Free flight tips for Mr Average

Saturday 28 April, 2001

Paragliding the hard way … Supermax, the legendary first film from Phillippe Bernard

Rafael Dubois (VEN) gives a few pointers after learning to paraglide or hang glide the hard way…

I am not claiming any fame or special scholarly authority in flying. So be warned: this article was not written by an intrepid free-flying hero who has attained this sublime condition through legendary aerial deeds. I am neither a competition star or XC guru but rather one of those ’Mr average pilots’: a regular guy who has a job with limited annual holidays, plus a demanding girlfriend and – God forbid! – other passions besides flying.

However, I must say that over the past twelve years hang gliding has dominated my life, taking preference over everything else I do. The vast majority of my leisure time has been dedicated exclusively to flying trips and competitions.

Because I’m not a natural born pilot, my skills have developed from experience and learning from personal mistakes. Mistakes in hang gliding are cruel: you loose altitude and you must land. One blunder and it is game-over for the day.

A simple error usually brings a familiar and pitiful scenario: all of a sudden you find yourself alone and motionless on the deck, grounded, full of despair under a perfect sky. Your equipment is ready to go and the litre of juice in your camelback still runs chilled from cloudbase’s faraway chill. You now face an afternoon of hitching and then a long evening behind the steering wheel.

You are painfully aware that you have squandered a rare combination of factors that will be extremely difficult to attain again. You had wangled a day off from work, the conditions were epic, the wind direction meant there were no airspace restrictions, and all your gear was working faultlessly. How many times a year are you fortunate enough to have all of these elusive factors simultaneously?

This is just a small part of the punishment. Worse still than the wasted opportunity is looking up and staring at dozens of gliders gliding effortlessly under perfect cloudstreets that seem to stretch forever. And this sight is made even less pleasurable by listening to your mates on the radio – their happy voices reporting endless 8-ups, epic glides and great parties at goal, mixed with the continuous chirping of climbing varios’

In order to keep my personal ignominy to a minimum, and hoping to increase my participation at goal celebrations I started to carry a little notebook in my harness. For years I have documented my mistakes under the passing shadows of my friends at cloudbase. The result is a small compilation of tips that I call “Mr Average’s XC Secrets”.

As an additional penitence for all these past stupidities I have decided to go public, so here are some of my lessons which I hope will help some fellow pilots in similar circumstances.

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