Halton man in paramotor record success

Flight Lieutenant Giles Fowler, from the Supply and Movements Training Wing at RAF Halton, has broken the British altitude record for paramotoring.

He went to 19,200 feet over the Cambridgeshire skies. Paramotoring is a facet of free flight where an engine and harness attached to a paraglider wing allows individuals to launch and fly from flat field environments. Paramotoring in the last two years has really developed into its own niche with very specific wings to improve speed and agility which makes it differ in extreme from paragliding.

Flight Lieutenant Fowler became interested in paramotoring after attending a course at Crickowel in 2009 completing training in both elementary pilot and club pilot over a number of courses. Having been flying since he was 15, and wanting to go back to powered flying, the combination of paragliding and paramotoring appealed. The equipment can be stored in the car and flown from any small field.

The challenge was dictated by the weather window and luckily the chosen weekend proved fruitful, being a culmination of over nine months training and preparation. Four serving personnel including Group Captain (Retd) Mick Roche, Sqn Ldr Suzanne Hobbs and Flt Lt Gordon Blackley withsupport team, prepared to launch from Chatteris airfield in Cambridgeshire, near RAF Wyton. Arriving in the early hours of Saturday and meeting up with Bailey Aviation who provided the paramotor, the team set about fitting all the equipment and oxygen systems to the machine.

Flight Lieutenant Fowler said: “My personal preparation had started months before, as I am not particularly good at heights, slowly getting used to higher and higher altitudes. The training and oxygen awareness provided by the Centre of Aviation Medicine was ringing in my ears as I donned multiple layers of clothing, wiring up the heated vest, boots and gloves with the final layer being an Everest suit to cope with the -25 degrees C temperatures and wind chill I was going to be exposed to. To ratify therecord we needed to carry official data loggers and have verified observers. Once all the formalities had been covered I started to focus on the challenges and fears ahead. We only had a five minute window to prepare the wing, strap me into the harness, connect my life support oxygen, carry out final checks and launch, as the airfield was active with Drop Zone aircraft. After a good launch and the harness fitting well I climbed up to cloud base at 3000 feet and with only limited gaps in the cloud I made for a big gap and finally was on top of a big white blanket.

My onboard instrumentation showed my position; however the team on the ground were giving me frequent position corrections, to ensure that if I did lose sight of the airfield I could maintain my position. Climbing through 12,000 ft I needed to adjust the mixture to keep the engine running sweet, however I did notice my oxygen supply was running down faster than predicted. Here was my first emergency, my pulse dose system was still working but was only on a low setting. Next I noticed the connector to the main bottle had become detached. I managed to reconnect the supply, and then the pulse dose module stopped working due to the cold. I had to switch to constant flow and self regulate the oxygen, not easy with big fat hands.

The engine was still performing well at 15,000 ft and it was time to switch to Swanwick Military before I entered controlled airspace. The radio frequency programmed into my radio was correct but not the frequency they were monitoring. Challenge number 3, how to reprogram a radio at 16,000 ft just as the engine starts to rev and drop making me oscillate and twist. After a few attempts I managed to make contact with Air Traffic and also sorted the engine by readjusting the mixture, my hands were extremely cold by this time. As my fingers had been locked around the throttle lever I accidentally let the lever slip due to cramp and cold, sending the engine straight to idle and throwing me into an even bigger twisting oscillation. Using my other hand I clamped the throttle open and carried on the climb. By 18,000 ft the engine was struggling with more frequent engine rev drops, my altimeter had also frozen but the data logger was still providing  data so I carried on. At 19,200 ft the engine finally stopped and I was on the long glide back down.

Due to the winds at altitude I had drifted 13 kilometres away so I immediately headed back towards Chatteris Airfield, although I didn’t want to leave this tranquil place; the view was fantastic and aweinspiring. I felt so exposed yet the peace and quiet was something you have to experience. As my oxygen was getting low I decided to collapse the wing tips, a rapid descent technique called ‘big ears’ to get back to an altitude with more oxygen. Dropping at 600 ft per minute I was soon back to 12,000 ft and my focus was on trying to get back.

The winds lower down had picked up and without the engine running I was not going to land back at the airfield. Radio calls to the team set the retrieve vehicle off following me. I had many landing fields to choose from but finding one that wasn’t surrounded by drainage ditches and power lines was focusing my mind. I had a spot tracker onboard to let the team know where I was but I kept informing them of my position over the radio. I opted for a large brown field with obvious road access and set myself up to land. The retrieve vehicle arrived just as I landed with the team helping me un-strap and de-kit as I was starting to heat up. I was feeling a sense of longing to go back up but also relief that I was safely back on the ground.

My thoughts then turned to how we can beat this record and break the world record by getting to 26,000 ft. The next challenge is on! A big thank you must go to our sponsors, without whom, this would not be possible.”

Two days after his record Suzanne Hobbs and Mick Roche went to break the tandem world record and beat it by over five minutes. Every flight the team have done so far has beaten a UK or world record.

List of sponsors includes:
Advance Gliders, Bailey Aviation, Summit Oxygen, Flycom Helmets and Sky High PPG for their flying instruction.