A paraglider is officially an aircraft and you are the pilot in command of your aircraft. It is the instructor’s responsibility to guide and advise you during the beginning phase of your paragliding training, however as the pilot in command of your aircraft you need to pay attention at all times. The entry level gliders that you will be flying during your training are very forgiving, but they are still potentially dangerous without the right focus and attention. You need to be prepared to start learning how to give the proper input at the appropriate time.
Before each flight you and your instructor will go over a flight plan and you will be in charge of making sure that plan is followed. Sometimes an instructor can make a coaching mistake in the air over the radio, but always remember that you are in control and it is your responsibility to execute the plan and land safely.
You will also have a radio during your flights so the instructor can actively guide you through various procedures such as getting comfortable in the seat, making turns, and setting up for landing. These procedures can be challenging at first, so give yourself time to relax and be patient. It is easy to get frustrated with the glider, the conditions, etc… but the goal is for you to learn how to fly safely, confidently, and intelligently for many years to come. So be patient with yourself, everyone learns at their own pace and no one can learn for you.
During the early stages of the training process the inputs required to control the glider may seem counterintuitive. Your instructor is there to help guide you through developing a whole new set of instincts. Keep in mind that it is OK to feel a little apprehensive – it is completely normal. A positive attitude will help you and the instructor stay motivated and excited throughout the training process. Remember that you are outside, not working a typical job, and you are doing something that very few people in the world ever experience. Keep things in perspective and have a good time!
Your Relationship With The Instructor
We are not the right school or instructors for everyone. If at any time during your training, we feel that good communication is lacking or your attitude toward flying is cause for concern, we will have a private meeting with you to discuss it.
Be sure to log all of your flights – no matter how short they might be. Log books will help you keep track of the number of flights you have completed, the hours you have accumulated, and skills you have learned. Any log book you keep current will be useful when working toward a new rating or skill sign-off. It is up to you to keep track of all your flights, hours, and skills. If you have no record of your accomplishments you will have to do them again.
Please use the flight log tool that is provided for you on this site. With it, you can log your flights, location, instructor, and make notes on any skills or maneuvers learned and demonstrated on your flights.
If not, it is highly recommended to use some kind of a log book, a log book app, a simple notebook, note on your phone, or anything that you can keep handy or with your paraglider gear. Carry it with you any time you plan to go flying so you can make a note of your flights they happen.
There is so much information about weather it can seem completely overwhelming if you are new to sports that involve being outside and dependent on weather conditions. If you have any experience sailing, surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing, or any sport that involves a basic understanding of the weather, be sure to let your instructor know. They can use that to help relate the most important parts of weather for flying to your personal experience.
The weather is constantly changing throughout the day everyday. Your instructors will do their best to keep you in the safest possible conditions and will be continually assessing the weather throughout each day to ensure your safety. Their conversations about the weather may sound foreign at first, but the more you listen the more it will make sense. If you notice a change, or have any questions about the weather please mention it. Ask questions! The weather is very complex, and your questions and observations may prompt discussions that will make you more aware of it and its interaction with the landscape. We will teach an entire class on the weather to cover the basics for safe flying. Come to class with some weather information every day! That will give your instructor an opportunity to talk about what you found and what you might see during the day.
There is an entire lesson later in this course dedicated to a solid set of weather information that is crucial for all paraglider pilots to have. For now, we will stick to the basics.
It is important to know the different parts of the glider and their function. A more detailed explanation of the glider is covered in a later section, but there are a few terms that are important to know before starting.
Canopy – Beginning with the canopy you’ll notice the leading edge is open and the trailing edge is closed. Air flows through the openings at the leading edge and into the cells. Cells are defined by the ribs (side walls) and the upper and lower surfaces. In the side walls are openings for cross ventilation between the cells which help keep the glider evenly pressurized. Many gliders are designed with V-ribs which distribute the weight across the glider allowing for fewer line attachment points. The attachment points are located in sets from the leading edge to the trailing edge. These sets are des- ignated, front to back, as the A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and the brake lines. From the attachment points on the glider the lines cascade down to the riser set.
The harness is your interface with the glider. It is constructed of vari- ous straps, buckles, and often some back protection. The risers, from the glider, con- nect to the harness at a set of carabiners. The fabric and straps that the carabiners are connected to on your harness are vital to your safety. Those straps are what hold you in. Most harnesses have two leg straps and a chest strap. It is vital that these straps be in good condition and securely buckled before flight. When given a harness, check all the straps for signs of wear. Your instructor will go over the procedures and various wear points with you.
Once you have checked out your gear and hooked the risers to your harness it’s time to do your pre-flight. Just like any aircraft we need to perform a check to make sure everything is in proper order. We have a mnemonic device to help us remember each item. Your instructor(s) will be watching and asking questions to make sure that you have performed your preflight check before every flight. As soon as possible you will need to take responsibility for this. To keep from forgetting any of the items, be sure you stick to the sequence and complete the pre-flight before EVERY flight!
A common mnemonic device that some schools use is: R-1-2-3-4-S-T-A-R-V-E.
