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Kyle Orth came straight from the sky and onto our show – literally.
While meditating at a local park, I opened my eyes to Kyle paragliding down right next to me. After chatting for a few minutes, Kyle agreed to come onto the show.
Join us as we talk to Kyle about what he does, how he got into paragliding and aviation, as well as the mindset that you need to have to remain composed in such an intense environment.
0:16 – Falling from the sky and onto our podcast
1:45 – What is Paragliding?
4:20 – What was the goal of this particular jump?
6:00 – How long were you in the air?
7:40 – Mitigating Risk
9:00 – What got Kyle into aviation
12:00 – Feeling of flying…
14:00 – Taking fear into account
21:45 – How equipment has made the sport safer
29:45 – Pandemic, working, and particulars of the field
33:40 – Flying in clouds, aviation, and safety
41:30 – More details on Kyle’s flight into the park
47:00 – What shaped you into who you are?
51:22 – What makes up Kyle Orth aside from aviation?
Pierson: Hello, hello. Welcome to the Marketing is the Product podcast. I’m here, I’m Pierson, and I’m here today with Brandon Rollins.
Brandon: Hey, everyone.
Pierson: And today we’ve got Kyle Orth with us. Kyle, how’s it going?
Kyle: Doing well. Thanks for having me today.
Falling from the sky and onto our podcast
Pierson: Yeah, We’re so stoked to have you on here, and before we jump into this, I wanna go ahead and paint a scene for you guys on how I ended up crossing paths with Kyle. We are located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I oftentimes go to Coolidge to sit and meditate, same exact spot over off the secluded part of Coolidge where it’s not a lot of foot traffic. And I had been following a guided meditation for about 30 minutes, and I opened my eyes, and I see Kyle on what looks like a lawn chair and a parachute, 50 yards in front of me, landing or coming in to land. And I immediately grabbed my phone and started videoing it, and he landed and was freaking out, obviously, super stoked to have just done what he did. And he sees that I’m videoing and we ended up going over and talking for a minute, and that is how I ended up coming into contact with you, Kyle. But to start, can you explain at a little bit more depth what exactly you were doing when you jumped and you ended up landing in the middle of Coolidge Park on a Wednesday or a Thursday afternoon.
Kyle: Yeah, absolutely. So what I was flying is called a paraglider. It is basically the same thing as a parachute, just a little bit bigger, and it allows us to fly through the air in a sport that I guess can be summed up as free flight.
What is Paragliding?
Pierson: Can you walk us through what that exactly looks like? What is that process like?
Kyle: Yeah, absolutely. Basically, for paragliding, there’s a few different ways to go about it, but basically you have a collapsible wing made out of fabric with some lines that run down to your harness that we’re sitting in, as you described as a lawn chair, which I think is kind of a perfect explanation of what I’m sitting in. And if the winds are blowing in the right direction, ’cause you have to have a certain amount of wind flowing into the wing to actually create a shape, you’ll be on top of the mountain, which we launch off of Lookout Mountain at a place called Lookout Mountain Flight Park is the title of that operation. And yeah, so once the winds are blowing in, you pull the wing up above your head and run off the mountain, and from there we’re using… It is pretty casual, super fun. And from there we’re basically, if anyone’s ever seen a bird circling above their heads, they’re flying in these updrafts called thermals, which is basically these columns of rising hot air, and we use, whether it be birds, other gliders in the air, and just different tell-tales to find where those are. And we circle in them just like the birds do and gain altitude, and we can use that to either just boat around and have fun locally or what I was doing was a cross-country, so flying cross-country, flying distances. And I was able to make it to Coolidge Park, which I’ve been dreaming about for quite some time.
Brandon: That’s awesome. So I’m curious, is the flight park on the Georgia side or the Tennessee side of the line?
Kyle: It’s just in the Georgia side.
Brandon: Okay, okay, so man, you must have flown eight or 10 miles or something.
Kyle: Yeah, I think it was probably about maybe a little over that, maybe somewhere around 14 miles.
Pierson: Now, you said Coolidge was where you had wanted to land for a while before that. Correct?
Brandon: Yeah, yeah, I’ve been eyeballing that every time I walked the park.[chuckle]
Brandon: This has been the heart of downtown Chattanooga for anybody listening, who’s not familiar with the area.
Pierson: Yeah, and so I guess I have so many questions that since this first interaction, I have thought of it. Was Coolidge the original goal when you were going to walk off the mountain that time, so to speak, or was it like a mid-flight thing where you’re like, “I’m gonna do it today?”
What was the goal of this particular jump?
Kyle: Yeah, pretty much. Usually, oftentimes, when we do fly cross-country, it is planned to an extent. You have an idea of where you wanna go, what kind of line you wanna fly, because different topography is gonna be better and more conducive to creating the conditions that you need for flying and for soaring. So I launched and was just flying around and all of a sudden, the day was getting better, it was progressing and thermals were getting stronger. And I kept making my way a little bit closer and closer, and then eventually it was just… I saw it and was like, “You know what? I think trying to fly into town and land next to a bar where I can grab a beer sounds kind of nice.”[laughter]
Pierson: I love it. I think it was honestly one of the highlights of my year so far, getting to just open my eyes and see this come in because it was evident upon your landing how excited that you were. And I’m sure that doing something like that, the rush of emotion right after it is probably second to none, especially with it being one of your passions in life. We said that that was like a 12-plus mile flight. How long were you up there for?
How long were you in the air?
Kyle: I looked at the flight log and that took me about an hour-and-a-half, but the time that I actually was dedicated to making it to Coolidge was probably… I probably didn’t really make that decision until about with maybe 30 minutes left in the flight, 45 minutes left in the flight. All before that was just me, me screwing around, flying around with some friends.[chuckle]
Brandon: Like “I might land in a public parking lot or something. I don’t know.” You just kind of figure that out as you get closer.
