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165 Mile Paramotor XC - Challow to Steart in Somerset

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I had an amazing XC (Cross Country) flight on Saturday 26th August 2017.  Planning started the day before when our club member Jules sent a whatsapp group message to Challow Paramotor Club members offering ground support for anyone interested in doing a long XC.  I accepted Jules's kind offer and planning started...

I have been wanting to fly the 75 mile journey to my parents home in Somerset for 5 years, so it was a perfect opportunity with the light winds forecast and ground support.  
 
First check was Notams for the whole route to check there were no airspace infringements.  Then I checked the weather forecast between Challow, Bath and Bridgwater.  I calculated that a return trip was possible as long as I planned a few fuel stops.  Jules messaged the group to say he found an airstrip at Brown Shutters Farm with PPR (prior permission required).  This is located at Norton St Philip just south of Bath and Jules was happy to meet us there with fuel. I located the airstrip on google maps and phoned Andy Greenwell at the airfield to request permission to land a few paramotor's, he said it wasn't a problem.
 
I spent the rest of Friday afternoon making final preparations such as fuel, oil, charging up the electronics which consisted of a camera, phone, powerbank, kobo flight computer and Bluetooth comms.  Then I prepared the van for camping at Challow as I wanted to be at the field for a 7:30am start on Saturday morning.
 
I drove to Challow from my home in Reading, a 25 mile journey by road and arrived at dusk on Friday evening, it was a warm night, on arrival Tony and Peter were already set up for the evening and enjoying a couple of drinks when I arrived.  The plan for the following day was for Jules to meet us at Challow at about 7am to pick up our fuel and take it on to the airstrip at Norton St Philip.  Peter decided he would join me, but only to the airstrip, from there I would be on my own the rest of the way to Steart in Somerset and the return journey back.  This made me slightly nervous as it's alway good to fly in numbers.  However Jules had already suggested he would track us both, so we set up a Life 360 tracking app which was reassuring.  Before going to sleep on Friday night I helped Peter add in the waypoints into his kobo and we agreed to set our alarms for 6am.



After a nice restful night, I woke up on Saturday morning, had a little breakfast before Peter and I prepared the paramotors for take off.  My setup is a Bulldog Polini Thor 110cc motor with a Dudek Nucleon XX 22 wing.  Peter has the same wing as mine, however his is size 24 and he flies a PAP paramotor.  Jules arrived to collect our fuel and set off to meet us at the airstrip while Tony prepared for a local flight.  
 
At 7:45am I took off and circled in our holding area waiting for Peter to get airbourne.  Once he was up, we both headed South West towards Brown Shutters Farm Airstrip.  One of my waypoints on route was Avebury Stone Circle which was where we headed first.  I thought it would be good to send an update to Facebook friends about my XC trip, so I did some Facebook live commentary about my plans for the day.

 


After 1hr 20mins and 40 miles flying we arrived over the airstrip at Norton St Philip, I could already see Jules on the ground next to his windsock.  I reduced altitude for the landing and choose to go around a few times as this was a new site with the middle of the airstrip on top of a hill, I wanted the best approach with the light wind which was switching directions.  I landed safely just to the side of the strip on the short stubble harvested crop followed by Peter.  
 
 
 
Jules had already prepared some refreshments and gave us coffee, chocolate and helped us refuel.  I introduced myself to a nice chap called Brad who was preparing his microlight for a flight to the Isle of Wight.  He gave me directions to fuel station across the road which would come in handy for future visits.  Brad then gave me instructions on where to find the airfield log book, we were also required to pay a £5 landing fee, which we did.  We also met Geoff and his wife who were about to fly to North Wales in their yellow aeroplane, we watched them takeoff and then made our own preparations to get airborne again.

 

 
Peter took off first, he headed back to Challow.  I then immediately set up for launch with some final help from Jules (this is the end of ground support and I'm on my own now).  I took off around 11am and headed towards Steart in Somerset, another 35 miles away.  It was a bumpy climb, so I decided to keep climbing above the band of large cumulus clouds until I was above them at over 4000ft above Wells.  By doing this I was able to avoid the thermal activity which was building beneath me.  It was an amazing sight to be above these clouds as I have rarely flown in the middle of the day in hot conditions as I usually avoid this time due to thermal activity. 



As I neared my destination 10 miles away the wind switched direction, this was probably due to the sea breeze, shortly after this the band of clouds disapeared.  This followed by amazing views of Burnham-on-Sea. I continued on towards one of the freshly cut fields by Steart Marshes, as I reduced altitude the bumps increased, I was glad to land safely around 12:30pm.  I called my parents and waited for a retrieve.





My Dad arrived at the gate of the field where I landed, I loaded up all my gear into the boot of his car, detached the fuel tank from my bulldog paramotor, this would make it easy to refuel once I got to the fuel station.  I decided to leave the paramotor in the field, I strategically placed it inside a hedgerow, hidden from sight, this was a nervous decision as there is a small risk someone could discover it, but the odds were in my favour, the field was not overlooked and there was no reason why anyone would venture into the field while I spent a few hours with my parents.




Once all the equipment was loaded into Dad's car, we drove to the fuel station so I could top up the fuel.  I mixed this with the 2 stroke oil I had stored in my flight deck.  Once fuel was sorted we drove to my parents house and my Mum gave me lunch.  After an hour or so of catching up with Mum and Dad I asked if they would take me back to the landing field so I could prepare for the 75 mile return flight.



On arrival back at the field, I was relieved to see my paramotor was still there.  I re-attached the fuel tank and began to prepare the equipment. I ground handled the wing to feel the conditions.  It was quite gusty at 3pm, so I stood down for 30 mins to wait for the conditions to improve, fortunately they did.  I warmed up the motor, hooked in to the wing and said goodbye to the parents. They have not seen me launch before, so this had to be a good one!  It was, I launched nicely and headed back on the return leg north east making an average ground speed of 30mph.  I aimed to stop again at the same airstrip at Norton St Philip, this was to insure the fuel was topped up, although I could have probably done the full return journey on 1 tank. After about 1 hour of flying I approached the airstrip and landed safely.

My plan was to walk over to the fuel station to top up, but as I was dismantling the fuel tank I noticed a vehicle drive towards me and stop, it was Andy Greenwell who I had spoken to on the phone the day before to request permission to land.  Andy offered to take me to the fuel station, this was a big help, so I jumped in and we ventured up the road to refuel.  On arrival back at the airstrip I was offered a cup of tea and we exchanged aviation chat. During this moment Geoff and his wife landed from their trip to North Wales and shortly after Brad launched his microlight to fly to Isle of Wight. I finished my tea and it was time to leave.  I took some final photos and said my goodbyes to the very welcoming folk at Brown Shutters and set up to launch.
 
 
 
 
I was airborne by about 6pm, the air was butter smooth and still calm, so I continued to make an average 30mph across the ground.  I flew almost the same route I travelled in the morning, however this time with a small deviation so that I could fly over Caen Locks in Devizes.  This was followed by a fly over of one of the white horses and crossing paths of a hot air balloon.  With the last 20 miles I flew over Avebury again and began to relax, knowing that every mile I cover, I'm closer to help should I have any engine issues.  

 




I'm soon back over our field in Challow and land safely at 7:30pm. What an awesome adventure, if you haven't tried a long distance XC, try it.  It beats bumbling around in the same area and adds a sense of purpose to your flying adventures.

 
 
More Photos:-   
https://flic.kr/s/aHsm3NH6wk
 
GPS Tracks:-
 
Flight Computer:-
If anyone is interested in the flight computer I used. It's a kobo mini with sunlight readable screen. I followed the "BlueFlyVarioTTL" instructions under the first link below to build the flight navigation computer...

Build kobo flight computer:-
http://www.dotmana.com/weblog/2014/05/kobo-mini-gps-mod/

TopHat Soaring software:-
http://www.tophatsoaring.org/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Rl3AMqzJrw

Map generator:-
http://xcsoar-mapgen.sigkill.ch/

Local Airspace Formats:-
http://t3d2.sourceforge.net/AirSpace/AirSpace.html 

NOTE - You are responsible to check that the airspace is up to date and it's best to cross reference airspace on an up to date air map before flight.
 

