Saturday, April 19, 2014

Is Bear Grylls an Idiot, or What?

A bit of a diversion - An old post I wrote about a subject I feel is important.  No less so, today. . .

Ok, I know that there are quite a few who speak less than kindly about Bear Grylls and his cheesy survival shows on TV.  And I don't want to be perceived as "piling-on", but after watching one of his programs today about survival in the New Mexico desert all I can blurt is WTF!?
Repeat after me - ''If I'm stuck in the desert, and fighting for survival, I won't compound the perils by taking stupid chances, doing unnecessary but visually interesting stunts.''
 In this episode Bear decides to throw a rope across to a rock pinnacle because he doesn't have enough rope to rappel to the bottom of a 30' ravine.  As he shimmies across the gap, his makeshift grappling hook gives way and he almost (wow it was thrilling) falls. . .  What you'll never hear on one of his shows is "Geez, that was a really dumb idea - on second thought, maybe it would be better to take the safer, long way around."  And that's my point - He's not teaching you anything you'll really need to know for survival.  He's pandering to the couch-sloths that inhabit most of America.  The lazy majority that bitch because they have to walk  waddle the 100 feet from their parking spot to the Wal Mart - they are Bear's audience.  They are the folks who go to Yosemite and only leave the car when an opportunity to pick up a bag of Cheetos presents itself.  What's really funny (to me anyway) is that his audience is probably reacting to his antics with the same incredulity as I am - just for different reasons.

The 'don't-doers,' that are Bear's audience, can't conceive of the idea that someone would actually go into the wild for fun and adventure.  The fact he's peeing into a snake skin and then wearing it, as a necklace, for 2 days in case he needs to drink it is no more absurd than the fact that the crazy mofo is out in the boonies in the first place.

Those of us with some survival knowledge and a love of the outdoors, are just marveling at his ability to look at a situation and find the most treacherous and idiotic solution to the problem.  He is, in short, someone I refer to as a 'SHIT-MAGNET.'  He's a guy who discovers a river and then decides to jump 80' into it without any idea how deep the water is.  Or a guy who climbs down a chimney and discovers he's rim-locked - No way back up, and no way down. . . He's not teaching survival - He's showing you how people die.  He's just playing with fate.  The secret to survival when you find yourself in a character-building moment is to act carefully and reasonably.  The second you feel desperate, you will start doing desperate things.  The most devastating occurrence, when in a remote survival situation, is injury.  Stay healthy and you will have time to fix the situation.  Don't drink dangerous water or eat foul meat, or glissade down a steep slope on a yak carcass, at breakneck speeds - it makes great TV, but it's not good survival technique.  We're talking about life & death here - you have to consider the risk/reward of taking a risky short-cut, or eating dodgy food that will likely give you a GI problem and deplete you of hydration as you vomit and diarrhea your way to civilization.

Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching this guy eat a raw lizard, drink his own piss and squeeze brown effluent out of a 20 lb. elephant turd as much as the next guy, but don't sell it as a survival show.  It's as much a survival show as the 'wild mustangs' he lassoed were wild, and as real as the volcanic gasses created with smoke machines. Bear is a TV personality and he's making a good living as such - more power to him.  I just wish he wasn't hyping his antics as education.  On that score he is an idiot.


If you want to learn about survival read these books:

If you must watch TV for your survival education at least watch Survivorman.  He's still a TV host, but at least he doesn't advocate risking injury and death when you are in a pickle.

So, IS Bear Grylls an Idiot?  No, he's probably not - But YOU are, if you try to survive using his methods and advice.
Tim

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Flying Cayucos - A new route

Flight from the Dam to the Pier

I had the chance to fly a route that I've struggled with, off and on, for years.  The conditions never seemed to come together properly to make the flight possible.  Looking back at it now though, I never pushed to the point of forcing an out-landing North of the dam.

The day was a fairly low day with the occasional bullet thermals allowing climbs to 1100'.   I started off by catching a nice climb into the convergence zone over the main hill.  From then on, it was a low flight back to the dam.  I found a short 100' climb, here and there, which allowed me to work North of the dam and get to the low hill North of the canyon the spillway runs through.  I surfed up the ridge with a juvenile Eagle and the went on a comfortable glide to the Cayucos Pier.

I treated myself to a Smokehouse taco and then hiked the 2 miles back to the base of the hill, where I snagged a ride up for a second round of flying.  Great fun day.  Here's the video -
First time pulling off this tricky route. Beautiful day at Cayucos. 4/11/14






Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Testing my Chase-Cam

I've been working a project, off and on for about 3 months.  I found a general plan for a home-made chase-cam online and modified it to fit my needs. 

