Back in the Saddle.

A year and a half of doctors, specialists, insurance intermediaries, and drug coordinators.

Health slowly but surely worsening, bringing flying to a halt at the end of last season (the season in itself became more or less a write off after France). A brief respite was offered the previous Fall with one drug but the side effects proved it was not destined to become a long term solution.

Hope. A drug regimen that could bring back a quality of life not known since mid 2013. There are risks (some potentially fatal), but what is the point to quantity of life if there is no quality. So here I am, plugged into an IV and getting pumped full of chemicals with one plan in mind – getting back into the air.

Cut to the following morning. FlyBC is the immediate target, the launch on Mt.Woodside is the ultimate goal. Upon arrival, things are little slow starting – the crew are awaiting students and tandems alike. It doesn’t take for Jim and I to cross paths. Jim passes on that the Carrera+ line set kit should be in within a week. Aside from a few quirks – the initial brake travel deflects the centre trailing edge while leaving the tips unaffected (making it difficult to sense collapses without going well into the brakes) along the extremely short amount of play between the B+C risers (making A+C launches in strong conditions tricky) – I’d be singing praises to the moon about this wing with the feedback, handling and performance it has for a B. That said, rumblings from the interwebz hint that the kit might have swung the pendulum too far the other way – taming the tiger to the point of making it a house cat. For a few hundred dollars, I’m willing to take the chance.

Lounging in the barn, eyeing the launch webcam.

Looks like Degas is already up top and launching a pair of self landing students. Memories of the early days of being under instruction and having to be up at 5AM. Don’t worry chaps – it gets easier (both with respect to flying and not having to be up before sunrise).

Then a ‘Here!’

A dark mass hurtles my way.

A t-shirt. A new load of FlyBC branded wear just arrived. ‘Shut up and Fly’ remarks the back. Be in the moment, not a detached bystander I take it to mean. Very fitting in our social media age where posting about the event tends to trump the experience. Yes, I see the irony.

People filter in, the van fills, and we’re off.

At launch, nary a wind this morning.

Oh well.

Tandems first, students second, then moi. I’m not being polite, just pragmatic. Students make good thermal markers – send enough of them out, they are sure to find something.

A few good launches, a few amazing launches (funny how you can spot the gifted ones fairly early) and Jim heads off to start collecting everyone at the LZ.

I hear a truck making its way up the road. This early in the day, odds are another school.

I like to think of schools as coming from one of two trains of thought – the German or the French.

The German school will lay the unattached wing out in the centre of launch and check every individual line from karabiner to attachment. Then they will clip in, perform their 15th preflight check, and wait. And wait. And wait. The elusive perfect cycle is out there.

The French on the other hand will preflight the harness and wing before packing it away. Then pull everything out, still attached, don the kit at the back of launch, preflight it again, and carry their rosetted wing out. The mass is tossed mid launch. The wind is used to work the wing into shape. The wing is then pulled over head, kited, and checked. If everything looks ok, they are gone.

Why do I mention this -> If a French school pilot gets in front of you – its no big deal, they will be in the air in a minute or less. If a German school pilot gets in front, break out a novel because its gonna be a while. The German school pilots are more commonly known in these parts as launch potatoes (I admit I am a reforming launch potato).

I fear this school might be of the German mindset and quickly get kit ready. The trucks pull into the parking lot. A FJ? I recognize it as belonging to Martina. Sigh of relief. No launch potatoes.

An entourage follows Martina up. Friends/family of a neighbour of hers who is going tandem.

No pressure. You only have your mentor and entourage watching.

A lesson in why kiting is an important part of launching soon follows.

The wind sock goes from limp to a south, to a southwest, back to limp. The wing ‘breathes’ with the rise (the nose rising, A’s tensioning ) and fall of the cycles (nose rolling over, A’s going slack).

A cycle presents itself – going from a south to straight in southwest. Pull up and the high AR (aspect ratio) of the wing makes itself felt. Half the wing orients south, the other half more west.

Herding wingtips.

Having experienced this a few times while kiting the Delta2, I ease off the right side brake and let the lagging side ‘snap’ back into alignment. Kite for a second to let the wing settle, turn, and kite another second to be sure everything is good to go (an instructor from Germany mentioned letting the wing settle a second after it reaches the apex).

