Growing wings

Flying! That old dream of humankind! Almost everyone has had dreams that placed him high in the air, capable of beating his wings/arms, or flying like if he was swimming underwater. For centuries, or millennia, people have sought ways for making that dream come true. Now it IS possible, and it takes just some determination to start flying! The options for doing this are greater today than they ever were. Following is the story of how I made my dream come true.

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".


A work mate who was into hang gliders, paragliders, and pretty much everything related, made the contacts with a paragliding instructor, to get me on a trial tandem flight. The set day I was there, on the hill at La Piramide in Santiago, waiting for the guy, who arrived two hours late. But this was not so bad, it gave me time to look, ask, talk, and dream. What a difference to the AeroClub! The people here were friendly, welcomed me as a possible new companion, explained whatever I cared to ask for, and invited me to go on with it. When the instructor finally came, I could hardly wait!  He opened the huge tandem paraglider, several of the other fliers helped him, then he had me get into the harness, checked everything, and explained the steps to take for takeoff while he strapped himself in. My heart was thumping loudly. There I was, strapped to a big kind of bed sheet, an unknown guy in my back, at the edge of the cliff, a minute away from jumping off! How crazy! But now I just couldn't chicken out! I'm a very reasonable, scientific type of guy, so I convinced myself that here was no big danger, as accidents in this sport are rather rare.

"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 course

When at last the flying conditions were right again, my work mate talked me out of making an appointment with that instructor. He had become too unreliable, always arriving late or not at all. He suggested several other instructors, of which I choose, mostly by chance, Jens Tannen from Sky Adventure, Santiago. I made the appointment for the first class, which was to be held at a park in the city... Of course, no flying yet.  When we met there, he started explaining me a lot of things about paragliders, aerodynamics, weather, and other things that are fundamental to this sport. And I soon found out that Jens is a mighty fine guy and a good teacher. Later I came to know that he also has won a number of championships.

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!!!

The first long flight

There I was, that afternoon, in moderate wind, ready for takeoff. The site had gotten quite a few visitors: Several instructors with their fledgling students, and some dozen fun fliers. Most of them were flying paragliders, but there was a good dozen hang gliders too, like the one in this photo. It was quite crowded. Jens had once again instructed me about rules, air courtesy, and behavior if the wind gets stronger. A last radio check, and off I went! Wow, this did pull! Before I could even get into the seat, I was already 30 or 40 meters above the takeoff area! Jens told me to fly straight away from the ridge, to avoid being blown into the lee. I had rather little penetration against that wind, so I flew to a place where Jens told me the conditions were more apt for a newbie. There I spent two hours, or more, hanging out about 50 meters above the summit, always careful not to be blown back into the lee, while Jens teached me the basics of ridge soaring over the radio. Then I ventured back into the stronger area, practicing turns and straights in between of the other fliers, which meant practicing air rules too.

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.

The incident

It was the next or the following class. I was flying around happily, in nice smooth but rising air, in heavy traffic. The air rules had already become second nature. At one moment I was soaring with the ridge to my right, when one paraglider that was coming in the opposite direction, to my left, suddenly closed in on me. I was quite scared. Should I try to turn away?  I had the right to go straight on, under the valid rules, but that guy seemed determined to cut off my way! I was about to make the emergency maneuver, when the guy turned away again. Phew!  But then... the guy again turned towards me!  Now this was too short notice, there was no way I could have turned away my plump and slow school wing. I screamed, shouted, but the guy didn't notice and went straight on. We were facing each other. He was looking up into his wing! I turned as hard as I could, then decided to try the last resort and stall the wing to dive below him. I yanked down the brakes, but that school wing just didn't want to stall. We crashed into each other, just at level, half of my wing's leading edge into half of his.

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.