The basics parts are:
  • A 2 liter soft drink bottle
  • a 1/4" screw and nuts and washers
  • a swivel mount ( I used an unused suction mount for an auto GPS)
  • a couple of small carabiners
  • a used paraglider line.
  • a bit of webbing 
  • material for fins (I used remnants from a RC glider kit)
First cut the bottom end off the 2-liter bottle.   Then put three equally spaced, 1" diameter holes in the "shoulder" of the top of the bottle (see photos) to allow airflow through the body of the bottle.

Attach the fins to the bottle with epoxy cement.

Drill out a !/4" hole through the bottle cap and the mounting swivel.

Assemble using washers and nuts to provide a secure attachement for the camera mounting swivel.




Your camera and swivel mount may require different balancing; use small weights to make the rig balance properly.

I attached the webbing on the camera mount to the spare paraglider line and then attached the top of the line to a rear attachment point about 5 feet left of centerline.  You may want to try other mounting points.  B-lines or C-lines may be more stable.  I used the trailing edge on my Icepeak 6 since options are few for mounting points on a 2-liner.  The camera is aimed to provide a view of the pilot and ample view of the forward panorama.  

As can be expected,  this additional line and the mass swinging from your trailing edge can result in tangling during launch or accidental collapse.  I would caution use of this set-up to be limited to benign conditions and experienced pilotos.

Here's the result - 

A challenging day at Cayucos. Fun to fly the Icepeak 6 this season. First good test of the chase-cam.
 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

50 Ways to Fly Better


It's the time of year where we, in the West, are thinking about the XC season.  I always try to get geared up by reading the latest info.  Bruce Goldsmith is one of the pilots I've looked up to since I was clunking along on my Sport2 10 years ago.  Bruce has put together some great information and made it readable in a format that works.

Bruce's qualifications are impressive - HG Champion, PG Champion, successful designer and test pilot - decades of experience.

In addition to Bruce's wisdom, this book includes articles and contributions from a whose-who of XC flying : Ian Blackmore, Josh Cohn, John Coutts, Bob Drury, Jonny Durand, Ed Ewing, Kelly Farina, Will Gadd, Ant Green, Steve Ham, Heike Hamann, Greg Hamerton, Alex Hofer, Marcus King, Patrick Laverty, Antoine Laurens, Horacio Llorens, Dustin Martin, Hugh Miller, Russell Ogden, Honza Rejmanek, Adrian Thomas, Jay Rebbeck, Raul Rodriguez, Jocky Sanderson, Pal Takats, Karel Vejchodsky, Godfrey Wenness and Rob Whittall.

This book fills in where other great XC texts have left me wanting for more information. 

Worth the price, easy to absorb the information, and a good read -

You can get your copy here - XCSHOP.COM

Tim

Sprint League Warm-Up thoughts

With less than 3 weeks until the Nor-Cal XC Sprint League warm-up weekend, I assume that many pilots have questions and even some second thoughts, about participating in the Sprint league -
  • Am I really ready for this?
  • Do I have the skills necessary to participate?
  • Do I have all the equipment necessary?
  • How the heck do I set this equipment up?
  • Will I embarrass myself?
  • What gear do I need to carry besides the basics?
  • What's the schedule going to be for the warm-up?
  • What's the schedule for a normal XC day?
  • How the heck do I make it around a task?
  • Will I even have fun?  Is it all worth it?
 The Sprint League is geared to expose enthusiastic, but inexperienced, pilots to the XC environment in a structured, safe, fun setting.  If you have the skill-set to get off the hill safely, fly in thermals, and make accurate approaches to landing, you are probably ready for the Sprint league events.  The truth is that by the end of the warm-up weekend, you will know whether it's a fit or not.  Go into the weekend relaxed and ready to have some fun. 
  • All the questions you see above will be answered during the weekend, but you can and *should* try to get a head start by doing a little preparation.  Read the following reference materials and you will have a good handle on many of the unknowns - 
  • Do the required registration and waivers before arriving at the site.
  • Show up rested, gear prepared, batteries charged, waypoints loaded, and ON TIME.
To prep for the weekend I recommend the following -

I wrote up a guide for the new XC pilot four years ago and have it available for download at https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.biggovtsucks.com%2Fdocs%2FParaglider_Competitions.pdf

Have a look at Jug's website http://santacruzparagliding.com/NCXC/firsttimers.html and http://santacruzparagliding.com/NCXC/strategies.html for additional information and tips regarding task flying, GPS setup, and League organization. 

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone on the hill!

Tim


Sunday, December 8, 2013

2014 US XC COMPETITION SCHEDULE

From USHPA Competition Committee Chair, Bill Hughes -

Pending EC approval on a couple of the comps that came in after our meeting, here is the comp calender for 2014 as it stands:

Hang Gliding:
May 18-24: Flytec Americus
June 1-7:    East Coast HG Championship
Aug 3-9:    Big Spring Nationals
Sept 14-20: Santa Cruz Flats

Paragliding:
May 4-10: East Coast PG Nationals (Ground Tow)
June 22-28: Rat Race / Sprint
July 5-12: Chelan Flats
Aug 3-9: Lone Star PG

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Here's a bit of video showing the flying we get on the coast in October thru February.

