Alex Ledger set up SkySchool in 2005. Alex is a pioneer in paragliding and paramotoring and is an adventure sports addict. When not paragliding or skydiving, Alex can be found snowboarding, endurance running, free climbing, and off-road motorbiking.
Sportsvibe caught up with Alex to talk about his SkySchool, how he first got involved in skydiving, and what the future holds for him in terms of his adventure-filled projects.
How did you first get into adventure sports?
"I first went skydiving at the age of 16 and that lead to a chance meeting with Gilo Cardozo who set up a company called ParaJet. They make paramotors and as a result of our meeting we decided to set up SkySchool together. Gilo taught me how to fly at the same time as Bear Grylls and Neil Laughton. Neil is an Everest climber and we went on to make something called the SkyCar. Gilo and Bear did the Mission Everest where they took a paramotor up to just above the height of Everest in 2007 and Neil and Gilo developed the idea of converting a Rage dune buggy to be powered by a propellor and have a paraglider canopy attached to it so you could take off and fly the car. My involvement was as an expert in flying and using my airfield out in Figueres in Spain. I instructed Neil on his first flight in January 2009 and that has lead to a few other projects currently in the pipeline."
What are you currently focussing on?
"I performed the first Infinity Tumble by a Brit back in June but you can never stop training for manoeuvres like that. I'm going to go for more training in September in Lake Annecy. Basically to start any of this type of acrobatics, you have to do it over water for safety. About 100 people around the world have done an Infinity Tumble and it's where you go over the paraglider consecutively and you haven't got the location in England as there isn't the altitude readily available. As a result, acrobatic paragliding isn't something people really see or do. As I live in Spain and travel all round the world, this has become my own personal challenge as paragliding acrobatics is what I specialise in with the creme de la creme of the manoeuvres being Infinity Tumbling. The next challenge after that should be an exciting one as we are hoping to climb Mont Blanc and then paraglide off the top of it."
Are there any specific training requirements you need to perform the Infinity Tumble?
"You have to start over water and you need a life jacket, a support boat, and ideally someone on the radio to give you the timing for the specific inputs for the controls. Unfortunately I didn't have the boat or the radio help and so it was self-taught after studying videos and taking advice and I ended up doing it in Gerlitzen in Austria with only the life jacket to aid me! It's all about putting your body through a lot of G-force but being able to maintain a rhythm and timing to perform the manoeuvre so you don't end up in the canopy. If you do end up in the canopy then it's known as being gift wrapped and you plummet fast and to your death!! Obviously you don't want to do that and so it is a very precise and specific manoeuvre and it does take a lot of practice."
Have you ever had any near misses?
"I've actually been alright. I had one when I first started training in Nepal last year and I was about a foot away from my wing at one stage. The wing over-shot me and I ended up going past it but luckily not into it and I ended up in the lake but fortunately with the canopy flying. Since then it has basically been sticking to the rules and treating the sport with respect. Treating the sport with respect means paying careful attention to anything from the weather to the equipment being used but at the end of the day accidents, the majority of the time, will be due to pilot error."
Can you ever see Paragliding and Paramotoring being spectator sports?
"Unfortunately I can't see it happening as you aren't able to fly over a crowd of more than 1000 and so events like the X Games certainly wouldn't be a possibility. I don't really think they are spectator sports and instead are more high-adrenaline and pretty self-indulgent activities! As a spectator sport it's not quite there but it could be if you had the right location and the weather was nice and people could do manoeuvres over water and people can watch. In terms of it going mainstream, i can't really see that happening in the near future."
Where is SkySchool based?
"SkySchool is primarily out in Spain as the weather in England isn't generally good enough for flying. I normally come back over to the UK to see the customers as 95% of them are British and it's good to give them the face-to-face time in the initial stages of getting their feet off the ground in the UK and then they come out to Spain later in the process. We teach an average of between 100 and 150 people a year and we have a good following on Facebook and Twitter and we are well known as Europe's leading paramotor school. More and more people are getting involved each year and particularly in a country like this it is very expensive to fly a plane due to maintenance, servicing, and keeping your pilots' licence. Once you've got the equipment and skills to fly a paramotor then the costs are negligible and you can fly for less than £5 an hour. So when the weather is good over here, and because there aren't many hills to jump off, then paramotoring is fantastic. We teach a lot of people who fly fixed-wing aircraft when they first come to us and they come to me to be re-enthused by flying and aviation having lost the buzz they had when they first started."
What are your thoughts on winged suits? And do you have any plans to try one?
"Winged suiting is certainly on the list and I've just done my first unofficial BASE (BASEO) jump having jumped out of a paraglider which is much safer as there are no obstacles to fly into. The next step for me will be to do some jumps out of a hot air balloon and it is a natural progression from sky diving. The difference between sky diving and BASE jumping is that you're jumping into still air meaning you have no forward movement and that sensation is very strange as you have nothing grabbing you with no air flow which provides the resistance on your body where as if you jump out of a plane, you've got the forward movement of the plane which gives you that resistance. The sensation of jumping into still air is fantastic. When it comes to the concept of winged suiting, I'll start with a plane and that is on the list of things to do, hopefully in October. You start with a basic winged suit and then as you get better at flying the suit then you can move onto more high-performance suits similar to those being used by the likes of Jeb Corliss."
Where are your favourite places to go paragliding and paramotoring?
"The Alps and the Pyrenees are definitely my favourite places. The Pyrenees have got more consistent weather and it is in my back yard as I live near Barcelona and the Spanish Pyrenees are only about two hours away from me and so the paraflying sites are all very close. The Pyrenees will always be at the top of my list, closely followed by the Alps."
What are you looking forward to most over the next year?
"We are hoping to be a part of the Red Bull X Alps. It should be amazing and is an endurance race by paraglider and foot from Salzburg, Austria to Monaco. I'm doing that with my friend Babu Sanuwar, who was the first person to paraglide off the top of Everest and he won adventurer of the year from National Geographic for the feat. We will hopefully be doing that in July of next year but it is not confirmed yet. I'm accompanying him as he is the actual pilot for that. Our other major project is on the back of Babu's Everest flight and we shall be trying to conquer seven summits by paraglider starting with Mount Kilimanjaro in 2013."
SkySchool is Europe’s leading Paragliding and Paramotoring academy. For your chance to learn the art, develop your current skills, or become an expert in ultra-light aviation check out the courses on offer at: www.skyschooluk.com