Big air big fun.

I’ve just returned from a weekend staying with Dennis and Gillian of Alpine Flyer lodge which was also where I completed my BHPA club pilot rating in October 2010. Even back then after completing my course I knew I wanted to return when thermals would be booming.

Thunderstorms are a coming.

Therefore I had been eagerly looking forward to this weekend, and in the end it didn’t disappoint. Arriving Friday morning (20th June) at the lodge, we set out to fly before the conditions over developed as this was forecasted and things defiantly looked unstable.

I managed a top to bottom not breaking through the inversion, I was still nervous about straying too close to the slope and trees, I have a healthy fear of hitting the tree tops. I managed to maintain my height and even climbed a little but nothing huge, but it was good to be in the air again. You can see from my flight log that I didn’t take a climb until over the landing field and thus some distance out from the the slope.

Calling it a day as the clouds where building over the back of Plaine Joux, we headed back to the lodge.

Saturday the 21st may, dawned with clear skies but again the threat of things becoming

More large clouds on the way.

over developed in the afternoon,  we headed out around 11 up to Plaine Joux, the first try saw me struggle with the reverse launch, Dennis suggested that I was launching like an Englishman, pulling the wing into the air too quickly and thus risking that it will overfly me, adding that the Buzz should come up without too much effort and the important thing is to keep the wing moving through the with my body rather than pulling too strongly. A couple of tries later I got the wing into the air. Again I managed to extend my flight but not maintain it, the second flight of the day saw a longer flight time, managing for the first time to get above Plaine Joux and a gain of 300 metres. It was nice to get higher than take off and break a little of the tie to the earth, Dennis was flying and managed to stay up longer than me, which is to be expected with him being a skygod and all!

I think I see a dog.

I think I see a dog.

Once we were both on the ground we spent some time looking at the the clouds and assessing the weather, the forecast was for clouds and thunderstorms, the cloud above Plaine Joux was definitely becoming quite large, with icing forming around the edges, the day finished early, with many pilots deciding to land before being sucked into the upper atmosphere.

Sunday was a wash out with low cloud cover and rain, and also it was the day after the rapture so I was just glad to be alive and not suffering a hell on Earth. I doubt that God will be the one to kill us, we are doing a pretty good job of it ourselves. I spent most of the day in the lodge, and after finding a good time lapse app for the iPod touch, made a little cloud time lapse to pass the time.

Monday morning brought clear skies and an excellent forecast, although there was a bit of high cloud, and it felt and looked stable. We decided to hit the launch at around 11.30, hoping by that time things really would have gotten going. Gillian was due to fly while Dennis manned the bus and transport. On the drive up there was a certain amount of nervousness and excitement. With the prospect of good weather and thermals, my stomach was already doing excited little jumps in trepidation of the day’s prospects.

The trepidation was played out once we arrived, Gillian and I looking at the sky, both thinking that things had not yet started to pop. We discussed the weather while watching the school pilots  collapse, panic and throw them selves off Plaine Joux. It was evident that things had not yet got going and with the time approaching 12:30 I was concerned that my appointment with the airport shuttle bus at 4 would destroy my day.

Around 13:30 a couple of visiting pilots turned up and were managing to thermal and delay their falling a little. We decided to unpack, and I launched first, turning hard right and into a thermal, I stayed with it for 200 metres, Gillian quickly following me and reaching my level. Gillian made off to the west and the buttress, we had watched a lone glider who had come from Chamonix take a climb there earlier so hoped we would stray into the same thermal. We were hunting around finding a couple of bubbles but nothing significant, I still was concerned over being to far out from the landing field and not having enough height to make it over the trees. This lead me to decide to fly over to the hospital while Gillian hugged the buttress a little closer.

Finding nothing over the hospital, I was forced to land while Gillian was still in the air. Dennis met me and we discussed the flight, which although lasted 45 minutes was cut short by my decision making. Dennis observed that I could get closer to the tree tops, and while a healthy respect for colliding them is good, if I am turning in lift away from the hillside and most likely could continue the turn without problems or danger. Up until now I had always done a figure of 8 and finding more sink than lift, being cautious of the trees below.

Determined to work harder we drove back up the hill. I launched and initially struggled to find lift, although I was closer to tree tops, the thermals were broken and hard to centre. There was about 5 other gliders in the air and we all were alternately finding lift only to slide a bit further down the hill when we topped out. I found 0.5 m/s over the hospital, after watching someone else climb out from there, and stayed with it for a couple of hundred metres. Gillan had worked her way back and joined me for a turn or 2 before flying off.

