I Lost A Brother Today

I’m not sure why. We had drifted apart. I hadn’t seen you in person since the 2013 reunion. Our last discussion was the the night before you died about a dumbass traffic ticket. The next day you chose to leave.

I say I don’t know why but that isn’t true. Dying loses it’s menace when you see it up close often enough. There comes a time when it’s easier to lie down at the bottom of a hole than to fight your way up and out.

From the bottom you can’t see the people that need you. You only see the things that live in the hole, needles, bottles, and bad dreams.

But those things won’t miss you. They won’t cry for you when you’re gone. They won’t have to smile at birthday parties and weddings, wishing you were there. We have to carry that now.

If I sound pissed off it’s because I am. You are my brother and you never gave me a chance to help. Did you think I wouldn’t come if you asked? I would have ran into a gunfight with you when we were younger, nothing has changed.

Was it pride? You think I would look down on my brother for being stuck in a place I used to live?

You were surrounded by brothers who would carry any weight to keep you alive. Now you’re one more memory calling me back to that hole, and I can’t go back there.

So here’s the deal. I’m going to lay out my wing, strap into my harness, and run into the sky.

At 3,000 feet, where no one can hear me,I’m going to scream at the clouds until I can’t talk. And then I’m going to leave you there in the sky. With the rest of our brothers.

And I know you’ll come visit somedays, they all do. And I’ll talk for awhile, then I’ll make you leave. Because I’ve got work to do here, and I can’t let myself slide back into that hole. I worked to hard to get out.

I love you brother.

War of the Locust Part 1: The Battle for Vulture Valley

I stood tense. Surveying the battlefield. My heart quickened by the thought of the upcoming duels. The war dog Guinness at my side. “Stay here” I said. The war dog’s courage had not failed him, he was just ill equipped to destroy our current foe. There would be other days to unleash the hound.

The horde of Locust(trees) had wrought much heartache across the land. More than one muck boot had fallen victim to their bloodthirsty daggers. This war wasn’t new. It had been marked by many battles, many victories. But the cursed vermin refused to surrender. No matter, they will all fall before us. Along with all of their heirs.

With the sun sinking towards the horizon there was no time to waste. I gripped Trudy, my freshly honed double bit ax, and charged the edge edge of the nearest encampment. “DEFEND YOURSELVES!!!”

I swung at the nearest attacker, a clean kill. As it fell away I targeted the next. Every swing well aimed, calculated to create the most destruction with the least amount of effort. The fight would not be short. I would need my strength.

One by one I advanced on my enemies. They lashed out with razor sharp spears as my blade bit deep into their hide. The war dog whined at the edge of the battle. Not from fear, from frustration at not being allowed to take his revenge on the terrible menace invading the land. “Don’t worry my friend, you’ll have your chance soon enough”

By now I had settled into the rhythm of battle. Locating the beast and felling them with carefully aimed blows. An Ax is a weapon of skill, not strength. You don’t use your body weight like a hammer or splitting maw. An ax is swung from the elbows and wrist. Relying on speed and an accurate angle of attack to slice it’s victim rather than crush. Trudy was doing her part well.

As I moved deeper into the area the cowardly monsters started hiding amongst civilians. I had to be careful. This was a war of attrition, numbers, and they had more. I could not afford to sacrifice a single maple, poplar or pine to an errant swing. Every strike must be surgical. No collateral damage.

As the battle grew my strength waned. The enemy was relentless. Soon I was surrounded, but I knew the price of failure. No tractor tire would sink low to the earth due to my failure. This I swore as I slashed at the vicious beast!

Soon I was face to face with their greatest champion. Towering overhead more than 12 feet high she glared down at me, daring me to approach. Her twisted spidery arms reached out three feet in every direction, keeping me from maneuvering Trudy close enough to strike a blow at the root of the monster.

But I knew something she did not. I had chosen the timing for this battle, and it wasn’t at random. During the fall and summer this tyrant is most dangerous. It’s daggers are hard and sharp as needles. Some stretching out several inches.

