About Jonathan Foster

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So far Jonathan Foster has created 10 blog entries.

Iquique Chili Tour 2014

Iquique, Chile 2014 Paragliding Trip … November 3 – December 1

This year we have divided the tour into 4 different segments: Instructional Days, Iquique Days # 1, 2 and 3. Our Tour leaders are: Todd Weigand, Luis Rosenkjer and Ken Hudonjorgensen.  The entire tour will be packed with instruction for all levels of paragliding (including P1thru p4). For anyone wanting to fly, fly, fly… this is the tour to join. The last tour will focus more on XC.

For dates and costs, check out information here, PROGRAM IQUIQUE 2014 and then contact Ken about availability.

To book a tour, contact Ken at Two-Can Fly Paragliding, 801-971-3414

Iquique Chili Tour 20142020-02-22T07:35:12-07:00

Strawberry Maneuvers Clinic

It was about 7:45am on Thursday, August 5, 1999 when I arrived at the Strawberry Reservoir in Utah. As I got out of my car, I walked toward Chris Santacroce, the clinic instructor, to introduce myself. I was extremely surprise that Chris knew who I was. I was pretty nervous and really did not know what to expect, however, I knew it was going to be fun since I knew most of the pilots attending the clinic. I was here and ready to learn the different maneuvers. I didn’t think that I’d learn anything else.
After everyone had arrived, Chris handed out documentation about maneuvers, towing instructions and a checklist. He explained how the day was going to be set up. First, he asked us to team up with another pilot. The purpose for choosing a buddy was to go over the checklist and make sure that the pilot was safe before each tow. I teamed up with Peter DelMissier.
Our first tow exercise consisted of being pulled up by a scooter. The main focus of the first tow was to get a feel for towing and to learn to take off and land while being towed. Before taking off, my buddy went through the checklist and verified that I was safe to take off. Chris Santacroce, Jeff Farrell from Super Fly, Ken Hudonjorgensen from Two-Can Fly Paragliding, and Pat Blackburn were there to guide each one of us through the towing. When all of us were done, Chris and the other instructors debriefed us, reviewing and commenting what we had just done and answering any questions we might have had. The next towing exercise involved learning to release the weak link and land safely. Everyone performed beautifully. Again, we went through debriefing. I thought that it was extremely helpful and I was pleased with the way things were going.
After the scooter tow, Chris went over the different maneuvers using the simulator. He talked about the asymmetric fold, B-line stalls, front stall, “tweaking” the A’s to prevent parachutage, turning, and how to hold the toggles/break lines. Each one of us practiced the different maneuvers using the simulator. The purpose of this exercise was to develop a clear understanding of each maneuver. This exercise was very beneficial and enjoyable.
As the weather started to deteriorate, we all gathered around with the instructors to listen to advice, safety briefing, and some pointers and tips about flying. For instance, they talked a pilot’s posture while sitting, and arms, legs, and head position. The instructors also talked about boat towing. They explained what to expect. For instance, what we needed to do when the boat was turning and to keep looking at the wing to try to correct the direction to try to prevent a lock out. At that point, I really felt like I was in good hands and felt like I could trust them. All topics were covered with professionalism and thoroughness.
My first boat towing was very stressful. After my buddy went through the pre-flight checklist, the anxiety kicked in. The fear of failure was overwhelming. My desire to do well was so intense that I felt like my head was going to pop. To try to calm me down and to reduce the anxiety that I was feeling, Pat Blackburn suggested that I focus on deep breathing and that I was going to be OK. He really helped me. I took off and went through my first flight and performed the maneuvers Chris instructed me to do – asymmetric fold, turns, front stall, and wing overs. Chris’ instructions were very clear and simple to follow. He would describe the maneuver first and then step you through each movement. It really was a thrilling experience. I felt extremely comfortable and confident under Chris’ guidance.
After 2 or 3 pilot’s towing and flight, Chris would gather all of us together to go through debriefing. This was extremely helpful. We had many opportunities to ask questions and comment on our experiences with the maneuvers we performed. Learning from each others experiences and asking and answering questions added to our learning curve.
As each day went on, it became very apparent to me that this clinic was not just about maneuvers. It was about safety, attitude, taking the time to progress in the sport, posture and maneuvers. In my opinion, Chris Santacroce is the best pilot in the world. His positive attitude, composure, safety consciousness, clear explanation and instruction, and his patience is what makes me want to continue in this sport.
As always, the maneuvers clinic slipped away and much too soon it was time to depart. At the end of this clinic and talking with my fellow pilots, I feel we all walked away with much more confidence about our wings and our abilities to respond appropriately to specific situations. I also believe that we have learned to become safer pilots as long as we can remember that we do not practice radical maneuvers over the ground.
I feel that my safety and progression in paragliding has been enhanced at least by several years in this 3-day clinic. I am so grateful to Chris Santacroce, Jeff Farrell from Super Fly, Ken Hudonjorgensen from Two-Can Fly Paragliding, and Pat Blackburn for providing this opportunity in helping us to become safer pilots. Thank you! I am planning on taking this maneuvers clinic again next year.
Maneuvers Clinic – 2000
by Daryl Elam

