When I got serious about flying, I looked through the possibilities. The most obvious one was joining the local AeroClub, getting a private pilot license, and fly the club's Cessna. I went to the airport on a saturday morning, went to the club's hangar, and found two people there silently working. One was fumbling on an ultralight plane's engine, the other was folding a parachute. I asked them a lot of questions about the club, about flying, about getting the license, you name it. The answers: One time one of the guys answered "No". The rest of my questions went unanswered. I probably did not happen to meet the public relation officers of this club!!!
Leaving the unfriendly guys alone, I started wandering about in the hangar. No one hindered me. There was the club's old Cessna 172. This was the first time I saw it from close range. And I was shocked by its condition. There was severe corrosion on the control surface hinges, lots of rivets were missing, the aluminum panels were all but flat, smooth and even, the windshield was almost blind, the propeller full of nicks and dents, and inside it looked really funny! There were about a dozen notes telling things like "Caution: Altimeter shows 350 feet more than real", "Vario doesn't work!", "NAV2 out of service", and one big note telling "If there has been any rain since the last flight, drain the fuel system and make sure no water remains!" So much was clear: My desire to fly that plane had suddenly vanished...
I spent another hour inspecting the two ultralight planes (both privately owned), then watched how the guy who had been working on his engine packed up his tools, climbed into the plane, tried to start the engine, and had no luck. He came back out, flipped the prop by hand, the engine sprang to life, the guy ran and jumped into the already rolling ultralight, taxied to the runway and took off. Yes, I wanted to fly! But no, that club wasn't for me.
Later investigation brought up information about the huge cost involved
in getting a PPL, the lot of exams, some reasonable, some not, and the
crushing amount of laws and regulations that have to be followed. These
things seem to be worse here in Chile than in many other places. That wasn't
my idea of flying! I wanted to be FREE! So I had a closer look
at what is commonly called "free flying".
"Ready?" asked the instructor. "Sure!" I said firmly. "So, away we go!" he stated. He pulled up the glider, which quickly pulled us back. The helpers hold us on the ground while the instructor controlled the wing and told me to look up to see how nice and stable it was. Indeed, the glider was standing still above us. "Now run!" the guy said. I tried to run, felt him running behind me, and before we were at the edge of the cliff the wing lifted us up! Flying!
It was wonderfully peaceful up there. The guy told me to sit down comfortably in the harness, which I did very carefully. After all I was hanging just from thin fabric straps, which I hadn't yet learned to trust! When I was sitting in the harness, it felt wonderful and totally safe. Imagine sitting in a comfortable chair, a slight breeze around you, overlooking the great landscape from high up in the sky! After a while of explaining how these things work, the instructor handed me over the controls and let me execute some turns, feeling how the wing reacts. He also told me that a single seater is much easier on the controls than this behemoth. I enjoyed a lot.
We flew until the wind settled down, and there was no longer any
lift to keep us up. We then glided towards the landing area, and the instructor
told me to get out of the seat. I did so, very carefully, and was again
hanging from the straps. Now I was a bit scared: The ground was coming
up at an amazing speed! I prepared for impact, but the instructor flared
the wing and produced such a soft touchdown that I couldn't believe it
at first. I was hooked! While we packed up the wing, we made an appointment
for the first regular flying class, in two weeks.
And then, a week later, I had an accident after working for hours on an antenna tower, and severely injured a foot. With damaged landing gear, there was no chance to take flying classes... I had to cancel the appointment.
Six months later the foot was almost back in normal shape, although
it still had a tendency to fold to one side, which hurt a lot. But I felt
I could take the flying course now, using stiff boots. But the instructor
told me that now, in mid winter, there is no place available with decent
wind, so I had better wait for spring or summer. So I did. More time for
my foot to recover...
The first class was about ground handling the paraglider. I had to strap into the harness, pull the wing up, let it down, run with the inflated wing, do turns while steering the wing to follow my running, and so forth. A lot of people were watching my crazy exercises. So what... I'm not living in this city, nobody knows me anyway... At one moment, while I was running slowly with some effort against a moderate wind, Jens came up behind me, started to push at my back, and the wing promptly pulled me from the ground. I was flying! But after 20 meters or so Jens quit the pushing, and I was back on the ground. He was breathless. So was I.
