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!

First Salton Sea Fly-In

Salton Sea

I’m told the Salton Sea is the largest inland body of water in California. It’s certainly one of the most toxic. They say it will eat the gel coat off a boat hull in a week and I believe it. Not good for boating or fishing, no seaside sunbathers or palatial summer homes. There is only one thing the Salton Sea is good for and that’s …Flying.

Smooth laminar off shore breezes make it one of the premiere PPG sites in America and every February, pilots from all over the world come together to attend the Paratoys Fly-In. With four flights under my belt I figured I was ready and joined up with Brian, Doug and John Sieb to convoy down for the “Big Fly-in”. I was excited to meet all the guys I’d been listening to on the Internet podcasts and looking forward to the easy takeoffs we would have in the thick air two hundred feet below sea level. The plan was to drive to Albuquerque, fly that evening, campout and fly again in the morning. Then go southwest to the meteor crater in Arizona and fly it the second night. The next day we would push on to the Salton Sea hoping to get there in time for an evening flight.

Somewhere by Pueblo we hooked up with Ranger Bo. Ranger Bo is a hoot. Six-foot plus with a perpetual grin. He wears a ‘ZZ Top’ styled beard has unruly long hair and wild man eyes. Bo radiates good will, he is the kind of guy that the first minute you meet, you just know, here is guy who will give you the shirt off his back and be a friend for life. Bo had hung up his spurs after twenty years as an army paratrooper and later as a member of the elite group called rangers. He moved to Colorado with his German bride and was planning to live the rest of his life spending his pension and enjoying himself. I liked the guy immediately.
Bo flew the Airfer which was a beautiful paramotor with lots of chrome and anodized blue aluminum and he kept it clean and polished just as you expect an ex-ranger to do. He was the first pilot I’d met with a logoed wing, his said,’ RANGER BO’, in big block letters across the bottom. Gotta love it!

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 lift off. Luckily he wasn’t hurt but; he did break a prop, cut one of the glider’s lines and shattered his airbox. He was able to splice the broken line with some scrap Bo had and get the wing 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 sparse 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 Albuquerque 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. Several hours later we were on the final leg, approaching the Salton Sea when for no obvious reason, Doug’s truck broke down. We called for a tow and left Doug at the truck to wait, 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. As soon as we had checked in, John and Brian 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 I wandered up to the “clubhouse” where I met Tim Russman, the photographer/videographer emeritus for Powered Paragliding. Tim is responsible for ninety percent of the PPG movies available. I had seen just about everything he had done so we had plenty to talk about. 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!

Last Chance before the Salton Sea

1/13/06
Loveland….No Fly Day

We got to the field about 9:30am and watched Brian assemble his trike because he was having trouble with the electric starter on regular motor. Once it was all together he launched and came right back down due to turbulence. I had purchased a small canister of helium from Sam’s Club so we launched a pilot balloon and watched it duck and weave all the way up to 500 feet where it caught a northerly current which quickly pushed it out of sight. Doug and Brian had business in Fort Collins, so I was left at the field with Barton George to wait for the afternoon flight. Barton had driven up from Colorado Springs where he was a pathologist at Fort Carson Army Base. Like me, he was a new pilot and full of enthusiasm. So full of enthusiasm, that he could not stop talking about it. He showed me the devise he had invented to balance his propeller and copies of articles that he had printed off the internet. Nice guy, but the nonstop hanger stories from a pilot with less than five flights was starting to get on my nerves. Eventually I decided it would be a good time to work on the carburetor. Big mistake, when I tried to fire up the motor, the pull cord broke. There was nothing to do but take off the starter and repair it. I’m always intimidated by machinery the first time around but nobody was going to fix it for me, so I undid the harness and dove in. Expecting it to explode into a cloud of parts and springs like the first time I’d opened an old camera, I was delighted to find it was a relatively simple mechanism. I did put the Pawls in backwards and had to redo it, but other than that little goof, it was back together and ready to fly when Brian and Doug returned.

Barton was the only one to fly that afternoon. I remember his landing because he came down within five feet of the truck and the way he flared caused the wing to turn slightly causing him to do little dance on touch down. To his credit he stayed on his feet. When it was my turn I just couldn’t get up. The first time the wing came up crooked and I aborted. The second time I stumbled and went to my knees with the wing collapsing on top of me. The third time the motor died when I started to run so I packed up and drove home frustrated.

4th Flight Crash Landing

4th Flight
Jan 6th, 2006

Even though I crashed on landing, this was the best flight so far!

Everything was going well. I took off on the first attempt and was winging around the field like I knew what I was doing. My turns were still relatively flat but I felt better about everything. There was more authority in my input and I was getting used to the routine. When I let out the trimmers I could feel a difference in the way the wing behaved. It is much crisper when you initiate a turn and it’s hard to tell at altitude but I felt faster. The whole thing was just much more comfortable than the previous flights.

