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Beginner to PILOT in one year

Beginner to PILOT in one year

The first step in becoming a paragliding pilot is to obtain your EP and CP qualifications. I decided to train abroad in Switzerland, read 'How to: Decide whether to stay in the UK or go abroad for your EP/CP' on my blog to see why. After a fantastic holiday I was qualified to fly in the UK under the supervision of a club. At this stage my goal was to progress as quickly as possible, to go cross country (XC) and to be confident not only in the air, but also on take off and landing.

After returning and lacking confidence I spent 2 weekends with Fly Sussex, a UK based paragliding school. Here I learned how to reverse launch and became a lot more confident with ground handling (this was non-existent in the Alps, due to lack of wind). Now I felt ready to go to a UK hill and attempt a flight.

First flight without a school

The first time I went to a UK hill I didn’t fly, but did meet a fellow newbie. The following weekend it was flyable so we arranged to meet at Castle Morton, a small Avon site. It was brilliant, after a 15 minute hike we found two small take offs, we opted for the lower one, set up and took off. It was terrifying, but so much fun. After 4 flights and a little bit of unexpected soaring we were on a high and ready for the next flyable day.

UK Flying vs Holiday Flying

Over the next year I flew every weekend it was flyable (in 2016 I was averaging 3 or 4 days per month), mainly top to bottoms. Conditions were great on some days, but I didn't have the skills to use these days to go on epic flights. Most days in the UK seemed to be soaring days. After 7 months I realised that my flying hadn’t progressed as much as I wanted – I still hadn’t gone XC and was often struggling to stay in the air.

Westbury, UK. Photographer, Alice Horwood
Organya, Spain. Photographer, Andy McNicol

In May I booked a trip to Sopot, Bulgaria with Sky Nomads. 50 Euros a day paid for a guide and accommodation. I stayed for 4 days with the goal of learning how to thermal and stay in the air. It was brilliant, I had two first time experiences – getting the cloud base and landing out.

Another month UK flying and I was itching to get away again, I went to Ager, Spain with Free Flight Academy. £500 paid for a week of guiding/ instruction, accommodation, transport to take off (and I managed to squeeze in a tandem acro flight in Organya). Here I really understood how to thermal, was able to practise everyday and flew in stronger conditions which was great for confidence.

I found that holiday flying allowed my flying to progress significantly faster. This is due to the amount of airtime I was able to obtain thanks to better weather and the lack of work commitments whilst abroad enabled me to fly everyday of the week.

Obtaining Pilot Qualification

After Ager I had a few more Pilot tasks to complete and needed to sit the exam. I wanted to get it done quickly so booked 2 weeks with Flight Culture at Dune du Pyla. The aim of this was to do the theory, sit the exam, fly and complete the tasks. The first 4 days were not flyable, this meant I was able to use these days to have intense theory sessions before sitting the exam. The rest of my time with Flight Culture was spent flying and completing the Pilot Tasks. Once these were done, my exam along with a signed copy of the completed tasks were sent off to the BHPA for marking. 2 weeks later I had the results of the exam (96% pass mark) and a pilot qualification.

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