Learning Experiences:

Paramotor Forward Launches

photoBlowing a forward launch: It sounds like something out of the drag racing scene, reminiscent of engine problems. Or perhaps, football lingo for a fumbled pass. In any case the term ‘blown forwards’ conjures up some pretty nasty impressions, as it should. It’s essence is no different in Powered Paragliding, either.

Enter California’s Central Valley. Voted as having 5 of the 10 worst cities for air quality in the United States by Health.Com, it is basically a geographic bowl that traps air and lets it stagnate. I’m just talking about the valley specifically, not the foothills surrounding it. The summer here in Fresno, for example, is hazy and blisteringly hot, while in the winter it’s unusually foggy… And not just any fog: Tule Fog, specifically a kind of fog so still and so stagnant it’s only found one place in the world – Yep, here in the valley. My point is that the Central Valley’s air can be so stagnant that it makes a good case for it being possibly one of the top places in the world for blown forwards in Powered Paragliding ~ Or at least it feels like that to me…

This morning was no exception. I had 3 blown forwards before finally getting airborne 45 minutes late, exhausted, sweaty, upset and perturbed (that all dissipated faster then a brown air biscuit in a wind tunnel on my climb out however). Never the less my heartache from the whole experience started turning the wheels of inquisition and self reflection, and today I came into a pretty important insight about blown forwards which I’ll try my hardest to convey within an analogy having to do with none other then motorcycles. Having been an avid rider for most of my life, I was astounded when I learned that going fast wasn’t about how much you could twist the throttle, but rather how much and when to apply the brake. Yes, the brake. You see, anybody can go fast on a motorcycle in a straight line. Just like anybody can take a phenomenal photograph… If it’s of a flower. The secret to speed on a bike is knowing when to brake, because it’s in the corners that you decrease your overall track times and beat your opponents. Brake a fraction of a second later (providing the line works) and you’ll pass your opponent who’s less educated and more pushed for time then you are now.

Forward launch aids: Windsocks

In Powered Paragliding, there’s been times when I’ve found myself to be my own best opponent. Let me explain – When I show up at the flying field, I’m kind of always pushed for time. I can’t wait to get into the air because that’s where my stomping ground is, not here on the regular old ground. I found myself out this morning with calm winds falling victim to my own failings where this stuff is concerned, and it wasn’t until I had my insight that I realized there is a faster way into the air when the air is calm… And it seems just as counter-intuitive as braking is on a motorcycle in order to go faster. The thing I noticed about calm wind mornings is that they’re hardly ever dead calm for very long. Unless it’s foggy, there will usually always be at least a stir here or there. By that I mean that the wind sock will come partly back to life, once in a while… Like 1-2 mile per hour’s worth, but still it’s a stir. Additionally, when it does stir (at least here in California’s Central Valley anyway), there’s never a consistent direction it’s stirring from. It’s amazing: 6:30am – 70 seconds of stir from the southeast, next 5 minutes are completely dead, at 6:35am a 40 second stir from the east, next 6 minutes are completely dead, at 6:40am a 50 second stir from the north occurs, and so on and so on. It’s downright maddening! And sometimes 180 degree opposite direction ‘stirs’ are separated by only mere seconds! What end’s up happening is that being eager to get airborne, I set my wing out in the direction of the last stir. Once I’m hooked in, I get another stir, but it’s coming from behind me. It stops, and the wind is dead calm again. Fearing it’s starting to shift to a tailwind, I attempt the launch, only to blow the forward. This has happened to me over and over.

So this morning I decided to apply the brakes in order to get airborne faster. I decided that I will no longer attempt to launch when the wind is completely calm, or just intermittently stirring. Perhaps I’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water here, but it’s going to save my sanity in the long run. In the time I was re-setting up my wing, the wind stirred from the original direction I had initially set up for and had I not attempted the previous launch, I would have been successful getting airborne now ~ That realization specifically is what produced my insight. The decision not to wait 5 minutes before cost me 45 minutes in the end. In hindsight, I would have rather patiently waited it out. Sooner or later on these dead calm Central Valley mornings, or anywhere it’s dead calm or just partially stirring for that matter, the wind will come around… And I will be ready for it when it does, because I braked at the right time.