Can Paramotor Flight be Self-Taught?
Don't Self Train
CONTACT: Nick Antonaccio 215-630-6759
1. Can Paramotor Flight be Self-Taught?
2. What Can Go Wrong Without Training?
3. There's So Much More To It. It's Not Just About You.
1. Can Paramotor Flight be Self-Taught?
The difference between getting a little training, and none at all, is tremendous. If you're considering training yourself, please read some more and learn some additional details about what happens regularly to people who try to self train. Don't do it. Really. Just don't do it. It's not just about you, it's about how you can potentially affect the established community around you.
It is legal to teach yourself how to fly a paramotor, and some people actually do succeed, but learning to fly on your own is a truly horrible idea. Training can't guarantee that you'll avoid problems 100%, but accidents among self taught pilots are extremely common, and broken equipment, hospital bills, lost work, etc. are far more expensive than almost any instruction course. You're virtually guaranteed to run into many serious problems which you won't imagine by watching trained pilots who make the whole process look simple. Learning to just launch a paramotor typically requires at least a week of dedicated practice, in carefully presented stages, even for experienced GA pilots. And a week of dedicated practice, preparation, and equipment setup, with the help of an instructor, is really rushing it. Jumping into it alone nearly always goes very badly for people who think they can just try it out, because it looks simple. You need to hang check and configure your equipment for your weight and size, or you are asking for trouble. You need to learn how to time and control the movements of the wing, the throttle, the harness, the posture of your body and the frame, etc. in constantly shifting atmospheric air currents, while running, while carrying an oversized, heavy backpack. The muscle memory required to achieve that control really should be ingrained over weeks, with lots of guidance and help. Even the best students need a huge amount of practice on the ground to perfect that routine, before even considering launching. There are a wide variety of well understood bad habits which can become ingrained if you learn during this phase with improper technique. You also need to understand how the wind and weather conditions affect the way your wing handles on the ground and in the air. Having an instructor tell you that the moment is right for your first flights, is one of the most critical bits of assistance you'll want. Ensuring that you're properly hooked in, that all the equipment is configured properly, and guiding you through every move of launch, maneuvers, and landing helps to really cut down on the potential dangers. Your instructor will make decisions for you which keep you from running into trouble, and will take you through the stages of learning which build necessary skills and understanding required to fly safely. Your learning process will be much shorter, and you'll enjoy yourself much more when you know that you're doing it right and staying safe.
2. What Can Go Wrong Without Training?
Without help, the problems which you could encounter in flight are numerous:
- taking off at the wrong time of day, in strong but invisible and imperceptible thermal conditions which can toss you around like a leaf in the wind, and fold your wing in half - this has injured and killed untrained pilots.
- having brake and/or throttle lines set too short to reach in flight or long enough to wrap up in a prop during flight - not being able to reach controls has killed at least one untrained pilot to be, and getting a brake caught in a prop has been the cause of at least one unsuspecting paramotor pilot's death.
- getting dragged/lifted/dropped hard (pulled into cars or power lines, etc.) in unexpectedly strong wind gusts has injured and killed pilots who didn't know what they were doing.
- getting hit by an enormous spinning prop which isn't started safely, or which gets out of control during launch or landing - this is the #1 cause of serious injury during paramotor activity. It has happened many, many times among the self-trained crowd.
- launching during a pendulum swing, or over-correcting a pendulum during low flight/landing regularly leads untrained pilots to machine damage and bodily harm.
- launching with a twist in the wing's risers, with a brake entwined in other lines, a knot, etc., can lead to serious problems in flight if you don't know how to handle the entire process properly.
- hesitating to use enough power on launch, or hiccuping on the power while leaving the ground - this can and has caused bad accidents very quickly.
- not running with straight body posture and a forward facing propeller angle - virtually no one does this properly without training, and the engine pushes the pilot straight down during the launch run, leading to broken equipment and body parts.
- sitting down too early and smashing directly into the ground on launch before enough speed and lift have been generated - this is a universal problem for nearly everyone who tries to fly without training.
- launching without legs straps properly secured has actually lead to pilots falling out of the harness in the air.
- having engine trouble over bad terrain or water (engine failures are very common while flying PPGs, especially among pilots who don't know how to properly maintain their machines) - water landings are the #1 cause of fatal paramotor incidents!
- trying to get into your seat while holding a steering toggle - this can send you careening quickly into a deadly spiral.
- failing to dampen surge during launch or low flight (taking off under a collapsing wing, or diving into the ground during flight), has caused numerous serious injuries among untrained pilots.
- having an engine's hang angle set too far back and spinning backwards due to torque/gyroscopic precession - this is extremely dangerous and has caused multiple serious accidents among pilots who didn't know how to check it.
- flying too low and misjudging the dive characteristics of a turning wing is one of the most dangerous causes of untrained pilot accidents.
- not clearing turns when flying around other pilots - collisions can be deadly, even when reserve parachutes are thrown - you need to learn how to handle yourself around other air traffic.
- stalling the wing by slowing air speed with too much brake pressure, too much extended thrust input, turning against torque, etc. - stopping flight, spinning, and falling out of the air has happened many times, including fatal accidents, among pilots who just didn't know to avoid it.
- flying into mechanical turbulence downwind of objects, the wake of other wings, lee side rotor, etc. - in bad conditions, this can collapse your wing and make you plummet towards obstacles or straight toward the ground. There are numerous videos online of unsuspecting pilots who thought they knew what they were doing, getting caught in serious accidents due to this situation.
- blacking out during spiral maneuvers - this has led to death multiple times, as the wing 'locks in' to a spiral straight to the ground.
- accidentally deploying a reserve chute while launching or in flight - it's really easy to let this happen if you don't check a few tiny pins.
