Some years ago, when I was cruelly thrown onto the scrapheap of the unemployed with no more compensation than a shitload of cash and a healthy pension; I decided I would learn to fly. The cash and pension would not support a Cessna, so I decided to go for the cheapest form of aerial transport, the Paramotor.
To fly a paramotor, you strap a derivative of a motor cycle engine to your back, to which is attached a propeller. Then, dragging a parasailing wing behind you, you run along the ground with motor assistance until lift off is acquired; and then you fly!
Seemed like a sport for me, and there was school near Pattaya run by a fresh faced young lad called George; so I signed up.
First we had to learn how to launch the sail into the air, a prerequisite before you do the running across the field with an engine on your back routine. This launching process turned out to be harder than it looked. Pull back on the lines and then hold the wing stable before landing it in a controlled manner. Yeah, right.
I sucked at this when I first tried. I also sucked at it the second time, and for a couple of weeks after that. Plus, it was hard work pulling this sail with a mind of its own into the air, and then laying it out neatly again after I had deposited it as a tangled heap in a bush. I almost gave up, but the dream of being birdman kept me going. Finally, I was deemed proficient at launching the wing, time for the motor.
The paramotor power unit comprises an engine, a barely functioning exhaust, a propeller and a fuel tank, all approximately held together in a metal frame. About 30 kg all up; and all you have to do is strap it to your back, apply revs, and run across a field, after having deployed your recently acquired sail launching skills.
First of all we learned how to start the engine. Then we learned how to stop it. Then we learned how to position ourselves to put the power unit on our back. Then we learned how to stand up.
It was at this point that I was reminded of a hernia operation I had had some years before.
I had gone to the company doctor with a suspicious lump in my groin. “Just a hernia” he announced cheerfully, look I have one too!” He lifted his shirt and alarmingly unzipped his trousers to reveal an alarmingly large lump. “Never bothered to get it fixed”. This statement could be applied to a whole range of other ailments which burdened him, along with obesity and borderline alcoholism. He served less as a doctor and more as a warning to others. But we loved him anyway. His monthly health reports to the management team were the only bright spot in an otherwise turgid two hours during which I usually amused myself by playing electronic battleships with the drilling manager, until the MD caught us and suggested we were not being very managerial. But games were suspended when the doctor gave his report, for he invariably eschewed doctor/patient privilege and detailed the more juicy medical conditions he had encountered during the past month. An update on Khun Somchai’s genital warts was far more interesting than the latest seismic survey report; at least to me.
I decided to have my hernia fixed and was directed to an obviously gay surgeon who spent more time than I considered necessary weighing up my gonads before undertaking a passable and very expensive repair to my lower regions; a repair that was to cause me no trouble until I tried to stand up with a paramotor on my back.
George suggested I tried walking across the field with the equivalent of the weight of luggage my wife would like to take on holiday.
George suggested I tried running across the field.
And that, gentle reader, was the end of my dream of flight.
A shame, and there was some nostalgia when we chanced upon some paramotor pilots this weekend. A Japanese gentleman was the most active:
There was also a trike; a viable alternative if you can’t carry the load, but more expensive and harder to launch.
It was good to see them in action; but on reflection I am glad I did not get into the hobby. A couple of people were flying, the rest were just dicking around with sails or machinery. And I wouldn’t enjoy it for the same reason I wouldn’t enjoy kite surfing: too much fucking string*.
Maybe in the next life I will play electronic battleships less, work harder, and get a Cessna. But for this life I will remain grounded.
*Actual technical description may be different.