Strawberry Maneuvers Clinic2020-02-22T07:35:12-07:00


The art of pioneering and exploring is hazardous and exciting; satisfying and frustrating; life enhancing and life taking.
Listening to the coverage on the space shuttle Columbia disaster, I felt emotions that connected me to much of our pioneering spirit in paragliding. Columbia was the largest, fastest, and most complicated “glider” to ever fly through the atmosphere of earth. The interaction between Columbia and earth’s atmosphere at the time of transition from spacecraft to glider created the destruction of the craft and the deaths of the 7 pioneers on board.
Pioneers take chances and sometimes put their lives at risk in order to experience excitement, newness, and extend the knowledge and understanding within themselves and our species. Explorers do this because they love it. They enjoy the process of feeling new brain cell firings with the coming of new thoughts, of accomplishing something no one else has ever done before, of creating a new sensation within themselves, and of learning something that no one else has ever learned. Humans love the experience of learning. It is what makes us all explorers.
Foot launched aviation is full of pioneers and explorers. We don’t fly at mach-18, but we do fly through the earth’s atmosphere and explore our ability to use its volatility to stay aloft in it, be a part of it, for longer periods of time over longer distances.
The faster an aircraft flies through the atmosphere, the less it participates in the experience of that particular piece of atmosphere. Paragliders and hang gliders can circle in a thermal mapping its width, height, strengths, and weaknesses; the changing nuances of lift/sink, density and moisture content, heat and cold, lapse rate and condensation, energy dispensation and transfer, and many other specific interactions between our wing/body and our planet’s atmosphere. No pilot in an enclosed powered aircraft can experience and participate with the atmosphere in the way that foot launched, free flight aviation can.
When you pioneer a new flying site, you are responsible for extending the limits of the sport.  If you develop a new aerobatics maneuver you are creating a new understanding of managing the energies of a wing in a coordinated, intentional manner. When one of us flies over the length of a mountain range that has never been flown over before or flies for a longer time or distance, we take risks. Some of our numbers have died plunging into such risks. Some have died pushing their own personal limits, learning how to land or soar or thermal, or how to choose the proper glider for themselves or how to best balance finances with quality of instruction. These can all produce death or add to life, depending on what we choose.
Extending our limits (whether in space, in the atmosphere, or in our hearts) increases our risk of survival and also our quality of and excitement for life, personally and collectively. NASA constantly hones in on safety, focusing huge amounts of energy toward that end. Deaths tend to happen more frequently when involved in any pioneering activities. This fact demands that we learn from every flight, from every interaction with another pilot, from every story we hear.
When exploring cross-country routes, we learn what works and what doesn’t over an extended period of time. The sailors who established routes across the Atlantic learned to avoid the Sargasso Sea, to use the Gulf Stream current etc. We have a XC route in Utah where we fly around an area labeled “The Red Hole” on a state map.  We avoid it, like the sailors avoided the Sargasso Sea, because everyone who has flown over it has experienced massive sink, losing sometimes over 10,000 ft of altitude in 1 or 2 miles of travel. We have learned, at least for the first part of the flight, where we are most likely to find lift and sink.
The Columbia astronauts could have stayed home and watched TV and might still be alive today, but would their lives have been as fulfilling? How much quantity of life are we willing to possibly give up in order to add quality? We each choose.
A Pioneer stretches limits. Whether you stretch your own personal limits or those of your species you are taking chances with your life. Do it wisely, with as much preparation and understanding as you can gather. This won’t guarantee your safety, but it will stretch a fulfilling smile through your heart that will last forever.


Thermal Experience

This article was written in response to two articles that were printed in the Paragliding Magazine about Thermals in the earlier part of 2002.

Thank-you Peter Grey and Dennis Pagan.  You stimulate our sometimes sluggish and complacent minds.

I would like to throw my non-scientific, but experience referenced thoughts on the subject in the ring anyway. Stimulating conversations, like yours, and my observations of thermals through being in them and viewing their shapes have led me to reach the following always changing and useful (to me) conclusions about thermals.

Three generally shaped categories are useful to me as a foot launched, non-motorized, pilot: pancake, cone, and snake.  Each category creation has to do with energy reserve and inertia.  How much and how quickly has the heating been happening, is it happening now and how long and strong is it continuing to happen?  The energy of a thermal of course has to do with more than just heating. Otherwise we would only have to check the temperature differential between degrees and amount of time to figure out if it is going to be a good thermal day.  But it is not just lapse rate that we check.  We also check the jet stream and pressure and moisture content, top of the lit and lifted index and k index, look at the sky, feel the cycles etc..  There are also many things we don’t understand enough about yet to even understand that we should be checking it, or how to check it or what “it” is.  If this were not true we would be 100% accurate on our thermal predictions every day.  I have not yet met the pilot who can do that.

  • Amoebae Pancake: inertia is weakening rather than strengthening.  Relatively weak energy reserve (heating) and inertia.   Usually too weak to be useful to us except as a welcomed extension to our sled ride but occasionally useable as with the end of the day glass off lifty conditions we sometimes know and love or cloud base flying at or near “0” sink. etc…  Cloud base  “0” sink flying is one of the rare times when we can “see” the pancake model.  The lift has mixed and weakened enough to become the pancake model similar to Peter’s drawn model we saw several months ago.
  • Cone shaped model: Moderate thermals – energy reserve is great enough to create a moderate and comfortable (for us) strengthening of the thermal lift (ice cream cone shaped).  These are the thermals we find the most useful.  I’m guessing 150 to 1500 or more up would usually, but not always, be somewhat cone shaped.  (How is that for ambiguously taking a stab at defining a usually non visual experience, gutsy hey?)  The best visual model of this I have ever seen was in central Utah on a flight from Frisco Peak in ’95. Over the flats I could not get more than 3000 feet above the ground with 800 ft/min max and bumpy.  After 3 hours I came to an area that had recently burned in a brush fire. The black ash was so light that every thermal in the entire area was blackened in the shape of a cone (one of the many great photos I have failed to get in this sport. The above was drawn by Annie Doryk).   Most of the cones were 1000 ft to 1700 ft tall and then the ash dispersed to the point where I could not see it.   They were of remarkably similar size, shape and color and were somewhat evenly spaced approximately 100 to 500 or so yards apart.  I did not measure any of this and am just guessing from memory so take it for what it is worth.  We have all seen this as dust devils when the lift is stronger and/or when the debris is lighter as with this ash or the dirt on the flats near Chelan, WA. This ash thermal view was the only time I have ever been able to see what I think was every thermal, at least 40 and probably over 50, in a relatively large area, 2 by 4 miles.
  1. Snake shaped model: great energy, reserves and inertia.  As thermals get stronger 1500 ft to 2 or 3000 ft/min they usually become more snake shaped and have sharper edges. We get these at Snowbird UT in the summer and we sometimes call then gravel devils. These snakes only happen there when the lift is very strong and comes up from all sides of the 3-sided peak, mixing near the middle of the 200-ft. diameter flat top.


These 3 models are useful to me whether they are “real” or not.  I have seen, felt and experienced them being useful to me while flying.  There may be other additional or replacement models that I find more useful next week. I certainly hope we all continue to improve our modeling so that we don’t stagnate. We are grateful to you Peter and Dennis for stirring our sometimes-stagnant thermal pond.

I find the triggering model useful also but let’s see what someone else has to say about that.