I stayed with the thermal which slowly developed and once I had reached a decent height, I made the jump to the buttress, with Dennis’s advice sounding in my ears ignored my nervousness and flew along the cliff face in gently rising air. Ahead,  the same glider that had marked the hospital thermal was scrapping up the mountain side over the scree slope. The slope had been pointed out by Dennis as early as Friday as the route up the mountain side to reach the exit point of the valley.

By this time I had been joined by others and we all took the climb over the scree slope, the vario was singing like a canary found bang to rights. All I had to do was keep the wing tip on the edge and ride the air to the top. Dennis was giving me time checks over the radio, knowing hat I had to be on the ground no later than 3:15 if we were to make my shuttle bus.

I was desperate to break the 2000 metre barrier, and hung on to the thermal while others had left to continue on their cross countries. At 2055 metres I called it a day and took the time to take in the view, I was still a good 500 metres under cloud base, but with the rising sheer valley side not more than a couple of hundred metres away, views of the plateau behind me and the still all powerful view of Mont Blanc ahead.

I had a huge smile on my face and I must confess a whoop escaped my lips, I can’t articulate the feeling, only a fellow paraglider, glider, hang glider or bird will know the feeling. To be so high on nothing but the grace of nature and your own skill is breathtaking, it makes you feel alive.

With half bar applied I headed back to the landing field, the wing still being bounced by the turbulent air, but it felt robust I eased on full bar for a few seconds to check the rigging of the speed bar lines, and that I could take it all the way to the bottom. I reached the landing area still way too high, pulled some big ears and for the first time looked for some sink.

Hands getting tired from the big ears, I released and cranked the glider over in a tight turn, with Dennis giving encouragement over the radio I turned up the turn and sink rate to bleed off my hard won height. After some fast descending, I finally landed after an hour fifteen minutes , with my height gain and flight time records well and truly broken I was tired and thirsty but happy as hell.

Dennis came over and greeted me with the words, “What a flight”, and it was. There were  better people than me flying that day that got higher and further, and I am sure that I could have gone higher and further myself. In the end my plane trip home to Brussels loomed and cut short my flight. I turned off my vario, looking at the max climb that I got, which was a respectable 8.4 m/s or 1700 feet a minute in old money… not bad at all!

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There’s life in the old girl yet.

A weekend back in the UK and an early ferry out Sunday morning, meant that the flying opportunities didn’t really look that promising. However I had taken my wing over to the UK with me with the secret hope that Sunday would turn out OK and I could get up in the air.

Skylark promotion

Thanks to the power of the internet I had sent a mail to Dave Lewis of Skylark paragliding who is also a member of the Southern Hang Gliding Club which runs the sites on the South Downs which lie north of Brighton. An email exchange the night before and Dave suggested that we meet at a local farm cafe in the morning for a brief as he was meeting 3 wantabe tandem passengers as well.

I arrived a little early, found the cafe, which was the excellent Middle farm a place that obviously is repeating the benefits of a little agricultural diversification. I spotted a tall guy dressed as a paragliding Skygod should be, and approached for confirmation. As a side point how do I get that look? Is it planned or just naturally acquired after  you reach 1000 hours?

Coffees in, I and intrepid virgin tandem pilots waited for Dave to brief on the day’s activities. This was more for the tandem passengers not for me, but it is worth listening to a flying brief no matter what your level as you never know what you may learn.  One of the passengers was a game 80 year old, wheel chair bound, but not limited. She listened and threw in a few comments while Dave went through the BHPA regulations and tandem risks and rewards, I was greatly impressed by Dave’s briefing style, succeeding in being not patronising but informative, getting alien paragliding speak across to novice ears. We decamped then to hit the hills, the best, according to our skygod, being Firle, I had already looked this site up on the net the night before as the SHGC site has a very comprehensive site guide available.

Wings in the air!

Driving up , I was pleased to see wings in the air, and as I got closer quite a few wings in the air, counting 11 when we arrived up on the hill at around 10 in the morning. The wind was onto the face but did have a tendency to drop off a bit now and again. However the most inviting aspect of the site being the smooth rounded top, and large, very large top landing area. Dave gave me a brief on the site, pointing out the landing areas below, and the need to be extra careful with gate closure. The site is under jeopardy since  a gate was left open in the field below and cattle then escaping across the Sussex country side, an event which is rightly going to upset farm and land owners.

