Some days, my Fed-Ex delivery driver has no idea what an immensely positive effect he is going to have on my favourite thing, flying my paramotor. Be it delivering a new helmet, a pair of gloves or just a bottle of Motul 800.
Recently a Fed-Ex box arrived from my recently appointed new best friend in Florida, Eric Farewell. I’d been in touch with Eric about some of the fabulous products that Aviator PPG sell, and which we don’t have in the UK. Eric had been helpful - as you’d expect from a company with the reputation of Aviator on social media, etc. Eric demonstrates a real enthusiasm for his products which matches the passion you see when you watch any Aviator PPG video. Eric is genuinely motivated about aviation and aviators - it reminds me a lot of Parajet in the UK - pure passion.
My order was placed on the Aviator website and the feedback was as good as Amazon provides - I could see every update of the order and shipping. Amazingly, it was picked, packed and crossed the Atlantic to arrive within three days.
Initially, I was most excited about the wing tip strobes, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on these. I’ve had a thing about my visibility for a long time; I regularly fly from a spot next to the River Usk in the Brecon Beacons in Wales - anyone who knows the RAF knows that the River Usk is what the RAF follow to aid navigation, whether it’s fast jets on their way to the Mach loop, Chinooks and Apache helicopters on their way to and from the Sennybridge range or Hercules transport planes practising low level navigation. Plus ordinary GA enjoying the scenery. Despite proper use of NOTAMS, I still occasionally find myself uncomfortably close to a piece of undesirable hardware in my airspace.
I've looked at several strobe options in the past; I discounted any of my existing battery-powered diving and boating strobes, they didn’t have enough power to be seen from a safe distance. I also looked at the very nice MicroAvionics and SkyFlar strobes but, as I've been trying to minimise clutter on my machine and didn’t want to be adding more batteries, wires and switches, I decided against these. I ordered some bits from Banggood and soldered my own one-piece strobe together; it worked but didn’t inspire me much as it didn’t provide 360 degree coverage ... and electronics definitely ain’t my bag.
When I opened the box from Aviator, I was nicely surprised. The first items were very well-presented small boxes, each containing a wingtip strobe. The gold logo on the square box is a very classy introduction to the product inside - I could ask for someone’s hand in marriage if I presented one of these whilst down on one knee (assuming the recipient was a paramotor pilot!).
The high intensity strobes themselves are very compact and lightweight. I looked at the intricacy of the internals as I turned one of them on - and immediately blinded myself for a moment. These things are seriously bright.
The way to fit the strobe is to find an attachment point within the tips of your wing and then loop the strobes into each tip. I used a piece of old wing D-line and made a loop tied onto the sturdy hoop on each strobe. Reaching into my wing through the leading edge, it took a few seconds find the last rib before the tip and loop the strobe into place around the rib, feel for the button through the fabric of the wing and gently press to turn it on. It’s as simple as that.
I went for a fly the next day and eagerly looked up to find only one tip was flashing. Seems like I should have checked them properly before launching - it’s now a quick addition to my preflight checks. I'm also going to reposition them so they are placed centrally on the tips.
I asked my flying buddy to see how visible they were while we were in the air and also from the ground. He was impressed with how clear they were and he also commented on how cool they looked. Cool is a bonus but being clearly visible is excellent and what I wanted.
There is an element of mystery about the strobes from a spectator’s point of view; it looks like wizardry is at play, making the wingtip flash so brightly. The strobes actually use Firehouse strobes which are ubiquitous in the world of drones and RC planes. However, Aviator doubled up the Firehouse strobes so there are two of them in each wingtip strobe, placed back-to-back. They then increased their light output and added a beefier battery. A small strong hoop has also been added through which the thread is passed to attach the strobe to the wing.
The run time of each wingtip strobe is in excess of four hours, so there’s plenty of time for the average paramotor flight. Charging is via a micro USB socket.
Of course, you don’t have to use them just in your wingtips, they can be attached anywhere you fancy.
Each wingtip strobe costs $40 and they are available here:
If I thought the wingtip strobes were as good as I’d hoped they’d be, I was in a for an even bigger surprise with the next item in my package from Aviator - the outstanding Northstar strobe.
This free-standing unit contains five high-intensity LEDs and is the perfect solution for my need to have a main strobe with no battery box and wires. It’s beautifully made and is so bright I can barely tolerate being in a darkened room with it when it’s turned on.
The Northstar is supplied in a sturdy plastic box which is neatly packed with several fittings, giving various options for mounting the strobe. The curved base, perfect for mounting on top of your helmet, is attached by default but removing four small screws enables this to be swapped out for a flat base or a plate with strap mounting slots. Also in the box are two mounting straps, three 3M self-adhesive velcro pads, four spare screws and a very cool Aviator PPG sticker.
The strobe window provides 360 degree horizontal visibility as well as being easily visible from above - and that visibility is impressive. As an experiment, during our recent bout of UK summer (rain, wind, grey low cloud), I turned the strobe on and left it in my flying field then went for a walk into the hills. At a vantage point, where I could see the field approximately 2 miles away in a straight line, there was the Northstar very clearly doing its thing.
And talking of its thing, there's a choice of five flash sequences.
Operation is simple; you turn the Northstar on by pressing the power button, select the flash sequence using the same button and turn it off by pressing the power button twice and holding it down for four seconds.
The Northstar is a nice compact size, being 95mm x 38mm x 60mm high (it can be shallower depending on which base you have attached) and is very lightweight. Like the wingtip strobes, it charges via a USB socket and its onboard 18650 battery provides a burn time of over four hours.
The Northstar strobe costs $149 and is available here:
So, I’m really happy with both of my strobe solutions from Aviator PPG. I ordered them from the states and it took three days to arrive in the UK. I’m hoping we will have a UK distributor for Aviator PPG available soon but, for now, waiting a few days for delivery is easy.
I highly recommend these easy to use and easy to mount strobes; after searching for a solution, it’s come from the states in that box from Aviator PPG. They are well-made, lightweight, compact and good value for money.
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The weather forecast wasn’t the best as 200 pilots, friends and family headed to a couple of small fields just outside Cheltenham for three days.
It was a new site for the Summer Fly-in, fields which have often been used for car boot sales and are adjacent to a main road for easy access. However, during the weekend those small fields in a corner of Gloucestershire experienced something rather different to car boot sales.
By Friday evening the first field was spilling over into the second reserve field and paramotors were in the sky. It wasn’t the best flying air but plenty of pilots enjoyed themselves. Killins Kitchen, as at previous events, were supplying hot food, the bar was being run by PMC this time and the posh toilets had been installed. From then on it was everything you'd expect a PMC fly-in to be, laid-back, happy and friendly. And, despite the bumpy air, a massive amount of flying took place on all three days.
On Saturday night we were all treated to the best fireworks display we’ve ever had at a PMC event. Simon and Col worked for the best part of two days to install a display which was operated by remote control (so that they could actually stand back and watch it properly themselves this time) and which was all over in just a few minutes. But what a stunning few minutes - it was incredible … and clearly expensive.
And as a PMC member, we got all of this for no cost. Every fly-in comes free with the annual full membership. It’s easy to forget that sometimes and take it for granted.
This event was being tied in to a local charity, Riding for the Disabled. This meant everyone was asked to put a tenner in the pot and by the end of the weekend this had raised over £1,600.
Despite imperfect flying weather, everyone had a good time and the most common thing I heard on Sunday as people walked around saying their goodbyes was ‘See you at the next one’. It’s never up for question, as soon as you leave a PMC fly-in you start looking forward to the next one.
For over 130 more photographs of the event, visit Facebook.
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There’s a rumour that most of the meteorologists working at The Met Office have a little trick up their sleeves when it comes to booking their UK holidays. Regardless of what their own forecasts are saying, when it comes to their personal free time they always check out the dates of the Paramotor Club fly-ins before making any bookings. I imagine they have all been enjoying the weather this bank holiday weekend - And so did we, thanks yet again to our very own weather god, Simon Westmore.
The PMC events are always a cosy affair and this one was no exception; enough pilots, families and doggies to keep it busy but the right numbers to keep it all manageable, easy and friendly. As previously, food was provided by Killins Kitchen mobile caterers, but sadly the bar failed to to materialise. However Simon’s crack team carried out an expedition to the local booze emporium and came back with enough supplies for the event. The rest of the facilities were up to PMC’s usual high standard.
The bulk of the crowd arrived throughout Friday and by the evening the skies were filled with paramotors. The weather was good enough for flying to commence again early on Saturday morning, with some pilots flying through the majority of the day. But Saturday night was a joy to behold and the field self-managed itself with no issues or marshalling required - and it was the busiest skies at a PMC event that I can recall, bursting with colourful wings and buzzing motors right up until last light. And Sunday morning carried on where Saturday had left off, only with lighter winds, if any at all. As the field emptied, a handful stayed on until the evening which provided some lovely air for the final flights of the weekend. And then it was over.
As usual, the fly-in provided a great opportunity for sharing ideas and knowledge, asking questions, hanging out with all your buddies and having a great time. It was clear that there were more kids and dogs than at previous events, but that didn’t detract at all - in fact the kids were great and were clearly loving it and the dogs were enjoying the attention and freedom. And during the weekend I only spotted one dog turd, so owners were being responsible too (well, except for one maybe!).
An inevitable issue with fly-ins is congestion around the airfield and the risk of annoying the locals. This year there was one simple rule - take off and cross the river and stay on that side. This immediately cured any issue with pilots who insist on flying around the airfield constantly and getting in the way of those trying to launch or land, and also prevented any disturbance to the locals. And the difference it made to the quality of life for the campsite was noticeable.
I felt sadder than usual at the end; it was as good as it could have been and, as usual, a big thank you goes out to Simon, Col and the crew who made it all happen. And to everyone who attended and contributed to the vibe and fun. Only three months until the Summer fly-in where we can do it all again - get praying to our weather god now.
For over 150 more photographs of the event, visit Facebook.
As I arrived at this summer’s fly-in, I was greeted by Simon and one of the first things we did was to scoff at the nearby Zenith which had lamels fitted to the netting. Both of us sneered in the only way two arrogant know-it-all paramotor pilots can, asking the obvious question “How could that possibly work?”.
Fast forward forty eight hours and as I drive away from the fly-in I cast a glance over my shoulder into the back of my van to admire the Maverick with its collection of lamels strung about its netting.
Hypocrite? It seems so.
Having settled into the fly-in, and being camped next to Barry Rood (Baz), I took the opportunity to take a closer look at the lamels he had installed on his Zenith (the very same machine I had been pouring scorn over earlier with Simon). It turned out that Baz had researched lamels and decided to make his own version.
I had been struggling slightly with the torque from my Maverick - it’s an awesome machine but, with me being only 73 kg, when doing a macho take off the torque literally tips me sideways meaning a straight ahead launch was not an option - and as I fly from several sites which require navigating out of, this had become a problem. It was also an issue in the air, where when going to full power I would be put into a turn. But I love my Mav and was very happy to live with that … but when Baz started explaining to me that he’d found the lamels had made a big difference to his machine, I decided that there really was nothing to lose to give them a try - apart from showing myself to be the butt of my own earlier sneering.
So Baz very generously started fitting his lamels to my netting. My first reaction was that they were going to fall off and go through my prop, they just hung there looking loose and vulnerable. But each one connects on two axes, so they were more secure than they looked - or at least I hoped so.
So, what is the principle on which the lamels work? Each lamel has an aerodynamic surface over which air is drawn by the prop and which produces a force in the opposite direction of the torque. The idea is to attach sufficient lamels to ensure that this force is close, or ideally identical, with that of the torque. The trick is to use the correct amount to cancel out the torque steer.
I had assumed that you’d have had to fly the machine to gauge how close you’d got it, regarding the amount of lamels needed, although I was pleasantly surprised to find that the difference was immediately noticeable when running the machine under power on your back. However, the real test is by flying.
So I went flying. The previous day I’d flown and gone into my usual lift off and bank right without trying, so I wasn’t sure what to expect now. I launched and as I applied a good handful of power I found that I continued to fly straight. No right bank. I went for a trip down to the nearby motorway - by flying in a straight line with no corrections. I went to full power for thirty seconds and was still heading in my chosen direction, with just a little right drift at WOT.
I was seriously impressed. I looked over my shoulder to check that the lamels weren’t hanging off and waiting to do an impression of the the old kid’s game of pegging a piece of card into the spokes of your bike. But they were fine, happily sitting there and it was clear that they were secure under the pressure of the air being drawn over them. I was smiling and very happy to be a convert and a hypocrite. These things are amazing.
I was keen to test the lamels in one of my tighter launch fields back home in the Brecon Beacons. It’s only flyable if you can actually properly control the machine, as it has power lines on two side and trees on another. If you get torque steer on launch, then it’s too iffy to use as a site. And I was amazed and delighted to find that in a light wind the Mav took off in what must be the most direct and straight launch I’ve even known, it was flying to my launch visual target without deviating.
I was left with one or two questions - firstly, I cannot understand how enough force to counter the torque of the paramotor can be delivered through something attached to flimsy netting. I’ve wracked my brains but it’s beyond me. All I know is that it works, and, as far as I can see so far, there is no stress or damage to the netting.
The second question is whether the lamels make a noticeable increase in drag. I think they do, it’s not massive but I can feel a very slight reduction in power when climbing. Or can I? The Moster delivers so much oomph that it could all be fantasy and I’m just looking for something to balance the amazingly positive results.
Finally, I’d like to thank Baz for taking the time to show me the lamels and to show me how to fit them on the netting (It’s not complicated). I’d also like to thank him for letting me take them away and use them whilst refusing to take payment. He put a lot of time into making these, so he is my hero of the month.
Obviously, the lamels are commercially available but, to my knowledge, they are only available from the USA where you can buy them from Aviator PPG for about $200 for a set of 20 lamels (you use as many as you need with it being unlikely that you’ll need more than 20 - I used 12).
All paramotors develop torque and all modern motors have designs to cancel this out to some degree. However, for lighter pilots with powerful motors more can be needed, and these lamels appear to be the answer. They have taken my already awesome Maverick and moved it even higher in terms of being the ultimate lightweight paramotor, in my opinion.
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It was absolute rubbish. Never going again. The people were just awful. There were no fireworks. These are just some of the phrases that weren’t written by me in a text I sent to the missus to tell her what a great time I was having at the 2018 PMC Summer Fly-in. Actually, that's not strictly true as the fireworks phrase did in fact get mentioned later … but more about that shortly.
After my drive from the Brecon Beacons, I arrived Friday lunchtime expecting to find a relatively empty field. What I actually found was a campsite full of people who very much looked like they’d been there since the last fly-in, all happily getting on with fly-in life.
I noticed the posh toilets had made a return, along with two porta-loos adjacent to the signing-in tent (which later also became the beer tent). The fire pit was in position awaiting darkness, ignition and an audience. It wouldn’t be long before the food truck and pizza wagon would both be set-up. Simon was nearby, all smiles and clearly enjoying one of his favourite things - organising fly-ins. Little Col was working hard, also making sure it all happened.
