Learning Experiences:

Foot Drag leads to Unintended Landing

Well, lots to talk about. I’ll be making two separate posts – One is about my recent unintended farm road foot drag landing and the other is about the introduction of high-end DSLR cameras to the operation here at FeatherLIGHTPPG.Com

But first, the farm road. I took a flight the other evening by myself and because of that I decided to stay close (relatively) to the takeoff/landing zone (TLZ), which in this case was once again Sequoia Field. Sequoia has proven to be a great place to fly PPG. Yes it’s a drive for some of us and for those of us coming down from the north, we wish there was a closer alternative but I must admit I just couldn’t ask for a better place to fly PPG, so far… Here’s why: For one, it’s small, uncontrolled & basically out in the middle of no where. The only traffic we really ever see is affiliated with a small crop dusting operation but they predominantly fly in the mornings; We predominantly fly in the evening, before sunset. Second, it’s surrounded by farm fields, but not just any crops – Lots of winter wheat and alfalfa, stuff that never gets above 2-3 feet high – Not like the citrus trees that populate a large part of the central valley and stand 10-15 feet off the ground, making engine out options limited if not altogether nil. All the air within typical PPG distance from Sequoia is Class G airspace to boot… And the list goes on. Accordingly, we fly at Sequoia quite regularly. So much of any flying is just good judgement and sound decision-making and so having a place like this puts the icing on the cake where good TLZ’s are concerned. Yes we’ve flown the ‘secret spot’ aka Paradise Valley Ranch but with all the rains I’m not even considering trying to get into that place after what happened here – Enjoy that read lol.

Anyhow, the other evening I set out around 5:45 pm for a quick jaunt around the farm fields that are within walking distance of Sequoia, in case of the inevitable engine failure followed by a failure to restart leaving me hung out to dry completely. I was having a great time and decided to drop in on a dirt road and drag my feet a bit. After the second short drag I went to power out and at the same time I felt a slight? reduction in power I also noticed an increasingly heavy load on my feet. In about a 1/3 of a second my brain was telling me I wasn’t going anywhere, not certainly up again anyhow. Instantly I realized I was committed to landing now and in between mystified thoughts of why this was happening I was doing everything I could to not eat #$@! while pulling full brakes and sliding forward on the soles of my feet. I must of been wailing my arms to stay balanced upright because the wing ended up shooting over head and came crashing down on it’s leading edge to an all too uncomfortable and loud thud, and to which I gasped an “uhhhh!” in response. But I still was on my feet and I was still ok… just a little rattled is all.

But then suddenly the reality of the situation set in: For some reason I couldn’t power out of that foot drag, now I’m on some dirt road way out off TLZ, and the sun will be setting in 20 minutes. My first thought was to find out what the problem was that lead me to this spot. Two things I noticed right away: My top harness straps, the ones that wrap around the top frame cross bar (and essentially among other things, find the angle of the prop to the ground), were almost all the way out! There was at most 1″ of slack remaining on each strap after the metal buckle. Why did this happen? Second, I noticed the leading edge of the prop looked and felt like a dried kitchen sponge – Ok to get me home but it would need some definite TLC in the garage getting it back into good shape.

Now I had a clearer picture of what happened. Somehow my top straps loosened up, but in addition to that I let my feet support too much weight. The resultant drag was too much for the thrust line to compensate for which was now angled around 30 degrees? down I’m guessing.. Heck I may have even had too much weight on my feet for a properly strapped cage to overcome, I don’t know. Back to the straps though: I do a pretty thorough pre & post flight and have no idea how I missed them – Or if I did miss them, otherwise wouldn’t I have noticed the cage off kilter before I put it on my back in the first place? Much less on takeoff? I readjusted the straps to their proper settings in complete bafflement.

After a close and thorough inspection, I reset up the wing for departure. The first attempt at getting airborne via a forward launch ended up in a collapse. I set up the opposite way as the slight 1-3mph breeze had shifted a little favoring this way more and I tried to launch a second time. The road was probably 25 feet wide. The wing is 40 feet wide. I had my challenges at this point in the game of my experience level getting out of there, not the least of which was the ensuing cross ‘breeze’ on this next attempt that weathervaned the wing left which I wasn’t fast enough to compensate for and walla! It and I almost go straight into the winter wheat lol! But I aborted fast enough so that things didn’t go down that way. Then I set up a third time. This time though I was also realizing that I had about 10 minutes to get back or else I was walking into the night out of that place, via at least 2 trips back and forth in order to haul out the nearly 85 lbs. of paramotor and wing. Nope, didn’t wanna do that lol.

So I gave it all I could and attempted to launch a third and last time. The wing immediately started going left again and I compensated with right brake. This happened to varying degrees throughout the resultantly prolonged and exhaustively extra long run it took to finally get airborne as a result of all these brake inputs to keep the wing overhead and behaving. It felt like the human body version of the movie “The Flight of the Phoenix…”

On my way “home” to Sequoia Field all I could think about was how all this could have happened. Here are my conclusions. I was at a disadvantage with the thrust angle being so out of whack (no pun intended). The blast was basically pointed 35 degrees I estimate off my back towards the ground and in addition to that the entire cage was much lower then it should have been. When I was dragging my feet I let too much weight rest on my souls in the first place – Aggravate that with an overall decreased thrust factor down and not horizontal as a result of the cage angle and the dirt the prop was sucking up and now you get the picture… And boy do I feel like an idiot. Beginner’s mistake? To me there should be no mistakes when it’s your life and well being at ‘mis’ stake. Not that this could have amounted to any huge threat by any means but still… I shouldn’t have let this happen. I feel I should have noticed the cage angle in flight now. Lesson learned. Whether the straps were out upon my takeoff I’ll never know for sure, but you can believe me when I say that now that I check them each and every single time I fly AND they are double looped now as well. For whatever it’s worth, my instructor & mentor said his straps have always been single looped the same way mine were and this type of deal has never happened to him. So this is just a weird unexplainable deal as to how they backed out in the first place ~ I dunno… And said so quite frustratingly.