.....Yes, a real big one. And man is it fun.
Nick and I started paragliding this past spring with a school in eastern Washington. We started our training with a two week immersion course at Aerial Paragliding, a world class training facility and flight park. The school provides an ideal setting for beginning pilots with top notch instructors, gentle terrain and on site accommodations at a very reasonable price. Our hats are off to Denise, Doug, Stefan, and Dave! We passed our first two weeks completing the required ground school and logging as many flights as possible off of the small training hills.
One of the many amenities of the school is the shuttling of students from the landing zone back up to the launch, providing a fast turn around time between flights.
Most of the flying is done in the morning and evening, when conditions are generally settled. The instructors split themselves between the launch and the landing and use radios to communicate with the students in the air. The short flights off the training hills mean that most of the student's time is spent launching and landing, using repetition to reinforce two of the most fundamental skills for a beginning pilot.
After two weeks, Nick and I were just shy of earning our Novice Paragliding Certification, or P2. It only took a few more weekends to demonstrate the required skills and accurately discuss the fundamentals of the sport with our instructors. And then.....
We were on our own!
At some point, we had to leave the comfort of the flight school to get out and fly on our own. Fortunately, having learned at "The Ranch" plugged us into a whole community of local pilots who were more than willing to serve as mentors and site guides. Thanks to the Northenders of Boundary Bay: Sid, Delvin, Guy, Rita, Jan, Murdoch, Roger, Chad, TJ, Bob, Kirk, Doug, and Jim for looking after us and introducing us to the great flying to be had around Bellingham. These folks have treated us like family from the very beginning. We tried to carry over the caution of our instructors and scrutinized all of the aspects of a flight. We would often stand on launch for half and hour or more studying the wind conditions and discussing our ideas about what was happening in the sky. If we decided we were happy with the wind speed and direction, then it was time to fly.
The launch process begins with the assessment. Then we unpack our gear and lay out the fabric of our gliders onto the launch pad and go through our pre-flight check. When all of the gear is in place, we stand in position and wait for the wind to fall into the right orientation and speed, which is usually straight onto launch and between 3-7 mph. With a nice cycle, we pull on the lines attached to the leading edge of our glider to inflate it with air, transforming the limp pile of fabric into a rigid airfoil. Thanks to Jan for the next three photos.
Once the glider is squarely overhead, a few strong steps forward and we're in the air.