Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Alps Paragliding 2016

Here are my (Rick's) flights for this time around. I was hoping to do some big XC in the 200-300km range, but alternately stable and unstable weather conditions seemed to conspire against me. Still, looking at this map, not a bad effort! I was able to fly for all 13 days of the holiday, with a decent XC distance on most days. Here is the day-by-day summary:

Date Location XC Distance Comment Aug 8 Allevard to Grenoble 37km we arrived in Paris on 6am that same day!
Aug 9 Mt. S. Giorgio, Italy 15km unstable, front passing thru; climbed Via Ferrata
Aug 10 Mt. S. Giorgio to Masseranga 112km nice flight along foothills of Alps
Aug 11 Laveno 79km triangle could not quite close it due to valley wind
Aug 12 Laveno to Varzo 69km very stable, tried to cross to Switzerland
Aug 13 Fiesch, Switzerland 116km flew over Weisshorn glacier!
Aug 14 Fiesch 169km triangle could not extend to south due to showers
Aug 15 Fiesch to Martigny 121km aimed for Chamonix but shut down by valley winds
Aug 16 Aravis to Montendry 52km aiming further south but too stable
Aug 16 Montendry to Albertville 52km returned north
Aug 17 Sallaz to Arclusaz 59km unstable, landed due to thunderstorm
Aug 17 Annecy 14km bought new harness, then evening flight
Aug 18 Les Richards to Mt. Orel 45km unstable, top-landed to wait out rain
Aug 18 Mt. Orel to Ceillac 39km unstable, dodging dark clouds
Aug 19 Briancon-Prorel 10km too much wind, aborted triangle
Aug 19 Ceillac 60km three laps of 20km
Aug 20 Baulme-la-Roche, Burgundy 3km evening ridge soaring, left Paris next morning

TOTAL 1052km

The Isere Valley on the first day. I was mostly only 100-200m above valley bottom for most of the flight! Via Ferrata in Italy. After a short flight in the morning, unfavorable weather made this a better way to spend the rest of the day. A scenic view of the Susa valley from the via ferrata route. Crossing the Aosta Valley on the Italian foothills route. Landing at the small village of Masseranga, after a 112km XC flight. Flying over the Lombardy Lakes: Lago Maggiore and the town of Intra. Waiting for thermals at the Fiesch TO, Switzerland. Grimsel Pass, a famous turnpoint on the Fiesch super-skyway. Flying for distance between the Rhone Valley and the Bernese Oberland, altitude nearly 4000m. Flying the Bernese Oberland, with its highest peak Finsteraarhorn (4274m). On the other side of the valley, the main Alpine Ridge, with Monte Rosa (4634m), the second highest mountain in the Alps. Flying near the Weisshorn (4506m). Hanging glacier on Grand Pic de la Lauziere (2829m), Savoie, France. Friendly, civilized, and scenic Annecy. Ceillac, a unique paragliding location in the rocky southern Alps near the Italian border. The Queyras Mountains around Ceillac. Final evening in Europe, ridge soaring until sunset at Baulme-la-Roche in Burgundy.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

"Liberistes" - Free Flying in the French Alps

In the following series, we'd like to touch upon our recent paragliding trip to the French Alps.  In two weeks, between August 11 and 23, in spite of less-than-ideal weather, we managed to cover a significant amount of ground and airspace: 4000km by car, and about 600km by paraglider.  Though we have visited France and climbed in the Alps a number of times before, and have over 2000 hours in the air (in Japan and Australia) between the two of us, we were astonished by the new, striking, never-seen-before landscapes.  We would like to share some of these with you.

Map of Europe, frame showing where we were.

Flights are marked with colored lines.

The French Alps spread roughly in a north-south direction in the southwest of France between Lake Geneva and the Mediterranean Sea, and include the range's highest peak, Mt. Blanc, at 4808m, along with numerous other 3000 and 4000m peaks.  The mountains grow in size from west to east, culminating at the French-Italian border which runs along the highest ridges. They experience a range of climatic conditions; particularly the southern ranges tend to be dry and windy in summertime due to the influence of the Mediterranean; during our visit the northern parts were often windless but cloudy.  Occasionally the western ramparts would stop the clouds, offering unexpectedly good conditions deeper among the higher peaks.  We studied meteorological data and forecasts meticulously in the evenings, often moving base taking advantage of whatever weather phenomenon we could.  It worked out fairly well overall.

