Thursday, December 19, 2013

Escaping Winter, at Least for an Afternoon

I know I promised my next post would be on paragliding rucksacks and the selection process for a new one to use on vol biv trips, but....

The weather this week has been beautiful.  Yesterday afternoon it was 58 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.  I headed to the Bessemer airport and pulled in just as Mark was launching.  I quickly setup and launched as right after I took off, Curtis arrived.

I flew for about 20 minutes then landed so I could force Curtis to fly the demo Geo 4.  I snagged his pig of a wing before he could object, thus leaving him with no option but to try the sleek new Ozone.   We both took off and buzzed around a bit.  I landed after about 25 minutes and started packing up my motor.  Curtis flew for close to an hour.

I gotta tell ya, I sure have been spoiled flying Ozone gliders the past 8 years.  His glider is supposed to be on the better launching motor wings but it was a chore to launch.  It's heavy, hard to launch, the risers are huge and the controls clunky.  I think Curtis enjoyed the Geo 4 also.

I will try to finish the bag post tonight and get it up tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Current Paragliding Kit

My vol biv flying kit is just my regular flying kit.  I made a conscience effort to drop weight from my kit 2 year ago, which was just 1 year after making a consensus effort to drop weight from my fat ass.

It wasn't cheap, but since I lost 40 lbs I needed new gear anyway.  So I invested in the best, light weight gear on the market at the time.  The results were a flying kit that weighs less than 20 lbs.  My previous kit weighted in at 36lbs. 

My flying kit consists of a paraglider, harness, reserve parachute, helmet & flight instruments, along with a rucksack to carry it all.

My current setup includes:

  • Paraglider:  Ozone Swift 2, size Small - 4.3kg
  • Harness:  Advance Lightness, size Medium - 2.3kg
  • Reserve: Nervures Plum, size Medium - 1.15kg
  • Helmet:  Smith Vantage snow helmet - size Large, 500g
  • Rucksack:  Advance Lightpack - 600g
  • Instruments:  Flymaster Nav - 220g
All total -9kg or 19.8lbs.  Its a nice, light setup that is also highly functional.  I could compromise on both the glider and the harness for a lighter solution but that would mean giving up both performance and comfort.

The Ozone Swift 2 is an EN B glider and is top of the line for EN B's in gliding performance.  It also performs well when accelerated.  Performance at speed is important when flying in alpine settings where valley winds and long crossings are plentiful.  I love this glider.
Every time I am tempted to move back to flying a higher rated wing, I think back those times when I was in some absolutely shitty air and the Swift keep its shit together.  You can't underestimate the comfort factor of your glider and am I very, very comfortable on this wing.

The Advance Lightness is the lightest pod harness on the market at the moment.  Having a pod means better performance due to decreased drag but also increased comfort as it shields your lower body from the cold.  The Lightness is a hammock style harness, meaning it has no seat board.  It takes some getting used to as weight shifting requires different hip input and it allows lots of feedback from the glider; but once I was dialed in on it, I love it!  The other area of compromise is back protection - while it has back protection, it is not certified, since certified back protection requires 14cm of padding while the Lightness only has 10cm.   Since it doesn't have a seat board, its easier to land in a legs down postion or to setup for a good PLF if needed, so I feel the compromise is worth it.  I have also grown to love the front mounted reserve.  Its easy to access, provides a good spot for mounting the vario, and I can easily check it before flight.  Note to the fashion aware - the default color is a nasty, bright orange.  I hate Orange.  It's a high yellow content orange, so a quick dip in some denium blue RITE dye, and it's now a lovely forest green.

The Nervure Plum reserve is the same reserve as the Sup-Air extralight.  Nevures OEM's them from SupAir.  I went with the Nevures because my price on them is significantly cheaper than the equvielnt Supair.

I carry 2 varios, a Flymaster NAV which has integrated GPS for navigation and airspace alerts, and a Flyte Park Pico audio vario that is very sensitive.  I use this for sound only.