Cayucos10_24_13 from Tim O'Neill on Vimeo.

Cayucos10_24_13 - A very nice day with moderate winds and good thermals.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Baofeng UV-5R Transceiver UPDATE

Back in December I wrote a bit about the Baofeng UV-5R and now I'd like to add some first-hand info regarding the radio.

I bought two units through an Amazon merchant called Sain Store and a few of the accessories through other venders on Amazon.  These accessories included speaker mikes, after market antennas, batteries, 12v/7.4v battery eliminator and data cable.  The UV-5R is now available for around $30-35 and the box contains a 110V wall charger/stand, rechargeable 1800mA Li-ion battery, earpiece/mic combo, antenna, and belt clip.  I purchased a couple additional antennas to experiment a bit.  These included a Nagoya 771 model which is 14.5 inches long and a shorter Nagoya 701 which is roughly the length of the standard "rubber-duck" included.




PROGRAMMING FREQUENCIES
A very informative site can be found at http://www.miklor.com/uv5r/ which is maintained by one of the many members of the UV-5R user group, found at YAHOO Group.

Using the resources above, I was able to program the radio with simplex frequencies in memory and program repeater set-ups both on-the-fly and saved in memory.  The menu system has a bit of a learning curve, but once the system is learned and the cheat-sheet is used, it is doable.  I've built an 'image' file for each area that I plan to fly beyond line of site and it is simple to use CHIRP to load the radio ahead of time.

REAL WORLD RESULTS
I've flown with this radio now for most of the flying season and it's an impressive little radio.  It's not a powerhouse at only 4w, but I have been very happy with the performance of the UV-5R in the 2 meter band.   The aftermarket antennas seem to be better so I  (and many of the ham-geeks on the Yahoo group also) recommend them. Battery life is good with no problems running low even after a 5 hour XC flight.  I don't transmit much though, so your mileage may vary.  The fit and finish seems to be of good quality and I've not had any failures in any of the hardware I purchased with the exception of a speaker/mike that I dropped 5 ft on hard ground and subsequently quit providing speaker service.  The keys and switches have had no failures.  The ability to key in programming directly on the radio is very helpful and was the reason I opted for the UV-5R over the UV-3 series, which has no numberpad.  The radio also allows use of the 70cm band.

NEGATIVES
I've spent a lot of time browsing the Yahoo group for the last 6 months.  The Chinese HTs have improved in quality quite a bit in the last few years, but some manufacturers do have some QC issues. While I have had very good results, it appears that Baofeng has had some issues in the last year - mostly DOA chargers and or batteries.  The radios themselves have been mostly dependable and durable.  Buy from Amazon and you are able to return with ease -

BOTTOM LINE
My experience with these radios has been very good.  They have served me well and I have committed to the Baofeng 'system' - buying a mobile antenna that fits atop my retrieve truck and the battery eliminator for the truck also.  The batteries are small and light so carrying a couple extra batteries on XC flights is an easy precaution.  Baofeng produces a few varieties of this radio and I don't see any reason to purchase any model but the UV-5R.

There are many options when buying a radio for XC flight - I just lucked into this option and it's worked out well.

So - Here's my 1 to 5 Rating -

Price $36 - 5
Size         - 4 (The UV3 is smaller)
Weight  - 4
Features  - 5 (Keyboard, memory, flashlight, FM reciever, 70cm band)
Build      - 4
Performance - 4

A strong 4. 33 for this radio.


I hope this info has helped - 

Tim

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Dark Art of Thermalling

I learned to thermal when I was a kid, flying sailplanes in the early 70's.  After 1000 hours of glider rides, flight instructing, and XC flights, I had a "handle" on thermaling.  When I started flying paragliders 10 years ago, I realized that thermaling in a paraglider is a different game due to the slower speeds and smaller diameter circles we fly.  Sailplanes often fly circles in a cluster of cores.  Our tight thermalling allows us to exploit a single core.  This is good and bad - good because our average climb is more consistent as we climb within a solid core.  It's bad because we often concentrate on the specific area of the climb, without the option of efficiently exploring a larger portion of the sky for stronger lift sources.

For many pilots new to paragliding, and to those who primarily fly coastal sites with sea breezes, thermals are turbulent, scary, and confusing.  For those who want to go cross-country, thermals are a necessary and welcome step along the way to success.

How do you find thermals?  Many thermals are simply found by accident as you navigate along your route.  You can increase your chances of encountering thermals by observing and flying to "triggers" in the topography below.  Variations in the makeup of the surface, bumps and ridges, even power-lines and water features can affect the location of lift.  Look for birds, debris, and other gliders.