The areas we visited were:

  • Mt. Myon, near Bourg-en-Brasse, not really in the Alps but in the western foothills of the Jura mountains, on the way in from Paris (it was raining in the Alps at the time).
  • Annecy, the mecca of French, if not European, paragliding...but we only enjoyed one day of good conditions there.

Feet on speed bar, hands on C's, crossing over Lake Annecy.

Parmelan cliffs near Annecy.

  • St. Vincent, an excellent place right on the geographic divide between the north and south, with excellent XC potential.

Scenic Lake Serre-Poncon in the background, St. Vincent.

St. Vincent, house thermal.

Thermalling with Leanne over the 2505m Dormillouse, near St. Vincent.

Tete d'Estrop, at 2961m a worthy goal, 40km out-and-return from St. Vincent.

Tete de la Vieille, sunset cruising near St. Vincent.

Summit flyby, Morgon Peak (2324m).

  • St. Andre, possibly the best site in the south Alps.

High over St. Andre.
8:30 P.M. Leanne enjoys the sunset at St. Andre.
Cheval Blanc (2323m), 17km from St. Andre, along the 50km XC route to St. Vincent.

  • Ceillac, a beautiful place deep in the mountains near the Italian border. 

Ceillac village, nestled in a deep valley among 3000-m snowy peaks.

Queyras mountains, wilderness beyond Ceillac.

  • Courtet, kind of in the middle of nowhere between the Vercors and Ecrins ranges.

  • Aravis, a walk-up takeoff we discovered that made flying in the morning (and hence all day) possible.

Taking off in the wild but strategic Col des Aravis.

Threading the striking Aravis chain.

Crossing from Aravis over the wide Arve valley, with 4808-m Mt. Blanc in the backdrop.

  • St. Marcel, a rather secret, strategically located XC takeoff (but unfortunately it was overcast!) 
  • St. Hilaire, near Grenoble, a very civilized, carpeted, and with its own funicular access, along with Annecy probably the busiest takeoff in France.

St. Hillaire, beautiful and ideal topography for paragliding.

City of Grenoble, the largest in the French Alps, 30km out and return from St. Hillaire.
We also managed to fly XC over numerous other more or less famous places such as Mt. Lambert, Samoens, etc.

 Alpine playground on the Swiss border at Samoens.

By the way, paragliding and hang-gliding are collectively called "Vol Libre" or "Free Flight" in French, and enthusiasts of this sport are therefore, "Liberistes". I rather like the sound of that! Not to mention, use of the luxurious takeoffs is completely free (paid for by local administration), and sometimes so are even the shuttles to take you there from the base of the mountain.  How much better could it get?

Coming soon! In the next few entries, I'll talk about some of my cross-country flights in a little more detail.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Traverse of Amakusa`s Kankai Alps

天草の観海アルプスの縦走の地図。 A map of the traverse of Amakusa`s Kankai Alps

Friday, November 22, 2013

Rainy Day Kayaking in Tomioka, Amakusa

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Amaxa Outdoor Adventure Xathlon

This year`s race will be on August 24th. For more details check out the website.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Delta2 Review

