paramotor fear nerves anxiety stage fright

Paramotor fear! How to overcome nerves and anxiety when flying

Last updated on February 17th, 2019 at 08:29 pm

Can you overcome a fear of paramotoring, or a fear of flying in general? Many people have walked away from the sport because of fear, but it's definitely possible to overcome it, and today you're going to find out how!

Paramotor fear is something many pilots experience before launching, and even during flight. If you're suffering you'll know the feeling of severe nerves, making excuses not to launch, getting scared of minor turbulence and landing after a five minute flight.

If you have paramotor fear you're definitely not alone. I recently stumbled upon a Facebook post asking for help with this issue where nearly 300 pilots replied with the same problem!

Since learning to fly I've seen multiple people suffering with fear, and the majority of new pilots that I fly with will tell me about various fears during their flights. And guess what? I've experienced fear too!

So in this post we'll discover what people fear the most about paramotoring, how paramotor fear develops, and how to put a stop to the problem.

My experience with paramotor fear

When I decided to start flying paramotors I didn't know what fear was. I'd spent most of my life doing all kinds of extreme sports, and I was no stranger to an adrenaline rush.

I started researching paramotoring and like most people would always end up on YouTube watching crashes and wing collapse videos. And that was my first mistake.

During my training, before my first solo flight I witnessed a pilot drop out of the sky while ridge soaring. And I was told various stories of nasty accidents by my instructors.

By the time it came to my first flight my fears had already been born. Watching YouTube videos of collapses had me scared that the wing would suddenly fold up on me. Seeing the guy drop out of the sky for no apparent reason also added to my fear of a wing collapse, as did the stories I was told.

This all created anxiety based on paramotoring that I had to battle before every flight for the next couple of years.

Although I'd never experienced fear before, I'd experienced anxiety for a long time, so I think I was already more likely to develop paramotor fear. After a long battle I was able to overcome paramotor fear and cure my existing anxiety, so now I'm here to help you guys to get over yours.

How paramotor fear manifests

Paramotor fear can develop for various reasons, and some pilots are developing it after many hours of flying. From my own experiences, from researching, and from talking to other pilots, it basically comes down to three things.

A lack of confidence in our equipment

Think about when I watched endless videos of wing collapses.. This basically scared me and created an irrational fear that took away my trust and confidence in the wing. Other pilots say they find themselves looking at the lines, harness, and the carabiners with a fear that they'll break.

When you go over these irrational fears in your mind you escalate the problem and make the fear even more intense. This creates anxiety that returns before every flight, or if you're unlucky, whenever you think of paramotoring.

A fear of heights

paramotor fear of heights

Another cause is a fear of heights, which seems to be a very popular one. Pilots love the thought of flying a paramotor, but are simply afraid to take off because they're scared of heights.

Fearing the unknown

A fear of the unknown also came up a lot, where pilots expressed worries over flying by themselves without an instructor to guide them. This seems to be worries over judging the weather conditions, taking off / landing with no guidance, and a fear of turbulence.

Irrational paramotoring fears

It seems that the vast majority of pilots have irrational fears when they first begin paramotoring. So let's look at some of those fears and rationalize things for you.

Fear of carabiners breaking

This one comes up a lot and I confess to backing up my carabiners for the first year of flying. But choose a good stainless steel carabiner like the popular austrialpin and you'll never have any worries about failure.

These carabiners will hold 2651 KG which is the weight of a very large car, and guess what? You have two of them, meaning your carabiners will hold over five tons!

Aluminium carabiners have been known to break and fracture, so bare in mind the strength of these can reduce over time. This can happen from something as simple as a scratch. Like I said, choose stainless steel and check them before every flight, and you'll be just fine.

Fear of lines breaking

When I meet people at the field they always comment on how thin the lines are. When you start flying it's easy to look at your lines with apprehension but they are also very strong.

En certified gliders undergo strict line strength testing which includes something called conditioning. During this process they are bent 5000 times back and forth to simulate the effects of normal use. They also undergo a break strength test to determine how much weight they can safely hold. This is called a theoretical load test.

Manufacturers must also put a wing through a physical load test, where wings must pass a shock load test, and a sustained load test. During the sustained load test the manufacturers add a load of 8 times the wing's maximum pilot weight. So if your wing is rated at 120 KG, it's been load tested to 960 KG.

Fear of a wing collapse

A wing collapse is very unlikely if you're flying a modern reflex glider. I've got an whole article on this, where we find out what the chances are of taking a collapse HERE.

Fear of heights

I wouldn't say I have a strong fear of heights, but I would feel uneasy standing on the edge of a tall building. I've been known to get sweaty palms watching videos of people walking along tall bridges and climbing towers, etc. But when I'm flying I never feel any fear of heights.

