#449 Snowflake

Today was supposed to be the day that Dan Kamisar resumed flight so the bunch of us agreed to meet at Snowflake by the crack of 9am. 

I had planned to get up extra early and fly Titan then head out to Snowflake but common sense prevailed and I found myself setting up at Snowflake well before dawn.  I only had the aft strobe working but I figured that I would be able to see any oncoming traffic.  I set-up in the dark and launched as soon as there was enough light to make an emergency landing The wind was very light out of the WSW almost in line with the SW runway but not exactly.  The first attempt was aborted when the wing fell off to the right because I tried to steer it onto the runway a little too soon. I re-set without all the micro alignments and launched.  I had to use some brake to get up because there wasn’t allot of nice runway to work with and I think the brake input I was using to steer the wing helped.

Climbing to 600 feet the the air started to get rowdy, (about a 3 on the bump scale) and the winds were 15 mph pulsing to 20.  Even so…it was a good flight… I tolerated the mixing air and practiced modulating the motor.  It comes up slow but smoothly and I’m beginning to get comfortable flying low again.  It’s interesting that I was moving back and forth between the upper and lower toggles, I didn’t notice any back pain and the wing absolutely feels better with the top toggle or when the trimmers are out…the bottom.  An hour after launch the gang started to arrive and when I landed everybody except Dan was setting up.  Apparently he was still having some issues with his new rig and opted out.  I landed a little after 8am, the winds had picked up but were still manageable. 

John Sieb, Paul Dillon and Mike flew while I watched with the new trike pilot Doug Michell.  He is taking it slowly and planned to taxi rather than fly this morning.  John went high and away while Mike stayed low and did the yank and bank boogie.

netting eater

Paul Dillon landed out when his netting got caught in the prop.  It stripped the netting off clean with no damage to the cage but it did wind up in the hub and kill the engine.  The best thing about Snowflake is the whole area is an emergency LZ… Paul landed without incident.

Paul Dillon

The winds continued to build, pulsing to 12 mph so we stood around and chatted. till a little after 11am.
Dan …Sorry you couldn’t make it but it might have been for the best.  I’m sure you want your first flight after the incident to be a cakewalk.

Whats Freakin Wrong with Me?

It seems like ever since the troubles began it has affected my ability to focus.  I have made one rookie mistake after another and while I have avoided hurting myself… it has been expensive.
This morning was another expensive and disapointing day. 

I allowed my left brake line to catch the prop.  It was a couple of seconds after I started the motor so I’m assuming that I had rolled the maching back too far after layout and the prop wash drew it in..  Listening to World PPG talking about trikes I remembered Jeff saying it was a good idea to give it some slack so the machine could get rolling before the wing started to inflate.   Bob Armond’s position is to have no slack and I have seen other pilots actually build a wall and get into the machine with the wing holding the trike back with the prop wash.  Possibly because of the huge cage and prop, slack lines might not be a good idea with the Falcon.  During layout I made it a point to position the lines out and away.  Something must have changed.

Anyway the wing was sucked into the machine and before it wound down I cut the wing in three places, severed the brake line and by some fluke popped a plug on the gas tank and doused a portion of the wing in in gas.

It sucks to be me this morning…

Another No Fly Day

I was at the field at 6:15am.  I set-up to launch WSW which would give me about 50 feet of smooth surface before getting into the weeds.  I figured that I would be ready to launch by the time I got there.  NOT…! 
When I inflated the wing wanted to go more south than planned, when I got to the weeds there was a bump and I did not have enough speed to launch.  I left the ground for just a second and banged down hard.  I had shades of the big roll over and aborted.  The wing came down right on top of me and some of the lines got around the prop hub but just barely … there was no damage. 

Back at the truck I did an extensive “post flight” and discovered that the fiberglass rods had sagged and there was barely enough clearance on the right side for the wheel to clear the gas tank mount.  I probably could have tried for another launch but decided not to chance it.  The Colorado Balloon Fest is coming up and I want the machine to be in good shape.  Terry is sending me new springer rods Monday.

The replacements were three inches short but it should work fine.

Bubba’s High Altitude Fly-In

I’ve been home from Bubba’s Event for almost a month but for a number of personal reasons I haven’t posted my report.  In a nutshell I had two good flights and one spectacular crash with minor equipment damage and no injuries.  For a complete report on the Fly-In, see Mike Bennetts Blog.  He picked up the ball and has written a very comprehensive post.     http://mbppg.com/info/bubba.html 

After two successful albeit fast launches I rolled the Falcon. 
The irony is within this You Tube Video

As with most incidents there were several things that contributed to the mishap.  Here is the way I remember it.  The first two launches with Mike’s 30 meter Eden III were fast.  In both cases I took off and touched down again before getting off.  In both cases I floated for a couple hundred yards before starting to climb.  Once up, the flight and landing was pretty standard.  Flight speed was around 32mph and my climb was about 125 feet/min.

