Learn to Fly

Flying is a skill that few people get to develop. Among those who fly, only a tiny fraction learn how to fly like a bird, launching from their feet, exploiting the movement of air to stay aloft, and at the end returning to earth once again on foot. The skills needed to fly the way we do are very specialized, yet essential for us to be able to fly safely.

Beginner Pilot

This rating identifies a student who has demonstrated the basic ability to fly in a straight line. The beginner pilot is not yet ready to go out flying independently, but can take off, fly straight and land. She also understands the basics of glider setup and breakdown.

Novice Pilot

A novice has learned about turns, maneuvering and how to estimate where he’ll land. He has flown from higher ground under supervision and demonstrated confident handling of the glider in flight, as well as operation in stronger winds. He’s had some training about meteorology, air movement, clouds and other environmental factors, and the legal “rules of the road” that govern our flying. He may be approved to go out and fly with more experienced local pilots at easier sites, but has not yet gained the level of experience needed to operate independently.

Intermediate Pilot

The intermediate pilot has gained further experience and training in flight skills and decision-making. With the basic mechanics of flight fairly well worked out, an intermediate pilot’s focus is on refining her ability to make good decisions and correctly interpret the site and conditions for flying. She has received more training about weather forecasting, micrometeorology, airspace regulations and our internal rules that govern our sport. She’s now skilled enough to make her own decisions, and (we hope) wise enough to consult local pilots when venturing to a new site. Though she may be able to make independent decisions, she wisely flies with a friend for safety and greater fun.

Advanced Pilot

Pilots at this level have accumulated the flying experience and judgment necessary to handle conditions at a wide range of flying sites. This doesn’t mean that they can fly every site! A part of “judgment” is knowing when a site or conditions are beyond the pilot’s ability to handle them safely. Advanced pilots know when and where to fly, as well as when and where not to fly. They often serve as mentors and role models to less-experienced fliers. At some sites, advanced pilots are empowered to close the site or limit flying if they feel conditions are unsafe for lower-rated pilots. Some may also obtain instructor training and go on to teach the next generation of new fliers.

Master Pilot

A pilot with a Master rating has, in addition to all of the flight experience and knowledge, demonstrated outstanding skill in flying over a long period. She’s flown many different sites, in varying conditions, on a broad range of different wings. He’s practiced different launch methods (towing, for example) and has acquired specialized skill signoffs. She’s flown safely for a long time and has the endorsement of other pilots for her rating.

History of Paraliding

Paragliding grew out of parachuting. In the 1960s, the military needed to train parachutists how to perform safe landings. Repeatedly going up and down in an airplane to drop the parachutists was complicated and time-consuming. In order to fit more landing practice into a day, they would attach the parachutists to a truck with a tow rope.

As the vehicle picked up speed, the parachutist would float higher and higher. Then the parachutist would release the tow rope and descend back to earth. Many parachutists soon became more interested in the floating part than the landing part. For fun, they would launch themselves off steep hills and parachute to the ground below, experimenting with how they could harness air currents to stay in the air longer. A new sport was born. The shape and design of the parachutes morphed as paragliders tried different techniques to get better and longer rides.

The solution came with the invention of the ram-air parachute. Also known as the parafoil, it changed everything. Developed by Domina Jalbert in 1964, the ram-air parachute altered the shape of the chute from round to rectangular. The parachute — called a wing or sail — was broken up into cells. As the sail caught the wind, air would “ram” into these cells, filling up or inflating the sail. The shape allowed the wing to glide or float rather than immediately descend, as a traditional parachute would.

In 1978, three friends in Mieussy, France used their modified parachutes to jump off a mountainside and glide to the ground, the first time it had been done. This is considered the beginning of modern paragliding.

Paragliding equipment has evolved, with more complicated suspension and steering systems. Nevertheless, they’re all based on Jalbert’s original design. Extremely popular in Europe, paragliding is still a micro-sport in the United States, with around 5,000 or so participants. However, it’s climbing quickly in popularity.

Sam PashaCAparagliding

Learn to Fly