Learning to fly
Step 1: Trying to unpack the wing
My senses are tingling with excitement at the thought of the wing and of flying. As soon as I get my hands on it, I head straight out onto the field. I unpack it, clip in and get it up in the air. Well, I try to...
Things go smoother the second time. I decide to follow a video tutorial... My initial attempts are rather modest, but with a little patience, I somehow manage to get the wing into the air.
The next question is: how do you actually fly? I start by watching a video and then trying to copy the technique on the hillside, with some success. I reverse launch and actually manage to take off, getting a few metres up into the air and flying for some 60 metres. The adrenaline is pumping and I pull hard on both brakes, bringing my first "flight" to an end.
Step 2: Back to school
Luckily, there’s a paragliding school near me and so I decide to get training towards my certificate. After some practice runs on a short training hill, I’m already well on my way. Now I use good weather to go flying, rather than climbing, something that is new to me. But I know that I need to invest time now, otherwise it will all come to nothing.
Step 3: My first high-altitude flight
The time has finally come for my first flight. I haven’t felt this excited in a long time. Standing there, as a complete beginner, 500 metres above Sand in Taufers, I ask myself: “What the heck is this going to feel like”?
A few moments later, I hear the instructor say: “You can start!” Without much hesitation and fuelled by adrenaline, I take off and follow his instructions via the radio. Beaming from ear to ear, I glide down and land safely in Sand in Taufers.
In high spirits, my first thought is: “Let’s go again!”. And so, I complete my first five flights in one day.
Step 4: Practice, practice, practice
I commit to attending flight training school and try my hardest to keep some days free from mountain guiding. I even put my own climbing on the back-burner... but it has to be this way.
I get better with every flight and soon feel as one with my own wing, which is now a little smaller than the ones I started flying with.
And so, my total flight count keeps rising and I find I’m getting rather addicted to the whole thing. In fact, I don’t even feel disappointed if I go flying instead of climbing. This is something I never expected.
Step 5: First solo flight
Can I fly solo? Without an instructor? Without a radio? I ask myself over and over again. I have to give it a try. It turns out to be a completely new experience... Even though the take-off and landing site are the same ones I always use. It just feels totally different.
Luckily, everything goes according to plan and I land safely .
Step 6: The first flight from a new take-off site
I definitely want to be able to take off and land directly behind my own house. What could be better than flying back to your own home?
My mind is made up. I’m ready to launch. I raise my wing, but there is no wind. This means I have to run fast... I sprint down the steep slope, only just making it over the fence. Once I’m safely in the air, I can’t help but cheer! I land safely right near my house and am over the moon!
Step 7: Learning from your mistakes
It was to be an evening flight this time. Simon and I had agreed to do a flight together, but I arrived early and thought I’d go for a quick round trip first.
What I forget though is that the tailwind is too strong – my protector really pays off!
I decide against a second flight. I learn my lesson the hard way. The moral of the story: don’t take off with a tailwind.
Training, training, training
Back at flight school, I complete my manoeuvres and continue to work on my handling, improving my wingovers, up and down movements and landings and even try out some short thermal flying. I spend a lot of time trying to reverse launch. And it works… most of the time.
I have to say that I have found learning to fly to be something completely new and really motivating. You see your progress and it quickly becomes clear how you are improving. With every flight, you start to feel more and more comfortable in the air.
I have a lot of respect for the sport. It’s extremely tricky and highly exciting. And it takes a huge number of hours to gain enough experience.
Unfortunately, I’m injured at the moment. This means I can’t get out climbing or flying. However, the excitement is building. I hope that it won’t be too long before I’m back out on rock and up in the air!