Sunday, 22 March 2015

Out of the Nest -- First Flight

Finally, conditions were looking better and it was time to fly. As Andrew got out his phone Saturday morning to call Chris to make sure things were still on, my heart immediately started to beat faster. I looked at the clouds . . . wondering . . . almost hoping for an excuse. That’s how nervous I was!

We met everyone at “The T” and loaded up Chris’s big Suburban, with all the bags secured in the roof rack on top. Chris tweets his activity and location for the day each morning so there were several other pilots waiting for a ride up to launch. Eleven of us piled in, plus a few more in another vehicle.

It was a long uphill drive on highway and then a narrower winding road up to the launch. But it was paved and we had to be careful to avoid the many cyclists zooming by on their way down hill.

Once out of the vehicle we shouldered our bags and hiked less than five minutes uphill to the launch area. As we came over the crest of the hill, I was taken aback by the strength of the wind. It felt at least as strong, if not stronger, than some times at the training hill where it was enough to make kiting very difficult or shut it down altogether.

From our beginner group, there was me, Andrew and Mel ready to take our first flight. Testing us, Chris called the three of us together and said, “Well, what do you think?” We all agreed the wind was quite strong and coming from the wrong direction. We shouldn’t fly. “Good decision,” he said. “I wouldn’t fly in this.” And he’s got 15+ years of experience behind him!
Fly, No Fly discussions. (Photo: Robin Lempicki)
One of the other pilots had a small wind measurement instrument, which showed that wind gusts were fluctuating between 10 and 22 mph. For beginner pilots, maximum winds are 12 mph with gusts up to 15 mph and wind direction no more than 25 degrees off the direction you want to launch.

After sitting and looking out at the horizon for several minutes we all (including all the experienced pilots) packed up and left. Chris looked at the forecast for the following day and it didn’t look promising. Andrew and I decided we couldn’t put off the long drive home any longer and that we’d head out in the morning.

Later that night we got an email from Chris. The winds had died down, the forecast for the morning looked good. “Let’s fly!” he wrote.

Again we met at “The T” and loaded up the suburban for round two. This time as we crested the hill to the launch area we knew it was on. We nervously stood around while Chris set our fresh-out-of-the-box radios to the right channel. “Let’s get ready,” he said. “We don’t want to lose this opportunity.” I quickly got my harness on, unpacked my canopy and went through the self-check process.

“Shelley, you ready to go?”

“No! I’m not going first!”

I’d just finished reading an article withadvice for new pilots. Number one on the list was, at a new site, watch a more experienced person go first. And, sure enough, watching one of the other pilots launch was reassuring. But after setting up my canopy, my palms were still sweating in my gloves and I took several deep breaths and visually triple checked my setup.

Getting ready to go. (Photo: Robin Lempicki)
My launch was good first try, if a little off to one side. I easily found the stirrup to get up into my harness, turned right and then left to follow the spine of the ridge downhill. There wasn’t much wind and, for the most part, it was a pretty smooth ride with only a few little bumps along the way. But those bumps definitely made me catch my breath and made my heart beat faster!

In flight! (Photo: Robin Lempicki)
After Chris told me at least twice (over the radio) to relax I finally realized that I didn’t have to keep my eyes totally glued to the landing zone. That I could actually settle back, look around at the amazing view and enjoy the ride. And the landing zone was still in the same spot when I looked back at it! :-) 

Relax until the next few bumps that is! Then it was back to tensing up until things smoothed out again. I know I’ll get used to it eventually! 

As I got further out, away from the mountains, I had to demonstrate 360 degree turns. I’m pretty sure mine were a bit more tentative than Chris would have liked! Again, it’s something I’m sure I’ll get used to with more longer and higher flights.
Turn! (Photo: Robin Lempicki)
Then was on my own to make a few more “S” turns to decrease altitude and get lined up for landing. “Just like at the training hill,” said Chris. Luckily the landing zone at this location is huge and you just have to avoid some big rocks and a few single trees. The many, many flights and landings at the training hill definitely paid off. We all had great landings.

Andrew scoping out the landing zone.
Andrew closing in on the ground.
Great landing Mel!
I had debated long and hard about whether or not I wanted the hassle of trying to use my GoPro on the mountain flight. Didn’t I have enough to worry about? But wouldn’t it be nice to have some cool footage from my first “real” flight? I tested both chest harness and ankle mount on the training hill and, although it wasn’t ideal, the chest harness was the least intrusive. And it turned out to be really non-intrusive because I totally forgot to turn it on!!!! Once on the ground though I did get some footage of Andrew and Mel coming in for their landings. I had GoPro in one hand, regular camera in the other. Another new friend, Robin, got some video and photos of us taking off. Thanks Robin!

It felt so good to have this first mountain flight done. It was an exhilarating experience and I was literally shaking with excitement at the end of it. Can’t wait til next time!!!

Again, HUGE THANKS to Chris Grantham of Fly Above All

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