After a lifetime of wanting to fly and months of waiting since deciding to learn, I was finally up at FlyManilla learning to fly a paraglider with 10 other keen wannabe fledglings under Chief Flying Instructor of Godfrey Wenness and two other flying instructors Karl and Bob. Though I’d been looking forward to this for a while and reading as much as I could to prepare, nothing beats being shown the details from years of experience with real equipment that you can touch and try - which is exactly what we were doing on our first day.

I’ve been hanging around the Blackheath launch site for a while with a friend of mine who’s a relatively new pilot of 3 years, getting to know people and even doing a tandem flight with another friend. When I mentioned that I was keen to learn, one of the safety officers there recommended that to fly at an inland flying site like Blackheath you really should do your course inland and one of the best places to learn is Manilla, right here in NSW.

Disclaimer: This is an 8 part series detailing what I learned and experienced recently while undertaking the fantastic paragliding course with the team at FlyManilla. You can find links to the details for each day below. I’m taking notes for my own personal reference and learning while it’s fresh, but it’s totally possible I’ve remembered incorrectly and have made mistakes. These are not notes for others to learn from but may give an interested passer-by who is considering a course a good idea about how valuable the course at Manilla is. If you’re interested in learning to paraglide, I’d totally recommend the course.

Now with over 4 hours in the air and over 30 launches and landings including thermalling and ridge soaring, lots of theory and ground handling to continue learning, a bunch of fellow fledglings to occasionally fly with when we’re at the same site, I now have my PG2 Supervised pilots license. This means I can fly under the supervision of a safety officer when they say it’s safe for my experience. I’m looking forward to buying my wing and joining the local club!

From Harness to Canopy and Forward Launches

Learning to Paraglide Day 1

From Harness to Canopy and Forward Launches

Starting from the harness attachment loops we worked through the correct names for all the parts of a glider through to the canopy while learning how to identify any issues along the way. In the afternoon we similarly detailed our harnesses and putting them on safely before heading to the field to practise forward launches in the evening.

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First flights on the training hill

Learning to Paraglide Day 2

First flights on the training hill

We started early today, heading straight out to the training hill which sits in the morning sun and so has heated air rising for a nice gentle breeze (anabatic flow). We each had an Advance Alpha 6 matching our size (the 6 is the previous model but similar to the current 7). Everyone did pretty well, getting off the ground, learning to flare when landing, as well as doing a little bit of steering. In the afternoon we had a tandem flight where we could take the controls.

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First high flights and learning about emergency situations

Learning to Paraglide Day 4

First high flights and learning about emergency situations

At 8am we were in the basher heading up to the north launch and ready to go! Our first high flights are done with pretty strict supervision: Godfrey checks everything at the top and gets us into the air safely and then hands over on the radio to Karl and Bob who instruct us via radio for our approach and landing. All up the flights were only 6 or 7 minutes, but that’s 6 or 7 minutes being in control of our own wing in the air! It’s still incredible each time at the moment, realising I’m in the air, gliding like a bird down to land (well, a pretty clumsy bird, but still). In the afternoon the wind had picked up and was too strong for us, so it was back to head-quarters to learn about various emergency situations and how best to handle them.

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Reverse launches, wind gradients and turbulence

Learning to Paraglide Day 5

Reverse launches, wind gradients and turbulence

The winds just wouldn’t cooperate today, even for learning reverse launches in the paddock. We all got up ready to go, packed ourselves into the basher 4WD with our gear in the trailer, but didn’t even leave. The winds at the top of the mountain were getting stronger rather than weaker over the previous half-an-hour, so that it was currently gusts of 30km/h or 8m/s. So we came inside to do more theory: this time learning about wind gradients, turbulence and strategies for judging whether you’ll clear obstacles. We did head out to the paddock before lunch to learn reverse launches with Bob, but the wind in the paddock then died down so we couldn’t practise the new skill, so more theory instead. We headed out to the paddock again in the late afternoon when the wind had picked up a bit but again it died off on us and we were left standing there “parawaiting”.

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First big flight and more ground handling

Learning to Paraglide Day 6

First big flight and more ground handling

We started the day at 7:45 heading up the hill in the basher to the North launch at Mt Borah again. After our first flight to the triange paddock we began doing solo flights so that after takeoff, Godfrey hands us over to the landing-site instructors, Karl and Bob, but they only use the radio if necessary. On my last flight for the morning I got to fly with another student all the way from Mt Borah back to the paddock outside the headquarters building! The afternoon saw us doing more reverse inflation ground handling as well as some more theory for landing approaches and handling injuries.

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Morning high flights and sunset sleddies

Learning to Paraglide Day 7

Morning high flights and sunset sleddies

There’s some windy weather headed this way for the weekend, so our aim for the day was to get as much practise in as we could, which is exactly what we did - a day without theory classes! We left around 7:45 as planned to head up to the north launch and got 4 flights in before the wind died, landing in the East paddock. In the evening we managed another 3 flights from the west and south launches, the last one into the sunset!

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Ridge soaring, meteorology and course completion!

Learning to Paraglide Days 8-10

Ridge soaring, meteorology and course completion!

The 8th day of our course was completely blown out weather-wise with no possibility of flying, which is unfortunate as most of us only need to do some ridge soaring hours practising the give-way rules of the air and get more experience doing our reverse launches on our own in varying conditions. On the 9th day some of us were able to do a brief ridge soar after our theory test, but it was only by staying an extra day that I was able to get in the air for a longer period and demonstrate ridge soaring in traffic.

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