Forward Launch Tips

I repair propellers for pilots all over the U.S. and Canada so I find out how they get broken. It seems the most prevalent occurrence is during the forward launch, which parallels my own experience.

Comparing my experience with bad launches and broken props against that of other pilots, I’ve found a couple of common denominators. The most common problem occurs during the initial inflation. At this point the wing is coming up slowly, which provides the opportunity for it to fall off to one side or the other. This can lead to wing oscillation, and if not corrected or aborted, it will result in the pilot hitting the ground rather hard shortly after becoming airborne. The result is usually a broken prop or worse.

One method employed to overcome slow inflation is known as the “power-on forward launch.” There are several ways to perform a power-on forward, but I believe the safest and easiest is to add about 1/3 power immediately after the wing starts to inflate. This is the time when you’re starting to push very hard into the harness to get the wing to inflate. Adding power at this point will prevent the wing from going through the prop wash and will provide a cleaner launch. It’s like getting extra leg muscle to assist with the launch. One must be careful not to add too much power. It’s also important to keep running so the wing will not over-fly and cause a frontal collapse. Using this method, the wing will pull up straight and a lot faster. Be ready with the kill switch during your first attempts.

The other common problem occurs because the wing has not come all the way overhead. It is hanging back a few degrees for various reasons. This can occur during forward or reverse launches. If power is added at this point, you will take off before there is sufficient airspeed to keep you up, and you will sink back to the ground. This is very common if you’re using a motor with marginal thrust. If you don’t have your feet ready to go, the cage hits the ground, and you’ve broken another prop. Sometimes when power is added, the wing will surge forward. When this happens, you will find yourself having to run very fast to catch up with a wing that is not providing any lift. With the lack of lift, the thrust of the motor can push you off balance and cause a fall and yeild the subsequent broken prop.

The cure to this problem was discussed on World Talk Radio recently. I tried the recommended method offered by Bob Armond, and it worked perfectly. Keep your hands on the A risers while the wing is overhead. If it’s “hanging back”, pull slightly on the A’s. The wing will accelerate and climb those last few degrees in an instant. This does not require a big pull on the A’s. Just pull down on them slightly. As the wing comes forward, add power and take off. I would recommend trying this with the motor off the first time because if you pull down too much, you could cause a frontal collapse.

I hope these tips will assist with your forward launches. If you’re lucky enough to have an instructor close by, discuss these methods with him before


Forward Launch in Light and Vaiable Winds

I’m always looking for articles and information on forward launches, so I thought I would present what I have learned thus far. I have been flying PPG’s for four years and have accumulated 300 plus hours of flight time during 550 plus flights. I started out with ultralights, and flew my old Quicksilver 260 hours before discovering powered paragliding.

Most of my launches are forwards due to conditions where I fly, which is from the local airport in Forks, Washington. The winds are usually very light, zero to four MPH, and variable. It’s the variable that presents the greatest challenge. You get all set up and ready to launch, and the wind changes. It can be very frustrating, as I’m sure a lot of you can relate. If the winds here get strong enough to reverse, there is too much turbulence to fly.

I went to the Paratoys Saltan Sea fly-in this year and experienced perfect launch conditions. The winds were greater than 8 MPH, steady, and very smooth. All launches were reverse and presented no real challenge. Launching the way it should be; but alas, not reality where a lot of us fly.

So, there you are. All set up, and the wind decides to blow 45 degrees from your planned direction of launch. You unhook, reset your wing, and it changes again! You can try it again or just go home. I found two ways to handle the wind change that are better than going home and actually make a variable wind launch a fun challenge.

One of the greatest aids to launching is a good portable windsock. I got mine from Bruce at Ohio PPG. It is tall enough to give the correct wind direction, and is easy to break down and transport. A wind meter is also a good idea unless your good at judging wind speed.

First, if you have enough wind, try resetting your wing by building a wall. Instead of unhooking and turning around, try this: Let your lines go slack to the ground, step over your lines with your right and left foot. You end up facing the wing in the reverse position. No, you cannot do a reverse from this position, as your risers would be twisted. Build a wall into the wind, then step over your lines, starting with your left foot, and face forward again. This is actually easier to do than explain and should be practiced with the motor off the first time.