Brian had me do several figure eights and then asked me to go north, turn and descend to the LZ for a low pass. I was feeling real good about the whole thing. My decent was perfect, I wasn’t going to overshoot or fall short. But…when it was time to add power and climb-out the motor started to bog down. The motor was spinning at maybe 4000RPM and I was just barely descending. I had noticed a delay to power in the past and kept hoping the Snap would start to wrap up. It didn’t and as I flew by Brian and Doug at about 10 feet I was still hoping for a burst of power, at 3 feet I lifted my legs and slid into the earth very softly. The prop was “cutting the grass” during the last couple of seconds but when I hit, something flexed and the prop struck and broke a two inch chip off the end of the blade. It‘s repairable but not for awhile. Even though it ended badly, it was a great flight.

At first I thought that the brake handle had somehow got between the lever and grip which would have prevented it from closing all the way, but the problem was with the Walbro Carburetor. If I had increased throttle gradually, I think it might have powered up just fine, but when I went from idle to full throttle very quickly, it lugged down. Eventually I learned how to tune the carb so that it would come up to power even when I mashed the throttle hard. It never did get smooth and there was still a delay, but after a short lag, I would be at full power. Another issue with the Snap 100 is that it had a very narrow power band. It would advance smoothly from idle to about 4000rpm then it would leap up to 7500 and advance smoothly again to 9200. The result was that I was either climbing like a banshee or descending. There just didn’t seem to be a cruising speed for that motor that fit my weight and wing.

Powered Paragliding…Making great small engine mechanics all across America.

A couple of days later I took the paramotor to a small engine repair in Golden that Brian had recommended. I wanted to have them check it out and adjust the carburetor. A couple of days and $125 later I picked it up, only to be told to increase throttle slowly to prevent it from lugging down. I think the guy didn’t really want paramotor business and was probably intimidated by the spinning prop. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never even fired it up. I sure couldn’t tell any difference in the way the engine ran. Obviously I wasn’t going to get any help from the lawn mower repair community so I began to research two stroke motors and their carburetion. I was able to get line drawings and owners manuals online but the best tips on tuning the Walbro card came from the PPG forums.

3rd Flight Happy 50th Birthday !

3rd Flight
November 26th, 2005
Loveland (Private Estate)
50th Birthday

Happy Birthday flight! What a great way to celebrate a half a century of life. This was the first time I have flown in the A.M. and it was noticeably smoother air even if it was a bit chilly. The only thing worth mentioning was that I started my flare a too early and dropped a couple of feet on landing. It seems to be a common beginner’s mistake. On the plus side, I only I went to one knee even though I probably came down a bit harder than the last two flights. Brian said that I had been looking down at the ground instead of out toward the horizon. I promised myself that the next time I would keep my eyes off the ground. Doug suggested that I find a place where there are steps outside and practice running down them looking at the horizon so that I would know how high I was without looking at my boots.

2nd Flight

2nd Flight
November 6, 2005

My first flight had been such a success that I was back out to the field the next afternoon. When I arrived Brian had rigged his Adventure unit to the trike, Doug was ready to go and Roshanna was there for moral support. Today was a repeat. I blew the first attempt but the second went smoothly. When I got to about 550ft. AGL I flew into a convergence of air currents that can only be described as clattery, not big bumps, more like the motion you experience trying to ski on ice. I kept the thrust up and in about twenty seconds powered through. When I got into clear air I noticed that the wind was coming from the opposite direction of the ground and was considerably stronger, I was not penetrating at all and it seemed like I was parked right over the field.

For the first time ever, I let out the trimmers to make the wing fly faster and immediately noticed a little forward progress. Brian asked me over the radio to turn left and when I applied a little input the wing came around very fast, I’m not sure but it felt like it turned within its own wingspan. Most of the reason for the quick turn was because I was headed into the wind and turning downwind but it was also because the trimmers were out. With the wind now at my back I accelerated and was past the field in no time and heading around to the back side of the pond at the far end of the property. When I turned back, I was slow again and I could see myself crabbing to the side like a kayak ferrying cross current. Eventually I completed the turn and stayed roughly over the field doing figure eights until Brian had me land. It was interesting going through the wind shear on descent. It wasn’t comfortable but since I didn’t know any better I assumed that this was normal turbulence and to be expected on most flights.
Later after I landed Brian told me it must have been a powerful breeze aloft for me to be parked that way. He also said the wind never exceeded 4 mph on the ground while I was flying. I knew that the earth creates friction which slows the breeze closer to the ground but it had to be more that just friction to cause such a difference. Brian explained that it couldn’t be friction because it was going in a different direction and that there was probably a significant difference in the air temperature above the convergence. I couldn’t remember noticing but made a note to pay attention to air temp in the future. We also discussed the benefits of sending up a pilot balloon to get an idea what the wind was doing aloft.

