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  how to fly a flexwing
 
  flying microlights in winter
   how to read an air map
 
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winter flying

Many people put their trikes away for the winter because they reckon it's too cold ..... big mistake.  Winter flying is the best flying you can possibly do.  OK you won't want to camp out, but think about these big advantages of winter flying:

  no thermals - every trip is silky smooth

  lower fuel consumption - because the air is much denser

  100 mile visibility.  If you haven't been up on a cold crisp winter's day you don't know what you've missed

  no thunderstorms (well very rare anyway)

  fewer aircraft in the sky (and certainly no thermal soaring gliders)

So how are you going to stay warm if you decide to do some serious winter flying.  Well here's my number 1 tip and it's controversial - dispense with the flying suit.  Why?  because unless you've paid 250 quid for it, it's crap.  After all they are only cheap ski suits, and to get a decent one-piece ski suit you need to be paying at least that kind of money.  But even the best ski suits are designed with different conditions in mind..  Not many skiers sit unmoving in a 55mph icy air stream for an hour or so.  In fact when you think about it there are no other idiots who subject themselves to this kind of exposure.  And the gear for those that come close is designed for people working hard while they are doing it.  (Update note - those lovely people at Ozee were naturally a little put-out when they read the above paragraph.  So they sent me one of their top of the range suits to try.  It certainly looks wonderful and I have written two mini reviews of it which you can see in the HotNews page.  Unfortunately it arrived after the depths of our winter so I haven't been able to put it through tests in the coldest of weathers .... but it is looking promising)

The advice is to look to the serious fell-walkers.  They are often trudging along leaning into gales of 40mph, at the same sort of heights as us, and often sitting about or walking slowly - i.e. not generating too much internal energy like a skier.

So what does a serious fell walker choose.

Lightweight hi-tech fabrics such as Polartec, Goretex, Windbloc, Windstopper, Porelle, Isotex.  Some of these materials are in our flying suits but it would appear that to the fell walkers/mountaineers is far better quality.

Working upwards:

Boots for microlighters

Famous Army stores do some excellent rugged walking boots for under 20 quid.  If you want absolute warmth go to a ski store for some moon boots or a cheaper copy, but you might have to widen the pod to get your feet in.

Socks for winter flying

If you can afford them go for heated socks, but be aware that they can get too hot (James tells me he often has to unplug his for a while in flight), and they have a habit of going kaput (poor soldering) in flight.  Once this happens you might as well have your feet wrapped in a Kleenex tissue. 

These cost around 50.  The next best thing (and more reliable) are fleece socks - difficult to find and if you do, make sure they are made from genuine Polartec fleece.  You can buy them on-line here for under 20  all in.  Under these you should ideally wear some hi-tech thin socks as they are supposed to wick the moisture away, but since you aren't moving around much your feet aren't going to sweat, so some thin cotton socks are fine.  The best fleece socks are made from Polartec 300 which is quite thick, so buy these and take them with you to put on when you try the boots.

Ankle warmers for trike pilots

Normally there is an irritating gap between the trouser (or flying suit and your boot (unless you have bought Moon Boots - the problem in choosing moon boots though is that unless you take an old pair of slippers you are going to be overdressed in the clubhouse at your destination).  You can fill that gap in one of two ways - Gaiters, (and the best ones are made out of Goretex) or legwarmers (yes good old 70's style leg warmers).  Now the Gortex gaiters are favoured by hikers because their ankles are exposed to mud and rain, and yours, as a trike flyer, should not be.  It is best to bring leg warmers up to date and makee them out of Polartec 300 fleece.  These will stop your ankles aching, and stop you looking like a kid who is wearing trousers that are too short for him (which flying suits look like with their elasticised ankles).  And they are stretchy enough to go on and off over your boots (maybe not Moon Boots though)

Keep your legs warm winter flying

Most people wear jeans under a flying suit.  Jeans are about the worst garment for sitting still in the cold, that you could possibly imagine.  Denim is not a very good insulator, and there are hard seams and protrusion and no give around the waist.  Better to choose a combat style set of pants.  Regatta do  waterproofed cotton ones with a lining for between 20 and 30 quid (available from Famous Army Stores, but probably to special order.  Rohan do a much more hi-tech pant which has the microporous waterproof and windproof breathable outer, with a genuine Polartec fleece lining or you can often pick up really good quality ski salopets for amazingly little money - about 40.

