P1, P2, and P3 Certification Feedback

Having gotten both a P1 and P2 rating for unpowered paragliding, before learning to fly my motor, I can tell you that if I had to do it over again, I would not bother getting ANY unpowered paraglider rating. In a P1 and P2 training program, you don't learn anything that a good PPG instructor can't teach you much more quickly and easily.

Apart from learning the basics of paraglider flight, the P2 rating mostly consists of racking up flight time, and you can do this MUCH more quickly and easily, once you start flying with a motor. With a motor, you can launch from any level piece of ground, and you don't care which way the wind is blowing. By contrast, when flying an unpowered paraglider, you must find a mountain or hill to launch from, and if the wind is blowing the wrong way, you won't be able to fly. Without a motor, you can easily spend many days (or weeks) in both paradriving and parawaiting, trying to get in the required number of flights for your rating. With a motor, you can do the whole thing in a week or two. Also, a lot of the stuff they teach you in the P1 and P2 ratings consists in how to launch your wing from a mountain, and you won't be doing that with a motor. So a lot of the P2 stuff is irrelevant to a motor pilot.

Also, the idea that the P2 rating will teach you to cope with wing collapses, and manage them, simply isn't true. In the P2 rating, they simply show you videos of wing collapses, and the various recovery methods. You can buy these videos yourself, from any supplier of paragliding equipment, and watch them again and again. Then you will have just as much training in dealing with wing collapses, as you would get with a P2 rating.

The truth is, NONE of the paraglider ratings really train you in how to cope with wing collapses. They simply TELL you what to do if you find yourself in a stall, or spin, or tuck. But this sort of "training" is a joke. The only training that really counts is hands-on training, in the air. For this sort of training, you need to attend an Advanced Canopy Maneuvers clinic. They are held regularly in the United States. They are expensive, but you will be towed aloft, over a lake, while wearing a reserve parachute, a radio, and a floatation vest. Then you will deliberately induce various sorts of collapses in your wing, and recover from them, under the radio guidance of an instructor.

Bottom line: if you're not going to go all the way, and become an experienced unpowered paraglider pilot, with a P1, P2 and P3 rating, followed by at least one Canopy Clinic, then don't bother with ANY of the unpowered paraglider ratings. Spend your money on a good PPG instructor who will teach you the basics of flying a powered paraglider. You won't really be trained to handle in-flight canopy collapses, but neither are the unpowered paraglider pilots with their P1 and P2 ratings. Basically, most such pilots just play the odds, knowing that wing collapses are rather unlikely, and that if they do have a collapse, it will most likely fix itself almost immediately On the rare occasion when it doesn't, and somebody gets badly injured, or even killed, we simply remind ourselves that this sport is not without its risks. It's like riding a motorcycle. You can get killed through no fault of your own.

So either spend the time and money to become an experienced unpowered paraglider pilot, with actual training in handling wing collapses, or else stay completely out of the unpowered paraglider world. Otherwise you're just wasting your time and money.

I learned how to fly my PPG without a rating. I did go to Canada, and take a 3 day course covering the theory of paragliding flight, spend a couple days practising launching and kiting, and on the 3rd day do my first flight with a paraglider from a 4680 foot vertical site. I can freely attest that nothing in my previous 15,000 hours compared to stepping off the launch...but after regaining my composure I had almost 25 minutes on my very first flight to play with the wing. I bought a new glider and flew it from the same site, even learned how to pull big ears, then went on to learn to fly my PPG.

I found, and still do that it is far easier to fly my PPG, and I fly motorized far more often. I can go 30 seconds from my shop to fly, or within 10 minutes I have several huge fields to fly from. I can always launch and land into the wind. And I never have to worry if it is blowing over the back. I own (and build) scooter tows, and I wouldn't think twice of training a novice pilot from day one with kiting, then low tows, then moving on to motorized flight. Foot launched flying is a different game.

As a Airline Transport Rated Pilot, I am well aware that what you don't know can kill you, so I went back after about 50 hours in my PPG to finish off a P2 rating, and recently finished my P3. There are a lot of things I have learned from some super paragliding instructors, and I have flown in conditions I would never choose to fly my PPG in. Flying a paraglider in thermals means seeking out the lift, and hence the turbulence. You end up learning to fly actively and prevent collapses from occurring, and your body responds intuitively to what the wing is doing. I can fly as if the wing is just an extension of my body now, and I rarely look up at it to see what it is doing. Flying at Point of the Mountain taught me a lot about how to handle wind, and ridge soar, and how to turn my glider even faster.

Both sports share the same wing, but the launches are different. A good paraglider launch is an extremely committed bent over, load the glider launch; whereas doing the same in a PPG will cause you to either paste into the ground when you add power, or cause you to run forever without getting airborne. A good PPG launch is more of a Russian folk dance, or gumby run that would cause a paraglider pilot all sorts of grief on launch. In fact I have watched novice pilots as well as experinced pilots learn to motor, and I think the novices have it a lot easier, since they don't have to unlearn a conditioned launch technique.