Once you encounter a thermal your job is to "center the lift" so that your circle (or oval - if necessary) is in the strongest lift for 360°of turn.  There are many opinions on how to do this, and I'm of the school that weighs physical feedback heavily in the centering techniques.  Using your variometer to guide you is fundamental.  Below is a video that shows, graphically, the result of "Decreasing the turn in weaker lift and increasing the turn in stronger lift."  This rule is a good starting point, but should be tempered with other inputs such as visual and physical clues.

A great book with information on thermalling, triggers to look for, and guidelines to flying XC in thermal conditions, is Thermal Flying by Burkhard Martens. I owned the original edition of this book and it recently was revised and expanded.  The second edition's readability is much better and the breadth of information is invaluable.  I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

It's time to ante-up for our US Paragliding Teams


It's that time again, and it is imperative that those who love this sport provide the support for our finest to hit the world stage.  Unlike many European athletes who get support from their National bodies, U.S. paragliding team members are spending their own dollars - unless we donate our part to support the team.

Who gets the donated funds?  Our World Team and our USA1 and USA2 X-Alps teams.  First up is the X-Alps which starts July 7th in Salzburg Austria.

Our US TEAMS are:
USA1 - Hanza Rejmanek and his support team of Luis Rosenkjer and Jesse Williams.  Honza will be competing in his 3rd X-Alps and  is the only US athlete to have ever graced the podium in a prior X-Alps.

USA2 - Stephan Haase is a friend and a talented pilot.  This is his first X-Alps.  His support team is Brad Sander and veteran supporter Dave Hanning.  Both Dave and Brad have experience in big mountains and will be an asset for Stephan.

The X-Alps coverage was riveting in 2011 and will be even better this year.

Our World Team will hit Bulgaria July 13th and consists of the ever present Josh Cohn,  Nick Greece, Eric "the Badger" Reed, and Arnie Frankenberger.  Rob Sporrer returns as Team Leader.



Please consider donating to our teams.  They compete for the purest of reasons - for the sport of it.  Prize money is not the motivator - nor is fielding teams in the world stage cheap.  Any and all help will be appreciated and you might even get an email from Uncle Tony!

You can use the button below or visit the US Team website at http://www.usparaglidingteam.org/index.html

TAX DEDUCTIBLE!


Monday, March 11, 2013

Point of the Mountain Dilemma


This week the social media machine mobilized, driven by fellow passionate 'free-flight' fliers.  The Point of the Mountain (POM) flying site is being threatened by reality.  Many pilots have flown, learned to fly, or in my case, have flown by the POM during their flying experiences.  Many pilots have moved to the community at the base of the hill, the explicit reason - to live, fly and party with those who share their passion.  All these pilots are rightfully concerned that the land that they've flown over, launched from, and lived in the shadow of - is going to be removed by the Geneva Rock mining company.

I feel their pain and hope the efforts are successful in minimizing the impact that the mining company imposes on this thriving flying site and its community.  The reality is, regrettably, that this situation boils down to money.  The land - the gravel that resides in the land - is worth millions.  The mining company is doing what they do - with the required permits and ownership.  The only sure way to stop them is to purchase the land that needs to be saved to salvage the site.  There are other iffy options, but attempting to alter public perception to demonize the mining company is a dubious option in my opinion.

This site is amazing.  The community of pilots, who watch each other's kids and are always available to run a retrieve or bail a guy out of jail, are great.  This is a disappointing situation.  Nobody has put it better than long time POM resident Chris Santacroce -

It's been a wild week for lovers of free flight - nationwide. One of the crown jewels of US free flying is under attack by bulldozers. When it comes to bad news and bad situations, I am pretty solid. Basically, it takes a few days for anything heavy to sink in. It's been a few days and I am now, I am down right creeped out. This reminds me of having my car broken into over and over again.

The first thing I want to say about the gravel company - taking a huge chunk out of my favorite hill is: I get it. There is absolutely no doubt that they bought the land, arranged the permits and paid the bonds. No doubt that it is 100% theirs for the taking. We knew this. As a club and as a community, we knew.

Their business is gravel - they feel good about what they do because they build roads and infrastructure for the future of our state. Our business is flying - we share the aerial perspective - we help people to improve their lives by getting in the air. We both do good things and it's nothing personal. I have no contempt for the company or it's employees. This is just a situation.

It turns out that the chunk of gravel that they are taking is worth a couple dozen million by the time it's delivered to construction sites as concrete. As luck would have it, it's prime gravel. The kind that whips into concrete a half a mile away with very little effort. The kind that, as we could have guessed, is already sold. We should have done something a long time ago.

We needed to have done something a long time ago and back then it was still a multi million dollar prospect. We didn't have it, we don't have it now, and we probably won't have it anytime soon. The dozers eat at a flyable aspect of the North Side of the Point of the Mountain - 24 hours a day. Literally.

