Creating USPPA

Personal USPPA

My paramotoring started in March of 1999. There was no formal (read consensus) training program so I opted for the next best thing: paraglider training using the US Hang Gliding Association (USHGA)’s program.

Through my long exposure to aviation I’ve had numerous flying friends die which enforced more respect for the dangers of flight and importance of good training. After two 4-day trips to California I earned my P2 paraglider rating then set out to buy gear and training.

With gear in hand and the ability to wield it, I flew my brains out–going up at nearly every opportunity. I participated in online forums and met up with fellow fliers whenever there were gatherings. I just observed. Observing with an eye towards frequency of various mishaps, their causes, and phases of pilot experience. It was in this time that I was learning how many erroneous ideas were being foisted on us with nobody getting together to fix them. The Internet can be a terrible resource as reliable sources frequently don’t bother with online sources so new pilots are left with keyboard bandits. Good research has shown that belief, even really ridiculous belief, has predictable propagation paths that are exacerbated by online behavior. Think flat earth belief.

Fellow flyers were getting hurt and killed. Accidents were happening and they weren’t from what the keyboard critics talked about. “Good wing handling skills” and “active flying” were the big deals to avoiding calamity. Yet most injuries were from propeller-chopped body parts, training accidents, drowning, and flying perfectly good gear into things.

In this environment a cadre of pilots thought that an organization to formalize training could be helpful. In late 2000 Michael Purdy was trying to start an Association. Perfect, since I certainly didn’t want to do it. He called it the North American Powered Paragliding Association.

I joined and offered input, especially that it needed some structure in order to be seen as valid. It couldn’t just be a few relatively new pilots throwing out their ideas. For one thing it would miss the input of experience, especially from the sport’s teachers. Possibly even more important was that it wouldn’t get as much buy-in from the community. That would be essential. Especially from instructors.

After a year or so I explained to Michael, still a friend, that I was thinking on starting a formal org with elected officers and some of the sports most respected instructors. In about March of 2001 I rounded up some volunteers willing to start, and dove in. First was a website (made with Microsoft’s mighty FrontPage) to lay out the details. Then a meeting to establish details, then a year-long process of getting the 501(c3) certification. I wanted it to be a real org where people could make donations and expect that their money would be well spent. I didn’t hire anyone, I did it by myself.

Formed, Now What

The plan was to get a syllabus together but that was a lot of work in time. Alan Chuculate, a talented pilot paraglider pilot and free flight instructor, agreed to

  1. be the first president and
  2. develop the first syllabus. It would be based on the USHPA programs P1 through P5 program but without the P5 which was more of an honorarium.

During the course of that development there was objection to have 4 ratings. It seemed overly complicated. I was more in favor of keeping closer to the USHGA program but Alan and I were ultimately overruled and it went with the simplified version. No biggie, after all you could become a commercial pilot in 3 steps: student, private and commercial; why not do the same for paramotor?

At some point Alan resigned over a disagreement on how some aspect and I offered to “run.” I was the most passionate about seeing it succeed so it made sense. Alan continued helping on the training committee, including developing the syllabus. But that was a slow process.

The Syllabus

Sometime in 2003 there was a fatality in Canada during training and that lit a fire under me. It was so remarkably preventable. I contacted Alan about how the syllabus was going and his response was “well…” and I said “send it to me, I’ll finish it then send it out to you guys.” That’s what I did. Researching what books were being used by schools also exposed a serious lacking: there was nothing that covered the sport thoroughly. We needed one.

Alan had told me that long-time author of multiple books on paragliding, hang gliding and weather, Dennis Pagen, was working on a paramotor book. Cool, I thought, and called Dennis. He made the fateful comment that changed my life. “Well, I decided not to do that, but if you write it, I’ll publish it.”

Oh boy. Writing a book was definitely not on my radar. But that’s another story–writing the Powered Paragliding Bible. This is about the USPPA.

I finished the syllabus after working closely with a number of respected instructors. The initial cadre of instructors were respected, experienced motor instuctors, most of which also had USHGA ratings which made things easier since our program was a modified version of theirs. We changed some things because we considered the PPG 2 rating to be like a private pilot–the first rating a pilot would be expected to go out on the own in good conditions. The biggest difference was probably that USHGA’s program didn’t cover some things, like airspace, in their P2 program but we felt it necessary.

After establishing the initial training committee and initial cadre of instructor administrators, we started offering ratings.

An organization was born.

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