Kyle: Yeah, for the most part. We have a dedicated landing zone at Lookout Mountain Flight Park. And generally I’ll land there, or we have a few different bail-out fields that we could go to, like farmer’s fields that we’ve spoken to them about or with and they’ve given us permission to land on their property. But ultimately, when you’re flying a cross-country flight, when you run out of lift, if you can’t find anything to get you back up, you’re gliding down to the Earth. So you just have to be strategic about it and placing yourself in positions where you’re like, “Okay, I can land here and I’ll start working my way a little bit past there where I could still come back, backtrack and land at that same field, or, “Oh, now I have enough altitude, I can make it to my next one.”
Pierson: That makes perfect sense like when you think about it. You’ve got a couple of spots that you can touch down on, but I guess what trips me up is that all of these locations seem to be quite far away from where Coolidge is. So I guess when you committed to that, that idea of, “I’m gonna land in Coolidge today,” was that pretty much the only option that you had at that point?
Kyle: No, there were a few others. I would never put myself… Like when you’re flying, really, aviation is all about just mitigating risk, and so there are people, and I know people, who will paint themselves into a corner where they don’t have any other outs besides one. But I had from that… Or from my origin, from Lookout to Coolidge, I never was in a place where I would have to land in the trees or something or put it in the river. I was always constantly… I always had a bail-out field that I could land in. Granted, I might have to have a little bit of a disgruntled conversation with the land owner to be like, “Hey, I’m really sorry, but it was an emergency. I kinda had to land here.” But I definitely had a bunch of options, one of them being actually a Walmart parking lot.[laughter]
Pierson: I keep laughing because it’s so crazy for me to think of doing the stuff that you’re doing, but to you… We talked when we were in the park. This is one of your base passions in life. So what exactly led you to wanting to just go jump off mountains and free float over Chattanooga or wherever that might be? ‘Cause if I’m not mistaken, you said that you’ve done this all over.
What got Kyle into aviation
Kyle: Yeah, absolutely. Well, my father was a pilot, an airline pilot, and after I graduated high school, I decided to pursue a career in aviation as well. So I’m also an airline pilot by trade. And when I was first learning to fly, I actually was learning out in Southern California in things called sailplanes, which are basically your conventional airplane that you guys would be used to seeing, but a little sleeker, more aerodynamic and it doesn’t have an engine. So they tow that up behind an aircraft that does have an engine, basically like an Ag Cat, one these crop dusters. And you tow up behind it behind 200 feet of rope, and they tow you up to altitude, you release, and then you do this soaring that I spoke about, just flying in thermals and things like that. And then from there, got into powered aviation, getting my licenses. And when I graduated from college in 2015, I was looking for my first aviation job, and a buddy of mine suggested… He worked at this Lookout Mountain Flight Park, and they do tandem flights there, commercial tandem flights where you can…
Kyle: Like if you guys are interested, I’d be happy to show you guys around where they hook you up into a hang glider, which is a little different, similar aspect in terms of free flight, but it’s a triangle wing. It looks like or they call it a Delta Wing that you hang from and they tow you out of the field by an airplane, and they tow you up to altitude, you release. And so I was the tow pilot, so I was flying their little, ultra-light, open airplane out in the elements flying that thing and building time. And I just fell in love with the community, fell in love with the sport of hang-gliding. And then just recently, about a year, year-and-a-half ago, I started paragliding.
Pierson: So hang-gliding, completely different in functionality as to paragliding, as to what you spoke about a minute ago, right?
Kyle: Yes. Yeah, it is. It’s basically just a different tool to achieve the same means.
Pierson: Now, paragliding is your niche. That’s what you have gravitated towards, what you prefer to do.
Kyle: I like to describe it as my newest mistress. [chuckle]
Pierson: So what was the first one? What was your first love in I guess sky sports is… Is that what it’s called? Is it called sky sports or what do you refer to this category as?
Feeling of flying…
Kyle: I would call it free flight. Yeah, there’s a bunch of different ways to get your feet off the ground, but when you’re using thermals and orographical lift, which is just like ridge lift of wind blowing into a mountain and that kinda creates more rising air off the top of the mountain and you can fly in that and stay up or there’s a bunch of different types of lift. But when you’re using that without any other means of climbing or staying in the air, I would consider it free flight.
Pierson: What’s the feeling like of being up in the air and just kind of soaring like a bird? You had feathers on your helmet if I’m not mistaken. [chuckle]
Kyle: I did, yeah. I have repurposed an old… I had a helmet that I used as an old Halloween costume. I went as a parrot one year, and I have… Every new helmet I get, I throw throw bird feathers on it, [chuckle] but to answer that question, I would say, to me, it’s really just the ultimate freedom. When you launch off a mountain in whatever you’re flying or you get towed up behind an airplane, the second you release and you’re not attached to that plane or your feet leave the ground, it’s just you in the air and you can’t… It doesn’t really give you any time, leave any time for you to think about other things. You can just leave everything on the ground and just… It’s something that it’s, I guess, kind of hard to describe if you haven’t been there and done it, but it’s just freeing. It’s a really beautiful thing.
Pierson: I think that that’s one of the craziest parts of this topic, I guess, is what we’re discussing is… And I think I mentioned this to you when we were first chatting, but especially with skydiving, for example, you see people all the time go skydiving, but there’s this immense fear that is associated with it. And then you talk to anybody that’s gone skydiving and they say, “It’s the most beautiful, incredible thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.” But that fear of getting out of your comfort zone and taking that leap is oftentimes a lot, too much for people to take on.
Taking fear into account
Brandon: I feel like there’s a tremendous excitement that comes with just conquering something you’re afraid of, and that’s gotta be really, really strong when you’re literally jumping out into the open air.
