Paramotors are really simple aircraft, and paramotoring is often touted as one of the safest forms of aviation. This simplicity makes paramotors very easy to fly, and because of this there's often a strong temptation for beginners to self train. But is self training safe? And can you teach yourself to paramotor without the help of an instructor?
Self training is a touchy subject. Many pilots will tell you that it's dangerous, and that instructors are essential, others will tell you that you should save your money and learn by reading books and watching videos, so who's right?
Let's look at both arguments, and run through some of the most important parts of training to find out if you can teach yourself, or if you should get a qualified instructor to guide you through it.
Why do pilots teach themselves to paramotor
Thousands of pilots have successfully taught themselves to paramotor, there's even a Facebook group with thousands of members, created by self trained pilots, to help self training pilots to get off the ground.
Pilots choose to self train for many reasons:
1. Training is too expensive
Training is expensive, and usually costs from $1000 to $2000 depending on your chosen school. Many people see this as a rip off, and they decide that it isn't worth paying this much when others are successfully self training for free.
When you look at what's involved in training, the price really isn't that bad.
- The instructor is paying for the training facility, or rent for the land where training takes place.
- The school should have insurance, so this is also factored into the price.
- You will be using expensive equipment, that also costs money to run and maintain.
- Instructors need to pay the bills too, and training usually takes 5-7 days.
2. "Someone flew for the first time! Who taught that person?"
One of the biggest arguments you hear in favour of self training is that there had to be a first paramotor flight, and that the pilot must have taught himself to fly it.
If this person did it, are many others are doing it, then why shouldn't you?
This is a silly argument, and it can be applied to almost anything. There had to be a first space shuttle flight, but would you happily teach yourself how to fly it? Unless you're crazy then your answer is obviously no.
The space shuttle pilots had previous flying experience, just like the first paramotor pilot. The first paramotor pilot had countless hours flying paragliders, and the first paragliding pilot was a parachute designer for NASA, and undoubtedly had completed many parachute jumps.
So with this in mind, the first ever paramotor pilot certainly wasn't a newbie with no flying experience like many people think. He was an experienced paragliding pilot who already knew how to handle the wing perfectly from launch to landing.
3. There are no schools close by
Many pilots really want to learn to fly, but the closest school may be hundreds of miles away. This makes training even more expensive when you add on the travel and accommodation costs.
It may also be hard for people to get the time off work to travel to the closest school, so the only option they have left is self training.
If this sounds like you, you may be surprised to learn that many instructors will actually travel to you, so it's worth ringing a few schools to discuss your options.
Can you teach yourself to paramotor?
Yes you can teach yourself to paramotor, but that doesn't mean that you should! Although thousands of people have successfully taught themselves to paramotor, many others have been seriously injured while self training.
Flying is unforgiving of mistakes, and from the moment you start the paramotor to the moment you land, there's hundreds of different things that could potentially go wrong.
Paramotoring has been around for over 40 years, so good instructors will be relaying information learned from thousands of pilots over that time span. When you self train you miss out on heaps of useful information, tips, and knowledge.
Another thing to note is that just because many self trained people are achieving flight, it doesn't mean they are competent pilots. There's a lot more to paramotoring than just taking off for a 30 minute flight and then landing. I've flown with self taught pilots, and I can usually tell the difference before they even mention it.
What about learning from books and videos?
You can learn a lot from books and videos, and you'll probably learn a lot of things that your instructor will miss.
When I wrote my paramotor pilot's book of knowledge I added heaps of valuable information that I wasn't taught during training. This has helped thousands of pilots to stay safe during and after training, but I still recommend that all pilots find a good instructor and use the information alongside their training.
The same goes for video, it's a great tool for learning about certain skills required for paramotoring. But watching somebody else do it is a heck of a lot different than actually doing it and experiencing it for yourself. Remember, things always look easier than they actually are for a beginner, especially when they're performed by experienced pilots.
But with that being said, there are certain parts of paramotoring that you can actually teach yourself. This way you may be able to reduce the price of your training, or spend the time you have with the school taking more flights.
Ground handling is super important, and instructors know that if your ground handling isn't on point then you're highly likely to injure yourself, or break their expensive equipment.
This is why you'll spend the first couple of days of training learning and perfecting your ground handling and launches.
You can teach yourself ground handling, but it will certainly take you longer to learn by yourself. For example, when an instructor is there, he may help you by controlling the brakes while you hold onto them. This helps you get a feel for the correct movements and pressures to use while kiting.
If you do choose to teach yourself ground handling, it's important to follow all of the tips in THIS POST to keep yourself safe from injury. The post also contains 2 very good videos that will teach you the basics of ground handling and launching.
All good paramotor courses will include some theory, and most of this can be self taught. Get yourself some good books and go through all of the most important things, which include:
- Theory of flight
- Rules and regulations for ultralights and VFR flight
- Air law
- VFR charts
Learn whatever else you can, and tell the instructor what you've already learned before booking the course. This way your instructor won't be going over the things you already know, and you can move along to the practical stuff much quicker.
