Sunday, February 5, 2017

How to quickly verify .igc gps log files

Here is a very quick and easy way to check .igc files before you upload them up to Leonardo or XCContest.

This is an free online tool that allows quick viewing of a .igc tracklog file. There is no registration or other information required, just upload the file and click View.

The detailed flight analysis is quite neat. It has a useful feature that shows thermals and transitions with average climb rates, something Leonardo does not do.

Thermals are marked in green, transition or glides in red. The flight analysis even shows which way you turned in the thermals. From the table below it's clear I have a preference for turning left...

This is nice to provide a little big more analysis about the day and see how strong the thermals were. You can see in the screenshot from the Average Vs (m/s) column that this was a very slow day.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Monday, January 23, 2017

Paragliding World Cup Superfinal Videos

A collection of videos from the 2017 Paragliding World Cup Superfinal from French team member Teo Bouvard.

I went on an amazing two week flying trip here at this amazing flying site in 2006. Two days from the end of the trip, I tripped over in a rough landing field and broke my wrist. My only ever paragliding injury in 16 years of flying.

Task 1

Task 2
Amazing scenes of 125 pilots in the air at 0:35
Beautiful shots of the green hills of Valedares with huge field of gliders at 3:25

Task 3

Task 4
Great thermalling action at 0:50
Watch transition from thermal to speedbar hand positioning at 1:50
Full stall practice on an Enzo at 3:30!

Task 5
100 gliders at cloudbase at :30!
Huge gaggle on glide at 1:20

Task 6

Task 7

Task 8
Plenty of big gaggle thermal action in the first 2 minutes

Task 9
Watch two pilots under reserve after mid air collision at 3:16

Task 10

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Palomar Launch Upgrades

Recent hard work by San Diego club members has resulted in further upgrades to our Palomar launch site.

Its now one of the most amazing and well thought through dedicated paragliding and hang-gliding launches I know! There are now four different launch slots as this site is flyable from SSE through to NW winds year around. The newest SSE launch is small with only space to setup a single glider behind a row of scrub. The dropoff is quite steep so if the wind comes directly in this direction, the small size is not an issue.

In summer the sea breeze can get strong here. The sea breeze tends to funnel around the San Luis Rey river valley from the NW creating turbulence behind ridgelines.  Palomar therefore is often favored as a winter site, as the thermals reliably work, often up to 6000ft  whenever the sun is shining. The valley winds are lighter in winter, and the clear air makes the spectacular view even more enjoyable.

The latest work included widening the main launch access area on either side, removing rocks from the grass in the edges in the HG setup area and around the top landing area, and building a trail for the new toilet.

Despite the large size of the top landing area, top landing here requires confidence as when the site is working, there will be a lot of lift all around launch and also over the flat setup and parking area. Pilots are often popped up as they approach or uncertain about how deep behind launch to approach to avoid potential lee side turbulence caused by the steep slope behind launch . With the grass edges cleaned up and the SSE launch area also cleared, there is more space for top landing options and final corrections if the lift on approach ends up being stronger than expected. This is a mountain, thermal launch combined with laminar winds coming up the mountain, so the top landing approach varies every single time based on the combination of thermal lift and upslope winds.  If you can't get down the first time, just go around again. It just takes practice, the last time I landed here I managed my best top landing here yet, at just twenty feet from my car!

Note: As both the launch and landing are on private property with sensitive owers, SDHGPA membership is required to fly here, and car parking placard should be displayed on vehicles at both landing and launch areas at all times. See the club website for details or temporary membership.

Photo:San Diego Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association

Friday, January 6, 2017

3D Airspace for USA

One of the difficulties for pilots in learning about airspace is the 3D nature of it. Airspace sometimes goes from the surface up to a particular height, and sometimes goes from a particular height up to another height

With paragliding, sometimes we fly around airspace that goes from the surface up, sometimes we may carefully fly right over it if we have enough height to safely glide across, and sometimes we fly underneath it.

In previous posts I've referenced the USA Airspace file at This is a very comprehensive file and useful to save as a Google Earth folder that you can toggle on an off as required.

Unfortunately, this file is made of simple polygons. In some cases, the airspace that extends from the surface is 'clamped to ground' in Google Earth terminology. This makes it confusing and hard to understand if the airspace does not extend from the surface. You have to do some mental gymnastics to try and figure out where can fly relative to the airspace. It is more an abstract mental exercise that a pure visualization one.

For instance, in San Diego our Little Black flying site is right under airspace that goes from 3000ft to 10,000ft.  A short distance away to the north, the airspace steps up to 3800ft. Then to the east, it steps up to 4800ft. If you are going to fly cross country from this site, you have to be careful not to thermal up into the airspace directly over launch where it is lowest, and then if the day is good, it is useful to know when you get another 1800 ft to play with as soon as you turn east wards.

Close to the popular XC route from this site, there is also a Class D airspace that goes from the surface to 3800ft. I'm not aware ever get high enough to fly right over this airspace, but the border of it is important, as it is close to hills that might be tempting to ridge soar low down in order to find thermals to continue and XC flight.