Kyle: I would agree with that to an extent. I feel like a lot of fear in these sports stems from a lack of understanding with it, and the more you understand your equipment and the air and what’s actually happening and why it’s happening, it really goes into… It helps you conquer that fear. It helps… When I go up on to go fly, if I’m afraid, I’m not gonna go fly. And when I bring the wing up, the paraglider above my head and prepare to run off the mountain, I’m not thinking about like, “Oh my gosh, what if this goes wrong?” because I am in control. And if I’m not in control, I’m gonna back off and maybe it’s not my day to go fly.
Brandon: That brings me to a question that I had a few minutes ago, actually. How does the safety work when it comes to gliding?
Kyle: Yeah, I would say that our biggest kind of… How would I put it, are the number one stop-gate to before, to maintain safety is just the instruction. There’s different schools around the United States. Actually Lookout Mountain Flight Park is the biggest hang-gliding school in arguably the world just in your backyard and… But you really… There’s a bunch of different schools where you can learn to either hang-glide or paraglide around the United States and around the world, and by getting that instruction, they walk you through everything and they teach you how to control the wing and how it works and they give you… They teach you about the weather, and there’s countless, hundreds and hundreds of books written about it where you can just gain this understanding and from there it’s to an extent on you to make sure that you’re current and to make sure that you fly and enter the sport and approach the sport as in the right head space, so that you can maintain that level of safety. In addition to that, the equipment nowadays is definitely becoming more safe, and we also do have emergency equipment. We have a parachute generally that we fly with just in case things get really out of hand, but I don’t really know too many people personally who’ve thrown these reserve parachutes.
Brandon: Have you ever had to use one yourself?
Kyle: I have not, no. And I’m still very new at the sport of paragliding. I probably have somewhere around 100 hours and in paragliding and probably closer to 300, 250 hours of hang-gliding experience, which in the grand scheme of things, isn’t a lot of time. There’s people around the world who got thousands and thousands of hours in the air and they’re flying much more higher-performance gliders, which are less stable, and that just increases the risk factor. And generally the people that you see throwing parachutes are the people flying these hotter ships, that are racing them really, and they’ll get themselves into positions where whether the air is really rowdy and like a washing machine and they put themselves in a position where they’re at risk and they need to throw their parachutes, ’cause they have no other option.
Pierson: It makes sense when you spell it out like that. Like knowledge is power, and when you have an understanding of something to where you understand all the variables that are at play, it does bring forth the confidence, not only within yourself, but the action that you’re taking because you know what is going on. And I feel like with something like what you’re doing, you have to approach it that way, but it’s just… I think what’s crazy is you have to have that mindset, like what you talked about, of, “I am in control.” And I think that’s hard for some people to grasp when you’re like, “I’m about to walk off a mountain.” And that seems like mentally it would be a hard… It could be a hard thing to come to grips with.
Kyle: Without a doubt, and you see it often with new students learning to fly. They do have that fear factor, and they are afraid because they’ve never done it before and they’re still learning to trust the equipment and they’re still learning about the sport. I’m still learning about the sport as well, but I have thousands of hours of time in planes, which I went to school for aviation management, which required me to get a bunch of… We took a lot of meteorology classes and aerodynamics classes, and with that, so I had this nice foundation. So for me, it was a lot less stressful than it would be say for one of you guys who have zero experience in aviation. The fear factor there is definitely different, and you’re gonna be really nervous. And then all of a sudden you’re in the air, and you may have a couple of moments of like… I mean, things are happening fast. You’ll have a few moments of like, “Okay, this is… ” Like we were on the training hills ’cause we don’t just shove you off a mountain, you have to… You get to that point by just essentially doing bunny hills if you were to be skiing or snowboarding, similar concept.
Kyle: And you’re like, “Oh, this is something that’s familiar to me,” and you take that. And eventually, as time goes on, you have more and more time or less time of being stressed and scared and more time of being confident and understanding that you’re in control until eventually it’s… You are in control. You know that you are safe. It’s just like driving a car. When you guys were getting… Or you get your learner’s permit, and the first few times you’re driving around the parking lot and you’re nervous, you don’t really understand it. And now half the people are eating a burger in one hand and driving with their knee while they’re shifting manual control or manual transmission cars and all that stuff. So it really is… It’s just like driving a car, honestly, just with a third dimension.
Brandon: Oh yeah, when you’re 15 years old, got a permit and here it’s your first time on the Interstate, it’s a pretty terrifying thing because you feel like you’re in control of this machine that’s going so incredibly fast. And then you’re like… By the time you’re 20, you’re just [chuckle] radio is loud. It doesn’t really faze you anymore.
Brandon: Honestly, driving a car is pretty risky itself.
Kyle: Arguably more risky than flying anything because there’s a lot more to hit.
Brandon: Oh, I believe that. Yeah, I believe that.
Pierson: You’re going 70 miles an hour in a 2000-pound torpedo. [chuckle]
Brandon: Well, thank goodness they’re a lot better than they used to be in the ’90s, but still.
How equipment has made the sport safer
Pierson: That is true, and I feel like technology has kinda allowed for stuff to be done in a much safer way, which transitions perfectly into this next question that I had. Kyle, you’ve talked a lot about how equipment has evolved over the last bit of time. How has it evolved to make the sport safer?
Kyle: Yeah. So back when hang-gliding was first starting out in the ’70s, you had gliders made out of wood and fabric. It was essentially people tying bed sheets to bamboo and running off mountains to now where they’re using this really nice mylar fabric, this dacron, stuff they make like sailboat sails out of and using aircraft-grade aluminum. So just the technology in that has gone a long ways for paragliding. They know more about aerodynamics. They understand how the air is entering these wings and keeping them inflated, and because of that, it has become much safer. They’re able to create wings… It’s essentially a paraglider. I guess I didn’t really describe it too well earlier. You’ve got a… It’s ram air-shaped wing, so it’s got a bunch of cells. It’s these two fabric layers, I suppose, that are connected by a bunch of cells, and as the air moves into the wing, it inflates the wing and creates that shape that we’re familiar with like an airplane’s wing.