Second, if conditions are not strong enough to build a wall from the reverse position, launch crosswind. If you attempt to launch crosswind without doing something different, the wing will rise up on the upwind side, and you will blow the launch. Let’s say the wind is about two or three MPH and is coming from your right. In the above example, the right side of the wing will come up first causing you to run to the left to get under the wing to save the launch, which doesn’t always work.

For better success at the crosswind launch, side step down wind after you are centered on the wing. If the wind is coming from your right, take one side step to the left. You will be off center, but that’s what you want. When you launch, the wing should come up straight or at least make it easier to get under and correct. This method requires some trial and error to determine how much side step is needed for the wind conditions. I have used this method to launch with a 90 degree crosswind in a three MPH breeze. If the wind is four MPH or greater, I would reset using the first method or try a reverse.

I have found articles and information regarding the forward launch at the following wedsites: , , , and on World Talk Radio at . If you don’t belong to USPPA, I would strongly urge you to join. You get UltraFlight magazine with your membership, and it is a valuable resource and worth more than the cost of membership.

Happy landings,


Motor Out!

You’ve never experienced a motor out off-field landing? That’s probably because you haven’t flown PPG long enough or you’re extraordinarily lucky. It is an inevitable part of the sport, and adds some excitement to say the least.

In my case, it’s usually a selng failures, plug wires falling off, spark plug thread failure, a propeller failuref-induced phenomenon. Some causes have been; engine seizures, beari, spark plug failure, inadvertently hitting the kill switch, starter rope in the prop, plug wire melted against the cylinder, and miscellaneous parts falling off and destroying an otherwise perfectly good propeller. But, I’ve never run out of gas—yet.

I’ve lost count of how many times my noisy little motor has suddenly gone quite. My engines have died on the takeoff run and various altitudes up to 1500 feet. Almost every time, I’ve been within gliding distance of the airport or launch site. Notice I said almost. Sooner or later you will have to walk. It is just a matter of when and how far. There are two kinds of PPG pilots, those who’ve had an off field landing, and those who will.

It was a perfect day to get airborne and enjoy some great fall flying. The wind was at 2 mph straight down the runway. I usually don’t spend a lot of time at the field doing pre-flights because I work on the pesky pile of junk on such a regular basis modifying or improving some part it. Besides, the beautiful blue sky was beckoning. Familiarity breeds complacency and probably contempt in this case. This time I missed a developing problem that caused a prior power out adventure.

The wing pulled up straight and settled in overhead. I piled on the power as I continued to run and felt the familiar tug at the harness as the wing built lift. This is my favorite and most thrilling part of flying PPG. A moment later, I was off the ground and into the harness. I settled in, had a drink of water, and enjoyed the view as I gained altitude. I made a few circuits around the airport to make sure the motor was running correctly. I was testing a new air scoop for the Solo 210, and I checked it with a mirror to ensure all was well. I suddenly realized I left my cell phone in the truck. Not to worry. I always make it back to the field, and I wasn’t going that far anyway.

I decided to head across the highway toward the fields on the east side of town. I was about 250 AGL approaching the highway when the motor shut off. No sputter or putter, just instant silence. I turned toward the airport, let out the trimmers, and calculated I would land in the power lines just short of my desired objective. This was not a desirable option.

I was above three fields and the local supermarket. One field had horses so scratch that one. I would have to glide over power lines to get to the third, and that didn’t appeal to my sense of adventure. My next decision was where to land in the other field. The biggest space would require hauling the paramotor over a barbed wire fence. Too old and lazy for that option, which meant I would land behind the pizza joint on the open side of the fence. Of course, I would be in full view of everyone at the supermarket. That would give the townsfolk something to talk about for a few days. Of course, I would get the “I heard you crashed that parachute thingy” inquiry about a hundred times. Landing in the power lines would be more fun.

I made a spot-on landing with good style points. It was just not a perfect spot. I figured I would be swamped with on-lookers any moment, but it didn’t happen. A quick check of the motor revealed the culprit. I repositioned the plug wire when I installed the air scoop and failed to notice it was lying against the cylinder. The plug wire melted until the inner wire touched the cylinder fin, which gave the unexpected shut down.

I went into the pizza parlor and used the telephone to call my wife. Nobody there saw anything. Turns out they couldn’t see the landing and everyone else must have thought I stopped for a pizza.