Example of simple 2-D airspace with flight from Little Black  
Tracklog: Chris Cote

In the example above from local San Diego guru Chris Cote, the flight starts under airspace, then you can see the pilot go towards the Ramona airspace (teal coloured circle at left, then change course to avoid the airspace and follow the sun and clouds.

For airspace that extends from the surface, Google Earth makes it quite easy to adjust an existing polygon to become a 3-D polygon that is much easier to visualize.

1. Click on the polygon from the airspace file in Google Earth.
2. Right click 'Properties'
3. Modify the Atitude to 'Relative to Ground' rather than 'Clamped to Ground'
4. Enter the altitude at the top of the airspace. In this case it is 1158m or 3800ft
5. Set the 'Colour and Area' settings to 50% opacity for both the line and the area, so you can see through it. Make the 'Color' setting "Outlined and Filled"

This results in a very nice 3-D polygon that is much easier to visualize.

For airspace that starts above ground, the 2D file is not easy to modify. It's easier to find a different Google earth file that was created from the start as 3-D airspace. This file shows US Airspace in 3D. Unfortunately this file doesn't have the Class D (the Ramona airspace modified above), so that was added in as a separate item in Google Earth.

The 3-D airspace give a much better appreciation of how thermalling up under stepped airspace can get quite complicated.You can see the grey semi-transparent blocks above the flying site, and the tracklog going close to the 3000 ft ceiling on the original climb. This airspace is so complicated due to the very large military airport at Miramar, and busy commercial airport in San Diego.

3D Airspace in Grey
Tracklog: Chris Cote

Thermalling out from Little Black under stepped airspace
Tracklog: Chris Cote

How do I edit a .KML File

When a text file is saved with a .kml or .kmz extension, Earth browsers know how to display it. 

To see the KML "code" for a feature in Google Earth, you can simply right-click the feature in the 3D Viewer of Google Earth and select Copy. Then Paste the contents of the clipboard into any text editor

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Future of Paraglider Design -100+ Cells

Three new gliders from different manufacturers have given us a big clue as to what the next big wave of innovation in paraglider design may well turn out to be.

Many pilots may agree that the Sharknose, originally patented by Ozone after it appeared on the R10 open class glider in about 2010, was the last major innovation in paraglider design. Ozone in a admirable move, did not licence the sharknose technology to other manufacturers. Instead, they released it freely, leading to rapid variations. The trickle down from open class to the gliders that mere mortals fly was rapid, and now even low end ENB gliders typically use some variation of the sharknose design.

The Journey to 100 Cell Paragliders

For years, paragliders cell counts have slowly increased. Like many innovations in paraglider design, high cell counts first turned up competition gliders. In order to squeeze as much performance out of the sail, it needs to be as smooth as possible. The air pressure that holds the wing shape create a billowing effect in the fabric between each cell, which creates many small areas of turbluence across the surface of the wing.

Once notable exception to the trend has been Bruce Goldsmith with his 'Cord cut billow' design for the leading edge. This is marketing jargon for a seam that goes diagonally above the cell opening. This in theory creates the opportunity to not increase the number of cells while still gaining some advantages of a cleaner profile.

Other innovations have been trailing edge mini ribs, which clean up the billowing of the trailing edge and keep it flatter, and even internal mid ribs on the leading edge.

The most successful competition glider today, the Ozone Enzo 2 broke the 100 cell barrier with 101 cells. It's close competitor the Gin Boomerang 10 has just a few less at 96 cells. With the Enzo 2's huge 13.4 m flat span, this means the average cell width 13cm.

Nova was the first to take the plunge and cram 99 cells onto an EN-B glider with an corresponding aspect ratio. The Nova Phantom has an aspect ratio of 5.19 and a flat span in the ML size of 12.9 meters, making the average cell with 12cm, even smaller than the Enzo.

As a comparison, my current Delta 2 with it's higher aspect ratio and 62 cells, has an average cell width of 20cm.

Average cell width only goes down if the aspect ration doesn't increase more than the cells you add. For instance, the average cell width on a Trango XC2 is the same as the Ozone Delta 2, because more cells are required for the extra aspect ratio.

Here is Nova's explanation from the Nova Phantom website, which very succinctly sums up why I suspect an increase in cell count is likely to be one of the most compelling directions paraglider design will take in the next five years. The highlighting was added by me for emphasis.

Are wings with many cells difficult to fly?
No, this is a misguided belief. A higher number of cells increases glider weight, but by using lightweight materials and structurally analysed and optimised slots, we could compensate for this additional weight.
But performance wings with many cells are more challenging to fly than EN A gliders with few cells.
Correct, but this is due to the higher aspect ratio, rather than the increased number of cells. There is no direct correlation between the number of cells and how demanding a wing is to fly.
How does a large number of cells increase performance?
The more cells, the smoother the wing – which means less drag. A large number of cells also provides ultimate stability. This helps maintain performance even in turbulent air.
In the photo below, you can see how the high cell count on the Nova Phantom almost completely removes the classic mental picture we've had for years of paragliders - that of a bubbly, billowy wing. The shape looks incredibly clean, also cleverly highlighted by the narrow contrasting strips of color that highlight the clean sharp shape of the upper size of the leading edge, and the lack of billowing between cells both on the leading and trailing edges.. 

