That's the Point
It's a special place for soft wings and we're making the best of it.
We were talking about the need to replace my flight suit when it
dawned on me that there are two paraglider shops within a few miles of
us. Paraglider shops! Cloud 9 and Superfly. Talk about kids in a candy
This is Salt Lake City, where the Enterprise is hanging out until
heading for Monument Valley in a few weeks. One big reason to come was
Tim's desire to improve his comfort level in free flight. Although he's
a P2, he's very conservative and reserved about new and/or crowded
sites. A sky only gets more full of paragliders at Torrey Pines or
We arrived Tuesday night and headed for the south side so we'd be
ready come morning, staying right there at launch. When enough light
made it morning we peeked out only to find there were already students
kiting. Consistent winds rightfully make this a training Mecca—you can
generally count on kiting practice, one way or another, every AM. If its
too strong, move down the hill, if it's light, do sled rides down—the
ride up is quick and paved thanks to quarry truck-worthy road.
Unfortunately I don't have the Bobcat this time. That's the speed
wing I flew last time to so much joy during particularly strong
conditions. We didn't have the wind for it, anyway. Spicely would have
to do and, in fact, performed admirably. The Spice is remarkably lifty
for its 22 meters and I was able to soar pretty freely. It took a lot of
hill hugging and frequent side-hill landings but there were times when I
was able to make 5 or 6 passes without touching down. It's actually fun
on the edges of sustainability because it means ground skimming. I
luuuuuuuuv ground skimming! For one thing it allows me to enact a small
amount of revenge on the point's reviled vegetation, rebar weed, aka
iron weed. I'm sure it has a real name but the "rebar" moniker is most
accurate. If you designed a shape to snag paraglider lines, this is what
it would look like. All you need to do is snag one line in that stuff
and its probably over.
After soaring Thursday morning we headed out to Salt Air where Steve
and Wes were flying. This place is incredible, with a good half-mile of
what I thought was incredibly smooth sand. I took a little flight
on Wes's nicely-built little trike with Steve's Flattop motor.
After launching, I flew around briefly to get some feel of the
machine and its solid handling Ozone Rush wing. Throttle response and
torque was normal for a Simonini machine so I came in for some taxi fun.
It seemed smooth enough and one thing I love doing on wheels is a 360°
taxiing turn. You land into the wind then start turning while keeping
the wing slightly inside the whole time, keeping just
enough speed to stay controllable. It's a good exercise with minimal
risk since the speeds are slow as long as there isn't too much wind—the
downwind portion will obviously be rolling faster by the amount of wind
speed. We had about 5 mph wind so it wasn't too bad. This works great on
grass or smooth surfaces where I've done it many times.
Not this time.
All went well through the first half of the turn then the left wheel
hit a hole. Uh oh.
That caused a rapidly diverging left-right wheel oscillation
which all but stopped my forward momentum, ending in a low speed
tip-over. I immediately killed the motor and thankfully didn't get
the prop. But then the strangest thing happened. The motor tried to
start again (electric start). All by itself. I wasn't touching the
starter and, in fact, kept my finger in the kill switch so it wouldn't
actually start. But the motor kept spinning until Steve and Wes pulled
one of the plugs.
I'll limit such shenanigans to sod farms and or other smooth surfaces
in the future. It was an expensive lesson (bent cage quarter) although
it could have been much worse.
PM Cruise & First Motor Flight
A bit later Tim and I foot launched for a cruise down the lake shore.
Salt Lake is huge and reminds me of California's Salton Sea,
only 4000 feet higher. Surprisingly my motor hasn't needed any
adjustment since I left. Yes, I know, I should have leaned the mixture
but its working so well I'm loath to muck with it. Looking at the carb
wrong has been shown to make it quit working.
We did some foot drags then headed west towards Bonneville Salt
Flats. Not that we got close, that's quite a ways off. Steve warned us
to keep at least 500 feet from the Marina since a pilot had buzzed the
boats and caused quite a stir among boat owners. We certainly didn't
want to put undo pressure on the site.
The flight wasn't terribly long, we just wanted to check out the area
before making a longer evening trek with lower sun.
Later on Bill Heaner and one of his students joined us. Mark, (I
think) took his first flatland flights. He'd launched the motor from a
hill before but never on flat ground. This was the perfect place, too,
with a steady 5 mph breeze and a big clearing. He didn't need all the
space and had three beautiful flights. It helps that he was already a P2
pilot with lots of wing handling practice.
Tim joined me for a final evening flight and we called it a day. It
was gorgeous. I practiced some spot landings, swooping in on my wing bag
and picking it up. I tipped it but didn't pick it up on the last one. In
smooth air like that it seems like cheating.
