Entirely by accident, I watched an air display yesterday – much like entirely by accident I went to a concert by Jason and the Astronauts a week or three back.
It was sunny in Herefordshire yesterday, and the wind was light. It was perfect weather to sit outside a pub. So I arrived at one of my local pubs in the early afternoon, bought a beer, and sat out in its garden. There I soon noticed that in adjoining cricket field there were four men, each with a large bundle of nylon material and a propeller engine with 5 foot diameter propellers on them.
I wondered if they were balloonists, and if balloons now had propellers on them. As I watched them, they climbed over the fence into the pub garden, and were passing by when I inquired of one of them whether these were flying machines of some sort.
“Yes,” he replied. “They’re paragliders. Paragliders with engines. Sometimes called paramotors. We’ve just flown in from Tenbury Wells, 22 miles away.”
We talked for a couple of minutes more, and then he rejoined his pals, for a few beers and fish and chips out in the garden. And when they’d eaten and drunk all that, they climbed back over the garden fence and began to assemble their paramotors, and check the 25 foot nylon(?) wings and engines.
I’d been wondering how they would manage to take off, and I got four demonstrations of how it was done. After they’d strapped the propeller engines to their backs and turned them on, they spread the nylon fabric wings on the ground behind them, and holding the cables connecting them to the wings in their outstretched hands, started running forward. As soon as they started running, the nylon fabric wings swept up into the air above them, just like kites. And they only needed to take 5 or 6 steps before they had enough forward speed for the wing above them to lift them off the ground, and the engine take over from their legs.
In fact, it was clear that some of them were rather better than others at taking off. The first two into the air only had to take 5 or 6 steps before they were airborne. But the last two had to sprint along the ground for 20 or 30 yards before they managed to get into the air. I wondered if real virtuoso fliers might be able to take off with a single step.
I was about the only person watching.
What a lovely afternoon out: Fly 22 miles and land next to a pub. Have lunch and a few beers. And then fly back, watching the English countryside unfold beneath.
They weren’t even kitted out in special clothes. They all had helmets (with built-in microphones, earphones, and video recorders), and windcheater jackets and gloves. The engines looked like they were maybe 125 cc two-stroke petrol engines. The fuel tanks were quite small (but could carry enough fuel to go 60 miles, apparently).
I spent the rest of the afternoon daydreaming about flying across the English Channel from France (a mere 20 miles or so over water), laden with tobacco from Luxembourg, under a green camouflage canopy, with RAF Tornado jets trying to get me to land as I dodged between trees at zero altitude, going from pub to pub – and petrol station to petrol station – as I made my way across England back to Herefordshire.
And I wondered whether the ancient dream of flying was beginning to be realised with paramotors like the ones I’d just been watching. Maybe there’d come a day when everyone would be pottering about in the sky, like birds. And going anywhere would entail jumping out of a window with a small backpack from which a delicate wing and tiny engine would instantly unfold. After all, the technology is always improving.
But then no doubt killjoy Paraglider Control would appear, with warnings showing children being speared by church steeples, or captured by giant condors. And everyone would be grounded, because of the Health Risks™. And everyone would be made to walk once again.
Here’s a demonstration of unpacking, taking off, landing, and packing back up again with an almost identical paramotor: