|Palakkad-based Adventure Inc lets you take off for joyrides from sprawling paddy fields or even big grounds
This is definitely different from taking off in a giant Airbus or a Boeing filled with hundreds of people. As I’m strapped into the tiny craft it’s alarming to see my feet barely inches away from the ground. The frail metal craft lurches forward, skims over the bumpy, grassy field for about 100m and is airborne in moments.
You could call this paragliding on steroids. Yes, there’s a large, billowing parachute attached to our tiny airborne vehicle. But there’s one big difference: our paramotor trike — as it’s called — has a two-stroke engine, and a propeller. We can steer left and right and climb higher in the sky. On our flight we flew to about 1,200ft surveying the yellow fields and the land below us.
“Human beings are not designed to fly but once you get hooked to the beauty of flying the fear of sinking or crashing becomes minuscule, says Pune-based businessman Umesh Kulkarni who’s a regular at the Pune-based Wings & Flights flying club.
You’ve done paragliding. Leapt off a bridge to experience the thrill of bungee jumping. Now get into the air — and stay there for long enough to feel like it’s a real flight.
Take a look at Kulkarni who’s so hooked on paramotoring that he is planning an ambitious cross-country marathon flight from Bangalore to Pune. He plans to fly for about four hours every day at a stretch. “The flying is usually done in the morning or evening hours,” says Kulkarni, who is charting out his route for his journey and picking fields on the way where he can land and take off safely.
In Gurgaon, corporate bigwig Sharang Rathore has less ambitious aims as he straps on the motor of his foot-launched paramotor. He likes to return each weekend for an up-in-the-air session. Early in the morning he gets a bird’s eye view of the region’s picturesque green-blue water-bodies and lush yellow fields. At times he even catches sight of nilgais running in herds in the far distance. “Flying is one of the most wonderful feelings and it gives you an amazing thrill,” he says.
Rathore does his flying at Flyboy Aviation in Gurgaon, run by Varun Suhag, who holds a commercial pilot licence. Flyboy Aviation has seven paramotor trikes and four foot-launched paramotors. To get airborne using a foot-launched paramotor the would-be flyer straps the motor to his back and then keeps running till motor gets you in the air.
Says Suhag: “People are moving out of the malls and the movies to experience something different and exciting like paramotoring.” Suhag also has flying sites in Goa and at Corbett Park in Uttarakhand. He’s starting two more — in Jaipur and Chandigarh.
Cut to Palakkad in Kerala where Salim Hassan runs Adventure Inc, which as its name suggests, is an adventure sports company that offers paramotoring joyrides and also training sessions to become a pilot. It also works with defence institutions and other adventure institutions. “Paramotoring sets a paraglider pilot free from the limitation of being on a hill to launch and also eliminates the restrictions of weather parameters,” says Hassan, who’s finding that plenty of would-be flyers are coming forward for rides and a chance to survey Kerala’s green, god’s-own-country landscape from the air.
And near Pune, chief paragliding instructor, Eric Menezes conducts paramotoring training and joyrides at various places like Kanifnath temple, Veerdam, and Bhuleshwar in Maharashtra. He’s also willing to do flights anywhere in India —if there’s a suitable ground for take-off and landing available. Apart from adventure seekers, Menezes has trained and worked for as many as 11 state and central government organisations like the Border Security Force, the army, and police and tourism departments.
Menezes recalls how his first paramotoring ride was a revelation — made even more amazing by the compactness of the equipment. Says Menezes: “The beauty of a paramotor is that it can fly as low as 2ft and to heights of several thousand feet. It can go hundreds of kilometres and can fly for hours together.”
Paramotors come in different sizes, each with slightly differing capabilities. Firstly, there are the foot-launched paramotors and the paramotor trikes. Suhag, for instance, has seven paramotor trikes and four foot-launch models. Some of his smaller trikes carry a maximum of 16 litres of petrol and can even stay airborne for upto seven hours with one person on board. With two people the same machine can stay in the air for about three hours. And Menezes’ Wings and Flights has a fleet of 10 foot-launch paramotors and eight trikes. And another adventure club, Temple Pilots, in Khamshet, Maharashtra has just two foot-launch paramotors.
