I imagine that this summer was completely different from what each of us had planned at the beginning of the year and so I had to cancel my planned one-month road trip through Scandinavia. But every negative situation can also be seen as a chance! That’s exactly what I did and I have fulfilled a childhood dream of mine instead as I started my training as a paragliding pilot.
This is the second blogpost covering my training as a paraglider pilot. If you haven’t read part 1, you should definitely do it now: My Paragliding Adventure – Part 1.
You already know very well about the beginning of the training and my first flight(s). At least as important as flying practice, however, is extensive basic knowledge of paragliding, meteorology and thermals – and that’s exactly what we’re starting with today!
Theoretical training began in the evening after our flying practice during the basic course. I learned about the basic terms and concepts of thermals and meteorology as well as the rules of behavior in the air. In addition, we talked about the equipment in depth and were told how to react in extreme flight situations. In short: The basis for being able to fly safely had been created.
Theoretical training for the high-altitude covered the exact same topics, but was way more detailed. We covered topics like meteorology and thermals in detail, as we needed to be able to make our own decisions later on. Due to the experience gained while flying several times a day, a lot of the content was easier to understand now.
Due to the COVID19 situation, these theory lessons were held in webinar format, unlike usual. Since I was used to studying at home because of my bachelor-degree anyway, I even preferred this way of teaching to lessons at the flight school. After finishing the theoretical training, we had to take an exam, which is very reminiscent of the driver’s license exam. In general, the entire teaching format reminded me a lot of the driver’s license. If you consider that the flying license can be considered a driver’s license for the air, that’s not surprising.
Your own equipment
For the basic course, rental equipment is included. However, if you plan to fly regularly, buying your own equipment is highly recommended (some would even say that it is essential). Because of that it is advisable to try out different harnesses and paraglider (combinations) during the high-altitude flights included in the training. This way you can get used to your material while you are still being supervised during your training.
Due to the high acquisition costs, it can also make sense to opt for rental equipment – especially if you rarely plan to fly. However, it should be noted that there is only a very limited selection of rental options for paragliding equipment in my immediate vicinity. Apart from that, I would admit to myself in advance that I rarely plan to fly (even if it is not easy to fly regularly being based in vienna). In addition, the inhibition threshold to actually fly is much greater if you need to rent equipment in addition to flight planning and travel time.
Finally, different paragliders / harnesses / combinations of these behave completely differently during take-off / landing and in the air. I have tested a lot of combinations and was able to experience this firsthand. Because of that it is very difficult to get used to your equipment and to become a better pilot. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to buy my own equipment.
Hike&Fly of staying comfortable?
The decision to buy your own equipment is only the first step. Numerous well-known manufacturers offer a wide variety of harnesses and paragliders with different properties for different areas of application. The first decision you will probably be confronted with: Hike&Fly or do you prefer more comfort (one does not necessarily exclude the other)?
The difference? As the name suggests, Hike&Fly is about climbing the mountain on your own and descending with a paraglider, which is easy on the joints. So you can theoretically climb any mountain, no matter how remote, and fly from anywhere. The equipment here is very light. The harnesses are lighter in weight and often have air protectors. Although these are also tested and approved, they offer slightly less protection than foam protectors of more comfortable, but also heavier harnesses. The paragliders are also lighter and made of a thinner material. Some convenient gimmicks are often omitted to reduce weight. The goal is to create the lightest possible package of about 6-8 kg (it can be even lighter) that you can easily take with you on a hike.
Heavier harnesses, on the other hand, offer slightly more comfort and, thanks to foam protectors, provide more protection should you fall. Corresponding paragliders are usually heavier, but also have a longer lifespan due to the thicker material. Due to the higher weight of 10kg + it is more difficult to take this equipment with you on a hiking tour though.
In my experience, paragliding is often associated with a very high risk. This is not entirely wrong, since paragliding is considered an extreme or high-risk sport (for insurance purposes). A pilot exposes himself to a multitude of external factors and a mistake in flight planning or a misjudgment during take-off or landing can have devastating consequences.
The accident statistics from the German Hang Gliding Association (DHV) for 2019 are as follows:
- 232 accident reports
- 109 with serious injuries and
- 10 resulting in death
A large number of these accidents happened during take-off or landing, which is not surprising. Once the paraglider is in the air, it is pretty stable. A beginner (A) glider like the one I fly is also extremely “forgiving”. Such a glider can resolve many extreme flight situations “by itself” without the pilot having to do anything. Compared to more dynamic gliders, an A-glider does not react as violently as a B- or a C-glider in extreme situations. For example, the lateral pulling of an A-wing when the wing collapses can often only be compensated for by shifting your body weight; this would no longer be possible with a higher-class wing.
In general, I think that paragliding can be very safe (basically). As long as a pilot knows his own limits and does not exceed them, prepares diligently for a flight (weather check) and makes reflective decisions before taking off, this sport can be practiced safely in my opinion. In case of doubt, I would definitely not take off and would rather return to the valley on foot than expose myself to an unnecessary risk. Once in the air, you are (regardless of how much routine you have) at the mercy of the forces of nature after all.
I was very surprised how quickly you transition from complete beginner to first flight and how fast the learning curve is at the beginning. The very process of paragliding is easier than I would have expected. I spent a total of 23 days in Werfenweng and had the expectation that I would be able to complete the entire training during this time. In the beginning it looked like that would be the case, but the weather thwarted my plans. On 11 days I couldn’t fly due to rain, fog or storms.
As a result, I left after 23 days with 28 high-altitude flights completed and still need to complete my missing 12 high-altitude flights and the practical test. The advantage of bad weather: I had time to study the theoretical basics of paragliding and have already passed the theoretical exam!
Nonetheless, learning to paraglide was and is an incredible experience that can hardly be compared to anything else. The feeling of freedom and independence when paragliding is something that is hard to top. The extensive theoretical knowledge that I acquired during the course of my training and that I can always apply when I’m out and about in nature is a big plus in my opinion!
Nevertheless, and I have noticed this repeatedly, I am only at the very beginning of my life as a pilot. There is still a lot to learn and to experience in order to become a good pilot (but that’s the way it is in every sport). I can’t wait to discover places and enjoy views that many people would otherwise be denied. I’m already really looking forward to the years to come and my first solo flights where I’m on my own – after all, people grow with their challenges.