- misjudging how much gas has been used during a flight - you'd be amazed how often this happens among pilots who are otherwise sidetracked by misplaced concerns and who are improperly checking their equipment pre-flight.
- having loose items, hats, items from pockets, straps on the machine, etc. go through the propeller - this can cause instant loss of power, dangerous projectiles, etc. It happens all the time among untrained pilots.
- fires from improperly charged electric starter batteries have happened several times. You'd better know what you're doing with them before you take to the air.
- getting stuck above fog in a landing zone and being unable to find a safe LZ. There is so much to learn about weather!
- getting stuck in a gust front, wind gradient, or layer of atmosphere which pushes your ground track backwards, forcing you to land away from your LZ, in unknown, dangerous terrain, in water, etc.
- flying in high density altitude conditions, in which a wing and engine that previously provided enough lift and thrust to fly you comfortably, no longer can get you into the air, or keep you up safely - this is another one of those totally invisible weather situations which untrained pilots typically have no idea to watch out for.
- cloud suck - getting pulled up violently under strong clouds. This has even killed professional competitive paraglider pilots. You need to learn a lot about weather!
- getting fixated upon and flying directly into objects in your flight path - a weird but strangely common phenomenon.
- flying into unseen power lines - this has happened many times, even to experienced pilots who'd become complacent.
- attempting to land or turn low down wind, which can force you to move along the ground much faster than you can possibly run on foot.
- collapsing the wing with improper combination of speed bar, brakes, trims, etc. - a much more severe potential problem on today's popular reflex gliders.
- flaring too early or too high and falling hard to the ground on landing - this can easily break your legs, back, and other useful body parts.
- simply freezing up during flight, and making stupid control errors due to unexpected sensations, disorientation, fear, misunderstanding or ignorance of basic technique, etc. You'd better have an instructor in your ear when this happens.
Those are just a few common examples of ways untrained pilots regularly get seriously injured or killed, before they even know they are in danger. Do you really think you can guard yourself from all those potential issues, while just beginning to experience and handle all the different forces, pressures, and movements exerted by a wing, motor, and harness pushing your only living body around and lifting/sinking you up, down, and sideways in the sky, during your first flights, when you have no idea exactly what feelings to expect, without any training at all? Even for experienced general aviation pilots, a first paramotor flight is always a more intensely powerful sensory experience than expected. Do you really think that you should launch, fly, and land an aircraft with a spinning blade of death positioned several inches from your body parts, while running and carrying a massive amount of weight, and controlling an inflatable wing made entirely of cloth, flying high into air with potentially dramatically dangerous moving masses that are totally invisible, in an environment which gives you only several seconds to respond with exactly the correct movements if you're ever in a situation in which you could fall to your death ... do you really think that's a good idea to try, without any qualified instruction??
Paramotor accidents typically happen quickly and without warning, for those who don't know exactly what to expect and watch out for at every moment of a flight. You may only have seconds to make a decision, and even the first few moments of a launch can pose numerous dangers. Without training, you may not even know you're doing something wrong until it's too late. You don't get any second chances in aviation, and you will likely not be so incredibly lucky to just happen to do everything correctly. If you don't get real training, at some point, you will likely experience an 'unexpected' accident (only unexpected because you didn't learn to expect it). Such mishaps by untrained pilots often go unreported, especially when serious injuries occur, because embarrassment and liability force pilot silence, but they do happen all the time! Really, all the time, and most commonly among pilots without training. There's so much to learn about, which you simply don't know could potentially lead to severe problems, if you don't get legitimate training. Flying into illegal air space, or near clouds, or without a strobe in the evening, or during a TFR in the area, for example, can create enormous risks of all sorts, and/or earn you fines and big legal trouble. Launching, landing, and flying in busy local air traffic without knowing the pattern at your field dramatically increases the likelihood of an in-air crash. The list of skills to practice and knowledge to gain, before getting in the air, is longer than you'd ever imagine, if you don't get the instruction you need. The old saying is true: 'you don't know what you don't know'.
3. There's So Much More To It. It's Not Just About You.
Perhaps even more important and commonly misunderstood among those who self-train, is that the privileges which ultralight pilots enjoy, both locally and nationally, have been hard earned by generations of responsible pilots who've worked with their governments and surrounding communities, to enable an amazing amount of freedom for everyone. Every misstep which a self-taught pilot makes, not only potentially hurts themselves, but also puts those precious privileges in jeopardy for all pilots. You need to learn not only how to operate a wing and a motor, how to evaluate potentially dangerous invisible weather conditions (which change by the hour daily), how to maintain equipment, etc., but also where, when, and how to fly within a busy general aviation environment, and among the well established ultralight community that surrounds you. You really don't want to be the person who destroys the current situation for everyone.
And it goes far beyond all the dangers and problems listed above. Every time a self-trained pilot comes out to a field (or even a pilot with minimal experience or questionable training background), there is a palpable sense of anxiety and stress among the crowd, because it's clear that they just don't know what they're doing. They're awkward, unpleasant, and often frightening to watch, as they try to hide their clear lack of knowledge and ability. Fitting in with a group and making new friends is much more difficult in this situation. It's never fun to watch someone make a whole series of potentially life threatening mistakes. Often, other pilots want to help, but will not, because it's clear that they will expose themselves to significant liability. And that understanding typically solidifies with experience, so the only people willing to help are those without any experience or understanding at all. That just makes the whole situation worse, and turns an enjoyable situation into a potentially miserable event for everyone.
Just get some instruction. The expense and work of passing through an established training program must be considered a small part of the essential cost of getting into powered paragliding. If you trivialize the potential ways you can run into trouble and think you can 'just try it', you will have problems, or you will be a problem for others. Don't be that person.