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Thoughts on purpose and scope of SIV training

After my research of SIV and pilotage courses in Europe this summer, I formed a more defined view of what different schools and instructors are offering and what we want to offer. There are significant differences in how schools go about such courses, some stemming from the differences in their clientel – whether that's intermediate pilots from their own school or high performance pilots from elsewhere, in the sites – e.g. the altitude you work with can be restrictive or offer more options, but very much also the thoughts and attitude the instructors have about their course.

What is the purpose of SIV / pilotage courses?

Firstly, it is a form of pilot development post beginner and intermediate course.

After that, there are several interesting thoughts to consider:

Is such course there to install confidence?

To demonstrate to inexperienced pilots the capabilities and limitations of their equipment?

Teach pilots new skills to prevent accidents?

What causes the majority of accidents?

Which situations of these can the pilot train for to prevent having an accident?

What is realistic to teach within such limited time / flights?

Are the SIV situations realistic enough to expect the pilots to retain the skills and be able to use them under stress?

How do you cater for different level skills of pilots within your course?

All / most instructors ask themselves such questions when embarking on new courses. I was lucky enough to be able to pick a bunch of instructors' brains on the topic which really helped me sort some thoughts and form my views.

The confidence building focus

From experience teaching and observing our students' progress, it becomes obvious that a lack of confidence is a major factor for pilots causing them to miss out on flights or land early and as a result get low on airtime. That leads loss of their currency and even more confidence issues. Subsequently some even stop flying.

Female pilots are over-represented in this group, but it definitely affects all pilots.

PROS: Continuous training, development of post PG2 skills, supervised flying with assistance in weather assessment, site assessment, flight planning and debriefing helps to counter loss of confidence, even if only to gain more airtime and currency. During our Wings & Waves thermal and XC courses for instance, pilots tend to get more airtime within a week than any week free flying, coupled with exercises and new or improved skills due to the instructor watching and helping.

SIV or pilotage courses are another option to build confidence. The pilot can experience how their glider recovers without much input from the often much dreaded collapses, for instance, all in a safe environment.


While building confidence is a major step forwards for most pilots, there are also the overly-cocky pilots who may feel invincible after this course – not a desired outcome. Over-confidence leads to bad flying decisions in flights plans or the consideration of safety margins.

Further more, the smooth conditions over the water in which courses are conducted, are not the conditions in which disturbances / collapses happen in the real world. Quite contrary, collapses obviously happen in rough and turbulent air which means that the glider will not recover in the textbook manner experienced during a course. Also, the pilot will not be prepared as in the course, but may be caught entirely by surprise. Hence, the courses will never be all that realistic, yet should help to recognise and deal with the situation better than without training.

Capabilities and limitations of their equipment

Depending on the teaching, most pilots are surprised how well their gliders recover from induced maneuvers. Similar to the official testing for certification, most certified gliders will recover from nearly anything nearly by themselves with little pilot input.


To rationalise this is an important outcome of the course. Hopefully it will install pilot confidence in their gear and prevent over-reactions in case of incidents in the air.


As mentioned before, the gliders are unlikely to react text book as in the course or testing due to rough air in reality.

Prevent accidents

We want to prevent drop outs out of the sport due to lack of confidence, but even more so, we want to prevent accidents. Active flying, pitch and roll control in rough air, stall point awareness go a long way towards preventing incidents. But more so, weather assessment skills, good flight planning, gear choice, site assessments, many of which we teach during beginner and intermediate courses are the more effective ways to prevent the incident and subsequence accident can be prevented. Some of the technical kills are taught over the water.

What causes the majority of accidents and how can we prevent them through SIV training?

Lots of research has been done as to the causes of accidents. Launch accidents are rife – no surprise due to proximity to the ground and the high skill factor required for safe launching in ever changing conditions. Similarly, landings are critical. Weather and site assessments are a huge factor, as well as sensible flight planning. All this needs to be taught in courses other SIV, starting at the beginner course.

That leaves us with the inflight incidents to teach in SIV and other progression courses. Without going into the details of statistics, major collapses and the consequences are a huge factor for serious accidents. As a result of collapses, pilots turn, lose altitude, experience big surges / pitches, perhaps rotate hard if they don't react timely and strongly enough. Conversely, too much or incorrect pilot input creates worse a situations than the initial collapse, such as stalls, spins and cascades which are basically a row of stalls, spins, surges which are not recovered from.

Hence, put in the simplest possible way, other than the above mentioned skills to prevent even getting into a situation where a collapse is likely to happen, in an SIV we should teach pilots to stop autorotations or steep spirals, teach them to use the full range of controls when required to intervene. Secondly, we need to teach pilots to deal with collapses effectively without stalling the glider or causing cascades.

Also, we need to teach pilots when to give up on attempts to recover due to insufficient height or too much G-force and throw the reserve. A point sometimes neglected too much.

I observed different schools and instructor teaching the required skills in different ways. Some design their courses more gently, focusing on the confidence of the pilots, some were teaching a similar thing in perhaps more realistic exercises which require more pilot skills..

Which situations can the pilot train in order to prevent an accident?