Thermal Experience2020-02-22T07:35:13-07:00


It all started with a very long plane flight to Istanbul and then onto Antalya. Antalya is a largest city on the Mediterranean coast next to a spectacular mountain range. We spent the first day recovering from jet lag (9-hour time zone change) and trying to understand the currency. Turkey transforms even the humblest person into a millionaire since 1 million Turkish Lira equals about $2.15. A four-hour bus ride that cost 4 million gets you from Antalya to Fethiye (pronounced Fet-ee-ay not Feth-ee as you might think).  From there it is an easy 500,000 TL dolmus ride to Oludeniz.  Dolmus means shared ride, and there are large vans that come to almost a complete stop when picking up people and dropping them off again. They are the easiest and cheapest way to get to most places.
Driving down into the Oludeniz valley is a paraglider’s dream. As you look up and across the valley towards the beach, you see dozens of paragliders in the air. This fact remained a constant throughout our entire stay. From an hour after sunrise to well after sunset, there were never less than 10 paragliders visible and typically more like 30-40. There are approximately 40 tandem pilots working in the area for 6 different tandem companies. Their main business was flying tandems off of Babadag (Father Mountain) the 6,550′ mountain that rises above the town of Oludeniz. Pilots got to the top of Babadag in old looking but actually newer Turkish-made Chrysler pickups. The single pilots then hitched a ride up the mountain for 5 or 6 million Turkish Lira (depending on the company). 3 million goes straight to the National Forest Service for allowing you on their property. This 3 million TL is collected each and every time that a person crosses into the park. Doing the math makes it about $15 per trip and we made 2-3 trips per day. This worked out to be the most expensive part of our entire vacation. Now is a good time to mention driving in Turkey. This was the most dangerous part of our vacation due to very few road rules and lots of horn honking. Apparently, passing at high speeds on blind mountain corners is not at all considered stupid.
There are several launches available on Babadag depending on the wind direction and conditions. My vario said that the lower launch was at 5500′ and the upper launches were at 6100′. The lower launch was big enough to spread out about 40 gliders, however the upper launches are only big enough for about 4 side-by-side. Since we are trucked up in groups of about 10, there can very easily be about 50 wings (half of which are tandems) wanting to take off at about the same time. Because of this, it is necessary to be very organized. You would spread out your wing and get everything completely ready by the time you were third in line so that when it was your turn you could launch at the first possible moment. If you weren’t ready by the time it was your turn or if you took an exceptionally long time launching (over 5 minutes), someone would probably start complaining. Luckily, you could pretend that you didn’t understand the language that they were speaking.
Flying Babadag is an experience unlike any other that I have had. After launch, there are consistent thermals all along the upper ridges of the mountain. You basically thermal for as long as you want/can then head for the beach. Nothing over about 3000′ lets loose any thermal so once you leave the peaks of Babadag it is smooth sailing. When I say smooth I mean really smooth, not a single bump total glass sled rides stuff. So you cruise in the smooth stuff for a while until you get over the beach. You typically arrive over the beach LZ with about 3500′-4000′ of altitude remaining. Now is the time to practice that B-Line stall or the spiral dive that you learned in maneuvers class. Once you’ve had your fun it’s time to land. The landing zone is a wide sidewalk parallel to the beach. You pick one of the dozen or so large carpets to land on, so that the guy that packs up your glider for you doesn’t have to come over and get you. A cool 500,000 TL gets you a better folding and packing job than I have ever done myself. Time to head over for a chicken kabob and talk with your flying buddy about the unbelievable views while you wait for the next ride up Father Mountain.

by Mike Kinney & Wes Brown


US Nationals Reserve Deployment

It was Saturday, August 28, 2004 just before 3:00 PM. This was only the third day that we were able to fly during the eight-day competition because of uncooperative weather. We were flying south from the launch at Inspiration Point. I was running at the tail end of a large gaggle and we were flying through Rock Canyon behind BYU. Rock Canyon is a narrow steep river-cut canyon with sheer walls that reach up about 4,000 feet. As I crossed the canyon I noticed how there were large trees growing on the cliff faces and I wondered how they managed to get so large growing on nearly bare rock. I had cleared the south edge of the canyon when I noticed that the group of wings in front of me was sinking, while the wing behind me was climbing nicely in the center of the valley. I swung around under the climbing wing and found some disorganized lift, which I did not like the feel of, so I headed back out of the canyon around the rim. I was flying with light brake pressure and a very small amount of bar (1-2 inches). Just as I was crossing the edge of the canyon at about 7,500 feet ASL (and about 200 feet AGL) my wing fell behind me very quickly and asymmetrically. My first thought was that I had an asymmetric collapse and my hand dropped to pressurize the wing. This break pressure caused the wing to immediately enter a negative spin and turned me 180 degrees. My hands floundered around trying to pressurize the wing, but there was nothing there. I was being whipped violently around and I saw the rock cliffs of Rock Canyon coming up very fast on my right as I spun that direction. I was flying a competition wing that I was not familiar with (I had only flown it once before the competition). My thinking was surprisingly lucid:

  1. I don’t have a flying wing and it is showing no signs of recovery.
  2. I don’t have time to fix my wing.
  3. I don’t know if my reserve will help given the terrain I’m over.
  4. I don’t want to be the statistic for this year’s Nationals.
  5. I don’t have any more time to think about it, …THROW!

