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Thursday, 22 February 2018 06:37

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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.