Nova Phantom: ENB with 99 cells
Photo: Nova website

The next photo shows another brand new glider, Ozone's Zeno. This is a EN-D 2 liner with the super clean look of an Enzo. It has 78 cells on an aspect ratio of 6.9 and a span of 12.9 meters, giving the average cell width of 17cm.  This is only a slightly higher aspect ratio than the Trango XC2, one of the best sport class gliders available currently. The higher cell count gives is a smooth, slim appearance. According to Ziad Bassel, who publishes the most thoughtful and thorough paraglider reviews, this is the fastest EN-D wing available on the market today.

Notice the compression of the cells towards the trailing edge at the bottom of the picture. The wing tips of theses high aspect ratio gliders flex back and forth a lot and the high cell counts make this flexing even more visible.

Ozone Zeno
EN-D with 78 cells, but has the look of a high cell CCC glider
Photo: Ozone Website

This photo of two Enzo 2s spiralling (or thermalling) together shows both the the high cell count and the extreme aspect ratio perfectly. On the glider with its top surface showing, the flexing of the lower wing tip is clearly visible. The braking on the inside wind does exaggerate the aspect ratio somewhat.

Ozone Enzo 2 
CCC with 101 cells. The most successful competition glider out there today
Photo: Gleitshirm Direct Website

As I write this, the internet is abuzz with the last new high cell sensation. From one of paraglidings newest manufacturers, Triple Seven, comes the Checkmate prototype, which looks like it might have a cell count between 125 and 150. Apparently the Valic brother flew these to high results in a recent European competition. As the gliders are prototypes, they were not allowed to be in the official results. At a guess it looks like these cells are perhaps only 10cm or less.

Checkmate Prototype: 150 cells?
Photo: Paragliding Forum discussion board

The Bottom Line: Better Glide and Turbulence Behaviour with Increased Safety

In recent years, a number of highly experienced pilots that previously flew competition gliders noticeably stepped down to Sport class gliders. The glider of choice seemed to have been the UP Trango XC2 which was rated as EN-C, but which most people seemed to consider really performed (and required the piloting skills) of an EN-D.

Recently at the 2016 Rat Race I asked Mark Hardman, a well know instructor in New Zealand, whether people fly competition class gliders in New Zealand. He answered that basically no one does. This is because in New Zealand conditions, pilots typically fly close to very rugged mountains at quite low altitudes and sometimes windy conditions. No one really wants to be on a competition glider in those situations, due to the extreme behaviour if collapses do occur.

Where I fly in southern California, despite an abundance of flying site and flyable days, there are only a handful of pilots on CCC wings . With our flying mix of dynamic terrain soaring, thermalling, frequent low saves from baking hot air in rugged terrain, and razor sharp thermals from large boulder strewn hillsides, having a high aspect wing is not the preferred choice.

Record flights around the world still require the best gliders, a look at the gliders flown in recent records in the Brazilian flatlands confirms that. But there are very few pilots that have the endurance to fly 11 hrs and attempt to break 500km. In the flatland flying situation, apart from scary looking high wind launches, those pilots rarely get less than 1000ft over ground for the entire flight.

Pilots doing large triangles in the European alps have gradually decreased the class of glider they fly. Those flights typically are 6-8 hours, with a huge variety of flying conditions, from strong lee side thermals, ridge soaring, and crossing areas of strong valley winds. There too, outside of competition, stability and comfort for long flights is becoming the priority for the glider of choice.

The areas where ultra high aspect ratio wings really excel are flat out racing at top level, flying into strong wind (which XC pilots really try and avoid, but is inevitable in racing), and flat out distance racing such as necessary to break new records. For all other types of paragliding, aspect ratio seems to come at a high cost of increased pilot fatigue and stress for the extra performance it provides.

The really good news is the high cell gliders at the EN-B and EN-C level will in general increase performance for the same aspect ratio.  This may may make lower class gliders more attractive to XC pilots who still need enough glide and performance to feel they can confidently make bold XC decisions such as a committing transition between thermals,  without the worry of arriving at tree top height with the need to scratch in a unknown and potentially dangerous location.

They will also likely appreciate not having to be constantly actively flying a twitchy, high aspect ratio wing in order to still progress in their flying goals and challenges. Overall, the trend of not having to step up to a paraglider that is more difficult to fly in order to keep progressing in the sport will be a great thing.  In 2016, almost every San Diego site record was broken by a relatively new pilot flying a Delta 2.  It would be almost unthinkable to have flown a EN-D or CCC wing on many of the days those flights were made, but the Delta 2 has the mix to glide, thermalling, collapse resistance and solidity on speedbar to give pilots confidence to progress as fast as their skill development and time to fly takes them.  The arrival of a bunch of high cell count EN-B or EN-C glider could make the learning curve to more challenging flights or Sport Class competition flying both safer and more fun for many pilots.