I reached down for my reserve handle. I did not think about the fact that I still had my brake in my hands since there was very little tension on the brake lines, although I probably turned myself more towards the rocks in the process. I fly an AVA Racer harness with the reserve under the front of the seat board. I pulled the handle and nothing happened. Then I REALLY pulled the handle with all the force I could muster and the reserve came out, but it also fell out of my hand before I could give it a good fling. I watched my bridle extend and I looked at the bag at the end of it, but nothing came out.  Not a good feeling. I knew that if the reserve did not deploy, I was going to be in a whole lot of trouble. Just as I was thinking I needed to jerk the bag my wing gyrated hard to the left and I knew that would deploy the reserve. It did. Almost instantaneously after the jerk of the wing I heard velcro pulling free and felt the tension of my reserve at my shoulders.  My next thought was “down planing” and I looked up to see what my paraglider was doing.  I never saw it, because as I looked up all I saw was tree branches racing past me. Then I stopped. From the time I felt the reserve until I was in the tree was probably only 1 second. The entire episode took less than 10 seconds, and seconds matter with a reserve deployment. My reserve (which I recovered, will reuse, will recommend to others, and love) is a LARA Gold 250 and it worked like a charm. It had been packed by Doug and Denise at Aerial Paragliding, although I had not had it repacked for over 2 years, which is something I will not let happen again.
To go from “I am pretty sure I am going to be severely hurt or killed in the next few seconds” to “I am hanging in a tree, unharmed” is a wonderful feeling. But I was still not sure I was safe since I had no idea if the wing was secure. I tried to look up, but I could not really see anything with the reserve bridle pressing against my helmet and I was still hearing breaking branches. I was facing a large tree truck but as I reached for it the small branches broke off in my hands. I was afraid that I would fall through the trees to the ground, about 70 feet below me (although it looked even farther because I was facing downhill on a very, very steep slope). I heard Dale Covington on the radio reporting seeing someone throwing a reserve and going into the trees. I transmitted my name and pilot number and that I was uninjured, and then I very carefully tried to swing towards the tree. I was able to grab a branch and pull myself against the trunk, which was about 12 inches around and I had good live branches around me so finally I felt secure. I then radioed my GPS coordinates. I was at 7,303 feet and the valley floor was just over 4,000 feet. I looked down to see if I could climb down. No way. Below me were all small dead branches and I could not bear-hug that far down. I had not packed my tree rescue kit, which I carry when I fly in Washington, because I did not think I would be flying over trees in Utah.
I ended up waiting in the tree for 3 hours. I could hear sirens and then the helicopters started to arrive. The news helicopters circled while the Lifeflight helicopter came up to check out access routes to me. I was not in an easy place to get to. At one point there was a transmission that there was a team headed up from below, which I was sure meant that I would be spending the night in the tree. One pilot who had been acting as a wind-dummy for the competition, Sebastian Meier, was sent out with a rope and a saw to look for a place to top land his paraglider and help me. He side-hilled in a very nasty area at great risk to himself, and then started the grueling 1,500-foot hike up. Dave Dixon, a pilot in the competition who also happens to be a local fireman and captain of a technical rescue team, was flying over Rock Canyon soon after I went into the trees and he landed at the base of the canyon to coordinate retrieval efforts. I was very reassured after I heard his voice on the radio. He and his volunteer paramedic, Brady George, had the Lifeflight helicopter take them and their gear about ½ way up where they met up with Sebastian for the 2-hour hike to me. I wrapped myself in for a long wait and managed to doze on and off until they arrived 3 hours after I had gone into the tree.
When the rescue crew arrived, the first thing they did was throw me a rope from the cliff next to the tree. I tied myself into the tree, lowered my gear down (which showed me that I was even higher than I thought), and tied another line to the risers of my wing as I unclipped from it. The wing was undamaged and draped over a limb above me with the lines slack. I then climbed up and cut the reserve bridle where it attached to my harness before Brady belayed me to the ground. It was good to be on the ground again.
Brady then climbed back up the tree to extract my wing and reserve. The reserve had actually capped the tree and was undamaged except for the lines which were cut to get it out of the tree.
After we had everything packed up we started the long hike out. Lifeflight had planned to pick us up where they had dropped off Dave and Brady, but they got called away, so we were on our own. We only had one headlamp, but we knew it was a full moon so we were not too worried. We ended up hiking down the 3,000 feet in about 2 hours—only to find a persistent local news crew waiting for us. We then headed back for the US Nationals final awards at the Point-of-the-Mountain. Len Szafaryn, the newly crowned US National Champion, gave Sebastian the new harness he had one for his courageous side-hill landing to come to my aid. It was a very generous gesture.
I am a P-4 rated pilot who has been flying for 13 years. I have nearly 1,000 flights with just shy of 1,000 hours of flying time. I have flown about 2,000 XC miles at many different sites and in many different countries. I had taken my reserve for granted and never used it. I had never unintentionally spun a wing and thought I could keep my wing under control. All of that changed very quickly. I learned a number of lessons from this experience that I want to share:
Lessons Learned:

  1. I was too close to terrain, especially in an area that looked like it
would produce very trashy air. I should have given myself a 500-foot
AGL clearance over the rocks.
  2. I should have gone hands up immediately when the wing fell behind
  3. I should have gone hands up after I was in a negative spin (I had never
spun a wing before and was not sure what was happening).
  4. I probably should have released my brake before reaching for my
reserve (or at least thought about it).
  5. I should have carried more water. I had some but it goes quickly.
  6. I will repack and remove the reserve deployment bag regularly to
make sure everything will come out quickly.
  7. I will carry a tree rescue kit or at LEAST some tubular webbing to
secure myself to the tree with or to fling around the tree to draw
myself in to the trunk. I think an 8-foot sling will be part of my flying
equipment from now on.
  8. I will carry a headlamp/flashlight.
  9. I will have charged batteries and backup batteries for my radio.
US Nationals Reserve Deployment2013-07-29T18:39:51-06:00

Five Diamond Pilot

Ken Hudonjorgensen had his first flights in New Zealand in 1989 and now has over 7,000 flights and 1,400 hours of air time in a paraglider. He received the 5th Diamond Safe Pilot award (5,000 safe consecutive flights our highest safety award) in January of ’96 and as of this writing is still the only paraglider pilot to receive it. Ken held the Utah X-C record for two years, has been awarded the Utah cup X-C award for two years, is master rated, the senior instructor in Utah, a Tandem and instructor Administrator and USHGA Examiner. He is responsible for getting a paragliding program started at Snowbird Ski Resort and a Tandem program at Teton Village in Jackson Hole, WY. He has also pioneered many Utah paragliding sites. Ken feels that his most significant achievement in paragliding is this 5th Diamond Safe Pilot Award.

How and why do you think you have been able to fly safely and receive this award?

I must have built up some good karma in a past life because I definitely made some unsafe decisions during my early days in this sport becoming more conservative with each borderline experience. I also tend to think fairly clearly during an emergency. An example of this occurred when I was taking my third day of lessons in North Boulder and flew into my first thermal. My wing went into a spin. My thought was “I don’t know what I’m doing, and this wing knows how to fly better than I do at this point,” so I put my hands up and let it do its “thing”. It just happened to be the right thing to do and 20 ft. off the ground it pulled out and I flew out and had a soft landing in the L.Z.. Both of my instructors were surprised and relieved to see me standing up and alive in the landing area.

In your opinion, what are some of the most important decisions a pilot can make to stay safe?

I look for reasons not to fly. It’s easy to find many reasons why I want to fly and all too easy to ignore any danger or warning signs.

Tell us about one of the most important times you chose not to fly that kept you safe and why?

Frisco Peak in central Utah 1995. As I looked up I noticed three things that sent warning signals to my brain. Some pretty dark overdevelopment about 10 miles. S.W. of us, early and fast development directly over us and some great cycles coming straight up the mountain. It was all coming together a little too fast and too “good” for my personal comfort level. I said to my X-C buddy, “it’s too big for me, I’m not flying.” He still wanted to go and asked if I would drive for him. He launched and promptly gained over 8,000 feet. Forty minutes later he got sucked up into a towering cumulus at 2,200 ft. per minute lift. He attempted to stay out with B-line stalls and spiral dives yet still went up. He eventually managed to fly out the side of it and 20 minutes later got caught in a gust front 200 ft. over my car on the highway where I clocked him going 70 miles. per hour. Outflying the front he turned into the wind and landed going backwards at a walk. The front reached him seconds later! He is a great guy. I love flying with him and we both relearned a good lesson that day. No flight is worth putting ones life in danger.

We regularly get 1200 to 1600 ft. per min. lift at this site and it doesn’t take much of a change in conditions for it to build greater than that and for us to “be in over our heads”. All sites deserve a great deal of respect. Sites like this one deserve extra attention.

Describe one of your most memorable flights?

