Friday, January 4, 2013

Paragliding Beginners Course - First Flights

The next day, we started off in the morning by driving the hour up to the Mandredhunga takeoff, approximately in line with the end of the lake. On the way, we managed to run a bus off the road...

 By this time the French pupil had dropped out of the course, and two of the Nepali guys (those who hadn't flown in a tandem paraglider before) elected to fly with an instructor before going solo, so there were only 6 of us to do the first solo flight in the morning. At the top of the drive, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by porters doing their best to take our wings up to the top of the mountain for us. Like a good trekker I elected to lug my own 25kg rucksack to the top, thank you very much :-)

We arrived at the top, quite sweaty after about 200m of vertical ascent, to see quite a large clearing with a very consisten gradient, looking out over the valley into which we would be flying (have a look at the left-hand photo).

Here, we had plenty of briefings before the first pilots set off into the air for the first time. On these flights, you wear a radio across your chest, with which the instructor communicates with you - ie turn left, turn right, start the exercise etc. And most importantly FULL BRAKE when you are flaring for landing! It was quite nerve-wracking to see everyone take to the skies for the first time and I, as one of the last ones to go, was definitely nervous...

Hari, one of the Nepali guys who was going to fly tandem, took these photos of my first takeoff! It was OK, but as always I can never run at the edge with enough conviction and I trouble looking at the right place!

So then I was free, floating above the valley while heading down the trajectory towards our waypoint, a town at the edge called Pammey. It was somewhat like gliding, in that you can enjoy the view, and you feel secure and happy, and you get a strong feeling of the sense of flying, because of course you are! In a paraglider, you feel much more connected with the air - the slightest thermal or lee turbulence wobbles the wing and you feel it very directly in the wing. Furthermore, you have to 'crab' with a much larger angle than in a sailplane, because of course your airspeed is so slow. But it was so nice to be in the air again after 4 months :-)

I was the last one to land, so we sat round the Jeep for a quick debrief, then headed straight back up the mountain for another go!

In the afternoon, there was quite a bit more wind which to be honest makes the takeoff process much more comfortable, all you have to do is walk with conviction (while loading your weight into the risers, so that the wing has some loading) and soon you're in the air. It also allows you to pre-inflate the glider and check all the lines that way. In the second photo you can see Baris doing just that.

My second flight started to introduce rolling with weight-shift and a few other tricks, and then I went for a landing, which looked somewhat like this:

From the final picture you can see how, before we've even touched down, we are mobbed by Nepali kids who (unlike the villagers who encountered the Montgolifer brothers) did not set about our flying machines with pitchforks but instead demanded money so that they could repack the wing for us. At 20Rp per pack it's well worth it! Especially after the excitement of the first flight.

Because the instructors weren't flying Tandem on this flight, we had the pleasure of watching Sabrina acrobat her way down to the landing field with her new glider.

After this, we debriefed extensively and then headed home. It was a tiring day - but what an achievement to fly solo at last!

The following morning, we planned to drive back up to Mandredhunga. Inconveniently, the contractors thought that this would be a great day to resurface the road. And now we can really see the benefit of having a proper Jeep here in the mountains, as Mathieu drove the thing with all our wings on top (and previously 15 people inside) over the incredibly rough ground that the digger had just started levelling.

Of course, I carried my wing up the path again, while most of the others let the women-and-children porters do all the work! See how, despite the paraglider rucksacks having excellent shoulder and waist straps, the porters insist on carrying them on their foreheads... But for 100Rp they can do it however they want!

Mathieu talks us through our next exercises while waiting for the cloud to clear. A pair of sunglasses forms a perfect surrogate for a paraglider...

Anyone recognise the Condor logo?

That morning and afternoon we completed another two flights - starting to build in aspects like adjusting the speed range, pitch control, Big Ears (a method of reducing the canopy size in order to descend faster) and judging the circuits for ourselves.

As big as the field is, there are always obstacles to avoid... here, Jagan rebuilds the wall he destroyed and soon the buffalo were everywhere as well (causing James a minor distraction landing). 

But what a great fun week! The following day was to be a rest day, so we could reflect on our accomplishments.

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