Paragliding Instructor Log
2016-10-03 Working Toward USHPA Basic Instructor Certification
In support of the new book project I decided to go through USHPA's
Instructor Certification Program. I'm writing a book on teaching
paragliding, this would be a powerful addition to my experience and
improve perspective. The original, interviewing top instructors, would
have worked, but there's nothing like watching them in action and trying
to learn what they do.
I signed up for Bill Heaner's instructor course in Salt Lake City
(SLC) at Point of the Mountain Flight Park. Bill is passionate about
instructing, has great results, and I've worked with him before -- he's
the star of Master PPG's "Advanced Ground Handling" video. Plus, the
Point has a higher concentration of grade A free flight flight
instructors than any other place in the country and I wanted to
apprentice under as many as would have me.
This is a log of that Journey.
Oct 4 - 6 Bill Heaner's Instructor Clinic
There were 5 Instructor Candidates, Tom, Mike, Kevin, Ron and myself,
all very experienced and all but me were flying Tandems.
Oct 4 Tue
AM at the South Side. Three students, oh so gracious
victims, er volunteers, of our instructor-in-trainingness showed up to
let us learn how to help them learn. The fleeting though of a biology
student in Gross Anatomy class cursed my mind: that these kind souls had
volunteered to be on the dissection table. Ick. Trash that thought.
Lester, Daniele, and Trista were GREAT sports with a fun, open-minded
attitude that made the process much easier than it could have been.
We started right away, going over a very few things first then
heading up the hill. Bill would go over what we would be doing, show us
what it should look like, then have us try, coaching as we went.
The drill started off walking up the first part of the hill, having
the student set up for a forward, then helping them succeed at bringing
the wing up, run down the hill and flare at the end. Bill had already
briefed and showed them hand positions for all this. Initially, we the
instructors would stay behind them during the first part of inflation,
push slightly as needed, and dampen the wing's rise so it didn't front
tuck as they accelerated down the hill.
As the wing picked up a bit this became much easier.
One main part of Bill's success is only talking to the student about
what's necessary. Less is more. They don't need aerodynamics now, or
details about the wing or other distractions. Right now they need to
learn posture, arm positions, the feel of an arcing wing, running even
as the harness lifts, the risers and so on. So many lessons for us as
Everyone in the group has done some kind of instruction, me in
airplanes and powered paragliders, but one of the reasons I appreciate
Bill's program is that he gets human factors: how humans learn to
interact with machines. Even more is that he has a great record of
students who don't crash. That's the biggest reason I'm here. My goal is
to share the philosophy and techniques that create such success.
After some repetitions of that we moved up the hill a bit and now the
exercise got them airborne for a few seconds. How cool. They thought so
too. We went over steering some more, about always holding the input for
a few seconds before easing up--not stabbing at it. We kept on
practicing, one instructor candidate (IC) helping on the run, another
doing instructions on the radio, until thermal turbulence made it
unwise. We went down and packed up, going over glider storage
The afternoon was spent doing classroom work in
Bill's living room. He provided each applicant a notebook with forms
document that we would go through methodically with discussion of topics
as necessary. I video recorded much of these sessions for later
review--it will help condense key points into the project.
Oct 5 Wed
AM at the South Side. This time there was no wind
and even some occasional downsloping ooze. We were to work on helping
students through forward launches and radio work from higher up the
hill: they would be flying. First we did a demo. When Bill asked for a
volunteer I jumped. Yeah, it's a 12 second flight but it's a flight and
it served the purpose of being very deliberate and clear in all my
actions. It felt good to fly.
We worked on a different technique for helping them even though they
really didn't need much help--it was mostly for us to practice the
physical skill required.
The whole idea of making sure the wing comes up, gets checked with
brakes either by the student or instructor, then has a standup landing
is to have the student feel what success is and practice it. Failures
happened, of course, but not many. Bill's motto for instructors is
"Create Success, Repeat, Celebrate" and it works.
Philosophies of instructing abound--some instructors, for example,
don't like physically helping the students much. There's merit to that
since the student must obviously learn it on their own at some point. I
get it. I remember airplane instructors who incessantly applied control
pressures to the point where I couldn't learn. "Is that you or the air?"