There was still a lot of choice for pitching so I was honoured to pitch-up right next to the nicest guy in the universe, Dickie Welham, who was there with his family. Despite a lot of people already being on the site, more continued to arrive and I was very pleased to see Baz Root turn up quickly and also a guaranteed source of merriment, Lee Jackson. Lots of pitching and unpacking took place during the afternoon followed by fuelling and preflighting.
And the sun beat down.
Also on the scene was Connor Amantrading - I hadn’t seen him since we had his post-accident surprise get-together in the cold and wet of Membury Airfield, back in February. He was planning to be flying this weekend - and it wasn’t long before he did … and did again… and again …
The launch field began to get busy and a lot of pilots were airborne for Friday evening. Richard Whitmarsh also arrived, but he had flown in brandishing his shiny new Microlight licence and very generously took people up for flights over the weekend. What a gentleman.
Simon was telling everyone that he encountered about the fireworks - We all knew how much work (and cash, no doubt) had gone into preparing for this year’s fireworks display, but there was a hitch - Owing to the extreme lack of rainfall in recent months, the parched ground was a very high fire risk and unless we had some serious downpour before Saturday night then the fireworks would not be happening. We all hoped for a massive downpour followed by fabulous flying conditions, being the optimist that we are.
As the light faded, the fire pit became the usual focus for a lot of people. Ironically, the firepit caused no fire problems at all, but rules is rules. We also had to enjoy (or endure) a comedian who had probably never played to a poorly lit corner of a field with an iffy sound system and a half-interested audience. His magic tricks didn’t work (I couldn’t work out whether they were supposed to or not) but the audience was good-natured and he finally finished and the music went on into the evening. Prior to the comedian, we had a short speech from George, the land owner. Earlier, there had been several instances of pilots flying over areas we had been asked not to and the neighbouring chicken farmer and some residents in the nearby village were not overly happy. George was very laid-back but asked us to refrain from flying before 8.00 am in the mornings, and to avoid certain areas. It was all more than reasonable and everyone seemed happy to oblige - after all, it was his land and without him we’d not have been able to fly from here at all.
The following morning many of us awoke to the sound of two paramotors taking off at 6.00 am. So much for George’s polite request. Fortunately, the rest of the fly-in's pilots respected the 8.00am start time and a little before 8.00 the launch field started filling up. Being later, the air was a little more bumpy but the sky was soon full of paramotors, all heading off for some fun.
Our very own marshal, Andy Stuart, who in real life keeps us safe in his work as a rozzer, reprised his role of the previous evening and donned his fluorescent jacket to make sure everyone taking off and landing was part of some controlled chaos. Jason Mead-Blandford, and even Connor (between his many stints in the sky) could be seen in high-vis and helping keep everyone safe and organised during the day.
The usual friendly vibe was prevalent throughout and it was nice to see a lot of new faces at the fly-in; the word has clearly spread. As ever, there wasn’t a bad word uttered about the fly-in… other than about the early morning pair and the fact that one or two other pilots seemed to be unable to understand the rule regarding not flying on or above the active runway.
With the usual arrangements for making it more than a bunch of pilots in a field, the food facilities were very good and popular, with Killins Kitchen providing the nosh … despite running out of chips on Saturday night! And Platinum Bars did a great trade in liquid refreshment throughout the weekend.
As has been widely circulated on the internet, The Red Arrows came over on Saturday afternoon and gave a us a brief private display. Simon had registered a notam so the thoughtful Arrows ensured that during their trip to The Air Tattoo they came directly over us and gave us a burst of smoke. Then, almost unbelievably, after they passed over the field they formed into two arcs, which more than one spectator observed looked like they were forming the shape of two paramotor wings. I’m happy to believe that’s what they did .
As usual, tandem flights were available to those who weren't pilots themselves, and there seemed to be an endless stream of people waiting for their turn. At my count there were three tandem pilots, with the majority of people being taken up by Clive Mason. Also of note was Lee Moss who, in an amazingly short timespan, has become a tandem pilot - and for his first flight without his trainer (Clive) he took best mate Danny Kellett up. The Yeeehaaa as they came overhead is still ringing in my ears!
The weather held good and hot which ensured lots of summer holiday feel - and also lots of thermals. It also meant that the fireworks were definitely not going to happen. They would have been spectacular but the fact that they didn’t go ahead had no effect on the mood, especially as Saturday evening gave some great flying opportunities which everyone took advantage of.
Sunday morning was another late start, owing to the 8.00 am imposed limit. But plenty got up in the air.
Gradually the camp broke-up during the day and by mid-afternoon only a handful of people remained.
It had been another great success for Simon and PMC with the usual mellow atmosphere, great facilities on a great site and, best of all, so many genuinely great people getting together.
Special mention must be made to the set-up (and take-down) crew, including Colin Borland, Colin Baker, Gary Higson, Andy Stuart, Andria Stuart (set-up crew food) and Connor Amantrading. And not forgetting The Red Arrows.
With a great weekend behind us, all eyes are now on the Severn Bore Fly-in.
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Hot on the heels of Parafest, some two weeks previously, the PMC Summer Fly-in took place near Newbury between 14 - 16th July. Like Parafest, the weather forecast was not looking good.
But, in the usual PMC mysterious and unearthly manner, decent weather was provided. Friday proved to be a very flyable evening and those that had the good fortune to have got there on day one had fabulous conditions. Saturday morning was less flyable but a few gave it a go. After that, the weekend became a delicious feast of friendly company, good beer, fireworks and fun. But no more flying.
One of the great things about smaller fly-ins, this one being about 200 strong, is that you can’t walk ten paces without seeing someone or being spotted by someone. When I arrived I parked up on the far side of the camp site and thought I’d walk to the bar. I didn’t get there. Having been accosted three times for hellos and general fly-in friendliness, I eventually settled into a ring of seats where I was promptly handed a beer and fell into talking parabollocks, cavingbollocks and generalbollocks with some wonderful people - some I knew well and others I'd never met before. It was a fabulous start to the weekend and one reflected many times over during the event.
Saturday afternoon and evening became a textbook example of how these events should work; As the hours passed, it became clear that this was one of the best PMC fly-ins to date - despite nobody flying by this point - the friendly atmosphere pervaded every encampment, the fire pit, the bar and every space in between where people congregated. One strange thing did occur though - having got back home after the weekend, I discovered my camera memory cards had been infected with the Clive Mason Photobomb bug. It seems that if I took a photograph of a paramotor, the end picture had Clive Mason in it. If I took a photograph of a pilot, Clive Mason was in it. It’s a strange phenomenon.
At some point, someone (who could it have been ...?) came up with the idea of lining up Parajet machines in a row on the flying field. This provided some great photo opportunities for everyone, including the drone pilot Paul Taylor who got some excellent footage from above.
This was followed by creating a circle of the machines, which looked not unlike a ParajetHenge! Seeing all of the various machine together with their differing colour options, I decided that my favourite for the day was Steve Lobie’s Zenith with black cage ring, silver spars and red arms. Although in reality there wasn’t really anything in second place, they all looked awesome.
The weather remained overcast but warm and the straw bales in the main arena remained full of people who were kept supplied by the bar, the pizza wagon and the food trailer.
Eventually, the PMC pyromania technicians skulked off and could be seen scratching their heads, walking in circles and falling over each other as they laid out the intricate truck load of high explosives which Simon had obtained for the evening fireworks display. It was encouraging when every now and then it appeared that someone knew what they were doing.
Finally, Simon walked around the site with his megaphone, announcing that the fireworks would be starting shortly. Clearly overcome by gunpowder fumes and adrenaline, he used the megaphone whether he was sixty feet or six inches away from people, but everyone got the message loud and clear and drifted over to the take-off field - which was now acting as a blank canvas for Simon’s pending explosive creation.
And it started with a bang ... continued with non-stop bangs and explosions ... and finished with even more bangs. The philosophy of ‘everything louder and bigger than everything else’ worked well and it was a truly impressive display. Again, Paul Taylor put his drone in the air and parked it while the display took place - no doubt most people have now seen that footage on YouTube and Facebook.
And it was over. But it wasn’t - as people applauded and started to wander back to the party, it all kicked off again for a second finale. An unplanned sequel, but impressive.
Then it was back to the party for real, and it went on into the night, as you’d expect. Although not everything was expected - it's not every day that you encounter something like Jamie Bartholomew's subtle tattoo on his back - an obvious indication of the passion he has for his wing!
There was one thing which you can guarantee everyone was very happy about - and that was the free bar. I’ll say that again - there was a free bar ... if you were a PMC member. Originally it was intended to begin serving free drinks after the fireworks had finished but Simon made an on the spot decision earlier in the evening and announced free beer starting there and then, which included ale, lager and cocktails.
The free beer lasted longer than I expected, and the ale was the first to run out. The lager lasted a little longer. I’ve heard that £1000 went within the first hour and the bar owner had suggested that with 200 people present she would have expected this to have lasted closer to four hours, based on her experience at past events. Well done to the PMC on their performance - it's just as well our paramotors have milder consumption rates.
As the night went on the food suppliers kept everyone fed - even when it got late and fewer people were awake you could still go and get a snack.
Special mention should be made about the posh toilets, something which is becoming routine at PMC fly-ins. They were spotlessly clean and, apart from the taps packing up, didn’t get broken this time and remained in a half-decent state by the end of the event.
Come Sunday morning, it was evidently not going to be a flyable day but spirits were high and the canteen was open for breakfast. Slowly the campsite reduced in size as over the hours people said their goodbyes and drifted off, looking forward to the next bash.
As well as a big thank you to Simon for putting the event together (again), a special thanks needs to be made to George Brown - the landowner - without whom the fly-in would not have taken place. He was generous and supportive and I’m using this platform to pass on sincere thanks to him on behalf of us all.
See you at the next one!
Scroll down for a huge collection of pics taken during the weekend. If you want a high res copy of any of them (for posterity, evidence, etc.) drop me line.
Watch out for the Clive Mason Photobomb bug though.
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Find out how a Japanese karaoke machine manufacturer, an old dairy barn and the Clarks shoe company, combined with the vision and hard graft of one man, led to the world’s leading paramotor manufacturer - Parajet.
What comes to mind when you think of Parajet?
Smart designs? - Yes
Gorgeous looks? - Certainly
Superb build quality? - Without a doubt
Reliability? - Absolutely
Great flying dynamics? - The best
Comfort? - Of course
A long list - with one big overlying quality - customer service.
I have to confess that I learned to fly on an old Pap, but the day I saw the original Volution1 I was immediately smitten with its stunning looks; there really was nothing comparable - and it had electric start! I just had to own it, so bought one immediately.
After I ploughed it into the side of a hill following some very poor judgement, I discovered that overlying and most important aspect of owning any paramotor - customer service!
Someone at Parajet was immediately available on the end of the phone and parts were sent out by next day delivery. When that wasn’t enough to fix my bent machine, there was an immediate offer of same-day service, meaning I could take the machine to the factory and have them drop everything to help me out. Plus not forgetting the message from the MD on a Sunday morning at 9.00 am, asking how he could help. You don’t get this level of service with any other company in any sector that I’ve experienced - but you do with Parajet. And that is why I have been a loyal customer for so many years - and will continue to be so.
And I’m not alone. I have met many others who have similar experiences to tell - you only have to take a peek online to discover the immensity of the reputation Parajet has for looking after its customers.
I imagine that most of us have only a little knowledge of the history of Parajet as a company, and those behind it. I decided I wanted to know more and to hear it from the horse’s mouth - which is why I met up with Gilo Cardozo, someone who is responsible for creating a point in time from which much of today’s fabulous advances in paramotor design have emanated.
Whenever I've met Gilo in the past, he always struck me as the perfect person for moving paramotoring into the future - he constantly overflows with energy and passion for the sport and openly considers himself very lucky to have found something that he loves so much.
As a schoolboy, Gilo was inventing and building little vertical take-off aircraft, and as soon as he discovered paramotors he realised that this was his perfect stepping-stone into the world of aviation and his dreams.
It was a swelteringly hot day in mid-June when we met up, and it was a relief to sit down with Gilo in an air conditioned office and have the gaps in my knowledge, along with a lot of new stories, relayed from the company founder - who I’d humbly suggest also has a career as a raconteur awaiting, should he ever fancy a change.
I asked Gilo how it all came about at the very beginning.
“I started Parajet when I was about 19 years old,” he began. “I left school and got into making portable cocktail bars for a company in London whilst simultaneously developing a product called Laddermax. Laddermax was a DiY product which you put onto ladders and which separated you from the wall. If you use ladders a lot it’s a really useful tool, and I sold thousands of them.
“A friend of mine came up with the idea - I was still at school at the time and he was about 40 - he knew I was good at making stuff but he didn’t know how to make anything himself. He had been up a ladder one day, painting a window frame, and he’d thought to himself, ‘This is rubbish, I need a gadget!’
“So he came to me, an old friend of the family, and I told him that I’d knock it up in my workshop. So, during my A-levels I was making prototypes for this gadget, and I ended up leaving school early to crack-on and spend my time building this thing. I was aged between 17 and 18, then started getting contracts in for portable cocktail bars, an idea another friend of mine had come up with. He wanted to start making these for a company in London.”
So Gilo also began making very smart portable cocktail bars out of aerospace grade aluminium.
Gilo continued, “They were really very high-end looking pieces of equipment, with inlaid marketry all over them in aluminium and brass. They folded into a flat-pack arrangement and basically were sent off flat-packed to parties in cities all over the world. Once they had arrived, they folded out into stunning cocktail bars.”
While all this was happening, Gilo had discovered paramotoring.
“I got into paramotoring because when I was 15 I saw a tiny picture in a physics magazine of a guy with a fan strapped to his back, although it didn’t really make sense to me at the time as there was clearly no wing.
“So I started looking into it. This was before the internet properly existed, but eventually I discovered that this paramotor thing needed a paraglider to fly. So, while these cocktail bars and the DiY ladder devices were going on, I was also getting very excited about paramotoring. But I couldn’t afford one as I was putting money into these other projects and couldn’t just go out and buy a paramotor.”
Around this time, Gilo came across a guy who was teaching people to fly, called David O’Donnell, and he was in need of long range fuel tanks for a very popular Japanese paramotor called the DK Whisper. David asked Gilo whether he could make them.
Gilo confirmed that he could.
“So I went ahead and made vacuum forming tools to make a special polypropylene 12 litre fuel tank for a machine which normally had a 6 litre fuel tank. And I started selling quite a lot of them to David - they were about £150 each because they were all hand-made on my vacuum forming machine, which I was borrowing from my brother at the time. He was making vacuum formed garden products, so I would take his stuff off in the evening and put my stuff on and vacuum form my fuel tanks during the night, then get it all set up so he could carry on with making his products by the time morning arrived.
“So I was selling quite a lot of these tanks, but as manufacturing was so labour-intensive I decided I should look into making them rotationally moulded instead. I found a company in the south-west called Wydale Plastics and they could see what I wanted to do - but it was going to be expensive, at about £15,000, to make a special tool which could bang them out for about £15 each. I thought this was what I needed because I was making so many of them and sending them out all over the world."
