It’s Flying With a Parachute and an Enormous Motor Strapped to Your Back. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
We learnt to fly through the air... in Swindon
Did you ever watch the episode of The Simpsons where Homer becomes a boxer and Moe is his trainer? Of course you did, everyone did. At the end of the episode, Homer is about to get knocked out in a huge fight against Mike Tyson, when Moe picks him up and flies out of the stadium as the 'Fan Man'.
When the episode came out. I thought this was pretty cool, strapping a big fan to your back and a parachute above your head and you can fly anywhere. Total freedom... But to 8-year-old me, also totally out of reach.
Well, fast-forward 14 years and I am stepping out my car at a small airfield near Swindon, about to take to the skies.
Over the past few months I have been coming to the airfield in order to be taught how to fly a paramotor.
What is a Paramotor?
Very simply, paramotoring is paragliding without having to get very tired walking up a very big hill.
The Paramotor I was using was a 'Parajet' V3. A top of the range 2 stroke motor, with carbon fibre propellers. This is attached with arm and chest straps like a backpack so that it can be worn correctly.
And as with paragliding there is also a parachute (wing) above you that's purpose is to get, and hopefully keep me off the ground.
How does it work?
Simon, the instructor who owns and runs the training course got me kitted up in a very sexy florescent orange helmet and I was ready to go.
Lined up at one end of the airfield with the motor running and some frankly terrifying last minute panics going through my head, I tried to think about everything I had to do.
With the wing laid out behind me the idea is to run forward, lifting the wing up above you while putting the power on the motor.
" just be careful of the propeller blades spinning just inches from your head"
Once the wing is under control, you put on full power and run as fast as you legs can move before lightly pulling on the toggles, slightly changing your forwards momentum into upwards momentum... and fly. Simple right?
So with all this in my mind I bit the bullet and went for it, I was picking up speed, the wing was perfect and everything was looking pretty textbook.
“This is it, I'm doing it, I'm doing it..." was the last thing I thought before I slipped on an especially wet patch of field and fell, feet over arse into a muddy puddle of disappointment.
After dusting off my pride I was ready for round two. No way was I not going to take off this time. Everything went well again, the wing was up and I was running, fast. My legs struggling to keep up, when suddenly, they didn't have to...
As I heard Simon through the radio congratulating me, I looked down in surprise to see that I was in fact about 150ft above a particularly busy section of the M4.
In my opinion the sensation of paramotor-ing is about as close as humans will ever get to proper flight. Once off the ground, the weight of the motor on your back disappears.
You're on your own amongst the clouds, with nothing to worry about... except of course the carbon fibre propeller blades spinning just inches from your head.
The whole experience is pretty rad, the euphoric feeling you get when your feet leave the ground is not one that I'll forget easily and is definitely one I want to have again.
If you want to find out more about paramotoring or give it a try yourself, there is information and contact details for Simon at paramotortraining.com