for the day.

Paul is an accomplished pilot and the creator of the famous PPG for Morons Videos see more at:

#463 Titan

Spontaneous Aviator
My appraisal was done by 2:30 the sky had a thin skin of high clouds and it looked like it might glass off.  So.. at the last minute I decided to fly.  I hurried home, pulled on my boots and was at the field setting up 3:30.The wind was light from the south so I triked to the south end of the field and set up.  While I was going through the final checks the wind picked up freshly from the west.  I didn’t expect success but waited for a lull and gave it a try.  No Joy the wing did just as expected and came up way too crooked to attempt correcting it.  Moving to the center I reset and launched without brakes to the South West.
The air was smooth for the first 500 feet but at 600ft. I was starting to get buffeted by small puffs which could have been some rotor off the foothills.   Flying East over the big open fields I went downwind at a pretty good clip.  A couple of times I was swung fairly hard with the wing banking 30 degrees so I turned back and slowly made my way back to the field.  The throttle was not fastened as tightly as usual and it did not like going to idle so when I got to the power lines I was still at cruise and just barely penetrating.  I was actively flying the wing and didn’t want to let off brake to change the trim so I just tufted it out and took my time.  I was glad to be high when I caught some sink and dropped 50 feet before leveling off.
Below 200 ft.it was down right rowdy.  Twice I came in on final and bolted, once when I was popped up and then some serious sink had me dropping to fast for comfort.  The third try was nice. The breeze was strong and I came in at less than 10 mph and touched down as light as a feather. 

Steve Abbey flew by just after I landed, my wing came down behind ready to inflate and for about 2 seconds I considered relighting the motor and joining him.  He overflew me going East and when he turned back was parked right over my head.  I watched him slowly make his way back toward home and collected my wing.

By the time I was ready to go the winds were way beyond flyable.  I smiled at my good timing and threaded my way between the goose decoys back toward the highway.

Monument Valley 09 Friday

Friday Johnny Fetz & his “Junk Buggy”

The “Epic Flight”

The first take-off was difficult. I set-up at the North East part of the runway by the hanger. It was an uphill take off and my climb was just barely enough to overcome the the grade of the runway. I cleared the fence at the end of the runway by two feet and turned North where I skimmed the surface for 100 yards before starting to climb. The go…no go point came after lift-off when I was climbing ok, then I hit some sink and and my climb went to hell. Aborting would have been “absolutely bad”, I was committed and had to fly it out, even if I was just going to fly to the crash site. I felt sure that I that I would clear the fence but the terrain West was not a good place to touch down and I was “puckered” to the buggy for awhile. At 1200 ft. the air calmed down and I set off for the Monuments. When I arrived at “lookout point” I turned to Sentinel Mesa and made a slow turn to take some pictures. Absolutely beautiful! I could look into the Valley of the Gods to the South, across to Brigham’s Tomb to the North and back to Gouldings in the West. Later when I was back over the field I resisted landing and loitered over the field for a long time watching the activity below.
That morning and through the afternoon the whole gang showed, Jeff Goin had the top RV spot and Carlos Segnini with his crew were down the hill just south of us. Luc and the Russians were on top and Ola and Faith were in a cabin on the edge. We spent the afternoon hanging around the campsite talking PPG. It was all about Jeff’s upcoming video on Mastering PPG and John Fetz new kevlar prop, where we had flown and where we would like to go. I sat there by my tent, taking it all in and watched my wind indicator as it danced to all four points of the compass. The sky was filled with big puffy clouds that were tinged red on the bottom, reflecting the color of the earth below. It was a great relaxing afternoon.
The evening flights were bumpy but good. I launched during a calm moment between the puffs and only flew for a short time staying close to the LZ. Anyway, it was much more entertaining at the airstrip. Chad was demonstrating the his new ultralite wing, it weighs 5 pounds and kites like nothing I’ve ever seen. Chad was playing it up big, strolling around and occasionally reaching out to tug on a riser making like he wasn’t paying any attention to the wing at all. The hook-in is designed low and the risers are very different, like braided kevlar lines rather than conventional webbing with mallions. I would have loved to fly it but it’s far too small for my rig.

Toward the end we had some excitement, one trike was flipped launching in a puff and another fellow got dumped when he was whacked coming in on final with power off landing. The last part of the video was Beery getting dumped by a rotor at the same place I had a hard time climbing out.


Video by Fait Wesstrom

Other pilots showed considerable skill and patience waiting for the right moment to set down. I was really impressed by Perry Molter who made several passes before he committed and landed on the runway with an amazingly clean and swift flare. There was other carnage that I didn’t see, but heard about later. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt for which I’m thankful. Much like last year, the LZ was a free for all, but everybody seemed to be a bit more aware of the conditions and respected the site.

