by John Phillips
These thoughts are directed at those new pilots who are apprehensive about their flying, or those who would like to enter the sport but do not because they are afraid.
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me why I fly a powered paraglider, or if I'm afraid when I fly. Why do I fly a PPG? 'Cause it's fun! Lots of fun. I enjoy every aspect of flying. Being in the air and looking down on the world below me; the beauty of nature and the thrill of being high in the air and free as a bird. I enjoy being in control of myself and in control of my fears. For me, flying is the greatest thing since the invention of peanut butter and root beer.
Believe it or not, I don't like heights. Bet you never thought you'd hear that from someone who is a PPG pilot. Am I afraid when I fly? No. Wait, that doesn't make sense because I just said that I don't like heights. Allow me to explain how this works for me, and once you understand that, you may find a similar answer for yourself.
I hate standing near the edge of a tall building and looking down. The reason I dislike this is because I have no control over the building, and doubt in myself by thinking that I may lose my balance and fall. Put up a guard rail or anchor me with a safety line and I'm fine. Stand me near the edge, by myself, and my stomach goes into acid production overtime while my knees knock themselves to death.
The keyword above was "control". When I fly, I'm in control. I know and understand my equipment and am confident in my own abilities. The being "in control" aspect enhances the fun that I have when I fly and takes the parts of flying that I naturally enjoy (scenery, etc.) and makes them all seem that much better.
To be in control, I must do everything that I can to minimize the risks associated with flying. I know that I cannot completely eliminate them, but I can reduce them to an acceptable or manageable level. How do I do this? Simple, through knowledge. I have learned about my equipment, what it is capable and incapable of. I also have learned my own capabilities and limitations. I have learned and practiced the techniques associated with flying and am now comfortable with myself and my equipment. In short, when I fly, I am in control because I have learned how to be.
There is an old aviation saying that "I'd rather be on the ground and wishing that I was in the air, than to be in the air and wishing that I was on the ground." There is always a potential for an in-flight emergency to occur. By keeping my equipment in good condition and not flying at times or places that good sense dictates that I should not, I reduce the potential for a mishap to occur. I further reduce that potential by practicing my flying skills and exercising good pilot judgment about the way that I fly. I cannot completely eliminate all risk, but I can reduce as much of it as possible. When I'm in control, my fear is under control.
Recently there was a poll question on PoweredParaglider.com that asked people why they don't fly a powered paraglider. Six percent of the respondents cited fear. This got me to thinking. I wonder how many people would take up powered paragliding if they weren't afraid, or how many of us would enjoy it more if we were in control of our fear.
While I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist I have learned a thing or two about fear in my lifetime. Some of what I learned came from very hard and valuable mistakes that I've made in my life and other lessons through the classroom.
There is no doubt about it, PPG pilots are a gutsy bunch. Don't take that wrong. While brave, they are not foolish. They have learned my first rule of fear. "Knowledge Dispels Fear". I didn't make that phrase up, actually I believe it was first said by Teddy Roosevelt, and he was right. The more you know about something the less likely you are to be afraid.
I learned, in a classroom, a long time ago that people are born with only two fears and that anything else you are afraid of you learned along the way during your lifetime.
When you were born you had an instinctive fear of loud noises. Clap your hands loudly while near a new born and they will cry because the noise scared them. Likewise, if you hold a new born head down it will cry out of an instinctive fear of falling. That's it. If you are afraid of spiders, snakes, lightning, heights, bats, or whatever you learned to be afraid of it on your own.
Don't confuse fear with respect. You don't necessarily fear electricity or fire but you should respect it for its potential. Flying a PPG falls into this same category. Don't be afraid of it. Learn all that you can about it and then respect the potential that has.
For me the second rule of fear is, "fear is your friend". Fear often prevents you from doing dumb things. This is good, because if you listen to your instincts while not letting them control you, you'll probably be a lot better off in the long run. I try and avoid situations where I end up saying "I knew better but...". I'm sure we all have a few stories that start with that line. Think about that for a moment. Did you learn anything from those situations? Were you in control when things went wrong? When you think about it you'll probably realize that if you had been in control, or listened to your instincts, the situation would probably have never happened.
What does this have to do with flying? Plenty! As a new or potential PPG pilot you naturally have a lot of questions and apprehension about taking your body high into the air while suspended by some strings and cloth. That fear may prevent you from ever learning to fly or to enjoy your flying a lot less than you could. That's a terrible loss for you, especially when it may not be warranted or can easily be overcome.
Being afraid is something people tend to not talk about as they do not want to be labeled as a coward. Just what you need, using more fear to hide other fears. This is why knowledge becomes so important. Learn about flying a PPG, understand the principles of how the equipment works. Know its capabilities and limitations. As you gain this understanding you will also begin to respect and even build trust in the equipment. Building this confidence will take some time and is not an automatic reaction. Once you achieve this knowledge you'll realize more fun than you ever imagined.
Adrenaline junkies love being on the edge for the rush that they get from the adrenaline pumping through their veins. They always seem to push the envelope and take risks for the sake of achieving this high. This is not your typical PPG pilot. Most are not thrill seekers who recklessly jaunt about in the sky. We are serious sportsman doing what we like to do, and having a lot of fun doing it.
I never knew that the body produced something called endorphins. Heck I'm still not sure what they are. What they do is to help produce a natural feeling of elation that pilots experience while flying. This feeling of elation continues on for some time after the flight has ended. In short, that means how we have fun. Fear blocks the production of these endorphins.
I may never get over my fear of heights but I've learned to not let it get in the way of my having fun while flying. It would be difficult for me to try and explain the good feelings I get from every flight. The self satisfaction at having done something few others will dare do is rewarding all by itself, but that pales in comparison to that natural high that I get from making a flight.
The nice part of this sport is that you can share this feeling with others as it is not solely an individual thing. Fly with a few buddies in the air at the same time. Go on a short cross country trip together or fly formation past the camera. Make spot landings, or whatever. When you are done you will share in the thrill of the experience together. There aren't many legal things you can do that will make you feel this good.
Why am I telling you all this? Simple, flying a powered paraglider is not for everyone. Different strokes for different folks. But for those who would like to fly and don't, or those who fly but are afraid, there is a simple answer. Learn all that you can about flying a PPG. Build confidence in yourself and trust in your equipment. What do you get in return? More fun than anyone should be allowed to have, and the thrill of an experience that 99.999 percent of the rest of the world will never know.