Purpose built paragliding helmets are expensive.  I've owned several and while they are certified, the modern ski/snow helmet offers much better protection and lighter weight.  I used to prefer a full face helmet but I'm grown to like the openness and increased visibility of the Smith Vantage.  I also like that it has vents that I can easily open and close in flight to help regulate airflow and temperature.
It weighs in at just over a pound and I'm always looking for a lighter option - just haven't found it yet. 

My rucksack is the Advance Lightpack that came with the lightness.  It too got the RITE dye treatment.  Its specified at 75 liters but I don't really think its that big.  I do like that it has lycra side panels that stretch.  I have no problems stuffing all my regular gear into it but using it for a longer vol biv trip will be challenging.

That leads me to the next blog's topic - Rucksacks.  Finding the right balance of durability, volume & weight has been a challenge.  Next post I will delve into our research in this area.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Vol Biv Anyone?

Lately, Jeff and I have been absolutely obsessed with planning a couple vol bivy trips.  Given all the work we have put it, I figure it makes sense to document our preparation here.

Vol What?

Vol bivouac, or "vol biv"for short, originates from the French and translates to "fly camping".  The objective is fly a paraglider cross country as far as possible carrying all the gear you need to camp upon landing.  Get up the next day and do it again.  It's the ultimate, self-supported paragliding, hiking, & mountain climbing adventure.

Vol biv has always been at the fringe of the sport of paragliding.  Early pioneers have made some fantastic journeys- crossing the Alp, the Himalayas, and even the Karakoram in Pakistan.  New advancements in both paragliding and camping equipment have opened up the sport and bigger journeys are now possible.  The latest paragliding gear is lighter and more efficient.  You can fly farther and when you have to hike and climb, the weight is half as much as paragliding kits from even 5 years ago.  Advances in the ultralight backpacking industry also help to reduce weight and complexity of a vol biv kit.

Jeff and I have been researching gear, techniques and routes for almost a year now.  Subsequent posts will document all the research to date.  We have a shakedown trip planned for later this winter on the West coast, then Jeff is jumping in the deep end with a solo trip to New Zealand in February. 

Jeff is blogging about his NZ route research here.

I'll leave you with some links to vol biv stories and expeditions on the net.

Nic Neynen's  "Share My Joys" blog and Youtube videos have been a big inspiration to us.

The Sierra Safari was an expedition up the Sierra's and is documented in "500 Miles to Nowhere."

A nice trip across the Pyrenees. 

Sati & Melody's trip across the Alps.

Winter Flying.. well, not really.

The harsh reality of winter is upon us here in Central Alabama.  Fall stretched until mid November, but after my last brief flight on November 11th, the cold and rain arrived.  4 straight weeks of it.  After a month of not flying, I was going stir crazy. 

Last Thursday I had an hour break between conference calls and managed to sneak out to Bessemer for a quick 17 minute flight in the cold.  Curtis and Mark joined me.  Curtis flew off around the local area as I was landing and Mark expertly piloted his lawn chair while sucking down Bud Lites.

I have managed to get a total of 4 flights and just over 1.4 hours on the Geo 4 demo wing.  I think its a great beginner to high intermediate wing.  I need to write a comprehensive review, but the short story is = good wing for motor and free flight.  Easy to launch and land, killer glide and very stable.  I've got a couple more folks that want to demo it then I'll be putting it up for sale soon at an attractive price.

It's Tuesday as I wright this, and after another weekend of cold and rain, we have had 2 days of awesome weather.  And I'm stuck in the office working.    Looks like this weekend will be a repeat of the last 4.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Another Aborted XC

I keep getting skunked when I plan XC flights.  Based on the forecast, my intention this morning was to get up early, fly against the wind to the Clanton Airport, refuel and fly back.  The forecast winds aloft showed I could just barely make it the 42 miles to Clanton on a tank of fuel in just under 3 hours.  The return trip would take just over an hour. 

I launched a bit later that usual,  10:40am, since I wanted some thermals to help should I need them later in the flight.   Once in the air, the usual south wind rotor you get at Bessemer from the Shades Crest ridge was in full effect.  Bouncing along, I started the climb out - I like to get to 3000 feet before leaving the field if I am departing to the south.  Lots of trees and inhospitable terrain, not to mention the 700ft ridge.