Kyle: It kind of creates that wing shape, and that’s what allows us to fly and that’s what allows us to generate lift. And with that increase in technology, if all of a sudden you’re flying and the air hits the wing slightly different on one side or headlong right into the face of the wing, you may not be getting that constant flow of air that’s keeping those cells inflated, and you can have collapses. So part of… Like you’ll be flying along and all of a sudden you fly into a really strong thermal, that really strong column of air, and instead of having air moving towards you into the wing, all of a sudden it’s moving vertically. So part of the wing isn’t getting all that air shoved into those cells, and it collapses. And in the past, that could have been really bad because we didn’t really understand how the wings were… Didn’t understand as well what it took to keep those wings inflated, and that can lead to spirals and spinning out of control, essentially. And with the new technology and more understanding, it’s a lot harder to get a wing to do that.
Pierson: It makes sense. Everything that you say when you spell it out, it makes perfect sense. Technology has enabled the sport itself and the act of any type of air travel really to become safer and safer as technology has advanced, but I guess that doesn’t… I mean when you’re faced with those challenges in the air, you have to remain composed, right? You can’t let that fear creep in, I would imagine, or else that’s what creates the spiral, so to speak, of your mind going downhill. You’ve gotta stay in control, recognize, “This is a piece of equipment that I am in control of. I have the power to determine where it ends up.” How do you keep your mindset sharp when you’re going about facing these challenges mid-flight?
Kyle: Yeah, absolutely. I would say that, honestly, it starts on the ground before you take off. When you’re approaching a flying day, if you’re having a really bad time of things, you’re stressed out about work or you’re slightly sick or you’ve got issues back home, you kinda have to pre-flight yourself before you take off. So you have to look within and be like, “Am I in a mind frame to be able to completely focus myself on what I’m about to do?” And I think that that’s really just the beginning. And then once you’re in the air, I kind of like to describe it… You were talking about meditation earlier. I am someone who has such an overactive mind. I have a very hard time meditating, but this is assisted meditation. So when you’re up there, you don’t have the luxury to be like, “Oh, I wonder what I’m gonna be having for lunch.” You’re like, “Like, man, those spreadsheets I didn’t finish for work or whatever,” or, “Oh, I got my next trip coming up.” You’re not thinking about any of that. You’re just thinking about you and flying the wing as best as you can.
Kyle: So that really goes a long ways towards staying focused. I’ve had flights where I’d been flying around, the second my mind starts wandering and I start thinking of other things, I go land because I’m not in the head space that I need to be if something were to go wrong. In terms of when you actually do have one of these situations happen, like say it collapsed, it is frightening, without a doubt. And I’m still a low time pilot, so for me, I would say, more so. This is still that those small portions of the flight that get my heart racing. Whereas a high time pilot would… They get a collapse like that and they’re like, “Oh, this is no big deal. I know exactly how to handle it, whereas I’m still learning.” So, it definitely takes experience to be able to handle those types of situations calmly, and I do think, just with my other experience in aviation and what I do professionally, it does go a long ways to helping because you have to be able to stay calm in those kind of situations.
Kyle: Even just to go back to our relating it to driving a car, I would say that a lot of accidents happen, or when there’s a traffic jam and a pile-up, a lot of those happen because maybe the car in front of you gets in an accident and then you panic and you slam on the brakes or something instead of actively driving the car away. The same thing in aviation, if you panic, you get tunnel vision, you have a lot harder… Heart racing, heart rate increases. You get this tunnel vision where you can’t focus and take in all the information you need, and you do something drastic or something that you’re not supposed to do in that situation. So, it’s really just taking a deep breath and then reverting back to your training and taking it in hand and just, one step at a time, trying to solve the problem that you have in front of you.
Pierson: You said that you have a hard time calming your mind down, but it seems like that’s quite the opposite. Active meditation or whatever it is that any of us do for that matter, people walk and they meditate, people listen to music in meditation, it can come in any form, but for you, that feeling of being in the air is one of the moments that lets your mind be the most still. And I think that’s a really powerful thing. I think that we all have things, whether they’re aviation-related or whether it’s… Whatever your thing is, you have those things that allow you to be completely present, and that, by itself, is what mindfulness is all about.
Kyle: Absolutely. And that is… You talk to any number of pilots and they’re gonna give you the same same answer as I just did. To me, it is the purest form of meditation, or at least one that I have learned to partake in so far, because it is religious presence, you are entirely present in those moments when you’re off the ground, flying around.
Pandemic, working, and particulars of the field
Pierson: Brandon, do you have a question a second ago? I think I spoke over you.
Brandon: No, you’re good. I was gonna ask, are you still flying planes even now, even during the pandemic?
Kyle: Yeah, I am. There was a time when this first started kicking off, I guess, last March, at least in the United States, things slowed down a lot. I took about… I didn’t touch or I didn’t fly an aircraft for about four months for work, a jet, so I was… For me, it was… Basically, I was living out at the Flight Park, and I have a little cabin on the Flight Park, and would wake up in the morning, if the weather was good drive up to the mountain and fly because no one’s gonna be getting within six feet of me up there, so it was a pretty easy way for me. I was very fortunate in a position to…
Brandon: Gliding is a good way to social distance.
Kyle: Oh, absolutely. We’ve got serious problems if someone’s within six feet of me. [laughter]
Pierson: Yeah. No kidding.
Brandon: So you’re flying commercial, big jet line or something like that?
