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.

Outside Albuquerque on the way to the sea

Brian crashes & John has an Epic Flight

The Albuquerque site was on the top of a small ridge overlooking the high desert plain with a midsize Butte about 3 miles west. When we got there Brian and Bo immediately suited up and went for a flight. The terrain was very rocky with lots of scrub, but I’d seen how Brian was able to run around or jump most of the obstructions and I figured that if I was careful so could I. Wrong…After three attempts in the light air, I had only succeeded in twisting my knee and tangling my lines. Either I stumbled and dropped to one knee or failed to get a good inflation. Try as I might, I could not get enough forward speed for take-off. I knew that if I really torqued the knee, I would be grounded for the rest of the trip, so I decided to quit and save myself for an easier launch site. My knee seemed ok but it was starting to swell and I knew I would be limping in the morning. I put on the knee brace and hoped for the best.

Doug also tried to launch but crashed his trike when he caught a line in a bush just as he started to rotate into the air. Luckily he wasn’t hurt, he did brake a prop, cut one of the glider’s lines and shattered his airbox. He was able to splice the broken line to get it flyable. The propeller wasn’t a problem because we all carried an extra prop but the airbox was totaled and his only hope was to find a replacement at the fly-in. While Doug and I were struggling on the ground Brian, John and Bo were exploring the territory and generally doing what every 12 year old boy dreams about. I’ll never forget Brian’s landing. He wanted to get in close but misjudged his approach and was about to crash into the trucks. Only by pulling some early brake and extreme athleticism at touch down was he able to pull off a two-point landing that flew him over one truck and dropped him between the two other vehicles. Of course he laughed off the whole thing but we both knew he had dodged a bullet. That night we sat in Brian’s pop up camper ate, drank and told hanger stories until it was time for bed.

High altitude and clear skies made for a very cold sunrise. Since I wasn’t going to try another launch at this site, I decided to sleep in. When I finally crawled out of the sleeping bag and went outside I was treated to a great view of a really spectacular flight. John Sieb was making an aerial assault on the Butte. Because we had camped up high on the ridge, the terrain between us and the butte was several hundred feet down and John was flying close to the ground. You could see him weaving through the sparce trees on the plain below. Sometimes he would swing around a clump of trees other times he would pop over them. I watched with envy as he approached the Butte and climbed until he was able to circle the top. What a sport, able to navigate in three dimensions, without going swimming! He had been in the air for a couple of hours when he returned and you could tell from his demeanor, that it had been a special flight. Sometimes when a pilot lands he is so excited that he can barely contain himself often hooping and hollering is the norm. This time was a little different because John quietly gathered up his wing and packed his motor in the truck. When I asked him about it later, he looked off in the distance and just smiled. I guess you just had to be there.

The drive from Albequere to Meteor City Arizona took us most of the day. Meteor City itself is nothing special, a trailer park and gas station with genuine imitation Indian handicrafts made in China. The crater is not part of the State or Federal Park system so we were not allowed to approach unless we wanted to join a tour and follow their guides around. We had arrived in plenty of time for a flight so John and Brian took off and explored the area. Doug’s motor was out of commission and my knee had stiffened up so we had to content ourselves with watching and wishing. The crater is a couple of miles south of the highway, from a distance it looks like a ridge, once again nothing special. I do want to come back here and try again because the pictures John brought back were pretty cool and there is a ruin on the way out that I would like to investigate. John misjudged his fuel landing short and out of gas. I was impressed though because he recognized the problem early and while he was still out by the crater climbed to a high enough altitude that he was able to glide most of the way back toward the LZ.

It was blowing pretty hard the next morning so we didn’t waste anytime getting on the road. ___hours later we were on the final leg, approaching the Salton Sea when Doug’s truck broke down. We called for a tow and left Doug at the truck while the rest of us jumped into Brian’s rig and drove the last couple of miles to the Fly-in. I saw the gliders off in the distance, there were dozens of them in the air, all going nowhere slowly. Once we had checked in a couple of the guys carried their machines down to the beach and took off. I was limping pretty badly and opted to rest my knee until the next morning. That night Brian introduced me around and wandered up to the “clubhouse” where I met Tim Russman who is the photographer/ videographer emeritus for Powered Paragliding. We chatted while he prepared his equipment for the next day. I also met Bob Peters, (a.k.a. Bubba), who had come out with his wife and a large group from the Pikes Peak PPG Club. I declined to join their sing-a-along but stayed around to enjoy the music. It was early to bed and early to rise because I was determined that the next day I would be flying!