APPI PPG Founder and Secretary Alex Ledger caught up with ex-Paramotor World Champion Ramon Morillas to discuss the development of the popular yet controversial discipline of Slalom Flying:
Alex: Ramon thanks for agreeing to speak to me. Over the last 3/4 years Slalom Flying has become more and more popular, both for spectators but also Paramotor pilots, however it has also received some bad publicity after several accidents, the most high profile of which involved APPI PPG Master Instructor Dean Eldridge, sadly resulting in his tragic death while test flying a new wing. Slalom Flying obviously has certain risks associated with it, please tell me more about your recent developments towards improving it’s safety.
Ramon: The biggest safety development is practising slalom flying over water. We have thought about others, like preparing the ground so it is soft if there is a crash, like motocross circuits. We are also talking about pylons that in the event of crashing into them, don’t cause you trouble. But nowadays, the most simple option is to train and compete over water. The International Federation also supported the decision of not doing anymore events over ground and we recommend that pilots always train over water. Obviously this requires some arrangements to set the circuits correctly and to make a reliable timing system. However the most important thing to keep in mind is that training over water without a proper rescue system and rescue team can also be dangerous. We can’t risk somebody drowning due to negligence! This is why an ‘over water’ training center should be similar to skydiving, where there are safety protocols for rescue systems and flying procedures, so we will continue to push for this.
Alex: The other rapid development has been wing development and it’s clear there is high demand for an agile, fast and efficient glider however yet again these come with increased risk. Can you provide more information about wing testing and their safety.
Ramon: It is true that we are evolving towards a very dynamic and fun “slalom event”, with growing numbers of comp pilots and followers, but we are leaving aside safety testing and the competitors themselves are the ones who discover the wing’s reliability. The manouvres that have always been done and are still being done during free flight testing are not always adequate for pamotor wings with reflex profiles, so the manufacturers decided progressively to make only load tests and not test for collapse recovery. I work with Niviuk as a test pilot and on developing paramotor wings. I am also in charge of safety tests and believe it is necessary to test the wing at altitude and in real slalom conditions to see what happens. As pilots we take wings to their limits and depending on the glider model some have very sensitive reflex systems, so if you touch the brakes you get an abrupt collapse. Sometimes it is easy to fly on because the wing recovers well, but some models, once they collapse, nearly always end up in the water. This may be due to their speed and the Peka system which is very effective, but once it collapses while initiated, it is more difficult to recover since there is no tension. As you know there are different types of aerodynamic wing tip steering systems and depending on their style and how they are attached to the wing tip, they are either more or less difficult to use. With the Peka system it is the same but we could debate for a long time about this since there are different opinions. One of the main issues is pilot skill, of course a pilot accustomed to a “normal” piloting style should gradually adapt to flying more aggressive wings first before converting to slalom flying, preferably by sitting a professional course.
The manufacturers know that slalom wings are tricky and in my opinion they should control the information that they give out. This is because general flying culture is basic, and some pilots might be badly informed. In comparison, Paraglider pilots have more flying culture regarding how things work and how to use their gear. You rarely see a free flight pilot without a rescue parachute or without a speed bar set up, yet in paramotoring it is very common to find pilots without them, some of whom even argue they are not required! In my Active Piloting Courses or Safety Courses, I usually say that it is comparable to driving a car in first, second or third gears and forgetting fourth and fifth while not using the seatbelt.
Alex: Thanks very much for your valuable input. I hope you can continue to develop the safety of this exciting part of our sport.
Ramon: No problem, I think it’s very important the flying community continues to develop their skills and knowledge correctly in order to prevent avoidable accidents.
Ramon can be contacted on email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or via his website: http://www.ramonmorillas.com