My paragliding adventure – Part 1

Completely on your own and detached from the world, enjoying the feeling of freedom and admiring the world from above. Few sports provide you with the opportunity to experience the feeling of freedom like you do when paragliding. And that’s exactly what I chased this summer and decided to get my license for paragliding so that I could take off on my own in the future. If you follow me on Instagram, you have certainly had numerous insights into this adventure. In this blogpost I would like to describe my experiences in detail and maybe even motivate you to experience this feeling for yourself.

Why paragliding?

The first question you may have asked yourself after the introduction: Why paragliding? The whole story goes started quite a long time ago (approximately 10 years) when I first had the idea to learn paragliding “someday”. Somehow, this sport has always fascinated me, especially since there are hardly any comparable sports. Last summer I did a tandem flight and thus lifted off the ground with a paraglider for the first time – a breathtaking feeling!

But there’s still a big difference between “I would like to learn paragliding someday” and booking a course and spending the time to actually do it. At the beginning of the year I took a vacation for the whole of June because I wanted to do a road trip through Scandinavia. Unfortunately, due to numerous factors and the COVID19 situation, I was unable to realize this idea – but still had a month of vacation. I had numerous ideas how I could use this time meaningfully, but then the following happened: One evening I saw a video of paragliders and remembered my wish to learn to paraglide one day almost 10 years ago. That was the moment I instantly decided that now was the time to do this!

Basically, sports like skydiving or base jumping would have appealed to me slightly more than paragliding. However, the big disadvantage with these is that (at least when skydiving) you always need a plane to jump. That takes away a lot of flexibility and “freedom” and I liked the idea of ​​climbing a mountain and paragliding back down into the valley much better. That way it would be possible for me to climb any summit and fly from there (at least in my adventurous imagination 😉).

The practical training

In Austria it is allowed to get your flying license by the age of 15, in Germany by the age of 16. In Austria, the training is usually structured in 3 stages:

  • Basic course:
    • Duration: approx. 5-6 days
    • Theory lessons as well as practical instruction on the practice ground
    • 5 high altitude flights (= difference in altitude of at least 500m)
  • High-altitude course:
    • Duration: approx. 6 days
    • Comprehensive theoretical training for your license
    • 20 high altitude flights in which numerous flight maneuvers are practiced
  • Pilot license:
    • Duration: approx. 5 days
    • From this point onwards, you are allowed to fly independently in other TRAINING AREAS with a flight order from a local flight school
    • 15 more high-altitude flights to get to 40 high-altitude flights necessary for your licnse
    • Theoretical test (similar to the driving license)
    • Practical exam

I decided to do my training at the Austria Fly flight school in Werfenweng. On the one hand I liked the flexible structure of the training, on the other hand I liked the landscape more than other, nearby flight schools. Because even “nearby” flight schools would have required about 2 hours (one-way) of travel time every day, it was clear that I would need accommodation near the flight school anyway.

Practice grounds

When I arrived in Werfenweng, I signed up for the entire training and started the next day as one can join at any time. Shortly before the beginning of the first flight lesson, the rental equipment was picked up and we already headed towards the practice grounds. After a short briefing for all “newbies”, during which the basic components of a paraglider were explained, the practical part began. It was briefly explained how we can clip into our paraglider correctly with our harness and then we had to lay out and and clip into the glider ourselves.

Every beginning is difficult and it took a while to complete this task. After a check by the flight instructor, it was time – with radio support – to start running and open the paraglider for the first time. Here we were already able to lift a few meters off the ground! This process went on all day. Going up the practice grounds – laying out the paraglidier – clipping in – opening the glider and repeat.

The practice grounds where I attempted to lift off with a paraglider for the first time

By constantly repeating this essential process – the pilot’s life depends on this in the future after all – I became more comfortable. During the next 2 days it went on in the same way, but we increased the height of our starting point on the practice grounds. That meant steeper terrain, longer flight time and of course a higher “altitude”. Little by little we also started to fly a few turns and worked on our landing technique. Everything still with radio support, but the instructions gradually became fewer and the check of whether we were clipped in correctly was completely eliminated on the last day. Little by little we had to grow into our responsibilities as pilots and decide for ourselves.

The only downside about the practice grounds: Somehow the paraglider has to be brought up the slope – and that can be quite exhausting. In very hot weather with a nylon glider on your shoulder and a moderately heavy harness on your back, even the small slope becomes an increasingly difficult challenge. On the first day there were many short climbs, on the last day fewer long climbs – but they never got easier.

High-altitude flights

At the end of the third day we were informed that the next day we would already start on top of a mountain! Next day, equipped with 2 radios I repeated the process I already knew quite well next day: Laying out the paraglider and clipping in, but this time with a much larger difference in height!

However, the practice of the past few days paid off and the start was much easier than I would have ever imagined before the training began. It is an indescribable feeling to fly through the air practically on your own (apart from the radios). If you have not yet experienced this, I can only recommend that you do a tandem flight at least once and experience it for yourself. I received a series of instructions by radio, already flew my first flight maneuver and landed at the landing site after about 8-10 minutes without any problems.

Contrary to the practice grounds, due to the difference in altitude and the longer preparation time, we only flew 2-3 times a day. In the afternoon, the conditions were usually too turbulent to be able to fly safely as a beginner pilot. With every flight I felt safer and more and more maneuvers were added over time. From a flown figure eight, to quick descent maneuvers or the so-called rolling or nodding, to simulating the collapse of your paraglider on one side (that’s exactly what it sounds like), new maneuvers were constantly added and old ones repeated. At the same time, instructions by radio, especially during take-off and landing, also decreased. We had to learn to do these essential processes of paragliding on our own.

But flying is not always as “easy” as it first felt and can be very challenging in less than optimal conditions. From starting in strong wind to turbulent conditions in the air or strong head- or tailwinds when landing, we have been confronted with numerous difficult conditions over time. In contrast to many other sports, when paragliding I quickly noticed that my own abilities in the air are only partly responsible for how safely I can fly.

As a pilot you are exposed to the forces of nature and therefore good flight planning is essential for a safe flight experience. It is important to analyze the weather and thermal conditions in advance and to constantly observe the environment on the mountain. In order to be able to make a safe decisions, a vast basis of theoretical knowledge and experience is required.

You can read more about the theoretical training and the rest of my time in Werfenweng in the next part of this blogpost! I am very interested in whether you have a flying license yourself or if you have ever done a tandem flight? Let me know in the comments!

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