At this time, DK Whisper were selling thousands of paramotors and were regarded as the best, with their electric start, specially developed engines for paramotors, etc. Gilo realised that as there were were so many DK Whispers in the world, if he could make these tanks on a large scale then he could make a good profit.
Gilo remembers thinking, “As long as the Laddermax thing was going along okay and the cocktail bars were ticking over, although they weren’t making much money yet and were really labour-intensive, then I could do this.”
But financing the expensive tool for the fuel tanks needed to be addressed. Gilo visited Wydale Plastics in Devon and showed them one of his existing fuel tanks. They confirmed they could make a rotationally moulded version.
Recalling that visit, Gilo said, “I explained that I couldn’t really afford the tool but suggested that if I came in and worked in their workshop with one of their guys, he could just prompt me in the right direction and I could make the tool.
“So I managed to do it for £500 instead of £15,000 because I put my own time into it. I made this really cool steel tool, it was fully functional, split apart and was perfect for what I needed. Because I was young and only looked about fifteen, they were very helpful.
“Nowadays, if I saw a really young guy coming into my workshop extremely keen to do something, I’d want to help him. I didn’t realise it at the time but looking back now I can see they were equally happy to help me - I merely thought I’d been very lucky.”
So Gilo started making the rotationally moulded tanks and it worked very well, selling hundreds more of them. These sales now ensured that he could save enough money to buy himself a paramotor, but his first one turned out to be not very good.
“I got one from Scobyjet in Poole, who were the first paramotor manufacturer in the UK. It had a twin-cylinder boxer engine which was a bit old fashioned and unreliable and I only got to fly it once - so I saved up a bit more and got a practically new DK Whisper from David O’Donnell - and that’s when I got crazy about paramotoring. I was 19 and thought that this was just brilliant and that everyone should be doing it - it was such incredibly good fun.”
This was about 2001.
The Laddermax and cocktail bars were both separate companies which Gilo shared with other people. But making the fuel tanks was his first solo venture, as Gilo Industries.
Gilo recalled, “Gilo Industries, my first company, made the fuel tanks and they had the name Gilo Industries written on them, which I thought was quite a fun name especially because it was a bit ridiculous; there were no industries at all, there was just me in my shed, basically.
“However, I had this vision of a big industry, so I could see where I wanted it to be going. And making plastic fuel tanks was somewhere to start from.”
However, shortly after Gilo got into paramotoring DK Whisper went out of production. DK (Daiichi Kosho) was a multibillion dollar corporation, and were the largest manufacturer of karaoke machines in the world. They had a division called Sky Leisure which had been making the DK Whisper - they had done it properly because they had access to lots of funds. The president of the company in Japan had loved paragliding and paramotoring and this was the reason he created Sky Leisure.
Gilo: “I had learned a lot about the DK machines through flying them and through making fuel tanks for them. As I knew the machine so well, I knew I had to go over to Japan as soon as I heard they were stopping production. The president was leaving the company and the new president who was coming in had no interest in Sky Leisure at all. The old president had driven everything through his own passion for paramotoring but the new guy was quite the opposite and thought that it was a bit of a liability, so got rid of it. He literally just cut it off.”
DK had a fully designed paramotor, along with an engine designed from scratch for it, and so Gilo went to Japan to see whether he could arrange for all those parts to be shipped over to England directly from the original suppliers. That included engine casings, cages, harnesses, and every other component possible. He didn’t succeed in getting every part of the DK Whisper but did manage to form a deal with the chief designer, who by now had left DK and was working on his own. He knew the network of suppliers from his time working with the company.
Having established a deal with the Japanese designer from DK, Gilo also needed to find a deal with a travel company to get him to Japan as he was still rather short of cash, and £1000 for a ticket to Japan wasn’t an easy thing to find. But, in his usual manner, Gilo did just that and got his deal and a trip to the Far East.
Gilo: “I got about 80 percent of the parts and, despite it being an immense undertaking and just doing it on my own, it was just such an exciting prospect. I knew I could take on a completely ready-made design with a full supply chain and I could make this paramotor again and launch the new DK Whisper from Britain as a new company.
“And I called this new company Parajet.”
I asked Gilo where the name came from.
“About a year previously, I’d registered a patent (pending) for a jet-powered paramotor. It was a twin gas turbine that I wanted to be able to pack-up into a really small bag, which would give fifteen minutes of flying time to do really radical stunts and the like. I still have all the sketches from about 2001 when this was all happening. For the patent office I’d needed a name and so called it the Parajet.
“By this time the internet had kicked off and was well underway, and I clicked on parajet.com and nothing came up. So I snapped up the domain - and that swung it for me. I decided there and then that this company would be called Parajet and it would be a part of Gilo Industries. As it happened, Parajet grew and Gilo Industries was more of a sideline, so Parajet became the main company that everyone knew.
“So I got to Japan, met the guy out there, having spent six months prior to that trying to get the parts organised from the UK ... but I had a lot of issues trying to organise everything. For example, Tohatsu were subcontracted by DK to manufacture the engine for their paramotor, with all the casings, integration for the reduction drive, the starter motor, etc. It was a properly developed paramotor engine and Tohatsu, who already mass produced engines for all sorts of things such as generators, outboards, etc. was a very well known brand.
“But I couldn’t get what I wanted over the phone or by email, which is why I went out there, met up with the designer from DK, and basically set up a deal whereby he would help me get all these parts. I eventually went back to the UK with lots of boxes full of bits - cylinders and all the parts I’d been trying to get hold of. And then I remade all the other parts in my old barn down in Motcombe.
Gilo had made a wooden jig for the paramotor cage and chassis and asked a friend, who was in a workshop nearby and had an aluminium welder, to weld them up during the evenings. Over time Gilo managed to get enough money together to buy his own aluminium welder but the first few hundred paramotors were all made by taking them to his friend down the road. The resulting paramotors were as good as the original thing, just having been made on wooden jigs and hand-bent on an aluminium bender.
“So, I tried to replicate the DK Whisper as accurately as I could and it actually worked really well - there was no difference between the original DK Whisper and the machine I was now making by hand in the UK.
However, after a while it became clear that the product supply chain was just too limited; when importing engines to the UK from Japan the exchange rate was very poor and it was not a good time to be buying products from that country - so Gilo decided he needed to make a new engine.
Gilo grinned, “And then I hit gold!
“I found a small company in Salisbury called Lamb Engineering, run by a brilliant engineer called Larry who was about 40 years old. He owned this company making components for lots of other companies and he had a range of milling machines, lathes and all sorts of equipment which I didn’t have at that time, including CNC machines.
“So I visited his workshop one day and showed him my paramotor after he’d just finished a stunning custom motorbike. That motorbike pet project was literally just completed and he was ready for another one - and he was the kind of guy who just loved projects.
“Larry had never seen a paramotor before and he was incredibly excited by it. I was telling him that I wanted to do this and I wanted to do that ... and before I knew it we’d started working on new crankcases and crankshafts and before long had created a new engine from scratch.
“It was a single cylinder engine - we had managed to get a cylinder head from a 180cc Malossi, a component which was intended as an expansion kit to increase a 125cc engine to 180cc, and was available off the shelf for about £180. Added to our own crankshaft, crankcase and other components, all made with Larry's CNC milling machines, we were well underway to making our own engine.
But, as usual for small any new business, money and cashflow was a stumbling block, so Gilo came up with a bold proposal.
I made a deal with him - I said, 'I will pay you for these parts two months later than you supply them to me. So you make as many as you can, and I will buy as many as I can, just give me the sixty days credit'. This ensured that I didn’t have to fork out loads of money upfront.
“So this was a way for me to obtain engines, by far the most expensive of all paramotor components. I could make the chassis, the cages and other parts, but buying an engine from another company was always going to be at least £1000 for each one, so it wouldn’t have worked out when trying to build a decent volume of paramotors whilst having to fork out thousands, that I didn’t have, for engines.”
So now it made financial sense and for the next three years Parajet built lots of these machines, which replaced the SkyDoo (the machine with the Japanese engine in it), and which became the Parajet GTX, the paramotor with their own engine.
Gilo: “It actually took us about two years to get that GTX engine good, and probably nearer three years to get it seriously good - and then it was super-reliable and a nice piece of kit. And that engine eventually became the XT - although the XT actually wasn’t as good as the GTX!
“The XT engine was an evolution of the GTX but it was lighter, therefore some of the reliability and smoothness had been taken out of it. It was a re-engineered version, which I’d handed to one of our engineers to evolve it to the next generation. But a lot of mistakes were made in the process. At that time I was busy setting up Rotron and other projects, so I wasn’t completely hands-on with it as much I would have liked, and some of the things I’d learned the first time around with the GTX, about what not to do, my engineers actually did - But all with good intentions. Things like reducing the weight of the crankshaft, putting smaller bearings in, and reducing the weight of the flywheel - all this actually ended up with a bit of a vibrating motor, whereas the GTX motor had been a very smooth engine, one which started reliably and had become very good. But the XT engine started breaking exhausts and such because of the vibration, although it was still a successful engine which did its job and expanded the Parajet brand.
Gilo had explained where the XT engine came from, but I wanted to know how the radical frame came about, the frame which instantly stood Parajet out from the crowd.
Gilo: “Going back to the GTX engine, it went into the frame I was making in my workshop, which was based on the original DK Whisper - so it looked just like the DK Whisper with a different engine in it. Our engine.
“But then I decided that I didn’t like the DK Whisper frame either - everyone had started talking about low hang points and stuff like that, so I thought we had better explore this new low hang point concept, and while we're doing that let’s look into designing a whole new chassis and cage.
“I’d always thought, ‘Why aren’t we using aerofoil sections?’ So I found a company called Seldom Masts who made aerofoil cross-pieces for the masts on sailing boats, and they had two different sizes of extrusion. So I began making the Volution frame from these.
“The new engine, the GTX, went into the new chassis made from aerofoil sections and that is what became the Volution paramotor, and which was made in three versions - The Macro (with a 126cm prop), the Compact (with a 95cm prop) and the Micro (with an 80cm prop).
“It was great as I didn’t have to extrude anything myself, I just found the company and they did it for me, because they had the tools. So that saved me quite a lot of money upfront.
“So the Volution had arrived, which was the same year as I got married, 2007. I was designing it well into 2006 and it was launched officially in 2007. Which was also at the same time as I was doing the Everest project.”
Whilst listening to Gilo, I was intrigued by the immensity that the change in paramotor chassis design must have had, being so radical and potentially leaving other paramotor designs looking like something of an anachronism.
Gilo: “I looked at the DK Whisper style frame with the GTX engine and decided it all looked a bit clunky and old fashioned and decided I needed to make this thing look super-cool. Which is why I so wanted to try and use aerofoil sections and good design.
“I made full steel jigs for this new machine, rather than wooden ones, and everything about it I was trying to design for slicker manufacturing. Things like getting rid of the netting, which some people didn’t like; I personally loved it because it made it so much quicker to manufacture them - stringing up nets and cages took hours, plus I thought it looked cool. It certainly looked very different. And it was safe enough, there were no accidents that I came across because of it. That was the real drive behind creating the Volution, and I started selling loads of them.
“Around that time I met up with Bear Grylls and taught him how to fly on a Volution. We kicked off this plan to do the Everest project, which was great publicity for both of us. At that time I really wanted to get someone with a big name with whom to associate the brand. Bear was building his name back then and you could see that he was really going to go places, we got on really well and he became a great friend. He loves mucking about on paramotors - we even gave him his own brand eventually.
“As time passed, at Parajet we decided that we needed to make different sized paramotors in the range; big ones and smaller ones, but interestingly the Micro was a bit of a flop. I thought everyone would want a tiny paramotor because it was so small and compact and you could break it down into a small car. It was a super little thing, in fact I still have one. The way it has gone in paramotoring is that everyone wants bigger and bigger machines, more powerful and fuel efficient, but the Micro wasn’t punchy enough for a lot of pilots, for quick take-offs and such."
For the Everest project, Gilo developed a huge version of the Volution which had a new rotary engine for paramotors which would, incredibly, produce nearly 100 horsepower, was supercharged, with fuel injection and which was incredibly heavy - and this taught him a lot about rotary engines during the process. Gilo then realised that he should be using rotary engines in his paramotors.
“So I found a company in Germany making small 294cc rotary engines for go karts and did a deal with them to convert them into paramotor engines. I bought the casings, the rotors, the shafts, all from this company in Germany - I thought this is great, they’re making all the hard bits now but I need to learn about this properly. Unfortunately, they started letting me down more and more, with poor quality stuff coming in. Things were breaking, which ended up with paramotors which had been shipped all over the world now coming back with seized engines and needing a new replacement engine each time.
“I was trying to work out why they were seizing. It turned out they were getting too hot inside because the actual design wasn’t right.
“So we decided that we needed to set up a new company to make these engines ourselves - the German company wasn’t supplying us with the quality we needed, so Rotron officially kicked-off making our own rotary engines.
“We began with a whole new design to make them much better, and came up with a lot of other applications for these engines, but primarily it was for paramotoring - because I just love paramotoring. But also looking beyond that; UAVs, vertical take-off aircraft, motorbikes and all sorts of other things as well.”
And that’s where Rotron has ultimately gone, making engines for a multitude of applications. And, during this process, paramotoring went down the list some way, because the money from bigger applications allowed the company to grow.
This created the need for each company to be developing independently - Gilo Industries is the holding company, and within it there are the subsidiary companies Rotron and Parajet. And they are both companies in their own right with their own identities.
Gilo: “You need people with completely different energies to manage these companies. Rotron has its own set of staff who work with their high-end clients, such as Boeing, to produce amazing products for various sectors and are completely focussed on making rotary engines. Parajet has very different clients and staff, it’s equally faced-paced but there’s a lot of fun and a different energy there. And they are completely focussed on making paramotors. I love both and am really proud of all our staff who make the companies what they are.”
PREMISES, MACHINES AND STAFF
I first discovered Parajet when they were in their old workshop in Mere. But prior to that they were in Motcombe in a small old dairy barn, which was about 40 feet x 20 feet and which Gilo had converted into a workshop - it had an old lathe and a milling machine which he’d managed to pick up over the years.
Gilo was working mostly alone - he would work all day and then take all the bits he’d made, and his wooden jig, down to his friend Ian (who worked all day for another company) in Gilo’s little van. Ian would do an extra two hours every evening welding up paramotor frames and cages in a big workshop which belonged to someone else and which was used to make vacuum forming machines.
Gilo: “So I’d prepare it all for Ian and bring it down fully populated in the jig, then he’d weld it and I’d take it home again. I paid about £80 for each cage to be welded. It was a pretty labour intensive way of doing things but it was the only way I could really afford it at the time, I couldn’t afford to sub-contract another company to do it all for me.
“But it was the best way to get started. Eventually after eight months I managed to buy a welder and then he would come to me each evening and work in my tiny workshop after I’d prepared all of the parts for each machine during the day.
“So I had what I needed but all the really complicated stuff like crankcases, etc. were being made by Lamb Engineering in Salisbury. So I’d assemble the engines and put them into the frames we were making and then ship them out from there. And I built probably 900 paramotors myself during this time, before anyone else was involved. I had a girl called Jenny who came to work making wiring harnesses and she did some assembly of netting on the cages. My girlfriend of the time also used to net up the cages, which was handy!