The site has three distinct bowls with each facing north, the further westerly bowl being more suited to a NWW wind, Dave suggested that I hop along the bowls, but being careful of landing hazards and areas of turbulence, pointing out that you can hop across the east bowl on to the rest of the ridge but some height is required to ensure that a tree landing is not forced upon you. The end of the brief was concluded with a,

“Be aware there will be a lot of out of practice pilots on the ridge today, so have your wits about you”

This was then followed by.

“Excuse me are you Carlos”

” Er no, sorry”

” Oh I was just looking for Carlos, but maybe you can help, I haven’t flown for 12 months and never flown this site, just looking for someone to give me a brief”

More wings

Dave’s final point proved, I set about unpacking and running through my wing inspection and watching other pilots launch. Having trained in the alps, all launches so far had required me to get the wing in the air through a bit of leg power. This situation had changed when I was presented with strong wind and ridges in New Zealand and Australia, so the site of many people taking long strides and then lifting off was not new, but I was still a little nervous about the launch. Even more so considering that now I counted 13 wings in the air, and more constantly being inflated on the ground.

Dave, tandies and wings

Still wing unpacked, checked, harness on I couldn’t put it off any longer, I inflated the wing having decided that first I would stay on the ground and get a feel for the conditions and wing. The wing came up straight and having learnt from my last attempts, I keep the brake inputs light to avoid being dragged back. Turning I then spent some time balancing the wing above my head getting used the feel of the brakes and response of the wing. I did this a couple of more times, the major reason being that I wanted to ensure that I had chosen the take off point and time, whereas at long Reef my launches were hurried and not that controlled.

Seeing a lull in the number of wings in the air I choose my moment and lifted off, going up right away, the lift wasn’t strong but sufficient for many, but soon I  was panicking as I  started slipping down the slope. I then hugged the ridge a little closer and found the lift was strong in the bowl and managed to gain height. With the number of wings in the air I was constantly on edge and scanning. I think the general air experience of gliders and other types helps here, without my gliding experience of thermals I would have surely been more stressed with 12 other wings in the air.

I decided to top land, came around but made a complete hash of it, crabbing in too fast and landing with a bump, then getting dragged a bit before killing the wing with the Cs. Not turning in higher was my major mistake and having to be close to the ground with not enough height to complete by into wind approach. I also suffered from not really understanding the wing and its range and stability with the ridge lift. The second flight also ended in an arse landing for me and being dragged again.

I approached Dave to talk this through, he suggested that I could use a lot more brake than I was used too without any problems and ensure I have enough height, with the conditions being good I should try balancing the wind and wing walking forward to the edge of the ridge and practice hovering back matching brake to wind speed, and practice progressively applying full brake to land back on the ground.

With this is mind I made a few attempts at launching hovering, maneuvering just above the  ground. One attempt saw the wing collapse onto our tandem pilot’s wheelchair, luckily she wasn’t sat in it at the time, having got up to be strapped into the tandem harness. I de-wheel chaired the wing, practicing a few more times, then choosing to take off onto the ridge. this time I quickly found a broken thermal riding it up to enough height to jump bowls I then climbed in a second thermal to be one of the highest pilots on the ridge, by this time the world was launching in the hope that this was the breeze convergence that Sussex is famous for, all hoping to be corkscrewed up to 3500 feet. One of the hopefuls was our 80 year old pilot, having launched with a whoop soon after me, we spent 2 or 3 turns in the thermal, before Dave whisked her off to the other end of the ridge. I hope that I am still flying at 80!

I enjoyed nearly 40 minutes, climbing being up there with some good pilots, the Buzz Z3 certainly becoming a nice wing to fly as I get more used to it, the turbulence of the spring thermals was noticed in a couple of wing tip flutters, probably well known to more experienced pilots, I still give a little jump when I hear them, looking up quickly to check the wing. The Z3 behaved well, giving no cause for concern and I enjoyed beating up and down the ridge, a couple of shouts were heard with people getting close to others, but I had no problems, but soon I found myself slipping down the slope again, and mindful of my earlier top landing, I decided to commit to the lower landing arriving in the chalk field below. I had gone from being higher than most to being lower than all in a couple of minutes.

Come join me my pretties, come join me mahwahahahaha .