Hi, this is Rick, the pilot in the video.  The popularity and great interest in the Delta 2 deserves a few comments about my flight and my impressions of this excellent new flying machine.
Having just read the info section from the Ozone homepage, I have to agree on several points, especially the ease of control while flying this wing.  Being exclusively used to only higher-aspect, EN-D wings, the Delta 2’s responsiveness to turn inputs was immediately obvious.  This comes very useful in Japanese areas such as the one in the video (Zojiro in Miyazaki Prefecture, my favorite area in Kyushu), where we do much turning in small thermals very close to the mountain.  It was extremely calming to feel the glider turn agilely at that moment we all know well: facing downwind into the hill with the slope closing in fast.  The difference was so significant that it changed my top-out strategy and I began looking intrepidly for small, punchy ground thermals moving toward the ridgeline.  I realized that glide and speed performance aside, due to its extra turning agility in this close-to-the-treetop scenario the Delta 2 was superior to any EN-D wing I’ve tried so far.
The brakes were light to the touch, but with ample feedback for the first 30 cm or so, and usefully resistant to further pulling as if to remind the pilot that such aggressive yawing commands should only be made when desperately needed.  The subtly responsive brake action reminded me of the LM4 which I test flew a while ago, but of course the Delta 2 had none of the high aspect characteristics of wanting to suddenly spin out if over-controlled.  And though I flew the glider aggressively for most of the flight, I never did pull the toggles down to the level of the carabiners, which is something that I regularly do with my own gliders.
The Ozone homepage also mentions that the Delta 2 does not have a tendency to shoot while launching.  I was not able to verify this as I took off into very twitchy air and the glider did overshoot once just before I became airborne and then again a second or two later.  Though the canopy is outside the frame, the aggressive control inputs that were required are clearly visible in the video.  I am fairly sure both of these pitch oscillations were due to the lively ground thermals rolling up the sunlit mountain slopes and not inherent to the glider itself.  In any case, having to control so aggressively during the first few seconds of flying a new wing might have made one feel nervous. But the glider responded splendidly and the accurate feedback coming back down the brake lines actually felt very reassuring.
By the way, the massive collapse shown in the video was due to my own poor skill, over-controlling the glider while exiting a trial set of wingovers.  The glider’s agility surprised me and somehow it and I both ended up deadpointed in the air at exactly 90 degrees of bank.  No amount of control would have been effective as the wing freefell onto its right tip, so I made no input and just watched it happen.  The next surprise was the ease and smoothness with which the collapse sorted itself out, again with virtually no input:  from inside out, gently and predictably, without popping or any violent reaction, allowing the glider to return to straight and level flight without any residual pitching.  I believe this is due to the unique layout of the leading edge battens as well as the shark-nose intakes, which seemed to allow more air to enter the wing during the high angle of attack phase of the recovery.
Due to the unpredictable and unknown movements of the air we fly through, it is extremely difficult to estimate the speed, and especially the glide performance of any wing, and as a certified physicist I would really like to see the ‘scientific’ methods used in deriving some of the published (to 2 decimal places!) glide ratios out there.  Bullocks, I say, unless you set up the whole rig in a giant wind tunnel.  That said, the performance of the Delta 2 seemed pretty much on par with my slightly slow but ‘lifty’ 2-year-old EN-D wing.  Speed bar performance was solid and the C-riser handles were very convenient as I am used to holding onto and controlling with the C’s anyway whenever I use the speed bar.  Too bad the air was not turbulent enough to give a chance to test the action of the handles.  In any case, given the extra stability and agility I felt with the Delta 2, I would swap my glider for it on any XC where rough air or scratching in weak lift was anticipated.  Out-and-return or triangles may be the only cases where my own glider might be slightly superior.
After 2 hours of soaring, having become more or less used to the wing, I took a deep breath and once again attempted some wingovers.  The Delta 2’s agility meant the rhythm of the wingovers was significantly faster (and therefore more difficult to guide) than what I am used to, and within 2 swings I was already seeing the entire canopy well below the horizon.  I proceeded to perform a set of the biggest wingovers I’ve ever done, and reviewing the video, I was excited to see my own shadow sweeping over the wing’s surface several times (I was too busy and/or startled to notice this in real-time).  Due to the faster rhythm I tended to be late on the brake, resulting in a very high apex and the canopy just about deflating. Nevertheless, compensating with aggressive yawing just before the deadpoint getting the leading edge aligned nicely with the horizon, followed by brief, full-on braking on both sides at the moment I was swinging above the canopy, resulted in clean exits with not so much as a slightest collapse.  What fun!  Knowing better this time, I exited the maneuver with a brief spiral and horizontal turn, bleeding off the energy easily and smoothly.  The Delta 2 made even my pathetic acro skills shine!
What can I say?  I love this wing.  Too bad I am dirt poor and can only afford hand-me-downs.  The Delta 2 is so loveable, I can just about kiss any chances of grabbing a used one good-bye, even a couple years down the road.  And since I fly about 350 hours a year in all kinds of places and weather, I wonder how long one would last in my hands anyway, with its extra skinny lines and snazzy lightweight fabric (holding the lines together at launch, it felt like a whole riser set was missing).  I can only dream of being a idle rich bastard, ordering a fresh one about every 6 months.  Alas, with my current lifestyle, such a thing will never happen.  Maybe now that the Delta 2 is out people will upgrade and part with their beloved original?  M-size, please?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Subscribe in a reader
[View Guestbook] [Sign Guestbook]