Learning to Fly (Again)

I’ve got probably 600 flights or more under my wing as a solo paraglider pilot.  I’ve reached a level of unconscious competence that’s nice to be able to draw upon when I need it.  But having just started learning to fly a tandem wing, with a passenger, I find myself very much a beginner all over again.

Yes, I know the basics of how to control a wing, to launch, to land, thermal, and all.  But there is enough different in the world of tandem that I find it takes far more concentration than I would have expected.

When one moves from, say, an economy car to a sports-sedan, all the skills from one car apply to the other – just be mindful that the car is bigger, and you need more space.  But I find the switch from solo to tandem wing more akin to switching from a car to a boat.  Sure, there’s still the notion of steering and navigation, but the dynamics are all different.

On my 2nd tandem flight, Maikel was chatting to me about something and I had to tell him “umm….  I don’t actually have the capacity to carry on a conversation right now.”  And I didn’t!  Literally, doing an activity I had done over 600 times was inadequate preparation for the level of focus and attention that flying a new wing required.  I knew that “talking” was dangerous because it could put me over the edge and have me lose focus.

At one point, we were circling in light lift, and in my solo wing I would have easily done a complete 360 degree turn towards the mountain to stay in the lift.  But in this new wing, which was not even mine, and with another life literally “on the lines” at the end of the wing, I was not willing to make the turn.  Maikel could tell the calculations I was making based on how I was leaning, and even said “go for it,” but I chose not to…. not now.  Not with so little mental capacity to spare should I need to make quick adjustments.

On the next flight, done by tow over water, he asked me “If the tow line broke right now, where would you land?”  Oh yeah… that’s important!  Always have an LZ in mind, if not on glide.  The moment he spoke it, it was obvious I needed to do that, but in truth, it was the farthest thing from my mind.  And when on approach for landing later in the flight, I was more focused on a nice pattern, leaving out our ground-track.   These are obvious things to pay attention to!

So what I’m learning in this new developmental path is that I get to be a beginner all over again, even in an activity where I have already acquired some level of expertise.  I have not lost that expertise, but until I develop my skills again as a tandem pilot, I simply cannot rely upon them being readily available for a while.  Essentially, I’m learning to fly all over again.

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