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latest Para-Newbie News-n-Pics, Feb07, Issue #0002, monthly e-zine.
February 28, 2007

Fresh Paragliding Stuff

Selected News, Images, Site Update

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Issued on Feb 28th 2007, Issue #0002

Table of Contents

1. News of the Month

2. Image of the Month

3. Website Content of the Month

News of the Month

Having scoured the Web using a number of world news resources, I have ended up choosing 2 stories that unfolded in my own country, Australia. These were both associated with the lead-up to the Paragliding World Championships now underway in Manilla, in the state of New South Wales.

Manilla 2007 will be the first ever World Championships to be held in an English speaking country. How's that for a piece of paragliding trivia. The competitors are from 45 different nations, and they launch themselves each flying day from Mount Borah in northern New South Wales. The four launches have been impressively upgraded to cope with all the activity. The competition website quotes big numbers, like 15,000 square meters (160,000 square feet) of artificial grass and 1000 tonnes (uhm.. many tons) of gravel. I guess that would look and feel a bit surreal to your average weekend flyer!

Anyway, on with the news!

Attacked By Eagles

Source: The Scotsman

Date: 03 Feb 2007

Now, I've mentioned somewhere on the website about an encounter I had with a hawk, while flying a sailplane many years ago. But that can't possibly compare to this next bird-encounter story! It involves a female paragliding pilot, in fact a champion British paraglider pilot, Nicky Moss. I wonder if the fact she did her paragliding training in Scotland has anything to do with the fact this story was reported by a Scottish paper. Most likely. Anyway...

In a nutshell, Nicky was attacked by 2 wedge-tailed eagles while on a cross-country flight. She was getting familiar with local flying conditions, leading up to the World Paragliding championships in Manilla. Let me say up-front that attacks by eagles or other birds of prey are very unusual. Most pilots of any kind of glider crave the chance to join a thermal with a soaring bird of some sort. The bigger the bird, the better. If it's not flapping, it's almost certainly going up! Very reliable thermal-markers, they are. This relationship between bird and man is well illustrated by this dark T-shirt design.

Nicky was at around 2,400 meters (8,000 feet) when her soaring solitude was rudely interrupted by 2 large wedge-tails. Their wingspans were around 2 meters, or 6 feet. They repeatedly flew at her canopy, scratching and tearing at it with their claws.

Nicky decided to land and started to descend in a hurry. One of the creatures managed to get entangled in the lines, after swooping from behind and hitting the back of Nicky's helmet! It slid down, clawing at her face with its talons. Somewhere during all this, the canopy suffered a collapse, just to make things even more interesting for the pilot!

Eventually the pair of birds called off hostilities and flew back to base, having achieved their mission objective of shaking-up the enemy pilot. ;-) By this stage, Nicky was down to around 300 feet above ground, and had considered throwing her reserve parachute at one point. She landed safely, and was very relieved to be on the ground.

A bird expert later commented on this story. The expert thought that the birds were just defending their territory, intending to scare off the intruder. Wedge-tailed eagles are usually very shy.

An Australian paraglider pilot, Godfrey Wenness, said eagle attacks were rare, but in this case the paraglider had been flying in an area where the birds were not used to humans.

All in all, no cause for alarm for anyone wanting to try paragliding! It's only a small proportion of flights that encounter large birds, and even then, trouble with them is very rare.

Unintentional Paragliding Altitude Record

Source: Associated Press

Date: 17 Feb 2007

This story had amazing coverage around the world, so I'm sorry if you have already read about it. Heck, my mother even dropped in a photo-copied page for me to read, not even knowing about this newsletter. See what I mean. But if you haven't seen/read/heard anything, it's truly incredible. 200 pilots were on practice flights for the Paragliding World Championships at Manilla, when at least 2 storm systems developed in the area. Nearly everyone managed to land safely, avoiding the big no-no of flying in or near thunderstorms. Two pilots were unable to descend in time and were sucked up to great altitude by a rapidly developing storm cell. The usual altitude-losing techniques were of no use, such was the strength and extent of the updraft.

Tragically, a Chinese pilot died when he was struck by lightning on his way up. But the other pilot, a German lady called Ewa Wisnierska, survived the experience after being carried to almost 10,000 meters above sea level. That's higher than Everest, and close to the cruising altitude of jumbo jets!

Passing through 9000 meters, Ewa noticed ice forming on her instruments and sunglasses. Lightning flashed around her, and GPS tracking showed that it had taken just 15 minutes to reach her maximum altitude from her original altitude of 760 meters (2500 feet). Hang on, while I whip out my calculator... that's an average climb rate of over 10 meters per second! That's 1,970 feet per minute or 36 km per hour or 19 knots of vertical speed. And of course, that's despite all her attempts to lose altitude rapidly. Also, her GPS log recorded a peak rate of climb of 20 meters per second. Gulp. Just double all those figures in other units.

Another angle I just realized. Since 36 kph is around the middle of a typical paraglider's speed range, Ewa would have been sailing upwards at more than a 45 degree angle much of that time! Like a winch launch without the cable. What a wild, scary ride. Plus being battered with hailstones the size of tennis balls.

For about 30 minutes during her ordeal, Ewa was unconscious, and doctors say that was the factor that probably saved her life. During this time, the paraglider canopy continued to fly, gaining and losing altitude several times. Upon regaining consciousness, Ewa was able to fly the paraglider to a safe landing. She was severely frostbitten but glad to be alive. The fact her equipment survived the hail amazed her.

Although this will never be an official altitude record, it sure beats the current world record of around 5,500 meters (18,000 feet) by a huge margin. Only very special gear will allow anyone in future to pass this altitude and live to tell the tale.

Image of the Month

There's plenty of paragliding imagery on the Web these days, much of it so-so. Thanks to some paraglider manufacturer friends of mine, I can bring you some great pics that you might not find anywhere else. Hope you enjoy this month's featured picture, below. Just click on it to enlarge.

An unusual shot, this. It's the Merlin paraglider, manufactured by Independence. The wing is being held in a full stall during testing. Can you guess the country, from the steep wooded terrain? Somewhere in Austria apparently.

Website Content of the Month

Pages are always being added to the site, and I've selected a recent one to focus on here. Particularly in the United States, Ultralight aircraft are quite popular and there is a whole flying sub-culture around them. Of the various types, I'm referring to the kind that look similar to the 'light aircraft' you might see at any airport. Americans refer to these as 'Light Sport' aircraft, reserving the term 'Ultralight' for an even lighter class of aircraft.

My page on Ultralights vs Powered Paragliders makes the point that motorized paragliders are technically one particular type of Ultralight aircraft in general. Having said that, the page goes on to highlight the differences. Obviously, the Ultralights that look like 'light aircraft' are vastly different from paragliders in many ways. However, it's still interesting to see the performance figures and other specs side by side. Particularly costs!

It should be clear to anyone reading my Ultralights vs Powered Paragliders page that the era of being able to own your own motorized aircraft has finally arrived! Almost anyone on an average wage that is, with not too many expensive tastes apart from flying.

Bearing in mind that this paragliding newsletter and in fact most of the website is really for 'newbies', any constructive feedback is welcome! Just reply to this newsletter and tell me your thoughts.

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