World's Hardest Aircraft
It may verge on brainless to fly, but the launching? Not on your
Yeah, I know, flying a paramotor
is easy, right brake to turn right, etc. But launching? I don't care how
many times you're successful, it's still hard. Even for those who nearly
always make them: they barely make it.
Little things can trip you up, too. I try different gear all the time
and, every now and then will get stumped. It's a challenge that I kind
of enjoy, though, to sort out what technique works best even if it takes
6 tries to get airborne. I keep trying. Admittedly, there is a time to
quit, but I have yet to meet a combination that I can't sort out. One
wing that took me probably 7 tries (and nearly cost a shoe) was the
"Plasma" from 8 years ago. Not that it was necessarily hard to launch
but clearly I wasn't breaking the code. Sure enough, after figuring out
its particular needs I had no problem and was launching it reliably on
the first try.
Recently I had a launch that reminded me anew just how
difficult variable-wind can be and, generally speaking, why.
It comes down to this. While hefting a pack weighing half our body
weight, we can't run very fast. Obviously the motor's push helps but try
this: put the motor on, run as fast as you can, then throttle up to full
power. Yeah, not so good; if the wing isn't lifting, expect to face
There are so many variables to a successful launch but even a
slight tailwind can torpedo the effort, mostly due to a limitation on
airspeed and our ability to run. My next XC column will be "Anatomy of a
High Speed Launch" or something to that effect. Intentionally
doing such a launch is taunting the crash demons but sometimes nature
doesn't allow us intent.
The book calls it "leg drag" since most of us
can't run over 4 to 6 mph while carrying our gear until the wing starts
lifting. But without airspeed the wing doesn't lift. AIRspeed. It
doesn't matter how fast you're running, if there's not sufficient
AIRspeed over that wing, it's not lifting--lifting enough to matter,
anyway. And yes, of course a bigger wing helps!
The normal technique is to get the wing overhead, accelerate, add
brake to get some lift from the wing to take the motor's weight off,
accelerate to get more lift to make you lighter in the feet to allow
faster running and more airspeed, etc. Generally speaking it works
pretty well. Anybody who has launched from 10,000+ density altitude in
no wind probably already knows about this. Launching a tiny wing is the
I'm motivated by a recent jaunt where Tim and I launched right from
our front yard. Light and variable--emphasis on variable--oozed from the
west/northwest down our north/south runway. Sometimes it was south,
sometimes it was north, most of the time it was non-existent.
flying a wing (Doberman 18) that I've become reasonably familiar with
and have a decent feel for. It's quite reliable in no wind.
waiting for a tailwind to subside I went for it. The wing came up
sluggishly so I stayed on the A's while accelerating. This time it
came overhead I was running fast and had to pull right brake to turn and
run down the runway. Still running very quickly I pulled both brakes to
get some lift so I could run faster. That's when I felt the right brake
go soft and realized that the right side must be stalling so I
immediately let up the brakes to let it get fully flying. At that
running speed it should have been but obviously wasn't and I was now
close to full power.
Soon after letting off the brakes I was able to
run faster yet, come in with some brakes and now the wing was lifting.
That started the positive feedback look of success: more lift meant less
leg drag which allowed more speed which added more lift which... you get
the idea. The launched worked but it was DAMN close!
Don't let anyone diss wheels, most of us will retire from paramotor
on them and that's not a bad thing. Plus, I contend that, for
experienced pilots they're much safer in these conditions.
their own challenges but, for the most part, they don't care anywhere
near as much about a 1 mph tailwind. For an experienced pilot who knows
how to reduce rollover risk, they make handling this condition
dramatically easier and, I suspect, less risky.
Conditions & Take Home
Yes, of course wing choice matters but, regardless of what you're
flying, it needs airspeed so this can happen to anyone, on any wing, at
any wing loading. The Doberman happens to be pretty fast and I'm on a
small size which aggravates this.
It doesn't have to be variable wind,
either. You might think "I don't fly late morning" but I've had it
happen where the wind, up at wing height of 12-15 feet AGL, is
One of the most important takeaways is to abort
if it starts getting hairy. That's tough because, at some speed of
running, aborting without falling can be difficult, too. It's still
better than higher speed buffoonery. No, the best bet is to avoid
the condition whenever possible or wheel up. Otherwise, if you accept
the risk, enjoy the challenge!
Running, flying, and landing. It was a great little romp.