I was soon joined by other pilots, which at least gave me a little satisfaction in knowing that the conditions were dropping off, Dave landed as well with his tandem and our 12 months out of practice friend, having survived flying again. His lay off induced by a twisted knee, we packed up while Dave, convinced there was enough wind left his tandy and kited himself back up the slope. Me and my out of practice new found buddy, started the yomp back up the road.

Skygod Dave..actually that wasn't the look I was going for...

The tandy passenger said his mum was coming down to collect him, sweet. So we waited for the cheapest taxi firm to turn up, only for mum’s hyundai to be outbid by a white van, equipped with wind sock mirror adornments. We arrived at the top with most people packing up and heading off for Bo-Peep, my hasterly rearranged ferry crossing was looming and I felt that I should make tracks, although a stint on Bo-peep would have been nice. I left after saying thanks to Dave, hugely satisfied with my flying day, I had learnt some new skills and flown another new site, I shall defiantly be back!

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Long reef, possibly the best so far.

All in all New Zealand was not as exciting and packed with flying as I had hoped, the weather at each turn seemed to be causing issues everywhere. I spent the last few days in a town called Whangerai in Northland, about an hour forty minutes away from Auckland.

I was on the phone to wings and waves many times trying to arrange flying but the late March wind and weather wasn’t going to play ball. Hence we finished our time in New Zealand without any major flying being done.

Onwards then to Sydney and our last few days in the Southern Hemisphere, I had already located several sites around Sydney and made use of their excellent site guide website, much better than paragliding earth to be honest. It would be good to see a similar approach in the Northern Hemisphere for a well designed and laid out site.

I once again got on the phone and contacted a local pilot from the Northern beaches club, again excellent information was given from local pilot Brett, who put me into contact with Sandy, a regular flier at the site.  So on Tuesday morning the weather forecast showed a possible breeze developing mid morning. I phoned Sandy and the general opinion was that it could happen. Given the days that we had missed before I decided to go to the site and parawait, the other half didn’t seem to mind given that the sun was out and there were going to be beaches near by.

The bus route it turned out was pretty easy, a bus could be caught directly outside our bed and breakfast which would reach Long Reef after about 20 minutes, so we waited for the 155 and hopped on the first bus going that way. Long reef is a small jut of land that contains a golf course and beach and not much else. There is a bit of a walk from the road up to the launch site, which winds through the trees and along the golf course. However once reaching the top excellent views can be had looking both south and north, the ocean breaking below and the sun shining makes even parawaiting a pleasure.

Golf, walkers, and water...sweet

The lookout point is also a popular walking spot and has been designed with this in mind. A water fountain is provided for both walkers and dogs, and also comes in useful for those paraglider pilots that have bombed out onto the beach below and have to walk back up to the take off.

Talking about the take off, it was rather small, smaller than I am used to flying in the Alps, there was enough space to lay out 2 gliders. Although the width of the area is quite small and behind the glider there is the walking path and then small trees, so in the 10 knot wind, one must ensure that you lean back and get the glider above your head cleanly.

I was a little bit nervous after my failed launch attempts in New Zealand, the wind was now just as strong and I had little space to work with. I had researched other high wind reverse launch techniques and found out about the  Mitsos technique so was planning to try this out.

Flat yes, large no.

This approach was backed up by Sandy suggesting that I use it, before I had even begun to set up. The wind was on the ridge although slightly Northerly, but Sandy suggested that we try it, and after a good brief about landing and danger areas I set up, and prepared to try my first Mitsos reverse technique. Which for a first time worked well, the wing came up straight I controlled it and turned and lifted off easily, although nearly clipping the bushes on the cliff edge.

The ridge was difficult to soar, I managed a few beats but I felt that I was being to hard on my turns and thus losing height quickly, Sandy had taken off behind me and we both kept

running up and down the fence line. At times I was only a few metres above the tree line

Yes that's tight, tight like a tiger...

and my soaring technique is not yet brilliant, and I found myself slipping down the slope. Sandy had suggested that I could try a top land in the conditions, but the small landing area and large amount of spectators put me off so the beach below started to look inviting.

I tell you what, climbing back up with a wing on a beach through gates and across bushes is not fun. Next time light and smaller harness will be used.

I tried a second time only to bottom out quicker than first time around, so alas with the wind strengthening I called it a day.

The Wednesday forecast also looked promising with the wind coming on to the ridge around lunch time. We decided to go to the beach and have a swim in the ocean, seeing the surfers has given me an itch to try that out one day as well. This time though we stuck to leg power. While sitting on the beach I looked northwards, and noticed the Long reef split in the distance. “look is that the reef and paragliding site?”, My other half squinted and replied, “err you mean the one with paragliders above it?”

