I’ve never written a blog before…but like everything there’s always a first time so here goes….
I’ve always got a buzz from anything aviation related, which explained my career path and life before my life changing situation. I served in the RAF and was a keen skydiver, so much so that when I left I had planned to try and make a living from it. But after an accident at work and some very poor medical treatment, I was left with permanent nerve damage to my spine, limited mobility, no career and worse……. no more jumping!!! This all impacted my mental health quit a bit (I’m not after sympathy… if I wanted that I know its in the dictionary between shit and syphilis). I knew I needed something to turn it around, and I knew aviation was the ticket… but what??? A pilots license was out of my reach due to the cost. Paramotoring was out as I couldn’t carry the motor, and at the time if you attached wheels you where then classed as a microlight! Then I heard that the CAA had relaxed the regulations, so I started searching for a school that could teach me to fly a trike, but I had no luck until I got hold of Simon Westmore at ParamotorTraining… “I don’t know how we’ll do it, but we will get you flying”. I booked there and then.
I started training on 20th May 2019 at Membury Airfield. Simon introduced me to Colin and a Dudek wing. After pointing out the differences between a parachute (which I was used to) and a reflex wing, Colin then demonstrated how “build the wall” getting the wing to rise off the ground so that the trailing edge was just off the ground so that you can check for any damage prior to flying. Then it was my turn and after an hour or so I nailed it. Next we moved onto kiting the wing, getting it to fly into the overhead position so that you get to feel how the wing feels when it’s fully inflated and ready to fly. This was where the fun started, I’d never needed to use my wheelchairs seatbelt before… up came the wing and a gust of wind pulled me out of my chair!!!! To any onlookers it must of looked like a miracle!!! Once I’d stopped laughing it was time for another go this time with seatbelt fastened… Always remember health and safety isn’t a dirty word! 2nd attempt went better and I got the wing up for a few seconds at least. Colin then taught me how to control the wing by using gentle movements of the risers so that the wing stays stationary and under control, explaining that by practicing this you get to feel how the wing reacts to small inputs. The next day was spent practicing kiting until Colin felt I was able to control the wing enough before moving on to the next lesson.
Next lesson was learning forward launching. Colin and Simon had to push me in my wheelchair, which is no easy feat over a grass field, fast enough for me to be able to launch the wing. The rest of the day was spent with me being pushed up and down the field in my wheelchair controlling the wing under “power”. It’s lucky this sport is filled with people that are willing to lend a hand. Everyone on the field took turns pushing me and I’ll always be grateful for everyone’s enthusiasm. Once again when Colin was happy with my progress I was ready for powered taxiing.
Now the fun was going to get better!!! Another amazing act of kindness took me by surprise. A previous Student had heard that I was taking lessons, and had delivered a surprise for me. There, sat on the field waiting for me was a rather sexy Lowboy quad. I was gobsmacked that someone whom I’d never met was prepared to loan me an expensive bit of kit, but it just reinforced what I’d learned over the previous few days that the paramotoring community was full of amazing people that will bend over backwards to help out in any way.
Colin handed me back to Simon for the next phase of my training. He showed me around the quad and taught me the importance of pre-flight checks. Then it was time to strap in!!! we took the quad to a quiet corner of the field so that I could drive it around for a bit to get used to driving it before attaching the wing. So with straps secure, helmet on, I started the engine for the first time…queue cheesy grin!!!
After about 20 mins of fun Simon asked if I felt ready to add the wing. So after another important briefing about making sure the wing and lines were laid out correctly, I clipped on the wing, settled into the seat and strapped in again. Helmet on, “clear prop!” and I started the motor. I took hold of the brakes and engaged the A-lines and slowly added the power. The quad moved forward, the wing came up and I was taxiing on my own and it felt great! I only managed about 20 meters before the wind shifted and the wing dropped to the left. Remembering the “brief” I cut the engine. Simon ran over to check I was ok. I was that excited I’d forgot to steer!!! The rest of the day was spent doing more taxiing under power with mixed results, some good runs and some fails but it’s all a good learning curve. At the end of the day Simon sat down with me and we had a chat about where I’d gone wrong. “Relax” he told me, stop over thinking things. The next day I took his advice and it all started to come together. I had some great runs with everything looking good, including my first “unofficial launch” a nice little bunny hop, I hadn’t even noticed I’d left terra firmament all be it for a second.
Unfortunately the next few weeks the wind wasn’t playing, and before I knew it June had passed and we were into July. Even though the wind and weather were preventing progress there were other things to learn. Basic meteorology and circuit planning are just as important. July 5th I arrived for another days training. Another few taxiing runs and Simon asked how I was feeling. “yea good mate” I replied. “Do you want to go flying”. My day had come. I sat strapped in, radio on, helmet on, wing clipped on and engine on. Was I ready, the nerves kicked in, then I remembered Simon’s advice “Relax” All clear ahead, power on, looking up for wing and I’m rolling forward accelerating. The next thing I’m flying!!! I’ve done it I’m up. Remembering my pre flight briefing, right turn and fly west to the top of the airfield and have a little play. Some turns left and right always keeping an eye out for other traffic. All the time Simon was talking to me over the radio. “Time to rejoin the circuit Mike” before I knew it I was on the base leg, remembering not to fly over Membury services. “check the wind sock mike” ah winds shifted a few degrees. No problem a little extra turn and I’m into wind, landing spots clear, off the throttle. A nice gentle approach until about ten feet, looking ahead and gently add the brakes. Touch down , engine off and I roll to a stop. Queue the big cheesy grin!!!