"And I do look back on that as the good old days, where it was all done by hand for five years from an old barn down in Motcombe."
Gilo then moved into the bigger workshop in Mere in 2005. And this is where the story of Parajet’s history takes an unexpected and fabulous turn.
When he started making the Volution fuel tank, which was very curvy in several places and very complicated to manufacture, Gilo carved it out of foam and approached a company he’d heard did electroplating of plastics.
Gilo: “I’d heard of them through the Wydale Plastics company who, when they saw my foam model, had said they couldn’t make a tool like that - it was far too complicated. But they knew a company who could do electroplating and they thought might be able to help.
“So I contacted a company called Maple Precision Tooling, who were an offshoot of the Clarks shoe company.
“Clarks Shoes had an amazing workshop for making all of their tooling, in the town of Street in Somerset. When Clarks took their manufacturing out of the UK to the Far East, they kept their machine shop and basically gave it to their employees, telling them to do what they wanted with the machinery. They got to keep their jobs and were encouraged to use their skills to find and supply other companies around the country.
“So they had this enormous building filled to the ceiling with all sorts of great equipment, and I met them through asking them to do the electroplating of my foam fuel tank model - I’d prepared it so that it could have an electroconductive cover put over it. They dipped it in a tank in the same way they did for shoe moulds and electroplated the entire thing with about 6mm of nickel in three sections - which all came apart so you could polish the inside of it. So we created the shape in a high temperature metal (nickel) of the complex foam shape which I’d hand carved. And it worked really well.”
This all happened in 2005, but soon news arrived from Maple Engineering that they were beginning to struggle and that Clarks were going to take down the factory. They were going to build a new housing estate in place of their workshop. The Maple Precision staff were going to be kicked out of their premises.
Gilo: “When I heard about this, I told them that I had just found this large workshop in Mere, and that I didn’t need all of the space, and suggested that they move all of their equipment into there. I also suggested that they could make all of my paramotor parts for me in-house with their CNC machine shop. So that’s what they did; they literally shifted hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of kit to my workshop in Mere after I’d cleaned it up, painted the floor and made it as nice as I could.
“I built a mezzanine for the upstairs, putting my Parajet assembly line on that upper floor and had the machine shop downstairs for making all the parts. And they also ended up making all of my complex pieces because Larry had got fed-up with making all these crankcases and other parts for me and was keen to get on with his next project - as he was really keen on making motorbikes. And it worked out very well.
“It was good timing because that workshop looked very impressive - it had a lot of equipment in it. It was my workshop but I didn’t have to pay for any of the machines because they all belonged to Maple, who had been given them by Clarks in the first place. I had the complete run of their workshop - it was basically my workshop, even though I didn’t know how to use the machines - but the eight guys from Maple who were working there did. So the first Parajet staff were Maple Engineering staff who had been Clarks Shoes staff, although they were more than we actually needed - we only needed three or four guys for Parajet at the time, but they had their own contracts to do too - so everyone was happy.
“Over time I started replacing their machinery with newer and better machinery, so eventually we had upgraded everything. But it had been a real leg-up.
“At that time I was just kicking-off the Everest project plans, had just created the new workshop with all the equipment for free, and it looked like I’d done seriously well to the guys from GKN who came down with their big business hats on and saw this operation with all these guys wearing white Parajet coats building Parajet parts - they thought, 'Brilliant, this guy and his team can really make an engine that will get a paramotor over Everest', so it worked really well.”
Gilo then used the whole set-up to raise money for his next project and also Rotron engines, because it looked like what is now was, a very professional company.
Gilo: “So that was a key turning point, getting the Everest project underway and getting the guys from Clarks Shoes involved.
“I look at big companies now and think back to what I struggled with when I was younger. One was credibility because I was very young and I didn’t have any money so I couldn’t really pay for anything, so I couldn’t really raise money very easily from other people - they didn’t want to give to a young guy with a whacky idea for a flying machine, it just didn’t look like it financially stacked-up. And I couldn’t talk the business lingo very well with them, do all the accounts and stuff - I was terrible at all that so I really just had to do it my own way. “
So Gilo just grafted his way through it all. But he loved it, and confesses to it not feeling like anything but mostly fun. He remembers it feeling like 80% of the time as really good fun, 20% of the time as really, really hard work.
When I asked whether Gilo still has any of the original paramotors, I discovered that he does, and Parajet are actually putting a museum together at the moment. This will be installed into their new building, covering the entire history of Parajet, from the original DK Whisper copy, through the GTX version in the DK Whisper frame, then the new frame with the GTX engine, and then onto the Volution with the XT engine and onwards - right through to the latest machines including the v3, Zenith, Maverick and Falco trike. There will be a full story board with pictures and information so visitors will be able to see how it all evolved, with everything on display including the different sizes of machines with different propellers.
A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS
The future of paramotoring is very exciting - and, as you can probably imagine, Gilo has a vision which is way beyond where most of us are seeing right now. With new technologies, new composite materials, new manufacturing techniques, and perhaps best of all, designing and manufacturing everything in-house, the future Parajet machines are certainly going to be something incredible - If you think that Parajet is top of their game now, imagine where they will be in two years, five years or even ten years. The company's vision, motivation and energy will ensure that Parajet continues to produces paramotors to suit every current and future pilot - which means that from our perspective, as paramotor pilots, all we have to do is wait. And not for too long, I suspect.
- Steve Thomas
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There have been several books published over the years which have been regarded as an essential part of new PPG pilot’s accoutrement; For example, Paramotoring from the Ground Up: A Comprehensive Guide by Noel Whittall is probably the longest standing publication in this category along with Jeff Goin’s Powered Paramotor Bible, currently up to version 4. There are a few others too.
I always thought the columns by various pilots like Dean Eldridge and Jeff Goin, amongst others, in Paramotor magazine were particularly good; I liked the concise nature of each one and the diversity of topics covered and always felt it was a shame that these weren’t compiled somewhere for reference.
So it was excellent news when Dean Eldridge published this book based on a similar format, along with considerable input from other respected pilots. Sadly, we lost Deano last year but the quality and accessibility of his work remains. I would suggest that Paramotoring: The Essential Guide is important reading for all new pilots, no matter which syllabus or school they are using. I’d also recommend every seasoned pilot to have a copy on their bookshelf for reference and entertainment. It makes for great reading and is a wonderful legacy to Deano’s skill as a world class PPG pilot.
Subjects covered are vast and include such fundamentals as how paramotors and wings work, along with the various technologies available, how to choose and buy your kit, plus an incredible amount of information about learning to fly and how to perform various techniques, as well as how to look after and service your equipment - the book with its well-written content and vast array of accompanying photographs and illustrations is a mine of information. The fact that it is very accessible and easy to understand makes it an essential buy. However, the book is not intended as a teach-yourself-to-fly manual - that would be madness. As an adjunct to the learning process - and remember, as pilots we are all forever learning - it is perfect.
Along with Deano there is a wealth of familiar names with a proven contribution in the world of PPG who contributed to the book: Chad Bastion, Sascha Burkhardt, Mike Campbell-Jones, Pascal Campbell-Jones, Michel Carnet, Daniel Crespo, Dav Dagault, Tom de Dorlodot, Bob Drury, Piotr Dudek, Eric Dafour, Ed Ewing, Tony Gibson, Dave Hairs, Paul Haxby, Klaus Irschik, Thomas Keller, Marcus King, Alex ledger, Edward Lichtner, Paul Mahoney, Dani Martinez, Ludovic Migneaux, Andy Phillips, Emilia Plak, Neil Slinger and Pascal Vallée.
The book is clearly laid out in a logical order and has a clear contents page (actually three pages to cover the amount of chapters within the book), a six page index at the rear and a four page glossary at the back.
The following list of chapters demonstrates the depth of subjects covered:
- Introduction by Deano (called ‘Welcome to our World’)
- Learning to Fly
- How we Fly
- Reflex Explained
- Choosing a Glider
- The Different Types of Engines
- The Propeller
- Buying Secondhand
- Running-in your Motor
- High, Medium and Low Hangpoints
- Thrust, Torque and Gyroscopic Precession
- Airspeed and Groundspeed
- Fitting your Speedbar
- Converting from Paragliding to Paramotoring
- Fit to Fly
- The Ultimate Flight Preparation
- Laying Out the Wing
- The Perfect Forward Launch
- The Reverse Launch
- Speedbar and Trimmers
- Navigation and Flying Cross Country
- Landing on Cross Country Flights
- Landing Reflex Gliders
- Spot Landings
- Flying in Company
- Low Level Flying
- Cold Climate Flying
- Flying Over Water
- Adventure Touring
- Flying Wingovers
- Rapid Descent Techniques
- Post-flight Inspection
- Travelling with your Paramotor
- Tandem Flying
- Flying Trikes
- Competition Flying
- Economy Flying
- Slalom Flying
- Pylon Racing
- Setting Records
- Understanding Risk
- Avoiding Accidents
- Killing the Motor
- Reserve Parachutes
- Why your Engine is Expensive
- The Carburettor
- Carb Icing
- Making Basic Repairs
- Basic Propeller Repairs
- The Spark Plug
- De-coking a Two-stroke
- Understanding the Fuel System
- Ethanol and your Engine
- Fuel Consumption
- Enjoying your Flying
If you are starting out and learning to fly, are taking your first solo steps away from your instructor or are a seasoned pilot, I cannot recommend this book enough to everyone. For all those who knew and loved Deano it’s also great to see his happy smiling face doing what he loved within these pages - and the opportunity for his experience and wisdom to be passed on for current and future pilots.
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Every winter, new PPG pilots discover flying in typical UK winter temperatures and quickly begin the quest for a solution to fingers which can be so cold that the pain is unbearable. Most of this is all nicely forgotten about when the spring comes, until a reminder in the form of extreme altitude or another looming winter approaches.
During my first PPG winter I experienced fingers which I could not make function, no matter how hard I tried. And I had experience of long diving decompression stops in icy waters. This was worse, in no small part because I had to fly and land my paramotor, not just hang around watching a depth gauge and timer.
For my second winter I invested in some Gin Winter Alpine gloves. These were excellent gloves and did the trick for a while, although after 30 or 40 minutes things started getting very unpleasant again in the digit dept. I tried all the regularly suggested tricks, such as keeping your hands warm until the very last minute before launch, putting a heat pad on your wrists/in your glove somewhere. Nothing made any difference and merely added to the bulk which already accompanies cold flying days.
Then about three years ago I swapped my Polini throttle for a Cameleon throttle, which I loved. However, for me, it meant that bulky gloves didn’t work with this new way of operating a throttle (the fabric of thick gloves bunched up too much when bending the throttle finger to use it properly) so a solution was urgently sought.
Heated gloves were the obvious answer, but everything I tried was inevitably bulky to varying extents. I’ve always hated bulk in your hands when launching and flying - risers, throttle, and brake handles need some feel and control.
I figured out that some of my winter hill walking kit was pretty good and realised that there was a glove version of my windproof, thin and well-insulated Montane Prism jacket (which is awesome and I also use for flying, even over the Alps at 9000 feet AGL - when all the other pilots were in full flying suits).
The gloves certainly proved thin and low bulk enough to be nice to fly with and very warm. I also realised that a heated liner would fit in very nicely without adding much bulk.
The cheapest usable option has always been the Blazewear X1 liners. They have a couple of battery options and come in at just under £100. I bought mine three years ago and put them to the test in the Brecon Beacons on a very cold morning over Pen y Fan. And everything changed; My fingers didn’t get that distracting background pain which swiftly builds into a very distracting agony - they just stayed ... comfortable.
I had been expecting my hands to be warm and to be able to feel the heat, but generally that wasn’t the case. When it’s properly cold, you simply don’t get cold hands; they just feel normal. When it’s less cold, you can turn the heating setting down as you have three settings. This is easily adjusted with gloved hands by pressing the large button on the cuff, the light changes from green (lowest) to orange (mid-setting) to red (warmest).
7.4v, 1800mAh lithium polymer batteries (similar in size and shape to the old flat style mobile phone batteries) power the composite fibres within the glove fabric which provide good duration - I have never landed with the battery having run out. I am normally cold in other places after an hour or two, so that’s perfect.
I have noticed that sometimes the heat setting has changed during flight (indicated by the fact that my hands felt slightly cooler) which turned out to have been caused by the button having been pressed accidentally. It took me a while to figure out how that could have happened but in the end I realised that it was most likely caused by pressing or rubbing my wrists against the risers at some point (the button is on the inside wrist area) so I now periodically cast a glance at my wrists to check that the chosen heat setting light is still illuminated.
The gloves themselves are stretchy and at no point do you have any sensation of there being heating elements in them, it is very well concealed. The heating element threads run over the tops of the fingers and thumb and heat all the right places. The cuffs are nicely long and contain the battery packs and the power/settings button. The battery compartment is behind a small zip and to recharge the batteries you simply unplug them (no need to remove them from the glove) and plug in the charger connection.
The X1 liners heat to a maximum temperature of 50 degrees C. and are hand washable (although I’ve never washed mine and they feel clean and don’t smell after three winters of use!).
Obviously having the right sort of glove on top of the liners is important and essential to the success of the heated liner so, for me, the combination of the Montane Prism glove and the X1 liner is a winner. The Prism gloves are a little short in the wrist which means the X1’s heat setting switch and light are easily accessible when worn with them. They are a little 'slippery' though, although the latest version appears to have added a phone touchscreen friendly area to the finger tips.
If you're looking for a solution to the flight-shortening annual issue of blue fingers, then take a look at the Blazewear X1 liners and an appropriate glove.
The lightweight market for paramotors recently hotted-up with news of the new Maverick from Parajet, which was unveiled at Coupe Icare.
At first glance, the Maverick looks very good. The two things which were most noticeable to me were the colour option on the cage rim and the fact that this is the first time Parajet hasn’t used sexy aerofoils in their frames and cages; for this machine everything is tubular and made from titanium. Although 'lightweight' is usually regarded as a compromise in terms of strength, Maverick appears to have not compromised on this aspect as much as you might expect.
Maverick comes in three different versions that is based around engine spec and ‘accessories spec’ - in standard form it comes with the Moster 185 Plus engine (68kg of static thrust) and a two-blade carbon Helix prop plus a Parajet Dudek lightweight harness. Total dry weight is 24.5kg.
Next is Maverick Sport which comes with the same Moster 185 Plus engine and Parajet Dudek lightweight harness but also has a carbon cooling shroud, a lightweight two-blade carbon e-prop and also comes with a travel case into which the entire machine fits. The travel case is impressive. Total dry weight is 24kg.
The highest spec is the Maverick Pro which is the lightest of the three options. It has the Moster 185 Factory engine which is the lightest Moster available, featuring a CNC machined crankcase, a lightweight two-blade carbon e-prop, a titanium exhaust, a carbon silencer, a carbon airbox, a lightweight Apco split-leg (or standard Parajet Dudek Lightweight) harness and the Maverick travel case. The Pro comes in at 21.5 kg before being fuelled. This machine looks the most bling of the range owing to its orange anodised CNC engine block and its titanium/carbon exhaust system. I don’t know how much you'd notice the weight difference between the machines, or how much it matters at this level when they are fuelled and on your back, unless you are the kind of pilot where every gram is important - maybe the biggest difference for most pilots is in the accessories and the fabulous looks of the 185 Factory engine, which is gorgeous.
