2009 World Air Games

Daily Blog by Chad Bastian

World Air Games 2009


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June 3 - The Long Flight to Europe

Today, I leave Los Angeles at 3:30 pm and arrive in Paris tomorrow around 11 am, a very long jet flight. Then it's on to Turin, arriving at 2:40.

I haven't had much time to practice with my paramotor before the event, but I have been flying a lot without a motor lately. Diego from Miniplane (Top 80 paramotor) is bringing motors for Jeff Goin and myself to be used in the games. These are the superlight paramotors that have been used for years by competition pilots in Europe. They only weigh 46 lbs, compared to 65 lbs or more for most other motors. I look forward to this lighter backpack unit both for the Games and my personal use afterwards (it will be shipped to me after the Games).

Check-in is Friday, and Saturday and Sunday should give us some practice time at the field. It looks like we're flying monday, Wednesday and Friday in the competition. I'll give more details on the schedule as it is presented to us.

Well, I'm off to Italy!

During the early hours of the flight, we flew in and out of some HUGE thunderstorms! They reminded me of the reports of the flight from Brazil recently where they just disappeared in thunderstorms. Lots of turbulence, but these birds handle it really nicely. Nothing I'd EVER fly my powered paraglider anywhere near, some of these looked like Hoover Vacuums!

It's getting dark now as we fly over Chicago where Jeff is catching a plane about now. We'll meet tomorrow in Turin, get a van and maybe go free flying somewhere. The Great Lakes are truly just that - GREAT! They are HUGE, I've never seen them before, about as big as an ocean!

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June 4 - Arriving in Turin

After perhaps a half hour of total sleep for the night, I arrived in Paris after the 10 hour flight. Walking around like a zombie at the giant airport, I found my way to the terminal for my flight to Turin - and found Stan there as well! We chatted about flying until it was time to board.

Another sleepy hour flight until I realized we were flying right over the Mont Blanc, Chamonix and Plaine-Joux where we did so much good free flying on our France trip with Irene many years ago. I could even see paragliders flying around thousands of feet below along the edges of the beautiful white clouds!

Within twenty minutes of our arrival in Turin, Jeff picked us up and off to the hotel we went. Turns out that the hotel that Stan I are in is different than Jeff's - about 5 minutes away. Funny thing is that until you know where you are going, you can't get there from here. It seems that this little phrase is going to be our theme here in Italy! We figure it's an evil plot to disorient our team to keep us dazed and confused.

The roads are not exactly intuitive for those of us that can't read Italian or even FIND the traffic signals! After missing a few of these, we started looking for them in the trees and bushes near intersections. Italian drivers aren't exactly patient with our slowing to read the (tiny) street signs at about every street corner, either.

A little later, we headed for the small airport where the Games will be held. We met Paolo there, the Microlight organizer, and picked up our Athlete Passes. We asked a waitress to get a photo of us, but she thought we wanted a picture of her! We finally got our wishes across, and she took a shot of us together - The US Team here in Italy, ready for the World Air Games!


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June 5 - Tourists in Italy

Finally, some sleep! Nice quiet hotel, and many hours sleeping left me refreshed and ready for breakfast. ...and WHAT a breakfast! The hotel featured a fantastic array of foods, including Latte Marchiano (espresso & hot milk), teas, fruit juices, peaches and prunes, apples, oranges, cereals, granola, fresh bread, pastries, cheese, prochiutto, salami, ham, and various flavors of yogurts. WOW! I ate and ate and ATE, until Jeff finally came and picked us up to go to Avigliana, where the Paragliding Aerobatics will be held.

We visited the lake where the huge raft is moored for the spot landing task, then headed for the castle on the knoll overlooking the lake. We were hoping for a free flight site, but the place is so heavily wooded with trees that there are virtually no landing zones, let alone a place to launch. We ambled around on old cobblestone streets and rock and brick stairways, climbing finally to the top where the old castle sits.

Later today, we'll go back to the Aeritalia Airfield for a briefing and hopefully, some practice time. Meanwhile, it's time for a little afternoon siesta... ...zzzzz..... ...oh, yes - the pictures... ...zzz....


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June 5 - First Briefing & New Motor Assembly

Arriving at the airfield, we could see that it was smaller than we expected, with a fence presenting a clear and present danger to those who could not launch in the space provided. Jeff seems particularly concerned about this lack of concern for our safety.