What are the dangers of self training
You can learn a lot without an instructor, but there's a few things that are going to be far more dangerous without professional instruction.
Hand towing with a rope is an important part of training. It allows students to become accustomed to the strange sensation of leaving the ground, and it gives them the opportunity to practice flaring for the first time.
This is something that will require the help of three other people. To make this as safe as possible, two experienced people will be on the ropes, while your instructor talks you through what to do over a radio.
There are many dangers involved with this, including something called lockout. If you've ever seen a kite impact the ground on a downward slanted trajectory, this is exactly what happens during a lockout.
The difference when towing a paraglider is that the pilot will be killed or seriously injured if the lockout is allowed to continue until impact.
An instructor is the only person who will recognise the warning signs of a lockout, and know how to stop it, so you need an instructor for this.
Top to bottom flights
An important part of training is top to bottom flights without a paramotor. Again, an instructor needs to be on the radio at all times throughout these initial flights to talk you through exactly what to do, and what control inputs to make.
Many pilots say top to bottom flights are more nerve racking than the first powered flight, simply because this is the first time they've been in control of the aircraft by themselves.
Many things can go wrong, and the weather conditions will need to be perfect, and an instructor will be the only person who can correctly judge this in the beginning.
Paramotoring is very weather dependent, and one of the hardest things for beginners is judging the weather conditions.
With experience you’ll be able to tell if it’s safe to fly just by standing in the field, but in the beginning it’s very difficult to judge the many factors that determine whether it’s flyable.
If the wind gusts are too strong, and you don’t realise before launching, you’ll be in trouble; so an instructor is very important in these early stages.
First solo powered flight
I’ve watched countless pilots take their first solo flights. Some go smoothly, and some are super sketchy.
Some pilots sit immediately on launch, some grab massive amounts of brake and risk stalling the wing, some don’t flare upon landing, and many panic immediately after launching because they don’t like the feeling of quickly climbing into the air.
These were all pilots who’d been through the entire training course before soloing, and they still made mistakes. Luckily they all had an instructor on the radio to help them out when they got into trouble.
Self trained pilots will have nobody to help them, meaning the first flights will be the very dangerous, and some kind of mistake or undesirable situation is highly likely to happen.
What about all of the success stories?
Pilots have successfully taught themselves to Paramotor, and they’re quick to brag about it online. What you don’t hear about is the pilots who made mistakes, these pilots tend to keep quiet.
You can find incident reports on the USPPA website, and many of these mention mistakes made by self trained pilots. This ranges from flying mistakes to maintenance mistakes that lead to serious accidents.
Over the years I’ve also seen more mistakes made by self trained pilots than by those who got proper training. From poor landings and a shredded finger, to a trike pilot who flew into a tree immediately after launching.
So there are success stories, but before you make your decision, realise that people are also hurting themselves because they decided to self teach.
Some of the USPPA reports also mention fatalities, not just minor injuries, so self training is as dangerous as I’m making it sound.
My view on paramotor self training
You can successfully teach yourself to paramotor, and there are many good pilots out there who’ve never taken any training.
There pilots are keen to brag about how easy it was, but it doesn’t always go that way and there are also pilots who failed.
Most pilots, myself included agree that self training is a crazy idea. Paramotoring can be a very safe sport if it’s done right, but it’s very unforgiving to many simple mistakes.
It can go wrong very fast, and training is well known for being the most dangerous time for all pilots. But using a quality instructor will give you the best chance of getting through training without any issues.
But how do you find a quality instructor?
Because there is no standard under which schools operate, and absolutely anybody can offer you training, you need to be very careful when choosing a school.
Just because you found an instructor who's a nice guy that can fly, and can teach others, does not mean he's a competent instructor with the necessary knowledge and experience.
Some research will need to be done by yourself to find out whether the course is worth your money. So find previous students, and check reviews online. Don't just believe reviews on their own website, because they may be fake.
Still thinking of teaching yourself to Paramotor?
If you decide that you still don’t want to pay an instructor to teach you, try finding a mentor.
Paramotoring has a fast growing community of pilots, and it’s likely that there’s someone close by who’ll be willing to help you into the air.
There’s a guy who lives close to me who taught himself to fly, consequently he ended up buying awful equipment and flying into a tree as mentioned earlier. If he’d searched for local pilots and found me, I would have been more than willing to help him.
I think this applies to most ppg pilots, we’re all here to help each other and to share our knowledge. Obviously an instructor is preferred, but if you insist on self training then this is your next best option.
When choosing a mentor, be sure they have plenty of paramotoring experience. Get yourself a radio so that they can talk you through your flights, and take each step of training very slowly.
You’ve heard my views, ultimately the choice is yours. If you are self training or if you have self trained, let me know below. Share your success stories and also your failures and mistakes, this will help pilots who still decide to teach themselves to Paramotor.