Sunday, February 23, 2014

Women of Aviation Week

International Women's Day is celebrated worldwide on March 8.  That is also the anniversary of the first woman pilot license, which was the inspiration for Women of Aviation Worldwide week.

Paragliding (and hang gliding too) is a sport that attracts a lot more men than women, especially here in North America.  Reasons for this are debated over beer at the end of epic flying days, but one possible explanation that never seems to be brought up is lack of role models.

A lot of women start lessons because their boyfriends fly, and because it's not their own passion most of them drop out.  But would more of them stay in the sport if there were a greater number of women pilots overall?

I for one had never thought about instructing and flying tandems until I met a young female pilot who was training for her license.  Up until then almost every tandem pilot I met was a male in his late 40's or 50's, so not only a different gender but also not in my age group.  So seeing Veronica doing her tandem training totally changed my perspective and within a year of meeting her I got my own tandem rating and haven't looked back since.

So to "Fly it Forward" I'm doing my part to celebrate Women of Aviation week by (1) giving away a free instructional tandem to a female through my Facebook page and (2) joining in the festivities at the Langley Regional Airport on the weekend of March 8-9.  I have donated a tandem flight to their raffle as well, and will be set up at the airport with some gear to show the participants.  I'm thrilled to be a part of this effort to encourage women to consider careers in all types of aviation and hope to inspire some girls to take to the skies and discover how amazing flying can be!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Prepping for the 2014 flying season

Happy New Year!

Jet Set Paragliding had another successful HAGAR course over the first weekend in January, and after some great questions and discussions during class I came up with a prep list for the 2014 flying season:

1.  Ensure all paperwork and licenses are up to date

- Ham Radio License
There are a number of comps that require this so make sure you have yours before signing up.  And even though you don't need to renew your license after passing the exam, you are required to send a change of address to Industry Canada.  If you've moved or aren't sure if they have your current address on file, send an email to:

with your call sign, mailing address and phone number.

You may also want to look into aircraft radios if you are planning on flying through certain airspace, now would be a good time to do some research on cost and options.

- Local waivers signed and dues paid

The West Coast Soaring Club's season runs from November 1-October 31, and this year all members have to sign the new waiver.  Being all paid & waiver-ed up now means you don't have to worry about it when a great flying day coincides with a day off!

HPAC now sends an email reminder when your membership is up, but as an instructor I also have to ensure that both my first aid and instructor rating are up-to-date.  Check!

If you're interested in competing, you'll need to get an FAI Sporting License every year from the aeroclub website.  Well, you technically don't *need* one, but it gets you listed on the FAI world ranking among other benefits.

2.  Local Cross-Country route planning

At our HAGAR course we learned about some changes over our favourite flying site.  That dotted arrow starting from the middle of the right side of the map below shows some possible issues.

Right where the plane starts is pretty much over our launch.  The airspace we can legally fly in goes up to 6000 ft, and a few months ago this route for a commercial airliner was added to the map.  This dotted line starts at 6500 ft (which we shouldn't be flying at anyway) but as you follow the dotted line the jets descend to the Abbotsford Airport.  Just to the north of the dotted line is our westbound cross country route, so considering the planes will be descending along this route and we will be trying to do the opposite, good planning is in order before attempting this flight in the spring of 2014.  Safe landing zones along the way should be scouted out, marked with a GPS and compared to the new airspace map.  A good rainy day activity.

3.  Competition Listings and Vacation Plans

Another fun thing to do when you're working every day or the weather is awful is to plan your trips!  This year there are 3 big week-long competitions in a row (Rat Race, Chelan, and Canadian Nats).  There are also lots of fun fly-ins and informal comps to choose from, road trips to consider and if you only get 2 weeks vacation per calendar year, you might also just want to save a week to get away in rainy November.

A couple of the websites I use to plan out my year are:
and I put a selection on my own website of course:

Instead of going away, maybe you want to plan out a few days to work with an instructor to check off the skill demonstrations to achieve your next level HPAC rating, or do some coaching to improve your thermaling ability or attempt a first XC.  Contact your instructor now to discuss your goals and decide how you want to better your flying skills this year.

4. Gear Prep

Don't forget the usual - reserve repack, take your wing out kiting and carefully inspect all lines & the canopy for wear and tear and look over your whole harness.  Empty out the smelly socks and stale granola bars, charge up your radios and batteries for your instruments, and stash some cash in your flight deck so you're not caught empty handed when it's time for a ride up to launch.  Visualize yourself having flawless launches and landings at night while you fall asleep to feel more confident on that first flight of the season!

