Great flight for two hours on a beautiful morning today. Took off over mist-shrouded fields and landed 82km and two hours later back at the Altona airstrip to find a large group of PPG and microlight pilots chatting in the sunshine… and offering me a fresh up of coffee. Can it get better?
Yesterday yielded the opportunity to do one of the premier Cape powered paraglider flights – Cape Point. The PPG is an incredibly portable and versatile aircraft, but with a cruising speed of only around 25 knots and maximum sustainable speed peaking at 37 knots for the fastest XC wings, we need ideal wind conditions to attempt routes such as these. We have specifically been watching for forecast conditions that would allow a new first – flying around the peninsula, down one side and back up the other. To date all flights (only 4-5 other occasions that the flight has been successfully completed) have been exclusively along the western side. 30 April 2013 had a forecast for light ESE in the morning with light to moderate SW in the afternoon. As all pilots know, forecasts are completely trustworthy… or not.
We launched in the late morning from Hout Bay in a very light breeze; anything helps when you are foot-launching with a full tank of fuel. Climbing over the neck between Noordhoek and Chapman’s Peaks, we climbed steadily to 2000ft, and then overflew FAR139 (the controlled airspace around the Simonstown Naval Base) with pre-arranged permission. The views flying south along the coast were beautiful; False Bay at peace with the encircling mountains hazy in the distance.
The hands-off flying was rudely interrupted when we reached the end of the Klaasjagersberg ridge, however: an increasingly strong north-west breeze threw turbulent air off the peak and caused a few minutes of tachycardia. Flying closer to Cape Point, it was apparent that the wind was persistently NW, and strong enough to cause pause for reassessment. Prevented from flying lower by the restricted arispace over Cape P0int Nature Reserve, we crossed high from Diaz Cross to Diaz Beach to Diaz Point. Feeling that discretion was better than a long lonely swim, we didn’t fly beyond the point in the northwest wind.
A long and slow but beautiful flight back up the western side of the peninsula followed; only beyond the reserve could we dip down below the inversion at 1000ft and find the forecast southerly. Climbing again from Kommetjie, we bypassed the long white sands of Noordhoek Beach and routed directly into Hout Bay with dwindling fuel supplies. The breeze in Hout Bay on the ground was still SE and brisk enough to allow a three perfect landings on the doorstep of Dunes, where we were welcomed for a celebratory cold drink.
A little over two hours flying, 75km distance covered, a fuel consumption of 9, 10 and 12 liters for the three paramotors = priceless new experience.
There’s been plenty of pressure and activity on the work front recently, which always results in an immediate decrease in flying opportunities. Consequently, over the last few months I’ve grabbed any chance to get airborne and do my favourite type of aviation: exploration. To discover new wild places from the air is a distinct thrill; changing seasons and the marks of man create new vistas in previously visited spots; even well-known areas release new secrets to a pair of curious aerial eyes. My new Ozone Speedster paramotor glider has rewarded me with some fantastic flights so far, including the maiden PPG flight in the Witteberg. While I’d love to write a dissertation on every one, the time escapes me, so as a compromise here are some quick vignettes with flight track logs and a few photos. I’ll provide links to the longer stories if and when I write them…
A flight of discovery in the remote Karoo replete with solitude, wildlife and tense fuel calculations becomes my best FAI triangle to date…
Explorations 2 – Zandvlei
No firm plans, a whole big sky, and lots of familiar places to explore from a new perspective: I fly Muizenberg, the beach, mountain and wetlands, meet up with a flying friend for an aerial photo shoot, and end up with a 40km FAI triangle.
Explorations 3 – Dolphin Beach to Atlantis Dunes
Any given Sunday with a westerly you can find PPG’s flying at Dolphin Beach near Blouberg. After enjoying the coastal dunes I head inland to Atlantis to play in it’s weird white-sand desert. It was an odd juxtaposition: sand-boarders, quad- and motorbikers, 4WD enthusiasts, a microlight and my PPG all weaving through the dunes.
Avid blog-readers who have already realised that I will likely name my future children after paraglider brands will also know that I’ve recently completely refreshed my stable. The wonderful and capable Swing Mistral 4 that has served me since 2006 went into hibernation last year when I acquired a MacPara Eden 4 for paramotoring, which (embarrassingly) outperformed the former glider in unpowered flight as well – no doubt due to a 5-year advantage in newer technology. The Eden is a great wing, and deserves its accolades as an ideal single wing for flying with and without power, but over the course of a year of paramotoring I came to realise that (like in free flying) I love long cross-countries and exploration, and the reflex paramotor wing technology has proven itself to be ideal for fast, stable, efficient flying. I began to research PPG wings, and test-fly everything I could. My desires: a wing capable of good top speeds (65km/h or more), which is still easy enough to launch that I can get away at altitude (5000’) carrying a full fuel load, DSLR camera and emergency supplies, and is fuel efficient. If possible, I wanted a wing that can be flown free (without motor) on occasion, so that I only have to take one wing on trips where packing space is an issue.