The author, Avi Malik, is an ex-IAF fighter pilot and the founder of Temple Pilots, an international flight training school. He is a Qualified and Certified Tandem Instructor, Acro Trainer, XC (Cross Country) Instructor and SIV Instructor, making him one of the most qualified in the country. He is also among the first in India to get their FAI (Federation Aeronotique Internationale) Paragliding Sporting License.
8 January 2019: Flying is humanity’s oldest dream. And paragliding is that dream come true for me. As a recreational as well as competitive adventure sport, there are over a million hobby pilots worldwide enjoying flying in the most exotic of locales on the planet. It truly is amazing for me how you can fit a real aircraft in a backpack, carry it to the top of a hill, soar in the sky for hours together, land next to your car and drive back home with a smile on your face.It truly symbolises our deepest urge for freedom and joy in its purest form. Even after 20 years of flying paragliders, the serene delight of floating thousands of feet over a splendid landscape still inspires wonder and amazement in me.
But let’s go back to the basics first. A paraglider is a lightweight, foot-launched glider aircraft with a flexible wing. The pilot sits comfortably in a harness suspended below a wing made of nylon polyester fabric. The wing’s shape is maintained by the suspension lines, static pressure inside the cell openings and the aerodynamic forces over its surface.
This sport, like all others, comes with its share of history. Paragliders have evolved from parachutes. Improved parachute designs led to cut outs at the rear and sides that enabled them to be towed into the air and steered, leading to Parasailing or Parascending, which is pretty different from paragliding. In the 1960’s, the famous Ram-Air Design was invented. A decade later, a group of enthusiasts started towing Ram-Air Parachutes and three French friends started inflating them, running down a slope and gliding down to the fields below. As the equipment continued to improve, number of paragliding pilots and established sites continued to increase. The first officially sanctioned FAI World Paragliding Championship was held in Kössen, Austria, in 1989. Since then, glider design and technology have come a long way, and so have the worldwide training standards. There are national and international associations that regulate and promote the sport. Safety standards have gone up substantially risk reduced to a great degree.
There are two basic disciplines of the sport: Cross Country (XC) flying where pilots aim to find thermals and cover long distances and Acro Flying where pilots gain maximum altitude to do aerobatic tricks with their wings. Most pilots choose one over the other, though there are many who choose to enjoy both.
In India, paragliding first took roots in the hill station town of Manali when the first European paragliding enthusiasts began travelling abroad with their coloured wings in the early 90’s. They taught the basics to locals, who then started flying tourists on tandem gliders (two seater wings). Initially, the sport didn’t grow beyong just small tandem rides in the Solang Valley and a few local solo pilots.
I started my flying in Manali too. I learnt the basic techniques and backed with my aviation background, took to advance flying as a natural progression. I would travel to different valleys, find a launch & soar for hours over the spectacular Himalayan ranges.
India is a country which is designed for paragliding. The weather and the landscapes here offer a huge variety of flying and a long season to pursue it as a hobby. The Himalayas in the north, the Deccan plateau, the Eastern and the Western Ghats, all have a huge potential for the sport to grow in our country. With the culture of adventure sports slowly picking up, I can’t wait to gradually see more Indian pilots in the Indian skies!
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