My First Paramotor Competition - Icarus X

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Entering the 2017 Icarus X - UK Edition - Icarus Trophy

I’m a fair weather paramotor pilot who mainly flies in silky smooth air. I knew the Icarus X adventure race was going to be a challenge mentally and push me out of my comfort zone, so leading up to the event I received some advice from fellow Challow Paramotor Club member Simon Walker who encouraged me to enter.  Simon entered the event last year and shared some valuable advice.
 
I monitored the forecasts in the week leading up to the race, I was only going to attempt it with a very decent weather window.  The forecast was looking promising, so I started planning my itinerary during the week leading up to the event.  This involved researching fuel stations on google earth strategically placed next to suitable fields along the route, this included 2 checkpoints we had to collect in Devon and Cornwall.  The route was uploaded to my new kobo flight computer and I organised some last minute camping preparations as we were expected to camp on route for at least one night.  I’m now happy with my preperation and the forecast is looking promising, so I booked my place.

Icarus X Itinerary
 
I arrived at Pitney Airfield in Somerton at 12:00 on Friday 7th July, I completed final kit preparations before the race briefing at 14:00.  The briefing started under the shade of the Icarus HQ tent.  I was one of 16 pilots to enter, we all sat around and were advised about the race rules, airspace and safety.  This also included instructions on how to use the Satellite trackers we were issued with.  We also added our numbers to a list for a WhatsApp group so we could share our adventures with each other. At the end of the briefing we had to choose to take part in either race or adventure class.  With the race class the rules quote - “Race Division pilots must fly unsupported and get there first to win”.  With the adventure class the rules are a bit more relaxed so you can have, well an adventure!  The rules quote - “Adventure Division Pilots must simply make it to the finish line.  Pilots can accept outside support and travel forward using transport other than flying.”  Well I’m up for an adventure, so I entered the Adventure class.


Katy - IcarusX HQ
 
The race started at 16:00, the winds were increasing and this is not helping with my nerves.  A few pilots were ground handling to feel the conditions, a few other pilots got away safely and others had some failed launches, with gusts catching out another pilot who took off and then crash landed, he was fine, but the damage to the machine put him out of the race.  Everyone was told to stand down, even the pilots on route received a message and were asked to land as soon as it’s safe. Looking at the increasing winds on the forecast I assumed that was it for the night, so I put my motor under cover and prepared for an early night. Sunset was drawing closer, but around 20:00 there was a mad dash as we noticed the gusts dying down, HQ advised we could now launch at our own discretion, so I decided to get set up, launch and make some ground.


Pilots preparing to race at Pitney Airstrip

Flight 1 - From Pitney Airstrip

Take off from Pitney Airfield at 20:37, I headed NW, trimmers out to penetrate the head wind, Adventure class must land at sunset, so it was not long before I'm scanning for suitable landing/camping spots.  I find a nice flat field and land about 21:10.  I'm not far from Bridgwater and about 12 miles from where I started.  I report back to HQ that I'm safe then walked to the nearest house, knocked on the door and tried to make them feel sorry for me with the hope they would offer me shelter.  Instead they said it was OK for me to camp in their field and were nice enough to supply me with water, fruit, crisps and biscuits.  With the fading light I rushed back to my kit and prepared camp, this consisted of a large tarp stretched over my paramotor and anchored with paracord and tent pegs.  I didn’t have a sleeping bag or ground mat so I decided to rip up as much long grass as I could from the edge of the field and proceeded to lay it under my shelter for a bit of comfort, at least I was wearing my flying suit!  I thought I was set for the night, however every time I closed my eyes I heard strange munching noises and started clapping my hands to scare whatever it was off.  After about an hour of this I realised the munching noises were actually long weeds waving in the increasing wind scraping against the tarp! It’s now about 02:00 and I start to feel cold, so I spend another few hours awake trying to stay warm. Shortly after 04:00 I decided I’m not going to get any sleep and began packing up ready for the next flight.

Paramotor bivouac camping 

 

Flight 2 - From Random Camping Field, nr Bridgwater.

As I didn’t sleep all night my energy was low, the wing was damp and this resulted in about 4 failed launches. I finally launched at 06:20, this was 1 hour later than planned, I then headed for my first pre-planned fuel stop at Minehead.  On route I had to navigate around a few rain clouds above the Quantock Hills and experienced some scary turbulence, so trims right out then!  I make it over the high ground and continue on to Tesco fuel station in Minehead.  I could already see a few wings laid out in my pre-planned field, so I was a bit more comfortable landing there too. I'm safely on the ground at 07:30 and send the usual I have arrived safely message back to HQ.  This was quite a popular field, Simon and a few other pilots were already fueled and ready to go. I was pleased I wasn't too far behind so I removed my fuel tank from my Bulldog Paramotor and dashed to the Tesco garage over the road.  On arriving at the fuel pump with Tony Walsh, we were approached by a very angry local who was very aggressive.  He was upset that a couple of noisy paramotors flew over his house at 05:00 and said it’s all over Facebook and he had called the police!  He was on the verge of losing it, so I apologised, he then walked off cursing and blinding.  Back at the field I prepare to launch, but things didn't go well.  I was heavy with fuel, exhausted and the very low winds were not in my favour, so I was failing launches, then to top it all my flight deck strap broke, so I had to walk into town to buy a trouser belt which I modified to fasten the flight deck to my waist.  With energy even lower, I needed some help, so I managed to thumb a lift back to the launch field from an old lady called Christa. Back at the field I spent a couple more failed launches and I was on the verge of giving up!

Andy & Simon - Minehead

Flight 3 - From Minehead

Finally I'm airborne from Minehead at 10:10 and start climbing the high ground in clear conditions towards Exmoor, passing over Samphire Festival in Porlock, this must be where Timmi Danger landed and gate crashed the party last night, what a legend! I'm now heading to my first checkpoint at Lynton by the Valley of The Rocks. I'm slowly getting used to the turbulence from the hills and valleys below, this would have me grounded back at home but I press on!  I land safely but not elegantly and was greeted by Tony Walsh who was out of the race with engine issues and off to find a local pub. Before he left me, he said “don’t forget to get your stamp from the microwave”, at which point my phone and GPS tracker starts pinging as HQ could see that I had stopped moving and I hadn't reported back. I immediately submit “I have arrived safely” messages on both devices and my mind is reassured that HQ are watching over me.  I made my way over to the windsock which was waving in the gentle breeze above an old microwave, I reached inside and took out the tupperware box containing the stamp and applied the black Icarus X logo for checkpoint 1 onto my arm, whilst taking some video evidence for the WhatsApp group - success!

Checkpoint 1 - Lynton, Near The Valley Of The Rocks

Flight 4 - From Lynton - Checkpoint 1

I take off at 12:50 with a nice and easy launch and continued flying to Holsworthy, I got bumped around for over an hour, but the longer this goes on, the more I trust my wing.  The weather was deteriorating as some clouds were looking and feeling nasty so I landed just outside Holsworthy village, choosing a nice big random field, I’m safely on the ground at 14:07. I send my arrival message back to HQ while watching a man jump out of his van and rushing towards me.  I was relieved to find out his urgency was because he was concerned for me.  We exchanged names, his was Lindsay and he wandered why I had landed.  I told him about my adventure so far and asked if he wouldn't mind giving me a lift to the garage to get fuel.  He agreed and brought me back to the field I launched from.  We exchanged a few more life stories and I thanked him for his help, I asked for a photo for my memories, then he departed.

Very nice man Lindsay helped me with a trip to the fuel station. 

Flight 5 - From Holsworthy

After many exhausting failed launches due to the light wind flowing down slope I finally got airborne at 16:55.  From here I flew through more turbulence with ever increasing confidence from my wing, passing over the disused airfield at Davidstow Moor where I saw lots of activity below, such as radio control planes, motor bikes and even another paramotor out for a local flight.   I press on towards the final checkpoint and land nicely at 17:57 into a nice steady breeze coming up over the hill.  I send my arrived message to HQ whilst hearing nothing but sheep barring all around me.  I then proceeded to get my second Icarus X red checkpoint stamp, this was in another tupperware box under a windsock. If I had arrived 30 mins later, I may have struggled to find it as a herd of cows appeared from nowhere and eat the windsock!