All this begs the question: Why? Why weren't we worried about this? Why didn't we do something? I have literally lived at the Point of the Mountain for 22 years. In the early days, I lived in a motorhome. All year round. So far, I have raised three dogs and two kids out there. I went from a baby-faced teenager to a grey-haired, forty-something on this very gravel pit. It has always been a gravel pit next to the freeway.

I remember one time about ten years ago, the gravel company brought a dozer to the bottom of the South Side, rigged up a conveyor belt and started loading trucks. The part of the South Side that the speed flyers love because the hill drops off at the end. Some calls were made and they moved the rig within a day or so. They didn't realize we cared so much - they could get gravel from lots of places and they did. That was our experience with the gravel company knocking down flyable portions of the Point of the Mountain.

There are several companies that own property and mining rights. They have always surrounded the flying activity, they have always been there - beneath us - as we fly around. A while back the County and State Parks were established. We gave up our access from the North Side to the South Side in the process. A small price to pay and it gave them a way to push gravel downhill from the area in between the two sides. We were helping.

We noticed that they were taking lots and lots of gravel. Of course they were. If it wasn't the number of trucks ( they keep more than 100 concrete trucks at their pit ) - the view from above told the whole story. Still, we are positive people - dumps, gravel pits, freeways ---> everything looks beautiful from the air.

In early March, 2013, everything changed. The biggest dozer we have ever seen was "taking out" the North Side of the Point of the Mountain. A few things about this totally blew our minds. One, this was the first time any mining had taken place above bench level on the Salt Lake County side of the hill. Two, this was the very first time that they knocked down a portion of the hill that we fly. This was the first time they took out the skyline that has long defined not only the Point of the Mountain, but also Salt Lake County. How could their progress have been so slow and so subtle for so many decades and then all-of-the-sudden… People were in tears. My heart skipped a few beats when I saw the machine taking off the top of the hill. A few days later, I am down right sad.

As they are quick to point out, it’s their land, they have the permits and they paid the bond. To be fair, we shouldn't be mad and some people would have us believe that we are misguided or off base for even stating a goal of "stopping this excavation." Maybe we are. For some of us, this may end up being the fight of our lives.

As we started shooting a short video about our situation, we weren't really sure what our position actually was. In fifteen minutes, the words came to us; "we-thought-we-had-a-deal." We thought we had a deal. We thought they would and could - take gravel from all but the places that we actually fly. Many had already embraced the idea that the only hills left standing in the end would be the ones that we fly.

In our simple minds, we had a deal, and it was a good deal. We don't so much as utter a disparaging word about the gravel company and they let us do our thing. If we thought they had any intention of harvesting gravel from the hills we fly, we would have been there for every permit, for every public comment etc. We never dreamed that they would... Well played gravel company.

I even thought that it might have been a mistake. Did a wayward D9 operator take a wrong turn?

A gravel company representative was even rumored to have said: "we had never seen anyone fly that part of the hill before" ... "we didn't think you'd mind." There are no mistakes when big gravel companies navigate D10's - the gravel was already sold, they didn't think we'd mind and it doesn't really matter that we do.

We have all but resolved ourselves to losing that chunk of the hill. So far, we have new websites, logos, consistent branding, Facebook pages, YouTube videos, Twitter, Instagram... I think we are even on Pinterest. We have poured over maps, called meetings, and met with the media. There are lots of worthy goals - teams - initiatives. We have some passionate, well connected and even savvy people on our team. The mission statement is being massaged.

Here is the deal. There is a triangular shaped piece of the North Side of the Point of the Mountain that goes uphill from where the bathrooms are. The gravel company owns it. They can do what they do with it - if and when they want. Thankfully, it's supremely impractical for them to mine that spot. It's 700 vertical in a half mile to get to the top of it and any gravel they push is going to fall onto the county park. That's a no - no. Reckless poker players that we are, we might just kick back and wait. The odds that they are going to take that triangle are crap. They are going to take everything else - be very sure of that.

Still, we have learned our lesson. We can't rest until we own that triangle. If we had it our way, we would give them some other piece of dirt, have them sell us the triangle for a dollar and we would name it the gravel company flight park. Problem solved, warm fuzzies and high fives. Things aren't usually that easy and that's why our all-star team won't rest until it's done.

Meanwhile there are a few elephants in the room. One, it would seem that there are few, if any, programs whereby defunct gravel pits and mines are re-vegetated and returned to some sort of natural appearance. All we have to do is look across the valley at Kennecott to know that.

The bigger elephant is that if you enter the valley from the West you see some mammoth tailings piles and a smelter to beat all. Ugly. From the north, you see two or three refineries. Stinky. The largest open pit copper mine sits on the west side and it's visible from space. WTH? If you come from Park City. Well, let's just say you ought to come from Park City. Provo kicked all sorts of ass getting rid of the steel plant. That was cool.

