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.