That was it, rush back to the hotel, wing packed, bus caught. I arrived to find Sandy plus one other Paraglider and a Hang glider setting up., ready to go. It seemed that the wind had changed early as the sun got up and promoted the sea breeze. Again we had plenty of spectators, since Sandy had been there from 10 in the morning. Another quick brief with Sandy on the site, with the wind being smoother and more laminar he suggested that I would have no problems staying up this time. The Hang glider pilot was ready to go so I got out of the way while I wondered how he was going to launch in such a confined space. Interestingly Long Reef is denoted as novice site for PG but intermediate for HG.

Hang glider crazzzzzzy dude

It soon became apparent why, with Sandy and the second paraglider supporting the nose and wing tip, they slowly maneuvered the hang glider into position. Which was precarious to say the least, with his nose hanging over the edge of the ridge, my girlfriend turning away fingers ready to dial 111 to call out the emergency services. The pilot waited for a good gust and, well, just dropped off.  To be soon swooping back up and running the ridge line.

“More balls than us” was a profound comment from the PG gang.

Again I was using the Mitsos technique to launch, Sandy suggested that I step as close as possible to the edge as to allow some movement due to the stronger wind. I managed to get the wing up easily and cleanly, but hesitated too long in my turn and lost the stability of the wing. The second attempt resulted in a turn and then getting dragged backwards, I quickly killed the wing on the C risers along with help from Sandy. A helpful hint was that I should apply little or no brake if at all possible in the wind conditions that just increases your drag and gets you pulled backwards. This is obviously different from light wind reverse launching in the Alps, where brake is used once you have turned and started your run forward.

Third time a charm as they say, wing up, turned no brake used and walked back to the

Only 3 on the ridge, in summer we get loads more!

edge, lifted my feet, little bit of brake and I was off. The flow was defiantly more laminar and after a couple of beats I was climbing well. I was cautious of sharing the air with the hang glider, although he gives way to me I didn’t want to upset his flight, the ridge is only 1 km long and 2 PGs and one hangy for me, is a bit busy. However I could sit mid ridge and beat up and down without any problems, allowing the hang glider to sit over the fence line.

Taken on an Iphone sweet...

After climbing about 100 metres which seemed to be the maximum with the hang glider staying at the same level, I settled down realising that landing had stopped becoming a looming possibility and I enjoyed the flight. The views over to the Northern beaches were stunning. Plus I had large waves and breakers washing over the shore beneath me, the sun was shining and the flying relaxed. The Reef is a popular walking spot, but is also filled with high school children on field trips. Our field trips in the UK focused around wet grey days on Skegness beach, still I’m not bitter about it.

It’s nice to have spectators, maybe one of them will one day look up and watch and see the freedom and fun that we are having and give it a go, I spent some time on the ridge with a small Harris hawk type bird of prey, who’s skill far out stripped mine, but it was nice to be in the same air, I too was practicing my hovering skills, although I passed on the dive bombing and catching the mice.

A few school children waved and were overjoyed when I waved back, much like the tracker who honks his horn on request, I felt slightly smug. After 35 minutes of playing, I landed on the beach again, not wishing to try a top landing with some many people and the wind having gotten slightly stronger.

That was my last flight in the Southern hemisphere for the time being, but I’ll be back…

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Passing on the Paragliding karma

Up until now the flying in New Zealand has been pretty poor. I tried to fly at Te Mata peak which would have been an awesome, sweet and choice site to fly at; to coin several Kiwi idioms. However the wind on both days that I was there, was always a westerly, which doesn’t work for the site.

I did bump into a semi local pilot, ground handling on the landing field who splits his time between the UK and NZ. According to him the 12 months previously have been pretty rubbish with not so many flying days as the wind had, the majority of the time, stubbornly remained from the west.

So it was onwards and downwards to the south island and Nelson, which apart from being another must do paragliding site, boosts having the most sun filled days of the whole country.

It appeared that we had found the only 3 days where the sun wasn’t coming out to play. I think that my name in NZ is now synonymous with “that annoying pom” due to the fact I was constantly on the phone to local pilots trying to find out if the conditions were going to change at any point during the day, thus allowing me to get a flight in.  I had originally contacted a local named Peter after posting on the Paragliding forum asking for help and advice before I arrived in country.