On my last launch I touched twice and on the second touch I came down crooked with the trike contacting the ground with the front and right rear wheel.  The trike flipped and rolled once landing on the wheels, I was then ejected to the right in the opposite direction of the roll.  I immediately turned off the motor but not before it damaged the wing. Here are some of the things I did wrong:
1) I did not fasten the seat belt.   This is not a common mistake for me but I have done it twice… both times with witnesses.  It was fortunate that I was able to stay with the machine during the roll…  One effect of not being belted in was that when I hit a bump and got bounced, I lost contact with the right steering peg.  It could have caused the cart to turn so that when I did get lifted the thrust was out of alignment with the wing.
2) Once the wing came up and stabilized I didn’t check it again.   After the first touch the wing started an oscillation, which unknown to me, got progressively worse as I accelerated.  I lost situational awareness as to what my wing was doing relative to the trike.   HUGE MISTAKE !
3) I did not abort or reduce throttle after the first touch.  Despite the fact that the launch was obviously going bad I stayed on the throttle when I should have aborted or reduced power and stabilized.  The first thing Bubba asked me was … “Did your throttle get stuck.  It is very telling that I thought I could salvage the launch right up until the trike started to roll.  Looking back I my head wasn’t in it.  The weather wasn’t expected to be flyable and going out to the field was a last minute decision.  I rushed to get ready and like my last post “Rush and Pay the Piper”,  BOY DID I !
4)  The front wheel on the Falcon was bent and not appropriate for the terrain and speed required for lift-off.  The guys pointed out my bent front wheel when I first arrived.  It must have suffered from some of my lurching launches at Simms when the trike is rolling full speed over a bumpy surface.  This might have also contributed to the reason I didn’t abort.  The Falcon does not handle high speed taxiing as well as the Trike Buggy did … it was a little like trying to foot launch in no wind or down wind … It felt too fast to abort, and if that were the case I shouldn’t have tried to launch.. 
Looking back … I was an accident looking for a place to happen.  I was rushing to get up and in the wrong frame of mind to be flying.  My previous two flights were successful but my head was not in the game and it was dumb luck that prevented serious injury.

Time to take a break from flying.

Here are a series of pictures that Shelia Boulten took … See if you can follow the sequence.

Good inflation
Still good gaining speed
Bumpy ground
foot off peg
Emergency take off
Back down …foot off peg
Emergency take off
two point touch down
Trike is 100 degrees off course
Trike is 180 degrees off course and rolling
back on wheels / pilot is ejected
Turns off motor
Here is a link to Mike’s photos of the repair
Mike Bennetts’s Video

Rush things and Pay the Piper

I met Marek at Simms at 7:30. There was a cop at the gate who told me “no motorized vehicles allowed”. He was cool about it though and overlooked the motor on the machine I agreed to park outside and push the machine into the field. There was no wind at all, so I set up right at the entrance and was going to use the road to launch. we were both in a rush to get airborne and I really didn’t spend enough time scoping out the site or laying out the wing. I didn’t build a wall with the motor and the surface was filled with fist sized rocks and mud nobs to grab the lines.

The wing came up crooked probably because a line got caught and instead of aborting like I should have, I tried to save it. The left tip caught a piece of steel fence post that was hidden in a patch of weeds and tore the wing pretty badly. The tip is torn and some panels are going to have to be replaced. I’ll give the wing to Michelle at Bubba’s and let her determine if it is worth repairing. I won’t be surprised if she declares it dead because between Monte and I there are probably 350 to 400 hours on the wing. Maybe it’s a good thing…it was time.

If I’d looked the area over better I would have seen the post and maybe set up differently. Doesn’t matter… the wing is out for several weeks.

1. If I had used the motor to build a wall … I think the lines would have been above the surface and I’d have had a good inflation.
2. I could have laid out the wing better
3. Don’t rush it !

#405 #406

First Flight I launched with the Eden III for the first time at altitude using the Falcon. I’d routed the brake lines through the Hang point loops and didn’t like the feel…(too much friction)… so landed quickly. When I went to relaunch I must have been careless because a line went into the prop during inflation and band that was it for the Eden until I replace some lines.

Relaunched with the PowerPlay Sting 250 and had a nice flight. Below Marak was practicing takeoff and landing.