Kyle: I work for a subsidiary of Delta, so actually I do, as you may, like the Paul Hopp and stuff, I fly a 50-passenger jet, so something that you’d fly from Chattanooga to Atlanta.
Brandon: I was gonna say, maybe I’ll end up on one of your planes one of these days.
Kyle: It’s very possible.
Brandon: Small town, not that many pilots, right?
Pierson: What is the process of getting your pilot’s license? ‘Cause I know that that’s an incredibly rigorous process to go through, where you have to log hundreds of hours in a simulator, right?
Kyle: Well, you start by just flying small aircraft. If you were to learn tomorrow Pierson, it would be you’d go to a local flight school or you can go to a university for that. But they basically get you in a two-seater aircraft with an instructor. And they teach you, you build enough hours, you get a private pilot’s license, and then from there to ATP or transport pilot. Your ATP license, it’s… You have a handful of other licenses that you need to get through, which one allows you to fly through clouds just purely based on the instruments in the aircraft without any sort of visual guidance, or external visual guidance, so looking at the horizon, things like that. One allows you to operate for compensation, one would allow you to fly a plane with two engines and so forth until you… And then from there, it’s really looking for a job as a low time pilot, so I ended up finding Lookout Mountain Flight Park, where I was able to build some time. And then once you have enough experience in hours with… You need 1500 hours to get hired at an airline, minimum time, and…
Kyle: So you’ve got a decent amount of experience at that point in time and then you get hired on through them, and that’s when the simulator training really starts. And they check you out on the aircraft with their simulators and they do a bunch of rigorous ground training, ground school training, learning about the systems, things like that, and then send you on your way.
Pierson: You brought up something that I don’t think I’ve ever thought of, and I’ve been in planes my whole life, I’m very… I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable to the extent that you might be, but I’m not particularly fazed if I’m up in a plane, but I guess I’ve never particularly thought of how pilots go about flying in heavy clouded areas, and so it’s just… You guys rely heavily on the equipment in that scenario, right? ‘Cause your visibility is almost none.
Flying in clouds, aviation, and safety
Kyle: Absolutely. And if we’re flying in, we can be in clouds. You could have an overcast layer of clouds that goes up thousands and thousands of feet where we have no outside reference and at that point, it’s just trusting in your instrumentation. We have equipment on the aircraft that tells us that our… What altitude our aircraft is in, whether we’re climbing, descending, how fast we’re going and tells us the altitude of the aircraft relative to the horizon so we’re able to stay level or in a bank wherever we need, and today’s equipment is incredible. Some aircraft can land themselves at this point, some of the larger jets. Whereas the plane that I fly, we’re able to take it down to… You can have a 100-foot ceiling. We won’t come in contact or we won’t see the ground until 100 feet and we’re still completely able to land completely safely.
Pierson: That’s incredible. I’m really just baffled at how far technology has come to allow that.
Pierson: As long as humans have been on this rock, the desire to fly or to get up in the air has seemingly been present and in the last couple hundred years, you’ve seen an incredible evolution of the technology and what man has been known to do in the air, and now you’re seeing all kinds of crazy stuff, like videos on YouTube of guys jumping off a mountain in a wingsuit, gliding for miles on it, which… I don’t know, have you ever done any of that stuff?
Kyle: I have not. That is, to me… I had mentioned it before, the aviation to me is essentially risk mitigation. It’s inherently risky because you can’t stop. If you stop, you’re no longer flying and with that, comes risk. And in the last 115 years, 120 years, they didn’t start flying till 1903, we have found a way to do it as safely as possible. And with wingsuiting… The most dangerous part of aviation is being close to things that are hard and a lot of these guys doing close proximity wingsuiting… More power to him. It’s what they love and that’s… They’re just chasing their high but for me, that is more risk than I need in my life ’cause ground is hard. [chuckle]
Pierson: Look, you don’t have to sell me on the whole risk mitigation thing ’cause you couldn’t get me in one of those wingsuits trying to jump off. Now, granted I would love to do some form of what you have discussed, whether that be paragliding or hang gliding, or even skydiving, I’ve always been… I think the appeal of it to me is you see people’s response to it and they’re like, “It’s one of the most beautiful and incredible things that you can do.” And I’m like, “Why wouldn’t you be excited about that then?” And I guess it’s easier said than done. You’re getting up in a plane and getting up to the edge, and then essentially saying, “See yah,” and jumping, but I guess knowing with the safety that comes with the technology that we have now, it can be done really without much risk.
Kyle: I would say that there is always risk involved but yeah, we’ve come a long ways and… There’s risk in walking out your door in the morning and if you’re able to approach a sport like paragliding or hang gliding with the right mind frame and just saying, “I wanna be safe. I don’t necessarily need to be a hot shot doing all these crazy things. I’m just here to enjoy what I know that I can do,” you can absolutely do it safely. And that is one thing that I love about the community out here in Chattanooga. The flying community is incredible. It doesn’t matter if you have 1000 hours or if you have five hours, everyone has just as stoked. And to go back to the beginning of the podcast, Pierson, when you had said you saw me land and I was hooting and hollering, and I was so excited, I pretty much do that every single time I land from a flight. It’s very rare where I don’t have that feeling of elation and I’m just absolutely just so happy to be alive.
Pierson: Yeah, that was one of the most raw forms of emotion that I’ve seen from someone in a really long time and all jokes aside about it, we’re in the middle of a park and there are people around, there are people doing homework, walking their dogs, and to see you land in the middle of all of that, and you can see that elation, you’re so incredibly stoked over what you had just done, and then going up and chatting with you about the extent of… You jumped off Lookout, you’ve been up there for however long you had been and then you landed. Doing something that you had wanted to do for ages at this point, I could only imagine what that must have felt like for you. And I wasn’t even in it. I was just watching all of this unfold but it’s so evident when you look at people landing from that and it’s just like, “Holy shit, I did that.” It must be incredible.