On the following Saturday we met at a field off Titan Road and the entrance to the Chatfield State Park. A local pilot named Monte Flemming had invited “The ‘Flock” to his local field for a ‘mini fly-in’. I arrived at seven and met the guys. Monte is a big bear of a man who flies a Hirth paramoter; it is so big that it looks like it came out of a VW bug. Robert Kittella and Boyd Wilkinson were down from Boulder and there were several other including Dan Kamisar and Paul Meyer

Robert walked up and said, “Let’s get you into the air”. I was ready but explained that I had only had a few flights and needed to wait for my instructor. About then, Boyd took off and for the first time I saw aerobatic flying. He did a few wingovers from 300 feet up and dove down to about fifty feet. Then he came in very low and did a 360˚spiral with the wing tip almost touching the ground. He was probably pulling 3 g’s and going seventy miles per hour. I’d seen pictures on the internet but had no idea what carving the air meant until I saw it. The whole time Boyd was flying, Robert had been taking pictures and one he took of Boyd has been published in national magazines several times and become well known in the PPG community.

Brian arrived at ten with another student, Gary, who had been flying for about a year but not recently. He had an exciting flight when his throttle froze-up at full thrust. Fortunately he was pretty high when it happened because when the cable broke free the motor immediately went to idle causing the wing to surge and go into a very steep dive. It was obvious to the others that he was not a highly experienced pilot because he could have stopped the surge with a little brake and avoided the dive but I was ignorant of what was happining because I thought it was all ‘part of the show’. He also fell pretty hard when he landed because he had flared way too soon and too fast. That flight shook Gary up pretty good, but ten minutes later he was drinking coffee and joking with the rest of us.

1st Flight

1st Flight
Sunday November 5th 2005

(Private Estate East of Loveland Colorado)

The skies were partly cloudy with a slight wind out of the SSE. After Twelve weeks of ground handling I was ready to solo. I’d had too many, “no fly days”, but today looked promising. Brian went up for a short flight and proclaimed it flyable. Doug quickly laid out his wing, buckled into his trike and took off. It was my turn and I was feeling very uncertain about the whole thing. There wasn’t very much wind to help me inflate the wing and the terrain was rough and difficult for running. I laid out the wing, cleared the lines and buckled into the harness. I had a hard time going from a seated position to my feet and in the process spilled about a pint of gas down my neck from the primer hose. Then I stood there for probably 30 seconds to collect my thoughts and check the windsock there was just a hint of breeze from the south. I think Brian was about to give up on me when I finally started the run.

The wing came up straight and I staggered forward. I added some power and began to pick up speed, pretty soon was running as fast as I ever have and was starting to get light on my feet. Then…Bang… I was up, it happened so fast. I had no idea that I was close to take-off when my feet left the ground. I kept my legs running even though I was gaining altitude fast. When I got to fifty or so feet I stopped running and hung in the harness. The leg straps were doing a number on my crotch but… Wow…that was easy, I’m flying! I wondered, ‘how come it took so long’? Brian was on the radio, calmly telling me what to do. The first command was to let go of the brake toggles and get into the seat. What? Let go? It was like, I was afraid the wing would collapse and fall out of the sky, if I didn’t have a hold on those toggles. I just hated the thought of it, but I listened to Brian and let go, reached down and hooked the seat, pulling it under my butt. That wasn’t so bad, but when it was time to retrieve the handles, I discovered that it was a long hard reach up to where the toggles were stopped by the pulley. By pushing down on the seat with one hand and reaching as far as I could with the other, I was just barely able to make a two fingered grab and get the brakes back in my control.

On Brian’s second command I started a turn to the west and did some slow lazy turns over the field. After about 30 minutes in the air I was told to set up for landing. There was a good breeze now, so my glide slope was pretty steep. I tried to keep my eyes on the horizon but couldn’t help focusing on that one spot of ground that was rushing up to meet me. I started the flare at about the right altitude between five and eight feet but I probably did it a little too quickly. Brian later told me that my hands went from all the way up, (no brakes), to full flare in about half a second. I wish I had a video so I could have seen what the wing was doing, it couldn’t have been pretty. Anyway, when I did touch down, there was hardly any forward speed and I landed boots first and then went to my knees in one smooth move.

The whole experience is hard to describe, there was so much going on.. My first thought was… Wow!… I’m really doing this! I remember looking off to the west at the mountains and down at my truck that looked about the size matchbox and at a motocross track behind the estate. The whole thing was just too much to absorb. After I touched down, I stayed crouched down in the same position, frozen in place not moving for probably a full minute. Eventually, Brian came over to make sure I was all right. I think he was afraid that I’d hurt myself, but when he saw the huge smile on my face we shared what can only be described as “that instructor/student moment”. Without a word or gesture, I thanked him for helping me to fly and he thanked me for not dying.

I grinned all the way back to Denver.