Underneath the trousers you should wear Lowe Alpine long johns - these are man- made material designed to insulate yet wick moisture through from the skin.  They are pricey at about 25 pounds but well worth the money.  Available from good mountain or ski shops.

Body heat - keep it in

The key here is to use several thin layers.  And they should all be man-made.  It's taken 5000 years to better cotton and wool but all of a sudden the technologists have done it.  First layer should be the Lowe Alpine underwear (buy the long sleeved variety as it's hardly any more expensive).  Then use two thin fleeces.  If you can afford the 50 or 60 quid each that they cost at the mountain shops then fine, but there's no need.  Most high street cheap fashion chains sell thin stretchy fleece garments, but try to get them figure-hugging rather than baggy.

Now to the most expensive item - the fleece.  If you use an ordinary fleece as your top item, you will freeze as the wind will go through it, no matter whether it's a cheap one or a very expensive one.  You must buy one of the relatively new Windbloc fleeces.  The cloth is made by sandwiching a layer of windproof, waterproof, but breathable stuff between two layers of micro fleece.  These garments will stop anything, yet they are incredibly light and comfortable (and you can use them to go to the pub, or walking, or football matches which you can't exactly do in a flying suit - mind you any serious micro lighter gives up all other pastimes anyway!). 

Hands - keep them warm in the air stream

This is where it can really hurt if you get cold, but there is an old wives' tale that says if your hands are cold put a hat on.  The principle is true - if you can keep the blood in your trunk and head warm, your hands won't generally be a problem.  However, these appendages are going to be stuck in a 60mph airflow possibly at -5 degrees  for maybe an hour and a half, so you do need to make some special arrangements.

Firstly buy some bar-mitts, also known as toasters.  If you think they look naff, then tough - go ahead and freeze.  Contrary to what you might think, these mitts can be fitted and removed in seconds by undoing the base control bar (whilst the aircraft is on the ground NOT while it's flying).  There are two types.  Mainair's original toasters are made of neoprene but I can't understand why, as it's claim to fame is that it traps a layer of water against your skin, but as any windsurfer will know, if you stand around in the wind you will freeze.  However, the Toasters have one big advantage in that they can slide easily back and forth over the control bar and any rubber grips you might have fitted.  That can't be said for the later versions made by Ozee and Aero.  These are made of Gore-Tex type stuff and lined with fleece, and they have a 'sleeve' that fits tightly round the control bar - too tightly to go over the rubber grips.  So you are confined to having these on the centre section of bar - which is OK because your hands can sit there most of the time.

A trike flyer needs the following 3 characteristics in a glove:

  warmth - and the best here is electrically heated gloves, but see earlier for the comments relating to electric socks.  The next best thing is fleece.

  flexibility - you need to be able to operate the GPS and radio, so mittens are generally out

  length - unlike mountaineers or skiers. you have an icy air stream trying to whistle up your sleeve.  If you don't have an effective way of sealing the join between glove and jacket you will get cold.

In temperatures down to about -5 degrees, try Windy Sticky gloves combined with Gore-Tex style bar mitts.  The Windy Stickies are made out of similar stuff to the Spray Way jacket - windproof fleece, and they have a leathery material on palms and fingers to help grip.  These are lightweight gloves and can be used in summer without the bar-mitts.  The only disadvantage they have is no great length or form of closure at the cuff, but see later for how to overcome this.

If you can't imagine using lightweight gloves like this in winter then go for the Winter Flying gloves.  These are about as high tech as you can get with Gore-Tex type windproof, snow proof outers and Porelle fleece liners to wick away the sweat (we should be so lucky).  And they have wide long cuffs with a good drawstring system for closure.  Their only minus point is their obvious lack of flexibility.  However, try this - cut down a golf tee to a bit less than half its length.  Punch a tiny hole from the inside tip of the glove's right index finger, and push the golf tee through from the inside.  If the gloves are the right size, your finger end should sit in the cup of the tee and allow you to press buttons on the radio and GPS without any problems.

Neck and head

Losing heat from your head is not a huge problem as almost all helmets provide superb thermal insulation.  It's the icy blasts creeping in through the gaps thet spoil the fun.  Let's start with the neck.  Most trikers wear some kind of neck collar (and if it's not fleece you must be mad).  And often they have some kind of lumberjack shirt underneath and then a bulky outer collar - particularly if they are wearing a ski jacket with built-in hood over their flying suit in a desperate attempt to stay warm.  The problem with all this is that it puts too much stuff round your neck and at the very least affects mobility meaning you are disinclined to keep a good look-out, and in the worst case can affect blood flow to your head , resulting in headaches or worse.

Make sure your under fleeces have round collars that DON'T come up round your neck.  If you must use a neck fleece make one out of single thickness material, and ideally use the windbloc fleece.  If you invest in a Spray Way fleece jacket, it has the perfect collar - not too tight or too tall or too thick, totally windproof, and with a storm seal behind the zip.

Of course the best way of sealing all those gaps around the collar, and visor etc is to wear a balaclava.  If you do, then go for a fleece one as it will keep you warm but not irritate the skin like a wool one.  However the problem with balaclavas is that you can't use headphones properly with them - until now that is.  We've produced a modified top-of-the-range fleece balaclava so that your headphones can make a proper seal with the skin around your ear.  The 200 grade Polartec material tucks into the jacket collar all round without bunching, and it's thin enough to allow the helmet strap to fasten without any difficulties.  And the cloth over your mouth seems to make no difference to the quality of your radio transmissions.

This modified balaclava, is probably the single most useful contribution to making my winter flying enjoyable, and instructor Steve Clarehugh has been using one for a month now and agrees wholeheartedly.

However, you really ought to combine the balaclava with a visor chin extension.  As well as deflecting the air stream away from your lower face, it protects the microphone from wind noise and means you can talk to your passenger and ATC in relative peace.

Final general tips for keeping warm in winter flying:

Stuff your helmet bag inside your jacket, before finally zipping up.  Safety warning - do not attempt to do this if your helmet bag is the semi rigid type designed to carry two helmets, as it will affect control bar movement.  You can buy a specially lengthened fleece helmet bag which will give you two extra layers of 300 grade Polartec fleece between you and the air stream, when used in this way

How to stop the wind going up your sleeves using the Windy Sticky gloves.  This may seem obvious but it took me quite a few weeks to work it out.  Grip your jacket sleeve and pull it down so it covers half of your palm.  Keeping your fist balled and gripping the sleeve, rotate or twist your fist into the main part of the glove.  You will find that with a bit of practice you can get enough of the sleeve inside the elasticated cuff and still have room to unclench your fingers and extend them into the glove fingers

When it's really cold.

Try using a golf oversuit.  Modern golf oversuits (separate jacket and trousers) are made of the same high tech waterproof, windproof, breathable fabrics as top hiking clothes, but they are incredibly light and pack up really small - also they generally do not have high collars or hoods to interfere with your neck arrangements.  Go for a good one though costing 50 to 70 pounds.  anything cheaper and it's likely to be made out of plastic carrier bags.  This might seem a lot of money to pay unless of course you are a keen golfer too and can make use of it in that way, but in high summer this oversuit is all you need on top of ordinary pub clothes. 

Try heated bar grips. 

 

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