At 700ft AGL I knew I had issues - my ground speed dropped to 2mph.  At 800ft I was parked.  I wasn't going anywhere today.  I didn't feel like buzzing the field, nor did I want to fly over to the RC field, since with those winds it would be over an hour to get back. I landed after a short flight and went back home to work on the honey-do list.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Quick Flight on the Geo 4

The plan today was to test fly the new Ozone Geo 4 demo.

It was windy when I launched at Bessemer, at 8:30 am Saturday.   Despite the early hour, it was a bit rowdy this morning.  I a few laps of the airport, getting bounced around a bit, then decided to land.

Nice glider, typical smooth Ozone handling.  It was too short a flight and too bumpy to give a full review, but once I have a few hours under it I will post a better review.

Monday, October 28, 2013

More West Coast

Another business trip to LA means a long weekend at Ron's in San Diego.  Finished up LA meetings Thursday and haul butt down the 5 to catch the last of the lift at Torrey. It was very, very light and cross but I got a flight in!

I headed to Ron's to wait on Jeff and Rob C.  Rob was in LA too and decided to drive down the next day and Jeff would not get in until around midnight.  Took Ron to dinner (BBQ) and caught up on email.

The next day the weather wasn't great for Torrey and I spend my usual Friday doing conference calls and emails before taking Jeff back to the airport to return his rental car.  Rob showed up in time for dinner and we hit the Mexican place down the street.

Occupy Vista!
Earlier in the day, Jeff and I had been sorting out our camping gear.  We both have our dual sport motorcycles in Ron's garage and all our bike camping gear stowed in one of his spare bedrooms.  He should start charging us rent.

Anyway, we decided to setup a simulated vol biv camp and sleep in the yard that night. The result was it looked like the Occupy Movement had setup shop in Ron's backyard.  I slept great, btw.

Saturday was the Bama-UT game, so Ron and I stayed at the house to cheer on Bama while Jeff and Rob C headed to Laguna Mtn with the San Diego PG club.  They took extended sledders and then headed back.  After the game (Bama whupped ass), Ron and I took the bikes for a spin up to Pala and back.  We got back just before Jeff and Rob and threw some steaks on the grill.

Sunday looked great a Blossom, and Blossom never disappoints.  We even dragged Ron with us, although after hiking up the hill with his heavy, old school gear, I'm not sure how much he appreciated us dragging him out there.  I had 2 good flights but never went to El Cap.  Both Jeff and Rob C. made it El Cap.  Ron had 3 good flights and top landings.  Gonna make him a thermal pilot yet.

Another fun trip to SoCal.

Rob C setting up to launch at Blossom

Saturday, October 19, 2013

XC Postponed due Rain Delay

Well, our intent today was to fly from Bessemer to the Old Baker Farm off highway 280 in Harpersville, a nice 42 mile XC.  I dropped my truck off there yesterday in preparation.
Laps at Bessemer

Curtis and I meet at 8:00 at Bessemer and the sky did not look good.  The forecast rain for later tonight was here...there were patches of clouds dropping a bit of rain but there looked to be an open area to the west.  We hung out for half an hour and watched the sky.  It looked iffy but potentially do able, so I launched to sample the air.

It was not too bumpy but while I was flying I could see more rain on the way, so I landed and we called it a day.  Dropped my car and gear at the house and Curtis gave me a ride to get my truck.  He also learned an important Rob lesson - when I am headed into the gas station and ask "do you need anything?" -  you better speak up.  Don't be mad I didn't get you a roady just because I got myself one - I asked.  ;)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Four in a Row

Today made the 4th day in a row for a paramotor flight.  The winds aloft looked good on the forecast for a bit of exploring to the south, but were expected to switch from SE to N later in the day and get stronger.

I took off around 9:20 and climbed up to 3000 feet before crossing all the trees to the south.  I wanted to check out some clear cuts from old strip mines in an area off Coalmont road.  We used to ride dirt bikes there and I figured it might make a good spot for a motor-bivy one day.