I have experienced many memorable flights and the first one I think of occurred during the summer of ’97, about 20 miles from my home in Sandy, Utah, at The Snowbird Ski Resort. I had just flown from Snowbird a few days earlier and landed in my back yard so I was eager to fly the weak high pressure system that still prevailed to see if other adventures could be gained from such conditions. That day, I was able to get to cloudbase at 16,200 ft. on my second thermal of the day. The view of the Wasatch range is rather spectacular from that vantage point. The beautiful sunny day with small to moderate cumulus clouds made the close-up view of these clouds seem friendly and stunningly awesome! The cloudbase over Park City, a few miles away, was at 13,900 ft. therefore I was able to fly above some of the clouds for a while. Watching the top of the clouds as they rolled and reshaped themselves, was an “other” worldly view I will always remember. To travel up to the cloudworld at cloudbase helps me to temporarily remove myself from Terra Firma. This is one of the parts of this sport I enjoy the most.

What are two of the most important safety considerations to remember while progressing in this sport?

First of all take your time with your progression in this sport and with your fly/no fly decisions. If you decide not to fly then there will be another day to fly. If you decide to fly when it is questionable FOR YOU then it may be your last flight either from injury or scaring yourself out of the sport. Second, get good instruction for each level of your progression. Most of the accidents I have heard of or witnessed are caused by ignoring good instruction, poor instruction or no instruction (like the rash of HG pilots getting injured a few years ago on paragliders because they felt that they did not need any instruction). The most dangerous years of Hang Gliding and Paragliding were the early years when no one knew what the boundaries of the sports were. Now we know some of those limits. Take advantage of that hard earned knowledge. You may be able to get cheaper and more minimal instruction but it’s not worth putting yourself back into those dangerous early years. As an example I spoke with two pilots last fall who had just gone to Mexico for a thermal clinic because it was “cheap”. When they got there, the guide took the group to the site, pointed and said “There’s thermals out there, go get em.” That was the “clinic”. People have given their lives in learning some of the limits in this sport, you don’t need to put yours in jeopardy to relearn the same lessons.

I’d like to add a third. Don’t be too anxious to get on an advanced or competition wing. They are not for everyone. Some people think the way to progress and improve their flying ability is to get a higher performing wing. This is a safety judgment error. One should be awesome at kiting, maneuvers, thermaling and X-C before changing to a more advanced wing. I’m still not ready for one and probably never will be.

This article was written in July, 1998. Since this writing, Ken has received another Gold, Bronze and Silver Award for safety

Five Diamond Pilot2020-02-22T07:35:13-07:00

Eighty-one Miles! …. NOT

On 8/25/95, I took my Flight Design A5 to fly the sight we call, Heber, (8600 ft MSL) in Utah. We got a late start, as usual, because I teach lessons until 11:00 am. My three flying buddies and I arrived at launch before noon and proceeded to check in with our local hangliding friends setting up on launch to hear what the cycles had felt like for the last hour. One of the “hangs” was a designated driver and said she would be happy to pick us up, “if you go big!” Jokingly, (while hoping it could be true), I said, “Ok! I’ll see you later today in Wyoming!”   

The cycles were weak on launch but we were optimistic so I set up. I felt an urgency to get going quickly so I launched first and picked a cycle that just wasn’t working. Within two minutes I was trudging back up through the sage brush so that I could take another crack at it. I was still about 100 ft. below launch when the cycle started feeling VERY good so I laid my glider over some scrub oak and launched into a “great one”. As I passed launch on the elevator up, I yelled to my buds, “Hey, I think I found one!”

At 500 over, I was too far behind launch to go back and wait for them so I radioed that I’d meet them in Wyoming. (The next day I heard that the other paraglider pilots on launch never flew because it blew out just after I launched). Fifteen minutes later and 500 ft over the ground with my optimism deflated I radioed to the chase crew, “I may be landing near Hwy. 40 at Park City”. They answered, “ok, pick you up soon.”

I was in 600 ft. per minute sink with less than one minute to touch down when I suddenly hit a change that increased to 50 ft. per minute up for one minute. I then spent the next 12 minutes going back and forth between 600 down and 100 up, barely maintaining altitude. I thought, “This should be good if I can hang out long enough for it to build”.  It did. A brief stint of 600 up to 9000 ft (3000 AGL) gave me some needed breathing room. Then 10 minutes of mostly 400 up brought me to 13,500 where I promptly got spanked hard, enduring a full frontal collapse, a 65 degree surge, and a 60% asymmetric within the space of 2 seconds. “Focus! Focus!” This took me from 1200 ft. per minute lift to 600 ft. per minute sink, (so the barograph print-out tells me). It scares the “peace” right out of me when that happens, even if there is 7000 ft. of air between me and the ground. The next half hour was spent in mostly sink, up to 700 ft per minute with small lift pockets of 200 or 300 ft..

Another 50 minutes between 9000 and 13,000 ft. took me just south of Coalville, UT where a great 10-minute thermal ride with 200 to 1620 ft per minute lift took me to my max altitude of 13,910 ft.

Later, flying almost directly over the mountains that separate 1-80 from Chaw Creek Rd. to the south, I radioed the chase crew that I was south of Coalville and losing altitude fast (800 down). At this point I was only receiving half of the chase crew’s communications (even though I had two radios) and was actually south of Evanston, Wyoming and east of the gas plant on Chaw Creek Rd.

Still going down at 150 ft over the ground, I was sending mind energy out pleading for (or at moments demanding) lift. As I “climbed” from 600 sink to 500 sink then 4, 3, 2, now hovering near “O” sink for a 1-o-n-g five minutes, the drift over the ground was taking me “where no one has gone before”. I was too low and my choices were to either take this lift or quit. “Oh well,” I thought, “I can safely land back in here. It will be a long walk out but… wait!…lift! glorious lift! Yes! Yes! Yes! Right up to 13,910 ft. How exhilarating!

“Hey, is that Coalville?” I ask myself. I look on the map that is strapped to my knee. “Let’s see, 3 exits off of I-80, …a large road that heads north, and …hmm that sure looks like Crawfords in the distance … Holy Shit! That’s Evanston, Wyoming!” I exclaim!  I quickly radio the crew and say, “Hey you guys, this is Ken. I’m at 13,000 just east of Evanston, I’ll head east and try to stay near I-80”. That was the last transmission my chase crew heard. There were four pilots in the car on 1-80 just west of Evanston. They all looked at each other and said, “no way, he’s confused and hypoxic. He must be over Coalville. Let’s turn back and look for him along I-80.” So they left, never found me (of course) and went back home to Salt Lake City. Thanks buds, I appreciate the vote of confidence. For your own protection and reputations, I will refrain from naming the guilty. (smile)

South west of the intersection of 1-80 and 189 north to Kemmerer, I found a beautiful 500 up thermal that was broad and hard to miss. It was tracking directly up Hwy 189 toward Kemmerer at a great rate of speed. I spent 20 minutes in it and then I made my worst decision of the entire flight.  I left this great thermal at 12,000 ft to buck the head winds trying to stay near 1-80. I could no longer reach my chase crew and my last transmission was that I would stay near I-80. I felt I should honor what I had said for their benefit. It was all-downhill from there. Tracking east I was finding thermal activity along the way but was unable to use it because it was tracking north at 20 to 30 miles per hour and by this time I was too far east of 189 and would be flying over a small road with no traffic or over a “no access” rangeland. I still believed I should be staying near I 80 so that my chase crew wouldn’t needlessly be looking for me. I even had a strong thermal wanting to drift me away from the highway as I was setting up to land. I ignored it! (silly but true) Moving backwards over the ground in a 25 mi./hour wind, it was a bit bumpy coming in and I was glad to be on the ground.

