dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
[personal profile] dreaminghope
A week ago, Russ, Craig, and I went to Nova Scotia for paragliding. We had a wonderful time, fell in love with the Maritimes, and even got in a bit of flying towards the end of our vacation, despite some weather issues.

The sites we were flying in Nova Scotia were different than we are used to. We're mountain flyers: flying with the eagles, seeking thermals, being 2000 feet up. This was coastal ridge flying: soaring with seagulls, hugging the landscape, only launching from 100 feet up. The launches were also different, and the winds were higher. This led to the silliest launch I've ever had... or even seen.

To understand, first you need to know that a paraglider needs to achieve a certain speed in order to fly. The exact amount depends on the wing and the weight of the pilot, but let's give an example: a wing may need 35 km/hour to launch without any brake (at "trim"). If you add some brake, slowing the glider, it will launch at a slightly slower speed - maybe 30 km/hour. If the wind is higher than your launch wing speed, you will go backwards, which is why we don't launch in 35 km/hour winds.

To achieve that 30 km/hour, you add the wind speed to your speed: 10 km/hour wind plus a 20 km/hour run, for example.

Now, you don't usually have to sustain the run very long, because as soon as you and the wind reach that 30 km/hour, you launch, but it helps to have a sloping launch, as running downhill is naturally faster. Also, the wind is better over a smooth slope.

There are different shapes of launches, and some are more challenging than others. Our mountain launch at Mount Woodside is a pretty ideal one, especially for novices:

Nice Launch

The shape of the launch means that the wind is very smooth over the curve, you pull your wing up in the true wind, and your run is downhill and allows for you to keep your weight on the wing very easily.

In contrast, the launches in Nova Scotia were often tabletops:

High Wind Table Top Launches

The shape of this launch is tough: the wind at the very edge and up where the wing will be flying is higher than the wind on the ground where you pull up, and there's no slope to help with your run.

The other thing you need to know is that wing behave slightly differently depending on the weight of the pilot. There are different sizes of wings, but they still have a weight range. For example, my small Icaro Instinct is for 70 to 95 kg. If you are heavy on your wing, the take-off speed goes up, as does the speed you fly at. If you are light, the take-off speed goes down, along with your flying speed.

My total flying weight, including all my usual equipment, is about 80 kg; almost exactly mid-weight on my wing. Usually this works out really well for me, especially for my specialty: low wind forward launches.

On Friday morning, we went to West Bay. The winds felt calm until we got to the edge of the launch, when we discovered that they were actually about 25 km/hour, with some higher gusts. Still, that's the kind of winds you need to make ridge soaring work, so we set up. Russ and Craig both had good launches, and then it was my turn. I was nervous. Reverse launches, which you need to do in stronger winds, are not my strong point, and these winds are much higher than we ever use at home. Still, I had done a high wind launch the day before at Fox River and we had Brian, an assistant instructor from Pegasus Paragliding, with us to give advice and keep an eye on me.

Because the winds were so much lower at ground level, Brian helped by lifting the edge of my wing up. I pulled up with good control, got the wing stabilized, turned around to do my run, and launched with one step. The only problem was, I launched to where my feet were about two feet off the ground, but I had no forward momentum. Being light on my wing, my trim speed matched the wind speed so closely that I was going neither forward nor back, but just hanging in the air trying vainly to run, like Wile Coyote off a cliff. It must have looked hilarious: I'm in my launch posture - leaning way forward and hands all the way up behind me to keep brakes all the way off - running in the air about two feet off the flat part of launch. Brian managed not to laugh at me, somehow, and had time to walk up behind me while I hung there and started pushing on the back of my harness. He pushed me off the edge to where I could turn so I wasn't flying directly into the wind and could finally fly free.

Yup, that's me: the push-start paraglider!

Over dinner, Russ, Craig, and I brain-stormed ideas for ways I could have launched without Brian's help. The first lesson is one of preparation: if I had added extra weight (about 10 kg of ballast, usually in the form of bags of water), my launch speed would have gone up, and there probably wouldn't have been a problem. Alternatively, I could have added a bit of brake, which would have started me flying backwards but would probably also have gained me some altitude. With some height over launch, I could have used my speed bar to make my wing faster and flown into the wind just fine. Good to know my options beyond asking random spectators to give me a shove.
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February 2014


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