by Chris Santacroce, USPPA Tandem Admin
Thanks for your participation in the USPPA tandem program. We should start by reflecting on what an amazing privilege it is to have an exception to FAR 103 that allows us to fly tandem for the purpose of instruction. We hope to enjoy this amazing liberty over the decades but we must be diligent.
Above all, we should remember the reason why we have the FAA’s support is strictly so that we can make solo flying safer and is nothing to do with providing anything akin to a ride.
It’s a tremendous responsibility and we all do well to be as diligent as we can be. High on the list of challenges is that few if any paramotors are certified to any official requirement. The same is true for tandem spreader bar arrangements. Most are produced in such small quantity that each unit ends up being a prototype of some kind. The responsibility to have an airworthy package falls firmly on the shoulders of each and every tandem pilot.
If some elements of the harness, motor, glider, riser, spreader bar arrangement don’t work perfectly together then it will be exclusively the fault of the pilot.
Please, practice a high level of due diligence not just for the quality and condition of your tandem equipment in general but for every flight that you conduct. It would not be out of the question to check hang arrangements in a simulator before every flight. This is because different passenger types including weight, build etc. can have far-reaching implications on how things work.
We’d ike to take this opportunity to highlight a number of areas of concern and to highlight some potential pitfalls hoping that USPPA tandem pilots get the benefit of all of the experience and history that have brought us to this point.
Paramotor Hang Point
A hang point which is perfect for solo flying might not be perfect for tandem. Depending on the spreader bar set up – there may be contact between the pilot and passenger that may make the motor hang in a different way. This can be sorted out in a simulator but will also be revealed on first flights with a given set up. After a hang check, try to take your first flights on a given set up with a pilot who can help you to figure things out and who might be able to help you if the system isn’t rigged perfectly.
Paramotors In General
Remember that paramotors aren’t certified for the most part. That means that tandem pilots have to take personal responsibility for every connection and that there may likely be some elements of your paramotor design that should be backed up in general but especially for tandem. This may include the safety back ups that are in place already, it could mean using webbing or hardware to back up the connection of the shoulders of the harness to the motor, it could mean motor mounts or any number of things.
There are so many different configurations that it’s nearly impossible to speak about them other than to say that we all are responsible to test each set up in a simulator and confirm that it meets with our satisfaction in terms of hang height, structural integrity and ability to withstand adverse conditions. If it is a part of your system and it looks like it needs to be backed up, it does.
It is widely know that the main hang point for connecting spreader bar to tandem paraglider should be steel. Other hardware should oftentimes be revisited when it will be used for tandem. This includes buckles and shackles, screw gate links and carabiners. If it can break, it will break when it’s used for tandem. The loads on the equipment increase exponentially due to higher wing loading and longer lines etc.
If you don’t know your checklist by heart and say it aloud every flight then please have a laminated card to remind you. Remember that everyone feels better with a pre-flight. If you are teaching someone with an aviation background, they will fault you for not doing a preflight. You and the passenger will takeoff with a greater confidence if you use one. Even when a good preflight is used things are forgotten and overlooked . Without a preflight, it’s only a matter of time.
It is widely known that reserve parachutes should be connected to the top of the spreader bar arrangement when flying tandem. It is not ok to use your normal reserve with it’s normal shoulder connection. We acknowledge that there is not a lot of history of reserve parachute use tandem but that only means that our statistical likelihood of needing to use one goes up by the day. It’s also important to know what will happen in the case of an inadvertent deployment. You will be remiss if your reserve is connected at your shoulders. Consult with any number of industry specialists to figure out the ideal reserve set up for your tandem.
Your choice of tandem paraglider will say a lot about you as a tandem pilot. If you choose to fly a small one at heavy weight then we hope that you have some other elements on your side. We hope that you have a soft or sandy landing area with a nice breeze. It reflects poorly on you as a pilot if you choose to use an inappropriate glider for tandem. In the extreme case that a solo paraglider is the most appropriate tool for the job then it might also be that you are flying in a wind that is too strong. If something bad happens and you are flying in wind over 15 then your actions will be perceived as being negligent.
Remember that solo risers are long, tandem spreader bars make risers seem even longer. If you have a high hang point unit then they will be even longer. The result can be surprising and it has been the cause of some terrible accidents. Specifically, pilots find that they can’t get their hands up high enough. That means over braking on takeoff, potential stall spin accidents right after takeoff etc. Most damning of all, it you let go of the brakes, you might not be able to reach them again. In many cases, it’s not an easy fix. Oftentimes, tandem risers are the best solution.
Remember that if something bad happens, you could be perceived as being negligent if you use a glider that its not recommended for tandem. You could be perceived as being negligent even if your choice of tandem glider or rigging had nothing to do with the event. Lots to consider. All of your affairs should be in order and having a certified tandem glider that’s been recently inspected is a great start.
Note: Operating under the USPPA exemption now requires certified gliders that are operated in their weight range.
First and foremost, passengers are thrilled to be in the air. They may enjoy some mild maneuvers but it might be best to leave them wanting more. Consider tempting them with a second flight including some harder turns. Remember that it is neither kind or professional to make someone sick. People are not having fun when they are queasy. If you choose to turn aggressively, remember that the passenger won’t really know the difference between a hard turn, a wing over, a SAT or a spin. This means that if you are doing any of the aforementioned maneuvers then you are doing them 100% for you. Meanwhile, it’s not about you. You are probably doing the passenger a disservice. It’s more risk, more gambling that the equipment will hold together, greater chance of making the passenger sick. Please be a thoughtful tandem pilot.
Many pilots land with the engine still running. This is ill advised for tandem pilots. We owe it to our passengers, to the USPPA, to the FAA and to whoever signed your rating to use best practices for tandem flying. That means engine off on landing, helmets, flotation, ear protection. If the environment is inhospitable then full length shirt and pants, gloves and knee pads.
Please be selective about your use of social media. Your tandem flying community won’t be impressed if you don’t have the minimum safety equipment. If you are doing aggressive maneuvers, if you are too close to the clouds, if you don’t have ear protection or a proper reserve. You will be judged. If you share pictures of your indiscretion then we have a responsibility to question the wisdom of you and your tandem admin. Please help us to continue to enjoy this amazing liberty over the years. Remember that if you have something bad happen on your watch then it takes the fun out of it for all of us. We are your team – make us proud.
Speaking of social, here is a Facebook video for your consideration —> Some Tandem Tips