Checkpoint 2 - Near Bodmin

Flight 6 - From Nr Bodmin - Checkpoint 2

I’m back in the air again departing at 18:50, this time quickest launch ever, thank god for the nice reversible conditions as I didn't want the herd of cows to feast on my wing.  I now head towards Bodmin Moor Service Station to top up with more fuel.  Conditions are becoming smoother as it’s getting later, I continue over a few miles of barren land and was relieved to soon be flying over a main road.  As I get nearer to the service station, I realise the field I planned to land in was all crop, so I had to put it in the next field, furthest away from the garage. I land safely at 19:29, report back to HQ and proceeded to get more fuel, this required a short walk around the edge of the crop field before having to climb over the barb wire fence. Once fuel was sorted I took it back to the motor and set up for another flight.  I tried taking off, but slipped on the dew which was quickly making everything damp, including my wing!  That’s it, I report back to HQ that I’m camping again tonight, I’m now the last man out while everyone else made it back to HQ for a hog roast! At least I have the 24hr garage next door!  I set up the hammock between the gate posts and positioned the tarp over me and my equipment and prepared for much needed sleep.  However I didn't sleep I shivered, this was much colder than the night before, but I stuck it out until about 04:00 and decided enough's, enough.  I got my boots on and ventured back out to the warmth of the 24hr esso garage.  Liam was covering the night shift and I told him about my adventure so far and how cold I was after trying to sleep in the field next door.  I purchased some food and energy drinks, then returned back to the field to pack up camp.  When I returned everything was so damp, I was tired and needed things to dry out to give me half a chance of launching.  The fog continued to get worse and I realise I’m grounded. The only option now is to thumb a lift home, but first I need help lifting my gear over the barb wire fence.  Luckily Liam was just finishing his night shift and offered to help me fetch my gear.  Once I have my gear over the fence, I set out to strategically set up my flying equipment in front of the garage to try and get noticed by each vehicle that stopped, but no one was paying any attention so I had to change my strategy. I watched the main road like a hawk, waiting to pounce on any vehicle big enough for my equipment which was heading north.  It didn’t take long as a 4x4 with a broken down classic car on tow pulls in and I eagerly rush towards it. I make eye contact with the driver and continue pacing towards him to beg for a lift anywhere north.  It turns out he was going all the way to Bridgwater, this is only 14 miles from HQ and 10 mins away from my parents. I told him my story and he slowly opened up to giving me a lift.  We loaded up the vehicle, exchanged names, his name was John.  We then left the services and were heading north exchanging life stories.  Back in Bridgwater I’m dropped off and await the rescue of Mum and Dad who drove me the rest of the way to Icarus HQ.

         
Hitched a ride with John to Bridgwater
Liam helped me move the Paramotor

 

 

 

 








Back at Icarus HQ - Somerton

I arrive back to HQ where the adventure began.  Although I missed the main prize giving ceremony everyone waited for me as it turns out I had been declared the winner of the Adventure Class the night before.  I received the trophy and posed for some photos with Mark Morgan who won the Icarus Race Class. What an amazing adventure!

IcarusX Winners Andy Bexx & Mark Morgan


PLEASE SUPPORT RUEBEN'S FIGHT BY MAKING A DONATION HERE VIA THE LINK BELOW:-

IcarusX Satellite Tracking map - https://tracking.theadventurists.com/#icarusxseries/icarusxseriesuk2017/bexxy/340277

More Photos:-
https://flic.kr/s/aHskZEdbag

Videos:-
1st Flight from Pitney - https://youtu.be/TtHwyalfMZY

XC Padworth to Challow Paramotor Club

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Sunday 2nd July - 70km Return Flight from Padworth to Challow Paramotor Club. 

