ABOVE: Phil Russman at 2000 feet over the San Blas Islands, several miles off the north coast of Panama. The only landing and relaunch options were small narrow beaches, often with not even a breath of wind. Don't try this at home.
Paramotor Beach Flights
Staying safe near water.
Flying along inches above the beach is a magical experience unique to powered paragliding. As long as the winds are not off shore, the air is super smooth all day, and endless foot drags through the sand are yours for the making.
Toyota does not make paramotor engines. These enigines do quit on occassion. Powered paraglider pilots must always be within easy glide of a suitable landing area, within their skill level. At the beach, several factors determine whether an engine out scenario will be safe:
- space available on the beach
- wind speed and direction
- your skill
- beach activities (sun bathing, volleyball, etc)
Obviously a big issue is crowds. If the beach is too crowded, it will not be safe to fly, but the limiting factor is not just landing in a small space between sun bathers. Landing with or without power in a small space for an experienced pilot is routine. Experienced pilots should be able to land consistently within 30 feet of a target in no wind and within 10 feet of a target in windy conditions. However, on a crowded beach with an engine off approach, there is a possibility that someone could run out in front of you and be injured. Your engine is off so they won't hear you, and people generally aren't looking up.
Using a water landing as an engine out option has proven risky. The pilot gets tangled in their lines or pulled down by the motor. If you are high enough, you can unbuckle your straps and slip out of your harness as you touch down into the water, but that won't guarantee your safety. The USPPA statistic is one in ten PPG pilots landing in the water have drowned. However, the Agama, an automatic inflation device, will improve those numbers.
The Agama is a must for anyone flying near water and it works great. We had a recent save on our trip to Panama. Agamas are available at LiteTouchFilms. Call to order.
However, I still would not recommend water as a landing option. Though I have never heard of an Agama not working, it seems an unnecessary risk and a major hassle to rinse out the gear. Usually the engine coil needs to be replaced.
I could write a whole article just on water landings, but one thing I'll say is that everyone that's done it so far was either very scared or died. OK, enough of the morbid.
This first photo below of Long Beach New York shows plenty of room for safe engine out landings for an accomplished pilot, but would not be appropriate for beginner pilots with less than 3 to 6 months of experience.
Notice on the lower left, a guy in red shorts is about to throw a football to his friend in the dark shorts. Either man might suddenly start running across the beach, something to watch for when making your engine off approach. At 50 feet on a power off approach, I recommend yelling, "Stay where you are!" People will at least stop, probably look up, and will have time to move aside if necessary.
In this second photo below, also Long Beach New York, only a very accomplished pilot would be able to consistently safely land here, and only if there was at least a 5 mph wind, and only if no one ran out in front of them at the last second. I would not recommend landing on a beach as crowded as this one.
In this third photo below, during the Polar Bear event at Long Beach New York , there is plenty of room to land behind or to either side of the crowd. However, there may be a lot of noise and distractions so people may not hear or see you coming in for a landing, even with your engine running. If you are landing power on and you see someone running towards you, kill your motor immediately and get that prop stopped before it gets near anyone.
Give yourself extra room around crowds. Stay high and keep your options open. According to FAA FAR 103, flying an ultralight over an open assemblage of people is illegal in the USA.
When flying at the beach, avoid flying when the wind is blowing off shore, from the land. Fly when the wind is blowing down the beach, from the water. Off shore winds are usually turbulent. Winds blowing down the beach or from the water are usually smooth, even at speeds 15 mph or more.
The most serious danger with offshore winds is that if they increase to the point where you can not penetrate back to shore, you will be forced to make a water landing. Strong off shore winds are almost always turbulent and pilots trying to speed up to get back to shore have suffered collapses. See Risk and Reward for actual video of this. If you are getting pushed out to sea and you delay the water landing, you find yourself far from any possible resue.
Now that you have been sufficiently scared about flying at the beach, go fly and have fun. But remember that you may not be the only one tyring to enjoy the beach. Many beach goers are there to get away from noise so stay away from people. One fly by may amuse the curious, but several minutes of buzzing can quickly piss off even the most good natured.
Life is a beach! Go fly one.