Peter had been an excellent contact, passing me onto Tony from a local school. Tony had suffered my repeated texts and phone calls over the 3 days that I was based in Nelson, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t going to play ball. So I returned to Wellington with a unused paraglider and slightly annoyed girlfriend who had so far given up 20Kg of shoe allowance in her luggage, just to have the wing along for the ride.

However continuing the help and support I had received from willing Kiwis so far, Tony gave me the numbers for a couple of Wellington club members. An initial phone call to Kris gave indications that the wind was going to be too strong over the coming weekend. Wellington is not called windy Wellington for nothing, in fact Kris when faced with the question “where do you fly in Wellington?” “Australia” is the often quick retort.

Saturday morning dawned and the wind and forecast didn’t look as bad as expected, I once again set into annoying Brit mode and sent a text to Kris, who kindly suggested that couple of people might be off to fly inland, passed on my details and another round of logistics and arrangements commenced. Unfortunately the advance party arrived to find high winds and suggested that I wait around for a bit longer before joining them. Pressures of seeing friends and doing some Saturday touristy activities were mounting so I decided to bin the parawaiting and scrubbed the day myself.

Sunday dawned again to light winds, and a text to Kris resulted in a possible site being on outside of Wellington, Pukerua Bay to be exact. I arranged to meet Kris outside the local diary (Kiwi for shop selling all manner of things including ice cream), and was warmly greeted by a tall smiling kiwi ready to take me flying.

However this is where the problems started, and I am sure that Kris, if he knew what he was letting himself in for, would have sailed right past the diary not giving me a second glance. Things got off on an arduous start with the climb up to the launch point, which was steep and consisted of a narrow goat path running up the cliff face with an unnerving drop to the sea and rocks below. It was around this time that I began to realise that the Alpine suited harness and pod, which added considerable weight was not the best thing to bring to coastal soar in NZ. Struggling up the slope and by now joined with several local kids who seemed to have the sure footedness of the path making goats, and were climbing over the path, rocks and slope with ease, while I tried to balance the poorly packaged 20Kgs of glider and harness on my back which seemed to constantly want to lean down the slope rather than away from it.

Reaching the top, out of breath and tired, Kris was laying out his glider and preparing to go, I should have spoken up about my general lack of launching into a decent wind experience but didn’t, and gave assurances that it was OK for Kris to hop off first. That was the second mistake of the day, the third being that once Kris had made the strongish wind take off look surprisingly easy, I unpacked my wing to find that I had unclipped the harness, when packing away in Bright and had left the lines in a right mess.

What's the delay?

Trying to lay out the wing and separate the lines, while the tribe of 9 year old goat/children hybrids were running around and the wing starting to self inflate (I blame the ribbed leading edge on the Buzz) was proving a mite difficult, I gathered up the wing to sit on the ground, not relishing the long walk back down and packing exercise that was to follow. Having by now resigned myself to  another non flying day and scolding myself for my bravado in thinking I was prepared to fly.

However Kris while soaring overhead inquired as to my delay, and graciously top landed and came

Bugger, that's not going to end well.

to my aid. A detangling process was carried out which was then followed by several failed launch attempts. I tried several times to get the wing up and stable over my head struggling greatly with the strong wind, which to be honest was much stronger that I had encountered in the Alps back home. Kris to his credit and to my shame was supportive and encouraging with comments along the lines of ” It’s a bit turbulent ” or ” maybe we are not facing into wind” while gathering, re laying and holding my wing after each failed attempt.

Finally, into the wild blue, windless yonder..

Finally, through luck rather than skill on my part, the wing came up, stayed overhead and I managed to turn and lift off. To soar away into…. sinking air, or rather wind now veering off the ridge, which to give it its credit, it had been forecasted to do. I had spent and wasted so much time that the goat children had long ago left bored and the wind had also decided to knock off for an early stack as well.

A couple of beats were had in the barely supporting compression and I ran for home around the corner and the beach landing. Carrying the shame that I had wasted another pilots air time with my novice behaviour. While all the shenanigans had been going on, another local pilot had turned up and launched, Laurie had managed more than a few beats and landed and was packed by the time I had gotten into the air, failed to stay up and land. Kris soon joined me on the beach and Laurie graciously went off up the hill to get his car to transfer us back to the car park.