As mentioned earlier. decision-making will always be the most important factor in accident preventions: Weather, site choice, flight plan, flying to the conditions, decisions not to fly or to land, equipment choice etc.

As for practical skills in SIVs, practicing collapses and perhaps simulations of small cravats in a controlled environment is always useful, especially for low airtime pilots. Collapses are the big boogeyman in the early days of low airtime pilots, yet end up common occurrence for pilots who avoid good glider control practice. On EN A and B gliders we expect collapses to be very manageable even with a lack of advanced pilot skills. To experience the sensation of collapses especially big frontals can certainly take the edge of the fear and surprise which should reduce the chance of over-reaction and further trouble.

Practicing different ways to recover rotations should add to the pilot's tool box.

Rotations, spirals and recovery are useful as a descent technique but also to help keep your cool in case of a violent collapse and resulting rotation. With increasing rotation speed, the G-force becomes harder to stomach and disorientation, fear or even loss of consciousness can be the result. All can be prevent by correct pilot input.

Learning to recognise the stall point of your glider is a good way to enable pilots to use their controls effectively while not overstepping.

Stalls and 'backflies' can be of use for those flying high end gliders as a form of recovery from cravats.

There are also plenty of fun or aerobatic skills to entertain those pilots who master the initial skills well.

What is realistic to teach within such limited time / flights?

This is a bit of a reality check for both pilots and instructors. Besides great new teaching techniques and lots of interesting details, one factor that stuck to my memory is how I watched pilots train certain maneuvers and skills over and over under instructions, yet the first time they try to do it by themselves, they cannot replicate the desired outcome.

I watched SIV training where pilots did seemingly endless repetitions of a certain spiral recovery, but once they tried without instructor support on the radio, went into auto rotation by mistake and seemed as shocked or frozen as any pilot without training. I was stunned by an ambitious sub 1 year experience pilot, who had paid for an unusual 10 days training. Trying to replicate the maneuvers by himself, he completely confused himself and stuffed it up majorly over and over. After 10 days training...

So, while any well run, safe training is educational and confidence building, completing courses is by no means a safeguard for crashes even caused by the very maneuvers trained. Instructors very much need to keep in mind not to overload pilots, not to expect them to retain all the skills learnt in the training.

Are the SIV situations realistic enough to expect the pilots to retain the skills and be able to use them under stress?

Basically, not really, I fear, see above.

The factor of surprise, complacency, being distracted, tired, having the hands off the brake, rougher conditions, unexpected glider behaviour due to turbulence etc will always add to the difficulty in reality. Yet, in my opinion, the pilot with that extra training under their belt has a far better chance to keep a clear head, recover in time or make a sensible decision, than the one without such SIV training. Stress can do both: It can make pilots freak out and over-react or not be able to think clearly, but a smaller amount of stress can increase your adrenalin levels which seems to slow the world down and seemingly give you more time to think and react. In a completely unscientific way, I would hope that the pilot with the better training has a higher chance of the latter outcome.

How do you cater for different level skills of pilots within your course?

All the courses I saw were quite carefully aimed at certain level pilots, yet in reality the pilots in each course demonstrated hugely different level of skills. Some of the variations were caused by experience, definitely by currency, different choices of gliders and simply varying degrees of talent plus unrealistic assessment of their own skills.

It is quite a challenge for instructors to cater for each level carefully. In flight, we always concentrate and customise for the one pilot in action, but all the prep and theory and briefings are more general and address all course participants. It is harder to cover all explanations needed to the different skill level pilots. Too much theory is tiring, too lengthy, harder to retain and time consuming, so picking out the right details and the ideal communication is not easy. There is definitely not a one size fits all approach. That complication certainly speaks for smaller groups in order to have more time for each pilot without dragging briefings on too long.

An added complication is that not all pilots are realistic with their self assessment, their skill is often above or below what the instructor would expect with a given the information the pilot gives, the amount of flying time, plus the vastly varying degree of confidence.

A trusting relationship between student and instructor helps with the latter. The pilot hopefully feels the instructor knows them well enough to help get the most out of the course, that they can disclose worries, skills or lack thereof. When it comes to the flying, hopefully the student can trust the instructor can guide them through the flights in a appropriately challenging manner without over-stepping the line which leads to fear.

Watching Flugschule Salzburg teach SIV who in a group of mainly their own students who they knew and knew what they had learned, certainly had advantages of mutual trust and made for smooth progression.

Watching Flyeo in France challenge club pilots from the UK for instance had the advantage of challenging pilots to learn something entirely new to them which resulted in a bunch of new skills. Not all students could rise to the challenge, but those who did surely benefitted.

Wings & Waves and myself personally certainly spend a lot of effort to understand where our pilots are at and customise my approach to their progression. The girly touchy feely thing helps in that case, also the fact that in our paragliding careers we have gone through pretty much all the know highs and lows in currency, experience, definitely varying levels of confidence, huge number flying of situations and sites, teaching on all levels and all around the world. while going through pretty much every life situation imaginable, stress situations, experience of success and variations of defeat. All that makes it easier to relate.

Comments, please: I am very interested in your feedback on these thoughts, so please let me know by commenting below or emailing me at


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