A few predictions

1. High cell count gliders are here to stay. The increase in complexity will be compensated for by more sophisticated manufacturing and use of lightweight materials for the internal structure
 2. As high cell count gliders move down the glider classes similar to the sharknose did, we will see better gliders at EN-D, EN-C and EN-B level. Beginner and school gliders are likely to stay basic and probably much less affected by this trend, as beginners cannot really take advantage of the performance advantages.
3.  Chances are very high that if you are an intermediate or sport class pilot, your next paraglider will have more cells than your last one, even if you don't move up a glider class or increase aspect ratio.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

SoCal XC League - Final Results

An interesting year for the SoCal XC League, once again generously organized by Aaron Price. Aaron puts a huge amount of time into the organization, including writing custom code to automate many of the administrative tasks. This years innovations saw automated generation of Dooarma replays for all pilots that submitted tracklogs, which is just amazing for post race analysis and entertainment.

2016 Final Results

The start of the season saw a lot of amazing midweek flights in the area by many pilots - but average weather for our XC League events. I work a full time job and had parents visiting from New Zealand for two months in spring, so couldn't take advantage of the great weather and some of the epic convergence lines that setup mid week.

Five out of a total of 16 SoCal XC League events got cancelled this year, with a combination of weather, fire and an accident. Not surprisingly, event organizer Aaron Price was a bit discouraged by the cancellations, especially when epic flying had been had by league pilots on weekends and weekdays when we didn't have events. Just bad luck. Maybe we are simply spoiled in southern California with too many flyable days. There are not many local leagues around the world that have events set over an eight month flying season, and are disappointed when a quarter of events aren't flyable. I know in my native country New Zealand, they consider themselves lucky even to get a flyable national champs every year! Last year the kiwis traveled to Australia to host their nationals, a bit like the Brits travel to somewhere in Europe.

I struggled to stay motivated for the whole season with a combination of parents visiting and a family trip to Germany. These took me away from regular flying for weeks in the middle of the spring and summer.  By the end of the season I didn't even go to as the Owens for the final event as the Owens increasingly seems to me like a lot of driving for hit and miss flying. Several races I really should have flown better, but didn't slow down in order to climb high at the right time, instead racing myself into the ground in the hopes of finding the next thermal.  Others I just didn't feel quite as motivated as in 2014 and 2015 when I first started flying the SoCal XC League and was second both years in Sport Class. I ended up tenth overall, down from fifth last year. Last year I was helped by winning the first race of the season, which definitely helps get a head-start in the points and amps up your motivation.

The standard in the SoCal league increased so much in the last years that there are pilots that can now both race hard and fly effectively. Local legend and national sport class champion Len Szafaryn in first place showed how much years of flying experience at Marshall counts,  winning three of the seven events he flew. Russ Detweiler aka "The Professor" was close behind showing how he has now successfully evolved his consistent, persistent style into a hard charging racing one. Russ won just one race, but scored over 900 points in four more, showing how consistent he was. Russ did have an eventful flying year, throwing his reserve at Chelan in strong wind, and breaking his arm in the Owens valley after getting caught by a gust on launch.

Bill Hardesty in third showed that when he turns up he is just as good as paragliding as he is at professional yacht racing - calculated, determined, tactical and fast!

We are probably lucky Chris Cote didn't attend more league events. It took him just three events to get seventh place. Thanks to his flexible Navy job, he was busy using every flyable day of this season to break San Diego site records and pioneer agressive new XC routes all over San Diego county. Sadly Chris will be posted overseas from mid next year for a couple of years with the Navy, so we'll miss his boundless energy  unlimited enthusiasm and organizing of many spontaneous XC days in the San Diego area.

Rookie of the season was definitely Mike Lester, in eighth place on a B-Class wing in his first year in the league. His first event was task five.  An amazing performance with improvements every single event. Showed how much he learned flying in the Rat Race Sprint and by hanging out with me  I guess... I think he is the only person who said he read all of my previous year's Rat Race blog posts!

Many of the tasks this year were set harder than the last two years. In particular the previously considered quite difficult task of Marshall to the Hanger 24 brewery is now considered a achievable "milk run" on most decent days. A group of female pilots all made the trip to Hanger 24 this season by flying together and taking their time. It's such a cool goal, with hard fought climbs and some tricky transitions required to get down the range, but once you are high over Mt Harrison, the reward a glide out over an active airport, then an easy landing right by the hippest brewery in the area!

I love the XC League for the camaraderie of launching as a group with a defined objective in mind. For me it's much more interesting that just trying to do big distance or flying into uncharted terrain with no idea how you will get retrieve.  The SoCal XC League has hugely increased my flying pleasure after moving here to San Diego in 2013.

Lets hope 2017 is another great year!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Really great article on paragliding psychology....

This is probably the best article I've ever read on paragliding psychology.

Here is the link to Cross Country Magazine where the article first appeared

The Headgame: Understanding Paragliding Psychology   

 - by Matt Warren

The Flow Channel … If you have high skill but set yourself low-level challenges you will be bored. If you have zero skill and a big challenge, you’re in danger. The trick is to match your skill level with the ambition of the challenge.

Here are a couple of comments about my own thoughts after reading the article:
My personal experience of this concept of the "Flow channel' was highlighted in the last two years. After witnessing the tragic death of a fellow pilot in 2015, I found my paragliding skill level and motivation level immediately plateaued. This article and particularly the diagram (reproduced above) helped me understand where my sixteen year flying career was headed and what sort of flying I needed to focus on in order to stay in the zone of enjoyment. 

