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.
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…
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’ve uploaded another two talks onto the ‘Presentations’ page. These are lectures I gave recently as part of the ILS Aviation Health Care Practitioner’s course at the Red Cross Air Mercy Service here in Cape Town. The should be considered introductory, and there is a lot of (verbal) content not in the presentations, but the framework may be of interest. I’m getting more familiar with using Prezi and liking it more every time. Click the arrows to advance or rewind through my sequence. FYI – You can click, drag and zoom freely at any time, and return to the sequence by clicking on the arrows again. Enjoy!
Great PPG flying on the West Coast today. We met at Grotto Bay and flew north along the coastline to Yzerfontein – 30km of almost uninhabited and deserted beach, with the occasional wild ostrich for company. After an extended coffee break at Yzerfontein to assess what the wind was doing (a NE land breeze meeting the forecast NW sea breeze) the general consensus was to head back to Grotto rather than chancing a flight to Langebaan. Fortunately, help was at hand in the form of Dave, who offered to drive my Pajero as a support vehicle, and so I invited him to drive it all the way to Blouberg, said goodbye to the others at Grotto Bay and flew the whole stretch back in one go – more than 70km cross-country flight if you allow the small detour around the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station restricted airspace which I had to make.
27 April in South Africa is Freedom Day, celebrating the anniversary of our first democratic elections 18 years ago. Seeing that I was on call for the night shift, I had the public holiday available for whatever recreation beckoned. What better way to celebrate freedom than by flying, unhindered and free as a bird? Cue hang-gliding montage…
The wind looked promising for flying at Sir Lowry’s Pass, where the highway from Cape Town exits over the Hottentots-Holland mountains to begin it’s route up the country’s east coast. SLP ( as it’s colloquially known) offers a few different launch sites for paragliders and hang-gliders, with the main (but most tricky) site being at the viewpoint where the highway crests the ridge at about 450m ASL. Here the wind is channeled through a gully, past several rock outcrops that have claimed their casualties over the years, and over a small eroded patch of grass barely large enough for one glider at a time. A well-executed launch and nimble right bank allows one to soar the inevitable lift along the road and rail embankment and nearly guarantees an immediate climb to the ridge-top, where it can be remarkably thermic and long out-and-return runs are possible. A botched lauch ends at best in an 8-minute glide out beyond the power lines to the landing field at the bottom of the pass; at worse one ends up adding your score in blood to the rocks. For the more cautious, a friendlier top launch suitable for paragliders is about 15-20 minutes walk away; hang-gliders can carry 5 minutes down to a lower take-off below the highway. I’m not convinced either of the ‘safe’ options add much real safety by the time you have factored in crossing a multi-lane mountain pass highway on foot…but that’s another subject.
Paul (another biwingual who mostly flies HG these days) and I met up in the landing area around midday. The wind was northerly but going NW, and the forecast good. We decided to use the bottom takeoff, which given the wind strength at the top was a good call. The neatly trimmed fynbos on the steep launch has been growing back in force, which makes both rigging and launching a challenge, but after half an hour of toil I was ready to go – Paul, being a gentleman, uttered something to the effect of “Looks good: you can go first.” It felt a tad silly to don three layers of clothing and then gloves and a pod and then stand there in the sun with little breeze waiting to launch fully expecting a sled glide to the landing field, as the wind seemed to have backed off.
I waited a few minutes for a promising cycle and then ran hard at the protea bushes a few meters ahead of me. Bless her: the Sonic scooped me up and wafted into the air with ease. My vario gave a delighted squeal as I banked left into the bowl and let the bar ease out from takeoff speed, and then settled into a steady beeping. Climbing! Within a minute all thoughts of a short flight were erased as we effortlessly left the ridge below and flew out into a good thermal. I thought I’d test out the air while waiting for Paul to launch, but as I steadily climbed I set a lazy course west towards Gordon’s Bay and settled into the flight. I could see his glider on the slope…clearly he’s still getting into his harness.
Despite not being a pre-frontal NW, the wind had a pronounced gradient, and at above 800m ASL on trim speed I found myself going backwards. Paul’s glider was still on the ground, so I pulled in to a comfortable speed and carried on down to the end of the ridge, about 10km from takeoff. The view was beautiful: Steenbras Dams and the Kogelberg mountains to my left, the whole of False Bay under puffy clouds to my right. Flying accelerated along the ridge was tiring, however: the Moyes Sonic is not VG-equipped and maintaining a good speed requires a fair amount of input. Also, my harness was not locking nicely in a prone position, which meant I had to keep pushing with my legs to stay flat. Beyond Gordon’s Bay I decided to use some of the height flying out over the sea to the north and then looping back towards the ridge later, thus hopefully staying out of the stronger winds. By now Paul’s glider was no longer visible, so I presumed he had launched and was chasing me.
