October 22, 2012

Flying in Olu Deniz, Turkey

Flying with Hakahn -  a local Turkish pilot - on a 17 meter Aska Speed Wing.

After three weeks in the resort town of Olu Deniz, Turkey, the rain and thunder and lightning and wind has finally come. Normally, this might not be such a welcome event but today it's okay. I'm tired after flying for seventeen days straight and the rest is welcome.

The idea for this trip was hatched back in June when based in Chamonix. I'd always been keen to check out the climbing scene in Turkey, and when I found out that Olu Deniz was a world class flying destination (situated less than three hours from the climbing in Antalya), I was sold. I signed up for a four day SIV course run by Jocky Sanderson of Escape Paragliding and convinced my flying buddy Dylan Taylor to join.

For those who don't know, an SIV course (simulated incidence in vol) is generally run over a body of water where the pilot goes through a series of maneuvers (collapses, stalls, spins, spirals, and basic acro such as SATS and and wingovers), all while being coached over the radio. Between the life-jackets, the water and Jocky's voice enthusiastically coaxing students to - bury the brakes! slam em home! deeper! deeper! faster! harder! come on, really give it all you've got! more! more! that's it! good! - I think anyone can become quite brave.  After all, even if something goes south and the pilot ends up crashing or throwing a reserve, at least they land in the water. Of course, the ultimate goal of the course is to help the pilot feel more confident with their wing and to improve their ability to deal with funky situations that may arise during flight.

Dylan and I met up in Olu Deniz two days prior to the course to eat some kebabs, guzzle the local swill and boat around in the most buoyant and buttery air I have ever experienced. After less than twenty-four hours in town, we were privy to some great sports action and watched numerous pilots bomb outta the sky and smash in to the water. Some managed to deploy their reserves and land softly in the Mediterranean. Some managed to collide with other pilots mid-flight, get tangled up, and come down under two reserves. Other less fortunate souls managed to crash in to the water while pulling high G's in a spiral or sat. Ouch...

Apart from taking the SIV, a big goal of mine was to get comfortable flying smaller hybrid / speed-wings such as the Firefly 16 and the Fazer 12. I had never flown a 12 meter wing before and waited a few days before I felt confident enough to launch and land without killing myself. Needless to say, the beach is a very forgiving environment when the timing on one's flare is a little off... 

As for logistics, here are the nuts and bolts:

- The Olu Deniz flying scene revolves around the 1900 meter peak Babadag which hangs over town. Babadag has three distinct launches from 1700 meters, 1800 meters and 1900 meters (and some lesser ones from 300 meters and 900 meters). The landing is located on the beach and can get quite busy! Mornings are generally calm (good for flying close to terrain) while the afternoons provide consistent lift and soaring opportunities. Evenings tend to be calm and beautiful.

- Hotels that cater to pilots seem to range in price from 30 Turkish Lira (about 1.8 TL to the Loonie / Dollar) to 60 TL.

- Transport to launch costs between 10 TL + 15 TL / ride.

- There is also a forestry fee of 17 TL / ride up that mountain. After transport and forestry costs,  I was paying approx 108 TL / day to fly (4 flights).

- It is not unreasonable to get four flights / day if you are using a small wing or practicing acro.

- The food in town is great and dinner will set you back 10 - 30 TL depending on how much alcohol you drink. As a benchmark, you can buy 500 ml beers in the store for about 4 TL.

- I arrived in Dalaman at 1:30 am and was able to arrange for a transfer through my hotel that set me back about 130 TL.

Hard to beat... I learned more in a few hours of coastal kiting than in all the kiting I'd done up to this point.

Setting up for landing on the Firefly. I had more fun flying this wing here than any other. It glides like a paraglider but dives like a 16 meter.

Dylan easing in to some Turkish Coffee.

A cloudy afternoon at launch.

Dylan getting ready to launch his 18 meter Little Cloud from Babadag's 1700 meter take off. Diving through the wispy clouds in the evening light is amongst the strongest experiences I've had in flight.

Dylan's expression after hearing what the day's flying maneuvers would entail.

Heading out to sea.

Another narcissistic GoPro shot. 

"There is an art, it says, or rather a knack to flying. The knack lies in leaning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day, it suggests, and try it. The first part is easy. All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt . That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground." Taken from Douglas Adams' the Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy. 

During my three weeks of flying up to 4 laps / day, I have managed to miss the ground (violently) on all but two occasions. The first violent encounter with ground occurred on the rocks in the above photo. The wind was calm and I was forward launching my 16 meter Firefly. In order to do so, I usually start from the back of the runway, take a few easy steps to inflate the wing, and then sprint like a small, white Usain Bolt until the pavement runs out and the jagged rocks begin. I was feeling quite confident with this technique and was beginning to think that I was incapable of blowing it. On that day however, I did blow it and went sailing in to the rocks at full speed. Ouch. Don't ask me how I emerged without so much as a cut, but I guess I got really lucky. If you can remember the scene in Pulp Fiction when the guy unloads an entire clip on Samuel Jackson from point blank range and misses, well, that's how I felt. 

