By Chad Bastian and Lee Anne Norris
I’ve spent enough time on all kinds of flying machines to learn that most pilots, whatever their aircraft, share one goal – They Want To Get More Airtime.
I fly free flight paragliders, powered paragliders (PPG), hang gliders and even the occasional PPG and HG trike. The result is that I have become a better all around pilot than I could have become on any single machine.
I have a quiver of toys that allows me to fly almost every day. This versatility gives me more airtime, not to mention greater opportunities to explore the air and its intricacies; understand the societal pressures on all aspects of our sport; and develop a lot of great friendships with others that share this flying dream.
Unfortunately, while crossing the line between flying venues, I am often reminded that there is a battle waging within our sport. I constantly hear comments placing one form of flight against another. Sadly, a lack of facts, a self-important certainty that “They” are less knowledgeable, more dangerous, or just not as cool as “Us” keeps two flying communities at odds. If we can overcome this bias, we could begin working and flying together. The two sports combined political strength could open more flying sites and create positive public policy supporting all air sports. So come on, the air’s great, cross over and unite!
The 10 Best Reasons to Cross Over
From PPG Pilot to Free Flight
1. Get More Airtime. Many PPG pilots avoid the thermic times of day. While they are eating brunch, reminiscing about the sunrise flight they had and looking forward to a sunset flight, free flight pilots are capturing the power of thermic updrafts and getting great flights in the mid-day conditions.
2. Get More Airtime. One of the greatest limiting factors on flight time in a PPG is fuel. Combining the techniques of soaring free flight with a motorized flight allows the PPG pilot to switch off the motor and power to the thermals - conserving fuel and lengthening their flight time.
3. Get More Airtime. Soaring free flight allows the pilot to take advantage of natural kinds of lift, such as ridge lift, without the expenditure of fuel. On one notable day, I actually spent 10 hours straight (anything for a new record) enjoying the air at a local cliff soaring site – without a motor.
4. Learn Safety Maneuvers. Taking the motor off allows a PPG Pilot to take part in an over-the-water Maneuvers Clinics. The pilot can then experience first hand, in a controlled environment, the collapses and stalls that can occur in any paraglider and how to quickly and capably recover from these incidents.
5. Take On New Challenges. Free Flying introduces the PPG pilot to a new intimacy with the air. A good thermal pilot will thoroughly understand weather and rely heavily on their senses of touch, hearing, sight and even smell to give them clues about what the air around them is doing.
From Free Flight to PPG
6. Get More Airtime. PG pilots spend the morning hours waiting for the earth to heat and for thermals to begin their ascent to the skies before they even set up their gliders. They are sitting on launch waiting, while PPG Pilots are flying the silky smooth air of morning.
7. Get More Airtime. PPG pilots can fly a potentially great soaring site where access to the launch area is nonexistent. With a motor, a pilot can launch from miles away, motor to the site, shut off the motor and soar with the birds.
8. Get More Airtime. Take advantage of a missed launch window. One of my favorite flying sites is where a morning convergence sets up. At this site, the wind switches from straight in, to over the back, creating a perfect but very short-lived moment to launch into the convergence and free fly for miles. Some pilots inevitably miss that tiny launch window. They will end up chasing the lucky pilots for miles down the valley. With a motor in the trunk, if I miss the "switch", I can launch over the back, climb up and join the gaggle in the convergence!
9. Find Safer Landing Options. Landing during thermic periods can result in the free flight pilot being forced to land downwind in switching conditions. The PPG pilot can avoid this by using the motor’s power to gain altitude and go around again if the wind direction suddenly changes while they are on their final approach.
10. Take On New Challenges. One of the most exciting and challenging XC competitions combines motoring and soaring flight. One of the tasks in these competitions requires the free flight competitor to put away their gps and stretch, using only a map and a compass to complete the course. Another task includes thermalling and endurance and may allow gps, but to make it more difficult they require launching with a small, pre-measured amount of fuel. These tasks can be complicated even further by requiring the pilot to declare how many turn-points they will make and an exact time for their return. A pilot taking part in this competition can expect it to build upon their thermalling and motoring skills, as well as require them to master fuel and time management.
So Now You’re Convinced that Crossing Over May Be For You.
What’s the Next Step?
You’ve been a Free Flight or a PPG pilot for a couple of years now. You have, 20, 50 even a 100 or more hours under the wing and you’ve got this sport mastered. Since the way you have been flying is so much more difficult and takes so much more skill and knowledge than the way “They” fly, it should be an easy transition from A to B, right? Well, yes and no.
True, both soaring free flight and powered paragliding rely on almost identical pieces of cloth and lines to take advantage of lift and fly. However, the mechanical forces acting upon the two aircrafts results in enough differences that safely crossing over from one sport to the other requires qualified, certified, instruction. Good training can save a new pilot from costly and painful mistakes, since an experienced instructor can often identify a potential problem before it materializes. The following is the top ten list of considerations, it is by no means comprehensive. There are many more critical considerations, detailed information and insightful hints and tips that will be provided by a qualified instructor.
