On your first day of training, what you should expect depends on what type of training you are doing. If you will be foot launch or scooter tow training, you will receive ground school instruction, and then, under the guidance of your instructor, will make your first solo flights, at an altitude of three to five feet. Aerotow students will attend an hour or two of ground school, and make one or more tandem flights.
After the first day, foot launch and scooter tow pilots can expect to make five to ten flights a day. Since beginning students learn best in calm conditions, you should expect to be flying either early in the morning or shortly before sunset. Some schools can offer both morning and evening lessons, but not all students will be physically able to make that many flights in a day. For those students who are training with both foot launch or scooter tow and tandem flights, the early evening can be a great time to take the tandem flights.
Aerotow students can expect to take two or three tandems per day. If your school offers both morning and evening tandems, you may be able to take four or five flights per day.
In the United States, pilots are rated according to a system developed by the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA). There are five levels:
- Beginner (H1)
- Novice (H2)
- Intermediate (H3)
- Advanced (H4)
- Master (H5)
New pilots will receive their Beginner (H1) and Novice (H2) ratings during their initial training. For foot launch and scooter tow pilots, the Beginner rating requires four straight flights with foot landings. Aerotow students will have to demonstrate the ability to fly the glider to the landing zone, and recognize the altitudes of 1000 and 500 feet. All students will be required to pass a written test.
While the Beginner rating is the first milestone in a pilot's career, there's more learning to be done before your first solo. Foot launch and scooter tow pilots will need to learn turns and how to set up a high altitude approach; and aerotow students will have to learn to tow without the instructor's input. For foot-launch and scooter-tow pilots, this is an excellent time to take one or two tandem flights, if tandems are available.
After you have all these skills buttoned up, you'll need to take the Novice (H2) written test. Some schools have an additional written test of local-site knowledge. Once you've passed this second written, it will be time for your first high altitude solo - an unforgettable event. Congratulations - you're a pilot!