My First Motor

I got the itch to fly powered paragliders after a couple of years of flying ultralights. I called Grant Smith in Renton Washington, and he set me up with PPG instructor Arnon Lufi who is from Israel. Arnon gained fame during the Paratoys USPPA competition at the Salton Sea, where he finished first. None of Arnon’s considerable talent rubbed off on me, but he was an excellent and understanding instructor.

After three days, I wasn’t sure if he was trying to train me or work me to death. Was this Grant’s revenge – sending Arnon to get even with me for something? Maybe I’d given Grant a speeding ticket (I’m a police officer by pay).

Arnon and Grant hooked me up to a Reflex Wing and a Vortex paramotor, which was a little like forward launching a 747 with a D8 Cat on your back. The Vortex was a nearly indestructible unit and was suitable for tandem use with the Corsair engine. Both managed to survive despite my best efforts to make them extinct. I keep myself in shape for work, but I thought the motor was just too heavy to be any fun. After strapping it on, I could hardly stand up.

So going against what I was told by my instructors (a very bad idea) I decided to get an Adventure paramotor. No, I didn’t just buy a new one; that would have been far too easy. I opted instead to buy a basket case from a fellow on the Internet. He had assembled all the necessary parts to build an Adventure unit, but then decided he lacked the skill to put it all together propery. Smart man. As for me, I had been working with small engines for 30 years and decided I could handle the project with ease. Maybe just a little over confidence. To complicate matters, I had never seen an Adventure PPG up close or even from a distance for that matter.

What a project. As I soon discovered, there was little or no information regarding the assembly of any paramotor anywhere that I could find. Internet instructions on building a nuclear warhead with a proximity fuse are readily available. But how-to-assemble a paramotor? Forget it. The manufacture does not even provide an exploded parts diagram. The military should keep secrets as well.

There I was with a bench full of parts wondering what to do. It went together a bit like a jigsaw puzzle boxed with too many parts. Apparently, in my friend’s enthusiasm to collect the necessary parts for the project, he also supplied parts for a secret Russian satellite. Or at least it appeared so. When I was finished, I was left with an amazing array of leftovers that fit who-knows-what. I was beginning to wonder if he was the hapless recipient of one of my speeding tickets. Yes, all cops are paranoid; Humpty Dumpty was pushed you know!

Amazingly, the thing actually ran and could get airborne using the right technique - running the distance equivalent to a marathon..

I ended up with a four-blade F2 that was not exactly a thrust monster. It was light enough to allow me several take-off attempts before I fell to the ground in complete exhaustion.

The fuel tank on the Adventure performs double duty as paramotor stand. This appeared to be an engineering marvel, until I knocked a hole in it. It is, in fact, possible to shed a PPG on the ground in less than a microsecond when gasoline starts to run down your leg.

I have since modified the F2 into a PPG that is barely recognizable as an Adventure F3. It’s about as ugly as a paramotor can get, is nearly indestructible even for new students, and has the comfort of a Cadillac. I’ve had a Walkerjet and a RAD, but the old Adventure is still my favorite after 200 plus flights. It’s like an old pair of jeans; ugly and worn, but very comfortable.

If you’re looking for the perfect motor, rest assured it doesn’t exist. They all have various flaws and quirks. To find what is right for you, fly or hang test as many as you can get your hands on. And don’t forget to join USPPA!!

On The Road to Salton Sea 2006

Rain, rain, and more rain! Two months without let up is unbearable. I was ready to get out of town and go south to warmer and drier climes. It was time for the 2006 Salton Sea Fly-In, and I could hardly wait. But I didn’t want to drive straight there because nothing is more boring than 1500 miles of freeway. My plan was to fly at as many airports as weather would allow on the way.

Why fly at airports? Well, that’s where I fly at home, and it’s the most suitable location; in my opinion at least. You don’t have to ask permission, and you can’t get in trouble; as long as you follow the rules, of course.

I bought new sectional charts for the three-state trip. I located all the Class G uncontrolled airports along my route from Forks Washington to Bakersfield California, and marked them on my road atlas. If you don’t know how to read a sectional, I suggest you buy one for your area and then get someone to help you decipher it. I look for airports without an FBO (fixed base operator) because they generally have very minimal traffic. Those with FBOs are ok, but I usually talk to the FBO and let them know what I’m about to fly and listen to their suggestions. Stay away from Class D airports and all their requirements and complications. They usually have more General Aviation traffic than I want to fly around anyway. Class C and B airports are off the list completely.