There is a really good chance that with the right kind of pressure we could clean up the Point of the Mountain. The gravel company cares, a little - they have a fence around their property. They keep the really ugly stuff behind it. At some point they will move on. In Colorado, they dig down to get their gravel - make a water ski pond and build houses around it. We need to work on that. All of Utah needs to work on that.

Finally, people take notice. Literally - every community should have someone in charge of watching public notices for public comment about future gravel pits etc. - any development. It's often your only chance to say something, to do something.

From a flying site standpoint - do what you can to buy launches and landing areas. Buy a scrap of dirt that you can kite on, tow on, motor on. The writing is on the wall. This is how we preserve flying spots.

I am sorry that I wasn't a better caretaker of the Point of the Mountain. Sometimes we lose sight of what is important. I took her for granted. My bad.

A few words ring in my head over the last week. None so loud as: "PROTECT THE MOUNTAINS FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS."

If you'd like to help, check their site at http://savethepotm.org/    It's a good cause and I hope some mitigation of the damage is possible.

Tim



Saturday, March 2, 2013

Surfing the Sierras - Sierra Safari - Final Cut

Route of the Sierra Safari Team.
In September of 2012, a bit more than a week before my amazing three days of XC in the Owens Valley, a group of pilots left Lone Pine with a goal that many have dreamed of accomplishing - but few have attempted.  The small gaggle of talented pilots left with the intention of pioneering the route from the Eastern Sierras, North to the Oregon border.  Time constraints, injury, and fatigue all conspired to whittle this group in number, but the team effort paid off.  24 days after launching in souther CA, the border of Oregon was crossed.

The boys camped at high camps and followed routes they had researched on Google Earth.  They endured many discomforts but had a great time doing it.

Here is a short movie that conveys spirit of the trip very well - it also voices the reasons we fly XC in a way that many of us feel, but few can explain.
Tim

Surfing the Sierras from Offshore Odysseys on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Great Video with an Old Sound Bite

Those who know me well, know I'm an Alan Watts fan.  His writings are fundamental to my outlook on life -

This is a great video interpretation of his well known "Fullfillment" speech.

Fulfilment from Terry Stubbs Jnr on Vimeo.

Fly Safe - Fly high. Tim

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Flying Makapuu

I've been on Oahu for a few days and finally got a great day to fly. I hope you enjoy this video half as much as I enjoyed the flight. Watch it in HD for best views.

Makapu 01/11/2013 from Tim O'Neill on Vimeo.

Fly Safe - Tim

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Video with the Swann FreestyleHD

UPDATE - April 2013 - 
I've shot a number of hours of video with the Swann Freestyle HD camera.  These videos have been from an RC glider platform, a paraglider inflight, and hand-held.  It's my opinion that the color quality and general video sharpness are not up to the quality levels of the new Go-Pro HD 3 line.  I still find the quality to be as good or better than the GoProHD (the last generation) and certainly, for the money, a good camera for the price (as low as $150).  If you want the best, you will have to pay for it (as much as $650 for the GoPro Black).
T.O.


As I wrote previously, the Swann FreestyleHD is a small format action sports video cam that rivals many of its competitors with regard to pricing.  If the durability and video quality are comparable this is quite a find.

The durability is yet to be demonstrated since I've flown with this camera for less than 3 hours.  The video quality does have some noticeable variance from the GoPro standard however.  As you can see in my video below, there is a noticeable darkening in the corners of the frame - it's not overly distracting, but it is there.  I've also noticed an occasional vertical line through the frame caused by something unknown.  Please note that I'm no video expert in either the editing nor filming areas, so your mileage may vary.

Does this variance in quality change my decision to purchase this camera?  No.  It fits my needs and was within my price justification zone.  Is it as "good" as the new GoPro White?  Probably not.  But for half the price it is a product to consider when shopping for an action sports camera.

Tim
   

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Baofeng UV-5R Transceiver

Baofeng UV-5R


Over the last 5 years or so, I've been depending on a pair of Icom transceivers for my communications while flying XC. I managed to lose one during a search mission last Summer and the remaining HT has become a bit unreliable. The Icom is a good HT but it's bigger than it has to be and the last few years have brought some really nice, small form-factor, Chinese units to the market.

One of the models that caught my eye is the Baofeng UV-5R - A dual band radio with a great price (around $50 US) that has built up quite a following among hams and outdoors sportsman.

I decided to buy a pair from one of the major eBay outlets. Each HT came boxed with a 110V wall charger/stand, rechargeable 1800mA Li-ion battery, earpiece/mic combo, antenna, and belt clip.

The radio can be programmed with memorized frequencies and repeater settings using the keypad, or programmed using a computer and USB cable.  I installed CHIRP on my mac  (a programming software used to program a long list of makes and models) and soon was able to program in some local repeater sites. 

