SIV clinics and a caution

by Had Robinson
updated April 21, 2023

I recommend that all pilots attend an SIV clinic or an equivalent of some kind periodically.  Nonetheless, most newer pilots know nothing about towing and its inherent dangers, especially lockout.  Drowning is a significant hazard if pilots do not have the proper protection that must be specific to their type of harness.

At Southwest Airsports we include some typical SIV maneuvers in our basic P2 instruction.  It is helpful for all pilots to learn how to control a glider in various situations that might occur during flight such as entering/exiting a spiral dive, wing-tip folds, frontal collapses, and asymmetric collapses.

At SIV's, pilots can practice more complicated and hazardous maneuvers such as wingovers, full stalls (some instructors think this is inherently dangerous to practice), extreme pitch and roll maneuvers, and reserve deployments.  Everything is safely done over the water and, for the most part, mishaps have minor consequences but not always.

Reserve deployments only work if there is little or no winds aloft.  What happens when a pilot deploys his reserve and drifts downwind in fast moving air towards a canyon?  A busy highway?  A mall parking lot?  An apartment building?  High tension lines?  I hope the reader has some imagination of the number of things that can go terribly – and deadly – wrong at an SIV.  How aggressive is the host?  Some European instructors are suggesting that being over water for most maneuvers is not any safer than being over land.  For pilots who have never done an SIV, it is a good idea to fly a glider that has a low "B" rating or an "A" glider.  Your chances of surviving the SIV are much greater.

If you go to an SIV, plan in advance what you would like to do.

I do not recommend doing any extreme maneuvers, such as full stalls or reserve deployments.  Even experienced pilots have had things go wrong.  The pilot below, among the more skilled in the U.S., came within a few meters of becoming cocooned in his "C" rated glider at an SIV clinic after performing a full stall.  If that had happened, would he have survived?  He was over water but that would not have helped if cocooned.

paraglider full stall gone bad at an SIV clinic

At an SIV clinic, this pilot was launched just as a storm outflow boundary passed through.  She panicked, went downwind out of control into these high tension lines, falling to her death.  I went to pick her up and this is what I found.  She and I had just been visiting an hour earlier.  Her husband was also at the clinic.  Her body is on the other side of her glider.  The storm that was the cause of her death is still visible.  A fun time at an SIV turned into a tragedy including the loss of the site for future SIV's.

death at a paragliding SIV clinic

My intent is not to scare pilots away from SIV's but to consider the following:

Water is not much of a safety net if things really go wrong.  The best I can think of is that water does make a landing under a reserve easy (if the pilot does not drown).  Water may not save a pilot in an out-of-control spiral dive, tangled up in his lines/harness, or cocooned in the glider.  Hence, why the Europeans are not sure having water is any particular advantage.

Here are some of the things that have occurred at SIV clinics:

As a new pilot years ago, the most terrifying events I have ever experienced flying a paraglider were at SIV clinics.  These included coming within seconds of drowning (2X), being dragged over asphalt by the tow operator, being towed up into a towering cumulonimbus that I barely escaped from, and entering parachutal stall at launch due to a faulty winch.  Is this SOP?  I hope we can minimize this sort of thing.  This sport has diseased pilots and some instructors who think getting hurt or killed is cool.  For example, if you become a quadripalegic, who is going to take care of you?  Some minimum wage person?  If you get killed, is there somebody out there who would care?  Your parents, maybe?

Pilots must thoroughly research the parties running the SIV in order to minimize risk.  Most instructors want pilots to fly as safely as possible at all times but some others have $$$ as their priority.

If the SIV clinic has pilots who have a heavy investment in getting there, the pressure can be severe on the host to launch pilots in marginal conditions.  You must keep this in mind when signing up.  Is it the best time weather-wise for that location?  I have had responsible and sensible pilots ask for a refund when bad weather prevented anyone from flying at the clinic.  The host has to be ready to go whether the conditions are safe or not.  On the other hand, I applaud operators who shut things down rather than risk the lives of the attendees.  Most SIV attendees are newer pilots who are unaware of the risks – and this is why this page exists.

I recommend Eagle Paragliding in Santa Barbara, CA as a group who consistently demonstrate that pilot safety is their #1 priority.  Just the same, no matter how hard we try, sport aviation can be dangerous and accidents will – and do – happen.

Note: Always bring your own calibrated weak links to the SIV or any towing events where you are not 100% sure of the tow operator (not the host).  Weak link line is available from Towmeup.  They are great people and will help you get the right link.