As a new dad (5 month old daughter) I haven’t been out and about much recently. Added to that I have had a ‘frozen shoulder’ for the last 6 months. Understandably I haven’t done any flying for about a year and I haven’t flown with Andre for a couple of years, so it was great to get a call from Andre suggesting that we meet up with Chris Miller to go for an evening flight together. We used the opportunity to switch my freeflight risers to powered paraglider risers which have a brake adjustment to counter the motor’s torque. Conditions at the field were calm when we arrived, with a few ominous dark clouds towards Niagara Falls. Wind direction was non-existent, so I was a bit nervous that I would be too out of practice to pull off a good forward launch especially with a dodgey shoulder. Chris was running late so we decided to mix the fuel, fuel up and buzz around the airfield until Chris showed up. We removed the brakes from my original risers and also used them as extensions to make the high hangpoints a bit more comfortable in flight.
Take off was without incident and we were very quickly up and flying around. There are bean crops growing at the airfield now. This shows how long it’s been since I flew there. Last time I saw it all the surrounding land was unattended scrubland. Anyway we took advantage of the glassy still evening air and did some really low flying along the old gravel runway, using the yellow cones as a slalom. The trees and scrubby area at the North end of the property were not planted up with beans so I headed that way to have some obstacles to fly around. It’s great fun when the air is this calm and predictable to get real low fly at a tree then power up over it circle back around and then spiral around it from all angles before dropping down low again and weaving in and out of small bushes. This to me is the stuff of dreams.
Soon enough Chris turned up and with his new vehicle – perfect for transporting his paramotor. Chris flies a heavier machine that is quite challenging to take off with in still air. So I stayed on the ground until he was airborn in case he needed any assistance. After a couple of bloopers he was up. Andre took off then I joined them a few minutes later after realising I’d left my lines in a tangle and had a full riser twist. I sorted out the birds nest of lines and launched. Once we were all in the air we headed south over the highway, before dropping down low to skim the various crops. We had made no real plans about which direction we would head so every now and then the pilot in the lead would circle around and let someone else lead the way. We weren’t in any rush to get anywhere, it was just great fun flying in a group and exploring the area.
Low flying in these conditions over enormous empty fields is such a blast. The only things we really have to look out for are power lines (invisible from the air), livestock and houses. We try to stay clear of peoples’ properties because the machines can be a noise nuisance if flown very low in the same place. We also don’t want to spook anyone’s horses or other livestock. As for power lines, we assume that every line of trees has hidden power line in it; every field edge has power lines; and every set of vertical poles anywhere has power lines strung between them. With this in mind our favourite spots to fly are huge open fields with a few trees in them. Here we fly low, almost skimming the crop, following the rolling contours of the land. The trees are perfect obstacles to fly between/around. This flight had everything. At one point I saw Chris following deer into woodland. Their little white tails flashed as they darted in a zig zag… We saw hawks up close from above and at eye level. Storks and herons were visible. It really was an amazing evening.
Now if you have never flown around in these conditions before one thing that would really strike you is the difference in air temperature as you ascend and descend. There are clearly separate air masses that change within metres of vertical movement. When you are not in a cockpit these differences are very noticeable. With stable air like this you will often fly through a layer that smells of woodsmoke or freshly cut lawns or pine forest. You just don’t get this with any other type of flying. I love it.
Soon, we were running out of light as the evening low of the sky signaled us it was time to head back to land. We packed up and headed out for a post flight beer and a light snack.
Life doesn’t get much better than this!