There are also larger trikes which can carry upto 55 litres and travel at about 55kmph. These machines are more versatile and can even carry out a bit of aerobatics and therefore they only stay in the air for about 90 minutes.
The fans of paramotoring, like Kulkarni, wax eloquent about their experiences in the air. Kulkarni and his 18-year-old son learnt solo flying from Wings & Flights under Menezes and both of them took about three months to graduate to solo flying. “The feeling of flying above the world is priceless,” says Kulkarni.
Now Kulkarni has one car that’s solely for his paramotoring equipment and whenever the weather permits he takes off and flies for an hour or more, clicking pictures and recording what he sees from up in the air. “Till I go back for the next flight I make do with the photographs and videos that allow me to remember the experience,” he says.
How much does it cost to become a high flyer? At Adventure Inc, a tandem joy ride costs Rs 3,500 for 15 to 20 minutes but if the passenger wants a longer flight, it can be tailored to his needs and the costs will vary accordingly. In Gurgaon, Flyboy offers Air Safari Packages starting at Rs 4,500 per person during which the paramotors travel about 8km.
Menezes reckons it needs about, “15 to 20 flying days to learn paramotoring.” He adds, however: “It takes about 25 hours to become good at paramotor flying.” Menezes offers paramotoring courses round the year except during the monsoon season. The best months to learn paramotoring he says are between September and April.
Suhag reckons that learners can start flying solo after about 15 hours of flying. “The rests depends on how much you practice to excel in the sport,” he says.
In a bid to attract more would-be flyers some clubs are offering staying facilities too. Menezes, for instance, offers a guest house and also home-style food for Rs 750 per day. He offers a joy ride which lasts around five to 10 minutes for about Rs 2,500 for one person.
Similarly, Suhag also offers paramotoring packages with accommodation and food at any one of his partner 5-star hotels or resorts. The prices are available on request.
Another hotspot for paramotoring is at Khamshet in Maharashtra. In Khamshet, a company called Temple Pilots is being run by ex-Indian Air Force fighter pilot Amarjeet Malik who spent three years in Spain to learn both paragliding and paramotoring. Temple Pilots also offers boarding facilities at Rs 1,000 per day. A full paramotoring course with Temple Pilots costs Rs 60,000.
The rules vary at each of the flying clubs and there are no age restrictions for joyriders. But if a person wants to go solo he has to be roughly between the ages of 16 and 70 — that, of course, depends on his or her physical condition also. “People who are scared of heights and who have high blood pressure should not try flying on their own,” warns Hassan. Also, persons with heart problems and pregnant women are not advised to fly.
Interestingly, paramotoring vehicles are also being used for all kinds of aerial advertisements and aerial photography assignments. Himachal-based Gurpreet Dhindsa runs PG Gururkul, a company that mainly offers paragliding courses. It offers paramotoring only for aerial assignments like banner towing, or towing flags.
“The prices for these assignments depend on the nature of assignment and challenges involved,” says Dhindsa, who trained in the UK for his British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association instructor certificate. He says that he often gets assignments to drop flowers during political and religious functions and even Punjabi weddings.
How is paramotoring better than its close cousin paragliding? For a start, you obviously don’t need to head for the nearest hill for paramotoring. Also, paramotoring is usually done during the early mornings and late evenings when the weather is at its best. Most importantly, paragliding depends heavily on the winds and weather conditions. Paramotoring is far less dependent on the weather.
Paramotoring equipment is made in India. However, Suhag insists on using equipment imported from the US and Italy. Also he makes sure that the pilots in his company get seven to eight months of rigorous training before they become professionals.
Also, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is looking at the sport and framing rules for it. Says Hassan: “The DGCA is now working towards the licensing process and the rules may get stricter.”
Have you always dreamt about being a high flyer? Perhaps paramotoring would be the best way to make your dreams come true. u