A concern with some lightweight paramotors is their lack of strength when it comes to resisting damage when compared to a regular machine. A flexible cage is usually accepted as part of the deal but the Maverick is a pretty strong machine considering its light weight with its titanium chassis, frame and cage. The cage resists flexing very well with a slick design which allows a smooth uninterrupted surface for its entirety. It’s actually incredibly simple and brilliant at the same time - typical Parajet design and clever thinking. It also solves any issues with fiddly netting attachment and adds a nice bit of colour (of which there is a choice of green or blue at present) to the looks of the machine. The cage slides together easily and the netting assembly ensures everything stays together. The netting is supplied attached to a sheath which simply pushes onto the titanium cage ring and hooks in with two tightening knobs (one on each side of the frame). There are no buckles involved and when fitted ensures there isn’t anything for lines to get caught on. I was so surprised with how quick and easy it was to fit that I did it twice, just to be sure. It’s one of those things that I wish I’d thought of. The best things are often the most obvious.
The Moster power to weight is one of the best on the market. Air Conception have their own engine, where they have lost a lot of the weight in their machines. Not having the option of building a lightweight engine, using the Moster, with its power to weight ratio, solves that issue for the Maverick. Parajet took every engine and did their own in-house testing, which is how they came to the conclusion that the Moster had the best power-to-weight ratio of all the available paramotor engines, even outperforming the Thor 250! Kester Haines did all of the engine testing in a consistent environment, so I think it’s safe to say that Parajet’s comparison figures are safe to use.
Parajet has a good view of what is proving to be a good or bad engine as they have so many options in their range. Without doubt, in their eyes, the Moster is proving to be the most reliable engine available; they see relatively few problems in all of the Moster 185 Plus engined paramotors they have sold, which is another good reason to be using it in the Maverick.
Obviously, as the focus is all about being lightweight, the options are limited. An obvious example would be the fact that there is no electric start option - adding the weight of a battery, the starter motor, etc. would defeat the object of the exercise. This also applies to the choice of engine. You can only have the Moster 185 Plus, as mentioned, chosen because of its power-to-weight ratio. To have a lighter engine but with less power would not be desirable, so with Maverick you get a paramotor which has excellent thrust and is lightweight.
With this amount of thrust on such a light machine, a lightweight pilot is really going to be feeling the power.
Despite its strength compared to many other lightweight machines, it’s fair to say that the Maverick is not aimed at completely novice pilots because if you fall over it won’t be as impact resistant as, say, a v3. Maverick is likely to appeal to pilots who have finished their training and are confident at launching and landing on their feet. Having said that, in true Parajet tradition, the modular construction of the machine means that if you do prang the cage the components can be replaced individually.
The fuel tank is a striking, sculptured design which not only stands out visually but also serves practical purposes. It tucks in nicely behind the pilot and, along with its shape, is designed to improve aerodynamics, following on nicely from what Parajet has done with the Zenith and v3 fuel tanks. One of the corners lines up perfectly with the 4 litre mark for easy gauging of the fuel level. The tank also has the litre level clearly marked in black, easy for filling or when using a mirror for checking your level in flight.
The starter cord is nicely routed through a pulley mounted high up on the cage and is easily removed with a solid-feeling quick-release pit pin. It ensures the starter handle is always easily within reach, without any fumbling over your shoulder to find it. It’s also mounted so that the cord is always partially pulled out and not needing frustratingly long pulls.
The engines are black except the Moster Factory which has orange anodising. The netting hoop has a choice of colours and the swing arms have the usual colour options of the other paramotors in Parajet’s range, so can be colour coordinated with the colour of the cage hoop.
The Maverick case is impressive. There are two internal pockets to take the prop, the legs and the spars fit in nicely, the netting assembly coils up and goes into a large pocket, while the chassis and motor sits in the main compartment. It’s been designed so that the fully loaded bag is within standard airline 25 kg limits.
Maverick spent roughly a year in R&D - there was obviously a gap in the lightweight paramotor market for a machine which had to be both lightweight and robust. Despite lightweight machines having to be a bit mundane by their nature, Parajet has still managed to produce a good looking and innovative machine, most notably with that push-on net system which is quick to assemble, leaves the outer cage completely smooth and snag-free and adds a splash of colour at the same time. I've mentioned that twice now, it is brilliant!
The lighter you go, the more strength you inevitably lose. But Parajet’s test pilots have confirmed it is strong - you could do power launches, although they're not encouraged (or necessary with most modern wings). There is good bracing in all the right places, curved spars coming out from the chassis is one of the touches which give the cage more strength overall.
As mentioned, the unit is modular, so if any damage is sustained, individual parts can be replaced out, keeping costs down. The cage has eight separate pieces which connect to the chassis. Four identical outer pieces, and four inner spars. All simply slot together with nylon end bars, like a tent pole. All made from titanium.
Pricing brings it in about £300 cheaper than the v3 and, being a Parajet, you know it will be designed well and built properly.
PMC will be testing the Maverick on the field at Membury in the near future; keep your eyes open for this review soon. Or call Simon for a test fly yourself on 07983 428 453.
Which leads me on to talking in some depth about the company itself. I first became a Parajet customer six years ago when, having learned on a Pap, I wanted something a bit more modern and fell in love with the look of the Volution. However, a serious prang in my early days of ownership wrecked the machine and it was then that I discovered just how Parajet treat you as a customer - actually, it felt more like as a friend. They got me back in the air very quickly and were kind and supportive beyond any level of reasonable expectation. Try experiencing that with a manufacturer who is hard to get hold of, or even in a different country. And Parajet have kept me in the air every since, often getting me parts or helping fix something with little or no notice that I will be turning up. I’m openly a big Parajet fan so here’s my take on the company and the experience of being a customer. And if I sound biased it’s because I am, and for good reason.
Parajet is well known for its outstanding customer support and their great looking and well-built machines, innovating at the sharp end and helping in a very large way to create the paramotor industry as it does so, so it’s interesting to delve into the background of how these machines are made, the processes involved and why this is good for us, the customer.
We hear a lot about getting behind British industry, and here is a very good example of British industry doing what historically it has always done well - innovation, design and engineering.
When new customers walk in the door at Parajet they usually have a lot of questions; Is this a substantial company that can be trusted to supply what I need? Do they have the facilities to help me if or when I need it? Why should I buy a paramotor designed and built by Parajet? Within moments, a lot of those questions are answered by what you see, how you are treated and the very obvious lines of beautiful machines waiting to be shipped out to customers.
As well as looking at the machines (well worth a trip for that alone) you can try them on, do a hang test if you fancy it, see how they are made - even down to visiting the machine shops where you can watch the CNC machines doing their thing, or see the jigs that are used for building the chassis and cages. This is with an accompanying explanation of why things have been done a certain way, or why certain materials have been used over others. Having someone to explain everything to you and answer all of your questions is an enlightening experience and is just one of the reasons I chose Parajet for my paramotor and remained with Parajet ever since.
This, combined with the positive experience of having your problems solved, if and when they happen, puts pilots into a place where you feel you have more control and optimism about keeping yourself flying. For pilots, faith in the manufacturer is paramount. I think of this as part of safety, comfort and security and the confidence which that provides - that if it goes tits-up, you’ve got someone watching your back, someone on your side to sort out your issues and keep you flying. It’s priceless in our sport.
"Confidence builds safety which builds enjoyment."
It’s been several years since I last had a look around ‘backstage’ in the factory and it has evolved dramatically, having now moved into its own facility in the connected adjacent building.
When you take delivery of your new machine, you are probably more interested in getting it in the air than anything else. It’s good to realise just how much has gone into making your wonderful new flying machine; here’s a quick look at what goes into it all.
For example, the cage of the v3 is a beautiful thing but each cage takes three hours just to drill the holes. That’s after making the components and welding them together on the jig. Then they go off for powder coating. Then it takes another three hours to string it and rivet it. And every step is done by hand. It’s quite astounding and even more so if you visit the factory and watch it being done.
Parajet has full access to its own manufacturing machines for most of the components. Anything they can make, they do make, including Zenith back plates, hand throttle, cage spars, cages, frames - anything which can be made with their CNC machines.
The machine shop is worth a visit to see your bits being manufactured - there are a lot of really interesting points such as the way the aircraft grade aluminium billet is ‘sucked’ into place and held firmly whilst the machining takes places, how each block is machined to produce minimum waste (and environmental impact) and maximum parts each time.
To give some perspective of what’s involved, just for the spars on the Zenith, the billet is machined on one side, the machine then has to be reset and the billet flipped over to have the other side machined. Each Zenith comes with six spars plus two spares, taking several hours of machining just for the spars. Then there’s the skates (feet), the legs, back plates, pulley wheels, tank handles, and all the other individual parts of the Zenith. So for one Zenith machine there are days of machine work alone. That doesn’t include the fact that all the parts have to be deburred, checked with a spectrum micrometer to ensure everything is within tolerance, cleaned, prepped, checked by Quality Control, by which point they are given a number (to keep track of each item) and they are then taken next door into the factory where they are stored in containers, until they are accessed by the guys who actually build your paramotor (all Parajet paramotors are built to order and this allows the specs for each machine to be varied easily). Everything then goes off for anodising in the colour chosen by the customer. They then come back to the factory and at this point there is still loads of work to be done - they have to drill and fit all of the various bits, fit all of the nylon components, etc.
I always believed that, with the CNC and other machines, the components and final paramotors would be fairly quick to produce. They are not - the amount of time and work that goes into each machine is phenomenal. And that’s before you consider the design time, the programming of the CNC machines, etc. Along with the fact that Parajet are continually reviewing every part of every machine and that constant improvement takes considerable time and work. Parajet takes on board all feedback and comments which feeds back into the evolution of the machines, leading to constant improvement but always allowing backwards compatibility should anything be required for an older machine.
All of this does lead to Parajet having a measure of confidence that their components, and therefore machines, are going to be beautifully and perfectly made - you feel this confidence when you talk to anyone who works there. And this gives customers confidence in the products.
Another benefit with Parajet using modular designs is that customers can get in touch having damaged something, but thinking they need to replace an entire section, such as the stand on a Zenith - but then they find out that they only need to replace one or two components for a quarter or less of the expected cost.
It’s clear that Parajet is constantly evolving their machines, processes and the way they do business. With the customer as the focus for all aspects of what they do, it puts us in a very good position as pilots. The fact that a pilot in the USA, for example, can order replacement parts via the US distributor, have them manufactured in the UK and shipped to the States and fitted on the customers machine within two weeks shows how far the customer-centric procedures have evolved. The future for Parajet pilots looks even better than ever, and it hasn’t been anywhere near shabby in the six years I’ve been a customer of Parajet. Quite the opposite.
Parajet also make some excellent accessories, many of which I already own, such as cage bags for Volutions or paramotor travel cases. The range is well thought out and with Christmas coming it’s probably worth thinking about dropping hints about now. The latest Parajet flying suit is a good choice for PPG pilots which will be available any day now. Check back for a review of that suit which will be coming shortly.
BUY CHEAP, BUY TWICE
It’s probably of no surprise that a company like Parajet could make cheap tat (for want of a better phrase) and make considerably more money. I believe that they make quality machines which cost more (but have lower margins) than other machines but by doing so, along with their customer service and all of the things previously mentioned, they add to the overall improvement of our sport and will be there long into the future. This bodes well for anyone who keeps a machine for a long period of time and need that rare commodity, legacy support. A good example of this is the fact that pilots who are still flying the old v1 Volutions with the XT engine (which has not been produced for many years) can still ask Parajet for parts. They will actually manufacture these for you if they don’t have them on the shelf! And we are talking about a machine originating from more than a decade ago. This is also good news for anyone buying a second hand Parajet machine. This may mean that you have wait for the part to be manufactured (bearing in mind that machine manufacturing time priority is given to the latest paramotor components) but the part for a long-discontinued paramotor engine or frame is not unobtainable. That is outstanding.
There are countless examples of new pilots finding out about paramotoring by meeting Parajet at various festivals or exhibitions and shows, then being given good advice by them and contacts for a good PPG school. Even when the aforementioned customer goes and buys a paramotor from a different manufacturer, because their school was tied in with them or because they saw a cheap deal on the web, it’s not uncommon for them to be back in the future buying a Parajet because the cheap bargain turned out to be less of a bargain than it originally seemed, especially the sometimes worryingly cheap deals for a new machine which sometimes turn up on ebay and other places.
By pushing the sport (even through their BG brand which got paramotoring into circles of people who would normally not have discovered it) the sport benefits as a whole; schools benefit, wing manufacturers benefit, shops benefit and pilots benefit. It’s a good philosophy and as forward thinking as their cutting edge products.
Goodwood and Farnborough Airshow, are incredibly expensive to attend and often the leads generated from them have taken hundreds of hours to acquire and process. Having brought paramotoring to the attention of the public, these people often go to their nearest school and buy a different brand of paramotor - but the sport has benefitted. The bottom line is that the more events that Parajet attend (ie, the more money Parajet spends on this kind of activity) the more the sport grows and benefits. Schools, wing sales, motor sales and general enquiries all have noticeable increases in numbers after events like Goodwood and Farnborough. Even such things as sponsoring Parafest (which Parajet did this year) helps keep the paramotoring economy buoyant.
When buying new, the cost is often a major factor in decision making, but remembering the old saying ‘Buy cheap buy twice’, is very relevant in our sport. A good example one is of the paramotor copies which appeared after the Zenith was released.
If a number of pilots bought one, then needed a spare part only to find out that the machines are no longer made, or the design wasn’t right so the manufacturer had abandoned it, then pilots are scuppered - as soon as they break it they’re stuffed. There is no continuity - Parajet have had customers asking them to make parts for other machines for this very reason. This works out to be very expensive and impractical and not good for maintaining happy pilots. It has happened where a pilot has brought in some damaged parts from a Zenith copy, having heard Parajet can make parts. They can, but the design time to redraw the part into a CAD programme, stopping the machines from doing their normal work to run this one-off part, and then resetting it back normal afterwards means that you’d be paying as much for four of these parts as you would for a complete machine. In several instances, customers have been offered a good deal on a new machine and they have ditched their broken paramotor in favour of this.
OPEN DOOR POLICY
Parajet operate an open door policy for everyone, and I really urge anyone who’s thinking about buying their first paramotor or replacing their current machine, to make a visit. You’ll not regret it and you will definitely learn something as well as enjoy being surrounded by such an array of the best that paramotoring manufacturing has to offer.
Until recently any visitors would just walk into the factory but Parajet has recently installed a customer area so when you walk through the door you are greeted by a nice display area with machines (currently with the Zenith, v3, Maverick and the new trike on display) along with brochures and a coffee machine - which is going to be installed imminently. That won’t change the friendly greeting you always receive at Parajet, it’s just that now you have a nicely lit area which is away from the production area (not that the production area is anything to be ashamed of, it’s very clean, well organised, spacious and well lit). And laid-back. Maybe the kind of thing you’d expect if you got to visit, say, the McLaren workshop.
