Meet the flying virtuosos

“There was one morning where I had just lost my nerve.  Not that I didn’t know what to do, I just needed a push to do it.  I asked Kester if he would just ‘spot’ me, just talk me through the pre-flights and get me back in the air.  He didn’t actually ‘do’ anything.  He was just there...knowing everything”
— Claire Meeks - 2015 pilot, describing the help she got from our Adventure Division support during the 2016 edition.

On the road during the Icarus Trophy 2016, we met a lot of pilots old and new, some watching, some taking part.  All were in awe of the scale of the event and the challenge it represents, to even the most experienced of pilots.

We're always open to ideas about how to make our adventures just the right side of impossible; daring, yes. Balls out, if it pleases you. Testing, of course, why bother otherwise. Suicidal...ideally not.  Where a healthy dose of pluck and ignorance can bridge a yawningly apparent skills gap and serve to get folks off their sofas and into the stratosphere of adventure, we lead the cheer.  However, there are a few of our adventures, the Icarus Trophy among them, where the margin for error could be seen as just a bit too....crunchy...

We needed to think about how to encourage the next generation of PPG pilots, who have possibly learned to fly precisely so that they can take on the mighty Icarus. We wanted to make sure they are not running purely on blissful ignorance and plucky naivete, and to the detriment of the whole field.

What we saw on the Trophy in 2016, and what 2015 veterans also reported, was the generosity of the expert pilots towards the more novice ones.  Quite a few of the race class pilots were also coaches, and a number of their own students were among the starting field.  There was a lot of coaching going on.  Pre-flight checks, assessment of conditions, route analysis and navigation discussions.  And occasionally, just occasionally...an almighty kick up the arse to get up in the air and bloody well fly.  Call it a confidence boost.  Dave Wainwright, the hero of the first two editions, crossed the finish line both times and promptly backtracked to the rear of the field to fly along with the other pilots and provide sage advice, and aforementioned boot to arse.

This year, we are going to formalise this system, ever so slightly.  Two of the pilots in adventure division, Byron Leisek and Dan Burton, are effectively flying coaches. They'll each adopt a team of newbie pilots and be that additional resource and coach.  This doesn't mean you'll have them on an earpiece, or even within visual range throughout the trophy. And it doesn't make you any less responsible for your route, equipment, and flying style.  Flying like a twat will not become any less perilous because you have elected to go down this route.  

 

Meet the Virtuosos

Byron Leisek, USA

Byron MonuVal2016

Byron began hang gliding solo at the age of 13 as well as 'dabbling' in paragliding. With a father and grandfather keen on the sport of hot air ballooning, Byron comes from a family with a strong flying pedigree.

From the time he could reach the hot air balloon burner, aviation has always been a passion and an important part of his life, “It’s never felt right having my feet on the ground for too long”. 

In 2005 he was introduced to Paramotoring.  In 2012 Byron along with two other friends decided to turn their hobby into a business; Team Fly Halo: “I always felt that there was a lack of advocates for safety in our sport which is one of the reasons I decided to take a hobby and transform into a business.”  

Byron currently has over 3400 Powered Paraglider flights including 275 tandem Powered Paragliding flights.  Byron is also a certified parachute rigger and his experiences as a seasoned pilot include high altitude launching (over 6000 msl), high altitude flights (over 12,000 msl), mountain flying and reserve pull and re-pack. By the start of the race, he will have been in PPG for 12 years. 

He is a veteran of the first two Icarus Trophies and this idea of the semi-coached place is at least partly credited to him.  Generous with his time, his encouragement and his expertise, he has a way of getting the most from any adventure.  In an event as juicy as the Icarus that is a very, very juicy prospect.  In honour of the rip-roaring good time he had in 2016 with team-mate Miro, he was the joint recipient of the Adventure Division award.  His attitude to adventuring from the air is second to none, as you can see in this here video taken last year on the Trophy.

Byron already has two guys in his team for 2017: Jason and Alex.  If you want to join them, Byron is happy to pick up three more chaps or chapesses and wing-man them (not literally).  Please contact him at Byron@flyhalo.com

Dan Burton, UK

Dan is one of the UK's PPG Pioneers and leading lights.  Have you heard about the incredible Flight of the Swans expedition where the pilot, Sacha Dench, followed the swan migration from her paramotor?  Well, Dan was one of the people filming her.

He organises regular paramotoring expeditions, and is currently in Kirkenes, Arctic Norway, flying around on trikes.

Dan's view from the office about now...

Dan's view from the office about now...

As well as being a highly experienced pilot, this means he is more than familiar with the expedition planning aspects of the multi-day cross-country flight.  He has never flown the Icarus Trophy, but he has flown and managed trips of a comparable distance, in a wealth of terrains, locations, conditions and company.  

Dan's flying interest started back in 2004. Dan always enjoys challenging sports together with a career as a world renowned  technical diver, underwater photographer and cameraman.

He started flying in 2004.

He has flown in: 

South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Greece, France, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Iraq. 

He is a specialist in Flying in extreme conditions..

Achievements include: 

Lands End to John O' Groats in 2008, a 13 day 900 mile flight in some of some of the worst weather recorded that year.  I joined a team of 6 other pilots, and was one of only two pilots to finish.

Offa’s Dyke from North to South Wales

Flight of the Swans. Flight across the Russia Tundra. 2000km.

Flown the English Channel.

Joint winner of the USSR 50 hours endurance race 2 years in a row.

His enthusiasm for the sport of paramotoring is infectious and he's very pleased to be involved in the Icarus Trophy 2017.  The idea of making the adventure division that bit more accessible and inviting to the newer pilots is a noble cause, to him and to us.  If you want to speak to Dan about flying with him come September, he's happy to take enquiries at Dan@freshbreezeuk.com

To conclude...

Obviously, flying with a much more experienced pilot is one clever way to manage risk - they'll have handled more situations and conditions.  It's no substitute for your own judgement or indeed skill and experience. Our virtuosos are pilots in Adventure Class, first and foremost, and will be out to get as much fun and inspiration from the Icarus Trophy as everyone else.