So, you have seen paragliders flying gracefully over beautiful hills and you have been thinking “oh, yes, I will have some of that!”. What next, how do you get into paragliding? How do you learn to fly?
Here is how pilots typically start their flying journey in the UK as an example. Not that it differs much from a country to another, we will point out differences as we go along…
1 – Start with a tandem flight
You are considering taking on a new, exciting, but a risky sport (Paragliding falls into the “extreme” sport category). What’s more, getting to the stage where you can fly alone, safely and to the standards of your national governing body is quite costly!
So, naturally, it makes sense to get a feel for it before you take the plunge. There is no better way to do so than to start with a Tandem flight. You will be flying with a qualified instructor, in a safe environment and will be able to relax while he/she does all the hard work. Tandem flights are available from all local schools at virtually every flying site and are reasonably cheap (£100 to £175 in the UK, cheaper abroad) – just ask any pilot and chances are they will know who to speak too..
2 – Do a 1-day taster course
You can skip this step if you have done the Tandem flight but since most actual full courses offer this option, you might as well take a 1-day taster course too!
The key difference here is that, instead of enjoying a full flight as a passenger, you are effectively going to do the first day of the flying curriculum as the pilot in charge. Don’t expect a proper high-altitude flight though, but by the end of the first day, you will have most probably completed your first glide above the slope, felt your feet leaving the ground, and all of that under your own steam – magic!
Again, local schools will offer this option and even if you decide eventually that paragliding is not necessarily for you, what an experience to have!
3 – Complete your training course
In essence, there is nothing preventing you from jumping off a cliff attached to the big sheet of plastic that is a paraglider without any prior training. Doesn’t sound too sensible though, does it?
Like any other disciplines, learning is paramount. More so in paragliding where the consequences if you get something wrong are dire…
Aside from being the sensible thing to do, taking a formal training course, sanctioned by a diploma has practical benefits:
- In the UK, the paragliding regulating body called the British Hang gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA) offers third party insurance to all its members with the prerequisite that members need to have their Club Pilot certificate, only achievable through learning in a school (more on this below),
- In most other countries, such as France through the Fedération Française de Vol Libre (FFVL) there is a similar curriculum with benefits ranging from being able to compete to becoming an instructor,
- Most official flying sites across the world that are legally open for paragliding use fall under the juridiction of a local or national paragliding authority and are only open to members with the right qualification.
A typical training curriculum taking you to the stage where you can fly solo, unsupervised, takes between 5 to 20 days to complete from a country to another.
In the UK, as an example, the full 10-day course includes a 5-day Elementary Pilot (EP) course followed by another 5-day Club Pilot (CP) course. Both include theory and practical training. To pass, you need to demonstrate to the instructor that you can achieve a number of practical exercises as well as pass the theory tests. Once you have obtained your Club Pilot diploma, you are then officially a Club Pilot and able to fly solo with the blessing of the BHPA from any club sites in the world.
How much does it costs? It varies somewhat from a paragliding school to another. But in the UK, you should set aside about £1,500 for the full 10 day course for a UK based school and perhaps a little less if you want to travel abroad to learn (still under the UK curriculum).
4 – Continue your paragliding journey
What now? Well, just like with your driving license, the diploma is just the beginning, you are now ready to start learning how to fly in earnest. There is so many layers to paragliding that you are now in a position to start unravelling!
The formal curriculum doesn’t stop here either, shall you wish to, you can now start progressing towards your Pilot license and, once you have enough flying hours, even towards a monitor license.
Congratulations, you are now part of the exclusive flying club!