The air was cool and smooth, but sometime about 15 minutes into the flight the wind switched to the NE and picked up considerably.  My ground speed increased to 41 mph about the time I reached the cut outs.  Given that the wind was stronger up high, I had to drop lower than I would I liked to penetrate on the way back.  Landed after a 50 min flight, but the route back had me low in some bad spots if the motor quit.

Here's the GPS track in Leonardo.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Motor XC with Curtis

Can you spot Curtis?
Met Curtis early this morning at EKY and took him for his first real cross country.  The plan was to fly West and check out the strip mines east of the I-20/I459 interchange. 

I had another motive too - I was scoping out a couple LZ's for a future steath fly and camp (motor-bivy trip).

We launched and pushed into the slight headwind on the way over, and then looped south a bit before returning to EKY.  We even stopped and buzzed the RC field.  I landed and talked to the guys and then relaunched.

After landing we hit Little D's for cold ones and nacho's. 

Here's my GPS track on Leonardo

And a link to the Dorama of the flight.

Friday, October 11, 2013

After Work Motoring, Part 2

I love living so close to the Bessemer airport.  5 minutes after I decided to go flying, I am unloading my gear at the airport.  It takes longer to throw the stuff in the truck that it does to drive over.

After yesterday's flight, I could not resist another post work sortie.

I buzzed around the field for about 30 minutes then saw a friend pulling up to Little D's, so I landed and packed up - cold beer calling my name.

Tomorrow, if the weather holds, Curtis and I are off on a little XC jaunt.

Had the airport all to myself!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

After Work Motoring.

Met up with Curtis at EKY after work today and we buzzed around the local area.  This was my first flying since France.  Had fun and Curtis and I are planning a little XC this weekend

Had dinner and beers afterwards at the new bar & grill on the field - Little D's.  Stop by and check it out.

Note that they are working on the pavement at the airport and do not want anyone using the front gate.  The lower gate is open from 8am to 6pm.  Once new locks are installed both Mark and I will have keys.  Contact us if you need access.

Flight track from my second flight today.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Post Alps Trip Update #2

I finally got around to editing some video myself.  This one is a big long, but I did it to show some of my motor pilot friends what it's like to fly XC without the use of a motor.  It's a summary of my 30km XC from September 12th that I blogged about previously.

Enjoy.  (Be sure to click on the 4 arrows to get full screen so you can enjoy the HD quality)

Going Nowhere Fast from Rob Reynolds on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Post Alps Trip Update

Jeff's been busy editing and he just posted a great video from the trip.  Check it out!

Paragliding Saint Andre Les Alpes September 2013 from Jeff Thompson on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Greetings from Madrid

It's 2am and I'm in a Hilton near the Madrid airport.  Just watched Bama beat Texas A&M via internet and I'm too pumped to sleep.  My flight home departs in 5 hours so I'm trying to wind down my posting a few last thoughts on the week.

Here's my final observations:

St. Andre is a FANTASTIC flying destination.  Easy logistics, nice flying site and plenty of options for XC routes. - Mark and Elena are fantastic hosts and have a beautiful property.  I highly recommend contacting them for any accommodation needs if you are planning a vacation to St. Andre (flying or not).  They have several single rooms and 3 different gites (apartments) for rent as well as grills, fire pits, a media room with big screen TV, and Mark will likely want to host a dinner a night or two.  Take him up on it, he's a fantastic chef.  Just refrain form taking him up on the second bottle of Lemoncello.

Nigel C
Nigel & Carol Cooper are great friends we made in St. Andre.  Nigel can hook you up with lifts to launch, flying advice or advice on other outdoor activities.  He is a dedicated climber and cyclist and knows all the good local flying spots.  He also manages some rental properties too, should Fly St Andre be booked. They also own the smartest dog in the world, Merlin.

We all had a great week and I can't wait to come back next year.  Jeff and I intend to try some vol biv next year!

I leave you with some final pics:

Fly St. Andre from the air.
Another view of Fly St. Andre

Can't beat your own personal LZ

Merlin the Wonder Dog

Jackie & Werner - Jackie happy he survived another round of acro

Friday, September 13, 2013

Last Flying Day of the Trip

Someone partied too much last night.
Our last day for flying and it was beautiful.  I woke up feeling a bit nauseous, likely the results of the previous nights partying.

Condition were great and we all launched around noon.  There was plenty of lift but after about 45 minutes my nauesa was getting worse so I bailed and headed back to the farmhouse LZ.  I landed, promptly puked and felt 1000% better.  I spent the rest of the afternoon sorting gear and packing.

Everyone had great flights and landed back at the farmhouse.  Later in the afternoon Jeff and Werner wanted a last sled ride so that Werner could test out the LM5 some more.  Since I had already packed up my gear for travel, I ran the shuttle up the hill for everyone.

Werner testing the LM5
Werner put the LM5 thru its paces over the LZ, stalling, spinning and slinging the glider all over the sky.  Once all had landed we headed into town for pizza and beers.

I'm headed out early in the morning to make a noon flight to Madrid where I will overnight before heading back to the states.  Jeff and Werner are planning on getting up early for "one more sled ride".  Jeff wants to say he flew everyday of the trip, even the departure day.

Celebrating a great week with beers & pizza!

This has been one of our best trips to the Alps so far.  Even though we had some weather challenges, we did manage to fly everyday for 8 days in a row.  Something we have never accomplished before.

Off to bed then 2 days of dealing with airports.  At least I have an upgrade on the ride back across the pond.

Nice landing
Steve being Steve

Outlaw PG pilot?  1%er?

XC for All!

Nigel's Taxi Service (Nigel in the middle)
Today's forecast looked good.  Still the lingering Mistral, with strong NW winds but the early look at the forecast encouraged us.

We caught a ride up the hill with Nigel, and he decided to fly with us today!

After mucking about on launch for a couple hours, we almost waiting too late to launch. There are 3 groups of visiting pilots here (Swiss, British & Spanish) and that makes for a crowded launch - we waited until most of them had launched before we setup. The cycles were coming up the hill very strong and frequent.

I hucked first and my launch was not very good.  I drifted left and almost stepped on Jeff's glider.  Once in the air, I discovered I had my right brake looped thru my rear riser.  That explained the lack of control authority to the right.  I made a couple passes in front of launch to gain some altitude before headed north on the ridge.  My first attempt to make the transition to the antenna's did not go well.  I wrongly assumed that the white rocks in the lee of the antenna's would be working and I would find a lee side thermal that wasn't being blown by the prevailing NW wind.  I was wrong.

Climbing up at the Antennas
I was sinking, fast.  About this time I heard Nigel on the radio saying that he was leaving for Lambrusse Ridge - talk about getting up and away from the hill fast!

After sinking below the height of the ridge, I turned a south and scratched for a saving thermal.  I found some lift and got back to ridge height.  Then I figured I'm make another go for it, but instead of hugging the ridge line in the lead of the point, I pushed over the valley and made beeline for the point.  I snagged a nice thermal over the valley and rode it as it drifted up the hill on the lea side.  Then I transitioned around to the front and got the usual elevator ride at the point just north of the antenna's.
Cote Lounge to the left, Cheval Blanc ahead.

Once I was bout 1000 feet over the point, I made the jump to Lambruisse ridge on about 1/2 speed bar.  The Swift 2 glides really well at half bar.  I made the transition only losing about 1100 feet and arrived about 150 feet below the ridge line.  I quickly worked my way back up and then headed to the north point of Lambruisse, the jumping off point for the transition to Cheval Blanc.

The lift here was strong, but the NW wind was too.  There were probably 20 other gliders working the lift over this peak, but at least we were all spread out.  As I climbed higher it got rougher as I was in the lee of Cheval Blanc.  I made one attempt to push into the wind to the NW but it it was obvious that I would not make it Cheval Blanc.    After a few minutes of getting knocked around, I spotted Jeff and called out to him on the radio that we should make a run for it.  Remembering what Nigel had told us, the Cote Lounge would be the best route given the strong NW winds.