The flight was just over 3 hours, launching at 12:14 PM. and landing at 3:15 PM. 67 mi. (previous Utah records 42 mi.) averaging 22.3 mi./hour.

The treck home was almost as much of an adventure as the flight itself. Hitchhiking the 24-mi. back to Evanston took 2 1/2 hours.  I waited for 1 1/2 hours for a bus that never arrived and then called a pilot friend who drove the 2 1/2 hours to pick me up. I arrived home 8 hours after landing. I hope to reverse those numbers next year flying for 8 and getting back home in 3.

I was so excited about this flight that I purchased a map in Evanston while waiting for the non-existent bus. Putting the Utah and Wyoming maps together it looked to be 85 mi. to the third exit east of Hwy. 189. When we got home my flying bud & I refigured it to be at 88 mi. I checked on the Topographical maps the next day and got 62 mi.. Calculating the distance with 8 different pilots I wrote in my log book that it should be somewhere between 62 and 90 mi.. Then I described the flight and landing area to a hangliding friend who said he had landed there a couple of years ago. Using the great circle distance method he calculated it to be 81 mi. He asked me to stop over some time and to point it out on the map for him, so he could calculate it more precisely. Unfortunately, I never got around to doing this – (mistake). I had no idea how to calculate great circle distances (which apparently takes into account the curvature of the planet) and was very happy to use my friend’s verbal calculations. I began telling people about my flight and that I had flown 81 miles!

Five months later with 3-D topographical maps, my friend calculated the flight to be 67.28 mi.. Tomorrow someone is going to tell me that a recent satellite photograph conclusively proves that the earth is flat after all and all distances must be recalculated according to the great flatness formula. Ha!

This was a great flight and I do have two regrets: Deciding to leave a great thermal and buck head winds with 2 hours more of flying time left in the day, and not getting the distance calculated more carefully right from the start. I must have been goofy on both accounts!

1995 was a good progressive cross country year for me, starting with 21 mi. (Heber), then 31 mi. (Chelan), 51 mi. Golden, BC and ending with 67 mi.. I hope we all start moving up to three digit flights next year.

Eighty-one Miles! …. NOT2020-02-22T07:35:13-07:00


If you do not fully understand the following description of one days flying, you are not an experienced Paralinguist and you may find it helpful to study this little short course before going to the flying site.

Though not all terms are used on a regular basis, it is still good to be “educated” in case they suddenly pop up in conversation.

“Hey Sam, did you hear Inspo was poppin yesterday? Jack went big over the back at 14. Tom was the wind dummy in boomers and had 30 wuffos (3 of them had major ground suck capabilities) gawking as he laid out his panty. Five lemmings followed him into the rodeo just before he ragged out at 2000 over. Jay skyed out about I hr. later when he cored some great cloud suck. Just before glass off we had magic air that was so good I got about the worst case of toxic flight syndrome I’ve ever had.”

What you are called if you are new to the sport of Paragliding. Derived from the constant questions like ” What for you do that?” Condensed to “What for” and then to “Wa fo”, thus “Wuffo”. It’s a stretch but then so are most things in paragliding.

Maintaining or gaining altitude for a significant period of time (this came from the fact that if one does this for more than 3 hrs. one gets very sore).

Any pilot who has enough time on their hands to fly both hangliders and paragliders.

Anything that pulls your attention from the sky to the ground such as work or scantily clad good lookers standing near launch.

Stable, solid glider

A significant major altitude or distance flight.

Ju Ju
Buoyant, lifty, smooth air

The wind is too strong to fly safely.

Way blown out! When you drive to launch to check the wind speed and you can’t open the car door.

Nervous air

All more or less (depending on the attitude of the speaker) endearing terms referring to Paragliders.

These three terms refer to hangliders, the latter one referring to those who stand at ready in the launch area for 2 or more hrs., which usually happens to be the place where the best lift is.

Remote control model airplane pilots. Blimp Poacher refers to the story about one R.C.’er who inadvertently (we hope) flew too close to a passing blimp, punctured it and caused an unscheduled emergency landing.

A somewhat flat area on the lower parts of a hill or Mt. used as a launching or landing sight.

Launching from the bench and flying up to the top of the Mt. or hill.

Flying in stronger wind conditions at the top of the Mt. and being blown behind into potentially dangerous conditions such as rotors, turbulence, trees, etc …

Highest velocity of wind at top front part of hill

Flying playfully with the wind at its compression point.

Sheltered low wind area behind an object such as behind a stand of trees where wind velocity drops.

2 wind patterns meeting at one point creating updrafts or wind shear.

2 air masses moving in different directions that meet and don’t mix but create a dangerous point where half the canopy could be in south wind and the other half in north wind, or other similarly uncomfortable and dramatic wind direction differences.

F U N  Buoyant, comfortable wind conditions that are not always explainable. You wonder why it’s so good (unusual), like magic!

Turbulent, rocky wind conditions. Only the craziest of the crazies fly in this air. Also called rock ‘n roll.

Great buoyant lift sought after by some, avoided by all.

overdeveloped conditions. Winds too strong to fly

Thermals in blue sky (no clouds)

Ground surface areas such as black top parking lots or any surface areas that heat up and produce thermals.

Updrafts produced directly beneath clouds that can suck you up into them (sometimes a sought after experience)

The wind velocity is at one mile, kilometer or knot per hour. “It’s up a click.”

Someone flying so high they have become a speck in the sky. Something over 17,999 ft.. This is definitely not legal and is therefore reported over radio as flying at 17,999 ft..

Flying much higher than anyone else. Under 17,999 ft..

Down wind conditions.

Found the middle of the thermal and rode it up. This is the best spot to ride a thermal.

All around great flying conditions.

Even and steady conditions.

O.D. :
Over developed, Wind too strong to fly safely.

Driving around in a vehicle from site to site looking for good flying conditions, not usually successful.

Working to maintain flight using ridge lift close to the ground, sometimes within inches or scraping.

Flying while dragging feet along the ground

Same as above, great fun in 2 ft. of powder.

Using the available air space in a way that is inconsiderate of other pilots. Also used affectionately referring to someone who spends a lot of time in the air i.e. lands long after everyone else and in the dark.