Later I signed the contract for the flying course. I remember that the small print said that the school reserves the right to reject a student who proves unsuitable for flying. I asked Jens about this, and he told me that some people exhibit unsafe behavior when in the air, and in the interest of their own health he refused to further teach them flying.
I slept very well the night after this first class.
As I had to travel to Santiago for classes (500 km away from where I live), I would get all necessary classes during just two stays in Santiago. So, the next class was next day, at Batuco, one of the most active flying grounds around Santiago. We met there in the morning, while the air was completely calm. Jens first had me run around with the wing, to refresh the skills acquired yesterday, and then we climbed halfway up the idiot's hill (oh, you may call that the beginner's hill too!). Jens told me how to run down, take off, fly a stretch, keep the brakes up, then pull down as I was about to land. Boy, this was getting serious! I did as he told me, and quickly found myself flying, my feet up to three meters from the ground! Wow! After a few seconds the flight was over. I pulled in the brakes and landed quite softly.
I did many more such short flights that morning, from higher and higher up the idiot's hill. On the last ones Jens told me to try some slight deviations from the straight course. I felt quite in command and maneuvered around the thorny bushes that crowd the area, without touching them. The class continued until I was simply too tired to again climb up the hill...
I slept even better that night.
The next morning we met at Batuco again. I did a single flight from the top of the idiot's hill, and then Jens told me that I was ready, we got in the car and drove up to the main takeoff place. This was 300 meters above average ground. I felt a mix of desire and slight terror, but tried to show just the desire... I got in the harness, while Jens told me from now on it was my own responsibility to check if everything is properly locked. But he did keep an eye on it too, anyway...
I got a VHF radio tied to the harness. Jens told me I would not have to answer anything, he just would command me what to do. He instructed me to first fly away from the ridge, then do what he would tell me, and if for any reason the radio failed, I should glide straight down, and land in the middle of the large landing area. There was no wind at this time, so I could approach from anywhere. I pulled up the wing, ran like crazy, but Jens stopped me at the edge. He didn't like that the wing had come up slightly asymmetrically. I retried, and that time Jens stepped back and shouted "Run run run run run!" I ran down the steep slope. As there was no wind at all, all the airspeed had to come from running. Where the slope got even steeper, the wing lifted me away, and I was starting my first real mayor solo flight! I flew away from the ridge, as Jens' voice came over the radio: "If you can hear me, move your legs!" So I did. He came back: "You have about 5 minutes flight time. If you want, get into the seat now." I did it, but it wasn't easy. The school harness needed quite a bit of help with both hands, to slip under my rear. On this windless day, far from the ridge, and under a beginner's wing, it was quite safe to let the controls go for this operation.
Jens had me execute some turns, closer, more open, left and right, a 360-degree turn, always explaining what was happening. After some minutes I was running out of altitude, and he told me that to land at the center of the landing area, under these conditions, I had to pass by that large tree roughly at the altitude of the highest branches. He also told me to be very sure which side of the tree I wanted to take, and then stick to it, because any indecision in this aspect would get me landing right in the tree... And he asked to move my legs to confirm that I understood. I moved them while I laughed. He then told me to get out of the seat. This is the moment when you really have to trust those leg straps! I got out, while Jens commanded me to turn, fly straight, turn again, making me loose altitude until I was at the tree level. That guy has keen eyes, and a lot of practice remote-controlling students! I rushed into the landing zone, Jens radioed: "flare flare flare!", I pulled the brakes and made a somewhat hard no-wind landing, but without falling. My first solo flight was over!
Jens told me to fold up the wing while he drives down. We talked about
lots of details, he explained the phenomena I had observed during the closer
turns, and then he proposed to do the next flight that very afternoon,
when there was enough wind to stay up. Great!!!
I went to the landing area when I had enough of it, and needed to take a leak. Landing was really easy in this wind! Almost no need to flare, very soft touchdown, no need to run, just stepping backwards a bit to avoid being pulled back by the wing. Nice! Jens radioed that the conditions were too good to let them pass, unpacked his high performance glider, took off and performed quite an air show. He landed an hour later, while someone else drove back the car.
