Land Down Under
Paramotor/Paragliding Visit to Australia
Skip to the Jan 11, 2009 update. Finally saw a 'Roo
Skip to the Jan 15, 2009 update. Winds Came
Skip to the Jan 19, 2009 Conclusion
Four mammoth jet engines suck down 12,000 pounds of
kerosene each hour as another billion gallons of Pacific Ocean passes
below. This is travel 747 style. Two flight attendants baby the 15 or so
occupants of its opulent upper deck. A sea of people sleep on the deck below,
many just now stirring--it's been over 13 hours since
lifting off from Los Angeles.
I walked out of my Chicagoland door at 2pm on Thursday. I'll arrive on
Richard Shelton's doorstep around noon on Saturday. Ouch! It sounds
worse than it is because of date line tomfoolery. But still it's 28
total hours of travel.
Surprisingly, the flight hasn't been bad at all. In fact, I suspect I'll have
as much sleep as I would otherwise. the key: staying busy. For me, of course,
that's not an issue. I brought two laptop batteries, 12
magazines that I don't have time to read at home and a book someone gave me
for Christmas. But mostly I've been working on the computer, getting a
list of shots for Master PPG and finishing up the Feb magazine stuff.
And yes, blowing some time on FootFlyer. This is my entertainment.
Working for an airline is great and this affordable travel is an
awesome benefit, but it's not without woes. Fortunately, this journey has
been remarkably painless, dare I say enjoyable. Now lets see if
my bag makes it. Thankfully, the most important stuff is in my carry on
but I couldn't fit the steadicam so I really hope the big bag makes it.
I've got lots I want to do with that steadicam.
The car will be interesting. Again to the other side of the road with
a stick shift in my wrong hand. And I've got to get the insurance. If
you've rented a car recently, you know that the agents get commission on
that extra insurance that you don't need. I've had car salesmen with
less pressure. And they're so insistent
"Which would you like, sir, the super duper daily protection plan,
the protection plan or the basic coverage?"
"I'll not be taking out extra coverage." I offer.
With a now-serious expression, he stresses "You do know that you'll
be responsible for everything including the meals of the tow truck
driver's kids, don't you?"
Adding "Your insurance may not cover those meals, you know."
Of course I never get the insurance but now I'm going to Australia.
So I called my insurance guy. I am, in fact, covered out of the country
but only out to 100 miles. We'll THAT certainly won't apply! The little
TV screen at my seat says I've traveled a walloping 8000 miles.
So some lucky car rental person will be lickin their chops at me, I'm
sure. "Ahaa, you live in the U.S., you'll need the super-duper we won't
hold you hostage insurance, don't you?" And for only $20 more per hour,
we'll cover the air conditioner. Hey, it's summer down here, you know.
Then there's the adventure of getting to Richard's.
That's all for now, breakfast beckons. Breakfast. Go figure.
Hitting the Ground Flying
Jan 11, 2009 Obviously I got
here. And not long afterwards, it was off to fly. Oh, and my bag arrived
First off, the people here are fantastic. Friendly, welcoming and
I've already, on day 3, met a bunch of wonderful folks and easy friends. Richard is an
absolute gentleman. We have a lot in common, not the least of which is
all things aerial. His business is selling specialized cameras intended
for use from model aircraft and other applications. He's a trooper for
putting up with me for so many days.
The adventure began right away. In fact, within two hours of pulling
in to Richard's place, were were pulling wings up on a nearby soaring
site. What a hoot. We met his good friend Bohdan who had already been
soaring for an hour. After flying around for a while a nearby fence post
allowed me to land and stand on while keeping the wing overhead.
Although that was great fun, it got me in trouble. I knew the site was
sensitive but didn't realize just how sensitive until later. So much
of our behavior is about perception. No more pole standing! In fact,
I'll be the perfect example of launch and leave. This place is quite a
special little window on the ridge and I respect the desire not to spoil
it. And not to even look like we're doing anything questionable. I've
been the perfect little non-foot dragging, non pole standing,
non-buzzing little paraglider/paramotor pilot since.
The next morning we went motoring and it was beautiful. A long cross
country around a lake, over to the coast, up to a lighthouse and back. I
took some decent stills and video but am limited because I don't have my
helmet cam. There's a minute or two of usable footage, though.