By visiting you can decide about whether the quality of the materials and the manufacturing processes, the levels of service and support from the entire team, the thought that has gone into every component and manufacturing process, the longevity of parts and the benefits of being a substantial UK based manufacturer is better than the other options.
You may not end up buying a Parajet machine, but you can make a decision with your eyes wide open and decide whether buying a cheaper machine and saving a few hundred quid up front will be a good decision in the long run. I know how I feel about it, it would be good for you to visit and decide for yourself.
Really, go and check it all out. The only thing I can’t confirm is the quality of the coffee because that facility wasn’t installed at the time of my visit ... although if it’s anything like the way Parajet does everything else then it will be perfectly balanced between bean count and water volume, with the temperature optimally set for the average pilot with an option to fine tune it to your own preference.
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Another day, another fly-in. Paramotor pilots are getting a good run of options these days, from small localised get-togethers to huge affairs like Parafest back in June.
One persistent fly-in ‘brand’ has been showing up a lot in recent years - the PMC bashes, organised in great detail, and with no expense spared, by Simon Westmore - along with lots of help from those we all know within PMC, especially Col Borland. 'Severn Bore Chasers’ fly-ins now occur twice-yearly along with another one 'somewhere else' for good measure, the most recent having been held in Norfolk. And this time around, the guys have really shown us that they know what they are doing when it comes to putting together an awesome weekend for new, old and non-pilots alike.
So the first question, especially for someone who has never attended one, has to be, ‘What makes a good fly-in?’
The weather would be most people’s immediate answer. However, Simon’s way of thinking would put that answer further down the list, working on the principle that getting pilots together in a comfortable environment with everything they need laid-on comes first; ensuring that everyone has the chance to engage with everyone else, to learn, teach, show-off their kit, or whatever.
As a full member of PMC, access to all of the fly-ins comes free of charge, so all you have to do is to turn up, sign in and get on with it. Which is what 87 of us did over that weekend in mid-September 2016.
I turned up on Friday afternoon - the camping area was tucked cosily into a corner of the field with borders clearly marked. The usual friendly greetings took places and after getting camp set up it was time for finding new and old friends and catching up. Despite having been a member of the PMC for six years I had not visited any prior PMC fly-ins, I always had the work, family or other excuse. Not this time; Life has to be lived apparently, and with fond memories of Parafest still clearly in my mind I was very much looking forward to this weekend. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I obviously didn’t expect it to outshine Parafest (or even come close) because it was on such a smaller scale. Remember I said that, as you read on …
Friday night was cosy; there were just the right number of us so the fire pit easily accommodated us comfortably and Nigel’s food trailer provided excellent nosh for everyone. The mood was very mellow and the flying forecast was looking half-decent for later in the day on Saturday.
Saturday began with a lot of wind howling through my windsock (ooer missus). Not a problem, this had been forecast and it gave a good opportunity to get everything ready for flying later in the day. A couple of pilots went for it but they were back on the ground pretty sharpish.
In fact, Saturday turned out to be a lot of fun - Gary (dawntodusk) had brought along his new Parajet trike - the first time out in public - and he generously let us play with it, getting up to well beyond take-off speed in the field. It was my first time in a trike and my aviation shopping list has subsequently become longer by one item.
After lunch the wind dropped off which allowed us to get some ground handling in. I’ve always loved this, it has a Zen-like charm for me and I do it for this reason regularly. Several of us spent the afternoon playing with our wings, dodging Simon flying about on the mini-quad bike with his Osmo camera ... later followed by Connor showing great skill in pulling wheelies (or was he merely out of control and unable to stop?).
By late afternoon conditions had improved enough that we all got up in the air. There was still a decent wind from the north but we managed to get some good airtime in and the camping area was continuing to fill up at a healthy rate. It wasn’t long before Simon and the team extended the camping area out by one vehicle depth to accommodate the new arrivals. It was great to see so many people turning up and paramotors appearing in the flying field. The atmosphere was buzzing and the fly-in really got into its stride.
Nielzy turned up on Saturday and Gary was very keen for his trike to be taken for a spin in the air. Neilzy graciously obliged and took it up for its maiden voyage.
Chris Bell and his buddy had built their own paramotor and spent most of Saturday working on tuning and getting it to run properly. They had used an old Parajet Volution chassis and Tom from Parajet arrived and was able to give some expert advice regarding one or two areas which were causing discussion amongst those present. It was declared airworthy so the two lads pressed on with getting it ready with renewed vigour. A lot of Saturday afternoon was spent running it up on the field in anticipation of a test flight on Sunday.
People kept arriving throughout Saturday afternoon and the field was full of launching and landing paramotors right up until last light ... and beyond for one or two.
As the last of the light disappeared, the fire pit became the hub of the field, offering several layers of cosiness with only a few seconds wobble to the bar, Nigel’s food emporium or the rather amazing toilet block. Prior to the fly-in, there had been rumours of civilized toilets making an appearance, complete with running hot water, clean towels and even scented air. Ha, we thought, no chance. Guess what? The toilets were clean, had hot running water, clean towels and scented air. But we broke them. By Sunday the men’s bog had been toileted to destruction so we all shared the Ladies for the rest of the weekend.
Another rumour circulating prior to the event was that there was to be an awesome fireworks display. This was a revelation; after dark several shadowy figures were seen loping around on top of the river defence mound, with the occasional flicker of light, mumbling and tripping over. The rest of the fly-in carried on, mostly unaware of the endeavours of these figures. Until word went around that the fireworks were about to start. And did they ... Simon had decided that his favourite part of a fireworks display is the ‘grand finale’ so why not have a fireworks display made up entirely of grand finale fireworks. He got hold of several of these (the sort of thing that could be mistaken for something Special Branch might be interested in) and made sure that they were set off shortly after each other, meaning that the entire display consisted of a mind-blowing wall of explosions, colour and noise. Inevitably, it only lasted for a few minutes but it was awesome, an absolutely breathtaking display of immense firepower.
Following a huge cheers and appreciation, the party continued into the night, a very happy and integrated bunch of people all having a great time.
Cock-a-doodle-snap. That was the sound that some people awoke to on Sunday morning at about 6.45am. I’d awoken slightly earlier as an engine was briefly warmed up nearby, it was 6.30am and clearly somebody wanted an early start, although it was barely light. I listened as the take off run started at full throttle, followed by silence, followed by a thud and the unmistakable ‘crick’ sound of a prop breaking. Not the greatest start to the day but it got me up and out - the windsock was hanging limp, a real contrast to Saturday’s start.
The field came to shortly after that and pilots started dragging their kit out and getting ready to fly. And what a great day it turned out to be. The first pilots got off towards the east but a light breeze picked up meaning everyone moved to taking off to the south. Off we went in search of The Severn Bore.
It was great to witness the PMC Squadron buzzing the bore and the surfers for several miles, from Arlingham up towards Gloucester. Considering the extent of low flying that went on, the amount of power lines we encountered plus all being within reasonably close proximity of each other and doing lots of 180 turns, some very good flying was demonstrated - I saw no point at which anyone seemed to be at any risk from anyone else. Full marks to all the pilots who followed The Bore, some very good airmanship was demonstrated that morning.
The weather was warm, conditions clear and comfortable and I think we all had a great time.
One by one, pilots dropped out and headed off somewhere else for a play until eventually I couldn’t see anyone left following The Bore. It was time to go somewhere else, so I got some altitude and spent an hour or so taking in the views; across to Wales, up to Gloucester, down to the Severn Bridges - it was all fabulous. There were several of us who had made this choice and we were spread out over several miles, but on approaching the field back at Arlingham it was clear where most people were, as the fields and river bank had swarms of foot-dragging or hedge-hopping paramotors. It was glorious.
Eventually landing back at the field, the atmosphere was warm and everyone engaged and happy. Throughout the day we helped each other set up, pack away, fiddle and tune, or just talk bollocks. In fact, talking parabollocks happened a lot - always a good sign of a happy crowd.
Chris Bell tried to launch his homemade machine but sadly couldn’t get enough thrust, but had a lot of support from others nearby.
Little Col (Borland) spent much of the day on the field giving advice and helping students and low-hours pilots improve their skills - as did many other experienced pilots. There was a lot of good advice and good learning on the field on Sunday.
And then there was Connor Amantrading. If you didn’t see him flying then you weren’t there. He must hold the record for the biggest carbon footprint of the weekend with the amount of take offs, landings and hours in the sky! He might even still be there, foot-dragging the field.
During Sunday there were a few broken props and bashed frames from failed launches but everyone was there to help where they could and nobody was hurt. The pilot who broke a prop at first light was back in the air later thanks to help from another pilot, a pilot who ran out of fuel was back in the air after getting fuel from another pilot, and low hours pilots and those who came along to see what it’s about got the bug and we’ll be seeing most of them again soon, I suspect.
As Sunday afternoon passed, people started drifting off and by evening a handful were left. Simon and his team (the team being made up mostly of people volunteering to help before going home) were clearing up and packing away.
As many of us did, I grabbed a bag of rubbish on my way out to dispose of later and said my goodbyes to everyone; It had been an awesome weekend and I was sad to be leaving. Remember what I said at the start of this piece, regarding it not being able to outshine Parafest? Well, as I drove away I had exactly the same feeling I had when I drove away from Parafest - Satisfied with a great weekend of flying, a great weekend of being with fellow-minded and good people and a tinge of sadness that it was all over. Considering that the Bore Chasers Fly-in was a much smaller affair than Parafest but left me with the same great feelings as I left, then I think it has to score a ten out of ten.
Well done to Simon and Col, and to everyone who made the weekend what it was - awesome. Roll-on the next PMC fly-in and do everything you can to not miss it!
All of the images in this article can be clicked for a larger version.
It’s been on most paramotor pilot’s radar for quite some time; after the first ever UK Parafest last year those who attended went on to tell everyone how great it was; those who didn’t attend promised that they’d do so this year.
Of course, there’s always the doubt about the weather; the old ‘What if I drive two hundred miles and it’s not flyable?’ question. Parafest had shouted very loudly that it was a festival that you could fly at - and the fact is that it was organised as a festival for pilots - so if you got to fly then that would be fabulous, but not the only reason for being there. And how right the strap line was - it was a fabulous festival for para pilots. The good news is that the weather was awesome for both - a festival and flying.
I arrived on Friday afternoon and it was already clearly in full swing. I was greeted by a hard-working but immensely friendly team on the gate who got me pointed in all the right directions very quickly. There were tents of all descriptions, a stage in the distance, camper vans, caravans, vans and trucks spread over several fields with an immediately likeable atmosphere. I drove over to an (at that point) empty end of the field next to the launch field and parked up.
A quick wander around revealed an amazingly well thought-out site. I walked through the immense collection of pitches and checked out the flying field which was launching paramotors, tandems and trikes. A few powered hang gliders were also in the air but it was evident that Parafest was mostly about paramotors.
Then onto the traders area where the trade tents were on the main drag and also in an arc behind the audience area in front of the stage. There were also mobile food and refreshment trailers advertising their wares, including vegetarian food, lots of seating with tables and a standing/dance area. And all areas were full of smiling, happy people. It looked perfect. So, this was obviously so much more than just a trade show - this was Parafest as it had been advertised.
I found Mark Meadows (Meds) a short distance away, he was in good spirits and went through the rules of flying, showed the areas to avoid on the map and gave me a sheet of the rules - nobody could claim not to have known them as they were laid out in big bold text and very clear. And simple. That was it - signed in and familiar with the rules ... so it was time to go flying.
The flying field was absolute chaos. I found a spot three layers of laid-out wings from the front and started my own laying out and setting up. I was beginning to wonder how safe it was going to be, I’d never seen so many pilots crammed into one side of a field and everywhere you looked the sky was full of paramotors, like bugs on a balmy evening. But then I realised that the marshals, who really did have their work cut out for them, were doing an amazing job. They were getting everyone off, but only when they were properly ready. If a launch was fluffed they were there to help sort it out and get everything ready for another attempt. It was done calmly and safely, and it was obvious that all launching pilots were in safe hands. When my turn came, which wasn’t actually too long of a wait, considering, I was given the all-clear to launch and was away into the very busy sky. That was a new experience for me, and with the exception of one pilot, whom I assume was blind, had no incidences of proximity issues. A fab flight out to and along the coast, a stunning sunset and finally back to the field. What a first few hours of Parafest, I couldn’t wait for more.
By the time I was back at my van, the music was underway, the sun was going down and the atmosphere was superb. Putting the paramotor away, getting some food together and opening a beer with the sounds drifting over from the stage took me right back to my days at Stonehenge Festival in the early 80’s. It was magical.
A couple, called Steve and Victoria had moved in next door to me in the field, Steve being a pilot who had recently trained at Membury with Simon Westmore. They proved to be great company for the weekend, their shiny new Zenith Thor 80 nicely adding to the scenery.
Saturday morning, 8.00 on the dot, and the roar (or ring-a-ting-ting, depending on your motor manufacturer) of squadrons of paramotors taking off in quick succession was the sound track for breakfast. The wind direction meant that everything now went over our heads after launch; it was spectacular. A balloon also did an early launch, which added to the atmosphere. Saturday was a good day to take in everything Parafest had to offer, the variety of manufacturers (and the proliferation of sunglasses-wearing, hungover staff manning the stands), the food, the atmosphere, and meeting old and new friends.
The field adjacent to the PPG launch field was given over to paraglider accuracy (run by the BHPA), and that was a very relaxing place to be. A winch was provided for launch and those lucky enough to have some wind when it was their turn got to the target. The peace and quiet of the accuracy field was in marked contrast to the noise and chaos of the PPG launch field.
And so it went on … various artists performed throughout the day providing a pleasant acoustic backdrop to the event, and people spent much of the time smiling and laughing. Saturday evening proved very popular for flying as the conditions smoothed off, and the marshals were by now so slick that they were dealing with everything in an almost effortless manner. Everything was safe, well managed and fun. And the flying conditions were stunning. For me, a blast to the coast, around the wreck of The Duke of Lancaster, along the coastline to fly around Talacre Lighthouse (as so many of us did that weekend) and some great low-level beach flying, before heading back to the campsite before the light finally went.
More food, more beer, more live music, more fun and smiles … plus one extra special mood enhancer. The balloon, which had launched in the morning, set up near the stage and inflated but didn’t launch, just creating the most beautiful lighting over the site as the sun went down. This was done as a thank you to Meds, for letting the balloon come in the morning for his flight. How many festivals can boast having that as a feature?
Sunday morning arrived to the sound of launching paramotors again, but this time the conditions weren’t so good and after a while further launches were called and the launch field closed for flying. But it didn’t matter, we’d all had some great flying over the past two days. Parafest gradually wound down throughout Sunday and by the end of the afternoon was starting to thin out. Although some did stay on, most had gone by Sunday evening.
So, as a conclusion, what did I think of Parafest? It’s interesting to realise that when we fly our own areas, or meet up with others, sometimes we seem to be a relatively small bunch of pilots, but when you come to Parafest you discover that there are actually quite a lot of us, small in the grand scale of things but perhaps more than you would have realised otherwise.
