Working on Master Powered Paragliding with Eric Dufour and Friends
Greetings from row 21, jetting back from an extremely enjoyable and
productive Enterprise trip to Christmas, FL.
You can tell a lot about someone by the friends they keep. And Eric
has managed to surround himself with a cadre of incredible people,
starting of course, with his gorgeous and meticulous wife. I add
meticulous because of the work she does brining the shredded remains of
gliders back to their gliderly form. It looks like surgery--guts hanging
out in unnatural ways, pieces parts in various stages of reconstruction
and the lines of life seemingly everywhere in a chaotic order known only
to Elisabeth. My own wing has gone under her knife so it's good to see
the high-level care that goes into it. It's also weird to see how
quickly a glider can be deconstructed with one of those stitch-cutter
things. Gotta love the engineering that goes into this stuff.
I didn't even get to see Mike this time because he was on holiday
with his wife up in IL (our paths crossed). But I continually marvel at
his seemingly endless capability and approach to life. His day job--one
of his own creation--is doing what nobody else does with gasses, mostly
refrigerant recapture and purification. He's a genius with figuring out
how things work and, more importantly, is blessed with the skills to
build the things to work. And welding. Man can he weld. Anything. Eric
has this new Titanium machine (very cool -- more on that later)
machine and I asked him about welding it, when he told me Mike says its
no problem. Right. That's Mike. How about anyone else? Apparently it's
not as difficult as some make it seem but still, if you gave Mike a hot
candle and welding stick, he'd build you a paramotor. In his tent. Mike
has a mechanical IQ off the charts.
Then there's my aluminum redrive. Tim's actually. A crack was opening
up on a mounting flange and Mike was able to fix it easily, doing a
gorgeous job of making the little Top 80 happy again. As it happened I
never flew either of my motors because Eric offered up his new Ultra 130
which he's beating on to find any problems before customers do. Aspiring
competition pilot Steve Coffey also flew it quite a bit. It's quite the
machine, at 46 pounds, ready to fly WITH electric start and probably 30%
more thrust than a Top 80. I'm getting spoiled by electric start. Maybe
I'm getting soft.
Eric was training so we went to the river each morning aboard one of
Mike's creations. I say "one" because there are two Parabarges--the
small mud boat and the full pontoon boat. Both are stout aluminum craft
purpose-built for carrying people and paramotors, even trikes. The mud
boat deftly handles the shallow, muddy waters of summer's dry season
whereas the full parabarge is a relative aircraft carrier, well suited to
hauling a full wing of fabric flying machines. The boats were built with
help from numerous paraflyers and people from all over the world have
now ridden on them to enjoy some of Florida's most incredible flying
along the north-flowing St. Johns River.
At home, Mike and friends have crafted a compact flying field
appropriate for experienced pilots. It's really cool to wake up, walk a
few hundred feet and launch. There's enough room for PPG3 level pilots
to fly figure eights at foot drag height or even do a Japanese Slalom.
I'm very appreciative of having a place to berth the Enterprise with
full hook-ups. That's something I'm not used to since I'm almost always
at a flying field, airport, or parking lot somewhere unknown. Solar
panels keep me powered during the day but at night I must burn dead
dinosaurs. At Mikes, I plug in.
The main mission of this trip was taping for Master PPG 2 through 4
and boy did we get a lot done. Eric Dufour is an absolute gem to work
with. Like Steve Mayer and Bill Heaner who helped so much with PPG 1,
Eric will make these videos much, much better. A lot of this
stuff is just tiring and, frankly, monotonous for the pilot.
Take, for example, the launch control demo. Remember these are for
taking flying to the next level. This demo involved
no-or-light--wind forward launches. We induced a cravat in the wing then
had Eric inflate and deal with the cravat while running. On the first
one the cravat came out during inflation. On the second one, the cravat
was too big and had no chance of coming out in spite of him keeping the
glider under control while trying. On the third one the cravat came out
too quickly and finally, on the fourth one the cravat was almost
perfect. I say almost because he was unable to get out and instead
lifted off, fully under control, then cleared it inflight by either
pulling the stabilo line or doing big ears. All that for what will be on
screen for less than 20 seconds on Master PPG 2: Advanced Launching.
Eric's stamina is impressive. He's always been extremely fit but,
after heart surgery, had to slow down a bit. He's been pushing himself
through a physical regimen of exercise to recoup his endurance and, by
any measure that I can see, has succeeded remarkably. Although he
complains of slowing down a bit, it's hard to tell. He was working with
a student (a fairly advance trike pilot) while working with me on the
video. It was a lot. He'd finish with the student, come over to his
motor and offer "what's next."
We didn't require many takes on the spot landings. He did the perfect
swoop early on, and then did another one, just for the fun of it, where
came in, power off from 300 feet, swooped down, plucked a ball off a
cone we'd set up and landed just beyond. First take. You da man! Both
cameras were rolling--a wide-angle GoPro his frame so the view will be
able to see all of his hand movements and my big camera on the ground.
That footage will be in Master PPG 4: Advanced Landing.
We also got wingtip drag footage. I suggested using a large wing
since it's easier to do with the larger, high aspect ratio wing but he
chose to do it with his small Pluto. OK. It worked well and he made it
look good. Obviously this stuff is risky, and I make that quite clear in
the video, but want to cover the dynamics and inputs required. It's only
about a 35 second piece in Master PPG 3: Inflight Precision.
As opportunity arose we did trike footage that will be a nice adjunct
to some cool stuff I got last year with Mo Sheldon. At one point he did
a 360 degree circle on the ground which isn't that hard if it weren't
for the turbulent conditions and wind that he had to deal with.
A big thanks also to Jacksonville Tandem Instructor Rod who was kind
enough to do several tandem flights for the camera. He did two flights
with Leslie Britt, one with me as passenger and another with me as
pilot. Rod did a great job and we captured probably all of the required
tandem footage although I'll try to get some variety, too.
Leslie was just gonna bring leftovers for our Thursday meal but then
additional bodies started showing up, pilots from Canada mostly, but
also some locals, and soon we had a crowd on our hands. Leslie rose to
the occasion and wound up preparing an extremely delicious feast. Kind
of like her dad, this women is amazing on her own right. She can shoot
just about any kind of gun with high accuracy, foot launch a paramotor
in no wind, call a class of screaming 8th graders and then make a feast
Overall it was a wonderful time and I look forward to going back.