My first stop was at the Elma Airport, which is just east of Aberdeen Washington on Hwy 12 at the 3rd Street exit. The weather was not flyable, but I wanted to check it out because the area would be fun to explore from the air. It had a paved runway with no taxiway and lots of grass to use as a launch area. When I fly from an airport, I usually don’t use the runway to takeoff.

Two old dilapidated Cessnas occupied the tie-down area. The hangers didn’t look much better. Obviously it was not a well-used airport, but it did have a restaurant next to the runway. What a great place to fly! This one has some real fun potential. When you’re done flying, just land next to the restaurant for lunch.

This little airport is just and example of the gems waiting for your discovery. Many PPG pilots have told me they have a hard time finding a place to fly. When I suggest the local municipal airport, they seem shocked. It might feel a little odd the first time you go, but you get used to it very fast. There are also multitudes of private airstrips listed on sectionals that are great places to fly. All you have to do is ask the owner’s permission. Finding them is sometimes the greatest challenge because there are generally no signs pointing the way.

Such a private airport is Daniels Field located near Harrisburg Oregon on I-5 at exit #209. It has a grass runway and is used mostly by ultralight pilots. This was my second time flying here; I stopped in 2005 on the way to Salton Sea. I checked with the owner, he told me what areas to avoid, and I was off and flying. A nice 5 mph breeze straight down the runway was tailor made for a reverse launch and some touch-and-goes. The surrounding area is wide-open and flat, which makes for very smooth air. This kind of flying is more fun than you can imagine even when the weather is marginal and cold. This is what makes PPG so appealing. Pull in somewhere, set up your motor in a few minutes, then takeoff and enjoy the scenery.

My next stop was Myrtle Creek, Oregon and French Field. The town sits in a valley surrounded by mountains, and it looked to be a very picturesque flying experience. I arrived after dark in the wee hours of the morning. The sectional indicated there was no FBO, but there were fuel tanks and a repair hanger. The hangers were in nice shape and several planes occupied the tie down area. The information board listed precautions and requirements for the local RC airplane club, which gave the impression anything aviation was welcome. There was a nice paved runway and taxiway. I explored the airport on foot and found several good spots for takeoff depending on the wind direction.

I met the FBO operator when he arrived in the morning. We discussed takeoff areas, and he told me there probably would not be any air traffic due to the low ceiling. The clouds were low and menacing, but it was not supposed to rain. The wind was across the taxiway at about 3 mph, which made for an easy forward launch. Running on pavement or concrete is even better than grass. I cruised up the roaring Umpqua River and around the outskirts of town. The valley would’ve been a great place to explore had the weather been a bit warmer. The 2,600-foot runway and taxiway made for great foot drags. I flew to the edge of frostbite before landing. Now it was time to head for a warmer and sunnier location.

The next suitable airport I found to my liking was Turlock Airpark on Hwy 99 in Turlock, California. It’s listed on the sectional as a private airport. I also flew it in 2005 on my way to Salton Sea. The runway looks a bit rundown, but it’s paved and unusually wide. There’s a nice launch site on the north side of the runway. Ultralight instruction is offered at the field, and they were using two-place trikes. Unfortunately the office was closed so I didn’t get the change to talk with them. The fog refused to lift so I didn’t get the chance to fly. I hated to miss the opportunity. Miles of open fields surround the airport, which makes for lots of emergency landing sites and enjoyable vistas.

The Sectional listed a suitable airport at Chowchilla, California with a 3000-foot runway, and it was only about an hour from Turlock. The airport was west of US 99 near the fairgrounds. The visibility was less than minimum due to the fog, so I decided to explore a bit for a suitable takeoff area. This was a municipal airport that also allowed RC airplanes according to the information board. The hangers appeared in good repair, there was lots of paved aircraft parking just off the taxiway, and a chain link fence surrounded it all. There was a nice paved launch area, just inside the gate to the hangers. I unloaded my motor and hauled it though the fence. I got everything ready to go and tried to wait patiently for the fog to lift.

I had to wait until noon before the fog lifted enough to give a mile of visibility. The wind picked up to about 4 mph, but it was across the taxiway; just like home. I was going to launch straight at the fence, steer left, and liftoff. It worked as planned, but there was nobody there to see it. There is never anyone to witness the perfect launch; only the ugly one’s gather a crowd. When I got to the south end of the taxiway, I saw a crop duster parked next to a hanger. A few people were working there, and they stopped to look and wave at the strange aircraft. There was another crop duster operation at the north end of the airport. Everyone one there looked at me like I had two heads. I must have been the first PPG to fly the area judging by the reaction.

