Sport & Recreation

Paragliding – Seeing Folkestone From The Sky

Paragliding on a warm summer’s day, with a light gentle breeze seems the perfect way to spend an afternoon.  James Saunders, part of the Dover and Folkestone Hang Gliding Club, which supports paragliders too, spoke to Folkelife about how you go about becoming a pilot.

“There are various points you can fly from as part of our club.  These are areas which differ in technical ability and suit different needs as a pilot.  In order to do any paragliding though you need to have completed training and accreditation to become a pilot, as these are aircraft you’re flying.  You need to have a club pilot’s certificate in order to join a club, and then you can fly from different spots that we have.   We have a spot at The Warren which is for beginners.  Even though you’re jumping off the White Cliffs, which looks a bit nuts, it’s a good site for new pilots to fly from. There are sites all across the south coast, going into Sussex so there’s plenty here for people to do. 

“I’ve always wanted to fly.  I started off doing falconry but then realised that I really wanted to be the bird.  So now I’m here.  I’ve been flying for about 8 years now.  You can learn anywhere and I actually did my training in India.  But then realised that I needed different accreditation in order to fly in the UK so had to do that all over again!  Don’t make that mistake.  However, a lot of people do train in Spain or Portugal where there’s really constant weather conditions.  It’s beautifully consistent from one day to the next.  You then get back here and find that in the UK we’re quite different!  You could have two beautiful days here and the wind will be different, the sea breeze influences your flight, it’s not consistent let’s say!”

hang gliding vs paragliding

“The main difference between the two sports of hang gliding and paragliding is that with hang gliding you have a fixed frame.  You’re flying this rigid structure and they’re much faster.  Taking off is technical, everything has to be correct.  You need a lot stronger wind to fly a hang glider.  With a paraglider, it’s cheaper.  Well, when I say cheaper, it’s not cheap!  But this is certainly the cheaper option of the two.”

Paragliders over Martello Tower
Paragliding over greenery
White Horse Paragliding

Sails

“The sail is made up of cells.  When these get filled with air they make the sail solid and turns this into an aeroplane wing.  And that’s what gives you the lift.  What people like about paragliding is that this all packs down into a rucksack and you can go anywhere and unpack and fly.

“You take off by standing on the edge of a cliff and going into the wind.  Then the aim is to gain height and look for those thermals that the birds are flying on.  So, if you happen to see some birds flying around, it’s a good tip to follow them and you’ll find the thermals they’re using.  You can look at the ground though and see where different areas might produce pockets of heat.  This is a basic explanation but what generally happens is the ground heats up.  Maybe a cow, or a tractor or car moves through that area of heat and releases a bubble of air which rises up.  Those are the thermals we’re talking about.”

get into the thermals

“If you look out over the hill here we can see the Channel Tunnel terminal which is a lot of concrete.  That’s going to heat up nicely and give us some good thermals to work with.  There’s the M20 too, and the heat that’s coming over from the town.  We can’t fly over the terminal for security and safety reasons, so we work on this side of the cliffs.  But from here, you can fly down and land on Folkestone’s sea front, or upwards towards Etchinghill.  Someone today did go across country behind us to Hawkinge, and another pilot the other day managed to get to Sandwich from here which is a pretty decent flight!”

taster days

“Because of the qualifications you need in order to fly a paraglider if you want to have a taster then you need to go up with someone who’s qualified.  So you can have duel sessions where you’re attached to the pilot, and that will give you an idea of what it’s like.  Everyone I know who’s had a taster goes on to get into the sport because once you get up there it’s amazing. 

“This ridge here above the White Horse in Folkestone is quite a technical place to fly.  Down at the bottom of the hill, where those cows are, is the place to land if you’re a beginner.  Most people land on the field behind us, but if the weather is right you can land on this ridge.  However, you need to take into account it’s really narrow, and there’s a barbed wire fence which you don’t want to catch your sail in.  That makes things expensive!

the sky is the limit

“Once you’re up you can go up thousands of feet.  Really, the sky is the limit!  Our aim is to touch cloud base by rising on these warm columns of air we know as thermals. The thing about this sport is it’s incredibly addictive.  You spend your life thinking about flying, and thinking about when you could be flying… It’s sad when winter hits as that’s not as fun.  You can fly on calm days but you need to feel the movement of the sail through the sensitivity of the lines in your fingers, and if you’re wearing thermal gloves then that’s hard.  Believe me, it’s freezing up there in the winter!

“If anyone is interested in finding out more there are various places that do tasters and accreditation.  Look for Green Dragon Airsports, Fly Sussex and Fly Bubble, which is good for kit too.  You can then come and join us once you’re ready.”

Credit Louis Photography Paragliding over Folkestone
Paragliding over Martello
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