Feel free to leave comments with any other prep you do before the flying starts. Above all, have fun this year!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A shot of Tequila with a thermal chaser

The usual rain and winds of autumn have stayed away most of this month with what is probably a record-breaking number of flying days in October.  Lots of Facebook posts lately from pilots enjoying hike-and-fly adventures, and so many pictures of gorgeous fall colours seen from above.  This time of year flights are short but the bald eagles are out in full force - it seems we spend most of our flight time these days swinging our heads around to watch them swoop around us.

Fall Colours

Bald Eagle saying hello

Saturday offered an unexpected surprise with small yet lifty thermals at Woodside.  My boyfriend and I decided to trade wings for fun…he's been flying for a couple of seasons now and with consistency mixed with natural skill he has quickly become a solid pilot.  His current wing is a Skywalk Tequila 3 (an EN B beginner wing) which I'd never flown, and he'd been waiting for a calm day to try my EN C (intermediate/advanced) Skywalk Cayenne 4.  

George launched and I got a strong feeling that I'd never get my wing back as he carved into a thermal and rose above launch.  Fine…my turn now!  The Tequila 3 launched just as nice as my wing & I flew over to where some eagles had been playing.  It's been a long time since I flew a beginner wing and technology has improved so much!  The same safe behaviour was there that I remembered - after hitting any turbulence the wing resets itself promptly overhead, and there's a lot more brake travel with plenty of warning if you try to pull too much. 

George launching his Tequila on an earlier flight

I missed my first thermal since I'm used to the dynamic entry into turns with my Cayenne 4.  I flew past it then turned back, but the thermal wasn't where I thought it was.  What to do now?  I couldn't just keep sinking out and watch helplessly as George flew higher and higher...

Luckily I have a new tool on my flight deck - a shiny new 6020 combo Vario/GPS from Steve at Flytec USA.  After the Nationals we were in touch and I was offered a pro-pilot sponsorship - yippee!  My Flytec 6020 and accompanying swag arrived a little while ago, but this was the first time I brought it out to play.  One cool feature this vario has is a thermal arrow that points you back to where you last found lift.  So I flew towards the spot indicated and sure enough the thermal was right there!  Thinking it was coincidence I tried it again…and it worked...and again…and it worked...

Now there are pilots out there who bought into this technology already and know all of this but wow, this opens up a whole new way to help improve anyone's flying.  I will be going over the other amazing features in another post, but needless to say…I'm so stoked to have gotten the 6020!

After playing in some thermals I (finally) saw George setting up to land and went to join him.  I played around with the brakes some more on the way down and have got to say, I can't wait to teach students on this wing!  It's safe enough for beginners and can easily keep up with pilots as they improve and fly cross country.  Feedback from thermals is immediate yet the wing always stays rock solid above you.  It thermals easily and gives plenty of warning for newer pilots who tend to be heavy handed on their brakes.  Landing was a breeze, and I was grinning ear to ear when I touched down.  

George said he could tell right away the Cayenne 4 was an advanced wing and was more than he wanted to fly at this point.  As an instructor I was happy to hear him (as a novice pilot) make that statement.  It's a wing meant for experienced pilots with the recommended number of hours under their belts.  Needless to say, I have that experience and boy do I love my wing!

Of course there were some things George also loved about the Cayenne 4 (like the agile turns) and he's looking up to step up to a Chili soon.  That's the next category wing in the Skywalk line and a perfect move, especially with all the positive press it's been getting lately from independent testers and the XC miles being posted in online contests worldwide.  Hope he'll let me try that one too when he gets one ;)

Flying = Happiness

p.s.  Please keep an eye on my blog for an in-depth review of the Flytec 6020, as well as information on ordering from Jet Set Paragliding for the upcoming holidays (yes, it is that time already, especially when ordering products that come from overseas).

Friday, September 13, 2013

Memories from the Nats

It's been about 3 weeks since the end of the Paragliding Nationals in Quebec...I've gotten to do a little bit of local flying and a handful of tandems, but life has mostly been about work and saving up for the next trip.  But today is a day off (yahoo!) and while looking through my GoPro footage there were a few neat shots I grabbed as stills that I'd like to share.

This is just a happy sky photo.  I can't remember which task this was from now, but it brings back such great memories.  It was a completely different style of flying compared to the mountains, and getting to see this kind of view of unending perfect clouds was a spectacular treat!

During Task 2 Guy Leblanc flew right up to me at the 2nd turn point and told me he forgot to turn on his track log and had to start the task again!  You can see the take off just below his wing tip...launch was at 400 metres so you get an idea of how low things were over there.  It was nice and smooth though, and fun being able to chat in the air like that!