This morning was a test. I had a real tough time getting off in the light,
shifty winds, even when the wind was good. The throttle, which is
extremely comfortable in flight, doesn't leave anywhere to put the A's.
A german fellow, Jost and his partner Barbara were extremely helpful.
They've got their own, much more fascinating story, by the way.
large helmet with mounted camera (taped, I might add) didn't help but it
seems it was the throttle that torpedoed my efforts. It was catching in
the A's. A suggestion by Jost to put the A riser in a somewhat unusual
hold helped and I got off the next time. Now I want to go practice with
that wing and motor combo to really master it. Clearly I've not done
that yet. Maybe tomorrow.
Got some great footage flying behind running kangaroos. That was
awesome. Much of the rest of the video isn't usable because the sighting
device I had improvised was off and the camera was pointed too far down.
Bummer. Next time I'm gonna put a dot on the visor in addition the
Stills came out great, though. The funniest was of Bohdan on the dry
lake. It's got this soft texture on top but then a foot of muck below.
He almost pulled off a touch and go, but not quite. What a great sport
he is, too, letting us fly around getting pictures of him in this
perfectly symmetrical layout.
We've had great communications which always makes photography and
video so much easier. The FootFlyer system has been reported as clear
and it worked, without modification, on their Australian radios. They
don't have FRS but do have something equivalent. And thankfully they
have the two-prong connectors.
Time is interesting. Subtract 7 hours from Chicago time and add a
day. I'm pretty well recovered from jet lag, though. Tomorrow it'll be
in the 90's (or 30's if you're sweating in celcius).
I'm doing stills and videos so don't
have everything here. Too bad the kangaroos are on video but it sure
looks good. This is a brief sample of the many shots from over the past
few days. And thanks to Richard for letting me use his Quixo, Boudan for
the wing, Andrew for the harness, Rich for the helmet and the rest for
being so welcoming. I've been mostly flying a Sting Arcus and Action GT
which have all served Yoeman duty in getting my around in style.
And the Winds Came
Jan 15, 2009 After getting three
days of flying each day the winds came. And came. But on Wednesday, we
went to downtown Geelong to visit with "Helicopter Rob," a friend of
Richard's who flies for a sight seeing company. Rob is a skilled young
pilot (24 years old) with a bright future who is cutting his teeth on
his first paid gig.
I was lucky enough to score an empty seat and got some great footage
with the steadicam. Good thing, too, because it turned out that would be
my only flying that day. It was quite windy but Rob made easy work of
the wind, guiding the float-equipped R-44 out over the water then around
for a quick tour of Geelong's coastal area.
Strong conditions have
kept us grounded which just means we've been seeing some of the sites
from a different perspective. Richard put some time on his Boogie board,
braving the sharks, during one warm afternoon. Yes, I know, the actual
chance of a shark attack is about as high as the chance of a lightning
strike. But I can see thunderstorms, I can't see sharks. And that whole
"be the meal" thing just doesn't sit well with me. Even without that, I
don't do cold. Water has to be about 80° F MINIMUM before I'll consider
going in it. 84°F is more like it.
One late afternoon we did make use of the strong conditions. I needed
footage of certain types of inflations, and kiting, in strong winds
which we had plenty of on the beach. Plus, we were able to slide along
the sand at will. It was magical. Paragliders are the coolest aircraft
Richard did most of the filming then we traded places. I
got him doing the wing thing. This footage was handheld and by tripod.
One technique we captured involves an observer grabbing the kiting
pilot's brakes and walking back with them. The wing comes down with a
plunk and the pilot doesn't move whatsoever. It's a trick I learned from
David Jebb and am putting in Master PPG 1 (Advanced Ground Handling).
We've looked at the footage on a high def TV and there's a lot of
useful, great looking material.
This afternoon we hope to do some
touring and then, if the winds cooperate, some free flying.
A minor side note is that I've been doing the driving since my hire
car has unlimited mileage. Brave Richard, there in the left seat, has
been surprisingly calm most of the time. In fact, he's only screamed
once so I feel pretty good about the whole left-side-of-the-road
We went shopping yesterday. Subtle differences are amusing.