I'd always been a very part time pilot, having moved around the world living for 12 years to places with limited local flying, so I had to always travel to fly. Moving to southern California, with its year round flying season, allowed me to move more rapidly up the skills side of the graph, but stay in the flow channel of enjoyment with a mixture of excitement,  relaxation and new challenges.  This even resulted in me winning a couple of races in our local paragliding league as I rapidly progressed and gain confidence.

My friends death jolted me out of the flow channel and deep into the Anxiety Zone. Essentially I went straight up on the graph even when the flying I was doing was technically the same.  When I went to the US Nationals in the Owens valley in late 2015, I felt uncomfortable in the air almost every day,  and performed well below my expectations.

My realization this year is that to stay in the flow channel for many years and stay safe, it is OK to choose what sort of flying you really want to do and are comfortable with. I needed to remind myself often that what we do as pilots is so exceptional and so otherworldly to most of the non-pilots we meet, that even the most boring sled run on a disappointing day is still a miracle to be enjoyed and celebrated.

Thanks to Matt Warren for this amazing article.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Converting a Paragliding Harness into a Reversible Harness

Problem: The Paragliding Packing Battle

Ever had a battle trying to get a large pod paragliding harness into its backpack? I have a bulky Sup Air Sharmane Full Race harness.  With its airbag and neoprene pod, it is often very awkward to get into the backpack.  Sometimes, in our hot southern California conditions, we pack up after cross country flights in temperatures of 100 degrees (37 Celsius). Any less effort required to pack up in those conditions makes a difference to your mood and tiredness at the end of the day!

As an competition pilot, I am also aware of the importance of a fixed and efficient routine on launch. All paragliding pilots learn routine safety checks before you fly. But often what happens before that as we unpack our gear is just as important in terms of your state of mind before you fly, especially if you are fighting the extra dose of nerves that come in a competition. Losing a key piece of gear or having to repack you backpack twice into your harness can unsettle you. The effect of this can be taking off in a less than optimum mental state, which adds just one extra small risk factor into our flying. This is something every pilot should be seeking to avoid.

Thinking about this all made me wonder why harness manufacturers don't more often build the backpack into the harness, making it exactly the right size for the harness. For some reason, when we buy a paraglider, a pack is almost always included. When we buy a harness, unless it is a rare reversible or convertible design, the pack is not included.  Paragliders are almost always more or less the same physical size when packed. But depending on the design, harnesses are not! They come in all different styles and sizes and would benefit from having a custom fitted backpack.  It would make much more sense for the harness to come with the backpack, not the paraglider. Perhaps this is historic and do with the high cost of a new paraglider or the result of  self-promotion on the side of paraglider manufacturers.

Solution: Reversible Harness Modification

I wondered a few times if my harness could be modified to attach my existing standard Ozone backpack to the harness in such a way that it effectively became a reversible harness.  After studying the harness closely and analyzing how I was packing it and what alternative ways I could pack it, I realized the modification should work well.

Because the Sharmane Full Race is an airbag harness, I had to carefully insure that the airflow required to inflate the harness was not going to be impacted by any modifications, and also that I wasn't going to compromise the tension at the back of the harness which might have changed the safety or handling. On this harness neither of those things were a concern. Structural tension is achieved through webbing tapes inside the harness back, and the pieces I modified were neither aerodynamic or structural. This sort of modification may not work with all harnesses.

The whole process required about hour of thought and a page of scribbled design, a trip to the local craft store for lightweight nylon fabric, 45 inch zipper, stick on velcro and seam tape. I had to remove and discard the existing shaped storage fairing. The new backpack container had to be foldable, so I discarded the original foam shaping material as well.   To replace the old storage fairing, using my sewing machine I created a lightweight storage container design with a zipper through the centerline, so it could be folded apart in order to reveal the backpack, which was sewn into the back of the harness.

Luckily, in my Sharmane harness, the whole back section was able to zipped out with just one seam needing to be unstitched.  This made it a lot easily to sew the new lightweight storage container and backpack to it. Seam tape was essential along all cut edges as the nylon was not the rip-stop sort and frayed quickly. Next time, I'll buy rip-stop nylon like paraglider material. Some patient sewing skills were required to execute final step of stitching the bulky backpack to the harness back section. One broken sewing machine needle later it was done...  I used adhesive velcro to replace the stitching on the seam, and then zipped the whole new construction in place.

The total work time was about 4 hrs.

The Result: Success!

After the modification was complete, setting up and stowing my packback become a delight. Unzip the back and let the harness fall out. Then the backpack easily flips inside out and zips neatly into the new storage container sewed onto the back of the harness. It takes 30 seconds or less.

Packing up works even better than expected!   Because the backpack is sewn into the optimal position on the harness for packing, the harness can't slide around during packing. It's always perfectly aligned with the backpack.  Rather than fighting to stuff it in, it now goes in exactly the same way every time. The glider ends up at the top, which makes squeezing the air out easy to reduce the bulk. The built in harness cushioning is located perfectly against your lower back area, making wearing the backup more comfortable than it ever was previously.  There is almost no 'stuffing' or awkward misalignment to worry about. Success!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

SoCal XC League - Weekend 6 - Owens Valley

Well, another interesting SoCal XC League weekend!

