There is a single good reason to become a skilled pilot, he flies safely. As a bonus, skilled pilot can enjoy amazing paragliding for longer time during the same day. I witnessed several accidents and all of them were easily avoidable by a standard skill set, and because I struggled to find some knowledge and relations, I created these short articles. My ambitions have never been to be the best pilot, nor is this article’s creating one.
Your expectations are important. Many pilots fly cross country, where is minimal adrenalin but magnificent scenery, spending a lot of time in a beautiful nature. Opposite discipline is acrobatics (or aerobatics), where is much adrenalin but you have less time to enjoy the view. The article is good start for both except last chapter.
The article is long for modern internet reader; therefore here is short summary, and also content.
Part 1 – boring theory
- Own equipment
- Weather forecast
- Take off
- Winch vs. mountain
- Pure soaring
- Soaring with some thermals
- Strong thermic conditions
Part 4 – Cross Country
Prerequisites – much time, some money
Most important and most underestimated prerequisite is time. Weekends are not enough; it may be bad weather during weekends for long period leaving you without any training for months. 1 flexible day can utilize a single good day after the front, and therefore seems a better option. Of course, more time is always better.
You will need some money but not so much. A pilot animal can survive many days just from few beers, sleeping in million stars hotel directly under the night sky, getting warm just from feeling he will do a great flight tomorrow. Still, stable income gives you more flexibility, and it is easier to plan with some money in your pillow.
Own car helps a lot for last minute trips. Also having one great flying site close to you is a big advantage in the beginning, but may be a burden later, making you too lazy travelling elsewhere.
Lacking of time or money, your best option is usually to attend a commercial trips few times a year. But getting better is very slow process in this case.
Theory – never stop learning
With pilot license still hot, you know how to prepare to take off and how to somehow land, plus basic rules which conditions are good and which may be dangerous. Generally, you know very little. Self-education helps you understand the whole thermal/wind process and hated parawaiting is a nice opportunity to validate all theories in action, especially if discussed with experienced pilot sitting next to you.
There are several books and videos on youtube/vimeo. From books you must not miss 50 ways to fly better from Bruce Goldsmith. Great book, simple language, all important aspects for flying from beginners to intermediate pilots.
Internet is dangerous. You can find amateur video from some newbie with good intention but missing important point which can get you injured. Videos from Flybubble (UK eshop and PG school) are usually great. Also some older videos with Russel Ogden are definitely worth seeing but many interesting pieces from less known pilots are there too.
I watch paragliding accidents on videos regularly. It is called learning from other’s mistakes but some people treat this activity as sins.
TIP: a pilot who speaks too much at takeoff is rarely a great XC pilot as these are introverts by nature.
Own equipment – as first car, its performance is not important
You need your own equipment to have flexibility to travel last minute but it is the most overestimated parameter. A common mistake is to accuse a glider or harness from your poor performance but at the beginning a pilot skill has the biggest impact to performance.
In your harness you must feel comfortable, and feel the glider well. Under your glider, you must feel safe and being able to read thermals/sinks from its behavior. Any EN-A or low EN-B glider is good, even few years old if they are in a good condition.
What helps a lot is lightweight equipment. Carrying 20 or 15 or 10 kg into the hill is a huge difference if you want crawl up few times a day. Especially older harnesses can be bulky, but in exchange they offer higher passive safety.
Forget about all complex instruments, a basic vario with altitude is good enough. You can use your phone to run some application like XCtrack or Flyme (and many others) to help with no additional cost.
TIP: hours/flights information is abstract unless you know pilot well. A recent technical check with high (150+ seconds) minimum porosity is the major parameter newbie should focus, despite it is not perfect.
Being on a good place in a good time is vital part of paragliding. It is possible to stalk better pilots and go with them, but at some time you will need to decide by yourself. It is good to read some theory, listen to more experienced pilots and validate this knowledge every day, even from the windows in an office, with feeling a strange pain near hearth when watching growing cumulus clouds.
There are many forecast systems. I like www.xcmeteo.net because it is global and once you find how to read it you know identify a bad/good day in few seconds.
For wind overview I like www.windyty.com as the best usable. Just select wind near cloudbase, usually in 1500 m in flats, or higher altitude in mountains.
XCmeteo will show you good overview for single place, Windyty will show you a good overview where to go (with less or more wind depends if you search soaring/thermalling)
A tools like www.xcontest.org, leonardo or xcglobe.com are a great help for validation of weather forecasts. Here are few simple rules for beginners in Europe (as southern hemisphere can have it opposite):
- No or low wind is great for FAI triangles and thermal flying, but difficult for newbies as soaring is not possible. For a takeoff choose the highest point you can (or winch).
- The best part of year is May to July . Earlier, day is too short and sun weak. Later it is too hot and only higher mountains work usually good. However, there are days for some thermal flying during all year.
- North wind is cold, combined with strong sun the thermal activity is usually high
- Morning cumulus clouds often means day with overdevelopment or total cloud coverage in the afternoon, it is rarely a great sign.
- Inversion is not visible to untrained eye from bottom but it is one of your biggest XC enemies. After the cold front there is no inversion, usually the best day to find strong thermals, too strong for newbies sometimes.
- Comfortable soaring is possible in 4-6 ms wind but ideal strength may be locally specific. Expect a crowded ridge on forecasted such days.
- High thermal activity combined with strong wind (5+) means conditions with high probability of glider collapses, think twice if you are trained enough to survive such day healthy, many people have not been so lucky.