Today we met many of the other athletes and got to hang out and wait for the evening briefing that is required for tomorrow's practice session. Then we went with Diego, maker of the Miniplane Paramotor, to his booth to set up our motors for the event. It's really great to hang out with the guy that designs and builds the unit that I will fly in the games. Some new goodies incorporated into the new units include both a primer and a choke, my unit started on the very first pull!

Miniplane is working on a new electric paramotor with the goal to be the same weight (around 45 lbs) and even more thrust. We talked with the electronics engineer about his approach, and they seem really focused on making it right from the start. Some pictures show the frame and motor, but no batteries - incredibly light without them!

After dialing in the motors, we went to a killer Pizzeria and were treated to the best Italian pizza I've ever had. Diego treated us all to dinner, and at around midnight we headed back to the hotel and slept.



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June 6 - Practice Session!

After a quick coffee, we headed to the airport for the practice session. Stan still needed to finish setting up his paramotor, so we left the hotel early to give him time before the briefing at 8am. Diego had jeff and my motors all ready to go out at the field, and after a couple of hours of waiting around, we got to finally get some practice in.

The thermals were getting along pretty good by the time we got into the air, so we had to contend with some bumps. I took an unexpected collapse on the XS Rush, and another pilot took a collapse and smacked in, destroying his frame, prop and cage and hurting his wrist.

The French Champion, Mathieu Rouanet, and his sweetie (the Women's French Champion) showed up at the field a little late for practice, and we talked for awhile about wings and things. He had just come from the French comp, where he managed to squeeze Michel Carnet into second place. "Bastard!" was all Michel had to say to Mathieu...

After practice, we walked a block to the Official Briefing site just in time for a major downpour, complete with hail! After that, we headed for the Turin Piazzi (town square) for the Official Opening Ceremony. What a major production! A huge digital screen next to the stage showed everything happening on stage to the wall-to-wall crowd. All the athletes walked across the stage and waved to the teeming masses.

There were speeches, singing, orchestra and as a finale, a dozen skydivers flew down and landed in a small strip in the middle of the square! I really couldn't believe it. At around 9 pm, it finished, and we headed back to the hotel for some rest after an exhausting day. On the way home, Stan just had to have some more fine Italian cuisine - MacDonald's!

Pictures & Short Video


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June 7 - First Task: Basket Ball Slalom

We awoke to a clear, crisp morning after yesterday's thunderstorms, and things are looking good for our first task, the Basket Ball Slalom. In this task, the pilot launches and immediately picks up a 65cm exercise ball between their legs and flies around three pylons, then drops the ball into a large basket, flies back through the pylons and kicks a stick, then does the ball carry again to the basket around the pylons. Score is determined by elapsed time from when the official drops the flag (before launch) to finish.

You must launch within one minute of the flag signal, and you cannot have help to reset. Sometimes there is a slight breeze, sometimes a thermal, sometimes it's dead. Catching and carrying a slippery, wet ball between your legs can be quite tricky, and there's a good chance that even the best and fastest pilots will botch this one up. The faster you are flying, the harder it is to catch the ball.

I biffed two attempts during practice, then ran out of gas a few minutes later, so it can only get better from here! Jeff had a perfect run, and is now worried that he's due for something less, but I think he'll do fine. Stan looked in fine shape as his run went really well. Dave Rogers and his wife showed up this morning after some fun travelling in France on their way here. Now we have Crew! Dave was really great at getting the qualifier to run smoothly last year in Illinois, and if he was in charge of this event, you can bet things would be done differently - with a WHISTLE!

The word for the day is - DELAY! It's the first thing we saw as we arrived for the briefing, and the trend continued for the rest of the morning. So much so, that the task was cancelled after only four pilots completed the course because the organizers took so long to get everything done! The thing they emphasized the most is that the pilot must be ready, and we only have one minute in which to launch when the flag is dropped. But we were ready, ready and WAITING...

By the time we started the task, we had only ten minutes left in our "slot" in the day's schedule of events to complete the task. Organizers took responsibility for the delay, but it is really difficult to be ready and wondering what is causing the holdup. Conditions were perfect, but it looks like we'll be attempting it later in the week.

Later, we headed for the Aerobatics Competition at the lake near Avigliana, about 20 minutes away. We watched Nova, the US representative throw down some awesome maneuvers, as well as lots more from the best in the world. Lots of fine routines, but the Infinite Tumbles are simply stunning! They call it "jump roping" the glider. The setting at the lake was really nice, and we were treated like royalty because we had our Athletes badges - food, beverages and access to the best seating to be had for the show.

