About 150 powered paraglider pilots descended onto Salton City for the five day long fly-in. I was there to work at the Empanada Stand and sell my photos and books and got to meet some new people and re-met some people I met last year.
For the most part it was quite good fun. Chatting with people from all over the USA, Canada and even way further afield, it was great to see people come down to the Salton Sea to go fly. It is said to be one of the best places to fly when the wind isn't kicking about. Of course the wind does kick about sometimes.
Winter in the Desert does have it massive perks like perfect temperatures, but like all places there are downsides. Other places get rain, snow, thunderstorms, insanely cold temperatures, different types of rain, different types of grey clouds (England: you know what I mean) and so forth. Here our bad weather, the kind of weather that makes people want to cower inside their houses, is the howling yowling winds and the Haboobs / sand storms. Seeing Haboobs is pretty intense, it is a wall of sand coming right at you, like giant tsunami waves in an ocean. So it was windy on a couple of those days. Not as bad as last year, but quite windy nonetheless. That does mean that the pilots are grounded apart from those pilots who are pretty darn crazy.
One of the pilots, the very highly trained Christoph, who is from Germany but lives in the USA, said it was super intense and absolutely amazing being up there. The wind was such that he could hardly penetrate it flying into it. When turning he would be whipped into it and powerjet back at easily more than 40 mph. From where I was standing on the ground he appeared to reach jet speeds and Top Gun images and the respective Top Gun powersongs would form their way into my head.
What did end up happening and this is the stuff of nightmares, is that a couple of days later on the day of the competition, one pilot, professional, fell out of the sky about 75ft off the ground. His wing collapsed. He is alive, in hospital and as of the moment is unsure whether he will ever walk again. Everyone is waiting on the news - all are thinking of him and his family. I did not witness the event myself, but I met many who know him and all are shocked and saddened by the situation. As with many sports, this one being higher up on the list of 'where bad things can happen', it happened. In the last couple of years, there have been others who in the field of flying - not just paragliding, but also ultralight pilots and others - met their early untimely death. Everybody is just thankful that this pilot is alive.
In a sense because of this incidence, the last day was more subdued, but there were plenty of people who took to the skies and scoped the beauty of the Salton Sea from above. As for me (I tend towards things like hiking, and cycling and quiet things - apart from music, which I like loud and raucous) hearing the continuous drone of engine noise can be somewhat taxing. But it was also pretty awesome to see pilots take a couple of dainty steps with big backpacks on their backs and huge kites above their heads and be lifted into the skies. Not that everybody has dainty launches... in fact depending on the wind strength and skill level, a lot of foot launchers do not have dainty launches... But I did really want to join them up there.
On a last note: One HUGE gripe I had, as do some of the residents here, is that there are a very small amount of pilots who choose to fly right by and on top of people's houses and/or scare off birds - both of which are NOT COOL... it's stupid, rude and completely inconsiderate to the residents and the wildlife. And it is always a few that ruin the reputation of everybody else.
|Coming in for a landing.|
|Foot and Quad launching|
|Ask any pilot: a lot of time is spent repairing these machines|
|The Indy AirHogs|