Kyle: Yeah, it really is. It’s a really incredible feeling. It’s out of this world. And in the sport, there’s a bunch of different… People… I would call mine, like what we were doing, free flight or what I was doing, free flight but there’s also… Flying with a goal is a lot more fun, in my opinion, than just flying for fun. It’s all super fun either way, but having a goal involved, it really does, I think, add to the experience, and my goal being to get to Coolidge Park was… Or that, I guess, evolved while I was flying to get to Coolidge Park, really did… I mean it just solidified that flight in my mind is one of my favorite flights so far, because I was able to have an idea of what I wanted to do and I was able to execute it.
Pierson: That’s awesome.
Kyle: Yeah, absolutely, and there’s a different facet of free flight is competition flying, where they do this everywhere in the world, that there’s either a mountain or they can actually tow paragliders as well, but they’ll tow up and set a task for the day and you’ll have 100 pilots in the air racing to their destination, to their goal, and this can be… I flew 14 miles and these guys are flying 200 miles or so. They’re like the higher, upper echelon of the sport, so the feeling of elation of making cold air and the feeling of achievement is I can’t even imagine. I hope to get there one day.
Pierson: Well, it’s all relative, like you said, you’re pretty… You’re pretty early in this game, so to speak, and for you, the moment of landing in Coolidge was one of your highlights, but I’m sure that now you’ve tackled that goal, I’m sure that another one will arise and it will be just as much bigger than this one was… And that’s the natural evolution of anything.
Kyle: Oh, absolutely. I can’t wait for the next one. I had a week off recently and I was pretty upset that the weather wasn’t cooperating. I’d really hope to get some more flights in of… Yeah, my next goal is to fly about 30 miles, and then from there it’s gonna be 50 miles and so on and so forth.
More details on Kyle’s flight into the park
Pierson: I don’t think I asked you this earlier, and I meant to… One of the things that has… And you talked about you’re circling, you’re going with the air currents, you’re making sure that you can keep air coming into your equipment, but the path that you must have gone on from lookout to end up at Coolidge, were you circling the whole time or were you going up and around over places. Like what… How… I guess I can’t really fathom how that path looked like, because downtown, there are buildings, there are… Not necessarily like skyscrapers, but there are pretty tall buildings in Chattanooga, and there’s a river that goes right through downtown right before where you landed. So, I guess mapping that path, is it just as simple as you’re circling, riding the currents, or are you going up and around this area to avoid certain places?
Kyle: Yeah, I was definitely avoiding certain places and looking for certain places, so not to get, I guess, too deep into the topic, but you’re not gonna just find these thermals anywhere you can’t… You obviously can get lucky just flying along, but air is a fluid, so if you have some fluid moving up, you also have that’s replacing or needs to be replaced by air that’s flowing down as well, so if we could see the air, I’d probably never fly because it would look crazy. It would look like a white water rapid essentially, or a river where you’re seeing all these currents and flows of air, so when I’m flying, I’m looking for whether it be birds, it helps that we have the mountain there because the direction the wind was flowing. We have hot air rises so and it’s also a little sticky, so when you have a farmer’s field at the base of the mountain, that ground is gonna heat up, it’s gonna become hotter than the air, the ambient air over the ground is gonna become hotter than the air above it, and it’s gonna wanna rise, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gonna rise right there, it may kinda stick to the ground and flow with the general wind direction, which was into the mountain at this time and then it’ll flow up the mountain, and once it reaches the top, it’s gonna be…
Kyle: It’s gonna hit a breaking point, it’ll release from the mountain, and at that point, start traveling up into the air. So you can look at crests and falls of the ridge, and you could be like, “Oh well, there’s this really pointy rock there that’s kind of at a crest on along Lookout Mountain, along the ridge there.” And think… I think that I’m making an educated guess, a hypothesis that there’s that farmer’s field at its base, the hot air is gonna cling up that ridge, and then once it hits that sharp rock at the top of the ridge, on the top of Lookout Mountain, it’s gonna release and I’d fly over there and lo and behold, there’s a thermal and I’d start circling in that, gain altitude and then go back on glide. As I’m climbing and reaching the top of my climb I’m like, “Okay, well, where’s the next point where I think there’s gonna be a thermal?” And I’d continue on and find that, and then addition to that, there’s Chattanooga airport pretty close, and they don’t take very kindly to us flying into their air space, and that is right over Chattanooga, so I had to kinda travel north of that to try to stay out of the air space.
Kyle: And so I just don’t interfere with any other operation of powered aircraft flying in and out of Chattanooga, so I had to kind of adjust my flight path to the north more, and then it was like, “Well, there’s a golf course, and so that’s gonna heat up more than the trees will” And I think, “With the… The direction the winds are flowing… Oh, there’s a little hill there, maybe it’ll pop off… The thermal pop off that hill.” So I flew over the hill and there was more lift, and then from there I was able to glide into Coolidge.
Pierson: Wow. I’m just beyond impressed with more than almost anything else, because you have to have the mindset that you talked about to do something that you’re doing, but I’m more impressed with the technology and the science behind what you do, and it’s not just as simple as, “I’m a thrill seeker, I’m gonna go jump off a mountain with a parachute and hope I land in a field somewhere.” This is a really technical sport.
Kyle: Without a doubt, and I would also argue that… To be perfectly honest, when I’m paragliding or hang gliding, I don’t really… I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a thrill seeker, some other people would be like, “Oh, this is an extreme sport, like you’re crazy, and you’re definitely… You’re just chasing this adrenaline rush.” But I do my very best whenever I’m flying to avoid those adrenaline rushes.
