Back in the Water!

Updated: Dec 29, 2019

I had wanted to do a few other articles on other topics before going back to ditching your PPG in the water but I came across this series of videos made this month that I want to promote and address. They were put out by a group called TeamFlyHalo. The terrain they fly in and the type of flying they do has them addressing a lot of questions that are not especially related to ASAR type flying but rather for their specific area and PPG use. Much of the research in it is more appropriate to that than it is to the terrain in other areas like Florida. That is the beauty of ASAR National where we hope to receive and compare ideas for many different situations from across the nation and then let individual teams pick and choose what will work for them. This three-part series of videos are well done and worth watching. Mark down the time for each part for those areas that you think are valuable to you and your team so that you can review them again over time. The series is lengthy so before you watch them, read my comments below with respect to ASAR application.

A variety of topics are covered so let's look at each.

What to wear - Let's go item by item. If you have been following my blogs, you know that I am an ardent advocate of wearing a life vest whenever I fly.

LIfe vest - Your real "Red Angel." I don't actually think of it as a "flotation device" although that is what it was originally designed for. I think of it as a "flight survival vest." It is an armored vest that protects my rib cage and the vital organs it shields against blunt trauma. It keeps my core temperature insulated from cold air and water. It provides me with pockets for convenient storage of emergency items that I need close at hand even when I am no longer with the craft. It is a steady platform for my forward pointing camera and a place to secure my handheld radio(s) for easy control and reach. It is a beacon for my location being orange and having reflective striping. It doubles the area of safe landing space below me here in Florida.

It is a fairly good harness for securing me in place or for dragging me in an extrication situation and last but not least, it helps keep me afloat independent of my other flotation so that I don't spend energy just trying to stay afloat; energy that could be better spent securing my survival and equipment. It is actually comfortable but it can be hot in the summer. And if that isn't enough, it looks professional and cool as $#/+!

Helmet - I currently don't wear a helmet while flying because I haven't found or been able to try a suitable communication system that works with a helmet even the DIY ones. There are probably a couple out there, I just haven't found them yet. Most designs are more concerned with voice transmission than reception for the purpose of recording events while aloft. In ASAR, clear, two-way communication is critical. I do highly recommend wearing a helmet while searching because you don't know where you may come down. So the question becomes, should you wear your helmet into the water when you are ditching? My opinion is that you should probably not. In straight and level flight into the water, it provides unneeded protection but adds a lot of weight to your head, it adds an object that is more likely to become entangled in your lines once you are submerged, and it's one more thing to remove once you are in the water. Pitch before you ditch! On my A-team, we did not wear helmets when we parachuted into the water. We dropped our equipment below us on a tether. When your equipment hit the water, you had your two-second warning. Standard airborne units like the 82nd and 101st did wear helmets when jumping and used them to determine how high off the water they were before starting to disengage from the harness. You were taught to drop your helmet and watch it hit the water giving you some depth perception and allowing you to estimate impact time. For them, ditching was "not the plan" and they were basically going into survival mode. With today's much lighter Kevlar helmets, that may have changed. But whether you wear it into the drink or not is a personal call.

Boots - The kind of boot or shoe you wear for ASAR will probably depend on whether you foot-launch or use a wheeled pod or "cart" as I will refer to it going forward. I fly a cart and I wear offshore rubber fishing boots. They are feather-light and they float. They are durable, they are warm and comfortable, and they provide cushioning. They are super non-skid which comes in handy when resting them on the wheel pegs, they are cheap and they come off easily in an emergency. They don't, however, provide any ankle protection which is normally not of concern with a cart, unless you are stupid enough to put your foot on the ground while landing. You probably won't do that more than once.

Foot-launchers, on the other hand, will not want many of those features. As a foot-launcher, you need ankle support and foot protection which synthetics and leather will give you. The one thing you definitely need is the ability to remove them quickly if you ditch. With low level ASAR, you probably need something more rugged than sneakers. I suggest zipper boots or if you want to really look cool and get people's attention, check out "tanker boots". They are tightened and loosened with a single strap and were designed for tank crews. They were made to be easily removed in case they become soaked in fuel or just to loosen for comfort during long hours of sitting. For ASAR they provide the protection needed for emergency landings and the ability to be shed quickly if needed.

Clothing - For ASAR operations, you probably should wear an orange, yellow or red fire retardant jumpsuit with reflective tape in case you can't land in the water. You are after all, carrying around a couple gallons of gasoline on your back and you may come down in some very harsh terrain. NFPA approved jumpsuits are made of material that is durable and will protect your skin from abrasion and fire but they are relatively heavy and not cheap. Blue jeans and an incandescent long sleeve shirt will do but a jumpsuit is better and more professional looking. But back to ditching. Submerged in the water, the weight of protective clothing will probably be negligible and the tight knit will hold air inside initially when you first make impact with the water. This will add to your overall buoyancy and reduce the impact much like an airbag, although minimally. But every little bit helps. That being said, any clothing is going to fill with water quickly and make you sluggish and have to work harder. All the more reason to be wearing a life vest (aka flight survival vest or "Red Angel").

