Brake Line Mistake

Otto Lilienthal, Pilot, Inventer, Daredevil, Hero

There is a lot of travel in my brakes before the wing starts turning. I liked that feel early on, but I’ve decided I would like my glider just a little quicker to respond. Having a bit more flare authority on landing would be nice also. Right now I can bury my hands below my waist and it doesn’t feel like I’m getting everything the glider can offer in that area.

The wing manual recommends no more than 1 inch of adjustment at a time, so that’s what I went with. I marked the lines 1 inch above the knot, then adjusted accordingly until my mark was in the correct place. Repeating the process with the other side being careful to maintain the same adjustment.

At the end something had to be done with the remaining line. I didn’t want to cut it as the extra lenght may be useful later. I couldn’t leave it loose because it’s a hazard that could get pulled into the prop, with my hand.

I decided to tape up the excess in a nice neat package. Here I made the mistake. The excess line got rolled and taped, to my line being used. Above the brake toggle. This meant my 1 inch adjustment ended up being about 3 1/2 inches. Feel free to hate, it was dumb.

The wing launched easy, way too easy for the light wind I had. And the climb rate was great. I realized the mistake when I jumped into the seat, got comfortable and went to stow the brakes. The tape was holding them so low they didn’t want to go up onto the magnets.

I was now pulling brake on both sides and could not fully release it.

This is the kind of thing that leads to stalls and spins. The glider was also climbing like a rocket.

After finding the problem I considered trying to pull the tape off in flight. That came with a huge line of problems, lack of control during the tape removal, loose line hitting the prop if sucssesfull, fighting a turn while correcting the second line if I managed to fix the first. There were more, it’s amazing how many problems your brain can work in a second or two.

I decided to land and sort it out. This was also not problem free. My high climb rate was due to being on power with brake inputs. If I drop to idle I’ll start my descent but also lose airspeed due to the brake inputs and risk a stall.

I decided to power down enough to zero my climb rate, hold that power and use gentle S turns on the way home to slowly give up altitude. Worked like a charm.

My first attempt I came in lower than expected so I aborted the landing. Corrected for the second attempt and brought it down.

I’ve since corrected the problem and I’m planning another test flight tonight. I think a lot about the lessons I’ve learned and how I’ve learned them along the way. It reminds me that guys like Otto Lilienthal were no doubt geniuses, but they had at least as much courage as brains to test the things they built.

My Failure of Words


I’m so envious of poets. The ability to create an image using words is something I’ve never developed. You would think with pictures and video it would be easy to bring back the beauty you find in the air to share with your friends. Even those things fall short of reality.

I launched just as the sky started to lighten Saturday morning. The wind was calm and a heavy dew meant my wing became soaked as I laid it out. Carrying my big bag with extra oil, water, tools, and battery pack, I was struggling on takeoff.

My right wingtip dipped on inflation which turned me right and into the trees lining the field. I really did not want to reset and when you abort a launch on wet grass your wing picks up more water and the next attempt is even harder. I pulled hard on the right side A’s and drove my left brake down to counter the turn as I ran under the wing. Then as it corrected I pulled hard on the right brake to prevent over correcting. I missed the trees by at least eighteen inches and ended up running up hill out of the low area near the tree line, but I made it.

As I climbed out(very slowly) I made a 90 degree left turn and I was given a sight that was shocking in comparison to the struggle of that launch.

The sun was still too low to see from the ground and there was a light mist you couldn’t really notice unless you could see for a few miles into the distance. Climbing out and turning into the sun the effect was unreal.

The sun was so low in the mist you could stare at and soak in the entire picture without being blinded. Looking away to the horizon the mist slowly obscured more of the landscape until you just saw the tops of trees floating on clouds. The air was cool, that perfect place just before it’s too cold to really enjoy. This is why I’m jealous of poets. I wish I could share that memory with you as it is in my mind.

I wish I could tell you about following a flock of small birds I had never seen before. There were two dozen. Some so jet black the seemed to be holes in the sky. Some so blazing white they seemed to glow from the inside. All diving and turning, playing with each other in the air. Never touching.

Then there is the two Blue Herons. I’ve always thought these were awkward creatures. Great at fishing of course but limited in their capabilities in the air just due to their size. I’m such a fool.

