Quest Air Adventures for Scott and Dixon (parapilot junkies gone hang gliding)
As a kid I loved being towed around the lake water skiing or towed down the street by a bike with me on a skateboard and we used to do everything we could to throw each other off the tow - line. That kind of fun is nothing compared to being aero-towed around the sky on a hang glider by an ultralight, and they do their best to throw you off the tow-line when you give them a nod, hang on man!
Beg or borrow to get the time and money to head to an aero-tow flight park, what an efficient way to train - WHAT FUN! If you go to Florida take your whole family and get them the "E ticket" for Disneyland, which is just a few minutes away from either Quest or Wallaby. You can even catch up with your family at Disneyland while you take a break and wait out the stronger midday conditions. We're talking a huge roller coaster that skies out 5,000 feet above the ground and literally glides you around the clouds. Although the thrills were huge we didn't feel like we were on the brink of destroying ourselves - fantasy fun come alive all within "safe" boundaries.
Scott and I couldn't get the grins off our faces after every one of our flights. At the end of the day we'd obsess on our experiences until late at night - oh to be "new" again. I had 40 flights in 6 days, Scott got 35. We both completed our Novice Ratings with an Aero-Tow sign-off. We were generally towed to around 2500'AGL - these were BIG flights, probably 25 minutes each.
Scott and I are long time paragliding junkies, always flying and never enough. Taking this training made sense, we were both going to be at the USHGA board meeting a short distance from Quest. It's not a bad idea, as a teacher, to experience what it's like to be "new" again and this training expanded our concepts of what this aviation stuff requires. Scott had done a day's worth of running in the sand at Kitty Hawk with a hang glider a couple of years earlier. The Cage, which I flew for a few years, is similar in handling to a hang glider and a motorized trike, which I've trained on for over 7 hours, lends some context - but we were basically both new to this activity.
I had my 7,000th paragliding flight 2 days before heading down to Quest and Scott had over 3200 paragliding flights, all of our flights ending injury free. We've done all sorts of hugely fun things on paragliders, who would of thought we could be so "wowed" by hang gliders? The key element to our adventure was the brilliant training. We didn't have to pause and consider whether or not our instructors knew what they were doing. We just let them do their job and every step of the process made sense and prepared us for the next level. I can't imagine trying to learn any type of aviation, let alone aero-towing, without the thorough guidance. Bob Lane, the manager of Quest, and Paris Williams, world-class hang gliding competitor, worked us through the ropes with discipline and teaching mastery. Rich Cizauskas, from Salt Lake, filled in with us here and there and he was just as talented at keeping us on the leading edge of our learning curve. Heck, the whole staff was excited to give us pointers and coaching. It was truly a vibrant and professional operation. When I went over to Wallaby Ranch Malcolm Jones, the owner, and Rob Kells, the owner of Wills Wing, coached me through using a drop away cart and stand-up landings. Scott spent time a Wallaby as well and just loved the careful attention he got from Malcolm.
Aero towing helps you get loads of airtime and practical in-flight training. We started out doing many tandems, I had 22 before going for a solo flight. On tandem, with our teachers above us, barely noticeable, we were quickly left to try and manage all aspects of the flight. The pre-flight, the hang-check, the launch, the positioning behind the tow plane, the release, the landing and all the other little details. It's really counter-intuitive banking up and pushing up on the hang glider, but not that tough when all's going just peachy, that's why our instructors would keep throwing us into fast action situations. Before we knew it we were near lock-out, in the tug's prop wash or even released un-expectantly from tow. You had to really mind the store or find yourself getting an over-ride control from the instructor, always a little embarrassing, at least they were there to get it all back together. We'd make mistakes, and the guys grilled us over them, but they made sure we knew that we were loved, "It's back in the simulator for you!"
It would seem that experienced hang glider pilots may look at the tow as simply a method to get airborne, but Kari Castle told says it's still rip-roaring fun for her. It was the most intensely fun thing I've ever done. You learn loads of subtle methods to keep the hang glider following the ultralight. As you get more confident the ultralight pilot starts to make more turns, dives and pitch ups. Just like being towed on a water ski you have to anticipate and keep from getting out of position, but this is 3 dimensional. They call this "chase the ace", which is a perfect name.
The first solo is easier than the tandems, just as our teachers predicted. The solo glider handles like a dream in comparison and we were prepared to handle a wide variety of possibilities. Paris says, "Learn to avoid mistakes and train to be prepared for them". Paris grilled me over and over and it truly paid off when my weak link broke just coming off the cart all of 10 feet in the air. I pulled in quickly and then pushed out for a sweet landing. It could have gone poorly- ruined my day. When things happen quickly you want your skills to be reactive, body memory needs to take over, Paris and the team prepared me well! My first solo spot landing was literally on the cone, but I must say that loads of paragliding spot-landings had to have helped prepare me for this. It might even be easier to spot land a hang glider as they have a wider speed range than a paraglider, you can speed up much easier.
The 39th and 40th flights, my last 2 for the trip, were the best. With a sky half full of sweet cumulous we towed all around the clouds at about 2,500' AGL. When I cut loose, at over 3,500' AGL I was over the clouds about 1000 feet and actually got an unforgettable view of my "glory" - your own shadow image on top of a cloud. The thermals were so easy to find and it was truly satisfying to bring it all together, coordinating turns and managing energy, coring back up a 1,000 feet and gliding around the sky to find another thermal. Both of us can't wait to go back and fly more. Maybe we'll get to aero-tow paragliders the next time we go.