We spent some time with Dennis Pagen, who was in charge of the judges of the Paragliding and Hang Gliding Aerobatics. He showed us where to go tomorrow, our day off, for some free flying up near Andrate. He had been flying there the day before, and highly recommended it. The last photo is from my hotel room looking west towards the mountains, very nice! I also made a short video of the day's events.


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June 8 - Free Flight

Dennis gave us excellent instructions to the landing field for the Andrate flying site. The iPhone got us to within a block of the field, and we found it easily once we were in the area. The huge grass field would be perfect for motoring also, but we didn't bring our paramotors.

Up the hill we went, and before long, Stan spotted a streamer out the window. We pulled over, and found a beautiful launch with the wind coming straight up! Over our heads, we could see the wind blowing the clouds straight out of the east, about 90 degrees cross, but we were below that, and our cycles were perfect.

I volunteered to drive, hoping the second round would be a bit more soarable, so Jeff and Stan set their wings up and flew. Stan flew his XS Pluto, and was heavy in the wing, but his glide was still remarkable. Jeff had a bit lighter wing loading, and he soared for a bit just in front of launch before heading around the corner to the LZ.

I drove down and picked them up and we headed back up the hill to go again. By the time we arrived back at the launch, the wind had decidedly begun to blow down, so we decided to go further up to find the higher launch. The lower launch looked like a paraglider launch, as there was minimal parking and room to set up gliders. It had a sign that described the landing field we had found, but the LZ had no flag in it.

Climbing the winding road to Andrate and beyond to the upper launch, we stopped for wildflowers and rock structures for pictures. The area felt like it was full of history as there were some very old rock barns and houses along the road. We climbed right up into the cloud, to about 1200 meters above the LZ (about 3600 feet!). We found the sign for the flying club, and walked down the last part of the steep road as Dennis instructed, and found the upper launch.

This launch is nice, like the ones we visited in France - lots of room, grassy and a good windsock and streamers. Just in front of launch, there was an opening in the clouds, and we could see into the valley where the landing area was. The sign at this launch described a different LZ, one with a large windsock. We could see the valley, but could not make out the sock or field from that distance.

Just as we arrived at the upper launch, I got a text message from the WAG organizers that we may be having a task in the afternoon. So off we went to the airfield again for a briefing. As we descended the hill on the way back home, we found the landing zone and windsock just a few blocks from the other field. Why there are two, we have not a clue.


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Dragon VIDEO

June 8 - Another Cancelled Task

As we arrived back in Turin at the Games, we noticed that the weather looked a little ominous. Large thunderstorms were all around us, but the wind seemed mild. There were occasional gusts, but none were very strong. At 4 pm, we started the briefing and shortly afterwards, we were instructed to fly out to the starting area.

After just a handful of pilots had flown to the starting area, the red flag came out, and we were instructed to wait. It appears that we had flown while the RC demonstration was still happening at the other end of the airport. The tower was having a fit, and we waited until that gave us clearance before we could continue.

Finally, we were given the go ahead, just after I folded up my wing because I was feeling raindrops. It was already 5 pm, and our task was scheduled to start at 5 o'clock. I figured at least I'll get to fly for about 30 seconds out to the field, so off I went! The air was bumpy, as there was a NE wind now. The North course was set up just behind a long row of trees to the north, and I was glad that I was on the South course. The Pylons were still not set up 15 minutes later, but then we saw them going up.

The wind kept blowing the first pylon on our course over, so they cancelled the task. I really don't think there was enough time left for it anyway. It would also be dangerous for pilots to be flying the North course due to rotor from the trees.

I think it's pretty sad when the best pilots in the world are here and ready, but organizational challenges, whatever they are, keep us from doing what we are here to do. Things need to be better coordinated in advance, so we can concentrate and perform our tasks.

We were instructed to fly directly back to the storage area, no more than 3 meters from the ground in a straight line. Penalties would be incurred if we did not follow this exactly, not exactly friendly. It seems that the control tower is not comfortable with our form of aviation at the airfield. A half hour later, it was raining hard as we ate dinner in the hangar.