Unfortunately we learned later that soaring was epic at the north
side. Our previous attempt at flying the north side was met with light
winds and I did little more than hop from one finger of land to the
Steve invited us to attend the local club's meeting which was
interesting. That's an active group and includes a few "point rats" who
are staying at the point for several months. I'll bet there were 30
folks there discussing everything from maintenance of facilities to
dealing with scofflaws who don't join the club and fly there. They're
not wanting to be jerks about it but the state requires all pilots to
sign the waiver and be members for the period. It's cheap and all the
instructors, it seems, have the forms. There was a fairly serious crash
recently of a pilot who didn't sign up which upset state officials. You
can understand their concern.
Today is our last day and we'll concentrate on soaring. Maybe we'll
even get a good ride at the North side this time—a similar weather
pattern to yesterday may keep the force seems with us. We'll also be
doing motor maintenance and preparing the enterprise for her 7 day
mission to Monument Valley and on to Phoenix where she'll stay for a
couple months before heading for San Diego.
Morning at the south side was much like the morning before only a tad
stronger. Busier, too, which made for some interesting situations in
plying the pattern. "Ridge rules" are more suggestions than rules
because of the dynamic nature of conditions and pilot behavior. One
pilot's idea of flying along the ridge is another pilots too-close so
it's easy to end up with three lanes where pilots are flying in opposite
directions on both sides. It's still surprisingly easy to always have an
out and a great tool is knowing where your shadow is, especially during
the portion where its in front of you (sun at your back). A quick glance
reveals any unseen flyers getting close. If their shadow is blurier than
yours, they're above you.
Crowded skies are probably Tim's biggest trepidation and he had his
hands full in this sky. He makes conservative decisions so the first
time a real conflict arose, he bailed out towards open sky. Good move
but it obviously means staying up is harder. Better an early landing
than a lengthy ambulance ride. Bill Heaner told me of several accidents
where new pilots fixated on the ridge "rules" and wound up hitting the
hill. They got the ambulance ride.
I had a blast, trying different things, kiting around on the west-end
concrete stands, doing slides, climbing whatever I could, soaring down
in the iron weed and occasionally kicking the little heads off of those
obnoxious yellow plants whose main meal is paraglider lines. But oh what
a price I'm paying now (a day later) for all that physical activity.
Kiting does take it out of you.
I've met a number of motor pilots out there including Russ and his
wife Angie. Russ was featured in a past Powered Sport Flying article with his
custom built 50's looking motorhome. He showed up, kiting in the parking
lot after flying, "Jeff, is that you?" How cool. We had a great time
catching up and hope to caravan together to the Monument Valley fly-in.
He was driving another one of his crazy, and beautiful, creations, an
enormously jacked up 50's truck in bright yellow with purple trim.
Mid-day was spent taking care of motorhome matters and setting up a
new paramotor cover (here's
the one). The old version didn't hold up nearly as well as the more
robust one that Tim has on his machine so I got his model.
Around 4pm we headed back to the Point's North Side where pilots were
already up and staying up—a very good sign. Good conditions meant it was
crowded. The simple ridge rules that all neophytes learn were stretched
even more here as pilots would occasionally circle in thermals trying to
bench up. I had no prayer doing so on my 22 meter wing although I was
impressed at how I was in the middle of the pack regarding height—Spicely
was showing her efficient side.
Tim sat this one out, it was just too crowded and weird. Once you get
up it's actually surprisingly easy to manage but, from the ground, from
a new soaring pilot's perspective, it can look daunting. I probably
didn't help when I landed to tell him about how this was a bit more
complicated due to pilots thermalling but still easy to manage. You
have to all but ignore the ridge rules and count more heavily on your
skills in walking on a crowded sidewalk. Yeah, you're supposed to stay
on the right but you do whatever it takes not to run into someone.
There's limited movements you can make in a paraglider but there's a lot
more room than a sidewalk so it's nowhere near as bad as that first
After a good hour of soaring with a couple top landings, it was
getting later and I didn't want to get "flushed" so I landed. Then Rusty
showed up. We talked for a while until it dawned on us that pilots were
still soaring! "Hey, you should get some of this air" I
suggested. He's a local so this isn't such a big deal and he
didn't want to go up and sink out. I told him I'd launch too and, if he
sunk out, I'd be right there with him. So off we went, he on his small
Brontes and me on my small Spice. Most pilots had already landed and a
few sunk out so the lift was decidedly diminishing. We scratched. Rusty
even landed on a hill finger and relaunched once. Finally, after about
15 minutes of this, it was getting weaker and staying up harder so
decided to land on top while the option still existed. Rusty did the
same thing just behind me. We both landed on top within a minute of each
other. That was fun! Nothing like a little competition to add some
What a great conclusion to a fun little trip. After talking with
Rusty for a while, Tim and I headed out to prepare for our return. The
time was hugely enjoyable and I'm glad to have made it. This is why the
Enterprise is such a blast. Now I'm looking forward to Monument valley
and maybe some flying on the way. Afterwards, I'll be heading for
Phoenix, AZ where the motorhome will live for probably a month or so.
Until next time...