But it was not fall.

In the spring Locust are more vulnerable. They surrender some of their thorns to sprout leaves which they use to steal the precious solar sustenance needed by the civilian population. This is the time to strike.

I saw the fear in their champion’s eyes as she realized this. She had not brought enough armament to keep me from my goal. Again and again I struck. Clipping off branches, parrying her blows and ever so slowly weakening her massive 6″ trunk.

Finally with a shudder she fell. Her descent from the heavens seemed to stretch on for hours( or a second or two). As she fell she reached out one last horrible time, trying to inflict a final pointless slash. But I was also ready for this. I sidestepped her weak attempt and stood triumphant over her massive corpse.

After dragging her still deadly body out of the path of unsuspecting tractors I surveyed the damage.

The field was littered with the bodies of my enemy. My muscles ached happily and Trudy was ready for some delicate attention on the bench grinder.

I warned my foe I would be back then rejoined Guinness the war dog as we marched back to Castle Manshop to store our weaponry and acquire a flagon of hearty ale.

The battle was hard but good. And I will sleep soundly knowing the threat to tractors everywhere has been lessened this day.


SAR After Action Report 2-26-20

Lessons learned at the end

Situation: 3 boaters missing in vicinity of Pickwick Dam.

Search Area: Approx. 1 mile wide, 12 miles long. Flooded timber. Flooded and recently flood row crop fields and river bank.

Personnel: 3- Pilots; Kurt, Alan. Ground team; Mike

Made contact with authorities the night before, but we were unable to get a firm answer on whether or not we were needed/wanted. Search area is approx. 2 1/2 hour drive so I made the call to go and be available in the area.

Official meet up time for volunteers was 0730, we arrived at 0700 and made contact with the command post. The large number of boats had priority so we waited until those were assigned search areas.

The EMA director showed us the area he wanted us to work in and briefed us that helicopter support was expected at 0830. We decided to look for a safe LZ to operate from and plan to launch when the helicopter exhausted its fuel. We were given approx. location of a sod farm on the opposite side of the river that was believed to be usable and set out to find it.

The command post had contacted the sod farm owner who luckily found us soon after we got to the area. The owner led us to a perfect location near our assigned search area. The field was recently flooded but accessible and had plenty of open area to operate safely.

We set out wind socks and started pre-flighting equipment by 0830.

The helicopter came on station approx. 0845 and began working the search area. We contacted the command post to get an idea of the helicopters fuel supply. Shortly after they learned an additional helicopter would be available for the search.

We were reassigned to an area down river near the Savannah bridge. The closest usable LZ was the Savannah airport approx. 3 miles from the search area. We collected our gear and headed there.

Making contact at the Savannah airport, we were given an area near the fuel farm to operate out of. We also made contact with one of the helicopter crews on the ground and were able to better de-conflict our search areas and get radio frequencies before they took off.

We launched at 1115 and started our search just above the bridge. We made the call to stay together on the East side of the river due to extensive flooding and no visible safe path to search the West side.

We were able to search approx. 5 miles of the river bank and flooded fields before turning back. It was difficult to drop below 200′ due to high winds and heavy turbulence. It was a rough flight but doable. While we were able to maintain safe emergency landing areas, some of them would have been very difficult extractions due to flooded roads/debris and very muddy terrain.

We landed at Savannah at 1230, reported our actions, and began planning our next run. Winds were increasing at this time and weather was expected to deteriorate. After talking to the helicopter crew again we decided we couldn’t safely continue so we checked in with the command post and advised them we were departing the area.

We were all very impressed with the professionalism shown by the search directors.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Contact cards- Having cards printed with our contact information, cell phone, email, names of personnel involved, explanation of capabilities, would have been very useful.
  2. Have a plan, plan to change it regularly. Be patient. Search directors are working hard to herd volunteers we are just one small part. Look for every opportunity to not bother them.
  3. Ground support is critical. Having someone who can concentrate on navigating and communicating takes pressure off pilots and allows them to focus on safely conducting the flight.
  4. Don’t forget food and warm or cold drinks depending on the weather. Patience wears thin as people get tired, keeping their energy up will make everything run smoother.
  5. A thorough search is difficult especially over challenging terrain. Don’t sacrifice safety for a better view.

