See also “Free Training In 50 States: Kurt Fister

It’s well established that skimping on training is a bad trade, especially the “Free Training” offers. Some may succeed but many more fail afterwards due to frustration, equipment damage or injury. But any training involves extra risk as evidenced by the fatal accident data. Several accidents bear this out including one that apparently just happened in Canada although we don’t know much. The accident presumably happened just before medical help was called at 0930 and sunrise is 0444am. He was apparently in radio contact with his instructor who was on the ground.

1. Loss of control

The number one cause of calamity is loss of control, where the student flies a perfectly good craft into an unforgiving something. Usually it’s related to some kind of oscillation.

A fundamental reason for this may be the nature of our craft: if you pull right brake, your body initially moves a bit left since the roll axis is above your head. An experienced pilot may not even realize it, and the effect is fleeting, but for new pilots, it’s terribly confusing. It’s why oscillations on takeoff or landing are such common causes of crashes for newer pilots even after they’ve left training. The effect is exaggerated on more responsive wings. This is why I strongly suggest that new students and instructors choose very benign handling wings!

One easy way to mitigate this risk New entrants should ask for “school” wings–models that are very benign handling. An even better way to mitigate it is intense ground handling where the student masters wing handling before leaving the ground. This is a good place for stronger wind practice where the pilot can face forward and get to the point where he controls the wing accurately. In a cart this can be done on the ground before lifting off. But all this takes time which is why trying to cram training into too little time (3 days is woefully inadequate) is a bad idea.

Newbies *CAN* learn these things on their own if they have the discipline but history has shown that, once a student leaves the instructor, they’re far more likely to just go flying.

2. Towing.

Towing is a valuable tool. And it seems so benign but, in reality, it can go fatally bad in seconds. Any tow more than about 5 feet high carries a lot of risk. The Turn Around pulley is particularly dangerous since the pilot is moving away from the tow operator, the line is getting shorter and, in an emergency, it’s possible that the instructor may cut the line but it then fouls in the pulley.

3. Getting into the seat.

Any procedure that requires the student to reach down with his hands to get into the seat leaves open the possibility that he will hold the brakes while doing so and stall or spin the wing. On these machines it’s imperative that the student rehearse the action even in the face of distraction. Early flights are nothing but fire hose blasts of distraction speckled with fleeting moments of lucid reaction. If the action is not ingrained, count on doing it wrong.


In many cases these things come from not listening to the instructor who is likely saying “reduce brakes” on the radio. So one thing to rehears is reacting to radio commands. Hopefully your instructor is USPPA tandem rated and can provide you with an initial flight experience. Doing free flight first helps enormously as long as you learn appropriate respect for what the motor adds.

Don’t skimp, listen intently, rehearse until you’re blue in the brain and live to come fly with me sometime.