Do I think you NEED to get a paraglider rating to fly a motor? Absolutely not. But I think it is a wise thing to do because there are things you can learn from paragliding flight that would be really freaky or dangerous to do motorized. When I see somebody do a maneuvers clinic with a motor, I may change my opinion, but I doubt any sane pilot would want to risk loosely draped lines falling around a paramotor frame before the glider re inflated from some wild maneuver.

>Is there a list of instructors who also feel no need for the P1/P2 rating for PPG training ?

I haven't spoken to any of these guys for awhile about their training procedures, but I believe that all of them would be willing to train you without requiring that you first get a P1/P2 rating:

Hugh Murphy, San Luis Obispo, California. (trained me)

Alan Chuculate, San Diego, California.

Check DeSantis, Florida.

Eric Marzewski, Maryland.

>The instructors I've spoken with have indicated that they would not train motorized flight first. They could train me in PPG after P1 & P2 if I desired.

My guess is that these instructors are not full-time PPG instructors. They are probably only part-time PPG instructors who spend the majority of their time training unpowered paragliding pilots, and are therefore a bit biased toward the P1/P2 ratings.

In other words, they're still doing things the old-fashioned way.

It's important to know where the whole idea of P1/P2 training, for PPG pilots, originally came from. At one time, it was just about the ONLY way to get proper training before learning to fly the motor.

When PPG first got started, it attracted a LOT of fly-by-night operators who only wanted to sell you the gear, then take the money and run. They would claim to be able to teach you to PPG in only a weekend! The unfortunate students who "graduated" from these "academies" frequently ended up, back home, too scared to attempt to fly, once they finally realized that they didn't really know how to fly a paraglider. As a result, the sport of PPG got a pretty bad reputation. Eventually, people realized that in order to fly a powered paraglider, you first had to know how to fly a paraglider WITHOUT a motor. Fortunately, good instruction in flying unpowered paragliders was readily available (thanks to the United States Hang Gliding Association). So wanna-be PPG pilots got into the habit of first getting a P2 rating (which taught them how to fly the glider), then adding a day or two of motor training from a PPG instructor. The PPG instructors liked this arrangement, since it meant that they didn't have to spend time teaching the newbie how to fly the damn wing, but could concentrate instead of teaching him to fly the motor (sort of like teaching people how to drive on interstates, after someone else has taught them how to drive).

The only drawback to this route, is that it's inefficient, and unnecessarily expensive in terms of time and money. The basics of learning to fly a paraglider are very easy to learn (a few days of towing, or trudging up and down the training hill). Unfortunately, as Stewart Caruk has pointed out, launching a PPG is very different from launching an unpowered paraglider off a mountain. In unpowered paragliding, they teach you just enough to get you off the side of the mountain without killing yourself (hopefully). This level of training is UTTERLY insufficient for powered paragliding. In PPG, ground handling of your wing is EVERYTHING.

The skills for actual flying are rather insignificant, by comparison. When I got my P2 rating, I spent a couple of hours learning to kite my wing on the ground. Then when I cracked up on my first powered takeoff attempt, and shattered my $400 propeller, I realized that I needed an instructor who could teach me how to ground handle my wing. When Hugh Murphy taught me to fly PPG, I spent an entire WEEK on the beach, in the smooth ocean breeze, just learning to kite my wing, and ground handle it. Once I had thoroughly mastered my ground handling skills, adding the motor was a piece of cake. I got my P2 rating before I learned to fly the motor, so I know, firsthand, what it's like. It took me about five months to get my P2 rating. My flying buddy, Mike, skipped the P2 rating, and learned how to fly his wing off some sand dunes under the tutelage of Hugh Murphy. Mike learned to ground handle his wing, then one week later he added the engine and started flying. It took him only two weeks (and a lot less money) to reach my level of experience, and now he's just as good a pilot as I am (and he didn't fall down and crack his ribs, trying to take off from the side of a rocky mountain, like I did).

If you just want to learn the basics of flying a PPG, you don't need a P2 rating. In fact, it's probably a hindrance. As Stuart Caruk has pointed out, you'll probably pick up some bad habits that you'll have to unlearn after you start to fly the motor. On the other hand, I applaud anyone who wants to become an EXPERIENCED, EXPERT paraglider pilot before learning to fly the motor. Get your P1, P2, and P3 ratings, and attend some good Advanced Canopy clinics to get some hands on experience in dealing with canopy collapses and other in-flight emergencies. Then you'll be one hell of a PPG pilot, and you'll be trained to handle just about anything that the sky might throw at you.

Just don't think that you can achieve this with a lowly P2 rating. Because you can't.

This page was last modified on Sunday, March 12, 2006.