Reserve Parachute – Check the handle and pins to make sure everything is secure.
1 – Helmet Strap – Check to make sure it is securely fastened. You should never attach yourself to a glider without your helmet on.
2 – Carabiners – Check to make sure that the gates are closed and locked.
3 – Harness Buckles – Give them a tug to make sure they are securely buckled.
4 – Corners – From the two A risers and two D risers follow the lines up to the canopy to make sure they are clear and there no snags, knots, etc.
Stirrup & Speed System – Check to see that your speed system is properly attached, routed, and clear of your reserve parachute handle. If you have a foot stirrup check to see that it is clear of your speed system and will be easily accessible after launch. This usually means putting one leg through/behind the stirrup bar.
Top & Turn – Make sure the correct riser is on top for the direction you will be turning after a reverse launch.
Airspace – Check the surrounding airspace to avoid collisions during launch.
Radio – Make sure it is on the correct frequency and that you can transmit and receive.
V-shape – Check for V’s between brake lines and rear risers to avoid brake line twists.
Even pressure – Ensure the tension on A-lines are even as you prepare to inflate your glider.
Launching (Forward & Reverse)
You will learn the reverse inflation first. The reverse will be the technique you use most often because it has some advantages over a forward launch. However, a forward launch has some advantages in certain circumstances. With the reverse launch you be- gin by facing the glider which allows you to view your glider and lines during inflation. This gives you the ability to spot snags, knots, etc or whether the glider is coming up correctly. From this position it is easier to abort the launch if necessary. A reverse launch is the launch of choice for high winds but is also suitable for light or no-wind conditions.
A forward launch can be used in light conditions, on a shallow slope, or at high altitude. The drawback to a forward launch is that you cannot view your glider until it is almost directly overhead. At this point you may already be committed and not in a posi- tion to abort the launch. With either launch style it will be important to lay the canopy out in a clean, curved shape so that the center cells will inflate first. This will help the glider come up straight. Prior to each launch you will want to choose a horizon reference point to help keep you on course throughout your launch.
For the first flights you will remain in an up-right position and not sitting in your harness. Your feet and knees will remain together during flight and the initial landing stages. Your hands are now part of the aircraft and must remain on the controls (brakes/ toggles). Everything you do with your hands will cause the glider to react. Everything you do to the glider via the controls, the glider will do back to you. Smooth and subtle movements will cause the glider to react smoothly and subtly. Large, sharp and jerky movements will cause the glider to react quickly and sharply. This means that you must not reach your arms out for balance, adjust the harness, or grab harness straps to get comfortable. Once airborne the controls are very easy. Pulling gently on the right control will cause the glider to turn right. Pulling left will cause a left turn. You should have your elbows bent with your shoulders, elbows and wrists relaxed. Your hands should hang at about shoulder level with 3-5 Lbs. of pressure on the brake lines. You may need to do several shallow and gentle turns to set up for a landing. You in- structor will walk you through the process on the radio. Do not under any circum- stances pull the brakes all the way down while you are at an elevation higher than 3 feet above the ground. Doing so may stall the glider and stop it from flying. Through- out the flight you will maintain your horizon reference and maintain your intended flight path.
Landing will require pilot input in order to touch down gently. When you are sev- eral feet off the ground, you will perform a “flare” that slows your ground speed as you touch down. A flare is performed by smoothly and aggressively pulling both brakes down as far as you can. It may take a few attempts to get the timing right and your land- ing may be faster than anticipated. However, the learning curve here is pretty steep and you will be landing softly in no time. Paragliders move across the ground, in no wind, at about 20 Mph. If you have a headwind this speed will be decreased. If you have a tail- wind this speed will increase. You want to land moving as slowly as possible, so it is important to land into the wind. You want to land on your feet to avoid injury, not on the back of your harness. If there is an object, pilot etc in the area you intend to land, do not focus on it/them. Look to an open area and steer yourself there.
PLF (Parachute Landing Fall)
If you have any skydiving experience or have watched old WWII movies you should be familiar with a PLF. It is a landing technique that involves keeping your feet, ankles, and knees tight together with a slight bend at the knees. This allows your legs to support each other and is substantially stronger than each foot hitting the ground indi- vidually. You should use the PLF position any time you are close to the ground. As you are coming in for a landing, you should be prepared to land harder than expect- ed,even though the need for a PLF is rare.
Ground handling, or kiting, will allow you to develop an intuitive understanding of the glider. In the air gravity does much of the work for you. On the ground, you have to move with and control the glider in order to stay centered beneath it. If you don’t stay centered under your glider, it may rotate quickly off to one side. Practicing your ground handling will help you feel where the glider is without having to look at it. When you have the “feel” of the glider, you can anticipate what it is going to do and make an input before the glider gets too far off center. These skills translate directly to launching and landing and will make you a better pilot. It is easy to only want to fly once you get your rating but practicing ground handling is essential for a long and safe flying ca- reer. Your ability to control the glider in a variety of conditions and situations will add to your range of appropriate launching and flying conditions as well as increase your com- fort level.