First Team Meetup

1-15-20

We had our first real SAR team meetup last night at Everrett-Stewart airport. We have 5 pilots in the area now and this was the first time we all got to be in the same room together.

Our number one priority will be getting everyone on the same page for communications. 2m radios will be primary on that, with cell phone as back up and a few of us also carrying airband.

We talked through a little formation flying, which is going to take some practice. And covered comms with any ground team we would be working with, along with basic equipment we need.

Weather will inhibit flying right now, but we are getting on the same page as to how we need to work together in the air.

Everyone seems to mesh really well together and I think there is a lot of potential in this team.

Building A Search Dummy.

I’ve talked before about how valuable paramotors can be in Search and Rescue operations. The only way to bring that value to a scene is good training beforehand. To that end I’ve been working on different methods and tools to better myself in this area.

A few days ago while watching a Paramotor Nation interview with the founder of ASAR national (Airborne Search and Rescue) I hit on an idea. One of the surprising things for me becoming a pilot was how different everything looks from the air. You can see everything but you have to train your eye to understand the world from this new vantage point. In comes “Find me Freddo”

I built this guy as an inexpensive, easy to transport visual training aid. It’s just a few pieces of 1″ Poplar dowel rod and paracord at the joints.

I dressed up the joints with electrical tape just to avoid having to retie them later. Then grabbed some old clothes to dress him up.

It’s not fancy but it’s roughly people sized and should be useful helping to calibrate our eyes to spotting people in different terrain and clothing . He is also fits in a gym bag for easy storage and transport to a search area.

Total cost: Less than $30 and an hour of my time. It can be fitted with a life jacket for water searches and if you fold the arm and leg joints it becomes child sized. It should be a very versatile tool.

If your around West TN and would like to be a part of the team we’re building let me know. You don’t have to be a pilot. We are also looking for a good ground team to coordinate with local authorities and organize training events/direct search operations. Send me an email if you’re interested with “SAR” in the subject line. Kurt.Dugger@yahoo.com.

The Physical Side of Paramotors.

Some people seem to be very concerned about the physical challenges of foot launching a paramotor. It’s intimidating strapping on a 60lb backpack and being told you have run sprints with it on your back. Luckily it’s not as hard as it sounds, and you have many options with equipment to make that easier.

Let’s start with motors. I fly a Talon 190 built by Blackhawk. At just under 70lbs with fuel it’s one of the larger, more powerful options for foot launching. The harness distributes the weight nicely (just like a good hiking pack) and for me the great climb rate is worth the few extra pounds of a big motor.

A friend of mine recently purchased one of the lightest setups available, the Vitorrazi Atom 80. It’s an 80cc engine vs. the Talons 190cc but it has plenty of power to get his 165lbs airborne. At 58lbs fully fueled and a comfortable harness it’s very manageable for smaller pilots. At 190lbs, the Atom 80 is an option for me, but it will be working a lot harder to keep me up. Your choice of wing will affect your experience as much or more than your choice of motor.

Everyone has very different physical abilities and challenges. I have knee problems that make themselves known anytime I push a little too hard or the barometer changes for example. But you can get past just about any physical limitation if you want too.

This is an image of a Resurgence PPG trainee. Resurgence is an operation that travels the country making foot launch paramotor flight a reality for wounded vets. These guys have a wide range of invisible to very obvious challenges. They constantly prove that challenge does not equal impossibility. All it takes is the will to make it happen.

The trick is you aren’t really fighting that weight the whole time. As soon as you pull the wing overhead it starts taking on the strain. The motor provides the power to move you forward, like a steady hand at your back. The faster you move the more weight is carried by the wing. You’re really just keeping your feet moving to stay centered under the wing as your equipment does the work for you. It’s about finesse and technique more than strength.

