I am just back from a SIV course in Annecy, France with a company called Flyeo.
Three of us from the UHPC went out to do a couple of days on a SIV course and a couple of days flying in the Annecy Region. I had a bit of an idea about what I would be in for but I am glad to say that Flyeo exceeded all my expectations. Our instructor was Fabien Blanco who I later found out not only owns Flyeo but trains the French acro paragliding team.
The eight of us on the course started with a relaxed but attention holding general briefing. You are told to take off then fly out over the south end of Lake Annecy where Fab (as he is also happy to be called) will talk you though exercises on the radio from a speed boat on the lake below. Then Fab spoke specifics with each of us about our abilities and where we wanted to take them. My agreed plan was to start with pitch oscillations, braking the last dive. Once we had all been infected with Fab's enthusiasm we set out for the take off at Col de la Forclaz. The wind at take off was non existent but we were soon told that the wind at the landing field was 30 kph (just over 18 mph), so we set off back down the hill to be told, no flying today but to be at the Flyeo premises for 7 am the following morning. Fortunately we were staying in a gite just around the corner.
The second day was more productive with all of us getting at least one flight. During my pitch oscillations, which is just rocking the glider backwards and forwards by synchronised braking and releasing, I was amazed to find how far down I can push the controls when there is energy in the glider. After each flight Fab discusses what you did and didn't do in an encouraging way then plans your next exercise, at no time are you pushed beyond what you feel happy with. At the end of each day you review a video of you performing the exercises which I found an immensely helpful educational tool.
The third day I started with tight 360's with rapid exit. This is just a tight turn that you exit when the glider starts to face the lake, you simply apply opposite controls which will bring you out of the turn, then opposite controls again to straighten up the glider, then hands up and wait until the glider starts to dive, then a big bang on the controls to stop the dive. It sounds confusing but after Fab has explained while giving you a visual demonstration you soon get it, you also get the impression he will happy show you over and over as many times as you need to get the idea. I was again amazed at how much and how hard you can pull the controls when the glider has plenty of energy (as it does after exiting the tight turn).
Next Fab got me to move onto maintaining control with an asymmetric collapse, this was fairly easy as you just grab the A lines on one side and pull them down then apply opposite brake to counter the turn.
We then moved onto asymmetric collapses allowing the glider to turn then recovering using opposite brake, this was fun but again demonstrated to me the immense pressures involved when the glider gathers energy. I had a bit of a struggle pulling and holding the asymmetric collapses in especially while exiting the turn and often I just let go while exiting. This is comforting to realise just how resistant the glider is to collapses.
I can't begin to scratch the surface on all the information we were given during this course but Fab went to great lengths to explain why we were doing these exercises and why we were doing them the way we were. He answered questions easily and succinctly often showing you the arm movements involved while facing this way and that demonstrating which way the glider and you would be facing. One of the most helpful habits I am still trying to adopt is that lying back and being relaxed in the harness. This isn't the first time I have heard this, Bertie used to mention it all the time but nothing hammers home a point like seeing the videos of others being able to play their gliders like a harp while sat back then watching a video of yourself spend far too much time and energy trying to sit upright when you should be controlling the glider.
The three of us had planned to spend a couple of extra days in the Annecy area flying and had booked into Irwyn Jehu's Maison du Moulin bed and breakfast. The upside of this is that Irwyn is more that happy to share his extensive paragliding (and mountaineering) knowledge of the area with anyone who wants to stay with him. Irwyn came up with many potential plans for us but the most ambitious was to get the sky lift to the top of Mont Blanc, climb/walk 20 minutes to an area where you can take off and fly down, lacking the mountaineering skills and cold weather gear we declined his kind offer so he went without us and flew is daughter in a tandem.
Unfortunately the following two days flying consisted of little more than a couple of top to bottoms. We had plans to take off at Forclaz and fly across the valley (and lake) to connect with the other side that had been in sun all day, then climb out. We tried this on our last day but were not gifted with a climb when we arrived on the opposite side of the valley. It was interesting to see how much lower I arrived on the other side of the valley than my two friends despite trying to make myself as aerodynamic as possible while going across the valley. It really is time I got a newer wing.
Of course within a few minutes of landing I spotted a group of birds circling up in a climb right where we had just flown over a campsite, it is all in the timing I suppose.
Now all I need to do is to convince the missus that I need another SIV course next year.