Jeff wanted to go to the indoor RC aircraft show, so we navigated downtown to the arena, and were treated to an exquisite show of talent and creativity. It is astounding what these indoor airplanes can do, each competitor's flight was choreographed to music. I had never seen an aircraft "dance" before this show! There were miniature blimps, gnats (miniature RC planes with tiny propellers), a flying race car, and a flying Dragon - complete with a moving head! This RC did a short skit with a person talking to it, asking it if it would fly for the crowd. It nodded it's head, lit up it's eyes, and proceeded to impress us all!

One of the demos had a propeller midship, allowing the plane to go forward and backward, and even to roll over on the floor and bump the ceiling without touching the propeller. This guy had amazing control of the aircraft, and could even make it hover as he walked around it. Very impressive!


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June 9 - Finally... Our First Task!

Today we went to the airport early, only to wait for more delays. Two briefings later, we find that we have a slot for our task at 6 pm. Most of the day was spent watching the other events and milling around. There was lots of parachuting going on, Accuracy and Relative Work, and it was interesting to watch.

Sure enough, at 6 o'clock, there was a massive thunderstorm just to the south of us threatening to throw us a nice gust front or worse. We waited until after 7 there on the field until it improved, then started the task. The Pylons were doing the "Watusi" dance with the unsteady winds form the massive cell near the field, but it calmed down for the first half of the task.

Some competitor's runs were really good - perfect, in fact! Then there were many that had trouble catching the ball between their legs. I was one of those, not enough practice! Every time you miss it, it adds about 7 seconds to your time, and you can only try twice. No ball, and you get an even lower score. Jeff did really good, but the guys on the 15 and 16 meter wings were way faster!

Also, by the time Jeff went, the wind had picked back up, and was giving him a real hard time. We watched as he was buffeted around on the course. There is no way to get a good run with wind, it just slows you down too much. Two of the last competitors hit sink and went down on the course and were disqualified as a result. I wonder if there will be complaints filed, at 50 Euros for each complaint, there may not be many takers.


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June 10 - Free Day, Free Flight!

Since there was no tasks scheduled today, we took off again for Andrate, now our favorite little free flight site. With a better weather forecast, we were optimistic about soaring this time. The first flights were little more than a sledder, but after landing at the other landing field, two vans full of pilots arrived!

Turns out it was Luis Rosenkjer from Atlanta Paragliding, an old friend hosting a tour of the French Alps and more for paraglider pilots. He was working with Todd Weigand, and it was a real surprise to see them here!

They boosted us back up the hill and we all got some awesome soaring in, as the day had turned on! After more than an hour of soaring with no reserve or back protection, the bumps of the mid day thermals began to make me uneasy. I headed for the LZ and found even more lift in the valley, but more bumps too! Spiraled down, and off we went for lunch at a local ristaurante, with really good Italian food and wine.

After that, we drove towards France to the tunnel to Chamonix and marvelled at the beauty of the mountains. We stopped at the tunnel and turned around and headed back for the evening glass off at Andrate. A real special day for all of us to enjoy!


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June 11 - Rerunning the First Task

After Mathieu Rouanet and others complained that the first task was unfair, the officials decided to cancel it and have us do it again. This time, the weather was perfect. We started at 8:30 am and there was virtually no wind on the field. Some of the launches went bad, but most pilots used a forward to get into the air easily.

Stan's run was first, he missed the first try at the ball, then after he picked up the ball, it rolled off his left foot. As he tried to catch it, he used his left hand and almost spun his glider into the pylon! He recovered right away, but the ball had gotten away.

My run was three rounds later, and I had a perfect run! The only problem is that I had a (relatively) slow glider compared to many competitors. I am flying an XS Rush (22m), and it flies great, but other guys are using 20, 18, 16 and even 15 meter gliders! They are REALLY fast, and the only challenge for them is catching the ball at the higher speed. Jeff's run was perfect also, and he ended up in 10th place. Most did really well on this second run, and Mathieu got first place.

Tonight, we have the Cloverleaf task, and so far, the weather looks good. It's a beautiful sunny day here in Italy! If you look at the Aeritalia Airfield Webcam, we should be visible at around 18:30-19:00 (6:30-7:00pm) Turin, Italy time today. It's not pointed at the task, but we fly from here to the task before it starts.


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June 12 - Last Task

Last night, we completed the Cloverleaf just before sunset. Everyone got good runs in and there were few missed sticks. Juan missed his launch because the wind switched 180 degrees just as he started his run.

Jeff had to argue with the officials because they missed his round somehow. They said that he missed it, but they never even looked for his number when it was his turn. After some heated words from him and Dave, they let him have his run, and later decided to allow it, as he was somehow overlooked.

Stan had a good round, and so did I except that my wing was so much slower than the others. I got the 5-second penalty for finishing second, even though I got a much earlier start than the Czech pilot. I must say that it's a real pleasure having our own crew here to make things go smooth - Dave and Carmen (pictured left), are really helpful!

This morning, we were back at the airport bright and early, ready to do the Dragontail/Spot Landing Task. I was one of the pilots in the first round, so I got to do my run when the wind was still quite calm. I climbed way up over the field, then went to cruise speed to let the paper ribbon out. I should have gone to idle, where the propeller stops turning, because the prop sucked the ribbon into it, cutting it before it had a chance to unroll. Two seconds later, I saw it streaming towards the ground far below me and realized what had happened. The unrolled ribbon simply plummeted, and I missed any chance at catching it.

I missed the target (ball) by only a few feet on my spot landing, but the ribbon had cost me a 60 second penalty, one that became quite common as the rest of the rounds were run. Only 9 pilots caught their ribbon and got decent scores! Stan fell to his knees (penalty) during his landing, as he was trying to stretch it out to hit the target. Jeff, who caught his ribbon right away and almost hit the ball, got a good score and moved up to fly in the Finals this evening!


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Video of Mathieu's Final Round!

June 12 - The Finals!

Our Microlight Precision Task Paramotor Finals are scheduled this evening at 8:15 pm, so Jeff, the only US Team member to make the finals, is preparing for his task. The pilots are all keyed up, and there is a lot of electricity in the air!

Jeff is excited, but realistic about the difference in speed of the gliders he is up against. Just having made the finals is fantastic! The caliber of pilots here is really high, and many of these pilts are champions in their own country.

The first four rounds went quickly, but the Czeck pilot missed the last stick after a really good run. Another pilot did the course completely backwards, and was disqualified!

During Mathieu's Semi-Final run, the other pilot hit a spot of turbulence and was slammed to the ground, requiring ambulance removal. The word is that he is just severly bruised, and there are no broken bones.

Alexander's Semi-Final run was with Laurent, from Canada, and they were so close that when it was finished, we all thought the 17 year old protege had won his round. Turns out that Laurent had the better time, so he and Mathieu prepared for the Final Round.

Watching these two fly the task is really an experience, and the task was perfectly executed by both pilots. Mathieu had the shorter time, likely due to the size of his wing - 15 meters! Laurent was flying an 18m Viper, and Alex was on a 20m Viper. All three top positions were won on Ozone Vipers!


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June 13 - Awards Ceremony

This morning, we slept in after last night's late dinner. Due at the airport at 10 am, I rode the shuttle from the Rivoli Hotel and took some pictures during the ceremony. We all received a bottle of Italian wine from Paolo after the ceremony.

Awards went to:

  • 1st Place - Mathieu Rouanet, France: Gold Medal - Ozone Viper 15
  • 2nd Place - Laurent Salinas, Canada: Silver Medal - Ozone Viper 18
  • 3rd Place - Alexandre Mateos, France: Bronze Medal - Ozone Viper 20

Results from the WAG web site.

Today, there is an airshow here at the WAG, and we're all looking forward to watching it. Everything from old radial engine airplanes, soaring and aerobatic sailplanes, powered aerobatic planes, skydivers and exhibition aircraft will be flying! The SunSeeker is a unique sailplane, powered by it's own electric motor that gets its electricity from photo cells covering the wings. There is even rumors of a Paramotor team flying a demonstration for the crowd at 7 pm.


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June 14 - Airshow

I must say that coming to Italy to compete in the World Air Games was an awesome experience, a chance of a lifetime to compete on the world stage. This is like the Olympics of Aircraft and Airsports. Just hanging out and flying with the best PPG pilots in the world was worth the trip!

Unfortunately, we were only allowed one run of each task, and one small miss put over half the field out of the running. I finished about in the middle, above some pilots I would consider to be incredibly accomplished. I did this with virtually no practice, as I was flat on my back for the last year with my "project" (cancer treatment). I know that with some practice, I would have throttled all the way down to avoid cutting my ribbon in the Dragontail Chase. I was so distraught watching the ribbon plummet to the ground, watching my chance at the finals fall away. Still, I wouldn't miss this for anything.

Both Saturday and Sunday there was an incredible array of aircraft flying for the WAG Airshow, including 8 Powered Paragliders from the Italian Club Team. The crowd really liked this!


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