Speak to any pilot and they will tell you that height isn't an issue when they're flying. You know that you are strapped into your harness and that you can't fall so there is no fear.

Getting to the point of being able to take-off may take some self-persuasion, but I don't think you'll have any problems once you're in the air. By combating the fear and taking your first flight you'll prove to yourself that there is no issue in flight, and your fear should quickly disappear.

Fear of the unknown

Taking your first flight without an instructor will always be nerve racking. You should get to know the weather and different conditions well by going HERE.

Your first few flights should be in a large unobstructed field where taking off and landing will provide no ground hazards. Take them in the smoothest of conditions possible and remember everything you were taught during training.

You'll find lots of helpful articles for beginners on this website, or you can check out the highly recommended Paramotor pilots manual HERE.

Fear of turbulence

This is another one that was mentioned a lot. Just a few small bumps can feel like a lot to a new pilot, I found this out on a recent flight with a friend. He quickly landed just 10 minutes after takeoff and told me he was getting thrown around to much.

There were a few small bumps, but never noticed anything that concerned me during the flight. But I do remember feeling the same about small bumps when I was learning. This goes to show how much your bump tolerance grows as you gain experience.

I suppose this could come down to trusting your wing, you feel unsure because you don't know what the wing can handle. But you'd be really surprised at how much turbulence it can actually manage. I've seen people flying in some seriously rough conditions without any problems, but just because the wing can handle it, I certainly wouldn't recommend it. Stick to the smooth stuff and you'll be fine.

General paramotoring anxiety

Paramotoring is a big shock to the human body. It's unnatural enough for us to be flying, let alone dangling from a fabric wing with only a few clips holding us into the harness.

Working on the previously mentioned irrational fears will help a lot. You can also use some of the tips below to combat the fear.

How to stop crippling anxiety before launch

This section will contain tips suggested by other pilots that have dealt with this problem, and also tips that I used to keep myself in the air. 

Realise that It’s perfectly natural

Your body will do anything to protect itself, anxiety is a natural response that is designed to keep you alive. Humans weren't designed to sit on a lawn chair hundreds of feet in the air with a huge fan stuck to their backs. If you didn't feel any fear then it would probably be a sign that you've lost your mind!

Don't punish yourself by saying things like "I'm not cut out for paramotoring" or "I haven't got the balls for this sport". Realise that the feelings of fear are totally natural to begin with, and give your mind and body time to adjust to this new experience.

I'm not saying you'll never be able to fly without feeling nervous because I think you definitely can, but one pilot noted that his instructor had over 1000 flights and still gets nervous!

Exposure

A great way to overcome any fear is to expose yourself to it even more. If you read the above linked article you'll know that neuroplasticity is something that's happening constantly. By exposing yourself to your fear you'll tell your brain that there is no danger which forces your brain to rewire.

Many pilots say that they went through months and even years of fear, but by forcing themselves to fly at every opportunity they eventually got over it. This method will work but it can take time, pilots with 250+ hours say they're still suffering, but it slowly gets better.

I think this takes a long time simply because we aren't exposed to the problem for long enough. Think about somebody who has a fear of snakes, they can spend two weeks constantly exposed to snakes and their fear will be gone. But two weeks equals 336 hours, clocking this amount of time on a paramotor can take years.

This is basically the route i took, which is why I suffered for so long. If you choose this route expect a long battle, but it will eventually get better.

Distractions

Distractions to take your mind off the fear also work very well. This can be a great technique whilst waiting to go flying or driving to the field. Many pilots experience nervous vomiting or having to run to the toilet etc. By the time they get to the field they're a nervous wreck.

By distracting yourself from the fears of paramotoring you'll find you're more calm when you get to the field, and in flight. The following tips are what I found helped the most.

  • Don't keep checking the wind and weather. If you do this all day long you're mind is constantly on flying, and you're reminded of your fears throughout the day. This is also pointless as the weather is constantly changing. Check the forecast for the times you want to fly and just wait until that time comes to check that it's flyable.
  • Listen to music on your way to the field. Listening to music releases dopamine, the "feel-good" neurochemical. If you feel good, it's much harder to experience fear and anxiety. Play your favourite tracks and sing along, this takes your mind off the fears and is a great distraction.
  • Take a friend or partner with you to fly. As you engage in conversation your mind is taken off the fear. I found this to be one of the best ways to distract myself.

Find a wingman

Something that's helped many pilots is finding a wingman / mentor. Having somebody there that can share their knowledge and let you know when it's safe to fly can help enormously. It takes a lot of the trial and error out of finding the perfect weather conditions and launching into the unknown. It's also the quickest way to quickly develop your skills.