Inconsiderately using the air space along the ridge making it difficult (or more challenging if you like) for others to fly. Also sometimes used affectionately.

Turbulent flow of air that comes off of (above and behind) neighboring “flying wings” such as other paragliders, hang gliders, airplanes and any other miscellaneous airborne particles. You can expect no vortices problems from R.C. Planes and birds, however extreme caution should be used around large flying objects.

Feeling your canopy flutter or collapse from the vortices of another glider in front or below you. Spooky feeling at first, switches to being only mildly inconsiderate after you get used to it. If accompanied by laughter from the offending glider, the dusting was probably done on purpose.

A no or low wind flight down to the bottom with no lifting conditions.

2 people flying in one glider.

Slamming into the ground at an unsafe speed. (an automatic 10 points)

First person to fly at a particular site and time so others can tell if they should fly.

Those who fly right after the wind dummy in questionable conditions

Hanging motionless in the sky

Hanging in the middle of a thermal and riding it to it’s top.

Flying up and down in a wave-like or marine porpoise fashion.


Consecutive opposite turns at an extreme angle so that the pilot swings widely from side to side.

Girl friend who drives vehicle to retrieve or deliver boy friend pilot. Sorry ladies but I haven’t heard you use any such term to refer to your guys.

Flying is so good that you don’t want to land and relieve yourself thus you suffer the consequences.

A landing that is so hard that you bounce back up.

Touching down on the ground briefly and then flying right back up again keeping the canopy inflated.

Using the lift of the canopy to take giant steps along the ground.

Launching with back to wind and facing canopy. A little bit confusing at first.

A paraglider dressed in protective or combat gear from head to toe for very necessary body protection while semi-flying and skimming and scraping along the ground.

Getting blown back by high winds and dragged along the ground. Not usually done intentionally and happens when one attempts to launch or land in high winds or during paragliding training maneuvers. Is normally exciting and uncomfortable.

Landing in sitting position (sometimes done on purpose).

Launching from sitting position almost always done on purpose)

Landing on back (hopefully always done on purpose and very gently).

Launching from position of lying on back (I have never seen this done accidentally.).

A collapse of the canopy or airfoil, it looks like a crumpled up rag.

Waiting around, no wind days.

Pilots choose not to fly and instead drink alcohol and stay on the ground. I don’t know why this is called a safety meeting as I have been to a few and there was no discussion of safety. Alcohol is not safe and neither is the ground. All the accidents I have seen or have heard of have happened while in contact with the ground. Even if you’re falling through the air, you don’t get hurt until you hit the ground.

Unseen dangers for pilots, such as rotors, turbulence, wind shear, etc …

Winds become very smooth and even

Yes, exactly, very accurate.

Making a very sharp turn.

super strong lift that is scary and fun at the same time.

Strong wind

Thermal activity is edgy and abrupt

Small and strong.

(Don’t get too excited. This does not mean you can go soaring in your house!) A thermal that tends to be in the same spot consistently.

Tucking the end cells or tips of the wing under by pulling down on any combination of the front lines at the ends of the canopy. Purpose: to lose altitude or increase ability to penetrate in higher winds.

Mildly turbulent air caused by uneven cooling of surfaces after the sun has set.

Call it a day, quit flying (pack the glider up in its bag) …

Thinking of which, it’s time to BAG UP this article. Happy, good, exciting and safe flying to all of you.

This article was written in 1995.

If you have any suggestions, corrections, additions or subtractions please

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Addicted To Air

” Standing on launch at 9000 feet above sea level at Frisco Peak in south central Utah, it is one hundred degrees Fahrenheit and I’m sweating in my thick fleece, gore tex flight suit, thick mittens, boots and full faced helmet. It’s hot! Probably one hundred and twenty degrees inside all of this gear. ‘Come on thermals’ , I plead to myself, ‘please give me a good cycle or even a decent one before I faint.’ I can only tolerate all of this heat because I know in 15 or 20 minutes I will be freezing at 18,000 feet above sea level and the extra clothing will be necessary for survival.”

This is what it is like as we prepare to launch for a cross country paragliding flight, the pinnacle of the sport of paragliding.

It all starts with training flights at smaller, safer sites like The Point of the Mountain near Salt Lake City, Utah. This site, with three hundred flying days per year and smooth laminar air, makes for one of the safest training and experience gathering sites in the world.

A typical training program begins with learning how to control the wing while standing on the ground. It’s like being hooked onto a big stunt kite with your body. This “kiting” is a safe and quick training technique, that enables pilots to understand what is happening with the wing and how to accurately keep it overhead, or going in the direction they want. It is also great fun. From there one moves on to small flights that in time get bigger and bigger. Most of us are accustomed to getting into rooms (planes) that pick us up and transport us from one destination to another. Having our feet just gracefully “lift” off the ground is an experience that human beings have never had before. It is quite exhilarating!

One of the greatest aspects of this sport is that the new and thrilling experiences just keep coming. Soaring for hours, high mountain flights from one or two miles above the landing zone, thermaling up for 10 or 15 thousand feet in one thermal, flying cross country for 50, 100 or 200 miles with no motor or propulsion other than pure nature. We are truly explorers! For the first time in our history as a species, we can explore our planet’s atmosphere directly and physically for more than six feet above the ground. This is no little thing. It can shift us to a whole new paradigm. The general public can now fly and soar with the Eagles and Hawks thousands of feet above the ground, soaring through the wispies of the base of the clouds not even seeing the planet for hours at a time. It is something that can only be understood by experience.

“As I watch intensely for cycles coming up the mountain in front of me, the sweat tickles my sides as it drips from my arm pits. The futile attempts of my body to cool itself drip down my face and neck and fog my glasses so that I must remove them in order to see anything. My socks and mittens I’m sure could use some ringing out. Here it comes! I see the trees start to wave in a wide swath four hundred feet below me on the side of the mountain. As it travels up towards me I hear the sweet sound of wind intensify to a beautiful roar. I decide to launch after the edge of the thermal passes me and I wait a few seconds feeling the breeze on my face. Stepping into this cycle my wing shoots up over my head and immediately lifts me off the ground without having to move forward at all. I fly straight into the thermal, trying to get some distance between myself and the terrain, but this is such a strong lift cycle that I get that distance vertically not horizontally. I’m in sustained 1400 to 1700 feet per minute lift continually for the next seven minutes and reach the refreshingly cool altitude of 17,500 feet above sea level. By the time I am able to leave this huge lifting column of air that I have been circling in, I am over 18,400 feet high. At this altitude most cars in the valley floor below me are too small to see. It is comforting to have my oxygen system with me today. Its 2 second spurt at the beginning of each inhale helps me stay relaxed, warm and clear thinking at this altitude.”