Skimming the treetops I looked down and caught sight of an enormous wing traveling through the trees. Thick trees. So dense it was hard to see into. This bird was sailing through the branches with the kind of slow, calm confidence olympic athletes can’t match. Never changing his pace, never needing to dart away from an unseen branch. He would time his flight and his wingbeats so that he would pass obstacles on the down stroke, stretching out his enormous wings to grab more air after clearing them.

Later I decided it would be fun to follow a creek lined with trees twisting through a field. After a short distance another Heron popped out below me. He had flown just fast enough to get ahead and the held his position just in front of me as I glided above the trees. He stayed over the water and flew between them. Eventually he popped out of the creek where it made a hard left and I followed him across the cornfield where he shot through a gap between two trees barely wider than his body. He had timed his wings perfectly, never changing his pace. It was probably my imagination but I swear he looked back at me as he cleared the gap and mad a 90 degree bank to the right before gliding away. As if to say “It was fun, lets do it again sometime”.

Then there was the vulture. Seeing one circling up in a thermal is nothing unusual, impressive every time but not unusual. This bird would climb like normal as he rounded the column of air, then dive gaining speed. As he rounded the back of the thermal he would flare so hard he almost did a back flip. Then he would stall, recover and get back into his climb. I watched him repeat this a few times as I glided by. I used to wonder if birds knew how lucky they were to have wings, now I know at least some of them do.

Flying From Home


The goal for the weekend was to knock out the first flights from the backyard. Nailed it.

Friday was the first official takeoff. It took 3 attempts but I made it. Winds were a little inconsistent and the way they swirl around the trees can be a little deceptive I found out.

I kept the flight short and concentrated on feeling out the landing approach. For a south wind, which I had, you have to shoot an approach down an alleyway of trees.

The wind rolling over the trees makes for some tricky mechanical rotor. I figured out if you come in level with the tree tops and go to idle just before the landing area you can fight the rotor and count on smooth air for landing. It was a little scary working that out though. Five approaches before I felt comfortable enough to drop in.

Saturday evening kicked my butt. Light, switchy winds, a spark plug starting to give up, and the heat led to me walking away. No flight that day.

Sunday was great. High winds prevented the A.M. flight I wanted but the P.M. flight went perfect. Nailed the first launch and went south to Mason Hall.

The air was a bit bumpy and a headwind kept my speed down to around 13MPH. It took a little over an hour to cover the 12 miles to my goal. I took a few detours on the way.

I spent a good amount of time learning to look down into cornfields and tree lines. I’ve offered my services for Search and Rescue to the local authorities and I’ll need to train if I’m going to be effective. This also meant getting down into rougher air to get close enough to see detail on the ground.

But I stuck the landing on the second attempt. Light as a butterfly exactly where I wanted it. I’m calling it a good weekend and “The Grove” airpark is officially open for business. Or at least anyone crazy enough to shoot the approach.

The trip home I averaged 45MPH. It went a lot faster and wind speed was steadily increasing. This made for a rougher approach to the LZ. Patrick(our 4 year old) said it was “way too bouncy” and I need to work on that because it “wasn’t funny”. I tended to agree.

Homemade Airport


I’ve been grooming a spot in the field to use as a runway for almost a year now. I think it’s ready.

It started out covered in small trees and briars so I had to be patient making sure all the little stumps were cleared out. A few hours with a chainsaw and many trips with a bush hog and it’s coming along nicely.

It has trees on two sides so it’s far from perfect. But the two main “runways” are about 400′ long with very long approaches and no power lines to deal with. I’ve been waiting for my comfort level to improve along with the grass in the field and I’m ok saying we are both ready.

It won’t be available for all conditions especially at first. The trees on the sides will create some mechanical rotor if it’s windy. And the gap behind the house acts as venturi funneling the wind in certain conditions. I’ve done several low passes to feel it out in different conditions.

I plan to launch from there the next time weather allows it. Worse case: I get up and don’t feel I can safely get back in, I will slide down to the airport four miles away and call my beautiful and patient wife for a ride home.

I’m really looking forward to the kiting opportunities it will offer. I haven’t done as much as I should due to the time needed to get out to a good location. Having this available should let me throw my wing up just about everyday. That will be my new gym time.

To do the Darkhorse 450 I need to be completely comfortable landing in areas like this and smaller. I plan to a lot of training in this little spot. (And how cool will it be to walk outside and run into the sky?)

Bad Starters and Clean Motors.


Since the last update there have been several new developments. A new altitude record 4000′. I’ve broken 30 hours of flight time. And had another broken starter. That’s 3 dead starters.

