Chap 18: Flying Small Wings
Maneuvers in a 2005 Spice
Going to a Maneuvers Clinic
May 15, 2007 Powered
Paragliding Pilots "throw down."
In February of this year, while synchro spiraling with Phil Russman, I
flew through his wake—a wake strengthened by
the 2 G's we were
pulling. My wing surged below me and took a minor
collapse. Even though I recovered quickly, it highlighted
the increasing risks and declining margins I was accepting. There I was,
doing a precision, high-energy turn within a few hundred feet of the ground
and necessarily close to my partner's wake. Something had
Among the changes was a commitment to recover higher,
only do such maneuvers with a
parachute and lastly, go to a maneuvers
clinic. Chris Santacroce has a reputation, well deserved it turns out, for
putting on these over-the-water training courses that he
calls "Throw Down Sessions." Timing was impeccable
because Phil Russman was planning one with some of his students.
Steep, high speed, or high G maneuvers (where you feel heavily weighted
in the seat) carry enormous risk. Enormous! You can build
up to them reasonably safely but, if you're not already proficient,
don't expect a clinic to make you so. Doing a maneuvers clinic will
speed your advancement by showing what works, what's dangerous, what to
practice and what to avoid.
The clinic would also serve to help me conquer some long fears while
better understanding this little, uncertified wing that I fly. Plus it's
always valuable to get input from skilled pilots in another realm of
flight that I never explore: I wanted to try the SAT aerobatic maneuver.
During my first maneuvers clinic, in 2000, I chickened out of the stall
and spin. I wanted to change that this time around plus I wanted to see
how the spice handled parachutal stall, an admittedly unlikely mode for
Is it Worthwhile for a Motor Pilot?
Paramotoring seems to be about twice
as safe as free flying and that's probably due to the
benign weather we typically seek.
We don't need strong enough conditions to stay
therefore avoid what seems to be the major risks of flying paragliders—strong
Motor pilots are more likely to crash into something
(water, wires, trees, another pilot, etc.) through no fault of the weather
or collapse of wing but rather their own decision making. If you stick with flying in the benign
parts of good-forecast weather days, your likelihood of needing expert skill
in handling in-flight collapses or other maladies is extremely
low. Yes, you can be
surprised by the weather but the majority of paramotor crashes are
unrelated to weather. Those that are
were nearly always from launches
conditions where the pilot ignored obvious warnings.
If you primarily sky putt
up high (nothing wrong with that), then a maneuvers clinic will
have limited benefit. It will be fun, it will be eye opening and it will
expand your horizons, but it probably won't actually impact your overall risk
On the other hand, if you tend to explore your
abilities, doing steepish turns, foot drags, any significant low flying or
have a broad range of conditions you fly in, the clinic should be considered
How Much Experience Should I Have?
Before going doing this one I would have said you
would be best to have probably 100 flights and be able to consistently
spot land at a high P2/PPG2 level. That means regularly nailing a spot
within 40 feet power off. After watching a number of new pilots go through
the clinic, and see how much they learned, I think those minimums may be a
For sure you want to have decent landing skills
because you'll be landing on a beach in sometimes confined areas. You'll
want to have at least 50 flights so that you know what's going on but you
don't need to be already doing steep maneuvers. But even new pilots will
learn a lot. The courses are tailored to your skill level and you won't do
anything the instructor doesn't feel you're ready for. Don't expect to do
spins, stalls, SAT's or other similar maneuvers but you'll learn enormously
from the ones you do. Those maneuvers are actually pretty worthless, anyway,
from a pilot skill perspective. The most useful learning comes from turn and
collapse recoveries, pitch oscillations and a few others.
What Do I Need To Bring
What you bring depends on the clinic you attend. But
all the clinics that I'm aware of require a free-flight harness with
reserve, hook knife and some kind of radio. Chris was able to use FRS or
2-meter. You'll want to have a speedbar so as to learn on that. If you
don't have a free flight harness consider renting one. I don't know if
they do that or not.
The instructor will tell you what else will be
required as some things depend on the locations.
Bring the wing you fly with the most. If that's a
motor wing then use it. If your wing has any special limits, like some of
the reflex wings, let the instructor know about them. He may or may not be
familiar with those, especially the dynamic nastiness some reflex wings
display with speedbar
deployed and trimmed slow. That condition
common in free flight and some maneuvers coaches (instructors) may not be
aware of it yet.
Go with an open mind. Don't plan on impressing
anybody with tales of derring do, just sit back, soak it in and learn. No
matter your level of experience there is a lot to learn.
The decision to launch is all yours. If you don't
feel comfortable with a situation, don't go. There were occasions with our
group where hasty decisions led to
launching in conditions we
probably should not have. The more experienced the pilot, the more
latitude the instructor will give you. Remember that the one fatality during a clinic resulted
from a gust front that blew a participant into power lines.
The decision to do a particular maneuver is all yours. But once
started, you must listen intently and react
The clinics seem to enjoy a good safety record.
According to Steve Roti of the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding
Association, there has not been a reported fatality during a formal
clinic. The wire accident was only related to the clinic in that she was a
participant but hadn't started doing any maneuvers. A number of pilots
in the water, maybe one in 3 clinics has someone go in the water, but
that's not a huge deal. With a dry change of clothing, you can be
flying in a couple hours.
I can highly recommend
Chris Santacroce's clinic
although there are numerous others that have earned sound reputations. His
easy, unassuming demeanor left the ego behind and presented a good
environment for learning. He has done about every maneuver in the book
but, more importantly, he's probably seen them all including their
undesirable permutations. That makes him
most likely to call the correct recovery when poop meets
fan. Ken Hudonjorgenson also
came with extremely high recommendations.