Speed Flying – Fighter Pilot Thrills for the Rest of Us

All of us at some point in our lives have dreamed of flying, oros.store¬† in forms ranging from a soaring bird to a fighter pilot. It is a natural human desire to slip the surly bonds of Earth and move about the sky freely, climbing and descending at will. For most of us, it remains simply a dream. Many individuals are just plain afraid of it, which is a normal reaction to something that we ground -based mammals were simply not designed to do. But there are many others that are drawn to the sky and would give anything to learn to fly, however the largest obstacle of cost is enough to all but shatter that dream. Well I would like to introduce, to those of you that are interested, a new form of aviation that happens to be one of the most exciting and yet costs less than golf. It’s called Speed Flying.

To quickly provide you with a mental picture of what exactly Speed Flying is, imagine grabbing a sheet off your bed, packing it into a small book bag, hiking (or having somebody drive you) up a mountain or hill of your choice, skywings unpacking the sheet at the top, then lightly holding on to the sheet as you run off the edge of the mountain and magically start flying like a bird – diving, swooping and turning at very high speeds along the ground and across the sky. If it were really this simple, would you be interested in participating? If you said yes, then I have some great news for you: it really is this simple!

At this point I have hopefully painted a clear enough picture to have piqued the interest of those that are truly intrigued by this new activity, and at the same time allowed the more faint hearted an opportunity to quickly realize this is most likely not something for them, such that they can stop reading right here and move on to more important things (although I of course encourage you to keep reading to simply be enlightened).

Ok, now I am going to get right to it and delve into the technical aspects of Speed Flying. At its core, as with any other form of flight, is the wing. The reason I use the bed sheet example above is because that is about the size of a “speed wing” as we call it. If you are thinking, “That’s impossible, how can you fly with something the size of a bed sheet?”, then you have just illuminated to true magic of Speed Flying. It is the most compact form of ground launched flight in existence other than “wingsuit BASE jumping”, which is another amazing flying activity, but far more expensive and dangerous (I am active in this sport as well, but not comfortable condoning it to the average “person off the street”). I digress. Back to the question, how can you fly with something so small? It comes down purely to the evolution of “ram-air” wing engineering over the last decade. Years ago, to be able to fly with a fabric wing, it would have to be larger than the wings on small airplanes such as a Cessna. This was (and still is) called paragliding, and the gear is heavy and bulky (and expensive). Today’s bedsheet-sized speed wings are capable of creating more lift than the massive paragliding wings of 10 years ago. Of course today’s paragliding wings can now create enough lift to fly hundreds of miles, but that is the subject of another article. affluentwords

If you are still reading this, and not presently off searching for more information about paragliding, then that means you are a fighter pilot at heart and want to Speed Fly. We have now established the fact that the wings are very small, and this is revolutionary for a number of reasons. Obviously they are light and compact for transporting and carrying on one’s back up a mountain that they are about to rocket down. One of the greatest advantages of the small size of speed wings is the minimal amount of material and fabrication time required to manufacture them, which translates into significantly lower cost than that of a paragliding wing. Finally, and probably most importantly, the small surface area of the wing penetrating the air means very low drag, and thus very fast speeds. The sport is called Speed Flying after all! Blogline

Ok, enough about the technical aspects of the wing. You are probably itching to know about the actual flying part of the sport. I would like you to take note at this point that I keep using the word “sport” for a flying activity. This is unique in that when most people think of flying and pilots, they do not view it as a sport and pilots as athletes. With Speed Flying, you are both a pilot and athlete, blending key skills from both aspects to refine your performance techniques. Allow me to elaborate.

You have just finished a wonderful hike to your “launch point”, which is a cleared out area of runway with suitable length and steepness to allow your speed wing to inflate and attain lift off speed. You unpack your wing, and using your pilot judgment, you study the wind direction to determine the best takeoff run trajectory. After clipping in to your wing and finalizing your checklists, you now take a moment to study your “line”. This is the route you will take down the mountain, and it will depend upon the topography of the terrain. Like a backcountry skier, you will determine your line based on what type of flight you desire at that moment. Perhaps you are feeling particularly energized and want to dive down into a ravine, swooping the ground at 60 mph and kicking weeds while cranking and banking around trees and boulders. Or maybe you are more in the mood to cruise, making numerous swift passes back and forth along the face of the mountain while taking in the scenery, with an occasional swoop between two trees for good measure. Whatever flight style you choose, you will need to use your highly developed hand-eye coordination to maximize your “energy management” of the wing for the selected mission, as every pilot of every aircraft in the world must do.

So you are ready now. You have a flight plan, which you have decided is of the more “energized” type. After pausing for a brief moment to clear your head and take in the pure awesomeness of what you are about to do, you start your countdown – “3-2-1”. You initiate your takeoff run and the wing immediately snaps up above your head. You feel the upward tug of the lines on your body and you start to feel lighter on your feet, which makes it easy to run even faster. This shift toward weightlessness excites you and you immediately accelerate to a sprint with ease, anticipating that spectacular moment when you will be lifted up and away. Five more steps and you have reached takeoff speed. You are suddenly flying. This transition sends a huge adrenaline spike through your body, and you react with a smooth yet powerful turn input to carve along the terrain. The ground rush is intense. You feel the energy building up in the wing as you dive and gain speed. You are tempted to make your next turn, but you remain patient, continuing your dive to build up even more speed. A few seconds later you initiate a powerful turn away from the mountain. Your body swings outward and the wing dives instantly such that you are now banked 90 degrees, with the G-forces building rapidly. You are a fighter pilot. As you begin to level out, you are already looking over your shoulder for your next target. You are experiencing a sensation of hyper-awareness as your mind works in overdrive to precisely calculate the next control input that will place you in an exact location at the most efficient speed. As you scream past terrain features, dive through ravines, and climb back up over ridges, you feel the only thing missing are your guns and a worthy adversary. This is F-16 pilot dog fighting for the rest of us.

The time comes when the mission switches from aggressive flying to preparing for a safe landing. After determining your touch down target, you make any necessary “trim” adjustments to the wing to configure it for landing mode, then quickly estimate your glide slope based on the wind. You set up on final approach, and now it is more about finesse than anything else. You anticipate wind changes and correct ever so slightly and smoothly as you get within inches of the ground. In the final seconds, you gradually “flare” your wing like any other aircraft, with the ultimate goal of being reunited with the ground as if you just stepped off an escalator. You touch down, slow your speed to a walk, and let your wing gently drop to the ground. You have just descended a 2000 foot mountain in a couple of minutes. Your body buzzing with adrenaline, you look up at where you just launched from, howl out a huge “YES!”, and start packing up your wing to head up again. Welcome to Speed Flying.

 

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