One great thermal near Gordon’s Bay took me back to cloudbase, so I set off on glide straight for SLP. Along the way Paul and I found each other; he’d been able to fly a lot quicker on his VG-equipped Airborne and had caught up easily. Without radio comms (his is still in creation) we couldn’t discuss plans. I thought I’d try a jaunt to the east to the big mountains, not knowing that he’d already been a few kilometers that way and had encountered a strong headwind and turbulence. I met this with vigour to the east of the pass. Somewhere in a rowdy thermal, my extra pressure on the kick-stap to maintain prone position snapped the cord, leaving me in a semi-upright high-drag position. This is not pleasant for flying, adding considerable strain on the arms in the lumpy air. One particular strap was also pressing into my upper abdomen, and after a few minutes I began to feel a little queasy. After touching it out for while I decided that it wasn’t fun anymore and headed down to the landing field. It was still quite thermic on the ground, turning my landing approach into a dolphinesqe dance of blips and dips. Paul saw me landing and thought it was due to a rush to get to work, so he came down too, perhaps more gracefully as the clouds moved in and the land cooled off.
What a great day for flying. Paul, who has flown HG at the site for many years, reckons it could have been a day to fly further down the coast, across Kogel Bay and all the way to Cape Hangklip. Something for next time, certainly! I’ve got some video clips which I’ll try get into a useful format ASAP…and will soon have to replace the sunken GoPro, as this kind of flying is not conducive to one-handed snaps!
Reading my last post, I realised I alluded to the Zee PHG photo without actually publishing it. Daft. Here you go:
While the uninitiated might presume this tiny aircraft to be a microlight, it is actually a powered (aka motorized) hang-glider – the wing is a perfectly normal standard hang-glider with which (unlike a microlight) you could run off any handy hill or mountain and have a soaring or thermic flight sans engine or undercarriage. The undercarriage and engine are designed to be super light-weight, allowing the entire assembly with pilot to fall within the allowable maximum weight for the glider wing. This means that if flies just like a normal hang-glider, albeit with slightly more drag. They are designed to allow pilots to take off from a handy spot, fly to the nearest hill or thermic area, turn off the engine and soar. Yes, you do need a license – first as a hang-glider pilot, and then a power conversion to fly the PHG. You’ll recall from earlier blog posts that I went off and learnt to do this some time ago, before unexpected circumstances landed a powered paraglider kit in my hands.
This was the first time we’ve flown the PHG and PPG together, and although we didn’t do formal tests we made a number of observations. Launching the Zee in zero wind was an absolute breeze (hur hur), with the machine accelerating smoothly across the beach on its big bubble wheels. By comparison, I took three sweaty attempts to get the PPG airborne: no-wind takeoff in deep sand with a paraglider and 30+kg of kit on your back is a challenge. Once in the air, the paraglider (I fly a MacPara Eden 4 Powered with a PAP125 engine and on this occasion a 125cm carbon prop) seemed to climb more rapidly, or at least at a steeper angle. Cruising speed was identical at trim, with the PPG a little faster on cruise with the trims open. Both aircraft felt the rotor turbulence behind the big peaks; I had one 60% asymmetric collapse and Brent described a few significant bumps, but I think he had more confidence in his rigid wing. I could lose height very rapidly by putting the paraglider into a spiral, but lack the hang-glider’s ability to accellerate into a steep descent in a straight line. Landing the PPG in a limited space is of course very easy; by the time we returned there was a 10 knot wind blowing, and I was able to make a precision landing a few meters from the car, whereas the Zee needed a bit more space and rollout.
For about 1h20 flying time, including several climbs from low level up to 3000ft, we used 5.5 litres of fuel (petrol) for the PPG and 8 litres for the PHG. We didn’t have anyone specific to assess the relative noise, but onlookers who I spoke to said they couldn’t hear either aircraft from the moment we climbed out over the bay until we were setting up for landing – good news for environmental and noise-abatement reasons. Grins on the pilot’s faces were equally wide, and the post-flight beer/cider at Dune’s Restaurant 50m from landing tasted equally good!
If you’re a regualr reader (or an observant occasional one) you’ll have noted that I have been adding some changes and upgrades to this blog in the last few weeks. This is partly because I am a card-carrying gadgetologist (*grin*), but mostly because I am trying to keep riding the wave of ease of online media. People want to have everything fed directly to their cortex in a continous stream, and be able to tweet, FaceBook (when did that become a verb?) and share effortlessly. However, the essence – of simplicity and something interesting to read – is something I’m at pains to retain. To balance this equation, I need some empiric data: your comments!
I’ve integrated the following recently:
Search function – top right and easy to spot from any page
Easier link to the galleries – mindless viewing pleasure
Email subscription function – new posts direct to your inbox!
Streamlined sharing, direct-to-email and direct-print links at the bottom of each post
Twitterfeed for those spontaneous thoughts and images
Behind the scenes, I’ve upgraded the blog’s engine and post archiving system, which should make it quick and easy to use. There is also now a mobile interface, so you an read the blogin a pared-down form on your smartphone. It is difficult for me to assess these changes and especialy compatibility across platforms , however, so I really do need your comments and insights. Try the links, subscribe via mail, rant, enthuse or complain – I welcome it all!