As I mentioned earlier, there is quite a following among users of this radio.  Its performance is impressive with 1 watt output in 'low' mode, and 4 watts in 'high'.  This radio is capable of communication via 2-meter and 70-cm  bands without restrictions.  FM reception is also available on this unit, as is a LED flashlight.

At this point, I haven't used the radio in flight, but all indications are that this unit works as advertised and has features that put in on par with other, more expensive units.  The build is good and it appears that the unit is robust and durable.  Only time and some abuse will tell, but this unit looks like a good fit for those of us who need a small reliable 2-meter transceiver at a reasonable price.

Fly Safe -

Tim


Saturday, December 8, 2012

XC in the Mag

In the 2012 November issue of the USHPA mag Hang Gliding and Paragliding Magazine, author Andy Pag put together Chris Galli, Bill Belcourt and me for a collaborative look at what's required for a pilot to fly a 100k XC.  It was nice to be included in the same sentence with guys of the caliber of Chris and Bill - they have each held state XC records of over 150 miles, while I'm just a regular joe on my "classic" EN-D with a 100-miler under my belt.

If anything, I hope that my contribution to the article shows that you don't need to be a sky-god to fly long XCs.  You just need to commit.  It's not easy to blow off the security of the local site, but that's what it takes to go far.  Something to think about while the off-season lets you dream -
 

Fly Safe -
Tim

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Swann Freestyle HD - flight test

Today I had a short flight with the Swann FreestyleHD attached to an extension pole.  Because the flight was short and close to the terrain, I just used the pole as a platform for the camera without changing the viewpoint.  This video was shot in 1080p 30fps and imported/exported/edited with Imovie without any enhancement.

Swann Freestyle HD - PG flight test from Tim O'Neill on Vimeo.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Swann Freestyle HD Video Camera

This month saw the launch of the new and improved GoPro line.  The prices for, what I consider an 'optional' piece of kit, have exceeded my personal price-point.   But when I saw an ad for this video camera on Woot for $135, I decided to give it a go.  It appeared to have good HD video specs and, considering the included peripheral accessories, at that price it was a steal.  The box arrived yesterday and here's a pic of some of what was included.
All this was included in the Swann package.  


The mounting hardware is of good quality and design.  All plastic pieces fit well and appear to be suitably durable for action packed video work.  The waterproof case is good to 65'.  The "helmet mounting pad" fittings are of slightly different dimensions than those used with GoPro units so I will need to swap out the old mounting pad.   Included are an AC wall charger, USB/miniUSB charging cable, video out to composite video cable.

Included with the camera are two very useful features - The LCD screen "piggyback" and the wireless remote control.  The LCD screen attaches easily and is used to program the unit and preview/review video.  Video can be shot with the screen attached as a view-finder, however the waterproof housing does not accommodate the accessory.  The camera is useable without the case due to its (long overdue on the GoPro) integral 1/4" screw mounting pad and lanyard attachment point. 

The wireless remote is mounted on a high quality plastic clip and includes a button each to take snapshots,  record video, or stop video.  One feature that seems simple, but is going to make GoPro users of old smile, is that the video record button only turns the video ON.  If you are unsure if it's actually recording, you just hit the record button again.  

It's been raining this week so I've yet to try the camera out inflight.  Preliminary (indoor) video looks good. If the camera and accessories are durable and the video quality is reasonable, this camera will be a welcome, affordable alternative to the GoPro line.   

Here is a quick indoor test of the video in rather low light
I built the comparative chart below based on information found on the manufacturers' websites. The specs compare the GoPro Hero3 White edition ($299 retail) to the Swann Freestyle HD kit. Keep in mind that the Freestyle HD kit includes a LCD Screen and Wireless Remote at no extra charge. These two accessories cost $80 each from GoPro.  The prices at the bottom of this chart link to actual Amazon.com deals available Dec. 2, 2012.

Swann Freestyle HD


GoPro White

Video
Video Format
MPEG4 Codec, 
MOV File Format
MPEG4
H.264 codec
Resolution
1080p (1920 X 1080) 30fps
720p (1280 X 720) 60fps
1080p(1920X1080) 30fps
960p (1280X960) 30fps
720p (1280X720) 60fps
Photo Format
JPEG JPEG
Photo Resolution
8MP / 5MP / 3MP 5MP 
Capture Mode
Single Shot, Continuous every 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, 30, 60 secs, self timer every 0, 5, 10 secs Burst (3/sec.)
Continuous@0.5,1,2,5,10,30,60
Optics
135 Degree angle view at 1080p resolution
170 Degree angle view at 720p resolution
"Med" at 1080p
"Ultrawide" at 960p >

Audio
Microphone
Yes - Built in Built in
Audio Format
Stereo 48kHZ, AAC compression Mono, AAC with AGC