That afternoon Chip and Sean climbed the hills west of the house and did some free flight I went out to the boat and work on getting it livable. The offer for an electric slip is enticing.

Bill & Joe’s Excellent Adventure Day 5

0200 hours What a night! I was sitting on one of the director chairs trying to read but the seas were so active that my chair I was sliding all over the deck.

At some point I slid over by the starboard wheel and wedged my foot into the helmsman seat to hold position and noticed that there was a strange clicking noise coming from the wheel. The auto helm was working hard to keep the boat on course, it was constantly in motion, turning the wheel 90 degrees and more and while I was watching, it failed. I could hear the electric motor trying but the wheel wasn’t moving. I disengaged the clutch and took over to prevent a crash jib.

When Bill came up he knew right away that the problem was the belt drive had failed and the only fix was to tear down the mechanism and replace the belt. He was sure there was a replacement onboard but it took an hour of digging through every locker and lazerette on the port hull to find it. I was hanging upside down with a flashlight in my mouth looking for something I’d never actually seen. Eventually I found it on my second sweep of the lockers. Bill took off the wheel and thirty minutes later we were back in business. Bill stayed on deck and I went below. This time I dreamed one that would have made Federico Fellini proud, featuring George W and the entire cast of the Nutcracker Suite with lots of kids all running around the Governor’s mansion. Got to love those trip dreams!

1000 hours It’s all good …Bill and I are listening to the Beatles White Album and I was marveling at our skill repairing in the auto helm after dark in a rocking boat. Bill pulled two watches letting me sleep so I was feeling rested and ready. He suggested we watch the new Star Trek Move and we were just getting into it when the 4th equipment failure happened. Captain Kirk had just ordered up a full salvo of Photon Torpedoes when, CRACK… the main traveler car exploded.

The large triple sheave block went flying to port and we were lucky not to be sitting at the helm or one was could have been injured. Bill jumped up and grabbed the block and secured the main keeping it from getting caught up in the stays.

We first tried to attach the block to the car using 5000 lb. test spectra but it didn’t take long to see that the steel straps we tied into were perfect for handling a vertical load but not the horizontal load from the main sail. After rummaging through all the hardware we could find and scratching and thinking, Bill came up with a working fix. There were two heavy duty eyepads used to lift the hull during transport located 12 inches on either side of the traveler track. Using the spinnaker sheet, the old main sheet, and several large single blocks we fashioned a way to trim the main that also served as a vang and preventer when going downwind. It added a couple of steps while tacking but it worked perfectly. Another triumph for the dynamic duo!

While we were working on the rigging a U.S. Coast Guard plane did a fly-bye from the south east, 40 minutes later he returned on the way back to Puerto Rico and hailed us on channel 16. He wanted to know… who we were? … where we had come from and where we were going? Did we have any firearms on board and what was the reason for our trip? Now we were in the system … Homeland Security had plugged us into their computer and they had a pretty good idea when we should arrive in Key West.

1900 hours Both of us took long naps during the afternoon. I’m feeling a little beat up with sore muscles but thats a good thing. No Pain No Gain … Right?

Day #5 Saturday #383 #384 #385 #386

Got up early, showered, had breakfast and was at the field by 8. The launch was a little feisty and I soon realized that my right brake pulley had wrapped between the C and D mallons. It was just barely reachable without taking off the seat belt and I struggled to free it for 5 minutes. Finally I managed to get the toggle up and between the lines. It looked mostly clear and I should be able to free it with one pull. NOT…. When I pulled, it added one more wrap to the tangle and dashed my hopes of clearing the brake lines. Since I was able to reach the brake pulley, I still had control but it wasn’t enough for a good flare and certainly no fun. It was time to land. To make up for the lack of flare authority I used power to reduce the glide and landed clean.The next flight was short as well because the wind had picked up and it was moderately bumpy. This machine is much more comfortable in the bumps but I didn’t know if it was going to get worse so I flew a couple of miles up wind and when it got hard to penetrate, I turned back and landed. At the last second the wind picked up and shifted to the west. During the final 100 feet I slipped 20 feet to the left and touched down off the mark. It looked bad because 5 more feet to the left and I would have landed on another fellow’s wing…but fortunately…no incident today!

This year we had a National Points Competition which consisted of a cloverleaf and spot landing. This may be the only competition of the year and the winners will accumulate points to qualify them for the international events later.

Chad wins with the Mini Plane

I spoke too soon… First PM launch… I turtle’d.

Rocket Boy

The Eden III fell back into the prop wash and pulled the trike back. Gawd I hate being in the field in the “Rocket Boy” launch position! I had trouble staying on the A’s yesterday too and this was bound to happen sooner or later. Fortunately I’d managed to kill the motor but not before some good sized chunks were taken out of the prop. I knew there was no hope of finding 66 inch GSC blades so I went off in search of prop repair. An outfit from Washington State was advertising but they deferred to John Fetz who appreciated the work. With three tubes of super glue and several tablespoons of baking soda Johnny had the blades flyable in less than an hour.
What a Guy!

After putting the prop back on and spinning it up to make sure the balance was acceptable, I rolled the rig back to the field for another try. This launch was another disaster. The wing came up to the left and once again, I was pouring on the power. The wind was blowing hard enough to roll me 270 degrees. Michael Purdy made a point of coming up to tell me that I deserved style points for such a dramatic roll. The EMT’s who had been standing by all weekend came running out to the crash site and were very disappointed when they found that the only injury was to my pride. It’s bad enough when you are all alone but to screw up so badly in front of the whole community really humbling. I know there is one pilot from the club formerly known as the Sod Flyers who got a chuckle.
I inspected the Falcon and was surprised and delighted that it was not damaged. The cage was still perfectly round and there was no evidence of stress to any of the welds or tubing. I had to look hard to find a place where the paint was scratched. As official crash test dummy I’d demonstrated the Falcon’s durability. As official dummy… I was feeling pretty low. Terry designed a great machine…Now I had to prove that I deserved to fly it.
I took a half hour to collect my thoughts …
I’d had over 100 flights on the Thumper without this problem…so what was different? POWER! The Falcon had 30% more horsepower and a lot more prop. Plus, I was 200 feet below sea level instead of 5500 feet above. I was letting the motor come up to full power when I should have used a burst to get the wing inflated and start the trike rolling, then back off while I sorted out the wing and got it stable overhead. Also when I looked into the mirror, I saw the wing centered, what I didn’t know was that the wing was not stable it was oscillating and my split second glance at the mirror was really just a freeze frame of the wing passing through the mirror on it’s was to the other side. This time, I was determined to make use of the Falcon’s great visibility and instead of looking at the mirror I would look back and watch the wing directly.It worked just fine. I took my time, backed off the power after the initial burst and craned my neck to watch the wing all the way up. Instead of mashing the throttle I brought it up to 60% and held it until the front wheel lifted. MUCH BETTER! Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke I landed and did it again.

That evening was the banquet, I had found a wrist band earlier in the day and gave it to John so he was able to join us. We sat with Eric & Elizabeth Dufour and Luc Trepanier and his gang. I wish it had been a little less noisy because Elisabeth and I were starting to have a nice conversation and it just got too loud to hear each other so we shrugged, smiled and moved on.

Paul Anthem and Michelle Danielle were the MC’s. Paul was in “Moron Mode” with bad fart jokes but Michelle saved the day with grace and talent. Bob Armond said a few words and Mike Robinson made an appearance as PPG MAN. Jeff Goin announced the winners of the competition, of course Chad Bastian won every event including the 10 mile race to the “Rock Pile”.

The highlight of the evening was when Michelle won the grand prize…a new Paratoys Wing. While waiting in the buffet line I spoke with Eric Dufour who coached me to slow down… “ You never need to rush a takeoff. You have a great machine …just take your time.” I wish it had been a little less noisy because Elisabeth and I were starting to have a nice conversation and it just got too loud to hear each other so we both shrugged, smiled and moved on.

After the banquet

I searched out the hot tub and soaked,

it was just the thing for a

semi-professional crash test dummy.

Monument Valley 09 Saturday

Mo made it in late last night and gave the briefing…thanks Mo…

Conditions were wonderful, light breezes made for easy take-offs. I launched from halfway down the runway to avoid yesterday’s mistake…and I switched to the PowerPlay Sting. What a difference! The climb was much better; I locked the throttle at 80%, hooked up the foot steering and headed over to the park. The rig was climbing at 130 ft/min and with a strong tailwind …moving fast. I figured that if I had a hard time penetrating on the way home, I would go low and if that wasn’t enough, I could land out and hitch a ride back.

Jeff and the Boys (Ivan Mo Uri Mark)

Photo by Faith Wesstrom
There were wings all over the place, some were heading into the valley and others were coming from the North after visiting the seven sisters and possibly rounding Brigham’s Tomb. After clearing Gouldings, I flew south along the highway and crossed over Wetherill Mesa into the Valley of the Gods, three miles south of the visitors center. It was spectacular. I was surrounded by a labyrinth of massive buttes and delicate spires towering a thousand feet above the desert floor. After doing a couple of big slow circles I turned North past the Camel and Elephant Buttes until I reached the West Mitten where I turned back towards Gouldings. At 2500AGL the best speed was 5 mph at 2000AGL it was up to 10mph and at 500ft I was clipping along at 18mph.

