Archives for May 2013

First Tandem Flight

Today was my first paragliding flight as a tandem pilot. My “passenger” was Drew McNab, who is a tandem instructor. Unlike when learning to drive, especially if your instructor had dual controls, the tandem instructor can only do so much if the student pilot screws up. That, and there’s no way to slam on the breaks in the sky. So in that regard, the instructor must have nerves of steel, considerable trust, or be a massive adrenaline junkie. Maybe all three.

We had almost no wind, so we launched forward. Despite not being able to SEE the wing come up, I generally don’t mind forward launches because I have a good feel for the wing. In this case, however, it was a wing I have never used. Also, there’s that awkward two-step on launch akin to a potato-sack race with all four of our feet shuffling around as we add power to the wing.

The wing came up fine, I think, but when it was at maybe 70 degrees of rotation, I tripped and fell to my knees. Drew asked “do you got it?” (So there’s the blind trust, since he couldn’t see it either), and I yelled GO GO GO!!

As soon as he pulled, I was able to get back to my feet and continue the controlled launch off of the south side of Tiger Mountain.

In the air, but still with little more than a few hundred feet of altitude, it felt like I was driving a large boat. The wing felt huge and sluggish, despite the acrobatics that I’ve seen Drew do with passengers. I missed having a stirrup to put my feet into, as my legs hung down a bit with drew just in front of my lap. There were no real thermals to be had, but this flight was more about launch and landing, anyway.

There were two other pilots in the air at about our altitude, one of whom was a new solo pilot with the long pink tape that screams “I have NO idea what I’m doing, and am under radio control from the ground.” I thought that this time, maybe I should be wearing the streamer, except that I knew exactly what I was doing, but merely lacked skill or experience with this wing or with a passenger.

We pulled Big Ears (made our wing smaller) and sank faster than the others so as to have the landing zone to ourselves. As we set up on the downwind leg of our approach for landing, I started paying closer attention to my glide-ratio so as to gauge the turns I would need to make.

I was maybe 300 feet too high when I turned final in what was anything but a standard pattern approach. I was glad we had dropped down below the others to give more leeway in bleeding it off with additional turns, despite making drew nervous turning that low. I still over-shot the target on the field, but landed several hundred feet from the edge of the field with both of us coming to a full stop, landing on our feet, with the wing collapsing gingerly like a descending cobra behind us.

About this time, I think Drew started breathing again, and said that I actually did quite well, especially for a first-time tandem pilot. At that point, I think I let out a loud Whoo Hoo, as I was pretty stoked! Now, its only three more with an instructor, about 25 with other pilots, and then I can take passengers.

And the driving force for wanting my tandem rating? I so want to be able to share the joy of flight with my children. They are the two of the bigger sources of love in my life, and I hope to share the love of flight with each of them. That, and if I can take them with me, then it becomes that much easier to go flying on the weekends