There are basic classes in paragliding that cover things like launching, landing, equipment care, etc., and there are more advanced courses like thermaling, cross country, maneuvers and others. This is personal, affordable flight. As a species human beings have been dreaming about flying for millions of years. Now is the first time in our history when we can.

“I leave the thermal that took me to cloud base and head North using the lift that is usually at the base of these beautiful cumulus clouds. I move along for six miles with the cloud, sometimes in it, sometimes below, at times my wing is in the cloud over my head and I am not. There are minutes at a time where I cannot even see the planet. It is very “other worldly”. Two Bald Eagles overtake me never once flapping their wings. They are migrating north and are using the same easy ride I am at the cloud base. One of them slows and with curiosity flies over to me watching intensely. We fly together for a few minutes as its mate continues on, quickly going beyond my sight. Too soon, they’re both gone. I leave this beautiful cloud world and enter blue sky as I head north on that continual search for another thermal and hopefully another cloud world. I am grateful.”

I remember another hot day when I was teaching last week at The Point of The Mountain near Salt Lake City Utah. A couple came from Massachusetts for lessons, motivated to make the trip because they had heard that this was the best place to learn and also heard that I have the best official safety record in the United States. The kiting they started with was fun when they stayed ahead of the wing, and a real bear when they didn’t. I remember we went through a lot of drinking water that day. I wish I had some of that water right now… Joyce, at one hundred and fifteen pounds, was having an easier time of it than her 220 pound husband Jim. It’s “finesse” that works in this sport, not muscle and most women understand how to “finesse” things. As students in the sport of paragliding, our frustration on these hot days usually rises in direct proportion to our body temperature. We take a cool water break and I remind them again that, ” We do this for fun, not to create more frustration in our lives. Take breaks as often as you want, celebrate your successes and just let go of any thought about what did not work well.” Soon we resume the kiting and after Jim drags across the ground on his back, it sinks in that the wing is more powerful in wind than he is and he begins to finesse it beautifully. When they both settle into the precision of kiting, we switch gears and move down to the bottom of the hill where they begin to actually get some air, just a foot or two at first, then gradually working uphill, they get 10, 30, 50 and 100 feet as they work on directional control. This is when they begin to experience one of the most unique feelings in this sport, the sensation of your feet being picked up off of the ground. There is nothing like it as a personal or human experience. Paragliding is the closest thing to dream flight I have ever experienced. The childhood “pretend” games of flying while playing on a swing set become real in a paraglider.

Joyce gets 30 feet of altitude above the ground when she does a launch from 50 feet up the hill and laughs and screams with delight for the entire 15 seconds she is airborne. They both have typically excited reactions to these first flights. Jim says, “This is way cool, when do we get to fly from the top?”, and points up to where three pilots are flying three hundred feet over our heads. I answer to both of them. “Your landings have been very soft so far and the wind conditions look like they are staying good. I want to see one more soft landing for each of you. Then if your energy is still good, we’ll put some radios on you and go to the top. You are both doing great!” Within ten minutes we drive to the top of the three hundred foot hill. Conditions still look perfect with a six mile per hour wind coming straight uphill. We review their upcoming flight, make sure they each feel ready, check their radios and one at a time, launch. First Jim, who yells as he takes off, makes four turns and lands softly on the edge of the landing zone bringing his glider down in the tall weeds. “Well Joyce, are you ready?” “Jim will be getting his glider out of the weeds for ten minutes or so, go show him how to land in the middle of the landing zone.” “That looks so great”, says Joyce, “I’m a little scared but mostly excited.” After a bit of controlled kiting, Joyce launches and yells and screams during almost the entire flight. I see her hug Jim at the bottom after a perfect soft landing right on the spot. They celebrate with jumping and dancing. I give myself such a great feeling of joy sharing “flight” with people. I savor the moment while driving down to pick them up.

Leaving the base of the cloud means that I start sinking at 100 to 800 feet per minute depending on whether the parcel of the air I am flying through is sinking, stable, or slightly rising. I hit small lift pockets that are not quite usable and keep headed north looking for another cloud base or ground thermal trigger that may provide enough lift. After five miles over the ground I am back down to 9500 feet and head for a nearby mountain peak that should provide good lift. Its rock face is being heated by the sun and my GPS tells me the six mile per hour base wind at this altitude should put me at the peak on its up wind side. This is a good scenario for finding lift. As I near the peak I am still 200 feet over it and my vario’s audio sink alarm goes off. OK! That tells me that there is lift around here somewhere. Sure enough, there is the bumpy air near the edge of the thermal and then, almost immediately, the strong elevator ride up. As I reach the thermal core I encounter even stronger lift. This core is small so I accelerate my turn into a mild spiral in order to stay in this beautiful center which rises much faster than the outer parts. The lift is sustained 13 hundred feet per minute and I quickly gain three thousand feet. The edges of the thermal become sharper and turbulent. I mis-calculate the changing shape of this beauty and it wacks hard on the leading edge of my glider. As it folds under, it collapses so fast and hard with a loud “crack” that I know a big surge is coming. I begin dampening the anticipated surge right away because I know it is going to happen with such speed that I won’t be able to react fast enough if I react after it starts. I must be pro-active. The glider wacks loudly again as it folds more than one half of its left side down and under the right side, then slams fully open and surges forward with more speed than I thought possible. Because I compensated for the surge early, which actually ended up being slightly on the late side, I was able to, just barely, keep myself from falling into my glider as it surged below and in front of me. Luckily I free-fall through the lines and do not get tangled in any of them. The jerk and loud snapping sound of the lines and fabric as my weight reaches the end of the lines and pressurises the glider again is disconcerting and comforting at the same time.

Because I miscalculated the changing shape of the thermal, I encountered the turbulent edge and resulting consequences. If I had stayed in the thermal I would not have encountered this turbulence. This kind of turbulence is rare in flying conditions that are appropriate for paragliding and in my 7000 plus safe consecutive flights and 1400 plus hours of being in the air I have only encountered something similar once before. One of the safety features designed into these wings is that they can fold and buckle and then they just reopen and start flying again. It is the only aircraft that can fix itself in flight. We also carry Reserve parachutes, which I have never had to use, and when I have this amount of altitude it is easier to trust the wings ability to fly.

The glider immediately resumes a stable Flying configuration after the above three seconds of violent behavior. I turn sharply to quickly re-enter the thermal, which is the safest place to be. The thermal quickly strengthens to 16 hundred feet per minute, and within three or four minutes I enter another cloud world. I love this sport. After 3 more good thermals, I fly 54 miles and land right next to the road where the chase crew picks me up within 30 seconds of folding my glider up into its back pack.

Whether you’re doing cross country or a sled ride at the training hill, what a sweet day it is when you get air.

Addicted To Air2020-02-22T07:35:13-07:00
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