Photo by Faith Wesstrom

When I got back to the field there was a plane circling the LZ waiting for everybody to clear the runway. I positioned myself at 500 ft just north of the airstrip so that I would be well inside of the flight pattern and out of the way. There was a truck sitting right in the middle and I was hoping that he knew there was a plane waiting to land. It took entirely too long, with the foot steering engaged and the throttle set to cruise I circled for at least 15 minutes. Eventually the runway was cleared and I landed with a long low and slow run up the runway. This was the best flight so far.

Photo by Faith Wesstrom

After Lunch a bunch of us piled into the pick-up and went for a tour of Navajo Tribal Park. We had a great time stopping at the various outlooks and pointing out places where we had been and planned to go and taking the obligatory,“We were there”, pictures. All of us agreed that the monuments looked allot bigger from the ground but scarier from the air. I was astounded when Jeff told me that he was anxious flying close to these massive and unchanging structures because I felt the same way. We both knew that they couldn’t “suck you in” but at the same time it took force of will to fly right up to the wall of something so huge and unsympathetic.

Csaba Lemak

Seeing the monuments from the ground was a real eye opener. For one thing, I realized that if I were ever forced to make an emergency landing, I had better be able to glide to a road, because it would be almost impossible find smooth patch amidst all the skree. Not to mention the difficulty in pushing the Rig to a place where I could be picked up.

Faith and Ola Wesstrom

That evening we met at Gouldings for the Big Dinner.

Into the truck and down the hill we went. Ola looked very comfortable sitting in the buggy and Faith was riding shotgun as the token lady but I worried that I was going to lose either Ivan or Uri off the back, fortunately I remembered the speed bumps and we made it without incident. At dinner I had the ribs which I wish I’d tried sooner because it was by far the best dish on the menu. Sitting with Johnny Fetz, Chad and Greg Bishop, we talked about next year and things we wanted to do. I really hadn’t thought about “non-organizing” it again but listening to the gang …it sounds like allot of people are talking about coming back and doing it again.
After the meal I got up and said a very few words, thanking everybody and inviting them to come back next year. Someday I’m going to surprise them and prepare a real speech but for now the minimalist thing was working for me. One thing for sure it was much more satisfying that the last time when I had a pilot down and no one knew his condition.
After dinner we hung for about an hour and told hanger stories. It was a hoot to see Jeff sitting with John Black and Mo. The atmosphere was celebratory, just about everyone got one “EPIC” flight and no one was injured.
Eventually it broke up into lots of little parties. I made the rounds and visited a couple of them; the campfire discussion was in full swing with Russ, Faith, Ola, Ivan, Johnny, Uri, Chad and a few others. Tonight’s topic was wing design, what’s new, what’s being developed… and… Government interference in the Ultraflight World, the good bad and ugly. Russ had an abundance of firewood so the fire was high and accommodated the large group nicely.

Down at the Bachelor’s Quarters there was a rowdy game of Texas hold-em. Csaba and John Black were going at it hard and heavy while the guys who had donated to the cause looked on with great big smiles. The happiest guy was Jim King who had seen god earlier in the day when he got pinned to the earth by a running paramotor. Story is, that Jerry had fixed him a couple of Margaritas before dinner and he was feeling no pain. At Bob’s RV the “Acro Film Festival” was winding down. I was almost bowled over by Ivan when he staggered out of the RV… heading to bed…too tuckered for any more carousing.

Monument Valley 09 Wed


I left Denver at 10am and arrived at Monument Valley just at dark. I could have been there sooner except that I stopped to catch up with Steve Katers in Glenwood Springs. Ten years of making this drive representing the bike industry has made it hard to just power drive straight on through, there are just too many friends to catch up with! The mountains are spectacular, Indian summer is happening all over ! It’s dry and warm and colorful! Luc and my Russian friend “Crazy” Ivan, were already set-up at the upper tent site. Luc had fixed some pasta for himself and his father and graciously shared it with me. My favorite place overlooking the “Big Indian”was open… so I backed the truck between two Greek Olive trees to unload. When I was backing in, Luc shouted “Joe is the first pilot in the trees”. I didn’t understand at the time and thought he was making a joke, but later… when I was covering the buggy for the night, I discovered that I had caught the cage on a branch and bent it pretty badly. The buggy wasn’t flyable. I was heartbroken and spent the night thinking I was grounded for the duration of the Fly-In.