What went wrong? When watching a video of the event that evening, it looked as if the wing had a high angle of attack and was not fully pressurized. In truth, I felt this during the run, but made a split-second decision to stick with the launch and try to pull it off. Lesson learned. If something feels funny, it's probably a good idea to stop running.

Launching a small wing in light conditions is nothing like launching a regular sized paraglider. Because of the speed required to get in to the air, the entire process requires immeasurably more commitment. If you're too intelligent to enjoy running full speed towards a pile of hungry rocks, maybe it's best to wait for the wind to pick up.

Of course, when something like this happens in front of a large group of onlookers, it's ALWAYS a good idea to have an excuse in place. "Yeah, that wasn't really a crash, just a messy top-landing..."

Playing a game of fighter pilot on the small wings.

During the SIV.

First SAT

The Fazer 12 is incredibly versatile. It can dive quite steep or glide surprisingly well. I was able to fly from Babadag's 1700 meter, 1800 meter and 1900 meter (both directions) launches and make it easily back to the beach. Of course, the 1900 meter north launch dubbed Patara might not work out so well on a small wing if you encounter sink.


A civilized way to finish the day.

October 15, 2012

Baffin Island Base Jumping and Skiing Commercial Film Shoot

JT Holmes launching into a barrel roll above the Sam Ford Fjord.

Back in May, a few days after finishing the 2011/2012 heli-ski season, Josh Lavigne and I came in to a few weeks of snow safety work on a commercial film shoot in Baffin Island's Sam Ford Fjord. Until now, we weren't supposed to post any photos of the action nor talk about the details of the shoot. But since the campaign has now gone viral, here is a look at the finished product and a behind the scenes clip. 

Thanks to everyone for making it such a memorable trip!

To watch the commercial click here

To watch the behind-the-scenes clip, check out the video below:

First jump of the trip. The shoot was supposed to have helicopter support but the machine never showed up because of bad weather between Iqualuit and Clyde River. So we all ended up burning a lot more calories than we expected!

Jumping with Ottawa Peak in the background. Ottawa Peak was the location of the ski base (the hanging snow slope in the cloud).

It's hard to imagine a more wild pursuit in a more dramatic environment.

Different perspective of the exit in the previous photos.

Jesse half way in to a big gainer.

Jesse, Timmy and JT launching perhaps the first 3-way ski base ever performed. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around this photo.

October 04, 2012

One week of California Airsports

Evening flight over Canmore with Ha Ling in the background. The wing is a Gin Yeti 19 that weighs 2.5 kgs and is super fun to fly. I am also using a reversible Gin Speedride harness that weighs just over 2 kgs and a Sup Air Extralite Reserve (medium) with the Extralite Container. This set-up is perfect for the hike-and-huck peaks around town.

I've been accused of being impulsive and well, what can I say? A few weeks back, I was sitting at home with a few days off. The sky was grey. Rain was falling. And the untouched Ozone Firefly that I'd recently purchased was begging to be released from it's stuff sack and put in it's proper place - the sky.

So I booked one week trip to southern California, rented a car, and signed up for a day of speed-flying instruction at Speed Fly Soboba. For those who aren't sure, speed-flying is much like paragliding only the wing is smaller and faster and you can fly closer to terrain. Technically, the 16 meter Ozone Firefly is a hybrid wing, but these days it seems like anything smaller than 18 meters gets lumped in the speed-wing category. Okay.

Flying is an amazing sport but it is not forgiving. In most activities, people can make mistakes and walk away. In flying, and especially speed-flying, rookie mistakes can have long lasting consequences. So it seemed like a good idea to have an instructor watch over me during the first flights. 

I met Jerome D at 9 am at the Soboba Flight Park. He pulled up in a 2010 Corvette with 450 hp under the shiny red hood and I thought wow, this guy must get tipped really well. We did some ground-handling and a few short flights on a Spitfire 18, and then I transitioned  to the 16 meter Firefly. Between my scant 70 kgs and the 15 km/h headwind, the wing came up fast and easy and I was away from the slope in a flash. I got in many more flights that week and even got a few on the school's Ozone Fazer 14 - which was fast, precise, rock solid and a ton of fun to fly.

And since I was already in the area, I signed up for an AFF Course at the Perris Valley Drop Zone. The AFF ie: Accelerated Free Fall is a basic skydiving course comprised of a series of eight jumps. Once I got over the sensory overload of the first few jumps, I can say that this was probably the most type-1 fun thing I have ever done. The staff and instructors at Perris Valley were awesome and it was a pleasure learning from them. 

The Soboba Flight Park is not too far from J-Tree.

The instructor Jerome D - a retired electrical engineer who runs the informative paragliding website http://www.expandingknowledge.com/  

The ride to launch.

 I wasn't doing a good job of flying close to the terrain.


After a day on the Firefly, I got to fly the school's brand new Fazer 14

Coming in hot.

After seeing this, I started thinking that I was safer in the air.

Mom, if you're reading this, you might not want to watch. This was jump 6 out of 8. The fun starts at the 40 second mark.


Back home in the Rockies.