Emotional Rollercoaster Ride
by (Tony Gibson)
You are a stand up person, well at least we think so. But you are in for some life changing decisions. Here you are reading this article thinking ‘what the hell is he taking about?’ You will understand this article if you have already started your Powered Paragliding training or have qualified as a pilot. If not, and you are interested in getting involved you will probably go through some of the emotions I had which I am trying to illustrate through this article.
Here you are standing on the edge of the drop off, ‘Do I commit to starting this wonderful sport or do I continue my normal way of life?’ You decide to take the great leap of faith and start the hunt, trying to find a Powered Paragliding school nearest you. After phoning around you come up with names and maybe a phone number and find that the Paragliding schools you contacted don’t really cater for your needs, and they try to force feed you with their ideas and their product.
You consider this and then return to your search. One of them refers you to my school web site. You wonder how you missed such a simple web address YNOT FLY and start to browse the articles and see photos of the products and people taking part in this form of flying. You read about the adventures they have had. You decide to call and discuss the training and products. This was the first emotional ride you have undertaken to source this information required; the decision to find out about PPG flying, the exploration, the awe to see and read about the adventures and pilot reports and the shear beauty of the photos.You decide to call and discuss all available training and requirements. After all the information has been exchanged and the various options have been highlighted, you then decide to take his advice and first visit the training field to chat to the other pilots and find out why participating in this sport is such a life changing idea?
You watch them fly and ground handle, and everything looks ever so easy when the old hats get airborne and do a few flybys. Then the newer recruits attempt to get airborne and you wonder if they will every get in the air, it just does not look all that easy anymore. Don’t despair, this comes with time. You have now chatted with everyone and seen the diversity of kit from small 80cc motors, larger 280cc and Powered Paratrikes to the big PPC tandem units. You have just experienced a sensory overload, the chatting, the colours, the movement and the demo flown by the experienced formation team. You drive home wondering when you can get your kit to start training. You call the instructor again later in the week and decide to go ahead. He slots you in, and discusses the purchase of the equipment required. You decide to take the plunge and get new equipment as it is nicer to be the owner of a sparkly new motor and wing with a matching colour helmet and flight suit. Now the burden of paying out the money gets you into a flat spin, realising you are buying an aircraft and you have not even got a license to fly! Wow; that is a big jump in anyone’s books, but what a rush when it arrives and you take delivery of your own aircraft.
All the paperwork is done and you have paid your fees and you are ready to train. Ground training is hard work and it gets you to lose some of that weight you promised your partner you would lose in gym, but never went. Here you get to play with you wing until you are confident that you can get it airborne without too much effort, not like the first day when your instructor demonstrated it and it looked so easy; when you did your first try and all you could to is pull strings and fold a piece of nylon into strange shapes on the ground.This thing they showed me to be a wing is a bloody menace. It never does what it is supposed to do like they say in the manual, ‘pull here and it inflates, control with brakes’, they never respond like I pull them. Now suddenly you are becoming very despondent and can’t imagine ever getting airborne. “Don’t worry this is normal”, everyone comes and reassures you. You think to yourself, “It is all good and well you just landed and I can’t even keep the wing over my head”. Never mind, you go home with these words of encouragement, it get easier the more you practice it and after about 4 to 5 days of this you will feel much better and will start getting the hang of it. You are now ground handling the wing with a lot more confidence, and your instructor comes over to say that it is time to do this all again, but now with the motor on your back!
You have been waiting for this and now you really feel you are going places, until you put the throttle in you hand and try that ground handling thing and nothing seems to work any more. You keep dropping the brake handle that is in the throttle hand and the glider just won’t respond, because the motor is heavy and holding you back. This goes on for a number of lessons and you finally feel that you are getting the hang of this story, and are really itching to fly now.You think your instructor is a mean chap, and won’t let you fly yet because he says you are not committing enough to the pull up and launch, or not running in a straight line. So you remain a grounded Angel. Finally he says it is time to start getting used to the power of the motor. He shows you how to mix the fuel and oil and instructs you as to the forces associated with the motor and prop and the effects it has on the wing during flight. These are things you did not want to hear but listen intently and your nerves are just about shot.He briefs you how to prime and start the motor and then on the radio, instructs you on warming up the engine by increasing the power to feel the thrust without getting caught out and getting thrown off your feet. Instinctively as the power band kicks in you release the throttle, you get a fright and stumble back a step or two to regain your balance.
You are shaking now, but you are trying to hide it. Everyone can see your knees knocking together, only you think you are keeping your emotions under control. You continue with this until your shoulders are sore and you are comfortable with the thrust and the engine is setup and running properly. Your instructor discusses your first flight and what you are to expect, how to get into the harness and turn the wing. He talks you through your approach to landing and you are feeling very edgy now, and your mind is a buzz with thoughts right now. And then what does he do? He sends you to do some pull-ups and watches from the side. You are taken aback and thought your first flight was on the cards. At this time it is really your first flight, he just wants to make sure you are still able to have the required commitment. By this time you are a lean mean power machine and your finely chiselled back muscles did not even notice you are carrying and extra 5 kg’s of fuel in the tank. Your wife wants to know who the superhero is that got her partner into such awesome shape, and she is there to witness you first flight. Now unfortunately, this adds to your pressure.Your instructor calls you over tells you to drink some water, have a rest and wait for the wind conditions to be perfect for your first flight.
Just as you start relaxing he tells you to get ready, and disappears to get another student into the air. You do the required pre-flight and get all setup. He comes ambling over and does a quick once over of your equipment and with that eagle eye of his, spots that you have clipped your riser in the wrong way around and assists in changing it. He does a radio test and asks you to warm up the motor. Your knees feel like they are about to fail you, and your mouth is as dry as the Sahara desert. He tells you that this flight will only happen if every thing is under control and that he is happy with the way you control the wing. If things are not looking good he will call abort, and the first thing you need to do is shut down the motor and flare the wing, move away from the wing as soon as possible as a hot exhaust and nylon canopy are not good together. You are ready and waiting, knees bashing, motor running. He comes over and helps with the pull up, and moves out of the way as you run past him. On the radio you hear his voice say “run, go to power, more power, I mean full power, lean back on the motor, run, ok 25% brake, that’s right now ease up on the brake slowly on the right, good, fly straight and climb, stay on the power until I tell you ok, start a slow turn to the right, so left hand up and right hand at your ear. Good now hold it there”. All this is coming to you over the radio and instinctively you follow every command, he gets you seated in the harness, and asks you if you are ok, by moving your legs. You do so more by reaction and because you are told to do so.
He talks you through a rectangular circuit and that is all you do.You follow every word that is been said to you and listen intently for the next instruction. You are concentrating so hard now that you don’t look around and take in the surroundings. After a few minutes of this you shoulders are on fire from holding you hands up in the air for so long and you need to land. Your instructor knows this, and tells you to descend. He brings you in on the approach and gets you to land, you instinctively lift you feet on landing as the ground rush scares you and you land on you bum.Much to everyone’s delight as only 1 out of every 3 landings of the first flight are done properly. Even with all the training in the world some people’s instincts just take over. You unclip and start to gather you equipment.
A rush of relief comes over you and the smile on you face is splitting it in two. A bunch of people come over and congratulate you on you first solo flight, and you don’t know what to say and feel. You want to run around shouting it about but feel you need to try keeping your emotions under control. Your instructor does a debriefing with you, and sends you home to mill your experience over in your head. You call everyone you know on the way home and tell them that you have just flown for the first time. The people in the traffic next to you stare at your kit on you car and you feel proud in displaying it and realise you piloted it safely for the very first time.
What an Emotional Rollercoaster Ride.