The cycle ebbs as I start the run. Airborne, touchdown, airborne, touchdown, airborne and away.

Long runways and weak days go hand in hand.

Two tries and I’m in the pod of the Skywalk RangeAir. The RangeAir is an extra light airbag XC harness.

Skywalk RangeAir.

I have been a huge fan of airbag based back protection after watching a low airtime pilot spin a wing at tree top height, have it surge, pendulum him underneath then drop him hard. Running over, I fully expected to find a corpse. Instead the pilot was standing up and brushing himself off. The airbag harness absorbed the brunt of the fall.

The catch to an airbag system is that it needs to be inflated (by ram air) for it to work. Maybe not particularly well suited to those who are likely to suffer a drop launching such as a student who lacks the kiting skill to manage a wing or a comp pilot who doesn’t have the luxury of being picky about the cycle they launch in. But for those in the middle, it is a viable option if weight and pack volume are limited – hike and fly pilots along with the globetrotting crowd come to mind.

As for the effectiveness of airbags – give this spreadsheet a gander. The lower the G force value listed (in column H), the lower the impact force passed onto the pilot. ‘Schaumstoff’ is foam based back protection (as opposed to airbag).

Back to the RangeAir, comments sent back to the dealer include:

A few observations – the weight and pack volume phenomenal. I can fit the harness + reserve in the Gin concertina bag with the Carrera. The reduction allowed me to drop to a 90L pack (from a 130L) with the possibility of dropping to a 70L. The loss in overall weight has me on the cusp of downsizing to a small wing.

Setup is a bit fiddly. I found the best way to accommodate is leave everything attached and loosen the shoulder straps for step in/out. Extra attention to the speedbag closing lines is needed in this case during donning – they like to pop loose.

The speedbag is very easy to get into post launch – I don’t need my foot leash like I do with the Impress 3.

The chest strap appears to be non adjustable. I found out how much wider I normally run the Impress 3 in comparison when I near line twisted myself up leaning in aggressively on entry to a tight core.

I am leaning towards saying the Range Air provides more feedback vs. the Impress 3 but need more airtime to be sure.


Two additional features of note – the reserve is front mounted, which satisfies the growing comp requirement that the reserve be reachable by either hand. The front mount also eliminates the possibility that pilot weight in a hammock harness (as opposed to those with a seat board) will interfere with reserve extraction. There is also the matter of an underseat reserve potentially placing a non compressible perch between the pilot and the ground. The first thing that will hit may well be that  un-deployed reserve, prevent the remainder of the body from absorbing any impact – driving the entire impact force up into the spine. Something to think about – is the underseat reserve under your spine or your upper legs?

The second is the flight deck/front mount reserve container that is held in place by attaching to the chest strap. This helps eliminate the possibility of launching without having the leg straps done up. I had crossed paths with a fellow Impress3 owner who had launched with the flight deck secured but not the leg straps. The small snap shackle held them in long enough to get into the harness, but the shackle design would not have held them long if they could not hook their feet into the speed bag (based on comments from a harness designer back in 2012).

Back to the flight.

After a few beats back and forth, there isn’t much out here yet. I try my goto trigger, the spine to the north. There is some lift, but not much. Time to push out.

The vario shows a south wind @ 8kph (2 m/s). Climbs are also 2 m/s. Add that to a 1 m/s sink.

Quick mental math time: 2 m/s horizontal vs. 3 m/s vertical. Move upwind, but not much today.

And I find it, 5 seconds of climb along a southerly course. A turn right and I fall out the side. Get it around quick then begin to widen the turn. More chirps from the vario. Tighten it up and we have a core.

Bring it around. Bring it around.

399 m.

400 m.

401 m.

401 m.

400 m.

An inversion establishing or did I just lose the core altogether?

Widening the turn again, looking for a way to keep climbing.

The Carrera starts ‘sniffing’/edging right. I align the wing with it and feel myself being sucked in.

Another climb, this one breaks through and gets me to 460m, but has me pretty far north. Zero chance of making Riverside, still a chance of making the Ranch. Time to push out, keeping some margin for error on a day the winds are forecast to climb quite a bit. Not a lot to be found, again bouncing off an invisible ceiling around 400 m.

Not much from the farm buildings today.


Eventually, gravity claims both the wing and I as we set down at the Ranch.

A great day to be back in the saddle.

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