It was the best UK para flying event there has ever been. It was well organised, incredibly well run by Meds and his marshals, it had an atmosphere of fun and cheer and I was genuinely sorry when it was over. I have no doubt it will go down in everyone’s memory as an unforgettable weekend.
That was my take on it.
I was keen to discover the views of those working behind the scenes of Parafest. So I got all of the marshals together on Sunday afternoon and we talked through the events of the weekend. They had all been on the field for all three days and this is what they came away with …
“It was very interesting to watch various pilot’s different methods for taking off and landing. What works and what doesn’t - which ones are called ‘technique’ and which ones are called ‘luck’.”
The marshal’s duties included getting pilots ready to launch, making sure they were ready but also giving guidance sometimes, especially for low hours and novice pilots. Perhaps better described as encouragement as the marshals obviously weren’t there to show pilots what they should already have known.
“It can feel like quite an achievement if you’ve got a guy who has had a few failed launches and then finally he gets off, then it’s very rewarding for us. It’s just been great and, with the marshalling side, if you’re a beginner and come to help with the marshalling, you can learn so much just by watching and being involved”.
Something which the marshals found very easy to spot were the pilots who had obviously been trained properly and those who appeared to be self-taught. The variation in piloting skills was very defined. For all of the marshals though, they all agreed they had had “a good time and a great laugh.”
From the managing the environment aspect, something which was quite a surprise was that all of the pilots received a verbal briefing and a copy of the rules when they arrived, but this didn’t stop a large number taking-off and just ignoring the rules.
“We were there for people’s safety and it was hard to understand why some pilots disregarded so much of the information they had been given. We talked to lots of pilots when they landed and a lot answered very honestly and said ‘Yes, I knew that rule but I just did something else.’ Regarding the rules - they just flew like they did when on their home field as soon as they had taken off.”
Friday night was an obvious point to bring up; the field was full and wings were laid out three or four deep for the entire width of the field.
“That was so hard, but so satisfying. There were a few times when you just looked up and you were like … seriously … this is crazy, so many pilots in the air, it was like the air was full of mosquitoes!
“But by Saturday night, we’d completely nailed it. It worked really well, like clockwork. It got smoother, the communication got better, the prioritization improved - Initially we were quite tentative, making sure every pilot was well clear of the field before we’d launch the next one but by Saturday evening we’d got into a rhythm where by the time each pilot had cleared the boundary we were ready to launch the next one, and we knew who was lined up to launch next”.
I commented, “It was very noticeable, from a pilot’s point of view, the difference between Friday, which just looked unmanageable in some respects, with the chaos of so many pilots waiting to launch, and Saturday which seemed like clockwork. But you put no pressure on anyone - if a pilot needed time then you gave them time”
“Well, you can’t rush people.”
I replied, “But I would imagine, from your perspective, you’d kind of want to get through the backlog as quickly as possible.”
“Something we noticed was that pilots talked about this - a lot of them stated that, regardless of their experience, with the pressure of an audience, and the risk of a fluffed launch maybe, they didn’t want to let themselves or their team or the wider flying community down. You’re kind of feeling like you’re forced to perform. If you’re in your own field, you can abort a launch for whatever reason you like, as many times as you like, until you’re happy. But when you’ve got people backed-up behind you, all set up and ready to launch and then fluff your launch, then you are holding up so many other pilots who are equally keen to get off.
“Of course, no pilot would think anything bad about you, it’s all just added pressure in the world of the pilot who is holding everyone up.
“Going back to the rules, when it got quite packed-up on the field and we had to create a holding area, pilots in the holding area would then see a trike, for example, trundling past and jumping ahead of them - but that’s the rules and it all worked out and everyone got off for their flights.
“There was a problem yesterday with the accuracy field, and paramotors coming through the towing area despite having been told to avoid the field. But that did get resolved fairly quickly and pilots got the message.
“Regarding banning, there was only one and that was for a pilot whose launch was very dangerous and when he came into land he was out of control, nearly hitting the hedge and he didn’t land so much as have an uncontrolled flight into the ground. He explained that he’d been having problems with his equipment but the marshals barred him from flying - he had to go and make his case elsewhere with the organiser regarding further flying. Considering the amount of pilots flying at Parafest, the fact that this was the only one is very, very good news.
“A few pilots had warnings from the marshals but they all took it on the chin, agreed with what was said and apologized. By Saturday everyone knew that the rules had to be followed and everyone pretty well stuck to the rules. Plus they all knew that Meds would likely come hurtling across the field on the quad bike, arriving sideways to administer ‘some advice’.
“But, we all agree that we just can’t believe how good it’s been, it’s been fantastic.”
I agreed, “It’s been great and people have had some satisfying flights.”
“We’ve had some awesome feedback. And the great thing is that, despite a huge amount of launches, we only counted three broken props. A lot of it was not only down to the fact that the marshals, as a team, got our act together and got to grips with how to handle the field, but also the fact that the pilots clearly trusted that we would get them off - they could see that there was method in what we were doing and that all pilots would get off safely.
“One of the other things pilots picked-up on was the ‘Don’t start your engine on the floor’ rule. We had pilots coming up to us saying ‘Well, what do we do then? I can’t start my motor on my back’ and we would reply ‘Well, that’s what we’re here for’ ... amongst other things. ‘Oh yeah’ would be the reply. We had one guy who told us that his machine was really hard to start, and it was, but we got it started on his back. And that is what we were here for, it’s all about safety and starting the machine on your back is the safest thing to do. Safety has been a massive thing for all of the marshals.”
I mentioned that that aspect really came across.
Their reply was, “An interesting thing is that pilots have their own routine, maybe a routine they have been using for many years and works flawlessly for them. But then they come here and we say you can’t do it like that, it kind of throws people sometimes - which is understandable. But we asked pilots to work with us and it worked. The amount of people who looked at us and said ’Start on my back? I always warm it up on the ground.’ But we all know that the most dangerous part of the whole affair is starting the paramotor and how many people have had life-changing accidents through doing this.
“The whole marshalling experience is good, because not only are you keeping people safe and organised but you’re helping people out - keeping it all running freely and keeping everything incident-free.
“It was a really good weekend. The weather was fantastic and we made some good decisions. On Sunday morning the wind was getting a bit strong and we called Meds and the decision was made to stop flying. A lot of pilots had decided to take-off but most of them came flocking back to the field quite quickly once they realised that it was not very smooth up there. It was a good decision and everyone had already had so much opportunity for great flying on Friday and Saturday.
“With the paramotoring community, it really feels like such a big family here. The social side was fantastic. It was also interesting that a lot of pilots fly their own area on their own or with a few friends sometimes, but when they come here the whole thing is different and adds something new to the experience. It’s interesting to see how many people have travelled a long way to be here.”
We discussed the fact that it was also good to see that there are people who fly paramotors who aren’t grey or bald and are actually young!
“Perhaps it’s the fact that the equipment has changed in recent years and has provided an adrenaline side to the sport. The girls were good too, and outshone some of the guys. There were three of them. There were no failed launches from them.
“It made for a long day, with the flights open from 8.00am until 9.00pm, people thinned out a bit during midday and then it got heavy again for the evenings. We were originally only going to have the field open until 8.00 in the evening, with regard to the locals and also as the marshals would have been at it for a very long day, but we all decided to stay on for an extra hour to get people out, because it was so busy.
“On Friday we had between 120 and 140 pilots launched.”
From a pilot’s point of view, it certainly felt like it, everywhere you looked whether up, down or sideways, there were paramotors in the air around you.
“About 200 pilots were registered for flying. It was good … and incident-free, which is the main thing. A few props, a couple of wings but that was it.”
So, what would the marshals do differently next time?
“More marshals. Just to get some kind of shift pattern and spread the burden”.
From my perspective as a visiting pilot, it was obvious how hard the marshals were working because whenever you visited the launch field the same guys were there doing the job.
“We would definitely get the sun cream on sooner and thicker next time.”
So, more marshals next time!
“The thing is, it’s a rewarding thing to do, it’s not a burden. You haven’t got to come and not fly - we all got to fly. Most of us have driven five to six hours to get here and it’s been a rewarding experience to do the marshalling, but it would be nice to do the marshalling and also enjoy the holiday aspect of it too. It wouldn’t be hard for someone to come in to land, grab a high-vis vest and come over and give us a hand, even if it’s just for half an hour. It would give us the chance for a break and a moment or two to relax.”
Being a marshal is perfect for beginners and low hours pilots who want a chance to learn.
“If you have a pilot who wants to learn, just being there watching what everyone does, they will learn so much. Exactly what to do, and what not to do. We’ve all done it, but the amount of pilots who jumped in the seat too early was amazing. There were loads of them, jumping into the seat too early, scraping the bottom of the cage along the ground, with the assumption that as soon as their feet leave the ground they are off - but we’ve had wind conditions that dropped them back down again after that little gust that initially picked them up had gone. We even had one where the pilot literally flew half way across the field with the his cage dragging along the floor because he couldn’t get the lift. All this is invaluable education to a new pilot, and it’s rare to get the chance to see so many poor launch techniques and so many really good launch techniques in one place.
“One thing that you don’t often get to see is such a variety of kit. It really makes you realise how much variety there is. You could also spot groups marked out by their nearest school or their nearest dealer. We could identify which groups of pilots had trained at which schools sometimes, by the identical kit they all had. It was very funny to see.
“It used to seem that paramotoring was the poor man’s sport. Back in the day, it was people camping out and sleeping in the back of cars but you turn up to events now and it’s £50,000 motorhomes and massive caravans as the appeal of the sport has grown.
“It’s also interesting to see the different types of flying that pilots like to do - some will take off and just go high and be doing sats and spirals in the local area, maybe having many short flights per day while others will head off to the furthest reaches on a long trip and be gone for hours.
“It’s also very good to see the history of paramotoring demonstrated in the different kit that people had; from some very old wings and motors to the very latest equipment. You’d get a pilot on an old motor and a 28 wing who worked really hard to get off in no wind, and then see a Thor 250 and a 15m wing be off the ground in a few paces. It was also very apparent that some young skinny pilots seemed to demonstrate little problems with lugging their paramotor about, compared to only a few years ago when everything weighed a ton.
“Also, the variety in pilots, from girls to boys, from skinny to overweight. We had it all!”
Something all the marshals were keen to point out was that although none of them were paid, their time was rewarded by food and drink and by having a great time.
“We have to say that Meds has done a great job! We think everybody would agree with that. We had a Marshals' Facebook page and so we were briefed and had some idea of what we were coming up to. However, this wouldn’t have prevented anyone from grabbing a high-viz jacket on the day and just joining in. If you’re not comfortable with helping and giving encouragement to pilots about to launch then there are plenty of other invaluable jobs which need to be done.
“But we’re all knackered, absolutely knackered. But also so, so pleased to have kept it all running smoothly all weekend. We’re very happy.
One of the highlights for the marshals had to be when a local Policeman had come in to the site because a member of the public had reported seeing a paramotor going down somewhere in the vicinity. It turned out to be just someone doing spirals and there was no problem. Just as the Policeman was finishing up, he turned around and right over the edge came Delboy Trotter’s yellow three-wheeler under full power.
“The comedic timing of that was perfect, it was absolutely hilarious. You can imagine the officer going back to his station and saying ‘ere Sarge, I just saw Delboy’s car flying over our patch.’ We do know for a fact that he did go back to his station and did tell everyone there about it.”
And finally, a word about the windsock. When someone came over to stand by the marshals and the windsock as a ‘safe spot’, it was pointed out that perhaps they shouldn’t feel too safe standing there. A quick look at the windsock revealed that it was shredded after an encounter with a paramotor prop early on in the event.
The Parafest marshals on the field were:
Neil McMann (Chief Marshall) and the team consisted of: Stuart Mallett, Graham Rowe, Eddie Smerdon, Nick Lambert, John Simms, Matt Wayne, Dr Paul ‘Footdrag’ Cronin, Paul Green and Robert Frankham.
When I spoke with Meds at the end of Parafest, he was very different to the Meds I’d been talking to on Friday afternoon - absolutely exhausted.
When it was pointed out how many people regarded the marshals as the stars of the show Meds replied, “I can’t fault the marshals at all, I owe them everything. They kept it well organised and kept their nerve together. It became apparent that I am not marshal material - I don’t have the patience and have a very low tolerance level for that kind of thing."
So, with this being Sunday afternoon, the obvious question had to be, “How do you feel after several days of getting it all ready and having the gates open for three days?”
“I feel relieved that it’s over!” he laughed.
“Everyone’s had a good time, the weather’s been perfect, we’ve had no bad accidents … but I’m glad it’s over as my stress levels are though the roof. It’s a lot of responsibility, and I have to say that some of the pilot skills left a lot to be desired. Some were very good, some can follow a flight plan and follow the rules, but others completely disregard everything you tell them. Watching some of the takeoffs I was wondering whether they’d even been trained! That was the one thing which affected me the most, seeing such poor skills on such a busy field. To ensure it was safe for all, I instructed the marshals to bar anyone from flying who clearly demonstrated that their skills weren’t up to it and were holding the field up with repeated failed launches, then get them out of the way and to the back of the queue. When you’ve got dozens of pilots waiting to take off, and dozens more coming onto the field to get ready, you can’t have one person who doesn’t have the fundamental and essential skills to launch holding everything up. I did wonder why you’d put yourself in such a position, with it being such a public spectacle!”
Irrespective of that, the whole event was a triumph - the way the field was managed, the way the marshals carried out their instructions to the letter, the way that everyone holds the marshall in the highest regard means that the event was nothing other than a success.
“Yeah, but despite all of this, if there’s going to be another Parafest then it’s not going bigger, in fact it’s going to be smaller. I can’t assess every pilot before the event to know whether they can take-off, fly and land properly. I either have a pre-event registration system for pilots or just have a smaller event and keep it manageable. It is a bit of a lottery and at this point I don’t know which way to go. I did consider lots of different ways to run it, to make sure we got proper pilots, but then I thought it was all getting a bit like Hitler and was not the way I wanted to go with it. But now I’ve seen a few days of this, I am thinking to myself I should have done that. It’s my neck on the line, it’s for safety and pilot benefit, take it or leave it, follow these simple rules to the letter or … go and get a beer and watch.”
That slightly jaded view was coming from someone who has spent months putting the event together, who has passed over work, thus reducing his income, to allow him to put enough time into organising it, who has spent the past week getting the site up together and running it - plus being the person where the buck ends since the first visitors arrived on Thursday, and therefore very much lacking in sleep or rest. However, when we come onto the positives …
“Oh yeah, the positives! It was a lot better than last year’s event, a good festival atmosphere, the music and the bands were great, everyone has had a good time, nobody has had a bad word, and that’s one of my main driving forces, to give everyone a good time. That’s why I do it, so everyone can come together, have a good time together - that’s my goal. And I pulled that bit off! It’s been friendly, open and exactly as I wanted it to be. And everyone keeps asking about next year.
