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.

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