Weather looked good for the Owens Valley, although a few said it is still too early in the Autumn for good conditions.

To save the long drive, Saturday was at a site many of us had never flown. It's called 9 mile, on the east side of the Sierras, far enough south that the range is about 6,000 ft. The object is to climb out from a fairly low launch deep in a large bowl, then fly up the range and downwind as far as possible.

Conditions on launch looked good, with nice thermals coming through. People started to launch and it soon became clear that no one was climbing out. We had quite a large group, so pretty soon there were about fifteen gliders in the air, all ridge soaring the same large steep bowl. Whenever someone pushed out a bit into the valley to find thermals, they seemed to do a couple of turns then fall out and start sinking.

After about 35 minutes of soaring back and forth, I realized that the wind was strengthening in from the valley, meaning that in the weak thermals, even if we could find a thermal that would take us out of the bowl, it would drift over the back of the spine into dubious looking terrain.

Then the wind started to get really funky. Apparently the wind started coming over the back and mixing with the valley wind. At that point I decided to head out down the valley, hoping to get out of the big bowl onto the next ridge and maybe find better conditions.

I spotted a glider down deep in the bowl, kiting up the hill, and assumed someone had sunk out and was trying to get some height to relaunch. Then some radio chatter started that another  pilot had landed hard and had minor injuries but was going to walk out.

Continuing to fly down the valley, I started to sink out, so made a nice clean easy sidehill landing on the soft sandy mountainside just above the road.  Four or five other pilots also headed down the valley and landed on a road cutout.  Turned out that the pilot that had landed was more badly injured than expected, so we packed up and headed back up towards the accident site.  By that time an ambulance had arrived along with the Sheriff and Fire department.

The accident site was 600 ft above the road, up a 1 in 4 grade sandy hillside, in temperatures in the mid 90s. The EMT from the ambulance was clearly not up to the task of hiking up that hill, so myself and three other pilots hiked up to the accident site.

The next three hours were pretty harrowing. We had a badly injured pilot who was dehydrated and in extreme pain, and very scared. Local rescue that were not even fit enough for a mountain rescue, and  helicopter evac services that were given insufficient information. The first chopper flew into the valley and then flew out again, having been told that the accident was on a road. They had no winch so couldn't do a mountain rescue.  The second one took another two hours to arrive, then had to first land on the road to open their door and setup the winch. Then they took off and landed again on the ridgeline to let an EMT out with a backboard.  I hiked up the 400ft to met the EMT and hiked down with the backboard.

When we finally got the accident victim onto the backboard and connected to the winch, it spun horrifyingly at least twenty times before getting hauled into the helicopter.

In the end it turned out good for this unlucky pilot. She spent some weeks in the hospital with a broken hip, fractured vertebrae and a lot of bruising. She'll make a full recovery.

If this accident had happened 25km down the course line in the much bigger Sierra Nevada mountains, it may have turned out a lot worse.

Great turnout for this event... with no idea how this day would turn out

Aaron with nice small 'hike and fly' backpack

I landed sidehill on the sandy slope in the background after winds picked up 
and one of the pilots had crashed

The view from the accident site, 600ft above the road in easy sandy terrain.
The paramedic was not even fit enough to make this simple hike!

Keeping the sun off the accident victim was the many issue in 95 degree fahrenheit temperatures

I hiked up to the Highway Patrol helicopter to bring down the backboard

Ready for evacuation

Chopper coming in to winch up the accident victim

Friday, September 23, 2016

Two Flights and Two Big Collapses

Punchy September air at two different locations gave me massive collapses in the last weeks. Given that I've been flying for 16 years and I can count the number of collapses of this size on the fingers on one hand, this was statistically very unusual.

Usually I fly in pretty good air and go to land when conditions are not comfortable.

As these are pretty unusual experiences for me it's worth a big of analysis.

Collapse One, Owens Valley
The first one was in the Owens Valley. Fairly typical Owens conditions, with 15-20km valley winds picking up as they day went on. We'd launched from Paiute about 11:30 am and flew 10km north then turned upwind towards Bishop. I'd just passed the LZ and was trying to get high again over the wash close to the LZ. I had chosen to fly out over the valley rather than going back into the terrain because the wind was stronger close to the terrain.

At around 12:30 after an hour flying I'd just flown through some lifty but disorganized air (not even what I would describe as a thermal) when 80% of the wing just instantly disappeared in a huge asymmetric collapse. Classic collapse behavior, with 145 degree immediate rotation in a dive to the collapsed side. I could feel the wing thrashing around through the brake lines for a few seconds, then it re-inflated almost instantaneously. Then the next thing I knew the glider surged right over my head and was level with the horizon 90% in front of me. That was the first time in my paragliding career I've had the glider on the horizon in front of me. The entire surge felt like happened within 1-2 seconds although maybe it was longer.  I thought "oh no you don't" and gave a huge pull on both brakes to stop the dive and possibly falling into the wing.  The wing shot back over my head and I released both brakes simultaneously.  And then nothing. The glider was back overhead, solid as a rock, flying straight and level, no pitch, bank, tip cravats or softness. Complete recovery.

