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?
My good mate Ant of The Aerial Perspective was very kind to invite me along to Greyton, where he needed to take some pictures. We cruised out there in the Vito early this morning to find the town dead still (wind and street-life) with heavy dew on the ground, and so we stopped at a local coffee shop for tea and toast. Greyton is as pleasantly bucolic as I remember, albeit somewhat more developed these days.
After completing consumption of our comestibles we went looking for a launch area. The Greyton Sports Club had a nice field, but it was still very wet and surrounded on three sides by trees. A foray down the other end of town was more fruitful…well, too fruitful, in fact. Not only did we find a great little field, which was slightly raised and offered a puff of wind, but it was also downwind of the dump and sewage settlement ponds. To complete the scene, a large herd of splendidly flatulent bovines stood contemplating us from over the fence. Perfect. Although the field was small and the ponds large, the light wind was conveniently blowing across the corners, offering a decent run and space to climb out. We rigged quickly, and then I helped Ant launch so that he could get the photography done quickly. I was rapidly ready to go, and then in my enthusiasm flooded my engine and had to take if off to get it restarted. By that stage, the wind had almost disappeared, and what little remained was now blowing directly over the ponds, across the short axis of the already short field. Eish.
A strong sou’westerly dropping to moderate in the late afternoon had me take a chance and walk up Lion’s Head with my paraglider. The Gradient XC3 is quick, and can thus tolerate a bit more wind than the average glider, but until I saw some tandem pilots sitting at the lower launch I wasn’t sure if I was going to be completely alone or not. Fortunately, Stephan on his very quick Ozone Enzo launched just after I arrived, and showed the wind strength was acceptable…
I launched the XC3 ahead of some tandems getting ready and climbed immediately. Stephan on the Enzo had flown far out to the south, almost over the sea, losing very little height and penetrating slowly into the wind. I cut into the smooth fast lift on the SW face and rocket up to the top of Lion’s Head, where I found my ground speed into wind was less than a walking pace. The XC3 has a great response to speed-bar, however, so I was safe to climb steadily above the peak. The air was cold and beautifully smooth. Judging from the clouds and wind direction at this level (around 650m ASL) it looked too southerly to fly Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles, but I always get itchy wings when over Lion’s Head, so I gave it a try. The sink was potent in the last section of the crossing, and I arrived at the bottom of the cliffs near Kloof Corner. I could see the Enzo back at Lion’s Head; Stephan was biding his time and seeing if I got thrashed. It was certainly turbulent, with southerly flow wrapping around the cliffs from Fountain Ravine, but I worked the lifting patches and played the little flows until just below the top. There I found some southerly coming over the mountain, which made Sexy Lexi (the XC) very unhappy… she tried a few times to climb back into her bag. Deciding that the moment was not optimal, I flew out parallel to the Apostles to see if there was a band of lift to be found. Far below, the Enzo had made the jump, arriving with no more height but perhaps slightly further into the ravine than I did. Stephan also climbed steadily, but soon also made the decision to skedaddle back to Lion’s Head and the razor-thin Enzo writhed unhappily above his head.
My efforts to find a lift band along the Apostles failed miserably, so I tucked into a south-facing ravine to try scratch back up. Nothing! With the contour path approaching fast I turned and went on glide towards Camp’s Bay, thinking it was soon to be over. The great glide of the XC3 still surprises me, however, and turning downwind with some speed-bar added soon had me back at Lion’s Head, albeit below takeoff. Here the crisp handling and speed of the glider came into use, and I scratched back up again. I spent the next hour in cycles of climbing high, enjoying long periods of smooth hands-off contemplation flying out and practicing spirals and wingovers – I’m still getting used to this on an EN D glider! Finally, it was time to watch the sunset from the air, crank a spiral and land at the Glen for a well-earned libation. Here’s to 2013!
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.
Single-surface ultralight (<1.4kg) paraglider in development launched in the last week by Ozone. Sounds like a very special animal – official information is here on the FlyOzone site. One has already top-landed on Mont Blanc during testing. Need I say more?
UPDATE: Found this launch video, too. Sureal location, too.
Are you listening, Ozone? This is all I want for Christmas.
Regular blog readers may recall that we travelled up to the Augrabies area on the Namibian border some weeks ago to take part in a shoot for the new Mazda BT-50 TV commercial. It was a long distance made oh-so-worthwhile by the chance to fly in and over the spectacular Riemvasmaak desert and through the Kai Garib gorge. After a long day of waiting, conditions finally allowed a launch about 2 hours before sunset, and we flew every last minute we could, generating hordes of footage… of which about 3 seconds makes it into the ad 😉
This is the ‘Making Of…’ video, which gives a good feel for the vibe, and features the commercial at the end. Would I do it again? Of course… you only live once 😉
The weather didn’t co-operate and allow a task to be set this last weekend, so we’ve set one for the rest of the month. It’s a classic route and the best time of year to do it: a flight along the Twelve Apostles on the Cape Peninsula, with awesome views of Table Mountain and the western seaboard…if you can do it 😉 In order to make it accessible to both junior and senior pilots, we’re allowing takeoff from three different sites. The top pilots can launch at Signal Hill and fly an out-and-return, entering the start cylinder from the air, while pilots without a Sport license can launch at Llandudno for a shorter but also challenging flight, scoring the same points.
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.
Earlier this month rare but ideal conditions allowed more than 50 paraglider pilot – including some of our local South Africans who were on a tour – to fly above Mont Blanc and topland. This has only been done by a few pilots in the past, but improved understanding of the weather, more accurate predictions and a wealth of social media to spread the news resulted in this incredible feat. It looked more like the launch at a busy competition than the peak of one of the highest mountains in Europe. This is the nicest video I’ve come across, documenting the special magic of completing this bucket-list flight. Well done, Gaël Lafond.
“On 19th August 2012, the weather was perfect, and for the first time in paragliding history, about 50 pilots landed on top of the Mont-Blanc after taking off over Chamonix, almost 10.000 feet below… The first paragliding top landing occurred in 2003, and since, only a very few pilots had managed it.Le 19 août 2012, les conditions météo étaient parfaites, et pour la première fois de l’histoire du parapente, une cinquantaine de pilotes on atterri au sommet du Mont-Blanc après avoir décollé de Planpraz, au dessus de Chamonix, presque 3000m plus bas… Le premier posé au sommet du Mont-Blanc a eu lieu en 2003 et depuis, seuls un petit nombre de pilotes y étaient parvenus.”