The World of Thermal & Cross Country Flying beckons you & me

Only few are blessed with the ability of seeing the invisible & we as Paragliding pilots are among those lucky few who ride & surf on the invisible. We are also blessed to soak in the stunning landscapes of earth’s beauty with a bird’s eye view. These feelings become very evident and profound when we enter the world of Thermal and Cross Country flying.

Visualizing the shape and size of a thermal, expecting it to be at a particular place and then actually finding it there – is a fun riddle to solve. Once you are in this energy field, the skyward pull of a glider is a revelation initially & the pilot feels reassured and safe in it.

Like an artist, every pilot is trying to be as smooth and subtle as possible to carve efficient turns in this uprising force so that great heights are achieved and then the quest of moving on starts, to find another source of this energy. This was the main essence of our courses in Bir and all the pilots got the taste of this feeling. This taste only gets yummier as you fly more n more…

Paragliding pilots across the world mark their presence in Bir in the month of October, every year. All the hotels are completely booked during this time and so is take off and the house thermals.

Flying at a new place, that too in traffic, with an international community has been a step up for our pilots and have certainly increased their piloting skill level, their confidence and maturity towards becoming an autonomous pilot.

Another important aspect I would like to highlight here is the take offs of our pilots. Having learned and done most of their flying in Kamshet, our pilots lack skills of confident forward launches. But it just took us a couple of ground handling sessions to really crack the technique and everyone was managing their take offs autonomously, beautifully and safely.

Just like in Batch 1, the batch 2 also had mixed skill set of pilots. Some pilots were doing their third Thermalling/XC Course and clocking on an average 3 hrs of Airtime & 25 kms+ distance almost everyday.

This time around, weather in Bir was a bit unusual. The monsoon humidity had not really got wiped out yet and still was a part of the atmosphere, so everyone had their own share of encounter with clouds.

From the start one learns to fly, the desirability & fascination of the clouds is always present within. But we as Instructors had to intervene the pilots (from their dreamland) to remind them that the relationship with the clouds is like a bittersweet symphony. From outside they look so attractive and dreamy but even a 3-5 seconds of white-out in the cloud, gives you a reality check. The main idea is, that the pilot must have the knowledge to the types of clouds and must know how to get the advantage of the clouds to climb faster.

Knowing “the rule of 45 degrees” was key to our pilots to keep them safe. Another factor which our pilots dealt with very confidently was “Traffic”. We got them to get used to flying in close proximity by keeping a sharp look out around & be aware of their own trajectory at all times. One thing we got to be proud of was the maturity shown by our pilots to fly in the ‘gaggles’.

The weather in Bir this time was perfect for practicing thermalling unlike last year. Last year, it was extremely easy and within 5-6 turns, our pilots used to reach 2700m (400 m altitude gain above take off). Such conditions can easily give false confidence to a pilot but good that wasn’t the case this time around. As Avi usually says, if he was to design a day to practise thermalling, he would tune thermal strength of 1-3 m/s (not very strong & not very weak), consistent (thermal columns), less turbulent (which helps pilots to build confidence on their wing and their piloting) and even if they fall out of it, they should be able to go back in easily without having a fear of bombing out early.

Bir offers this setup and hence one of the best places in the world to master Thermalling Skills & Cross Country Flying.

Briefing session

By the end of the course, pilots could understand and implement concepts discussed in theory sessions and were rewarded with 3 hours flights on the last day without much of a radio guidance.

Thermalling Concepts – (Some of these concepts are mentioned in Kelly Farina’s book Mastering Paragliding)

1. Golden rule – flying as smoothly as possible

2. Carving turns

3. 16 secs 360 turns

4. Opening and closing turns

5. 180 degree and quadrant technique of Mapping

6. Coring or Centering

7. Doing Active piloting throughout and keeping the weight shift constant in a turn.

8.Thermal Traps.

9. Thermal Safety and Etiquette .

10. Thermal indicators and so on…

But this is not the end of it, this is just the beginning. I have never met a pilot who says, I KNOW thermalling inside out & if somebody says this to you, know that they are bluffing. One cannot master this skill completely but can only get better with time and there will always be a scope of improvement. This awareness keeps us humble and focused on improvement & hence increases our safety threshold.

90% of the pilots in the course were using their own gear and all them have already done their SIV course in Bilaspur with us. We could now clearly see that they developed real connection with the glider, the bond (Tsaheylu) is now being created just like in Movie Avatar.. Everyone is now excited to fly more, learn more and move towards doing Epic Cross Country flights….

We congratulate all the pilots who were part of the courses and all of them have attained the ‘APPI Thermallng’ Certification Validation in the system. That’s another big step taken towards becoming an autonomous APPI 5 Advanced Pilot ! Well done all pilots !

XC Pilots


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