WOW, I now have 20 hours powered paragliding logged. On Saturday Csaba (CHUBBO) Andre and I went for a brief flight from Bieda's Powersports field. Progress was very slow because of the high wind speed and we quit after 45mins. We were not too disappointed because both Andre and I were on strict time limits from wives/girlfriends!
This Sunday was a whole different story. Andre, Csaba (Narrow Arse!), Chris and I drove down to a place called Ellicottville in US. It is rolling countryside with a small ski resort.
The hills are about 800 ft high but not too steep and most are tree covered. The area looks like a mini Alps.
None of the slopes are accessible or soarable to non powered paragliders. We launched from a small airstrip and climbed up high to do some thermalling. My machine does not have an electric start so I cannot turn it on and off again in mid-flight. The others were able to go unpowered for extended periods as they thermalled (a definite bonus on the newest machines). This is a really good way to hone those XC skills! You can struggle in weak lift all the way to the ground and then just start it up again and have another go. This is a great way to save fuel or extend your flying time. The weather was perfect as there was very little wind. This is good for powered paragliding because you can fly equally fast in all directions and thermals are less sheared. It makes take off somewhat tricky however.
We flew around nice and high to start with admiring the scenery as we went. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement. I looked up to see a tiny speck high above me and a little in front. I couldn't figure out what I was looking at for a split second. It was a helium balloon. Well, actually it was two balloons tied together with string. One was carrying the other. It was quite a bit higher than me, but it didn't seem to be rising quickly. The sky is a big place. I figure this doesn't occur too often...or ever so I had to investigate. I let the others fly off without me and started to climb on full power to see if I could reach it. Well, I reached it after about three minutes. The two balloons were neutrally buoyant so it was just floating there drifting with what little breeze there was. I was flying around it trying to catch it in by lines. Three times it went straight through the lines spinning as it caught on one of them, but I didn't manage to capture it. I spent about 5-10 mins doing this. It was excellent fun and I managed to boot it once. Eventually I had to leave my "friend" behind and catch up with the others. They saw me flying around the same spot but didn't realize what I was doing. Chris and Csaba saw the balloons, but didn't think they would be able to catch them. It was one of the most surreal/fun moments of my life. I think we are going to take some to the field next time we fly and balance them to float. In fact I know I am going to bring some. It is going to be great fun booting them about in the air. It is just very weird being able to fly around and boot something about at 1000 ft.
We flew around for 2 hours 45 mins before I ran out of fuel and was forced to land. Andre was a little concerned to learn I was low on fuel and still messing about flying through the gap between radio masts,
but I assured him I was "much higher than I looked". I think he bought it. My fuel ran out about a minute afterwards and I had to push out from the hill to avoid the trees. I chose the landing spot carefully. The options were: short grass with a flag pole in the middle (possible guide lines?) or rough grass. I chose the first option. It was a tight squeeze but there were no guide lines and what had looked like 'rough grass' was in fact 7 ft tall scrubby weeds and bushes. Everything just looks that little bit different from the air. An elderly couple seemed more than a little surprised to see me land in front of their house and kindly offered to give me a lift in their pick up truck. I accepted hopped in and off we went. We soon saw Andre's car and trailer heading in the opposite direction. He spotted me waving and we transferred glider and machine.
It was simply awesome scenery. All the trees turning orange and red. People waving everywhere we flew low. An excellent day of flying. If you are reading this wondering whether if this is for you I would say this: "When I was a kid I always had the most vivid dreams of flying, dreams of complete freedom. The ability to go anywhere. Explore the countryside. Climb high and view the world as a map. Swoop down really low so my feet barely leave the ground.