This paragliding blog series isn't about photography at all - it's as much for me as it is for anyone who is interested in my latest insane hobby.
My last PPG blog left off with me coming home after having completed my first 5 days of training. I got to fly twice, but those flights weren't pretty. Correction, the first one wasn't pretty, the second one was good. To recap, my very first flight was just not good - whether it was a gust of wind or something else, from the moment I left the ground, I was swinging side to side in a way that wasn't fun. I've largely learned now how to fix that, but at the time, it was all I could do to get some altitude, turn, and return to a nice soft landing. The second flight was pretty uneventful - good take off, half an hour in the sky, and a running landing.
From here, I took some time away to practice my ground-handling skills. I certainly wasn't good and running forward with the wing without it shifting left or right on me before becoming airborne. In short, without a stable wing, taking off safely isn't going to be reliable.
I took the next month and practiced at a local school in the evenings and mornings kiting my wing both forward and reverse. It wasn't always pretty for the first week or two, but after watching a Youtube video on something called 'weight shift', it clicked and now I can run forward with the wing until I can't run anymore.
Once it clicked, I continued to return to keep those skills going. Taking wind readings and having my windsock up were very helpful if things started to go a little south. On those occasions where the wing would just die or just spin around wildly, I could turn and look at the sock and see that the wind is swirling - when I see that, I take comfort in knowing it's not me, it's the wind.
After a long wait for an opening in the class, I was able to return to Niagara. The weather wasn't cooperating completely, so I was only able to get in a half day.
I arrived early as usual and took my time unloading my car and putting together the beast. It doesn't look like much, but it's pretty crucial that it be put together properly. You know, the whole "it's holding my life in its hands" thing. While I was doing this, the wind was absolutely howling. I really wasn't sure it would be flyable weather, but if it was, I didn't want to then have to put things together.
As folks arrived, we chatted and had a seat and waited a couple of hours before the wind calmed down enough to practice some kiting. Sure enough, I raise the wing, stabilize and turn around, I completely botch it and the wing goes off to Tijuana. My instructor, Andre, probably shook his head and groaned (he politely didn't though), but as I reset and raised the wing again, I kited like a champ. No doubt he breathed a sign of relief.
As I connected my glider to the paramotor, it became clear that the wind was dropping fast and there would be no reverse kiting - just a straight forward launch. That's good but not good. Good because it's the launch I have experience with. Bad because it means landing will be at a run as much as the launch will.
Thanks to the practice, my first launch went perfectly, and aside from a little turbulence in consistently the same places, I was able to enjoy a peaceful half hour flight circling the area between the QEW highway, the hangars below and some nearby farms. Allowing myself to climb to around a thousand feet, I was easily able to see the mist of Niagara Falls not far away and the rivers leading to it. What a view! Eventually though it was time to come down. It's not about getting hours in, it's about getting flights in.
Down I came and because the wind was running across the runway, the landing area is small. It appeared I was going to overshoot the runway so I made a quick adjustment - Sadly that was bad judgement on my part and I ended up landing just short of the runway. Stupidly, I didn't consider my speed and tried to simply plant my feet. Dumb. I ended up faceplanting. I couldn't help but laugh because I know it had to look absolutely dumb. I pulled myself up with the 70lb paramotor still on my back and took a good ribbing for my pathetic landing. But hey, a couple of scrapes and some dirt on the hands never killed anyone.
After a quick run back to the car to get a drink, it was on to flight #2. Same cross-field launch, but this time I screwed up the takeoff a little. The wind was pretty much zero and I wasn't quite getting total lift as I neared the edge of the runway. Beyond the runway is a farm field of beans. Fortunately they only grow about a foot or so high, but not wanting to try to run through it as I started to leave the ground, I committed completely to the take off and hopped in the seat.
That's the one thing you don't do when you're taking off - you have to run until your feet aren't touching the ground anymore and then find your way into your seat. Because I committed to it, I nicked my prop on the edge of the field. While there was some damage to it, I was still able to circle the field a couple of times as planned before landing again. And here's where I mess up again.
Not wanting to come up short, I thought I lined up perfectly for the center of the runway. Wellll.. I didn't pull my brakes to flare so I overshot it and once again ate dirt on the other side in the bean field. Unreal. Sooo.. Once again I laughed, dusted myself off and settled in to get ready for flight #3.
Fortunately, Andre had the foresight to take a look at my machine and noticed that my prop had taken a little damage in the tip. A little split wood - probably fine, but in the interests of my own safety, I decided it best to repair it rather than risk it splitting completely. Sooo that's where my night ended.
I've ordered an extra propeller now so at least I have one, and I need to do a little repair on the current one. It's a simple fix at least. Once done, I'm back to the field again on the 6th, 7th and 8th to finish up my remaining flights. All that remains is a couple dozen take offs and landings, successfully collapsing my wing and re-inflating and a couple other little things, and I'm free to fly. Fingers crossed that the weather cooperates.in August!
When training is finished, I have two GoPros - one will be in something called a Chase-Cam that follows behind as I fly, and the other will be on my chest. Then I'll have to rig something up so I can carry my real camera. I'm really excited for the freedom to fly whenever and wherever I like.