For example, their shopping carts use four swiveling wheels. That makes
corners easier to manage but you can't pull the cart from its front.
There are many other little differences that were amusing.
Jan 19, 2009 Sitting again atop
the mighty 747 crossing endless miles of cold Pacific Ocean. I'm
confused as to the day. It was Monday morning when I left but Sunday
afternoon at home. I'll arrive home Monday evening. This flight is the
big one, too, as I'm at about hour 6 of a 15 hour flight. The good news:
I've got juice. Power that is. Sweet 110. No adapters required and Mr.
Computer is happily taking in its nutrients. 3:44pm Australia time.
Middle of the afternoon to my now-adjusted body clock. As I type, pilots
are probably soaring at Bells Beach, Spion, Red Rock and countless other
sites along Victoria's gorgeous southern coast. Richard is catching up
on orders, his life and reflecting, as am I, on what seems like the most
fleeting of visits. I had a blast.
I don't know that I've ever been
made to feel this welcome anywhere.
The trip was a whirling dervish of flying, sightseeing, solving the
world's problems, filming, more flying, recording soundtracks, learning
and experiencing the other side of a very enjoyable road.
On the day before departure the Aussie boys put on quite a show.
Fireworks would have been a let down. Next time, though, I'll have a
little less adrenalin. Next time I'll do the trip's most spectacular
flight with my camera's lens cap off, too. Some really cool stuff
appeared in front of that cap, let me tell you.
One scene I did wind up capturing was a paramotor horror story with a
remarkably happy ending—relatively speaking. First some biology. The
Tree of Thorns (can't remember its name) has these razor sharp,
inch-long needles guarding every branch. They're nearly indestructible
wood alloy provides a formidable and painful shield against unwary
I was up on Mark's Quad Dog taping Mark who was flying his Aifer
Tornado, the motor I'd just flown around for a couple hours recording
the back of my lens cap. We were doing some coordinated turns after
which he wound it up into a spiral but, on level out, let a wingover go
too far over. He got light on the lines, took a big collapse, then
recovered nicely but just a bit too late. It would have been no more
than a new pair of shorts if not for intervention by the Tree of Thorns.
Yup, right at the very bottom of the swing, at full power, he plunged
leg-first into that mess. Nasty as those thorns were, that tree might
have saved his life since, just beyond it, the air was filled with hill.
Amazingly, Mark was fine with little more than an ankle injury. Even
more amazing, it appears his Airfer and it's Titanium cage was
undamaged. The prop didn't do as well. Thank God, Mark, like the rest of
these guys, are fantastic folks that I'm very thankful to have been able
to spend time with.
We almost pulled off a radio show from Geelong's port cafe that
afternoon but paramotor flying went on for too long. Oh bummer.
Helicopter Rob, also a paraglider pilot, kept us intrigued about the
process of becoming a professional helicopter pilot. Such a promising
After some tasty chow we headed for the hills. Cliffs, really, the
rest of our afternoon was spent soaring Bells Beach. This ride was
specially build for paragliding and I captured some great footage along
these incredible sites. The ridge is varied in shape with colorful red
jagged curves and green bowls awash in smooth rising air. And no
restrictions here, top landings were allowed with plenty of room. We did
many. Some filming was done while hovering just behind launch, a few
feet high, levitating around at will. It was paraglider paradise.
Bohdan, Richard, Dean and Steve gave me plentiful targets and the sun
shone dutifully throughout. The sun worked, too, actually making it
warmer unlike Chicago where the sun is broken. It shines but doesn't
warm. Hopefully that will get fixed soon.
We finished the trip in the same place we started. Some outdoor pub
near Aireys Inlet with Richard, Bohdan, Dean and myself along with a
bonus appearance of Bohdan's daughter.
I don't have nearly as many stills as some trips since my focus was
on taping for Master PPG. But we did get quite a few lines checked off
the list of necessary shots. If I do an "extra" on any of the DVD's this
will be a fun and sometimes funny excursion to the land of Kangaroos and
incredibly fun people.
Next visit I'll have to make sure I've got at least a month. We
barely scratched the surface of Australia's beauty. But I sure got a
good taste of it's hospitality. Thanks to Richard for inviting me and
putting up with me for a full 10 days. Time will tell how long it takes
him to recover.