Having said that, being fit will help you out, especially during kiting practice. If you’re thinking of getting into PPG this spring now is the time to start getting ready physically. You don’t need to be a power lifter, agility and endurance are more important than brute strength.

Low impact options work best for me. Biking is a great one. You don’t need an expensive road bike to make it happen. A decent $100 bike(or less at a good yard sale) will be perfect to start building leg strength and cardio. Body weight training can work great as well. Burpees, lunges, planks of all flavors. You don’t need a gym membership, just a block of time and the discipline to make it happen.

There really isn’t one muscle group more important than the rest. On the ground you need your lower body, back and abs to run and steady the motor. In the air you’ll notice the work your shoulders are doing pretty quickly. The more agile you are the easier it will be for you deal with bad inflations and turning into crosswinds on launch as well as running out a landing.

The Blackhawk Lowboy

Of course wheels are an option. This takes out most of the physical requirements. And I will admit some days I would like to just lay my wing out, roll on the throttle and go. But if you want to footlaunch don’t go for wheels because you’re intimidated. All it takes is the willpower to learn. A good instructor can take that and direct it where it’s needed to achieve your goal.

Now, train hard this winter and I’ll see you in the sky.

Astronomy…enjoying the sky when it’s too cold to fly.

The days are short and getting colder. Working from dark to dark means less opportunity for air time, and below 40 degrees it’s hard to enjoy being up very long anyway. But this time of year does offer it’s own advantages.

Astronomy is a great way for every person at every income level to enjoy the sky. Winter offers some of the best, clearest views and best chances to observe interesting things.

You don’t need an expensive telescope to get in this game. You can start learning the sky for free. Apps like SKYVIEW are free and make it easy to start identify objects in the sky. Just download to a phone or tablet and use your camera to travel the night sky.

Speaking of learning the night sky, the book “Nightwatch” by Terence Dickinson is an excellent resource for the budding astronomer. It discusses telescopes, history, star charts and astrophotography in a way that’s easy and fun to grasp.

As for star charts, Skymaps makes an excellent monthly chart. Printer friendly, it comes with easy instructions and notes of all the events to look for each month. And the price of free means it’s there for everyone.

In the realm of free, Stellarium might be the most valuable open source software in astronomy to date. This is a free to download planetarium. The quality is so high it’s used by real planetariums all over the world. It allows you to plug in any location and time on earth and see exactly where everything in the sky is, including satellites. You can watch it move in real time or as fast as you like.

To start seeing the universe up close doesn’t take a lot of expense either. My favorite two tools for this has become a set of binoculars and a spotting scope my friend Joshua at Secondhand Prepper found for me at a flea market for about $10. A decent set of binoculars will show you craters on the moon and star formations you can’t see with the naked eye. The trick is to find somewhere totally stable to observe. A layout lawn chair or on your back on a blanket in the grass make perfect observatories for this game.

Having a printed Map of the moon handy can make it even more fun for kids as they try to identify surface features.

I recommend learning these things before you pull the trigger on more expensive gear such as a proper telescope. Orion Telescopes make excellent equipment. I’ve been using a 90mm refractor on an equitorial mount for a few years (thank you Bitcoin) and I’m very pleased with it. It lets me see cloud bands and the red spot on Jupiter along with it’s moons. The rings of Saturn will take your breath away the first time you find it, and this is enough telescope to spot the Cassini division in the rings when conditions are right. On one occasion in perfect conditions I was able to make out light areas that are the polar ice caps on Mars, it was a perfect night though I haven’t been able to get that again.

Later you might be interested in astrophotography, astronomy podcast, or finding a local “Star party” to talk to more experienced observers.

Just because it’s colder and the days are shorter doesn’t mean you have to miss out on enjoying the sky. It just means you need to change your method of touching it.

NASA Live Feed from the International Space Station.

Winter is Here

11-20-19

The last two flights have left no doubt it’s getting deeper into winter here. High 30s to low 40s isn’t terrible on the ground, but it can get a little painful in the air if you aren’t dressed for it.

