Back in March 2017 I got a call out of the blue from Chetan Doshi, who lives in Mumbai. He regularly reads these SkyWings articles, and he asked me if I would go over to India to train some local pilots to become qualified reserve packers. He was concerned that with more Indian pilots doing longer distances than before, it was about time that the Paragliding Association of India (PAI) began developing the local skill base, rather than relying on qualified visiting foreign pilots, or on local schools who had no formal repacking training, and whose repacking work was felt by some to be rather variable in quality.
PAI couldn’t afford to pay me anything for my time, although they did offer to pay for my flights, and Chetan invited me to stay at his house in Kamshet while I was running the workshop. The opportunity to go on to fly at Bir for the first time after the workshop was a big draw. But what really swung it for me was the passion with which Chetan expressed his desire to make flying safer for his fellow pilots. That really resonated with me, since it’s the reason I choose to run Aerofix, so I agreed to go.
PAI were keen to base their approach on that of the BHPA as far as possible, so I kept packing guru Bill Morris and chairman Marc Asquith in the loop, both of whom were very supportive. There were important differences to take into account, such as the lack of insurance cover for PAI packers, in contrast to those licenced by the BHPA. Also in the UK, after the two day training course, it can be some weeks or months before an individual takes the exam, allowing them time to build up their experience by packing under supervision: as that wasn’t practical without any existing qualified packers in India, an intensive four day format was developed, allowing me to directly supervise the participants’ work. Many things could be kept essentially the same with a little local variation: for example, BHPA annual licence renewal requires evidence of ongoing packing to confirm a packer is still current, which Aerofix will do on behalf of PAI using photographs of repacking forms submitted using WhatsApp.
The location for the training workshop was Kamshet. It’s a fairly rural area with several ranges of hills reaching between 2,500 and 3,500 feet in height, but with the plateau itself already at 2,000 feet, top to bottom is similar in scale to the Peak District, and airspace starts at a relatively low 5,300 feet. With the inversion just above ridge height at the time of year I visited, only thermal assisted ridge soaring was available. However, since Kamshet lies between Mumbai and Pune, it supports five schools providing training and tandem flights, mostly to inhabitants of those two major cities.
I arrived in late October, shortly after the monsoons stopped and the flying season was beginning. I was met by Madhur Varma, one of Chetan’s close friends, who was also involved in setting everything up. He introduced me to the six other workshop participants, who had each paid Rs 8,000 (about £95) to attend. They included school instructors, tandem pilots and experienced flyers. The next four days proved quite intense and hard work, both for them and me. Soaring temperatures and humidity over days three and four didn’t help either. I was relieved to discover that holding the course in English wasn’t a major problem, despite everyone’s first language being Hindi. One individual needed a translator for the written exam, but that didn’t stop him and everyone else passing that part of the assessment. Taking into account scrutiny of their practical skills, four passed, and one was referred: provided he carries out further repacks under the supervision of one of the successful participants, he should qualify as well.
It’s a very small start for a continent the size of India, but everyone involved, including the two who didn’t pass, fed back that the trial workshop had been worthwhile. Discussions have already taken place about another workshop next year. And if that happens, I’d be delighted to return. Finally, Chetan has extended an invitation to any UK pilot to stay with him in Kamshet if they’re planning to visit and fly in the area. Feel free to get in touch and I’ll forward his contact details.
Two critical checks of your reserve you can do yourself
This may not be for everyone, but if you’re confident about following the manuals for your reserve and harness, and if you’ve attended a club repack event, there are two key checks that ideally pilots should understand and be able to do for themselves. They relate to two critical parts of a reserve deployment that must work properly for a successful deployment.
The first is the pull test: sat in your harness, ideally suspended, you should be able to steadily pull the reserve handle, release the pins and withdraw your reserve, without excessive effort being required. If it’s too difficult, there’s some kind of problem, which you may well need assistance from someone experienced to resolve. Pulling the handle steadily ensures that you can check that the mouthlock loop does not come undone at this stage, which would be a problem. To reverse this first test, first place the harness on its side with the compartment opening uppermost. Gently drop the bridle and lines into the harness compartment, and gently lower the reserve back on top of the bridle and lines. Secure the handle and pins. At Aerofix we use strimmer wire to pull the loops, as this avoids the risk of friction burn that you might get with cord when you pull it out.
The second test is to check that the mouthlock releases, and you need to do this before reversing the first test. Place the reserve on the ground and gently pull the lines and bridle from above to check that the mouthlock loop slips out easily. The reserve certainly should not lift off the ground. The exact tension should be specified by the manufacturer in your manual: for example, APCO say it should not exceed 200gf (gram force). Unless you intend to repack your reserve, do this test gently, and take care not to disturb the bundled lines and folded canopy inside. Again, failure would suggest you need some advice, and possibly a repack. But provided the test is passed, re-enclose as follows: pull the elastic mouthlock loop through the grommets in the correct order, as stipulated in the manual, again using strimmer wire. Use a second piece of strimmer wire to form a tidy loop of lines and pull it through the elastic loop. The length of the loop of lines through the elastic mouthlock loop will again be stated in your manual, and is typically around 3cm.
If you want to chat anything through, we’re always happy to offer help and advice over the phone (01433 627195) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).