This is just before the window opened on our last task, and I'm right with the start gaggle. I had found a super light thermal that started as a zero and grew into a good one...afterwards one of the pilots came up and thanked me for finding that thermal for everyone :)  Looks like Elie and Frederic on their Niviuks to the right in the photo, and I think Eric on the blue Delta in front.  This task took us over the back (literally...back towards the horizon in the pic), a tricky task for some as conditions were far from booming and we didn't get very high, plus it got quite rough on the hill for those who launched later on.

And last but not least, a quick iPhoto of the gorgeous stand my boyfriend made for my "Championne Canadienne" trophy.  Am I spoiled or what?  This is what motivates me each day as I head to my j-o-b and reminds me that there's so much more to life than collapsing on the couch after a tough day :)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Canadian Nationals: Saturday/Task 3 and wrap up

After all the non-flyable days, the last task just turned everything around.  I was finally able to put everything I learned together:

- I was ready early, so was able to launch earlier in the queue instead of at the end of the line.

- I worked every scrap of lift I could find (most times successfully) and even found a thermal for the lead gaggle right before start

- I made confident decisions instead of second-guessing myself

- Instead of trying to do it myself (classic only-child manoeuvre) I stuck with my gaggle, even when it was just 3 of us.

The result?  I flew well and ended up being awarded the Canadian Female National Champion title!

Looking back, this was a wonderful event where everything seemed to fall into place, from my boyfriend lending me his fancy-pants gps/vario (which I almost learned how to use) to being super lucky with retrieve and getting picked up within 15 minutes on each of my flights.

Pilots often talk about this sport being 90% mental and I think that played a really big part in me ending up with a trophy.  It's something I'm excited to learn more about - mental training, meditation, the whole "soft" skill set of this sport that I see a lot of the top pilots employing.

In the end, it was once again about the people.  Pilots were supportive of each other and each time someone launched you would hear "Bon Vol!" (Good Flight!).  Here's one of my favourite pictures that symbolizes the essence from the comp:  It's my direct "competitor" and I goofing around before task on the last day - the task that would see which of us would be awarded top female.  I don't see any you?  :)

This year it was my turn to win but I'm sure next time Julie competes she will fly away with the grand prize.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Canadian Nationals: Friday/The Real Task 2

Finally got to fly again!

We got to launch & were greeted by strong winds again, but our communal optimism somehow made the lulls just long enough to launch.  I saw one of the top pilots on a super fast wing launch and go backwards which just about made me cry with the thought we could get cancelled again, but everything worked out & we all got in the air...eventually.  Unfortunately I was one of the last to launch today due to "priority launching', which meant everyone launched in order based on their place in the comp.  Since I basically bombed out on the first task that put me at the the end of the line & I didn't even get in the air until after the task had started.

I ended up having a stellar launch though - a local instructor commented that is was fantastic "especially for a competition pilot" and the launch director said it was one of the 2 best launches of the day.  So...WIN!  ha.

Pretty sure I'm king of the world...until the sink monster gets me and I'm as low as those other dots in the photo!

The task was well made, I had so much fun today.  It was a zigzag in front of launch (4 turn points) then a downwind dash to goal.  I made the first 3 then got pinned in some wind.  It surprised me because Pascal had passed below me from the same turnpoint only minutes before and seemed to have no trouble going back, so I got a bit of waypoint fixation and dove in to TP3 without worrying about the way back.  Heading out to land on full bar to clear the orchards I hit a bump around 240 meters and took it back up to over 500, but I was still in the wind and after pushing bar I ended up back in almost the exact same place!

I landed in the triangle field at the top left of photo.  My low save came from the edge of the forest but took me back to pretty much where I am in this photo again.

I'm learning a lot this competition which is exactly what I expected.  Flying the flats is a new challenge, and while it kind of sucks competition-wise to feel I've flown really well for an hour and to only cover a few kms, I still earned a far greater reward with the knowledge I'm gaining here.  Hoping I can put it all together for the last task and get out over the real flats and chew some kilometres!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Canadian Nationals: Thursday/No Task

This was the day off we knew we'd have all week, so no surprise when the task was cancelled & the sky opened up shortly afterwards & rained most of the day.

10 of us headed into Montreal to eat (surprise) and play tourist.  We drove part-way in & got a day pass for the metro and explored that city til we all got back to our respective lodgings somewhere around 11.

We stopped to visit the Olympic Village, but it just wasn't as exciting as flying: