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Intermediate Syndrome

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Intermediate Syndrome
Powered Sport Flying Magazine
March/April 2018

We’re Like Transformers: More Than Meet’s the Eye

Click to visit Powered Sport Flying Magazine Online!Like a lot of bold and very rewarding endeavors in life, powered paragliding has a graduated learning process. From my own experiences in PPG and by watching others, the adventurous who chose to partake in it’s rewards must go through a transformative process on their way up a tall and sometimes very steep learning ladder. For those willing to submit themselves, this process leads to a path which is both conditioning and reformative; I would go so far as to call my own experiences in PPG even rejuvenating to the soul. However, it would do the solely curious of the sport a disservice if I didn’t describe the different hats one wears while climbing this learning ladder. Much like a bunch of new sombreros in a store front window, each one has an individuality of it’s own. While wearing any of these hats the bearer is occasionally under the impression that each may be in fact the last hat they’ll ever wear, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

…Like a lot of bold and very rewarding endeavors in life, powered paragliding has a graduated learning process.

The “I’m an Overly Careful Newbie” Hat

This is the hat we wear when we’re overly anxious about possible injuries and/or the “D” word. While it’s usually worn when we’re new to anything adventurous in nature, it will surely present itself just after a close call, incident or accident also. Of importance to note is that since such misfortune can occur to any of us at anytime, this can be a hat which can become well worn, depending on individual experiences. In any case, I wore this particular hat on top of the others for a long time in PPG. I still wear it on top occasionally (such as when I haven’t flown in a while) and quite honestly my conservative side would like it to stay on top of my other hats forever. It’s not that PPG is inherently dangerous, because the statistics prove that’s not the case. But it does share one facet common to the rest of aviation and that’s that it’s just inherently unforgiving. Still, wearing this hat on top of all your other hats is not realistic where distractions are concerned when you’re trying to advance your skills to the degree necessary that make it still worth doing from a safety first standpoint; In other words, occasionally you just have to wear other hats on top during these pursuits, if only to help you concentrate. Just make sure you don’t take the “I’m an Overly Careful Newbie” hat off completely, ever.

…It’s not that PPG is inherently dangerous, because the statistics prove that’s not the case. But it does share one facet common to the rest of aviation and that’s that it’s just inherently unforgiving.

The “I’m Having the Time of My Life Now, This is a Dream” Hat

Ahh, we move onto a realm akin to the first six months in any new relationship. While the butterflies are still there, the real scariness seems almost completely over now. We find ourselves in a constant state of infatuation, always thinking about our new love and dreaming of the times ahead that we’ll get to spend together. While it’s all still new and mysterious, this hat has a reassuring air of comfort and normalcy about it. This is the time when we return home from just about every date with a smile on our face, learning something new about our passion each time we get to be together.

However, many would argue (myself included) that in today’s narcissistic world and 50% divorce rates that this is where human relationships and PPG surely differ, and where PPG truly shines as the gift that keeps on giving. I find myself wearing the “I’m Having the Time of My Life Now, This is a Dream” hat just about every time I fly my paramotor. This is especially true when I’m flying a new location for the first time, or when I’m flying with new people I’ve never flown with before. This hat almost becomes like a drug of sorts, addicting us to it’s lure and reward, however temporary it is. Too much of it though and like anything, it’s bound to bite.

“…This is the time when we return home from just about every date with a smile on our face, learning something new about our passion each time we get to be together.”

Intermediate Syndrome: The “Now I’m a Little TOO Comfortable” Hat

Here’s a hard one for many to chew on ~ PPG can get boring. This is especially true if you fly a lot and/or fly the same locations… A lot. I for one have experienced this first hand: All of 2014 was spent flying many of the same locations. I even found myself not flying as much because the allure of flying the same places sadly dwindled. When I did fly I found myself leaving the “I’m an Overly Careful Newbie” hat at home completely. This was my biggest mistake in PPG, and one that came back to bite me. Additionally, this article would never be complete if I neglected to mention that I also forgot how lucky I am to live in a region which allowed this much year round flying in the first place; something many would trade their already established lifestyles for in much colder parts of the world to have. Yet here I was growing tired and in as such, looking back I realize I’d let my guard down now.

…This was my biggest mistake in PPG, and one that came back to bite me.

And, Peach Tree Purée For Me

The best example of that came back to bite me the hardest. I call it “Peach Tree Purée” for a reason, literally. This is because during one afternoon flight where I’d left my newbie hat far behind, I decided it was worth the risk to fly downwind just off the tree tops above a newly planted peach orchard in order to get “down sun.” The peach grove I wanted to fly over was away from the sun in relation to where I was at, thereby getting some beautiful golden light. I knew the risk of skimming trees with 8-10mph tailwinds, but my intermediate syndrome got the best of me and I clipped the top of the first tree. The next thing I know I’m at 25mph in the thick of it and peaches are going everywhere. Even though I knew it was a lost cause, I came up on power hoping to salvage something, anything from this debacle. But my Cuisinart® sounding engine with tree branches going through it’s prop was telling me that no such luck was to be had now. Clipping the top of the first tree set me up beautifully for a bullseye shot into the second, and an air shot thereafter which had me almost into a third. To say PPG was truly a personal sport for me after this is an understatement.

In the “post mortem” so to speak I was surprised to find myself standing up when emerging from all of it; I actually landed just about on my feet and was quick to recover. Naturally the soft dirt helped with the impact but I attribute the rest to one of PPG’s biggest built in safety features: You can make your wing become a drag chute almost instantaneously. You see, just after momentarily coming up on power, I let off the power and went to full toggles which immediately transformed 40 feet of wing into 40 feet of instant braking. As it was with PPG’s low cruising speeds anyway, just after emerging from the second tree I was able to come to a complete stop and land almost completely on my feet. After a post flight inspection of pilot and gear, I was further surprised that with the exception of ego and a small prop nick, there was no damage.

…Even though I knew it was a lost cause, I came up on power hoping to salvage something, anything from this debacle. But my Cuisinart® sounding engine with tree branches going through it’s prop was telling me that no such luck was to be had now.

Now, all this would have been a lot worse had this been a mature grove with established trees, but had that been the case I wouldn’t have accepted that tradeoff in return. Falling out of tall trees never ends up in favor of the person doing the falling. Nevertheless, we’re constantly accessing risks in this sport and although I decided to take one that came back to bite me with young, smaller trees, the lesson was still pounded deep into my skull: Intermediate syndrome is real and it was the culprit here. Consequently, I look at my PPG flying much more objectively now, and although I’ve got a 100% incident/accident free experience flying passenger airplanes in my other life, in this one the only person I’m responsible for is me. As such, I feel this is probably why I missed the clues that I was falling into this trap.

By the way in my other life we call it complacency and not surprisingly, there is a mountain of literature on it.

Christopher Pine is a commercial airline pilot, FAA flight instructor, powered paragliding pilot, photographer, and blogger. You can see his aerial photography at www.FeatherLIGHTPPG.Com. He also produces a weekly podcast about powered paragliding at www.ParamotorRadio.Com