Kyle: ’cause when my blood is pumping like that, you don’t have as wide of a scope of your view, you can’t see everything that’s going on, you’re gonna get tunnel vision, and you’re generally probably not in a great spot, you should… For me, my ideal flight is being completely calm and relaxed as I’m flying, and not having those heart-racing moments of like, “Oh my gosh, is something wrong, or what if I… All of a sudden my wing is collapsing.” Sokoto, that’s when your blood starts pumping, and that’s not a, not necessarily the feeling that I’m chasing.
What shaped you into who you are?
Pierson: How do you think that your career, both in aviation and your personal interest in paragliding and all of what you’ve talked about, how do you think that that shaped you outside of your professional life, do you think that your passions of doing this stuff and being kind of a prisoner of the moment, in those times where you are flying, do you think that’s shaped you into a different person than you would have been had you not pursued such a… I say extreme because it’s not every day that you see people doing this stuff, but I guess to you it’s not extreme, it’s just your life.
Kyle: Yeah, I would definitely say that it has changed me. Without a doubt, I like to think for the better. I definitely view the world differently. I look at weather differently, and whether it be macro or micro climates, it gives me a real appreciation of mother nature, ’cause it allows me to do something that very few people do in the world. In addition to that, I would say just the community itself has shaped me in ways that I’m really thankful for, just giving me this sense of community and people to love who love me, and I would say open my heart in some ways without a doubt, and I don’t necessarily know the type of person I would be if I didn’t pursue this career and this job, or not job but this career and my hobby, but since I have… I’ve traveled the world, I’ve met so many different people from all sorts of walks of life, you’ve got pilots who… Who are dirtbags living in their van, and I say “dirtbags” with love, living the van life, paycheck to paycheck. And you’ve got doctors, and it doesn’t matter at the end of the day when you land, everyone’s treated with the same amount of respect because we’re just doing something that we love, and besides the… We’re all just our own individual people, and that doesn’t matter where you come from, ’cause we all share this love of flight.
Brandon: That’s really cool.
Pierson: Yeah, I’m honestly so intrigued by all of this stuff, and it’s just something that I’ve not… Honestly, have not spent much time thinking about at all, and I guess with anything that you do, whether that’d be a sport or a hobby, you find that sense of community with the people who love it and that value it in the same regard as you, and it’s pretty neat to think that here in Chattanooga, just like you said, in our own backyard, there is this big of a community of people that love this stuff, and there is a place that can facilitate flight for so many people at the Lookout Mountain flight school, you said… Is that what it’s called?
Kyle: Yeah, Lookout mountain flight… Yes, Lookout Mountain Flight Park is…
Pierson: I love it, I think it’s awesome, and I think it’s really cool to see that sense of community show up across every… Regardless of what community or… And to see that sense of community is one of the most important things for us as a group of people, we all crave that sense of community regardless of where it comes from.
Kyle: Absolutely. We’re social beings, human beings, and we need that, in my opinion, you need to have that, that social aspect in your life, and that community in your life to… I mean, live a fulfilled life, can’t go on and do it on your own. And that’s also a nice thing about the sport of free flight is you really can’t do it by yourself, you can go up and fly, but that just increases your risk and what’s the fun in flying around, it’s not nearly as fun flying by yourself as it is with 10 of your buddies all hooting and hollering up there and making jokes as you fly by each other.[laughter]
Brandon: As long as you’re far apart…
Kyle: Well, yeah, pretty far apart.
What makes up Kyle Orth aside from aviation?
Pierson: So outside of aviation, what makes up Kyle Orth? What are you into? Aside from flight.
Kyle: I would say… I live outdoors as much as I can, I would much rather be on a hike than sitting at home, but as much as I don’t like to admit it, I will say a lot of a… This sport is kind of a soul-sucker for me, it has swallowed me whole… I don’t necessarily define myself by being a pilot, but it is such a whole-hearted passion of mine that I have a hard time not just chasing it as much as I can, and that’s just like anybody’s hobbies, but aside from flying, if I’m not flying, I’ll be… Floating down a creek with friends or… Or on a hike ’cause we live in such… We’re so fortunate to live in Chattanooga where we have so many different avenues of outdoor activities that we can go about.
Kyle: Started trying to get into rock climbing, and I mean there’s white water rafting within… I mean there’s three different great rivers within a couple hours of us here. So really just trying to be outside as much as possible and appreciate what we’ve got here.
Pierson: Yeah, Chattanooga is a beautiful place, and you definitely have taken the cake for the most Chattanooga thing that I have seen happen to me in my entire time living here. And most of my friends when I had mentioned to them, I’m like, “Hey, you gotta check out this video I got”. They’re like, “That is the most Chattanooga thing that I have ever seen in my life”, which I mean, it’s not wrong.
Brandon: This dethrones my previous peak Chattanooga moment where I saw somebody playing bagpipes at the edge of the pedestrian bridge, like by the subway or something.
Kyle: I’ll have to figure out a way to hook up bagpipes to my wing, see if I can’t just continue the most Chattanoogan thing.
Brandon: That would be the ultimate Chattanooga thing, if you could get some bagpipes hooked up to your hang glider.
Pierson: You were listening to music too, weren’t you?
Kyle: Yeah, I was.
Brandon: Yeah. You’re up there for 90 minutes, what are you listening to? You gotta have some mixed tapes or something for those.
Kyle: Oh yeah, I mean I live on Spotify up there. A lot of people don’t like flying with music, but I just… I do find that, at least for me, it’s all music that I’ve listened to for the past, I mean so many years that I know every word, every song, it’s like my safe space. So I’ll be flying around and if I do ever encounter something where I’m like, “Oh”, and I start getting in my head a little bit, where I’m tense, and whether it be trying to stay in some really technical lift or some really big air that might get my heart racing a little bit, it’s kind of a… The music to me, kinda helps me re-center myself and just be like, okay, we’re just having fun, we’re in a good space, just try that again and just be a little bit more intentional about it.