The big spray

It was in one of the following classes.  The weather was a bit unstable, there were strong thermals without much wind. Jens told me it was ideal weather to learn thermalling. I took off. The air was bumpy. The wing did never really deflate, but often it lost so much pressure that it was close to deflation. Jens told me to stay well clear of the ridge, just in case I had a deflation, so I had more time to react. Flying into thermals was quite fun. It yanks up, drops down, shudders and shakes, it's a joy... I was quickly improving my reactions, catching the good thermals, escaping from the downdrafts, and preventing wing collapses. Soon I was so high up that Jens asked me if I could see the top, or the bottom, of that Boeing that was on landing approach to Pudahuel Airport, which is 30 km away. I was still seeing the plane's bottom, so all was fine, but Jens warned me not to climb much higher, or I could interfere with that airway. Crashing into a Boeing is a bit different than crashing into a fellow paraglider pilot, I guess...

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.

Choosing a wing

When the flying course ended, and I could consider myself a pilot with permission to continue learning on my own, I had to buy the necessary outfit. There are several dealers in Chile, but Jens himself deals the APCO and FreeX brands. The first is very well known, produces solid quality, while the second is a smaller firm famous for its very high quality and distinguished design. So I opted for buying my flying equipment from Jens. He filled me up with catalogs and brochures, and told me to study them carefully. He also showed me several wings from each brand, so that I could see the differences in construction, the advantages and disadvantages of each. It was hard to choose. I was not sure if I should select a basic wing, or a simple intermediate. Jens told me that if I was careful, he would fully trust me on an intermediate, but that modern basic wings also had quite good performance, much better than the school wing.

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.

First flight in La Serena

It was a nice day. As there were no other paraglider pilots active in my town, I had recruited a ham radio friend as my helper/driver. We drove to the Brillador hill, where according to uncertain reports there was a flyable area. Indeed, up on the hill there was a place that looked like it had been used for hang glider takeoffs years ago. I also spotted a field without too many rocks (this is a desert, after all) that looked suitable as a landing zone. The wind was coming straight up the hill, and was rather weak. Perhaps not enough to maintain altitude, but good for a first try. There was another hill that could create turbulence, so I decided to be careful with that.

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.

More flights

I did a few more flights at Brillador, but the conditions were not brilliant. Sometimes it was barely enough to stay up for an hour, but often I was forced to land much quicker. I had chosen a new landing zone: A large rock, which was at level with the road. It was small as a landing zone, but at least there were no cacti on it, and it was reasonably flat. The Frantic wing allowed me to put my feet at the spot I wanted them, so the size was enough. But the very narrow lift zone made Brillador a poor flying site.

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 absolutely needed.

Adding a paramotor

I had been grazing the web from before I made that first tandem paraglider flight, looking for all kinds of flying machines. So I had a pretty good idea of what was available at that time. But a very important issue was availability in Chile. I learned that only two brands of paramotors had dealers in Chile: The japanese Daichii Kosho, and the italian FLY. And who was the dealer?  Jens, of course!  Soon a few other brands (namely the french Adventure) installed dealerships here, but that came too late for me.

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!

Poor shoe

I gained some altitude flying straight over the beach, then tried to get into the seat. No way. The seat was high up my back, and no leg raising, jumping and pulling could possibly get me in. And as I had the engine control in my hand, it wasn't possible to use that hand for helping.

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.

Takeoff nightmares

Back in La Serena, I started flying from the model airplane field next to the village of Huachalalume. It is located quite close to the local airport, but separated by a mountain range. As long as I didn't climb above the peaks of the mountains I would be clear of any air traffic, as the valley is simply too narrow to let any plane fly in. We have a 100 by 7 meter runway in a 200 by 100 meter flat field, surrounded by irregular terrain with rocks and shrubs. It's more than ample for my purposes...

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 before landing.

The fuel pump

Once back on my feet, and having stored the wing, I started the engine. There were a lot of air bubbles coming up the fuel line! In the bend of the line the bubbles collected, forming a kind of airlock, the engine lost power, until it gulped in all the air and recovered. The problem was the rubber priming pump, which was really lousy quality, and was letting air in through the seals!  I threw it away and replaced it by a good quality one from a motorboating shop. I have never again had engine hesitations. Be careful if this ever happens to you, with any type of two-stroke engine. The air bubbles lean the mixture, the engine overheats, as a side effect it gets less oil, and can be ruined. I had luck, my engine is still in fine health.