I hate cold. And I really hate all the bulky clothes you need to combat it. Gloves are the worst. I’ve been avoiding breaking out the thick gloves as long as possible but the time has come. The problem with heavy gloves comes mostly from the loss of feeling during launch. Difficulty manipulating radios and touchscreens in flight is an inconvenience, but good control at launch is critical. You have to kite with new gloves before you fly with them.

My last few flights were with light gloves. It makes for a better feel, but you pay the price with a little pain. The real danger of cold is losing fine motor skills and a tendency for poor decision making. I’ve noticed both of these in my flying.

Your throttle hand is the worst. It’s always working and always open and exposed and in contact with an aluminum handle. It’s also the hand that needs the most discrimination in it’s actions. Throttle equals thrust which controls your climb/descent rate. At altitude your thrust isn’t critical. Climbing or dropping 10′ while flying at 300′ isn’t a big deal. That same variation flying at 15′ can lead to problems pretty quick.

Brakes can be used for small quick adjustments to altitude, but the effect is temporary. When you pull both brakes you can trade airspeed for a little lift, like pulling back on an airplanes yoke. And just like an airplane, if you use it too much you will bleed off too much airspeed. Eventually your going to stop flying and stall the wing. It’s a balancing act that gets tricky when your losing blood flow to your arms and hands. This means you have to constantly evaluate your physical condition as well as all the other variables if you choose to get low.

You also have to consider how far you are from your LZ. You might be in good shape right now, but how will you be after fighting a headwind for the next 30 minutes to get home. Those fine motor skills get real important during landing. I misjudged my wind last Sunday due in part to wanting to get on the ground and warm up. This lead to coming up a little short and having to bust through the brush at the edge of my LZ. It all worked out, I just had to run out the landing a little longer to keep from dropping my wing on the scrubby bushes. Being off by 2 more seconds could have created a much bigger problem.


From here on out I’ll take the discomfort of bulky cold weather gear over the possible bad effects of getting too cold.

Like a kid at Christmas

10-28-19 Launched from home at 8am.

I really needed this flight. Aside from a few 15 min runs I hadn’t made a real flight since the crazy ride that ended the Darkhorse 450. I had great weather and Kate made sure I had the whole day to make it happen.

I got off the ground about 30 minutes after sunrise. Wind was light and the temps were high 40’s. Perfect conditions for smooth air and I wasn’t disappointed.

Climbing out of the alley.

It was odd not having a plan or any goal to meet. I didn’t even decide which direction to go until I had climbed out. The leaves are just starting to turn and with a little ground mist here and there, the view was everything you would imagine. Spectacular.

Waving at cars on an elevated road, you get the strangest looks.

I decided to head towards Troy and just see what the day might bring. I had a great view of the town starting to wake up.

Good Morning Troy, TN

I made a loop around my parents a few miles outside of Troy and then started hopping tree lines heading back towards Union City.

I see me.

I was starting to get pretty chilly about an hour into it, but like a kid in the snow, I couldn’t quit. It was too much fun. At one point I thought I was losing power until I realized my throttle hand had gotten so cold it was sluggish squeezing.

2nd Baptist Church, Union City TN

I rounded U.C. headed back home, and landed just shy of the 2hr mark. I was shaking so hard I could barely control my flare. That’s probably why it was so smooth.

Headed home shivering.

That flight has made my whole week better. I can not wait for the next one.

Darkhorse 450 pt 9.

Jamestown to Scott Oct5 2019

Launch at 1300

To explain this flight I need to quickly explain how my glider works. It looks like a parachute but it doesn’t work like one. Parachutes fall down, catch the air beneath them, and slow your descent.

My glider works like an airplane wing. It’s two layers of material with and opening in the leading edge to allow air to rush inside. This flow of air inflates the glider like a balloon. The weight of the pilot pulling against it also helps it hold an airfoil shape, like an airplanes wing.

It’s important to understand because if you lose airspeed, or if the pilots weight isn’t pulling against the glider, the glider will lose it’s shape. We refer to it as a “deflation”. Like a popped balloon you aren’t flying until you reinflate the wing.