The Top 10 Considerations When Crossing Over
From PPG to Free Flight
1. Understanding the Weather. Both powered and unpowered flight in a paraglider require that the pilot have an understanding of weather and what conditions are appropriate to fly in. Pilots wanting to soar in thermals or convergence must study the weather even more closely to determine safe wind speeds and temperature differentials. Understanding the predictions for lapse rate and winds aloft is essential if one hopes to stay aloft. More importantly, understanding what amount of lift and wind is and is not appropriate for your experience level will keep you flying safely for a long time to come.
2. Mastering Launching Techniques. When launching into free flight, the pilot will lean on the chest strap, in the classic "torpedo" position. They will hold this posture until well into the air before looking for the foot stirrup and getting back into the seat. Once the glider is inspected (during the inflation), it is unnecessary to continue to look at it. The free flight pilot will rely on feel, and control the glider overhead by gentle contact with the brake toggles.
3. Air Instability and Thermalling. Bumpy air can be unsettling at first. That’s okay. Thermalling should be approached with a great deal of respect. Determining what conditions are appropriate and how to efficiently work the lift that is available is a challenge. Taking a thermal clinic with an advanced rated USHGA instructor is a good investment. Such a clinic will help you learn how to identify the best parts of thermal lift and give you the knowledge you need to make safe use of this lift source.
4. Tandem Requirements. Please remember that simply buying a tandem setup does not allow you to perform flights with a passenger. Our FAA exemption allows pilots to fly *single* place PG and PPG. To legally fly a tandem, you must be properly trained and rated as a Tandem Instructor by the appropriate organization. For free flight, the certifying organization is USHGA.
From Free Flight Pilot to PPG
5. Training in Airspace. While both powered and free flight pilots must pay careful attention to avoiding restricted airspace, the ability of a PPG to launch from anywhere makes it easier to accidentally violate restricted airspace. In this post 9/11 world, such a mistake can have significant repercussions. Learn to read an airspace map. Plan ahead before you fly and remember that we are never permitted to fly over a congested area at ANY altitude!
6. Mastering Launching Techniques. In powered paragliding, the pilot must stay very upright during the launch to fully utilize the thrust being generated by the motor. This is in complete contrast to launch posture in free flight. Plan on launching from a clear, flat, unobstructed area where you are faced directly into the wind, so you do not have to look where you are running. Instead, look from the horizon up to the center of the leading edge of your wing to balance it directly overhead as you launch. This will keep your head and chin up and back, with your back straight while you apply power and run.
In the case of an aborted motor launch for any reason, immediately kill the engine to avoid getting the lines, glider or body parts into the propeller. Keep in mind that the prop takes a few seconds to stop spinning!
7. Understanding Torque. Propeller Torque is something that new PPG pilots will have to pay special attention to. When we apply power to the motor, the propeller spins in one direction, exerting force in the other direction. This has the effect of lowering one shoulder and raising the other, producing a roll or banking turn of the wing to one direction or the other. If the prop spins counter-clockwise as viewed from behind, the resulting turn will be to the right, away from the direction of rotation.
Because of the angle of attack created by power, any amount of brake you apply when at full power is too much! A powered paraglider climbs best with ZERO brake pressure, and if you attempt to counter the propeller torque effect with opposite brake input, you will very likely stall the wing with disastrous results! Be very careful not to over control the glider during takeoff and climb out. If the launch area is restricted in size, pilots may use just enough brake input to keep the glider flying straight. It is best to work with the torque during any altitude climb. That is, allow the glider to gently turn in the direction the torque makes it want to turn.
8. Restrictive Tandem Requirements. The FAA exemption held by USHGA is for unpowered tandem instructional flight only. A USHGA certification to fly tandem in free flight does NOT allow you to fly tandem in a powered paraglider. The Aero Sports Connection (ASC) can certify a powered pilot that has completed the necessary requirements for a tandem rating.
Equipment for the Cross Over Pilot
9. Choosing Your Motor Unit. While everyone likes to find a bargain when buying almost anything, purchasing a powered paraglider motor based on price alone can be a big mistake. Getting a more expensive unit is not always the best answer either. Do some research and go look at some motors being used. Talk to the pilots that fly and work on them. Check out how long the company making the unit has been in business and how the motor will be supported locally and nationally for parts and service. Remember - it's not a question of if the motor will need work; it's simply a matter of WHEN.
A simple test for how well a motor is supported is to ask to see an owner’s manual for the unit. A company that has not bothered to develop a quality manual, with detailed instructions for maintenance and basic repair issues, is not likely to offer good customer support on any level. Another key is to look for a DULV certification. The DULV is the German agency responsible for certifying ultralights in that country. Since the US does not have a certifying organization, take advantage of the DULV testing to find a motor that is tested and certified.