This was a very successful day.
It's incredible how fast one thinks in such a moment. My first thought was: "so, that's it, good bye...". But it was immediately followed by another more positive one: "what can I do now to get away alive?" My wing had deflated totally. It was a flapping piece of fabric. I pulled long on the brakes, as learned in theory. But there was no tension in the brake lines. However this was a stable and safe school wing, after all, and less than a second later it reinflated on its own. I found myself swinging violently below the reinflated sail, and while controlling it, started a hard turn, as I had lost a lot of altitude and was flying straight into the ridge! Things then quickly returned to normal, and I looked out for my companion in this involuntary aerial embrace. He also had reinflated his wing, but much lower than me and had barely escaped hitting the ground.
I was still shaking from the adrenaline shock when Jens' voice came
over the radio: "Manfred, what happened, I saw you had a total deflation,
are you all right? Move your legs!" I moved my legs, and then for the first
time answered on the radio, explaining what had happened. Jens was very
worried, he hadn't seen the incident, only the deflation, and the other
guy had fallen out of his sight. He asked me if I felt like continuing
the flight, or if I preferred to land. What a question! I was shaking so
much that I couldn't land right now! I much preferred to stay up in the
air, until the adrenaline wears off, I told him. He then advised me not
to forget flying when I used the radio, but this was needless. As a radio
amateur, using a radio really does not distract me so much...
When I landed half an hour later, I found a hefty discussion going on. Many of the fliers had seen the incident. I didn't know what to expect, but was much relieved when I was told that the incident had been entirely the fault of the other guy. He had been making turn inversions (therefore the zigzag course), looking into his wing, and had failed to care about surrounding traffic. The culprit had also landed, and our spontaneous reaction was completing the embrace we hadn't been able to complete in the air... He apologized and said he hoped that this would not scare me out of flying. How could it!!! Do you know any other flying machine that can get involved in a full-speed frontal collision, and escape unharmed??? Anyway, I decided to be very careful in the future, treat every fellow flier as a potential hazard, and always maintain an ample safety distance to anyone and everything.
I had no altimeter, but I used the incoming Boeings and Airbuses to judge my altitude and to keep safely below them. After a while, my mouth started to dry out. It was a hot day, even up here. But after a while, I started to feel nauseated. When I was a boy, I often got seasick whenever I was traveling in anything that moved irregularly, but this had not happened in a long time! But now it became clear that my stomach was not up to thermal flying. I radioed Jens that I would be landing soon, as I was feeling airsick. He took it professionally, and asked if I needed any guidance or other help. So far not, I answered, and made big ears to descend more quickly. But I was very high up, and ten minutes later it became clear that I was in trouble. Still high in the sky, unable to see details of the landing zone, I was feeling so sick that I felt incapable of standing up, let alone land... I decided to postpone the landing until after what now would unavoidably happen. I let go the big ears, I had grown to weak to maintain them. I also let go the controls, the wing would have to fly itself now. I opened my shirt to let some wind strike my revolting belly. It didn't help much. A while later it all came up. I vomited, trying to get it away from myself, but the full-face helmet did a great job in distributing it all over my face, into my eyes, and onto my glasses. I couldn't see a thing. I grasped the radio and asked for help, when it came up again and I vomited all over the radio... but then I felt better, explained the situation to Jens, and he started guiding me. I took off the glasses, but my eyes burned so much I couldn't open them! At least I felt better now, while Jens guided me like on that memorable first solo flight, only that this time there was a lot of traffic, and I really couldn't see!
I regained some sight later into the landing approach, while I was again starting to feel weak. I plummeted into the landing zone, and lay there for some minutes, before I regained enough strength to get up. Jens was content when I confirmed him I was unharmed, and told me that the lady in that nearby house is helpful in these cases. While Jens drove down, I packed the glider into a heap, and walked off to that little house, with the helmet, harness, and that desperate look on my stained face...