I saw a truck leave the parking area from the last business and follow me. I landed to see what they might want. They just wanted to know if I was from Mars! They had never seen a PPG and thought I must be completely nuts to fly one. Maybe they’re right, but I was having all the fun!!

The sun would not break though the fog and overcast, so I decided to bag it and head for Salton Sea. At least it would be warm. I got to the fly-in site several days before I planned, and I had the place to myself. I flew the Sea for eight days and logged 60 flights by the time the big event was over. The weather was perfect the whole time. The wind was around 5 to 8 mph and the mercury topped out in the 90’s. If you didn’t make it to the ParToys fly-in this year, make plans for the next one. If you drive, explore some airports on the way, you’ll have a blast!!

A Perfect Day of Flying

How would you define a perfect day of flying? Everyone has a different definition based on preferences for wind, temperature, and location. I have my own idea of what constitutes a perfect day, or at least I thought I did.

This particular day did not contain any of the factors I would usually associate with really good flying. It was not raining, so that at least made it qualify as a fit day, but far from perfect. The usual fare for flying early mornings from the Forks Airport is zero to light and variable wind. This morning, Mother Nature was serving up a 4 to 6 mile per hour breeze. That might seem nice for some places, but here it produces rough air caused by rotors. At least 5 mph was flyable, though it promised to be a little turbulent. I wouldn’t be bored! Good enough after suffering through almost five weeks of rain.

With a 4 to 5 mph breeze, reverse launches are easy with my ParaToys wing. Now, if I could just remember how to hook in because I don’t reverse launch very often. The wing pulled up nicely, I turned around and…..blew the launch. The nice thing about reverses—it only takes a second to launch again. This time it went much better, and I was off the ground in two steps. The Black Hawk PPG with the Black Devil engine makes taking off, even in zero wind, an enjoyable affair.

I was test running an Aztec Prop with an experimental hub repair, and I didn’t think it would hold together. I did like the way the Aztec spun up, but strength is not its strong point. It’s a very light prop, so it revved up much faster than my other prop. I flew for a few minutes and landed to see how the repair was holding up. I thought I would have to change props.

After a quick check, it was another reverse and off again. I gained some altitude this time and was met by the expected turbulence. Below 200 feet, the air was smooth and the wind was straight down the runway. Now, this might be a lousy day for a cross-county flight, but it seemed ideal to get in some touch-and-goes and foot drags while checking prop repair.

I flew around the pattern and decided for a touch-and-go on the wet grass. When I touched down, I was a little off balance. The wet grass was like ice, and I went down on a knee. I put the wing down and prepared to launch again real quick before it got too wet. The wind, of course, had decided to drop off to a point too low for a reverse. I tried a few times, but it didn’t look like a reverse would work. I switched to a forward and was off on the first try. That was way too much work, but I just had to try it again.

The next attempt went a lot better. But instead of hitting the gas and going right back up, I feathered the throttle and got the wing to the point where my feet were just touching the ground and ran along for about 100 yards before taking off. Since the grass was getting my feet very wet, I thought I might as well use the 2800-foot runway. The pavement was a little wet, which made for an interesting double foot drag. It worked even better on the wet grass; kind of like water skiing. Of course by this time my shoes were dripping water, but I was having way too much fun.

I landed and checked the prop again, and found it was still holding up. What the heck, might as well give it another go. I’ve always been a little hesitant to land on the blacktop because it hurts a bit more than grass when you fall on it. I made a lap around the pattern and did a perfect motor on landing. How often does that happen? I continued the flying the pattern and landing on every lap on a different part of the runway. I lost count after ten. I did this for an hour and a half and just had a blast. I forgot all about the prop, but the hub repair did hold together.

This day stated out as a quick test run for a repaired prop. I thought it was going to be an ugly day to fly, but it turned out to be one of the better I’ve ever experienced. The temperature was about 50 degrees so it wasn’t tee-shirt weather, but I didn’t have to wear the Ninja mask to keep my face from freezing. The upper air was rough, but it was smooth close to the ground. The lesson to be learned; make the best of what Mother Nature serves up and every day could be a perfect day of flying.