– Powered Paragliding in Baja –
Since man has realized his dream to fly he soon got carried away with this new achievement. Just about 100 years into the evolution of flight for man, we have supersonic jets and space-travel, but we often still dream of the direct experience, we begin to reinvent flying over and over again and get back to the original idea: Really flying ourselves, not necessarily with something, or inside of something, but really ourselves – directly, at least with as little extra stuff and clutter as possible. Powered Paragliding is a new step into this direction.
It’s simple because it’s nothing but a fabric wing (an inflatable wing: pressurized by moving air while in forward motion, actually much more a sail than a parachute) and a little (but pretty heavy) motor with a propeller, worn like a backpack. Launching is a little tricky because you have to run a few steps with this heavy load on your back, but under appropriate conditions it’s not that difficult; flying is a piece of cake, landing is easy. You need to be in normal physical shape and it certainly helps to get some instructions. The whole thing fits into the trunk of a car or into a suitcase. I sometimes bring my Powered Paraglider when we come down to spend our winters in Baja. It’s really not a big deal to pack the backpack full of sail and a box with the machine. You can fly from any little meadow or parking area or beach you happen to find. The only limitation is wind. Preferably you want just a little breeze; no wind at all is actually a little difficult for launching, too much wind is of course a serious problem for launching as well as in flight.
Down in Baja, by far the best time to fly light (ultra light) is in the morning. Like in most desert environments the wind usually starts to rule the day after breakfast when the sun has loosened up the air. Even if you can handle the wind during the day the light is very intense then and soon drowns out the structure and the beauty of the land underneath and the visual experience is rather disappointing. But the mornings are awesome.
The unique advantage of these incredibly simple flying machines is that you don’t need a runway (which are rare anyway in Baja after so many of those wonderful little airstrips in extremely remote and romantic locations have been destroyed due to the American obsession with the anti-drug war). You don’t need to drive off to a distant airstrip to go flying, a beach, any little road or parking area is all it takes to get off and come down.
You just glance over the ocean to check the wind, put down your beer, lay out the wing, shoulder that backpack and maybe sweat a little for 5 minutes while you move around with the heavy machine on your back. But then – some neighbors will put down their Louis L’Amors and lean over to see whether it’s an outboard motor, somebody going fishing, or you again with this crazy parachute that isn’t a parachute at all – this certain smile will sweep over their faces and sometimes may even stay there for some time – you nonchalantly wave good bye to your loved one and run a few steps and fly.
You probably have already done your dramatic show-offs and low fly-bys. (We have to do that, it’s our duty to the poor devils who stay on the ground!). So you buzz off and check out that canyon you had discovered the other day and follow its meandering course in steep banks, see your own reflection on one of those emerald ponds down there in the deep shade. Or you fly off along the shoreline 20 feet above the beach, climb effortlessly over the cliffs and go down again into a little cove where the ocean is so transparent and clear that you can see the abundance of fish moving around under water. Or you keep the power up and go in wide circles and climb, climb forever, leaving it all behind. You see your feet slowly “wandering” over the landscape – in fact, your feet is the only thing of yourself remaining visible, otherwise there is absolutely nothing spoiling the view. I think there is no other way to get a purer sensation of really flying yourself not only flying in or with something.
The air gets cooler; the wing hovers above, stable as if frozen in a dream; you trim the brakes a little, the motor is on cruise control anyway. To fly, especially to fly high with these machines is a mystical experience, when you just sit there in the air like that and let go of everything. At 5000 feet everything is so far away, your own motion is almost imperceptible, you are nothing, just a dust mote blown up into the air, it can be quite overwhelming. You can easily climb to 8000 feet and more, but watch where the wind is drifting you. It seems to us more natural to stay on the ground. But sometimes we dream to escape from this prison of living just on the surface. And – it is possible to fly!
Then you come back after an hour or two. You shut off the motor whenever you like. You can glide down from high altitudes and enjoy the silent peaceful ride. (It’s possible to restart the motor.) Or you go home under power and switch off when you turn into final. You come in very slow, without a sound and touch down in the sand right in front of your “porch”. You fold up the wing and sit down again where your beer is probably warm by now, but that’s not the point.
Klaus February 20. 2008