When I reached the house, and the dogs announced me, the lady came out, I asked her if she could give me some water, she had a quick look at me and then said: "Don't worry, you aren't the first one to show up here in that condition! I know what happened to you! Do you have anything with you that isn't waterproof? " I put away the radio, I would have to clean that later. Then she produced a hose of considerable diameter, and gave me the cold shower of my life! Only then did I remove the harness, my shirt, and washed everything thoroughly in that marvelous clear cold water. I was ready to go among humans again, although with wet clothes.
I promised to myself, the skies, clouds and birds, that I would never
again set out in strong thermal conditions, and that whenever I felt again
my mouth dry out, I would land AT ONCE.
I had another idea in my mind. I already intended to add a motor, so I could break free of congested ridges and fly out and away, in unrestricted free and uncongested airspace. But this would be later, for the moment I needed to gain experience flying without an engine. So I needed a wing with enough weight range to accommodate me both with and without the motor. After three days of studying the catalogs, I made my mind up to try the FreeX Frantic Plus wing. It's a performance intermediate, but it has very good safety ratings too, and enough weight range for my purposes. When I asked Jens what he thought about it, feeling a bit guilty for shooting so high, he told me that it was within my abilities, but it would be a bit touchy at first. I should not fly it in severe thermal conditions at first. Anyway I didn't intend that! So I went ahead and ordered that wing, together with an APCO Silhouette harness, the larger APCO Mayday emergency parachute (it feels good to have one...), a helmet, and several other minor things. It all set me back by about US$3000.
Jens ordered the wing from the factory, in the size and color scheme
I needed/wanted, and a few weeks later it arrived. I drove to Santiago
to pick everything up. There it was, my very own bright new wing!!!
Jens wanted me to try it out before returning home, but the weather was
lousy. After three days I just had to return, and the weather hadn't improved.
So I would have to fly a new wing, at a new place, without qualified help.
Not nice, but there was no good way around it. Jens gave me a lot of good
advise, and I went home.
The new wing was set up, checked, I strapped into my new fancy harness,
complete with back protection, air bottles and parachute, then I pulled
up the wing while my friend held me. This wing was quite harder to get
up than the school wing, but after three tries I had it flying over me.
My friend let me loose, I ran a few steps down, and the wing catched air
and lifted me off. And started to rise. I hadn't expected to gain altitude
in this little wind! But I was rising, and soon was above the summit of
the hill! I decided that the higher performance wing had been a good idea!
I got into the seat, which was extremely easy with this well-designed harness, just raising the legs made me slip in. I was leaning back more than expected, but it was very comfortable.
The hill there upwind was indeed causing some turbulence. Once it made my wing collapse on one side, but the collapse got out on itself immediately. By the way, this has been the only collapse I have ever had with this wing! I flew for about an hour, while my friend drove down my jeep over the difficult terrain. But before he arrived at the landing site, the lift stopped, and I had to land. I glided down, and when I was approaching my chosen landing field, I found out that it wasn't level at all! It was steep, to say the least, and there was no level area within my reach from that altitude... Nice, my first landing with the new wing would be a slope landing... I found this actually funny. It didn't scare me at all, this wing felt so smooth and controllable that I felt I could land even on the rocks, if necessary.
As I closed in a bit more, suddenly I did become scared. My chosen landing zone not only was not level, but it was a cactus field!!! Lesson: Look CLOSELY at your chosen landing site BEFORE you take off! Now there wasn't much to do. I spotted the largest area with the smallest cacti, and approached it between the larger ones. The wing proved to be extremely maneuverable! I could not have done this with the school wing! Mi zigzag approach placed me right over that inviting spot with less needles, and I flared. Whoops!!! I was again 5 meters above the ground! This was unexpected! The school wing used to just come down when I flared, but this performance wing recovered and gained altitude! The nice spot was now out of reach, and there was no other one, just one large cactus besides the other. But there was something resembling a crooked clear line through them. I flew along this line, flared, this time the wing had not enough kinetic energy left to pull me up again, and I managed to land unscratched between the 3 meter tall cacti! The wing came floating down, as there was no wind at all now, and settled nicely on top of the needled guys, without any damage.
And then we spent several hours removing the paraglider from the cacti.
The tangled mess was incredible.
Then the summer was over, and with this the wind stopped. "La Serena"
means "The quiet one", and indeed it is very quiet in this town. There
is no wind at all, 10 months a year. And the permanent cloud cover prevents
any thermals. I grew so desperate that I started jumping off from any hill
I could get onto, just to get the 3 to 5 minutes glide time down into the
valleys. But soon it became clear that to fly at La Serena, a motor was
After comparing specs, prices, reading reports from owners, and having close looks at both brands, I chose the FLY Power 115 with electric starter. This unit uses the ubiquitous SOLO 210 engine, originally designed for farming equipment, and which powers most paramotors worldwide. While the workmanship quality of the DK was much better, the fuel consumption, weight, propeller efficiency and several other issues were better for the FLY. I published a rather complete report of this on the "Motor rant and rave" section at Ray Kashefi's paramotoring page, before I set up my own page.
When I went to Santiago to pick up my motor, I took along my wing, of course. I took the motor to my sisters home, and delighted the neighbors by doing the first two hours of noisy run-in in her garden, blowing away all the flowers and some bushes in the process... These beasts really push, it's hard to hold them down while throttling up!
The next day I went to Batuco, where Jens was already waiting for me. But the weather was not collaborating. It was foggy, and wind was nil. Jens had me run around with the motor on my back. Don't believe the commercials. The rated 19.5 kg weight is without electric starter, battery, fuel, harness, nor reserve parachute. Add all, and you are carrying at least 32 kg or so. It's heavy. Really.
I tried to take off. The running, vibrating motor on my back, I ran like if I had the devil behind me, but I couldn't get the wing up the first time, and when it got wet from the soaked grass, there was no longer any chance to take off without any wind to help me. We canceled the session.
I had to drive back home the next day, so Jens proposed to go to Algarrobo, a resort town at the coast, less than two hour's drive from Santiago. The weather report gave more chances for a clear-up there than in Santiago, and the coastal wind could help with the takeoff. So, the next day we drove to Algarrobo very early. Two other new paramotorists were also joining.
The takeoff site is a sandy small hill, overlooking the beach. Landing
zone is no problem, the entire beach was free for it. But there was still
no wind, and the weather was wet. We kept our wings in the cars, while
fueling the motors, test-running them, and making pilot's small talk. As
soon as some wind came up, the first paramotorist took off and happily
flew away! Then the second one had more trouble, as the wind had
stopped again. But he got off the ground too, by running like mad. I waited,
everything ready. After a while a breeze showed up. Jens started my motor,
which I couldn't do myself because FLY chose to install the starter button
at a spot that is unreachable from the pilot's position... really dumb!
I pulled up the wing, ran, throttled up, lost balance, throttled down,
definitely lost balance and fell on my back, onto the running engine. The
prop cut some grass before stopping. I couldn't get up on my own, Jens
had to help me. A flipped turtle must feel like that! Fortunately the propeller
had escaped damage, but Jens told me how much a spare prop costs. This
was a powerful incentive to be more careful! The engine was restarted,
the wing laid out, I pulled it up, ran down the small hill and made an
unpowered takeoff, throttling up only once I was airborne. Success!!! I
was flying, and climbing real fast! The earth seemed to separate from me!
This seat has a string attached, intended for hooking it with one foot for pulling the seat under one's rear. So I started to fish for the string with my foot, while still climbing at full power. But I couldn't hook it! I couldn't really find it, and there was no way to look for it! Where is this thing? I fished harder, farther back, until... WHACK!!!! I had put my foot in the propeller! It hurt a lot! I looked at my foot. The shoe tip had been cut, but after a while still no blood was visible. The foot must have survived...
I then took both control lines in the right hand, which also held the engine control, and used my left hand to find the string, hook it with my left foot, and then using considerable effort I finally got into the seat. This "Woody Valley" paramotoring harness is definitely not well designed.
But then I flew for a long while, climbing, descending, looking at a couple of girls who were trying to sunbathe on the terrace of a building despite there was almost no sun, and after an hour I had gained so much confidence that I flew out over the ocean, but at an altitude that's more than enough to glide safely back if the engine quits. It's incredible to see the surf from up there, you can see the rocks underwater, even some fish!