It was shocking how completely it recovered from the series of dramatic wing actions: collapse with the wing behind, spiral deep dive, re-inflation, new dive, then 90% pitch correction to normal flight.

Collapse Two, Marshall
Poorer conditions than forecast at Marshall, with top of lift only around 5500ft with a strong inversion. I was climbing in a ratty thermal above Regionals when I had a 100% full frontal with absolutely no warning. The entire wing crumpled back 60 degrees behind me within 1-2 seconds. There must have been some unevenness in the original collapse because I rotated 180 degrees while falling back and below the messed up wing. it was effectively a fully stalled wing.  Briefly considered throwing my reserve because of the strong rotation and the completely collapsed glider. Through the light pressure I still had on the brakes I felt the wing thrashing around as it spontaneously reinflated yanking the brake lines this way and that, and then it was flying again fully open and flying quite suddenly. No cravats or oscillation. Just moderate pitch correction required as there was little to no surge. Decided to fly out into the flats after that....

In hindsight, in both these major (80% and 100% of wingspan) paraglider collapses,  the glider did a textbook recovery for my Delta 2 Sport Class paraglider. Everything was within the parameters for this type of paraglider given the major nature of these collapses.    Possibly I should have consciously gone 'hands up' in both situations, but in neither instance did my light brake input cause any additional cascade activity or slow down the reinflation.  Rather it enabled me to feel what was going on and make appropriate pitch control as soon as the recovery surge to normal flight occurred.  The reinflation was so rapid in both collapses that almost no (conscious) pilot input was feasible due to the timeframe. Barely time to think, weight shift or take any other deliberate action. The surge in the asymmetric collapse was also normal behavior (even if very dramatic) and my reactions eliminated any additional abnormal activity within about five seconds.

In both situations I had about 2000 ft above ground. That means I would have at least ten to twenty seconds to attempt recovery of any further cascading issues or twists, which are likely results of such big collapses before needing to seriously consider about reserve deployment.

Because the recovery was textbook both times and very fast, I felt astoundingly un-rattled by both situations. One of my previous collapses on my last wing (the original Delta) went into a series of wild pitches and rolls as it recovered. The whole situation left me hyperventilating for 10 minutes and feeling motion sick. I had to deliberately talk myself into a calmer state to continue flying rather than just pushing out to a safe landing zone.  With these collapses, everything happened so fast and the recovery to normal flight was so powerful and complete that it was almost all over before adrenaline kicked in and started to mess with my physiology and mental state. I've also a new respect for what an incredible glider the Delta 2 is.

Laguna Launch

Launching at Laguna is tricky!  The launch is barely big enough to lay out a glider, and on a flat area. It's environmentally sensitive, so the club is not allowed to cut the brush and make it bigger.

You have to pull up in a slight lee into thermals that barrel up a 3,000 ft slope of baking granite boulders. You never quite know which way the wind is blowing until you pull up.

Once the glider is stable over your head, you dance towards a tiny slot about 6 ft wide, below which are nothing but rocks and scratchy scrub. At some point you usually get yanked off the ground as you get out of the lee air and into the main airflow.

Our retrieve driver caught this sequence of photos of my launch dance on the third attempt to launch...

Game on!

Pull up ...

Get control

Get yanked sideways!

Tip toe forwards...

Get airborne!

Kick some bushes going sideways...

and off we go...

Into the wild blue yonder!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Palm Springs Airspace

Over the last weeks a number of very talented San Diego pilots made the 100km 'must do' flight from Mt Laguna to the Palm Springs area.I tried to be one of them, but messed it up by getting on the wrong side of the convegence, despite climbing to 9500ft in the smoothest thermal I had ever flown in that area.

One of the flights by Chris Cote broke the site record, and it triggered some discussion about whether airspace was potentially violated by some of the pilots that flew that day.  I'm not going to analyze that here, rather I used the chatter as an opportunity to review the sectional chart for Palm Springs for the time that I do achieve this flight and want to land safely without violating airspace!

I found this lovely blog post from a Cessna pilot which is a great aid to reading Sectional Charts.

Section Chart for the Palm Springs Area

Palm Springs Class D Airspace
The tricky thing in for paragliding pilots in Palm Springs is that the Class D goes from the surface right into the mountains below Mt San Jacinto, where it intersects with the mountains at around 3000ft.

If you are on a final glide descending from the mountains from Anza, you are going to be in the airspace any time you are over houses in Palm Springs.

To avoid landing in airspace you have to stay high along the slopes of San Jacinto (probably 5000-6000ft) as they are very steep. You would have to fly all around the corner of the mountains into the extremely windy Banning pass area to be clear of the airspace, then along with the wind is one of the biggest wind farms in the world, with all the associated turbulence they might cause. Certainly a double risk factor for landing in that area.

Alternatively, you might land just in the Indian Canyon area southwest of Palm Springs,  before the airspace begins. Unfortnately, you are going to just a few km short of a 100km flight from Laguna if you do this!

I've heard about pilots flying right over the airspace to get to the Morongo Valley. As the airspace goes to 3000 meters, you really need to be at 11-12,000ft on San Jancinto to attempt this. You could make the crossing lower over Palm Desert before the airspace, although obviously as that is on the upwind approach to a fairly large airport with commercial jets, private jets (lots of weathy people live here) and small private planes, that would also require extreme caution.