I think Blackhawk sent me an older version of their starter the last two times. But they have been very responsive working with me to correct the problem. I spent quite a bit of time on the phone with Mike Robinson(owner) and his mechanics checking everything that could be causing the problem.

They sent out another replacement and it appears to be a better quality part just based on the fit and finish compared to the last two. I’ll throw it on this afternoon and if weather allows give it a good test run.

While waiting for a starter I decided to do my 50 hour maintenance a little early. 38 hours on the motor. I pulled the head and found some pretty heavy buildup on the head and piston. No scoring of the cylinder but the compression hole was almost plugged.

I had been erring to the rich side to far I think leading to a lot of carbon buildup inside the cylinder. I gently cleaned it out with a toothbrush (Thomas the Tank Engine) and used a very small drill bit, by hand, not in a drill, to clean out the compression hole. Re-tourqued the head and moved on to the carb.

The screen inside the carburetor had significant buildup. I cleaned that out and threw everything back together.

Then I grabbed and old starter that I rebuilt and took it for a test run. It ran like a champ. The first start was a little harder than usual, but subsequent starts were much easier.

There was no hesitation in the throttle. I had started to see a problem of rpms dropping off as my engine got up to cruising temperature. This problem was eliminated completely and it averaged 10-20 degrees cooler.

I’m pretty happy with how that turned out. The gopro 3 on the other hand has been a challenge, but that’s for another day. The weather is looking good and I need some vertical therapy.

A Huge Leap Forward


The 2nd flight was hard to describe it was so good. Launched at 945 into thermals, wind, and broken clouds. I knew it would be rougher air, that’s what I was looking for.

The day was starting to heat up as I climbed out. Thermals off the asphalt and nearby fields were tossing me pretty good. The last time I went up in air like this was around my 4th flight. It ended with a new scar and a bit of a fear injury.

This time I was more prepared for it. I’ve gotten much more comfortable with my equipment and much better at controlling the oscillations that come along with rough air and sharp thermals.

My glider is built to safely fly away from almost any bad situation without any help from me. Previous flights and a lot of kiting practice have made me a believer in that marketing.

I launched and flew to Rives,TN trying to get comfortable and remind myself to enjoy the bumps. Somewhere along the way it happened. I learned to love the bumps and had an absolute blast.

Instead of trying to stay in the shadows of big clouds I started flying anywhere I wanted, ignoring the lift/sink at the edge of the shadows. I skimmed tree lines, playing with the wind that boiled over the top. I found different color fields to ride across just to feel the different ways the sun was heating the ground.

I found people to circle. Kids that chased me. Cars that stopped in the road to watch. It’s so much fun to share the experience with people on the ground. I felt completely free up there. I had respect for and awareness of the conditions but there was no fear.

I came back and stuck the landing right were I wanted, in the same spot I had tried to land on that earlier bad flight. It was the perfect flight, and a huge leap forward for me.

Prop Test


Today was a good day. Two flights before lunch. The first was a short shakedown of the new prop. The second was an experience I’m still trying to put into words so it will have to wait.

I launched from Everett-Stewart airport at sunrise, which is always nice. It’s quiet and everything is still and calm. I usually have the whole place to myself.

The weather wasn’t great, low clouds, light winds. 6 mile visibility according to the AWOS (airport weather station). The new carbon fiber prop performed flawlessly.

I went with the Chinese made 125cm prop. I found out after ordering that quality can be very hit or miss. I was not disappointed at all. The two halves weighed in at 422 and 430 grams and appeared to be well balanced. As far as I could test anyway. They fit together snugly with almost no play. Cost from Amazon with expedited shipping: $270

It’s almost a pound lighter than the wooden prop I had been using. This makes throttle response noticeably quicker. It also has a large flare near the hub which draws more air past the motor, aiding in cooling.

I spent about a half hour in the air playing with it. No vibration beyond the normal motor vibration. And no complaints really. I’m happy with this buy.

I had hoped the weather would lift off and visibility would improve but it seemed to be doing the opposite. I decided to set down, grab a cup of coffee and tweak my carb settings a little bit.

Then at 945 I launched with broken clouds and bright sunshine. The wind had picked up and the thermals were building. But that’s for another day.

Unexpected Educations and Rapid Unplanned Dissassembly.