Suddenly I noticed that I was drifting away from the shore. I turned towards land, but I had gotten so much wind that it was pulling me away! I had to decide between trying to return, or flying on to Easter Island... I reasoned that it must be wind at that level, since down there on the ground no signs of strong wind could be seen. So I did the counterintuitive thing of throttling down, descending, and at much lower altitude I could fly back to the beach without trouble. I was still high enough to be quite safe.
And then the sun disappeared at all, and it started to rain. Not much at first. I knew the wing is basically waterproof, but becomes heavy when wet, which makes it floppy and less controllable. On the other hand, with the engine I was flying it at close to maximum load, which made it quite stable. I decided to fly on while the rain didn't become too strong.
But a while later it did, and I throttled down and started my approach to a nice spot on the beach, close to the road. The other two fliers were also coming in for a landing. They were lower than me, so I throttled a bit up and waited to let them land first. I noticed now that at idling I could hear the radio, but any more power totally swamped the tiny sound from it.
On the next turn, my right brake was very soft. Houston, we have a problem! Water in the trailing edge! This can become really dangerous, as it can lead the wing into an unrecoverable stall, and a deadly crash! So, air rules were out, this was an emergency and the beach was big enough for us three landing at the same time! I shut off the engine, and flew down towards a landing at a spot reasonably close to the road but safely spaced from where the other guys were now about to land. I treated the wing very gently to avoid inducing a stall. I landed softly, the wing lowered the weight of the motor on my shoulders, and then it came down like a bag full of water. Splash! There was it.
Next time I will land at once when it starts raining.
I was soaked and almost frozen while I packed up the wet, sandy and
heavy wing. It would not fit in the bag, so I put it loosely into the car.
I would have to clean away the sand once it was dry. While we were packing
up the engines, I noticed that the guy with the DK paramotor and wing had
used up almost all of his fuel, while I had used less than one third that
amount. He had flown longer than I did, but only 10 to 15% or so. Definitely
my machine was much more fuel-efficient. This is not important from the
money point of view, as anyway these things use little fuel, but the difference
in maximum airtime is considerable.
But my takeoffs were really problematic. On windless days I just couldn't
get airborne. Countless aborts, many minor incidents, and only a few flights
were the result on days with moderate wind. The motor unit was simply
so heavy that I had real trouble walking, let alone running and controlling
the wing at the same time. But when I did get up, I enjoyed a lot! I could
fly wherever I wanted, but always keeping an emergency landing sight within
reach. And this was a good idea. One day I was flying over a stretch of
irrigated land, where a farmer was plowing a field. It looked idyllic.
I descended, always ready to fly away if the farmer's horse should show
any signs of nervousness from my noise. The man looked up and greeted.
I descended further, greeted back and then throttled up to climb away.
But the engine lost power, sputtered, almost stopped. I pumped the throttle,
there was little else I could do. The engine hesitated. I had to look for
a landing. The plowed field was now to my back, and I was already too low
to turn, so I headed into the neighboring potato field. I was on final
approach when the engine suddenly came back. I climbed out of that field,
the engine still not normal, but good enough to let me climb. Then I flew
back to the model airplane field and landed. The adrenaline made me overflare,
I stalled two meters above the ground, and ended the flight laying back
on the motor, legs up, but without damage since I had stopped the motor
Again a lesson: If YOU are the pilot, YOU decide if you take off. No
one else. But I had enough from foot launching. This should be enjoyment,
not hard work. I decided not to fly again until this problem was solved.
First test was at Huachalalume. I set everything up, using a checklist
to avoid forgetting any important links. Then I tried out the trike, without
wing. It was comfortable. I drove it up and down the runway. The only brakes
are the shoe soles pressed against the front wheel... Steering feels safe,
there is no tendency to lift a wheel. So I became confident, drove to the
start of the runway and gave full power. Wow!!! A space shuttle liftoff
must feel like this! I released the throttle and braked until my shoes
were smoking... Deep holes in the soles! This was the second pair
of shoes destroyed in the pursuit of flying...
