Ask these questions before starting any training program. Your life may depend on it. Training and the first few flights are risk intensive. See how your school stacks up. There are recommended practices that come from watching the accidents over many years and talking with many, many instructors about where accidents happen and how to prevent them.
Do they emphasize best practices during training?
The questions below help establish that they do. That means getting sufficient time handling the wing before first flight, simulator training, good comms, low-risk (like tandem, tow, or low hill) flights before first solo and other things. If they’re more about price or convenience than best practices, be leery.
Do they use a thorough, industry-recognized syllabus?
‘Winging it’ doesn’t pass muster—serious omissions are too easily made. The USPPA/USUA now has a well-recognized syllabus that was developed with input from many leading instructors. There is just no reason why important material should be left out. Make sure that your instructor uses this Syllabus. And just because they’re certified doesn’t mean they use it. Ask.
If an instructor pooh pooh’s the syllabus, you’re on your as to whether all the material and skills are covered. Humans don’t do well at “just remembering” all they need to. That’s why checklists and syllabi underpin all aviation training. Don’t shortchange yourself.
Are they listed with the USPPA or other respected training org?
Do they care enough to avail themselves to a respected program? Do they follow its practices? This should be considered a minimum. There’s more: read on.
Sadly, it’s possible to get certified and not use the techniques recommended. Hopefully the organization becomes more discriminating and whittles out those instructors who don’t use best practices. We see accidents when they don’t. It would be better for the org to have fewer instructors that adhere to things like making sure students get tandem flights before going solo, and that they learn certain minimums on those flights before being allowed to solo. But that’s not reality so it’s still up to you to ask.
Will you get some form of dual flight training before your first solo?
History shows that a few students will react adversely on their first time aloft. There have been fatalities because of it. Students, especially those who have never soloed any aircraft, should get some kind of dual in-flight instruction before going it alone with a motor. The best bet is a powered paraglider tandem but even a dual flight in a powered parachute, where you have to control something, is better than nothing.
Low tows or hill training are a satisfactory substitute but *MUST* be done by qualified instructors. Towing is extremely risky—make sure the instructor is tow rated (by USHPA or USPPA/USUA) before letting them tow you.
Tandem flights, especially if allowed on wheels but your country’s current regulation (see Status of Tandem Paramotor in the US).
Will you rehearse emergencies before flying?
Live rehearsal in the simulator is a critical preflight learning drill.
The instructor first teaches the situations and responses then has you to perform them in a simulator. Once you are doing them correctly, he should have you perform them while being distracted. The distraction can be shaking the cage or running the motor but it must be as realistic as possible. Having correct and automatic responses to emergencies is the only way you can expect to handle them.
Discussing emergencies that require an immediate reaction is not enough. You can talk about them ad-nauseum but, without rehearsal, reactions will not be dependable. The airlines, the military and even general aviation has realize this and adjusted their training with extremely good results. We’re lucky in that our simulation is so simple—it doesn’t cost anything, either.
Getting in the seat, parachutal stall, reserve toss, collapse, snagged throttle cable, power loss after liftoff, brake line failure and other actions must be rehearsed, preferably with distractions.
The reason that distractions are important is because there will be so many new sensations that your responses must be automatic. Students who have casually demonstrated actions, even in the simulator, have gotten them wrong in flight, causing a crash. Those who learn them with distractions perform far more reliably.
Ensuring the reactions are automatic in this way will dramatically improve your odds of a correct response. Distraction can be as simple as having the instructor shake the cage while requiring you to respond to his emergency callouts. Some schools may do this later in your training (even after your first flight) but they should certainly do it before you leave lest you be ill-prepared to handle them.
Did your instructor teach you about air law and airspace?
There is now absolutely no excuse for skipping this area since every student can have this book and go over questions with their instructor. And you should be clear on YOUR local flying area, too.
Make sure you know it’s legal to fly where you’ll be flying. As good as the book may be, the instructor must bring it to life.
Did/Does your instructor have the tools?
The basics are a good simulator, a practice throttle to use while kiting later, quality helmets with audio, good communications, whiteboard someplace to do classroom work. Great instruction can come from a mobile instructor out the back of a truck if he has the right tools.
A simulator is a must. It should allow the student to practice getting into the seat and pulling on brakes while working the throttle and responding to commands. Ideally, it will allow safely running the motor and will have risers to rehearse emergency steering methods.
Some instructors have wisely put two radios on their students so as to decrease the chance of failure. They, of course, also have two radios available. This can be done with a regular radio helmet and then also having the student use an earbud plugged into another radio. A better arrangement is where both radios can be plugged into the helmet but that requires a special helmet.
Is the training field adequate?
Flying into trees and power lines has proven fatal for pilots on their first few flights. The smaller, more obstructed the field, the bigger the risk. Wide open airports can be good because they are wide open areas but mitigation methods must be in plane to avoid airplanes.
Do they provide or require quality training materials?
Obviously information is what we are all about. Did he recommend the PPG Bible and Risk & Reward (R&R) or appropriate materials for your country? Materials must include relevant airspace and laws for your country. There are indeed other great training materials out there but none that concentrate so specifically on powered paragliding.
How do they treat other instructors or brands?
Bashing others can reveal a destructive ego. Bashing other brands suggests a lack of honesty.
History has shown that, with few exceptions, training success has almost nothing to do with what gear is chosen as long as the instructor knows how to teach on it. There are motors I really dislike but students have thrived *IF* they get high quality instruction on them.
Does he stock parts and support your motor?
If you will struggle to get parts or advice expect ownership to be problematic. Two stroke paramotors extract immense power from little weight. That’s a formula for maintenance aggravation that reality has laid bare. Paramotors break with unfortunate consistency, you’ll want help to be available. This is more of a concern with less common machines.
Other Questions for prospective Instructors
- How many training hours does the student get before the program ends or you leave town?
- What does the student do while waiting for you to return to provide more training?
- Do they provide legal training materials (DVD’s or books) to students? Distributing copied materials is stealing.
- Do they follow the regulations as listed by Federal Aviation Regulations part 103?
- Do they encourage the logging of incidents on the www.USPPA.org database?