My Paramotor Training in Dubai 

by Marriette Steenkamp

Hunting adventure, has always been something with me. I was born a little crazy. While on holiday in Namibia, on the dunes between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay a group of people were playing with their Paragliders. I needed to know what they were doing and pulled over to find out.  Instantaneously I fell in love with the aviation sport and it became my dream to pursue paragliding. Time passed and life happened, the dream kept popping up every now and then for the next 18 years. I arranged for training a few times and then life would happen again and the dream was placed on hold once more.At the beginning 2015 I woke up one morning and remembered the dream I placed on hold for so many years. I Immediately got busy on Google to find a school to learn to fly. Finally April 2015 that dream became reality and I started learning paraglideing.  I absolutely loved it, every moment of it!  It’s been years since I smiled so much, feeling so much joy. This became a life changing passion for me.For the next 6 months I travelled thousands of killometers to get to flying sites to complete my basic paraglider pilot license. This was fun but also hard work, making new friends with a similar passion to fly, sharing stories and experiances. Only those who have experienced this understand what I mean.

Living in the Northern Cape, and me being a loner. It soon became a challenge for me to get to flying sites, having to travel such big distances and getting to sites with my car. I don’t have a 4×4 and the so much needed  “trokkie bokkie”.  The challenges I faced to keep me flying were starting to esculate.But during my training as I said i met a lot of incredible people on the mountain launch sites, including my flying friend Rita. She introduced me to the idea of becoming a Paramotor pilot, and I fell in love with this idea of being able to fly almost anywhere I wanted and when I wanted. After work, on weekends and on holidays in exotic locations. Rita was trained in Pretoria by Tony Gibson her PPG instructor, but unfortunaly he has now left South africa and is working in Dubai, training People to fly. She recommended I train with him if it was at all possible. In July 2016, I made the impulsive decision to spoil myself with a Birthday trip to Dubai. I wanted to make the most of the trip and make it something specialI and got in contact with Tony. We discussed what was required for an SA license to Fly PPG’s, and Tony recommended that I contact SAHPA and clear it with them to do my training with Tony at Skyhub Paramotors because he is still a South African Licensed Instructor and can sign me off.

Three weeks later and a Radio license course later, I was on a plane to Dubai, very excited but also very nervous. The thought of the motor and the turning propeller on my back had me very nervous, doubting myself, but feeling that I can do it too if others can. I kept on imagining crashing, as I had seen happen to other students, braking props and frames and some getting hurt too. This is the reason I wanted to be trained by the best, I had chatted to a number of people and they all recommended being trained by Tony. So my decission was to make this investment to get the best training I could right at the start. Let me say this right up frond, Dubai was awesome, I really had the time of my life during my 2 weeks I was there. My first night in Dubai,  I went to the Mall of Dubai and watch the musical fountains, it was magical, the water the music the lights.  After the first show I went up with the Birj Khalifa to ‘At the Top’. The building has 154 floors, but tourist who pay a little more can go up to the 148th floor. 

Watching the fountains again from the top i could see all the pretty designs like the flowers that the fountains form during display. The thing is from abouve you really get to see the beauty of the display. Unfortunatly you don’t hear the music so well so the full effect is lost. I got home very late, close to one in the morning, knowing it was going to be an early start. Not my brightest decission but worth the show. Morning training starts at 5:30am and is completed around  8am. This gave me some time to experience Dubai, but had to be back at 2pm for more training until about 8pm.  It was really exhausting keeping up the hours and also experiencing Dubai. But with an hour sleep in the morning between 9 to 10am I was able to cope with this crazy schedual of training and tourism.Getting up at 4am was a struggle, so I could be at Skyhub Paramotors at 5:30am for training. Boy it was going to be a long day and i am a night owl and not a morning person at all. I feared getting up every morning to be on time for training.  

After dragging myself out of bed, the first day of training finally started.  Tony started off with early morning (60min) theory of PPG and how our aircraft fly. Man oh man I was doing theory so early in the morning after only around 3 hours sleep. But Tony kept me awake with many interactive question and answer sessions as he explained the, how, what and why we can fly. You cannot fly something you do not understand the basic principlas of how it all stays in the air. Well you can but I say it is good to get a solid basis of the theory too.  Then onto the grass field in the middle of the sandy desert. How weird but fantastic. This was for an evaluation of my ground handeling skills. Hmmm I thought I was compitent ground handeling my Paraglider only to find out that it was nowhere close to the level Tony wanted for me to fly the PPG. So with his guidence and showing me new techniques of glider control that I never knew was possible. I found myself becoming much more compitent and comfortable handeling a paraglider wing, even in the relativly strong wind the desert managed to deliver.  After the second mornings training and ground handling.  I had the opportunity to fly a Airbus A320.  Well, a flight simulator at least. Tony knows people who know people. Very impressed with myself, landing at the old Hong Kong airport, apparently one of the harder airports to land at in the world.   Ok I will admit my passengers would have received a little bump against the head on touch down, but I did not crash. Nicely done I would say for a first time landing at this airport.

