Tom’s “Learning to Fly” Story…

Hi my name is Tom Zoldos and I wanted to tell you about my experience of learning to fly Powered Paragliders with Aviator PPG.

I love aviation and I wanted to learn to fly one of these butt fans the first time I saw one. I am a private pilot but haven’t been very active lately – life happens…, but this seemed like a very affordable, safe and exciting way to get back into the sky.

I, like many of you, have watched Tucker Gott fly these things all over New Jersey, out west, Iceland etc., and dreamt of giving this sport a try. In some of his videos Tucker mentioned Aviator PPG as the school where he trained, and said this is who he would recommend when it came to flight training.

I started researching the sport and training and after many hours searching the internet came to the realization that Aviator PPG was the the top school for instruction. I seriously thought about visiting them at one of their two locations in Florida and then …. Covid hit.

I signed up for their email newsletter and to my surprise they announced that they would be taking their training on the road and one of their destinations would be Virginia. I could hardly believe my luck and waited to hear where in Va. they might actually have the class. Turns out it was only going to be about 1.5 hours south of my home. I wasn’t going to take a family vacation this year and Aviator PPG was literally traveling to my back yard so I said I’m in! How could I pass up this opportunity?

So I signed up, then I started getting a little worried because I am almost 50, overweight and haven’t been exercising in quite some time. Would I be able to do this? Would I be able to carry the weight, let alone run with the weight of the paramotor? It also is August in Virginia which is humid and hot as hell. Ah well – let’s give it a go.

The class itself was going to be held in central VA in the middle of nowhere but there would be housing available – and housing at a mansion as a matter of fact – not too shabby, which was owned by a former student of Aviator.

So I committed to the 2 weeks and rolled down to the mansion. The next day it all started with a meet and greet of the other students and the instructors and Eric himself. There were 8 students and 5 or six instructors including Tucker’s good buddy Judson who was interning with Aviator. Needless to say there was a really good instructor to student ratio which was key to getting this right.

I met all the students who had some amazing stories of how they got here and what they were hoping to accomplish. There was one common thread between all of us students – we wanted to train with the best in the business, the gold standard for instruction in the sport – and we all identified Aviator as that school.

Everyone I met both the students and instructors were awesome people all with a passion for aviation. I’ve watched a lot of the videos that Aviator produces and I was always struck by how much joy the instructors get when a student finally takes to the sky. They all seem to be really likable people, that are very knowledgeable about the sport, professional, caring and well… like a family.

So training starts the next day bright and early with ground school and we dive right in. We learned a tremendous amount about the sport, and the equipment and before too long we were kiting the wings and learning ground handling. It was challenging but it was rewarding and it was a lot of fun. After a couple days of doing a lot of cutting and ground handling we had a pretty good feel for the wing and it was onto the tow machine. This was a great opportunity to see how the wing would actually handle in the air and to learn how to flare and land on your feet (hopefully) after your flight. Next we started to learn more about the engine and did simulated flights in their PPG simulator. This was really helpful because it allowed us to experience all the phases of flight that we would encounter soon. I also learned about Radio out procedures in the event that we lost radio contact with our instructor. You basically go through the flight from inflation to taking off to flying around the pattern to coming in for landing to the flare and touchdown.

What became very clear to me was that we were learning all the essential parts of learning to safely fly a powered paraglider in a nice series of steps. These steps were all coming together to form good flying habits, they were essentially building blocks that would allow us to learn how to fly these things while not getting overwhelmed with too much information at one time. It was a methodical approach – one that was well thought out and tailored to our classes’ progression and pace.

So, finally the day arrives where the weather is right the winds are cooperating and we have developed some pretty solid kiting and taxi skills. Slowly but surely a number of students were able to launch and enjoy their first flights around the grass patch. This was an incredible experience – unlike any other flight I have ever encountered. You’re running along you’ve got this wing over your head, the engine roaring behind you pushing you into a run, then a gallop, and then all of a sudden the equipment is very light on your back and with a little bit of pressure on the brakes you slowly lift off the ground and start to rise up into the sky. This was freaking amazing – there’s no windshield in front of you, no fuselage, just you out there in an arm chair in the sky!

I was fortunate enough to get up in the air on a really nice morning where there was a little scud layer of fog. I was able to fly over it and see the golden rays of sunshine hitting it and I was like oh my God this is absolutely stunning – what a beautiful way to start your morning! After a while I noticed some other students were up in the pattern with me and just to be able to see them flying around sharing the same experience as me was so cool!

I can honestly say that all of the preparation for this first flight was wonderful. I wasn’t nervous, I was actually enjoying myself and everything we had rehearsed was exactly what we did during the first flight. The simulator experience led by Mike Brown was really excellent and gave me the confidence I needed to take that first flight.

In fact all of the instructors were top notch – 100%. I really can’t say enough good things about all of them. They were good people they were very dedicated to teaching us to fly in a safe manner. They were some of the finest people I’ve ever met in all honesty. Empathetic, caring, passionate, and dedicated are some of the words I would use to describe the team of instructors. I really enjoyed getting to know every one of them and working with them throughout the class. Eric mentioned that if he has any talent it is assembling a great team of people and that’s exactly what he’s done here.

In summary this was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done for myself. I felt guilty at first for taking time for myself and not having a family vacation with my daughter which is what we would normally do during the summer. But actually my 12-year-old said she was very happy for me and she was glad to see me go after something that I’ve wanted to do for such a long time. She actually thought it was pretty cool, so that in itself was worth the price of admission.