That evening Johnny and I shared dinner, his shredded pork and my Italian sausage, it was “wolf camping” at its best. Several of us sat around the campfire talking propeller design. Csaba Lemak of Electric PPG fame joined us and talked about some new products he is working on including a high quality composite prop that could be produced for a fraction of current manufacturing costs. Ivan kept things light trading jabs with Stann Honey and Mark Latham. Mark seems to be a much happier and healthier guy than the last time I saw him. I enjoyed his story of flying a glider up to 24,000ft riding the mountain wave.

I saw God Today #350 & #351 Chatfield

Lucky guy

Intermediate syndrome is an affliction that usually affects a pilot after 40 or 50 flights, or whenever they first start to feel good about their abilities.

It’s characterized by over confidence in both man and machine and it usually leads to a blunder that endangers life. It could present itself in any number of ways… an error in judgement, or a bad reaction to Mother Nature. It might be technique or a mechanical issue. Whatever the cause, if the pilot survives the incident…he should think real hard about either quitting or redoubling his efforts to improve.

It might be time to go to a maneuvers clinic or have some quality radio time with a good coach. It’s absolutely a good day to go over the machine and wing with a fine tooth comb.

Optimistically, there is an epiphany that stays with the pilot for the rest of their career, because on that day… the bag of luck is now half empty and the bag of experience is not yet full.

When I realized that my life was being supported by a glorified key

chain and some thin 1/2 inch webbing…

I thanked the Creator that I was still alive.

Then I looked for the best way,

to proceed to earth…

as directly as possible.

I’m still shaking my head trying to figure out how it happened.I attached the riser on the left side to the cheap plastic beaner that I use for the foot steering instead of connecting to the heavy stainless beaner that ties the wing to the buggy. I didn’t realize my mistake until I noticed that the foot steering cable was pressing against my left side. When I saw that the rig was being supported by a glorified key chain and thin 1/2 inch webbing…I couldn’t believe that I was still alive. Not only was the beaner unrated and not designed to carry a load, the loop it was attached to was loaded against the stitching. There were two places where a failure was imminent. Looking at the materials it should have failed when I loaded the wing before take-off …and… I wish it had. It would have been more dramatic and made a bigger impression but it wouldn’t have killed me. As it was a non-incident, I hope that the magnitude of the error sticks with me.

I had to get down …right now! I was 400 feet AGL and about the correct distance to glide back to the field, so I did a slow flat turn toward the field and landed without incident.

What were the causes that lead to this huge goof ?

1. I had switched to the Eden III which does not require the extra loop of webbing to get the hangpoint right. When it is configured this way the hangpoint loops are not long enough to reach the normal keeper on the bullet bars. So…I end up attaching the beaner to a loop on the foot steering for transport.

2. I must not have had enough coffee because it is almost impossible to imagine an alert mind attaching a plastic carabiner to the riser. It is so much more difficult to thread the correct carabiner that it should have set off alarms when that slim plastic beaner tip slipped through the loop so easily. The length was about right and when I pulled on the riser to take out any slack, it pulled the hangpoint loop just as if it were correctly attached.

I thought perhaps I should move the foot steering forward on the bullet bars to get them away from the hang point straps, but I don’t think I’ll do that. Having the webbing behind my shoulders is cleaner and I doubt I’ll ever look at the foot steering again without remembering the day I hung from a cheap 2 inch plastic carabiner.

This is the first real stupid mistake I’ve made in PPG and certainly the first one that endangered my life! I was deeply affected by the experience, and it was heavy on my mind for several days. I will strive to learn from this and be a more responsible pilot.

I vote for better pilot.

#348 & #349 Chatfield

This was an evening that just didn’t gel.

Conditions were good, light winds warm temp. It looked to be a perfect evening but I wasn’t comfortable in the air. My first launch looked like hell. As soon as I left the earth, the wing ( 28m Eden III ), was pulled hard to the left and then to the right. As I gained altitude it got bumpier and after a few laps around the field I landed. The second flight was a repeat of the first. I got the impression that no matter where I went …it was going to be turbulent.
Greg and Marek on the other hand stayed below 100 feet and they found the air to be just fine. I watched Greg yank and bank, practice swoops and dives and I just couldn’t figure why I found it to be so ratty.
The gradient had me beat.

#328 Simms

The low pressure is gone and we are enjoying a couple of days of “High Pressure System” Bliss. At 6:00am the wind was too high to fly but it came down nicely while I set up. Simms has dried out and there are patches where the grass/weeds are low enough to launch the trike.

The launch was allot like last night, I got up to speed and used a little brake to get me out of the weeds. Of course, when I do this I’m going to float at 5 feet for awhile before I start climbing. This time was no different except that I felt an obvious pull to the left. When I looked up there was a fairly large tumble weed caught in the lines, up high, near the left tip. I have no idea where it came from. I’d policed the area and relocated several large twigs during set up but somehow it found it’s way into my flight. I couldn’t tell for sure but it looked like it was distorting the lines and possibly drawing a few together. I noticed a slight pucker in the airfoil and that was enough to convince me to abort the flight.

The air was moderately bumpy, but I still took two laps before landing. The landings are getting better. I just have to really muscle the brake during the final flare.