Kris being the gentleman and possibly superb actor that he was, didn’t give any indication of being annoyed  over wasting one of the few flying days that Wellington has on babysitting me and even gave me a ride back to Wellington to my friends and hosts. While driving we spoke on many subjects but one of them being the great levelling effect that paragliding has. No matter where you are in the world paragliding pilots are there to help and go the extra mile for you, be you CEO or unemployed builder we are all equal under a wing.

I thanked Kris with a glass of home brewed beer, provided by another friend and also a nice bottle of Pinot Gris picked up in Marlborough the day before. Kris had earned much more than this and on departing I thanked him again and offered my hospitality if he ever managed to find himself in my neck of the northern hemisphere woods.  Kris replied,

“Oh just pass on the paragliding karma to someone else…”

And boy do I now have a lot of Karma to pass on!

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Bright paragliding, not so Bright take off though…

A long 4 hour drive saw us arrive in Bright, Victoria, Australia Sunday evening. The forecast for the day after was looking good and I had already rang and spoke to Ted from Alpine paragliding on the Saturday before, to check the outlook. He confirmed that Monday was forecasted to be good. I was looking to fly the Ozone Buzz Z3, but also, my other half was going to undertake her first tandem flight.

I’ve not flown in anger since October last year after completing my CP with Alpine flyers lodge in Passy France. Although I had popped down to Passy to pick up the Ozone and Harness, and done some ground handling.

So this was to be the first flight with the Ozone. I was obviously a little nervous given the lay off and after arranging to meet the guys from Alpine paragliding Monday Morning, I arrived at the landing area and asked for a full brief on the conditions and landing procedures. Brett who was going to be the pilot for my other half’s tandem flight, indicated that the conditions get gusty and thermals get broken and sporting in the afternoon and that I should try to fly down sooner rather than later.

We jumped in the bus, along with a couple of other pilots, instructors and tandems and made our way up the very dusty and bumpy road to the launch point. We soon realised why Aussies have 4×4 vehicles they need them! Unlike Passy in the Alps paved roads don’t exist!

I got the glider out and had another conversation with Ted who explained the wind was picking up with a bit of a westerly. These conditions mean that the thermals will be broken and bumpy, and that I should be careful. The wind at take off was constant and a little gusty at times, but nothing too dangerous.

A reverse launch was in order, so I set up and with some trepidation pulled the glider into the air. I now realise that perhaps it would have been best to either do a little ground handling or make 100% sure that the wing was stable. Comments after I took off indicated that I had a small collapse on the right side. With nice constant breeze, I could have turned and balanced the wing above my head without having to run and commit to the take off.

The Bright take off area, although wide is narrow, with not much run off. I started my run and felt the wing surge forward, an abort was in mind but by this time I was past the point of no return. I applied brake and and felt the wing stabilise, although by this time I was moving fast and still close to the ground. A large rock was getting closer, which I impacted with my left thigh. I’m sat here writing this lesson up, with a large ice pack on my upper thigh. I’m sure that I will have the bruise from hell tomorrow!

Once up in the air though, I settled into the harness and pod, and with a sledge ride in mind, no one had yet taken a thermal all morning and the time was approaching 11.00, I followed the self briefed flight plan to the landing area.

On my right a ridge ran down into the valley, which ends with a large pyramid shaped peak. One side of the pyramid projects out and faces the sun. I had a mind that this area would be producing thermals. Earlier before take off I had overheard a couple of radio calls from the landing area back up to the students, that it was starting to get bumpy on approach.

My suspicions were right and I contacted a nice thermal where I expected, taking a climb up to 1500 metres averaging 2.5 metres per second. The Buzz performed nicely, cutting and turning into the thermal with ease and the cock up on launch was soon forgotten.

I bumbled around after topping out, and watched a host of people throw themselves into the air after me. My other half was one of that gaggle and I wanted to land to be there when she arrived. The landing was less eventful than the take off, I tried out some big ears to descend. The buzz performed perfectly with the wing inflating quickly once the ears were released. Some figure of eights on base saw me bleed off my final height and I coasted in for a text book touch down. Like stepping off a log.

I noticed that I had also cut my leg open, so washed the wound and de briefed with Ted who took me through my bad take off. He was pleasant enough and  no admonishment was given my explanation showed him I was aware of my mistake. I had gained some kudos with my thermalling as many people had commented on my height gain and people on launch and taken that as a sign to get in the air.

