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Paragliding and Fear – Dealing With It And Still Enjoying Your Flying
Fear can bind you in a web of limitations that take the joy out of the sport you once loved. Often you don’t even know you’re scared, your sign is that fun has evaporated like a cloud over the desert.
‘What? me? scared? I am daring, I am above weakness!’. But deep down, you know. You have probably thought of some of the points below. Once you recognize the fear, you are at first base. The second step is to understand the fear, the third to know it, and finally, let it go, and you are home, free.
1. What if my glider crashes and I can’t fix it?
All modern paragliders undergo rigorous aerodynamic testing, focusing more on durability than performance. Match your glider to your experience level : a DHV1 for training, DHV1/2 for recreational flight (or less than 50hours airtime), DHV2 for regular experienced pilots, and cross country flying, DHV2/3 for advanced/competition pilots only. The glider should recover on its own, if left alone for a few seconds. In addition to this, you can practice instability maneuvers in a structured training program called the SIV course, or Safety Course. You will learn how to recover your glider from every possible crash. Keep practicing after the course, to keep your edge.
If your glider does not have a mark, then check the next question, because there is a high possibility that the glider will not recover properly from some situations.
2. What if my equipment fails?
The load tests are very rough. For a glider to achieve an AFNOR or DHV rating, it must be practically indestructible under the loads that the pilot can handle during flight. Therefore equipment failure is likely due to negligence. It’s your job to make sure:
Regular factory checks – at least once a year, send your full kit to your agent / school.
Daily equipment inspection – before you fly, check every part of your aircraft.
Pre-flight check – before each takeoff, check the vitals (protection, harness, suspension, wings, weather and airtraffic).
Reserve parachutes provide a lot of psychological comfort, and will catch you if all else fails.
3. What if I get sucked in and can’t get down?
Lowering a paraglider is easy. A B-line stall induces about 7m/s of descent. The spiral dive varies between 10 and 25m/s, depending on the glider and your aggression. A full stall – 15m/s. Only in severe cumulus development, or very strong winds, will you find enough lift to overcome your descent attempts. So the danger of disappearing into the sky becomes even more dangerous without seeing the advancing Cumulonimbus cloud. They don’t show up right away – be careful, you’ll be fine. A simple rule: do not fly if there are ‘Cumulonastiness’ clouds developing within 30km from where you are flying, or the weather forecast warns of embedded Cunims (thunder cells which is hidden by a cloudy sky).
5. What if I crash in mid-air?
It takes two pilots to have a collision. You are one of them. The principle is defensive flight. All paragliders travel at the same speed. By varying the amount of brake you use, you can synchronize your speed with the pilots around you. The easiest way to avoid traffic problems is to follow the glider in front of you, at a safe distance, like driving on the road. It creates space around you, a safe space in which to fly. Indicate your intention to turn. Check your surroundings before you do anything to change your course. This will help maintain your space. If someone insists on driving like a drunk, and a crash is unavoidable (ie you can’t fly, or land), a reserve parachute is essential. Throw it away.
6. What if I panic?
Panic is caused by extreme inexperience in an extreme situation. Doing the wrong thing in an emergency will only make the problem worse. Glider flying, whatever is available. You are the pilot, no one else. By practicing instability maneuvers in your glider, you will increase your experience in extreme situations, little by little. Create an SIV course. It is designed to improve your safety, not reduce it and should help you become familiar with serious flying problems.
7. What if I crash?
Takeoff accidents are often caused by poor ground handling skills. The glider starts flying you, instead of the other way around. Open, clean pieces of land can be found in any city, if you look hard enough. All you need is a wing, and a wind. Go practice your land management. Pull a riser only. Pull the skew up. Pull up blindfolded. Pull up with twisted risers. Then put the glider there, don’t let it go back to the ground. Walk it around the obstacles. Let go of the brakes, just use your running to balance and steer. Go play in the wind (behind some trees). Then do it again on a friend’s wing.
Landing accidents can be mitigated by using PLF (Parachute Landing Fall). This is a unique method of absorbing the impact of a crash. Practice it at home, first on the mattress, then on the grass. This is not the body’s natural response, so regular practice is essential. Another type of skill you can develop is landing setup skills. Pick a rock or marker on your landing field each time you land. Reward yourself if you land within a meter of it! This skill can be invaluable when you only have one clear patch of forest to touch.
8. What if I crash and no one sees me?
Every pilot’s dream is to crash into a remote gully, unseen. First – carry a radio, so you can contact other pilots. Carry a mobile phone – emergency services are just a call away. Bring some flares – a universal distress signal, if other methods don’t work. Fly with friends, they will know that you are lost, especially if you clarify your purpose by discussing your flight plan before you take off.
9. What if I land in the middle of nowhere?
Always bring food (biscuits, dates, energy bars, glucose) and water when you fly. Today may be the day you hit the boomer, and whistle behind, landing 50km away, lost, happy, and far from civilization. With less sustenance, a lot of walking is possible – ask Bob Drury about his 5 day walk in the Zanskar Range on his Himalayan bivouac adventure! They may be uncomfortable, but you have nothing to fear – you will survive.
10. What if I get too rusty and forget to do the right thing?
Humility is your best friend here. Adopt the mantra “there is a lot to learn”. If you don’t have more than one flight per month, then you are definitely rusty. Pretend your license has been downgraded–if you’re a cross-country pilot, you’re now an intermediate, if you’re a newly licensed pilot, you’re a student again. Find appropriate guidance, let a novice pilot provide assistance. And only get airtime in mellow conditions. Keep it simple.
11. What if I just get clobbered?
The risk of being clobbered by a freak hust is assumed, in return for the reward of freedom. We all have this fear, to a greater or lesser extent. But rarely is the gust a freak – bad wind is usually caused by something. It can be through airflow obstructions, through shear turbulence, or thermal turbulence. Increase your knowledge of meteorology by reading so you don’t put yourself in bad weather. There are some rare situations that overwhelm all pilots, but they exist. This small random airborne risk and the random human environmental risk are considered by some pilots to be a monster called the Sink Monster. If you think you want to get it, my advice is to go to Church on Sunday.
I hope the method helps you. In each case, you’re not ignoring the fear, you’re acknowledging that you have it, that it’s a legitimate concern. Then to understand it, you have to examine all the angles from which it comes, and all the information you have about the subject. If you lack information, ask an experienced pilot. If the answer you get is not satisfactory, ask someone else. Mastering fear means you have it, all its questions answered. It doesn’t go away, but it doesn’t control you anymore. You are now ready to let it go – beyond fear, having done all the protection it is in your power to create.
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