I would tactfully ask.
But in paragliding, not helping, especially in the beginning, can
waste lots of time as they struggle with flopping wings or falls. Plus,
failing isn't much fun. Like sooo many aspects of life there is balance.
I would explain to my volunteer student that some of what I was doing
was for me, so I could practice controlling the wing using their hands
in ways that were to me. They were so understanding.
With no wind trying to help as the student ran quickly away down the
hill was really tough. That's one area where I'll just need practice.
Bill did it--the practiced prance of a thousand repetitions made it look
The afternoon was again classroom work at Bill's,
including going over USHPA material, discussion of how to handle various
situations and finally the test. It's amusing about these tests; it
seems there are always a few questions that nobody knows the answer to
or at least the logic of what's supposed to be the right answer even if
they understand the subject. I've developed a several tests and find
that, if instructors are complaining about a particular question, it's
probably a bad question. Thankfully there were very few of those.
Tom asked his wife to help
with the ground school presentation portion of our clinic
Oct 6 Thur
Our last AM at the South Side provided a perfectly timed breeze that
let us work on kiting. This was the good stuff, really, because we
really got to work with the students on ground handling. One technique
that flummoxed was helping the student kite reversed while I stood in
front of them controling their hands. That's harder than it sounds. I
can reach around and do it (as I've done before), and I can control the
brakes by pulling above the pulleys but that doesn't help the student.
They need to learn what to do with their bodies and hands. So the
instructor's challenge is
Ballerina Ninja Cat
Bill has a funny saying to remind pilots to be smooth and economical
in motion, to move like a Ballerina Ninja Cat. Of course that sounds
ridiculous but gets the point across. A similar Billism is "Half the
speed, twice as efficient." It's a reminder that I took some pointers on
myself. The goal is grace. It results in being more effective
with less motion which is a common theme in just about every physical
endeavor. Like good ground handling: the least amount of hand and body
motion that gets the desired result.
After it got to strong for students Bill let me fly his
Skywalk Miniwing. OMG is that fun. Eventually it got strong enough that
I could soar it but first he challenged me to do some ground handling in
a gulley and I felt like a kid in the candy store. He also gave some
These things are so much fun but sooo utterly unforgiving, too: a
half inch of brake pull incites an eruption of bank that could easily
prompt an oscillation with only two cycles before impact.
I built up slowly, first flying down to the bottom of the
hill, knowing full well of its rapid roll rate. I was very cautious on
that flight since Bill had warned me about its responsiveness and, if
Bill warns you about a wing, that's significant. I have flown maybe 5 other miniwings including an 11 meter model some time ago at Beach
Blast but those were relatively benign. Relatively. Two of those were under power.
After getting on this one I marveled at the roll rate but this
one, in spite of being slightly larger (12m), was even less stable in
Bill did a demo showing how smooth, fluid motion wins the day.
Ballerina Ninja Cat.
The lot of us after
finishing hill training on Thursday.
Oct 7 Fri
Morning at the South Side gave me opportunity to shadow a number of
Instructors and work with Blake Pelton who was instructing a paramotor
pilot to free fly. He had me do some radio work with a student learning
to ridge soar which was a welcome opportunity. That student, an
experienced motor pilot, hardly needed radio coaching by this point but
he was gracious and I really got a lot out of it.
Mid-day Super Fly Classroom & Simulator
Ground school items covered: Posture, checklist items,
Simulator items covered: Posture, weight shift turns.
Evening at the North Side, watching and working with Chris Santacroce,
specifically a student who had flown before but was here brushing up. I
helped him with light wind reverses. He was really hard on himself in
spite of significant overcoming which required a different tact, a bit
more encouragement but mostly repetitions.
Blake Pelton prepping a
Oct 8 Sat
Morning at the South Side was spent working with various instructors
including Blake Pelton, Dale, Alex and Bill.
Mid-day Blake Pelton Classroom & Simulator. Wow was this informative.
Among the many things we did with Bryan West and his motor students was
hang in the simulator and practice getting back in the harness after
launching with no leg straps. Cool thing: Blake has the simulator
hanging in his living room. Awesome.