Rest in peace, prop!

A good friend invited me to fly from his property, several hectares slightly downslope facing a straight and stable wind. It should help on the takeoffs. I went there. The wind was too strong for flying on that summer afternoon, and the terrain was covered with high grass and a few shrubs. He told me that there were no rocks nor holes, so I could run through the grass. I waited several hours for the wind to moderate a bit. But when it did, it was so quick that before I had the machine set up, there was no trace of wind left. I thought it was best to call it a day, but my friends wanted so badly to see me flying that I complied and gave it a try. I would have to do a forward launch, which I never have been good at. One of the friends would signal me if the wing went to a side, since I couldn't see it while leaning forward, pulling, and couldn't feel it until it was too late, because of the vibrating motor. So, I ran like crazy down the slope through the high grass, using some engine power to help pulling, my friend made his signs, I corrected the wing deviations, gave more power, full power... and fell over a rock hidden under the grass! Smash, crash, clank. A chunk of propeller whirring through the air. Blood on my knee, scratches everywhere, and a severely damaged ego. I got out of the harness quickly, after all I had 7 liters of gasoline and a hot exhaust behind me, and no idea if the tank had ruptured. And there were my friends, laughing their lungs out of their chests!  That's what I call friends!

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.

The trike

I ordered a new propeller from Jens. He had one in stock, waiting for me to break mine... And I straightened the prop cage, which had been slightly bent. There was no other damage. But I also ordered a trike. Jens did not have one in stock, he had to backorder it from Italy. And it took a LONG time to arrive. Meanwhile I suffered deprivation symptoms, which got so bad that I started again hopping down from hills without power. But this always meant getting some helper who was experienced in cross-country driving, to take back down my jeep. So I was very glad when finally the trike arrived. These italians packed it into a huge, strong, heavy wooden box, and I had to pay for the air shipping of that monster... but at least the trike arrived well.

I started at once to install my motor unit and harness. The trike proved to be typically italian (forgive me, italians!): Elegant design, cleverly thought out, but it didn't fit the motor unit! And there was not even a simple piece of paper giving any instructions. The motor mounting holes were drilled at odd places, there was no way to fit them to the motor. I had to enlarge them to slits, which weakens the material. And there was no way I could mount the motor unit against the trike, as the prop cage conflicted with the trike legs! It was just by one centimeter, but that's enough to make mounting impossible. At the end, I had to ask a mechanic to machine some nylon spacers. With them, finally I could mount the engine unit. This photo shows the result. One of the white spacers is visible.

Another issue was the harness. It fits, more or less, but not very cleanly. There are some eye bolts on the trike, facing back, which I finally turned over and connected to the harness. I have no idea if this is the correct use for them, but it seems to work...

I set up the system in such a way that the glider connects to both the harness and the trike, separately. So, even if the trike breaks from fatigue (may happen someday), at least the harness (and I!) will stay attached to the wing. The disadvantage of this is that it's very slow and awkward to separate the wing from the trike.

When it came to installing the emergency parachute, real trouble set in. It had been already quite inelegant to install it on that harness without a trike, since the spacer bars conflict with the parachute bridle. But on the trike it is pure disaster. I basically had to run the bridle over the outside of the trike, fully exposed to abrasion and sunlight. I asked Jens about this problem, he asked the italians, and to this day there has been no reply. I'm forced to guess that the manufacturer did not consider at all the possibility of using an emergency parachute with the trike.

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.

Improvements and additions

I have done a number of modifications and additions to my flying gear. After the first motorized flight I relocated the starter button to the hand control. It's totally useless to have electric start, if you can't reach that button!!! I installed the button at the hinge of the throttle lever, where it is reachable, but not too easily, so I will not start the engine by accident. I used a button that is rather hard to actuate, to further improve safety. The starter uses a relay, so there is no heavy current flowing through the button switch, allowing the use of thin cable. Sorry for the confusing photo... The yellow tube and the nylon fishing lines are part of the prop cage, used to hold the engine control for the photo.

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!

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