Mission: Launch early a.m. from Everrett-Stewart, fly to Carrol Co. airport, refuel, fly to Beech River, refuel, possibly spend the night there, fly to a friends farm south of Beech River, enjoy delicious food and good friends, head home the 27th.

Reality: Started Saturday morning with a broken pull start( later BlackHawk said they sent the incorrect replacement after the first starter failure). Packed up and went in search of a solution.

I found a small engine mechanic who worked some magic (heated and bent broken inner spring) on the pull start. I wouldn’t call it a long term fix, but I was confident about it lasting through the weekend.

By this time it was midday and the wind was way too much for me so I just hung around until evening, no rush to get there.

I had two aborted launches and should have quit there. I was slow to correct for the wind shifting and the overnight bag was slowing me down just a little.

On the third launch everything looked good and felt great. Wing came up I got it under control and rolled on the throttle, then I heard it. Crunch.

I have a strobe mounted at the top of my cage. Had a strobe. For 25 flights it worked great. Today it rotated back and the inner part with the batteries and actual light dropped into the prop ending all hope of completing this mission.

On the bright side I’ve learned a lot about propellers this weekend as I’ll be buying a new one this week.

Educations can be expensive.

Gear test: Overnight bag.


Launched 1820 fro Everrett-Stewart.

Mission: Test gear for multi day flight.

I built an overnight flight deck from an old laptop case. Sewed on some velcro, fastex clips to attach to my harness, and made the whole thing adjustable. The idea was to have it snug on my chest for launch and then let out the straps to rest it on my lap in the air.

The bag weighed in right at 20lbs loaded. I carried 1qt of 2 stroke oil, bivy sack(for sleeping), a 26000 milliamp battery pack, 2-meter and airband radio, food for 2 days, water, and assorted charging cables for phone and gopro.

There was a good headwind 5-8mph. I need that launching the extra weight. The bag was a little awkward hanging out front.

Once in the air it didn’t take long to get comfortable and adjust the new pack. Winds aloft were 15-20 and I headed straight into them so progress was slow.

I spent 45 minutes fighting the wind trims full out. Avg ground speed around 12mph. On turning back towards home I saw speeds up to 50mph.

Landing went very smooth. With the stiff wind I came to an almost dead stop just as I touched down. It would have been tricky running out a fast landing with the bag dangling out front.

It would be nice if the adjustment straps were a little tighter (they tend to slip while running) but I’m pretty happy with the whole rig.

Becoming Pilot in Command


This flight I noticed something that has been changing steadily for about the last ten flights.

When I started learning this sport I was very uncomfortable in rough air. If I hit thermals or felt some rotor from the trees I had a tendency to go “hands up”, grit my teeth and let the glider find it’s own way through to the other side.

I became a passenger for the most part until I got through the bad air. Afterwords I would take control again and correct my course, or dampen out whatever oscillation had been induced.

As I’ve gotten more comfortable I’ve caught myself staying in control longer and becoming a much more active pilot.

Today I intentionally went up in stronger conditions. Winds were 8-10 on the ground and 10-20 aloft depending on your altitude. Plenty of sunshine meant a lot of thermal activity. The hawks and vultures were loving it.

Today instead of just “surviving” the rough spots, I started enjoying them. I saw a field with a treeline that I knew had to have some strong lift coming up and instead of going around I stayed on course and went straight into it.

As best I could tell I hit the thermal dead center. Slight bump as I entered then I got an elevator ride. I couldn’t help from busting out laughing.

My climb indicator claimed it was 2+ meters/sec, that’s better than 200 ft/min in American speak, with no help from the motor. I just stayed for one turn then pushed to my planned goal (Sharon TN). But it felt like turning a big corner in my journey to master this game.

That wasn’t the only time it happened that day, but it was the best. It’s strange but my mindset has been shifting from “The glider wants to fly, don’t screw it up” to “I’m flying the glider and I can move it anywhere I want to”.

This has been translating into more controlled takeoffs and landings as well. I’m quicker to correct if I get knocked off course.

In a paramotor you are always the “pilot in command” even on your first solo, but it feels good to really own that title.

Lessons Learned

  1. Don’t be scared to control the glider. Keep brake inputs smooth, but add as much as needed to put the glider where you want it.
  2. Don’t fear the bumps. Beginner gliders are extremely safe, it wont collapse at the first hint of unstable air.
  3. When in doubt, go full “Lieutentant Dan”. War crys work. Laughing at the sky in the face of rough air is a big confidence booster. You need confidence to be in control.