I took off from Jamestown at 1:00 in the afternoon. Winds at ground level were around 10mph. Winds aloft were 15-20, almost 90 degrees from my direction of travel. This made for some very rowdy air.

Emergency outs are few and far between in this area. Neil had given me a heading for climb out which put me over the few open fields in the area. Again, thank you Neil. Very impressive dude.

As soon as I got airborne I started getting thrashed. Remember the glider needs airspeed to fly. Mine needs 25mph flowing over it to fly straight and level. More airspeed means you will climb, less means you descend. The preferred method to affect this is smooth application of the throttle. Gusty inconsistent wind also changes airspeed and therefore lift. The sun hitting the ground creates hot spots. These hot spots create “thermals”, columns of warmer air that travel up. The more direct the sun hits the ground, the more heat it creates and the faster and “sharper” the thermal becomes. 1:00 is prime time for this.

Every yard of that 25 mile flight was a battle. Unlike other flights, there was no altitude to find stable air. As I neared 4,000′ feet the wind gust got much worse. I had to stay lower were the thermals were more violent.

A lot of firsts on this flight. First tip deflation for example. I was 90 degrees to the wind and flew through a thermal on my right side. I felt the brake line go completely slack and knew exactly what happened. By the time I looked up it was already reinflating, that’s the advantage of a beginner glider. You give up speed but gain stability.

When you hit a thermal your wing will tend to turn one way or the other. You are swinging beneath the wing like a pendulum. This means if you don’t manage that swinging force correctly you will start oscillating, swinging back and forth beneath the wing. If that isn’t corrected it can get quite violent and eventually lead to the wing collapsing. To prevent it you “roll with the punches”.

If a thermal rolls you left, pull some left brake to bank smoothly then roll back onto your desired heading. The goal is to keep your weight pulling squarely against the center of the wing.

Descending into Scott this became very important. Gretchen and Kate had hoped to see this landing and sent me a text asking if I could circle for a few minutes before touchdown, they were almost at Scott. I saw the message pop up over my instruments and thought “no way, I have got to get out of this chaos yesterday”. I didn’t know it but they would have plenty of time to catch the landing.

Scott has a big beautiful gorge about a half mile from the runway. This had become a wind tunnel. I passed over several similar features on the way in at 3,000′. Even that high I could feel the effects as the wind hit them and changed direction. No way was I passing over that at 1,000′ or less.

The sun was baking the earth near the airport and I really did not want to get into their airspace until I was about to land. I try to avoid traffic as much as I can. The problem was, every time I started to descend I got blasted back up. And I mean blasted.

My best climb rate in normal conditions is 400 feet per minute, that’s on a good day. One of the few times I could make out my climb indicator in a thermal it was reading over 800 feet a minute. This was no power, trying to dive at the ground. Remember “rolling with the punches”? The harder the punch the harder I had to roll to keep my weight pulling against the glider. Gretchen was seeing this for the first time and thought I was playing around, “it looked so cool” she said afterwards. Kate said she knew I wasn’t playing when she saw me go into a 90 degree bank. I didn’t know my wing could hold that, but at the time I had too.

Afterwards it hit me how this entire experience was exactly like coming home from war. The flight itself was fun and terrifying at the same time. Moments of peace shattered by unexpected moments of violence. When the time finally came to land, I couldn’t figure out how. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to return to the safe, normal place everyone was, I just didn’t know how.

Gretchen didn’t have the reference point to understand that my behavior wasn’t ok at all. Kate knew it was bad but didn’t have the ability to fix it for me.

What I really needed more than anything was another pilot who had flown in the area. He could have gotten on the radio and calmly pointed me to a place with better conditions. He could have reminded me to just keep flying the wing and the bad times will pass.

This is why the Darkhorse Lodge is so important to me. It brings people in rough times together with those who already navigated those rough times. It’s already saving lives during construction. I have no doubts about how effective it will be in the future.