Mr Tom shares some thoughts on how to keep costs down for novices from a cheapskate
Taking on the Icarus Trophy can all seem rather fucking expensive when looked at from the angle of a novice. But after a year of learning the ropes myself I've learned there are ways to keep costs to a minimum.
Aside from the race itself, which a good number of pilots get help covering the costs of with sponsorship, the big wallet rapers are the training and your flying kit.
I was lucky when I started out as I had some mates I could try flying out with for free. But a taster day will be a hundred or so quid and will at least tell you whether flying is for you or not. Some people just seem to be genetically opposed to it. So before you spank all your readies on anything else, get in the air and see if you blow chunks or end up high five-ing yourself.
The quickest way into the sky is to do go up on a tandem flight but if you're a quick learner and have good weather you might find you could be airborne in a day of lessons. I was in the air about 20 minutes after seeing my first machine. Not entirely recommended as my pants turned a nice even shade of brown.
After that I called up Kester (a most excellent teacher) and he gave me some very handy pointers for a day and I was able to maintain underwear colour.
People learn different things at different rates. So you should all make up your own minds about how fast you want to do things and how much help you need. For me one thing I think I did right was to get kit early and fly loads myself. So in the end I only had 3 days of formal training before the Icarus, but I had done a load of flying. That way my training was only a few hundred quid. It was probably a fair bit more hairy than it needed to be, but I'm a bit of a dumbass, so I was happy.
Get a machine Early
This is a big one. When we first started setting up the Icarus I was determined to find a way to rent people paramotors to help keep the costs down. But now I think it's better and cheaper not to.
Firstly, the sooner you get a machine the sooner you can start putting what you learn in lessons into practice. As long as you're safe flying I think the best thing you can do is get into the sky and start trying to fly about, navigate, practice running out of petrol, etc...
The cheapest way to do this is to buy a second hand machine. I've seen a fair few good looking machines on ebay. I think some people, perhaps with more money than sense, get all excited about the idea and buy all the kit before they've really tried it. Then realise it's not for them and ebay comes calling.
Whether new or old obviously the best way of keeping your overall costs low is to sell it after the race. As well as ebay there'll always be next year's novice pilots keen for a bargain if you want to offload it. Unfortunately you'll almost certainly get addicted and be unable to sell the gear afterwards. However in that situation it's not really a cost of the race more of a lifestyle improvement. Like a boob-job or cat. Neither of which are really improvements. So not really like that at all.
Choosing a machine can seem like a massive minefield. If you look online you'll probably find wildly conflicting reports about which machine is best. Personally I think fuck all that off. You don't need the absolute best machine on the planet. As a novice you're not very likely to win the race anyway. From watching the Icarus this time, the available frames made less difference to performance than the engine that was attached to them. The world may have changed since but the real stinker was the Polini 190. It was a new engine last year and they seemed to have been designing a spoon by mistake. Most people who I saw who'd bought one had it go wrong, some catastrophically and repeatedly on the startline. I'm biased though and hopefully that's at least pissed someone off.
Aside from that, something I hadn't considered but got right by mistake was altitude. On the icarus you may have to fly pretty high to get over the mountains. So thinking about your engine power output, wing size and how fat you are is worth a moments pondering. I'm not going to give you any advice because I'm woefully unqualified.
In terms of a wing, I have to say I would probably buy new or at least pretty new. Maybe I'm a massive pussy but when my wing collapsed I was very glad I knew it's provenance. Also wing manufacture has got a load better over the last decade. But that's just me. You can certainly find them second hand as people buy different wings as their skill level improves.
So that was how I did it cheap. My machine is in pretty good nick and would sell for a good slab of what I paid if I could ever part with it. Which I can't.