“Which is a funny position to be in - and it was the same last year. By this time last year, everyone at Llangollen was saying, ‘What about next year?’ and I was saying ‘No, there’ll be no next year.’ I was finished, exhausted, and had no interest in doing it again. And then six months go by, it comes to Christmas and I’m thinking, ‘It was good fun though, wasn’t it.’ So I started organizing it again in January - it’s taken me six months of planning, of phone calls, of chasing my own tail, and sacrificing my own business so that I can organise this - my work has had to take a back-seat whilst I made site visits, had council meetings plus this, that and the other.”
It was humbling to learn that Meds had sacrificed his income whilst dedicating himself to making Parafest a reality.
“But I had to, there was no other way it was going to happen.”
I pointed out that to those of us who rolled up, pitched our tent and went and got a beer, it all seemed so perfect but with little understanding of what had gone on to make it all happen. Meds was the person who had everything on his shoulders, it all came back to him.
A very hoarse Meds replied, “Yeah, I am the buck-stopper! Every problem that anyone had with anything came to me. Plus the stress of ‘what if’ such as a mid-air or something. Who’d have to deal with all that? It would be me, which is why I’ve been shouting so much all weekend, trying to avoid that. But seeing some great piloting skills, the community spirit, and seeing people forming new friendships and a common bond has made it all worthwhile for me. And also seeing the new young faces of our next generation of pilots. And I have enjoyed it. I always enjoy giving people a good time, and I’ve done it in a big way. I love a good piss-up as much as anyone and I’ve created a big party for everyone.”
I mentioned, “I expected it to be good but I didn’t expect it to be so good. And you laid on the weather too!”
“Yeah, the weather was amazing, but that’s a problem too because when the weather’s so peachy for flying, everyone wants to get up in the air, which creates the problems for managing it. But we did manage, so it was fine. If it had been blown-out all weekend, everyone would have been on the ground partying and my stress levels would have been a thousand times lower, with no worries about the local inhabitants or air law infringements, it would have just been one big social,” he laughed.
When I asked about whether there’d been any feedback from the locals or the authorities, Meds replied, “Well, the locals in all the shops and the pubs are pleased because they’ve had the tills ringing all weekend. There’s been a constant queue in the shop. Some of the locals have been up and have had a look around and have been saying how amazing it is, how different and how good for the local community it is. A couple of locals have even expressed an interest in learning to fly a paramotor. And that’s a really positive side of things, it has really promoted paramotoring in a good light and shown how much fun it is.
“Actually, from the locals point of view we were expecting that on day one it would be ‘wow, look at that’, by the second day it would be ‘Hmmm’, and by the third day out would be ‘I’ve had enough of this’. We have had a little bit of this, which is understandable”.
“With in excess of 200 registered paramotor pilots at Parafest (signed in and issued with blue wristbands, without which you cannot fly) it was encouraging that we didn’t have too many issues with the locals. That makes me very happy."
Remembering that it was called Parafest, not Paramotorfest, Meds is keen to point out what a good time the paraglider pilots also had.
“My good friend Alan, who is a local pilot and knows all of the sites, has been running the paragliding side of things. We didn’t need to register the paraglider pilots as they were always off the festival site for flying - I don’t have exact figures, but there were likely to have been about 100 of them. Paraglider pilots had a site brief every morning and the conditions for the sites were given out, what conditions were forecast, which hills were flyable. The convoy would be taken off to the hills, with a local brief about thermals, where not to fly, etc. and they just got on with it.
“Reports were coming back each day that paraglider pilots had achieved personal bests, best height gains, fabulous thermals, etc. All the paraglider pilots were buzzing, they’ve had such a good time.
“Regarding our Sponsors, I have to say a big thank you to Parajet. We love Parajet, they have donated a V3 chassis which is to be sold to help cover costs - This will pay for the stage, which is a huge contribution. That’s why we had the Parajet banners up behind and to the sides of the stage.
“And all the traders too, they’ve all bought a pitch, which has all helped towards the costs. We haven’t charged much because we really wanted all of them to be here - and we’ve heard some good things regarding interest and sales of paramotors and kit over the weekend. The traders made a huge difference to the weekend, it was great to have had so many of them here. It meant we had a bit of a trade show element to it as we have no proper trade show in the UK. We’ve even had traders from Europe here this time. We were really expecting to have Paramania here too but sadly they didn’t make it."
So a final couple of words from Mark Meds about his feelings about Parafest 2016: “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!”
Mark Meds has his own PMC flying school, details of which can be found at www.iflyppg.co.uk.
Ty Ucha Farm, Caerwys, Flintshire, North Wales, 3 – 5 June 2016
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I imagine the majority of paramotor pilots will think back to their first days of training with gratitude for three things; Firstly, your instructor who was there to answer a seemingly never-ending stream of questions. Secondly, your instructor for providing you with equipment on which to learn. And thirdly, your headset and radio which connected you and your kit to your instructor during those first powered moments and your eventual first flight.
So, imagine taking away the third thing in the list, the ability to communicate with your instructor during your first tentative steps with power and flight. I remember my first flight and wondering why my instructor hadn’t said anything to me over the radio since I took off. When I came in lower I saw him frantically running around grabbing at every radio he had, only to discover that they all had flat batteries. His eventual last resort of indecipherable hand signals provided the realisation that I was on my own, just when my hand needed holding the most. It all ended well but I recall that feeling of being prematurely alone, vividly.
So it was with great interest that I learned about a rather special student pilot at the PMC school by the name of Connor Amantrading; Special because he has been deaf from birth and has not let this stand in the way of him getting the most out of life, including learning to fly a paramotor.
I met Connor on a cold, soggy underfoot, day at Membury Airfield. He had been flying for a few months by this time and it was clear that he could not be kept on the ground. Despite the bitterly cold temperatures, he was flying every moment he could, only landing when he couldn’t feel his hands any longer - and we all know how painful that is. But twenty minutes of thawing on the ground and he was off again into the sky.
I was intrigued as to how one would go about learning and teaching flying when the student pilot is deaf. This was one of my first questions to Simon Westmore, Connor’s instructor. Simon’s reply was perfect; “Why don’t you ask him?”
So I did.
Connor had what I imagined as the equivalent of a Spinal Tap Marshall amp turned up to 11, condensed into a small earpiece which he wears behind one ear - This, combined with some slick lip-reading, allows him to understand what is being said. He’s so good at this that it’s easy to forget that he can’t hear you and to turn your head away when talking because you forget that he needs to read your lips and face. As it turned out, Connor is considerably more eloquent that I am.
I was very interested in Connor’s background and wanted to know more about him and how he got the flying bug. It turned out to be something which many pilots will recognise immediately - At the age of sixteen, Connor was in Brighton and saw a paraglider in the sky. Since that day he frequently recalled that memory until he finally decided to get himself airborne.
A search on Google quickly brought up the PMC site and in August 2015 Connor found himself at Membury Airfield as his taste of the paramotoring world began. To check that paramotoring was what Connor actually wanted to do, his first visit was a ‘watching session’. This very quickly turned into a ground handling session, which he loved and took to very quickly. Connor found himself overwhelmed with excitement by this and the thought of the flying which was still to come.
A couple of weeks later Connor was back and trying the power unit on his back and getting used to it. During this time, communication skills he had learned, resulting from his deafness from birth, meant that he got used to each person very quickly (recognising each person’s different way of speaking ... there’s more to lip reading than it appears!), especially Simon who taught him all of the finer details of ground handling, preflight checks, safety precautions and everything a paramotor pilot needs to know instinctively.
There still remained the issue of not being able to use a two-way radio, as regular novice pilots do. To overcome this, the first lessons for taking off, control in the air, landing, etc. were all carried out by flying tandems with PMC instructor Clive Mason (CM Paramotors). Over two days, two long tandems were undertaken daily. Then followed a day in the classroom one-to-one, with Simon going through diagrams and demos of everything.
Connor was then ready for his first solo flight. Properly solo - no comms, no tandem pilot, just Connor.
It was no surprise for me to learn that Connor’s first launch was near perfect. He performed a couple of circuits of the airfield and went through everything he had been briefed about prior to the flight. Then followed an uneventful landing ... although the first question had to be did he land on his feet? No, of course not. It was his first solo flight but he didn’t care because as soon as he was on his feet he wanted to get back up in the air without delay. Which he did and has spent every available moment since that day flying or preparing for flying or waiting for the weather (a bit like every other pilot then!).
During training, Connor was using the school wing and motor, which isn’t unusual. The old rule of ‘Don’t buy anything until you are qualified’ is one of the best bits of advice any student is given because until you are flying and have used equipment you have nothing other than advice, sales pitch and your imagination to use for making buying decisions, whereas after training you are more likely to be in a better place to appreciate the pros and cons of various options.
As of now (March 2016) Connor is awaiting delivery of his brand new Synth II and has become the proud owner of the Parajet paramotor that he learned on.
At the time of writing, Connor has completed 25 solo flights and spends all of his time thinking about, looking forward to, or actually doing, PPG.
Looking back to life before flying I asked Connor what had changed. His friends and family had expressed concern prior to his taking lessons and weren’t sure that he should be learning to fly a paramotor. However, since he has been flying regularly (the British weather version of regularly, that is) they are all very happy and proud of his achievements.
Living in Oxford and working in the family business means that Connor can visit Membury Airfield when the weather is suitable and has already made efforts to find his own flying sites locally.
When asked about the future Connor expressed his desire to be flying for many years to come. Flying has given him a happiness which is different from previous experiences, leaving any worries and troubles back on the ground ... a familiar story for many pilots, I’m sure.
And a final sentence form Connor: "Flying means adventure, fabulous views, great people, lots of fun and it also fills the sometimes emptiness of life."
To our knowledge, Connor is the only deaf paramotor pilot in the UK, something for which he should be very proud. He has also now passed his PMC tests and is qualified.
Keep a look out for him at any PMC bashes - He’s very likely to be the first on the field and last on the ground every day!
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FLYKANDY RIDGE DE PRO PILOT JACKET - £300
Each winter I try to avoid using my flying suit for as long as I can - It’s not because I don’t like it or that it isn’t any good - in fact it’s superb - I just don’t like to admit that it’s winter and the days of flying in lighter clothing have gone for another year.
Several years ago, I bought a Montane Prism jacket and its first proper use was when I got to fly from Lake Bochin in the Slovenian Alps, over the peaks, and land near to the border with Italy.The other guys were all in flying suits and I liked the fact that I wasn't. It was a superb flight and I was so impressed with the performance of the Prism, and the fact it was lightweight, that it became my flying jacket of choice for the next few years.
Three years later, I saw all the pre-launch marketing for a new jacket from a start-up called Flykandy. I liked the sound of it but I was happy with the Prism and I'd also missed the first round of jackets which were released. The jacket was well received and feedback from those that got their hands on one led to several improvements in the second version of the jacket.
I was still happily using my Prism jacket when I noticed the offer some of you may remember from a few months ago, where the Ridge DE Pro jacket was available for a limited time for £250. That was it for me, a stupid amount of money for a jacket, even with the discount, but everyone I’d spoken to that owned one had only sung its praises. I also realised that I’d spend that much on my mountain jacket without a second thought, so came to the conclusion that when buying flying clothing I simply slip into tight-fisted PPG pilot mode. So I placed my order.
As the price had been reduced, Flykandy had been inundated with orders but in a reasonable time the jacket was delivered.
My first impressions was of a nicely-made jacket and when I put it on it felt very cosseting without being bulky or heavy. However, I found the compulsory thumb loops/wrist seals slightly clingy and I didn’t feel that the jacket was a very good fit, it seemed to pull back at the neck if I crouched down. I also struggled to open a couple of the arm pockets without holding the jacket with one hand and the zip with another. However, once I began to use the jacket when flying, it all came together.
Background and details
The Ridge DE Pro was designed for free-flight pilots, you can’t just pop into any outdoors shop and pick one up. It was designed by British pilots who wanted to make the jacket they wanted to use themselves. First off, its shoulders and forearms are reinforced with Cordura; the shoulder reinforcement protects the jacket from wear caused by harness shoulder straps and the forearms are protected from riser wear. It has to be said that the reinforcing doesn’t compromise movement or add any real stiffness to the jacket, it remains very easy to wear. My previous experience with Cordura was in a heavy-duty diving drysuit which is nothing like the Cordura used by Flykandy, which is soft and supple.
Pockets are everywhere - but not just for the sake of having pockets; they seem well placed and functional. And they have very usable pull loops on them, each with a reinforcing plastic semi-circlular puller, which are easy to use with gloved hands.
There are two pockets on each arm, one on the forearm and one on the upper arm. Both upper arm pockets zip up to open, whereas the lower arm pockets zip down to open and all have a D-ring attachment point sewn into them. They are a good size for stashing stuff you might want access to during flight, like a munchie bar. There is also a nicely made access point for comms in each pocket.
There are two chest pockets which are of a generous size, big enough for a gloved hand to fit through. Both chest pockets zip down to open and have nice quality Aquaguard zips from YKK. Along with a D-ring attachment point in each pocket, there is, again, an access point for comms.
One thing I had experienced when using a regular jacket, like my Prism, is that in flight the hood could get sucked out of its restraint and into the netting. This happened to me several times, but the Ridge DE Pro has no hood and is all the better for this omission. What it does have is a very high collar which feels luxurious. This, combined with a drawstring, means you can seal yourself from the cold and drafts very effectively without it feeling claustrophobic. I really like this aspect of the jacket, previously I have always had a draft down my neck no matter what I tried, especially once I had raised my arms.
The Ridge DE Pro has another few design features to help here, as it is long in the body so nothing changes when you raise your arms; it also has a ‘wind skirt’ which helps keep heat in the jacket and, as I mentioned at the beginning, thumb-loops. As well as preventing the sleeve from pulling your jacket's wrist away from your gloves when raising your arms, it also helps seal the cuff - and very effective it is.
A few other details about the jacket include the two underarm zips; these are about ten inches long and are useful for ventilation when working up a sweat. The jacket does not use down as an insulation material, which appeals to me a lot. It is also cut closer to the body, so is easy to wear in flight and does not add any unnecessary drag.
Not having worn the Ridge DE Pro in winter yet, I have flown in it at great height over the mountains, cold enough to numb my fingers in flying gloves. And I was toasty - amazingly so. Considering that I had just a t-shirt and a thin old fleece on underneath, I was impressed that the cold never bothered me - no drafts, no cold spots and complete comfort. I’ve made about a dozen flights in the jacket and have fallen in love with its ability to keep me warm and comfortable in the air.
My initial concerns, including not liking the colour combination of grey, black and yellow, have all vanished quickly and I find nothing I can really fault in the Ridge DE Pro … other than a couple of pieces of thread in the stitching that weren’t trimmed … and that the long-awaited Flykandy trousers haven’t materialised yet. If these turn out to be as good as the jacket then it will be an excellent combination.
At £300 it is an expensive buy, but there's nothing like it, especially when you consider that it has been designed specifically for our type of flying - and I like that it’s a UK company. If the Ridge DE Pro stands the test of time, and looking at the quality I see no reason why it shouldn’t, then for something that you know will keep you warm and comfortable throughout the year, it’s a very good buy. Put it on your Christmas list.
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