I then attached the wing, laid it out, strapped myself into the harness, started the engine, throttled up, and five seconds later I was airborne. It was incredibly easy! No stress, no pain, no forcing around, no running, no falling, no aborts, just a straight, easy, almost automatic takeoff! With the strong, straight and even pull from the engine, the wing inflates quickly and evenly, very much better than when pulling it by running! (This photo shows the same process at the Tongoy airstrip, not at Huachalalume).
I flew around, trying the performance of my new setup. I needed more
power than without the trike. The wing was now slightly overloaded, very
stable and rock-hard. I could counteract the propeller torque almost completely
by weight-shifting in the harness. But there was a strange instability
that sometimes caused sidewards oscillations, forcing me to reduce power
until it stabilized again. I was puzzled and a bit worried. Later, researching
on the web, I found the explanation: It was a combined effect of differential
propeller thrust caused by the propeller not being perfectly vertical,
and wind shadowing effects caused by my body in front of the prop.
I later corrected this by readjusting the harness, so that the propeller plane is now vertical during level flight. Mr. Thomas "Teddy" Bear did his best to help the balancing efforts while the trike was hanging from a conveniently arranged ladder, but despite his rather impressive bodily constitution he was too lightweight for the job, so I had to remove him from the pilot's seat after taking this photo, and get myself in...
Trike landings are very easy. There is no need to "lower the undercarriage", that is, getting out of the seat. There is no real need to flare, although a well done flare eliminates any landing impact. No flare is better than excessive flare, at least with my slightly overloaded perfo wing. Once I ran into a wind shear problem and did a very rough landing, coming down in steps instead of doing it smoothly. The trike absorbed the impact without complaint. On foot this landing would have meant rolling over, with possible damage to the motor unit.
Power-on landings are no good. The vibration from the engine makes it harder to flare cleanly, and in the case of a hard landing there may be risk of crashing the prop into the cage. The advantage is that you can taxi down the runway with the wing flying above you, which looks elegant... But for practical landings, it's better to shut off the engine as soon as you are sure you don't need to abort. It eliminates risk of tangling the glider lines, and reduces the risk of prop damage, or even a fire, if you mess up royally.
I enjoy switching off the engine at altitude, and gliding down silently.
I even have gone ridge soaring, engine off, restarting it to return home
after I have enough of the ridge... But without priming, and having no
choke, the engine does not always safely start in the cold air, so it's
better not to trust it too much. An emergency landing site must always
be within safe gliding range.
A severe problem is the noise, both from the engine and from the propeller.
Not only is it unpleasant, but it also makes it very hard to hear the radio.
I installed high efficiency headphones on the helmet, and replaced the
original ear cushions, which were sound-transparent, by homemade cushions
crafted from vinyl. They reduce the noise by a few dB, but it is still
uncomfortably loud, and I must throttle down in order to hear the radio.
I tried to make an active noise cancellation system for the helmet, but
lacking the proper phase-linear mikes and drivers, and lacking powerful
DSP, I can make it effective only over a much too narrow frequency range.
I hope to improve the noise situation in the future.
I installed an electret microphone on the helmet too, and encased it in foam to eliminate wind noise. A PTT button on the helmet, close to my forehead, is easily reachable in flight, while holding the wing controls anywhere within their normal range. So I can talk on the radio without doing dangerous things.
The cable used for connecting the helmet to the radio is very thin and weak. I selected this cable, so that in the event of a silly movement, or an accident, the cable will rupture instead of strangling me...
I designed and built a variometer-altimeter. You can find the whole description of this on the homo ludens electronicus page. This instrument, together with a GPS receiver, is helpful both in navigation across unknown terrain and in measuring performance of the whole setup.
All taken together, my flying machine is very enjoyable! It was some
work getting here, and it took a lot of money, but now I can toss the folded
machine in the back of my car, drive out to some nice place, assemble the
thing and happily fly around for up to three hours at a stretch, and even
more if there is rising air! Back home in my apartment, I leave the motor
unit on the balcony (because the gasoline stinks), and hang the rest of
the gear from a wall in my bedroom, ready to go flying whenever the weather
and the mood are right. A dream has come true!