Saturday, May 28, 2011

My New Harness?

I've got my new harness this weekend from the local paragliding school. It's an Advance Lightness and it has a number of pluses and minuses. 

On the positive side it's a pod harness and it's extremely light; better glide, warmer in winter, lighter for hiking up to launch. On the negative side, it doesn't have a lot of storage space, it's a bit flimsy and has very little protection if you have an accident. I'm struggling with the choice; do the pluses really outweigh the minuses and make it a sensible choice? Will it be my everyday harness or just for some flights? Do the performance advantages really outweigh the safety / practicality issues?

I was a bit nervous about flying it, but everything seemed very straightforward. The speedbar is very easy to find; it was easy to launch and land. There were a few things to worry about; the carabiners are higher than my previous harness, so I need to keep my hands higher and weight shifting is harder. I have to sort the cockpit out so it's easier to read the instruments.

So far it's hard to know how well it will work out, but it was a promising start. No-one liked the flying conditions this weekend, but I didn't have any problems. After a couple of flights (I had an early morning flight to try it out in easy conditions, before a spicier afternoon flight), I watched some tennis before cycling back up to launch to retrieve my car.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Upgrading the Train de Pignes

The old and the new
The Train de Pignes (link) is a little tourist train that runs 4 times a day from Nice to Digne and back, going through St Andre. Tourists can fly into Nice airport and get to small villages without hiring a car. I often use it to show visitors surrounding villages; you can admire the scenery and have a 'full' french lunch and not worry about driving back. Of course, I also use it for retrieves when I fly my paraglider.

It's more than a tourist thing. It runs throughout the year and for locals without a car (especially in small villages) it's an important mode of transport.

The trains are being upgraded from rather small, old trains to sleek new machines. I rode a new one yesterday, and it was a real delight. Clean, spacious, with plenty of room for luggage and bikes. It's nice to see that level of investment in the local community.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Straight Line to Digne

I got back from a week's break in Scotland at 2 am and didn't get as much sleep as I'd like. The forecast looked good but with an inconvenient wind direction (SE) and a real chance of afternoon storms. I decided an early flight made the most sense so I got up to launch well before noon. Despite strong cycles, people were struggling to stay up.

I launched at midday and groveled below launch for 5 minutes before I rode a thermal for a vertical mile. Despite the early hour, clouds were building rapidly over the big mountains and I decided a flight out of the big hills towards Digne made the most sense. Things went according to plan, with a really good thermal over the Mouchon. 

The second half of the flight was all new territory for me and I wasn't sure what to expect. I got onto a peak just above Digne that looked like an excellent thermal trigger (I later found it's called the Cousson and a drive up site for Digne pilots) and expected a good climb. I was disappointed and gradually lost altitude there until I found myself scratching with 3 or 4 local pilots who had launched from that peak. I yo-yoed between 1500m and 2000m several times, but I really wanted to get quite a bit higher before crossing the Bleone. After 30 minutes I got fed up and decided to head N instead, but I hit a bunch of sink just before a 'no-LZ' zone. I was pretty sure I had enough altitude to cross it, but I didn't want to take the risk and decided landing was a better option.

I believe the local pilots land in a sports stadium in town, but I wasn't too sure and instead found myself a nice field just outside the town. Retrieve was via the 'Train de Pignes', the tourist train between Digne and Nice.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

No Fly Weekend...

I'm sure I've had some a no-fly weekend in St Andre this year, but I can't actually recall one. I've been away a few weekends and didn't fly then, but I think this is the first I've been here and didn't fly. Both days were flyable but only just.

Saturday looked marginal for flying and I decided it was better to hike (see pics). Today had a better forecast; some showed it pretty good, most suggested it would be windy. I won't be flying next weekend (I'll be in Scotland), so I decided it was worth a go. For once, I got to launch early. But then I spent too long chatting,  then helping a pilot struggling to launch, and then - in the space of a few minutes - it was blown out.

A couple of pilots still launched, but almost everyone packed up their wings and headed down the hill. I got back home just in time to watch the Grand Prix.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


I haven't changed anything in my normal flying gear for well over 2 years. There hasn't been a lot of incentive - I'm very happy with my gear and it seldom limits my flying. 

But a number of things have me considering some new gear. Almost every flight I do is a hike and fly, so weight is important. I'm flying in the Alps, so handling strong conditions well is more important than ridge-soaring in weak conditions. Many of my flights are out and backs or triangles, so flying into the wind is important.

So I'm considering a smaller wing, to come in around the top of the weight range. The local school lent me a small Mentor 2 today. WIth new wings it's hard to sort the hype out from the reality, but I was very impressed. This is a newer, highly regarded and lower rated wing than the one I currently fly - it's got plastic batons in the leading edge. 

Of course, it's hard to make your mind up in a single flight, but it was solid and performed well. The plastic batons mean it has a lot fewer lines than my wing - it's a three line glider, whereas mine has 4 lines. I expected a 'detuned' experience but that wasn't the case at all; there was plenty of feedback from the wing. Being smaller, it seemed to cut through turbulence and sink better than my current wing. I got below ridge height a couple of times but was always confident in the wing.

The wing I really hope to get is a small Factor 2, which probably won't be available for 3 or 4 months. This should offer a slight performance advantage over the Mentor 2, but I must admit I'd be perfectly happy with the Mentor 2.

Really, wings today are very good...