Remote PTT - Remote push-to-talk buttons are cheap and easy to install. In an emergency situation they are indispensable. Get one installed. More on this in another article.

Equipment - You definitely need a good knife and/or seat belt cutter to cut your way out of any entanglement that threatens your life. That also is another whole article.

Motor equipment design - Almost all paramotors have the fuel tank at the bottom. A few are mounted at the top. Fuel tanks normally provide some flotation. The top mounted ones would be better for ditching but that is obviously not reason enough to sway your decision making alone. That being said, you need to study flotation systems and how you think they will affect how you will settle when landing in water with flotation systems deployed. The science on this so far is abysmal and only intuitive. Unless you want to put on your motor and jump in the water to experiment with different systems, you are basically rigging up by guess and by God. You could easily wind up face down with them deployed, or with no or only partial deployment, screwing up all your best laid plans. I think what I have in place on my cart is going to work well but I wouldn't bet my pension on it. Too many variables. Which brings me to the crux of this article.

How to prepare and to land in water - The rest of this is what I learned parachuting into water as a Scout Swimmer, A-Team member, and from flying my paramotor. I have never landed my paramotor or any paramotor in the water although I hope to do so someday in a training session. Stay tuned on that.

So you are decked out in the newest "Hero-complex-fashion-statement" ASAR gear; helmet, jumpsuit, boots, flight safety vest, knife, etc. You are sweeping the area on pattern in your paramotor about 120 feet above and along the shoreline. You have good commo. Your wingman is slightly higher and off to your side searching too and watching you. Adrenaline levels are maxed out; crystal clear vision and mental processing and then "Wizz,yah,yadayada,bang" . . . and quiet. A couple of F words and it's time to do the drill. Trees on one side and water on the other. No brainer!

"Mayday, mayday, mayday, ditch, ditch, ditch!"

While doing your search you should remain mindful of the wind direction and speed by watching your drift and speed over the ground. You have about 10-15 seconds before impact as per your ground drills. If the wind is less than 5 knots, release one brake toggle and gently bank to a downwind trajectory if possible for 3-5 seconds. In most cases, your trims should be hanked in for slow speed while searching. With your free hand remove your helmet and undo as many things as possible that attach your body to your paramotor. Leave one retaining strap in place. If you are a foot launcher it might be wise to install a single waist strap or seat belt so that you can detach yourself from your harness and sit in the saddle being held in by a single strap. If you can stall and drop in the water, remember that the wing may drop straight down on top of you or drift back on you if you are facing into the wind. The plan is to land in a direction and speed where the wing will be carried away from you. This is strictly a matter of flying experience.

As a foot launcher, you might consider bailing out of your seat when you are within a yard or two of the water to be completely free of the motor and wing. In most cases I would imagine that minus your weight, your paramotor would drift/fly slightly away from you, leaving you free of the danger of entanglement. That is basically what we did in the Army. We sat in the harness seat, unattached and allowed the chute to go its merry way once we touched down. We jumped out of helicopters without chutes into the water from 20 plus feet so it's no big deal if you are wearing flotation. Cross your arms and grab your vest, cross your legs and lower your head. Kaasploosh!

Stay with your equipment or swim ashore? This is up to you. If your paramotor and wing are floating successfully then consider staying with them, especially if you are not very near the shore. Keep your knife handy. You might consider removing your boots and secure them to your floating paramotor if you are not going to be rescued within minutes and you don't plan to swim ashore. Remember that your wing will probably be highly visible on the water whereas your head is not. On my team we used swimming as a means of infiltration because seeing someone in the water is incredibly difficult. You may get run down by an eager bystander if you are swimming alone away from the craft. Rest assured, everybody within view of your ditching is going to come racing to your rescue and the floating wing is going to be their straight line of navigation.

Conclusion: The best thing you can do is review videos of ditching. Even real ditching may be less helpful because you simply cannot predict how things will play out in the next actual event. Have a ditching routine that you practice on the ground. Wear the right equipment. Give yourself 10-15 seconds and go over your ditch routine again and again until it is second nature. Motor out - cuss word - Mayday - bank to desired heading - detach self with free hand - remove unnecessary equipment - steady craft for landing - jump or remain seated - swim or stay - and so forth. All of it will depend on your equipment and your situation. There is no substitute for practice. Now go watch the video series.

In my next few articles, I will go over some of the equipment mentioned in this article. Please, if you have something to say or add to this article make a comment or ask questions. Fly safe and keep it in the air. !

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