If you are taking the route more towards Palm Desert, the Rancho Mirage wash would be the last obvious landing area before you are in the airspace. It's highly visible and makes a perfect retreive location with services and a major road junction.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

SoCal XC League Weekend 6 Day 2 Cancelled by Fire

Another cancelled task today, this time due to fire not weather!

Just as we were about to launch, a huge fire broke out over the back of Crestline. I giant cloud of smoke billowed up as we prepared to launch, and pretty soon there were helicopters flying up the left of us, spotter planes flying up to the right of us!

Some of us decided to fly rather than drive down, and then we shut the whole LZ down as a safety precaution to other pilots.

The fire broke out just as Russ was putting his socks on

The smoke billowed to about 8000ft and then the helicopters and air tankers started flying up to the left and right of launch... Often below launch height

Monday, June 27, 2016

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Rat Race Day 8 - Saturday

Last day and made goal in a hectic task with four loops in in the valley in perfect Woodrat conditions. The Sprint also did a course with multiple loops, meaning that there were gliders on every peak and flying in almost every direction for over three hours

Finally a task that was set both for flat out racing for the competition class gliders, but also much more achievable for Sport class. We did a four loops around the valley with a complex 15 total turnpoints. It made for meticoulous GPS programming, and a spectacular event for spectators, who could sit on the ground at Longsword winery and see 100 gliders in the air for over 2 yrs in all directions.

This is the sort of task setting I could imagine being popular for media and spectators if paragliding ever becomes an Olympic sport.

I flew conservatively, determined to no mess up by ending too low if it got windy. It was great race with people all around me for most of the many transitions. At the end Jeff Williams and I took at strong thermal together over Burnt to get high for the final full bar push into the landing field at Longsword.

The conditions were perfect, with less wind than yesterday, and Rabies, Burnt and Woodrat providing predictable thermals to heights that were more than enough to complete each transition. I only had one quite low moment on Burnt after the second loop.

Lots of happy pilots in goal with no retrieve makes for happy pilots and it was the perfect choice of task for the end of eight consecutive days of flying. The goal field was full with glasses of Longsword's beautiful chardonnay adding to the happy mood.

I ended up 30th today, 12th in Race Sport overall, and 44th overall. Given that the field was significantly smaller than last year, my result was comparable with two years ago, and confirmed where my flying is at. 

I probably ever won't do much better than this in paragliding competitions unless I start flying much more than I do now, which is limited by family and job commitments. A good realization to make, in order to decide whether paragliding competitions are a good use of my flying days, or whether I should focus on less stressful and longer cross country flights with more downwind flying.

Click the image below for tracklog on Leonardo

A lot of happy pilots in goal after an amazing competition flying every day for eight days.

Waiting for the Prizegiving

Mike Haley final gets to relax after another successful Rat Race event

Name to watch: Emily Mistick - up and coming womens Sprint winner

Hard Fought Sprint Class - Probably tougher competition than the Sport Class pilots in the Race

Super Clinic

Friday, June 24, 2016

Rat Race Day 7 - Friday

Very frustrating day for me with the wind picking up unextectedly and catching me out. After a pretty efficient start without too much wasted time,  I worked hard to get up to the turnpoint at Mt Isabel in the rapidly strengthening wind.

On the way back to the turnpoint at Woodrat, the wind seemed to strengthen even more and was sweeping the valley as I made the transition back to Woodrat. I found myself approaching Woodrat mountain at close to 60km/h because of the tailwind! I could have dived really close into the steep gully below launch at probably managed to climb out, but in that wind there might have been no lift at all, or extreme turbulence over 60 ft fir trees. Another 300 ft on my glide over and it would have not been an issue.

The wind was wiping out any of the usual thermal spots on the ridge below launch, so I had to land down at the bailout in the hot gusty conditions in a very discouraged mood.

Decided to go for a bike ride instead of stewing in the frustration of the flight. I rode up to Applegate Lake which is a beautiful ride along a winding river road in beautiful sunshine.

A fair few other people also got stuck so I only dropped one place in the results to 39th.


Growing pot is no secret and big business here in Oregon. Apparently the plantations have to be behind fencing now, but there is no mistaking the aroma!

Bike Ride Destination: Applegate lake

My Fezzari on the dam at Applegate lake, looking downstream towards Woodrat

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rat Race Day 5 - Thursday

A fun day flying in beautiful conditions, much better than yesterday's high winds. Another complex course, this time accommodating the C class gliders more after yesterdays slug fest into which  caused a lot of grumbling, not to mention reserver tosses and tree landings. The course went up the ridge to Rabies Peak, back to Burnt, across to Woodrat again, over to Rabies again, then out to Jacksonville for a complex loop.

I was doing great until the leg back from Jacksonville to the Cemetary turnpoint. After tagging the Cemetary turnpoint, lift got harder to find, as is often the case when transitioning out into the valley. I didn't change gears to the slower pace required, so sank out in the long field on Poormans creek road with a bunch of other pilots.

39th out of 48 pilots today.


Click link to see tracklog on Leonardo

A few pictures using the tilt focus mode on my Canon