On the threshold of your flying career, a school selected and dreams of joining your winged brethren.
Counting down the days till the commencement of training, you have likely scoured the internet in search of information. Inevitably that search will come across video of flights with less than ideal outcomes. These outcomes are entirely preventable, as the adage goes – ‘launching is optional, landing is mandatory’ (and in these cases, the landing was not voluntary). To minimize the risk of such a ‘negative flying experience’, a combination of right conditions, right wing, and right pilot are essential. It behoves the fledgling pilot to learn to identify each element of this combintation early on if they wish to enjoy both a safe and productive flying career.
If the weather can be compared to a toddler with a penchant for stomping, we are the ants that scurry amongst its feet. We have no influence on its mood or behavior, all we can do is to know when it is best to remain below ground.
Learning to know when the toddler is likely to be let loose upon the yard is a critical part of our early training. In essence, become a personal weather channel.
Knowing when we can fly is important but knowing when we shouldn’t is paramount. If there is one reoccurring contributor in paragliding incidents, the conditions would be it.
While we may not have control over the weather every day, we do have control of the wing we use every flight.
Finding a wing that fits our flying style takes time and may not happen with our first wing. But we can ensure we start with a wing that is suitable for our experience level. Wings are certified with EN and/or LTF ratings between A and D. A wing with an A rating is typically well suited for a students first flight, while a D wing is meant for only the most experienced and skilled of pilots. Many pilots at the beginning of their career assume that two wings which share a rating are equally safe to fly. While this may have held some validity five or six years ago, wing development has progressed to the point that not all wings of a class flock together.
Thermik magazine of Germany has subdivided each EN/LTF class based on behavior and suitability (relying in part on manufacturer recommendation), coupled with current examples:
A – Beginner
A1: Especially suited for schooling and first flights
A2: Beginner wings that offer good handling, high safety and flying pleasure for a long time
B – Intermediate
B1: Classic basic intermediate wings with high safety, good handling and sufficient performance. Wings for a lifetime!
B2: All-round-intermediate wings in the middle of their class
B3: Since several years very big XC-flights are being flown with these wings. Top pilots feel completely at ease under these wings whereas some of them may be too demanding for average pilots.
C – Sports Class
C1: Good-natured sports class wings with high safety margin for their class, but having handling characteristics similar to high performance wings.
C2: “True” sports class wings with safety comparable to most former DHV-2 wings.
C3: Demanding sports class wings for Top XC-pilots with a high level of piloting. Comparable to good-natured high-performance wings from a few years back (DHV 2-3)
C4: These wings bridge the gap to the EN-D class. Piloting demands are comparable to those of high-performance wings.
D – High Performance
D1: These wings are high-performance, but still have manageable flying characteristics for very experienced pilots.
D2: Demanding high-performance wings that require extremely experienced pilots.
D3: Certified 2-liners and extremely demanding high-performance wings.
A pilot having completed their first half dozen flights is likely looking to progress to an A2 (or if particularly talented, a B1). Migration to B2 should only be done with significant consideration and dialog with an instructor. A B3 shouldn’t even be in the picture prior to the completion of a SIV course and accumulation of moderate XC experience – they are not suitable for new pilots and manufacturers make this abundantly clear in the user manual with statements like “not suitable for training” (or a definitive absence of “suitable for training” that may be found with their A and B1 offerings). A B3 frequently makes a great second wing, but not a good first one.
Train. Train. Train.
Training is an investment in ourselves. The most fundamental form of training is ground handling (aka kiting). By making ground handling payments into our training investment, we begin to build the muscle memory that will form our pilotage skill base. It is quite evident on launch which students have been investing in themselves (including time on the training hill), their launches are smooth and aggressive. On the opposite end of the spectrum we see chaotic, apprehensive launch attempts that frequently become cringe worthy – the end result for those who do not place much value on ground handling.
Even upon award of our first license, the training must not end. Find a coach to further work on launching, landing, and, especially, thermalling. Just because we went around in circles a few times in lift, we are certainly no masters of climb. Thermalling is an art form that takes years to refine to an acceptable efficiency. A coach can cut out a lot of trial and error (especially the all too common error of blaming and seeking to replace the wing). Dedicated thermalling courses overseas are an option as well, if money and time are no barrier.
Going even further, if your former instructor (and current coach) agree – a combination of reserve clinic and SIV should be a goal prior to completion of the first season post license. A desire to understand how to deploy the reserve and the characteristics of a wing when it departs normal flight are the hallmarks of a safety conscious pilot.
A very busy first season no doubt, but a very sound investment – one that will pay out a dividend of right conditions, right wing, and right pilot.