Still more ground handeling. I was pleased with myself and my progress but getting concerned that I might not fly the PPG or at least completing my convesion. The next morning a new student arrived with a very fancy car.  Tony soon convinced him to allow us to take his beautiful blue Corvette and play on the runway. Fun Fun Fun.  Zipping like the wind up and down on the runway wanting to see what the top speed is we can get to.  But unfortunately running out of runway every time we get to 235km/h.That afternoon the moment of truth finally arrived. After engine theory and check lists completed and understood, I had this motor on my back, my fear suddenly coming to the for when the motor was running on my back. I was unable to bring myself to throttle up to more than half power. I was just thinking I was going to not be able to handle this and it will hurt me. Tony slowly took me through each phase of this familiarization until I was running it up and down to full throttle trying to stay standing upright and at least looking like I was in control of it. Next into the simulator working though the entire take off flight and landing, by this time  my nerves completely shot, but trying to keep my pose not letting fear get the better of me. Then as you can imagine it was time to prepare for the inevitable.

I keep telling myself it is only ground handling with the motor on my back until I decide I am good to take-off.  With the nerves being what it was I had a couple of failed pull ups frustrating myself a little. I took a couple of minutes to rest and compose myself and having some water to ease the pressure and relax.  But as Murphy would have it, another student attempting his first take-off with another instructor, sat in his seat making the rookie mistake and damaged his propeller, not something you want to see just before your first attempt at take-off.  I pulled myself together, warmed the motor up pulled the wing up still telling myself it’s only ground handling, once I had the wing steady overhead I was 100% committed to the take-off. With Tony’s voice in my ears guiding me, I turned around controled the wing, then started running  and simultaneously adding throttle over a few seconds to full power. With no hesitation and staying committed to the take-off, I ran standing up straight and started building airspeed over the wing, and before I knew it I was in the air, avoiding sitting too soon. See I remembered something Tony had drilled into me. I was ecstatically happy! I was flying. Tony kept me in the air for about 20min to get a feeling of this new form of fligh. I could go up, down, left and right under a paraglider  without the assistance of thermals or a ridge. I had space to sit back and relax and just look around. Actually I only did that once Tony told me to look around and enjoy what I was seeing and not just focus on the field and my wing. Coming in for landing the first time was just as scary, but I listened carefully to my instructions and landed nicely on my feet turned around and brought the wing down. I was so happy and on cloud 9 after my first flight and so was Tony and Jos one of the other instructors. I saw the high five between them after my landing and I knew then that I did good.

The next day Tony and Igor , another instructor,  were flying for a music video for Fat Jo an American Rap star. I had to do training with Jos that morning because my instructor was busy dancing in the air.  Jos is a very good instructor, but I did not enjoy having to learn with another instructor as I have already become comfortable with Tony’s teaching technique and him knowing exactly what my skill level and progress was.  The new instructor does not know my progress up to that point and what I was capable of. This in effect holding my new progress back and taking me  2 steps back. Never the less I did fly that day. Forward launches were on the menu that morning as there was very little wind. Must say forward launches are not my favourite but it is important to master them.  I struggled a bit with the fact that the light almost no wind was changing direction all the time .  I eventualy managed to do 3 flights after which I called it a day as I was getting tired and knew I was going to start to make mistakes. Rather safe than sorry. Remembering that I can always fly later again today. Meanwhile at the Fat Jo Music video shoot not even 10km from us it is a total blow out, wind in excess of 50km/h at some stages. Tony managed a launch but had a huge collapse at very low level and was forced to land due to his propeller damaging the motor frame during the aggressive reinflation of the wing.   After my morning flights Jos, Mirene and I took a dune buggy and drove through the desert to the music video location. I ate way too much sand on the way there but enjoyed the ride. When we got there we could not believe how the wind was blowing.  Found it very interesting being on a music video set like that.  Time was running out and they did not have the money shot with the PPG’s flying over the Jeep’s and cammels, but the very last moment Tony tried to launch again in the strong wind with the backup PPG engine, but one of the directors came over and said it was a wrap. They managed to do the flight later that week though. I was way too tired to do anything else that day and the weather did not permit any flying that afternoon.  So I took the opportunity that afternoon to work on my theory exam paper. The next morning the weather was good for flying and I was happy that there was a little breeze. Once again I had my old instructor back and progress was on the menu. Being able to train one on one with only one instructor makes a huge difference.  I managed another 3 incredible flights with good take-offs and landings, being very pleased with myself.  Tony had to push me a little at times as all fear did not disappear.