Wind was from the West, between 4-9mph. I took off from Padworth at 19:50 and headed towards Challow which is just over 20miles away, I knew it would be tight on Fuel with the slight head wind, so I phoned Stephen from the air using my bluetooth comms (https://youtu.be/vPwGh9fYuDI) and he offered to mix up some extra fuel, otherwise I would have had to fly back as I didn’t have enough to do the trip. After the call to Stephen my progress slowed as the head wind increased over the ridgeway so progress was slower than expected and was using up valuable daylight time, anxiety kicks in! I arrived at Challow and landed at 21:03 (1hr 13mins), the guys gave me a burger and coffee and added an extra 3 litres of fuel to my motor. I had no time to socialise as I knew this was cutting it fine as I have to be back at my local field and on the ground by 21:50, so I only had time for a quick hello, sip of the coffee, a few bites of the burger before heading straight back (Thanks StephenTony & Phil, great service and much appreciated, sorry I couldn't stop longer, maybe next time?)

I’m airborne after only 10mins on the ground as I launched from Challow at 21:13 and I flew back home in an almost perfect straight line (as the crow flies) whilst constantly performing time vs ground speed calculations to work out if I was going to make it back in time before the end of legal daylight. I put trimmers out all the way for the last 10mins and gained an extra 4mph, now flying 44mph ground speed, downwind, I worked out I might just make it in time. Sure enough, I approached my home field and landed at 21:50 with no time to spare, right on the legal limit! 

So glad to make it back, I had visions of having to land a few miles away to stay legal, fortunately I didn’t have to. I won’t do that again in a hurry and before I attempt a flight during this late in the day I will make sure I have a strobe as I felt more vulnerable than usual with the fading day light.

You can follow my track which I have uploaded to doarama - http://doarama.com/view/1459855

Last Flight of the Summer: the Light Fantastic

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Sunday 31st August 2014

This morning, Challow Chatterers on WhatsApp went through the possibilities for the day, so I decided to fly in from Cumnor and land at Challow, with high hopes that someone would have a brew of whatever sort at the ready. It is just 18Km ATCF, but, with a bit of a headwind, and being easily distracted by pretty sights, and having a secret preference for slow trim, it took 1hr 26mins and 40.6Km before reaching Challow, by which time sunset was too nigh to risk stopping for chats and a cuppa. I had meandered along the Thames, over Harrowdown Hill, where poor David Kelly met his end, past little known Cherbury Camp (bigger than Uffington Castle) and skirted Stanford in the Vale and Uffington before approaching our own White Horse. The light was fantastic, especially for photography, with a surreal Harvest Time glow, as in the picture below of the Horse. Returning to Cumnor via Challow, fields looked to be on fire as the sun caught dust and debris spewed forth by combine harvesters.
You can see some pix from my last flight of the official summer in the album A Bucolic Oxon Harvest Time Evening Flight
And also here The First Flight of Autumn

Demolition Day

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Sunday 27th July 2014

Today is the day that they are going to blow up the 3 south cooling towers at Didcot Power Station.

The Demolition company stated that the towers will be blown up between the hours of 3.00am - 5.00am.

Local residents and people that had a interest in the power station petitioned the Demolition company to

try and get the time put back to a later time.

They insisted it was a health and safety issue and did not want large numbers of spectators turning up and said that the time would not be changed.

Fair enough, they are playing with 180kgs of explosives.

2 days before a Notams was put in place, surface to 700ft amsl between 04.45 - 05.30

now that tells me the button will be pushed at about 5.00am.

My plan was to film the demolition from above the towers if I could legally get there.

I laid my wing out for a forward at 4.30am sunrise is at 5.15am ish,

its still fairly dark so I have to check my lines carefully.

Airborne by 4.45am ,full trim and with a bit of luck going downwind, its very grey and overcast and the sun is nowhere in sight.

I climb to approx. 1000ft and the towers are minutes away FLASH, BANG 5.00am they go,10 seconds later the 3 south cooling towers are down.

I saw all three go down and the dust cloud that followed.

At that height the conditions were not suitable for filming.

here is a very good clip taken from Youtube.

http://youtu.be/JxLXsSy1ZV8

I then had the slow flight back into wind to my bed.

JOB DONE

Paul