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Single Surface Thermal Training Course

At Sébastien’s request, I coached a thermalling course at his Carpe Diem school at the end of May. Sébastien specializes in training pilots for single-surface flying. He now has 3 years’ experience of this innovative approach. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a complete discovery: the machine, the pilots, the teaching approach – only the environment remains the same.

The intervention framework

At first sight, I was intrigued, piqued by curiosity, by this proposed intervention: is the single-surface thermal course the association of two antinomic words, an oxymoron of modern free flight? How can the principles of Aquilae – Performance Paragliding Academy be applied to this type of practice?

Over the course of the week, we coached pilots who shared many of the same characteristics:

  • Lovers of nature and mountain walking, even mountaineering and ski touring.
  • Pilots with regular, all-season flying experience, and an overall flight volume of between 50 and 100 short flights.
  • Occasionally unconvincing first experiences in double-surface flying, either due to the equipment or the teaching methods encountered.
  • Pilots intrigued, sometimes worried, by the turbulence sometimes encountered during their descent under canopy, and curious to better understand this active aerology, or even interested in trying to exploit it when possible.

Before giving any advice or opinion, I get up in the air and do the range of exercises we’d put on the teaching program. To be honest, my first sensations are strange. A victim of my habits and experience, I feel a lot of information transmitted by the wing and a lot of movement above my head. My mind has to come to terms with this unaccustomed behavior. Once I’ve got over this hurdle, I appreciate the tool and its qualities much better.

The single-surfaces move, but in limited amplitudes. On take-off, the wing climbs quickly even with low power, but rarely overshoots. In the air, it behaves in the same way, with a fierce determination to stay taut above the pilot. However, the trainees don’t have to worry about this: they’ve been bottle-fed this way and are in their element. My first conclusion from a pedagogical point of view is twofold: the single-surface is a tool that enables quicker access to the activity, and it’s a safe piece of equipment for both trainees and instructors.

Lessons taught

We introduce our pilots to the sites of Planfait, Montmin, Marlens, Entrevernes and Aiguebelette. I accumulate around ten hours of flight guidance over five days. And our trainees all understand, at their own pace, the keys to thermalling. Although the roll in the harness is limited, you can initiate the turn a few seconds after entering the lift, with a barely necessary correction in pitch to place the wing overhead. The control input must be fine-tuned to avoid degrading the turn by taking on too much angle. The outside control is useful for managing the speed of the turn, often by releasing it. The impression of a short, efficient turn is very pleasant. Even without vario, thermodynamic exploitation of the terrain at a reasonable distance is easy.

With this single-surface thermal course, pilots leave with new theoretical and practical tools for managing this notorious turbulence, and with a few projects in mind for making good use of it in the future. Because these pilots are well-trained, and single-engine thermaling is a wonderful discovery that works!

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