My morning was topped off with a visit to the Dubai Museum, the Marina and a cold fizzy drink at Zero Gravity an up market JBR beach bar next to the Skydive Dubai Plam dropzone. With afternoon training I received a nice surprise.  I was upgraded from the student wing to the Ozone Spider.  With the Spider it is much easier to pull up and launch and it reacts way better than the student wing. During my afternoon flights I did all the required manoeuvres that proved not to be too difficult.  But oh dear with the wing being  more sensitive I found myself doing a chest landing and a nose skid twice in a row after landing and could not understand why. I was told that I tend to flair a little more with my throttle hand and as a result the wing reacted turning to the right and I was not able to stay on my feet.  Off course Ali the general manager of Skyhub Paramotors came to watch the moment I fell over and not when I landed on my feet. Good old Murphy really does not like me. Really wanted to show him what a competent pilot I am.  Now that I knew what I was doing wrong, landings were a breeze again. I was in the mood for some spoiling and went to a VIP Cinima.  The most expensive movie I have ever been too.  Going to the movies in style with recliner seats and food from a menue with waiters, was fantastic and would definitely recommend it. After such a busy week you just have to take a day and do absolutely nothing, or for part of the day at least.  I had a good sleep in the Saturday morning which is actually their Sunday.  Went to the mall and bought gifts for the kids. Wanted to do the indoor skiing but realised it was not worth it if you do not arrive first thing when their doors open in the morning.  The queue being way to long I decided to give it a pass.  

Booked and had dinner on one of the Dinner Dhow’s  and experienced a little of the local traditional culture. Sunday I could sleep an hour later but still had to be at the field early as some more flying needed to be done before I return to SA and the weather did not look promising for the Monday.  Arriving at the field there was no wind.  I was offered the choice of going on a Cross Country flight with the XCitor or I could fly PPG. Not looking forward to the challenge of a zero wind take-off I opted for the XCitor flight.  I enjoyed it so much being able too just relax and take the scenery in. I was handed the camera to take pictures and boy did I go clicking away believing that I was taking the most awesome pictures ever.  Much to my surprise I did not take 1 photo, a setting must have changed during the handing over of the camera or me not pressing the button correctly.  It was upset to say the least.  But at least we had the selfies from Tony’s phone.After the morning flight, Inflight Dubai with indoor skydiving was on the menu.  I thought it would be fun but never did I think that it would be so addictive!  I did not want to leave.  I was promised that we could return the next day, so I managed to tear myself away, but was like a bouncy ball for the next two days.  I still do get that bouncy ball feeling thinking of my Inflight experience.  Definitely a sport I also want to pursue. Good fortune smiled on me and the bad weather that was predicted for the Monday moved to Wednesday. Monday proved to be a good day for flying for the flying women it only being me, Mirene and Roya in the air that day. I must say I take my hat off to Roya. Roya is also a student PPG pilot, but so far was not able to land on her feet once, reason not known to me, but it does not stop her from flying or trying again and again.  It is called determination and she has a lot of it. On my last day there was off course no wind at all. It has proven to be my most difficult take-off. 

My commitment to the take-off was really tested. Felt like I was running forever with the little 80cc motor pushing but just not enough.  It felt like I was running out of field and my legs starting to feel like jelly.  Just as I started to think that it is not going to happen I felt my feet lifting. What a relief because I did not want to give up on the launch. The important thing to be 100% committed to the take-off from the get go and not giving up until your feet are dangling in the air. Once in the air Tony joined me and I experienced the thrill of an hour long Cross Country flight to Dubai lake and out over the desert. What an awesome way to end my training at Skyhub Paramotors Dubai. After my nine day’s in Dubai I was dead on my feet but loved every moment and was delighted that I finished my required flights and theory for my PPG license. I am now looking forward to spending a lot of wondrous hours in the Kalahari Desert sky without having to travel too far. Many thanks to Skyhub Paramotors and Tony Gibson for superb service and training, making my journey into the world of PPG an amazing one and helping me become a competent and safe pilot.