Let somebody else launch first

Seeing somebody else in the air was very reassuring to me when I was beginner. Launching by yourself can be very intimidating when you have limited knowledge and experience. Letting somebody else launch first is a great way to calm the nerves.

Give yourself plenty of time

Leaving travelling to the field until the last minute can stress you out. You'll be in a rush to get there, and when you reach your field you'll want to set up and launch as quickly as possible.

Stress and anxiety trigger the exact same response, so if you trigger stress, anxiety will be more likely.

Trick your brain

A great trick that you can use is to trick your brain into thinking you're exited. This works well because anxiety and excitement produce some of the same feelings and responses. Adrenaline, increased heart rate, shaking, etc

I used this and I noticed another pilot giving out this advice, so when you feel the first signs of nervousness, say something like.. "I'm feeling so exited, I can't wait to go flying today." This tells your brain that the feelings are actually excitement and that there's no danger.

Enjoy the feeling

Part of the problem with paramotor fear is that we're actually expecting to feel anxious every time we fly. We hate getting anxious and we have a fear of the fear. It sounds a little weird, but we actually get anxiety over anxiety! But why do we fear getting anxious? Well it's simply because it doesn't feel nice!

A way to stop paramotor fear fast is to stop worrying about it, and tell yourself you don't care about it. You could even tell yourself you enjoy the feeling of fear and ask the fear to appear. This psychological trick is proven to work and is very powerful, Try it now!

Take some food to the field

Something that will calm you down before a flight is to eat some food and have a drink. This works because your body knows you'd never be eating if there was a threat to your life. The fight or flight response is designed to make you lighter, hence the nervous poo and vomiting. So when you eat a snack at the field you're telling your mind that there is no threat. I've tried this and it works wonders.

Reassure yourself

When you're in the air and it feels a little bumpy, regularly reassure yourself that paramotoring is safe and that you love being in the air. Of course there is a point at which things get dangerous, but good training should teach you what to avoid.

By riding out the bumps you will build what's known as a bump tolerance. Before long you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.

Enjoy the journey

From researching this subject I've discovered that paramotor fear is super common. The sad thing is that some people have actually given up flying because of it. Many of us come into this sport with a lifelong obsession with flying, and to throw it all away because of fear is really upsetting.

Fear serves a purpose to humanity, and by understanding it you realise that it's not actually a bad thing. If you feel overwhelmed by this, realise that it will get better with time. Use the tips in this article, and I guarantee you'll soon see improvements, but it does take time.

If you're still struggling with fear you can also check out the takeoff today program that is designed to help people overcome their fear of flying HERE.

For now trust in your equipment, create a safe routine at the field, and if you're fairly new, research the sport as much as possible. You can start with some great propeller safety information by clicking here.

Comments

  1. G’day Darrell,

    Mark from Australia here!

    I recently caught the paramotor bug and was soon taking lessons.

    All was going quite well until the 4th day of training when another student was being towed up and the weak link gave way causing a surge and collapse at about 30ft.

    There was insufficient height for the glider to sort itself out and the student fell to the ground sustaining very serious injuries and required airlifting to a major hospital.

    Although an extremely rare event, this both scared and scarred me to the point where I left the training and for a few days, was convinced that Paramotoring was not for me for obvious reasons.

    After about 3 days, I was dreaming of flight again and decided that I was willing to press on with my training albeit with a raised level of fear and anxiety that didn’t exist during my first days of training.

    I hope that I can overcome this fear so that I can enjoy my Paramotoring future!

    Regards,
    Mark.

    1. Author

      Hey Mark,

      Seeing something like that is enough to scare the crap out of anybody, especially a beginner! I’m personally not a fan of weak links, bad accidents are rare but I think they cause more problems than they prevent. As the weak link breaks a surge and dive can happen and if the beginner pilot is low and doesn’t counteract the surge with brake an accident is almost unavoidable.

      I think lectures on how to deal with worst case scenarios should be done before any winch towing, or as a beginner avoid the winch altogether and find a good slope or hill instead. Or use hand towing if there’s no hills around.

      Glad to hear you’re sticking with it, a bit of fear is completely normal and since writing this post I’ve met two more pilots dealing with it. Keep pushing through it, the more you fly the better it gets.

      Good luck with the rest of your training!

  2. I have at least my solution!! I just now purchased new parMotor equipment,,.”………..I want to compare the absolute frightening time of my life….. Solo Skydive..I wished that Cessna would crash..my chest/heart as it climbed to altitude were “F**k me’, but it was euphoric ounce I was off that wing , best ever feeling…..BEFORE I take PARAMOTOR lessons in May.Im doing that sick solo again..Re awakening my mind to the worst scenario beforehand..😜,I will embrace this new awesome safe sport !!

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