Recording
Storage Type
MicroSD Card (not included) MicroSD Card (not incl.)
Storage Capacity
Up to 32GB Up to 64GB

General
Record Time
Up to 2.5 Hours per charge Varies with resolution
(Info on website is vague)
Battery Type
Rechargeable Lithium-ion (1000mAh) Rechargeable Lithium-ion (1050mAh)
Charge Method
USB (computer or charger) USB (computer or charger)
Dimensions
2.36" x 2" x 1.6" / 60mm x 51mm x 42mm ?
Weight
2.9oz / 82g (without screen)
3.8oz / 108g (with screen)
2.6 oz.
Storage Temp
-4 degrees F ~ 140 degrees F
-20 degrees C ~ 60 degrees C

Working Temp
-4 degrees F ~ 122 degrees F
-20 degrees C ~ 50 degrees C (When inside waterproof housing)

Price
$166.01 $259.99 + $160 for acc.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Relining my Gradient Avax XC3



My trusty Avax XC3 has served me well for the last two seasons.  While it's no slouch - it carried me to my personal best 110 miles in Sept. - I have put more than 250 hours on the lines and can feel the performance and handling getting a bit sluggish.



My last wing, an Avax XC2, was revitalized by the replacement of the lines after 2+ seasons so I decided to get a new line set for the XC3 and fly one more season on it.  This seems the best course with the rule change limbo that we find ourselves in.  My good ole' "Traditional EN-D" is still a lot of fun.

The first waves of a four day Pacific storm are rolling through California so it's a good time to apply the new line set that has been sitting in the cabinet.  My buddy Scott generously offered the use of his big shop, so we were in business.

Gradient does a great job of labeling the lines and provides a line plan with lengths and diameters of all lines.

Scott started clipping the old lines at the wing while I got organized.  Soon I was applying the lines and after a couple hours we had one half of the wing relined.  After lunch we knocked out the second half in less than an hour.

The hardest step (for me, anyway) is the connection of the risers to the lines.  Each set of lines is placed on the mailion in correct order and uses an "o" ring to secure them in place.

The weather hasn't allowed me to kite the wing to verify its configuration, but I am looking forward to the improved, sportier flying with the new lines!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Off-Season Preparation

From Cross Country Magazine -
This week's Tuesday Tip comes from Guy Anderson. In the current issue of Cross Country magazine he writes an amazing account of how he survived after crashing in very remote terrain in Sun Valley USA earlier this year. I am no survival expert, just very, very lucky. 
So what would I do differently? I’d recommend using a Spot or InReach satellite tracker. Juan, a pilot who landed a couple of kilometres away from me, had a Spot and was picked up at midnight on the first night. Even if I’d been out all night, being able to send a position and an ‘Injured but OK’ message would have spared all the anguish at home. And I’d pack an ‘emergency kit’: Spare radio batteries; a powerpack to charge everything else; a little food; a lighter; a light plastic mirror for signalling; a light waterproof or even a siltarp (very light tarpaulin); mosquito netting; headtorch; strong painkillers; water purification tablets (I drank from a stream but was lucky); and a whistle (I couldn’t shout due to the punctured lung). And finally, to help your rescuers, if you have the strength, try to spread out your glider to make it as visible as possible and even if un-deployed put your reserve out too. Then concentrate on saving your skin. http://www.xcmag.com/2012/11/in-issue-144-guy-andersons-story-of-survival/
* * *
I spent two long days, along with more than 60 other pilots, while searching the big country of Idaho for Guy. When we heard he had been found *alive* it was great news. His candid comments regarding his lack of preparation are refreshing - and a good reminder.   I've written about this before and, at the risk of sounding a nag, I'd like to list some of the stuff I've written.

Regarding the SPOT TRACKER and Survival - http://biggovtsucks.blogspot.com/search/label/rescue
Regarding Survival Kits for XC flyers - Nice Harness - What's in it besides your butt?
And please see my last post.  A special deal ON SPOT - THIS WEEKEND ONLY

Tim



SPOT Deal - This weekend ONLY



For those who plan to fly XC this year, whether it is in competition or not, owning and using a SPOT tracker is a great idea. If your decision has been delayed after some negative reports about coverage and dependability I understand, but must respond with anecdotal personal results. I have used a SPOT since 2008 with much success and reliability. Anyone who flies XC in the Western US uses this product religiously. Most leagues and competitions will REQUIRE use of this equipment or it's equivalent. A great deal is available this week and I got mine - I hope you get yours too -

The deal is a time limited offer to get the SPOT unit free for the cost of the $149/yr. service fee.  I'm partaking since it allows me to upgrade my hardware for the annual fee (which may be $30-$40 bucks more than usual, but that's a cheap unit)  Go to http://www.findmespot.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=3&products_id=5 to have a look at the deal.

Seeya in the air -
Tim



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