Brandon: So you say you’re on Spotify, are you getting LTE up there?
Kyle: No, I just downloaded them.
Brandon: I was like, wow. I didn’t know you could do that.
Kyle: You get reception up to about 3,000 feet, 2,000 feet.
Pierson: Interesting. I was gonna say it’s, I mean I just assumed you’d be listening to I’m Like A Bird by Nelly Furtado for the entirety of the flight.
Kyle: Oh, that’s definitely on the playlist. [chuckle] No, but I did have a friend comment, who’s not in aviation comment, they were like, “You know, a lot of your music talks about flying like a bird or being in the air, or some sort of soaring.” And it’s like, “Oh, I guess now that you mentioned it, yeah, probably”.
Pierson: I mean, hey. So, do you have a song you go to when you have that stress kind of creep in that you use as kinda like your safety net, so to speak, where you go to it and you’re like, alright, like you said, I’m cool, we’re having fun.
Kyle: Not any specific song. I definitely… I mean it’s pretty much the whole playlist, whether it be like some sort of alt rock or dance music, or I mean I listen to a lot of reggae from my youth growing up on an island, and I definitely… I mean it’s just the songs that I know and love that get me excited about flying, and music I listen to with my friends and we all kinda have the same genres that we listen to, so it’s really just… It’s just my happy music.
Pierson: Yeah. Now, one of the last questions I’ll ask you ’cause I know we’ve kept you for an hour now, you said you grew up on an island?
Kyle: Yeah, I grew up in Hawaii.
Pierson: Oh, really?
Kyle: Yeah, on the Island of Maui.
Pierson: Interesting. You ever into surfing?
Kyle: Yeah, I grew up surfing. Surfing and doing a little bit of wind surfing.
Pierson: Honestly, surfing seems like one of the most terrifying sports to partake in. I mean, you see videos of big wave surfers and I mean, talk about being completely at the discretion of mother nature.
Brandon: You know, we’re talking Pacific Ocean waves. I’ve been to the big island, not to Maui, and the waves are much bigger than you see in like the Gulf of Mexico.
Kyle: Yeah, I would not touch big wave surfing with a 10-foot pole, or a 60-foot pool for that matter ’cause that’s how big some of the waves are. That to me is… I mean that is an extreme sport, there’s a handful of people who do it in the world. What they do is absolutely incredible, but as a kid growing up surfing it was… I always thought it was about paddling out, catching a wave, paddling back out, catching another wave, riding those waves, and recently I went on a surfing trip with my brother-in-law, and we went out early morning, paddled out past the break where it’s just… I mean, it’s calm water essentially. And we just laid there, and we laid there for about 30 minutes and watched the sunset, and then paddled in, caught a wave, paddled back out, sat there for 20 minutes just chatting, laying in the water.
Kyle: And then caught another wave, paddled back out, sat there for another 20 minutes, and it kind of occurred to me that… I mean it’s not necessarily… You’re just out there, you’re enjoying what this world has to offer. And it’s not necessarily… Yeah, the ride’s… Riding is fun, and absolutely it’s a fun sport, but it’s also really just about the peace of it all. Being out there in the water and just relax. I mean where would you rather… To me, where would I rather relax? Sitting in a lawn chair on the beach, or to actually just like with your feet, like legs in the water, sitting on a board outside the break watching a bunch of people do what they love. It wasn’t a bad place to be.
Pierson: It doesn’t sound like it at all, and it sounds like you have a really balanced grip on life, and it definitely seems like your head’s in the right space, you’re chasing after what makes you happy. And I think the biggest thing is people get caught up in the norms that society has kinda placed on certain things and what is deemed important these days, and to be able to separate yourself enough from that to say, you know I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do it, do what makes me happy, and I’m okay with that. I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned within that.
Kyle: Without a doubt, and if your dream is to pursue your career and become the greatest you can at whatever you’re doing and make a lot of money, I mean more power to you, good for you. And I think for me, I mean I do love what I do professionally. I think that it’s obviously an important aspect of my life, but that isn’t necessarily my… That’s not my driving force, which I don’t think is necessarily the most common thing. A lot of people, they graduate high school or college, or high school and start getting into the workforce, and work becomes their life. And for me, I find that… I don’t necessarily want that. What brings me the most joy and makes me the most happy is my hobby. I wouldn’t change that aspect of myself at all.
Pierson: That’s incredibly powerful dude.
Brandon: A good attitude.
Pierson: Well, I have no other questions for you, man. Brandon, do you have anything else?
Brandon: No other questions. This has been a blast.
Pierson: Yeah, thank you so much for coming on the show dude.
Kyle: Heck yeah, absolutely. And, Pierson, you got my number, if you guys ever wanna try hang gliding or paragliding, shoot me a text, give me a call and we’ll try and get you guys up in the air.
Pierson: I would honestly love to. I think it would be a blast to do and especially after our conversation, it makes me wanna do it more. You know, like knowing the technology aspect of it and hearing you talk about it, how can you not wanna do it now, you know.
Kyle: I could understand that. And if you don’t wanna… I mean you don’t have to learn, but they offer like tandems out there where you can just dip your feet in, see if it’s something you’re interested in, and it really is an absolute blast. I mean I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone come down from a flight and not have just an absolute shit-eating grin on their face, so by all means.
Pierson: Yeah dude, I will for sure text you, and I’d love to set something up.
Kyle: Heck, yeah, man. I look forward to it.
Pierson: Awesome, well guys, feel free to check out the show on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you listen to your podcasts. Once again, this is Pierson with The Marketing is the Product Podcast with Brandon and Kyle Orth, and we will see you again soon.
Kyle: Take care.