Evening at the North Side, watching and working with various students
very briefly. Shadowed/Filmed Chris on radio while teaching the Dr. I
had worked with on the day before. Saw an impressive save as they walked
Oct 9 Sun
Morning at the South Side in strong winds. Shadowed a number of
instructors and helped where I could. Spent some time with Ken Hudonjorgensen where I saw him teaching asymmetric inflations where you
bring one side of the wing up about four feet higher than the other then
straighten it out as it comes overhead.
Later in the morning, with wind building, Bill hooked me into a hang
glider and showed me some ground handling. He then did a demo showing
what's possible with a hang glider. Very cool! If all goes well, I'll
come back here to get whatever hang glider ratings I'm qualified for.
Mind you, Bill has won a number of Hang Gliding championships so he's
got the moxy for this stuff. And thankfully he still likes teaching it.
This afternoon I went to join Chris Santacroce to learn about Truck
Towing. I've had probably 20 truck tows and ridden along a couple times,
but now the idea was to learn how it was done in more detail, at least
how Chris does it. After
riding/filming the first tow, it became too rough for the student and
Chris suggested they restart in better
conditions. So I bought a tow in order to experience the other end of
the operation while the memory was fresh. Wasn't planned but, wow, was that a learning
experience. Not because there was anything different about the tow but
because I was paying such close attention to details of control I'd
never paid before. More is in the sidebar.
Evening at the North Side was not productive because the south wind
never turned around enough. The Club had their meeting, though, and I
sure did enjoy kibitzing with the folk and festivities. I suppose from
that perspective it was productive enough.
Oct 10 Mon
Morning at the South Side was headed for a bust due
to really strong winds. I headed down then discovered a whole world of
training continued in the lighter wind below. So I joined Alex Taylor and a young
woman who was working on basic kiting in a difficult wind at the bottom
of the hill. I
spent the rest of the morning there, working with that one athletic,
motivated girl before having to pack up myself to
Leaving is nearly always bittersweet. I was learning, having a good
time, but missed home. I had captured many hours of good material to go
over and was mulling another project as an adjunct to this one. We'll
see if that happens. Bill was such a gracious host and patient instructor, who I continue to
learn from, and look forward to returning to spend time with again.
Apprentice & Research
This is my log of work done to learn from instructors who are in the
field doing instruction. I've spent at least two weeks of one to three
days working with, observing or interviewing paraglider and paramotor
instructors. Much video recording was done throughout the process.
2016 Nov 7, 9, 11 Valkaria Airport with Eric Dufour. Eric started a
new student, Uwe Goehl from Abu Dabi. I was there from first briefing to
the solo flight that was almost. He soloed that afternoon after I had
2016 Nov 17-18, Santa Barbara. Two days with Chris Grantham. Day 1 at
a mountain site, day 2 on the training hill.
2916 Nov 23, San Diego, Interview with David Jeb and observing hill
training by one of their Instructors.
Talking with Dave Jeb at
1. Chris Grantham atop the
training hill in Santa Barbara.
2. After launching his
students he let me fly down which was extremely gracious and unexpected.
This trip really was just for being an apprentice, not for playing, but
it was oh soooo sweet!
Eric Dufour prepares Ewe
Goehl for ground handling practice.
Click for full size.
Chris Santacroce briefs a paraglider pilot before towing her up for a
refresher course. I rode in the truck to see how it was done then I took a
tow myself to experience exactly what I just watched. I experimented
with some of what I had already written namely that you should track towards
the tow line just in front of you. We towed east and there was a moderate
south wind trying to drift me north.
At first I stayed exactly behind
the truck, over the road, but the tow line was increasingly arcing left from
the right (South) wind. Not surprisingly I was having to pull left brake.
Chris instructed me to move left, which I did, to what he called the
"sweet spot" and the amount of left brake decreased a lot. The line was
still pulling me left which made the wing want to bank right and required
still some left brake to hold.
Then I let myself drift left until the
line was exactly perpendicular and, sure enough, all turn tendency went away
and no more brake input was required. It was again easy to steer with just