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.
Track log on Leonardo. More images below – click on a thumbnail to go to the slideshow.
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.
…extensively! I’ve turned it into an impromptu tour of flying the Twelve Apostles. Scroll down to the original entry or click here to see the new content. I’ve also loaded my tracklog to Leonardo – click here to view it and see an interactive map of the route. Last photo to enjoy:
UPDATED: This time of the year (late August through to October) is one of the best for soaring flights along the Cape Peninsula and surrounding mountains. As the frontal systems make their march to the south for the summer, the cold fronts lessen in intensity, with more more moderate prefrontal north-westerlies and lingering postfrontal conditions. The air is cold and moist but the sun begins to reappear, leading to beautifully smooth soaring interspersed with the promise of good instability and thermal flying. It is certainly the ‘high’ season for the Cape pilot’s classic route: Signal Hill/Lion’s Head across to Table Mountain, southerly along the Twelve Apostles, and then back for sundowners or onwards into the lesser-flown for the brave (and those with dedicated retrieve drivers!). For many years this route was more frequented by the hang-glider pilots with their better glide and speed range (the NW can exhibit a strong wind gradient as one climbs), but as paraglider technology has improved it is now achievable by pilots on almost any wing. Come along on a tour, illustrated with my photos from today…
…in an initiative/competition run by Garmin. They are looking for stories of how people “Live Beyond” in various categories – outdoor, fitness, automotive, marine and aviation. I’ve entered our Cape Point paramotor flight in the aviation category, and now need votes. Click here to visit and vote for my entry at LiveBeyond.co.za
While you’re at it, why not add your own?
To date, only two people had ever done it: a powered paraglider flight around Cape Point, the “Fairest Cape of them all”, the Cape of Good Hope: the Cape of Storms. Today, that number was doubled. The Flying Ant (one of the original two) escorted Neil and I in a gentle, cold but perfectly smooth north-westernly on the flight down the peninsula to the very south-western tip of Africa. It’s a long way – the entire tip forms Cape Point National Park, meaning we have to launch north of the boundary and then fly at least 2500ft and offshore all the way – and the weather has to be perfect, but the incredible sights make it all worthwhile. A detailed story and many more photographs to follow, but here are some to whet your appetite:
It’s been quite a while since the flying that generated this footage, but I finally set aside a rainy Saturday and cut together a rough montage. The story can be found in the blog archive, so I won’t repeat it here. In essence: some magic crack-of-doom flying in the middle of summer, when the sun rises early enough for me to get a flip in before I have to be at the hospital. Not many better ways to start the day. Watch it on high quality if you can or come round and see it in 1080p HD at my place over a cup of coffee!
I went on a lovely post-call aerial meander today. While I caught up on sleep during the morning the wind turned light north-west; cold sea air began to replace the more boisterous south-easter and most of the PPG fraternity were congregated at Dolphin Beach. I joined the crowd around three o’clock and was airborne shortly thereafter with a vague plan to join a group flying up to Melkbosstrand along the coast. Unfortunately, a stubborn pressure-knot in my lines forced a quick circuit back to the field to sort it out, so I ended up chasing after them on full bar and open trims, idly watching the surfers below. By the time I caught up they had passed Big Bay and encountered a bank of sea fog just making landfall. The group turned back.
My natural wanderlust extends to airborne endeavours, and I knew that I’d be frustrated flying around Dolphin Beach until the mist arrived there and shut things down completely, so I decided to fly over to Blouberg Hill and survey the options from there. The hill peaks at about 700ft and features some old military ramparts, which are now being converted into nature reserve accommodation. I used some ridge lift on the NW side for a free ride to the top and examined the options. The sea fog looked as if it was thinning out to the north, and experience has taught me that while the sun shines if rarely makes much progress inland. I’d already discovered (to my surprise) that there was very little turbulence over the hill. I decided to venture a little further into the farmlands, make a big loop to which ever side felt good, and try my luck later with the fog at the beach – there are always plenty of landing options elsewhere for a PPG.