Some motors are easy to start, but others need a second person to pull the starter rope in order to start the engine when cold. Make sure you can easily re-start your motor when it's cold if you plan to shut off the power during flight. An electric start will add some weight to the backpack, but it can be a welcome tool for motors that are difficult to pull start when flying.
Most motors attach the harness directly to the motor frame. This makes it quite difficult to seat steer the glider in flight, a technique commonly used when free flying. Some motors have a moveable bar suspension, allowing the pilot to lean one way or the other to help steer the glider, but this bar is still attached to the motor frame, and is thus rather stiff to weight shift. Another system uses a "J" bar that is completely separate from the harness and the motor. It is very much like a tandem spreader bar, separating the pilot and motor hook-in points, so the pilot is able to lean independently of the motor. This design is excellent for offsetting motor torque during climb out and thermalling with the motor off.
Remember, big, heavy motors are not necessarily better! I have seen pilots buy what they thought was the best motor available, only to find that it was a 110lb behemoth, and they couldn’t launch it before they were exhausted. A good motor should weigh less 75 lbs or less when dry. A heavier motor will have you fighting to get launched. Also, the amount of propeller torque will be directly related to the amount of available power your motor produces. The more power, the more torque effect and the greater the tendency to turn.
10. Choosing Your Glider. Shopping for a bargain glider could be the most expensive mistake you will ever make. Manufacturers have spent years designing and testing gliders for safety and performance. The DHV is the 'consumer reports' of the paraglider world, and will give gliders a rating based on their ability to recover from collapses. Without certification, a glider's reactions are unpredictable. The DHV certifies gliders as 1 and 1-2 for beginner and novice pilots, 2 for intermediate pilots and 2-3 and 3 for advanced pilots. The DULV focuses on flight characteristics and certifications for paragliders utilized in powered paragliding. This rating will give you extra confidence that the glider you choose is appropriate for your level of motoring skill.
Alarmingly, I have noticed a trend in recent times for dealers to offer wings that are totally uncertified, sometimes without a placard or even a weight range listed. This is frightening. Do you really want to be the first person to discover if and how your glider will recover from a full stall or a large asymmetric collapse? Dealers selling uncertified equipment are making a much greater margin on each sale so it is worth their effort to say just about anything to try and calm your concerns. Be wary when given one common explanation claiming that the uncertified glider is perfectly safe because it is a copy of another certified glider. Any change in a gliders design, even one as small as an alteration in the type of material, lines or sewing technique can completely change a glider's characteristics. Skip the bargain basement and buy a certified glider.
If you want to be able to fly your glider both with power and without, you will need to look carefully at a few things. Some gliders are suitable to be used for both powered and free flight, but many are made only for one or the other.
Wings that are designed only for motor use will normally not perform well for free flight. Remember, with a motor, you don't really need a wing with a great glide, since you have power! Some of these motor only wings have the glide ratio of a refrigerator, which is not very useful, for free flight.
On the other hand, many free flight gliders are suitable for PPG. Some manufacturers even make motor risers that can be retrofitted to free flight gliders, adding trim tabs for adjusting speed and/or lowering the brake position for easier reach while motoring. If you go this route, make certain that the risers are compatible with the particular glider you wish to add them to.
When deciding on a crossover glider, remember that the thrust of the motor can also make it difficult to “feel” the glider, and the weight of the motor can make repeated launch attempts exhausting. Therefore, one of the most important characteristics of a good motoring glider is that it will inflate quickly and easily.
When considering the weight range for a cross over glider there are a few things to take into consideration. DHV rated gliders give all-up weight on their placard - that is, the weight of you standing on the scale with your entire kit - wing, harness, reserve, clothes, boots, everything you will be flying with. Often, a wing will accept another 20kg-40kg when the motor is used. Wings that are DULV certified will have a motoring weight range listed on the placard, this range is for the weight hanging from the risers and does not include the weight of the glider itself.
Come Join Us On The Dark Side
New flying experiences for the cross over pilot are rich and rewarding. If you are currently a free flight pilot, adding a motor to your quiver of flying toys will expose you to remarkable new sites and experiences. Imagine cruising through the visual splendor of red rock canyons, cruising to 12,000 feet, or enjoying a hot air balloon festival from your PPG. Additionally, the ease of transport of just a free flight set-up, without the cumbersome worries of a motor, will open a world of flying to the PPG pilot. Sure, if you are a currently a PPG pilot, you can travel with your motor, but it’s not easy. On the other hand, most airlines accept the free flight paragliding rig as they would any other sporting gear, and do not charge any additional fees for its transport. One of our favorite flying trips was to the French Alps, we flew every day of that two-week trip experiencing eight different sites scattered across the beautiful countryside. Where in the world will free flight take you?
We live in an extraordinary time, when personal flight is within reach for ordinary humans. Flying a paraglider is one of the most incredible activities that we can engage in. Pilots that already fly, with a little extra training and some basic considerations can expand their horizons and get even more out of their flying obsession. So, whether you are a looping hypoxic free flight pilot or a horsepower loving motor head, I dare you to Cross Over to the Dark Side.