Track to Cote Lounge
Little did I know that Jeff radio was not working, but it didn't matter, right after I made that call he headed off to the east toward Cote Lounge.  He was about 300 feet higher than me at the time, but He also headed straight east and then made a turn toward Cote.  Since he was on a better glider, I figured I should use all the altitude I had and I made a beeline for the Cote.  The issue with this approach was I was going to be flying thru the lee of the strong thermal I was just leaving.  It was a wild ride.  I got tossed around and had 2 collapses but once I got clear of the turbulence I had lost very little altitude and would make the crossing easily.

I followed Jeff toward the west side of the Cote and when we arrived I had about 200ft of altitude on him.  We scratched around for a while, waiting on a decent thermal that would get us to above the ridge.  I wandered a bit too far up the west side valley and when I started to head back, it looked like the headwinds were going to have me trapped.  I was sinking and getting ready to side hill land when I saw 2 hawks circling behind be to the right out of the corner of my eye.  I quickly turned to follow them and joined in their thermal.

Once I climbed up a bit, I pushed back out south toward Thorame-Bass and then hooked into an awesome climb.  Just as I was entering the thermal Nigel appeared and we shared the ride as we climbed up to cloud base.  Jeff saw us and got the tail end of the thermal too.  At cloud base, we proceeded along the top of the ridge to the north.  Over the peak of Cote Louge it got hairy.  Jeff described it as "being in the washing machine"  Both Nigel and I got rocked and took several collapses and Jeff went parachutal at one point.

Left or Right?

One we passed this turbulence, we had a decision to make - turn left and try to get in front of Cheval Blanc, gain some altitude and then push north, or continue on the same line, working the ridges and peaks in front of us.  I called to Nigel for advice on the radio but he didn't answer.  I was out in front now I made the decision to continue on the current line.  There were 2 peaks ahead with a col in the middle.  The East peak was in the sun and very rocky so I figured it should be working, so I stayed east.  Jeff followed.  Bad move.
Crossing the Col

There was nothing working on that face.  Nothing.   I was too low to make a move to the peak on the west side I had passed up, so my choices were limited.  Either side hill land to the right, land in the col or head thru col and see what I could find in the valley beyond.  I looked back and Jeff was setting up to land in the col.  At think point my competitiveness got the best of me.  We had been trahs-talking all week about XC comp points and I figured my once chance to beat Jeff in points for a day was to push thru the col into an unknown valley.

Into the unknown valley

As I crossed the col, there were few landing options but I was getting a bit of zero sink on the south side of the valley so I pushed forward, trying to fly out of the west end of the valley.  I passed over little village and figured I could land there if necessary.  Once I got over the village I determined that the headwinds would not let me clear the mouth of the valley.  The village that look like a good LZ was ripe with power and telephone lines so I headed back up the valley to a small meadow I spotted earlier.

An uneventful landing later and I had broken the 30lm mark.   Jeff relaunched from the col and landed at the bottom of the valley to the south and Nigel, who took the left route made it one valley north of me.  I packed up and hiked out for 2.5 hours, finally meeting Nigel in the village at the mouth of the valley I landed it - Prads-Haute-Bleone. As luck would have it, the bar was CLOSED!  We rested by the fountain in the town square for a retrieve.  Steve had done another "Tour de Chavlet" and landed back at the farmhouse, so he loaded the car with chip and beer and made retrieve run.

Those cold beers on the way back were killer.  Thanks again Steve.  We picked up Jeff on the way home.  Jackie & Werner, flying tandem again had made it up on Chevel Blanc and then turned back and landed near Thorame-Bass.  They hitched back to the house just in time for a fantastic dinner that Marc and Elena prepared.  After desert we polished off 2 bottles of Lemoncello before saying goodnight to Mark and Elena.. (I think it was more "good nyeshish").

You can see all our tracks at this XC Comp link.

Or watch a Doarama of my track.

Hiking to Launch

Jackie got this shot of Jeff's sled ride after he relaunched.
Steve with Chevel Blanc in the background

Chavalet Launch

Jeff on the LM5

The Man, The Myth, The Legend - Werner Messerschmidt