- Tandem Flights
Posted by ElCamino on June 21, 2011 - 10:07am in
Well it's been a few years since I took an SIV so when P-Mac said he was keen to attend one I jumped at the opportunity. After some research and a strong recommendation from one of the pilots Paul met on his last trip to Hawaii we decided to take a course offered by Eagle Paragliding. The instructor Brad Gunnuscio is one of the US top ranked competition pilots and also quite a good acro pilot.
The course was held at lake Berryessa in California so a road trip was in order. We packed up Friday morning and headed out. It took about 16 hours to drive which we split up into two days. Arriving in the Napa valley in time for dinner the second day. After dinner it was a short drive to where we were staying for the course.
Since this was the second 3 day course there were still a few stragglers left at the camp when we arrived. One course attendee was reviewing the carnage his gopro camera caught earlier in the day. It looked like a lot fun. The accommodations consisted of 2 RV's, a nice grassy area for tents, and a large metal frame tent with cots able to sleep 4 comfortably. Paul and I decided on the large tent which in the end we had to ourselves. There was a full kitchen set up with a sink, fridge, cook top, and coffee maker. Everything you could need was supplied. They also set up a large tent and plumbed it with hot water for showering. It basically equates into deluxe camping.
Since the maneuvers were going to be done over water the first morning started with a talk about tow bridals and how they work. This was demonstrated on a harness simulator set up at the camp. Once we were all clear on how they worked Brad went over what maneuvers we would be doing that day and got everyone pumped up.
It took about 15min to drive to the lake from the camp area and then a short boat ride to the other side of the lake where we would be launching from. The launch and landing area was fantastic. Plenty of room for multiple gliders to lay out and clear lines at the start of each day and a large Oak tree where us fairer skinned people could hide from the strong California sun. Brad started, and a few times ended, each day with a flight on his small acro glider leaving us thoroughly impressed and pumped for what was about to go down.
Since I've attended an SIV previously I was prepared for the first day to be the basic maneuvers which consisted of asymmetric collapses, full frontal collapses, pitch control, and the use of the speed bar during these maneuvers. Paul and I both have fairly new gliders so it was nice to start off slowly and get comfortable with how the gliders behaved. As the day began and I watched the pilots launch one by one and work their way through the maneuvers (I was last to go) I found myself most worried about the towing. I've never towed a paraglider behind a boat before so although I was excited I didn't know what to expect. By the time it was my turn the wind had picked up considerably and I was able to do my one and only reverse launch of the course. The tow seemed bumpy and I had to actively fly my glider during the entire tow. Once I pulled the release pin things became much calmer and I realized I was about 3500ft above a beautiful lake with an amazing view of the surrounding area. I was sold. Towing rocks!
Day two started much like the first. Brad gave us a talk about the days maneuvers and answered any questions pilots had. We then gathered everything we would need for the day and headed off. When we arrived at the lake we found Brad geared up and ready to throw down on his tiny acro wing. I really enjoyed the pre show each morning and it seemed to get people fired up. Day two proved to be a little more exciting. We did some more practice collapsing our gliders while accelerated but this time it was a little different. Brad had us collapse the glider but keep the speed bar on full while recovering. This proved to be a lot less benign then I had imagined. I was always taught to release the speed bar immediately when suffering a collapse, which made a lot of sense, so I had envisioned "Bad Things" happening if I didn't. This proved to be totally wrong. You can indeed counter steer a glider to the opposite direction of the collapse, while holding it in, while on full speed bar. That is if you respond quickly to the collapse with some opposite brake. Now this is where things got exciting. If you don't respond quickly to the collapse "Bad Things" do happen. Remember I mentioned earlier I was last to fly. While watching everyone else on their 1 and 1-2 gliders the maneuvers seemed pretty sedate. While that's not the case with my glider. During my turn I was instructed to "mash the bar full" pull an asymmetric collapse, keep the bar on fully, and delay my response. While by this time I was full of confidence so I pushed my bar and yanked my A's hard. All hell broke lose and the glider went crazy. Two lessons were learned very quickly. A high performance glider does NOT respond like a 1-2 glider and to keep calm or it's likely gonna get a lot worse. I did this maneuver twice during the course with the second one reacting similarly to the first but with a few more riser twists. We did a few more interesting maneuvers that day including spirals which really seemed to pump people up. I opted to skip the spirals and went straight to full stalls which were a lot of fun!
One of the things I liked about the course was Brad's flexibility. The first day was a day to prove to him your skill level and that you can take instruction. After that he was open to teaching a little more of what I wanted. Since I had skipped the spirals and demonstrated good control in the full stalls on the second day he lent me a competition acro wing to do some stalls and SAT's on. There was one student that had attended 3 previous SIV's with Brad and was working on his acro. Brad had lent him the same glider I was flying the previous day and we all witnessed him do a nice tumble exiting a stall. Only problem was it was unintentional. Apparently you can be thrown clean over the top of the glider if you exit a full stall incorrectly on an acro glider. Who would have thought. This was running through the back of my mind when I released the tow pin at 3000ft above the lake. My first instruction I heard through the radio was "take a wrap and stall the glider". I can honestly say the first stall I did on that glider was the scariest moment I have ever had paragliding, knowing if I made a mistake it was gonna be a big one. This glider was intimidating. I did 3 more and landed. The second run was for the SAT's I've wanted to do for a long time. I did two and landed very happy with what I had accomplished over the last three days. I opted to resist the urge to kill myself on the last run and sat back and enjoyed a beer.
Looking back on the whole experience I can honestly say I'm a much better pilot because of this course. I see these opportunities as a chance to learn as much as possible and advance my skill set so I can keep myself as safe as possible as I enjoy this beautiful sport. I strongly encourage anyone who has considered taking one of these courses to get out there and have some fun. You won't regret it.
If you have any questions about the course or maneuvers please feel free to email me @ rickheatley (at) shaw.ca
Stay safe and fly high