What is the coolest thing in the world?
paragliding, of course!
I’ve recently been getting really excited about paragliding, which is where you put up a really big kite and go run down a hill until you’re flying. It’s the coolest thing in the world!
The thing that makes me really like it is that all the things you need to fly–harness, glider, controls, etc pack down into a backpack that only weighs about 40 pounds. It really opens up the possibility of being able to hike/fly your way through an area for as long as you want, and that really excites me. There’s actually a race called the Xalps where all you have is yourself and a glider and you have to get across ~1000 miles of mountains any way you can. People do it in about 8 days.
I’ve been learning to paraglide, and I’m hoping to get my pilot’s license before I leave california. The hardest parts, just like with planes, are the takeoffs and landings, and everything else is a piece of cake. To take off, you have to take this big 25 m^2 kite, put it up in the air without getting dragged off your feet, then turn around and start running.
With James and Aaron’s help, I was able to figure out how to launch a glider wing–it’s harder than it sounds, and I think it took me about 5-6 hours of trying before I was able to reliably and controllably get the wing up in the air. The whole problem is that the wings are so huge that they’ve got lots of momentum, and so you can’t correct errors once they get big enough. You have to anticipate what the wing is going to do and start correcting it before it becomes an error. This is a big change from flying kites, which respond almost instantly.
This last weekend, I went out to the rose bowl with James, Dick, Jenny and Brian, and we took turns launching the wing. Once it was up, we had a 100ft rope tied to the pilot’s waist and a couple guys would run down the field, towing the pilot, who would fly ~60 feet up into the air. It was straight-up awesome, and more than enough to convince me that I _need_ to become a pilot.
Here’s my first flight at the rose bowl. Wheeeee!
One little nuance that became an exciting little nuance is that the forces involved in towing a paraglider are very different from the forces involved in just flying in a glider. When you’re just flying, gravity pulls you under the wing at all times, and so your location with respect to the wing is very defined and under your control. When you’re being towed, the tow rope exerts a force pulling you out in front of the wing, and when you’re still close to the ground, if the towers are very vigorous, they can pull you out from under the wing, the wing then falls behind you, and with nothing holding you up, you fall as well.
This happened to me on my second flight. I didn’t really expect it, and was a little surprised to fall straight down from about 20 feet up. Fortunately, paragliding harnesses have phenomenal padding, and the fall didn’t hurt at all–I was able to instantly get up and kill my wing, which was still flying a little and starting to drag me down the field.
I left the field with a better understanding of towing dynamics, deep faith in paraglider padding and a serious need to master paragliding.
(more pictures here)