All was not lost with my pride, although I think I will be skipping horse riding tomorrow, as walking is a bit painful now. However the bruise had not yet kicked in and I made my way back up in the shuttle bus to set up again, however by this time the wind had picked up. Others where launching but other early time pilots were sat around listening to a local instructor. I did set up and inflate once or twice but really didn’t feel confident given the gusting, I feel that I could have handled some broken thermals but really wasn’t too keen on the gusting and having to make a good take off in a narrow zone. Others had retired to the back of the launch to wait and so did I.

In the end I decided to pass, although the conditions were calming and oscillating, I am sure that I could have taken a launch. However by this time my leg was hurting and I decided that I probably wasn’t in the best condition to fly. So I called it a day. Tomorrow looks windy and with rain predicted in the afternoon this it seems will be my one and only flight in Bright. Still as always lessons were learnt and fun had. I heard that after me some one had landed in the trees and had to be cut down, so an eventful day for others as well.

Next time I get in the air I will be in New Zealand!

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Nearing the end

Well the weather broke today and I awoke to clear skies and no valley fog. I also awoke to


Yer all your bells make me want to do now is order steak.


the sound of the cows with the alpine bells clanging away. Which at the beginning of the 2 weeks was a happy welcoming sound, full of images of Heidi and Peter the goat herder leading happy lives in the mountains. Now however it is bloody annoying!

Over the past 2 weeks I’ve learnt lots about a form of flying that had a reputation of being dangerous and unsafe. However in reality it can be a calm, un hurried peaceful way to leave the safety of the earth. Now it is not without its risks, of that I am fully aware. I think the major thing is to be aware of is mine, and the aircrafts limitations. Not as easy as said sometimes with peer pressure, wanting to fly and general human stupidity, but comfort is gained through Dennis’ revelation that he has never deployed his reserve  in anger. I am glad that I have taken an extended period to learn in the alps the good weather has meant that have flown a lot more than if I had taken lessons in the UK.

As I near the end of the course I am left wanting more, and lamenting the fact that winter is fast approaching with limited flying opportunities in Belgium I am going to have to find a way to get in the air over winter. More so than any other flying method, currency is going to be important of that I am sure.

Todays flying was a lesson in thermals in low-level inversions, and I found it difficult to keep the glider afloat in rough and dirty air. Frustratingly I ended up falling out while many others had a 45 or more minute flight. Practice practice practice is going to be the name of the game, now just how I rearrange my life to stop working 9 to 5 in the greyest city in Europe is the next hurdle I need to overcome.


Anyway enough of my troubles, the second to last day provided three good flights, I felt


Landing is down there somewhere...


comfortable and confident, 2 good reverse launches which I needed to practice as I has not done enough of those during my time here due to light winds. Some difficult thermalling and light to medium winds on landing kept me on my toes. The last flight of the day was down into the smog that had built up in the valley during the day. Kept there by the high pressure it gave a ethereal feel to the flight. The air has gotten colder over the past few days and winter is starting to reach and spread across the mountain landscape. Soon it will be time for skis, wholly hats and gloves. I however will be looking to see if can fit in some flying somehow, somewhere and soon!

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Weather stops play again..

So I have been checking out which glider I want to buy once I have my ticket to fly. I think it is basically coming down to the Buzz Z3 an EN 1-2 glider manufactured by Ozone.

I know that this is not an EN1 or A rated glider, so some may say as a first glider I should ge the safest possible and go for an EN1. I had never really looked beyond the simple EN X,Y, Z rating and assumed that there was a huge difference between the award of one level or another. However in conversation with my instructor I learned that the award of the higher level rating is due to the glider getting the highest rating amongst several certificaiton exercises.

Therefore you may have a situation out of 20 or so exercises that all qualify as an EN 1, then only a single test may rate the glider a level higher. Dennis sugested that it is worth always reading the test report to understand where the certification of the glider came from. In the case of the Ozone Buzz Z3 the EN2 award is due to the glider’s behaviour in a steeply banked turn which rises to over 14 metres per second after 2 turns.  This when the glider is flown towards the top of its specified weight range.

The second B rating was for behaviour when undergoing an asymmetric collapse with a 75% collapse and accelerator applied. Again when flown at the top end of the weight range without any input from the glider pilot the glider will change course between 90 to 180 degrees and have a dive or roll angle of 15 to 45 degrees. You can read the test report here.

I can live with both of these test results and in fact if I fly the glider towards the bottom of end of the weight range, as Ozone recommend, then I could even avoid them. So for me I think this will be a good glider, and one that I can find my XC feet on.

Now to find the funds, pay pal donations can be made at gary.bridgeman (at) mac (dot) com…




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