Always looking for excitement and adventure, Carmen White learnt to fly when she was just 16
As a teenager Carmen White learnt to fly before she could drive. Fast forward six years, and Carmen and dad John have enjoyed many hours of paramotoring and paragliding, flying over the beautiful scenery and countryside of the Ribble Valley.
Their love of flying began when Carmen, who was then just 16, and dad John, decided they wanted to embark on a new hobby together as Carmen explains: “My dad and I have always been very close so when he suggested we take up sky diving I said I thought it was a bit dangerous!
“We started watching paramotoring videos on Youtube – my dad said if we were going to do it we would have to make it as safe as it possibly could be.”
Carmen and her dad went to a paramotoring event in Lincolnshire where they could watch paramotorists taking off, flying and landing. They also witnessed the camaraderie of the paramotoring community – and they were hooked.
To start their adventure, the pair began in earnest learning how to ground handle – a process where they learnt how to handle the wing to appreciate how it will react in the air.
Living out in the country on the moorlands, Carmen was able to practise regularly and soon became proficient, eventually getting her own 110cc Bulldog motor and specialist wing.
After months of training, and a tandem flight, Carmen and her dad were ready for their first solo flight.
Carmen, who is one of the few female paramotorists in the UK, recalls: “With regards to training, we took our time as safety for us comes first. I had read all the training literature, including the Paramotoring Bible and the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA) guide, you learn all about your machine, the power and the techniques but nothing can really prepare you for that first flight.
“You set off running, you’re trying to remember so many things and then suddenly, you’re weightless, there’s nothing between you and the ground below. It’s such a shock – I can’t explain the feeing!”
After that first solo flight Carmen and her dad, both part of Lancashire Hot Props paramotoring group, continued to fly locally and further afield in Wales – a favourite destination for paramotorists and paragliders, who delight in the castles and rugged coastlines.
However at the age of 17, an outing in Criccieth went disastrously wrong for Carmen.
“The day didn’t start well – Paul Kilburn, who had trained dad and I, noticed that my fuel cap had come loose while I was in the air so I had to land. I took off again and got to a really good height. I noticed the wind picking up. It was weird how quickly it had changed so I started heading back, which I shouldn’t have done. I didn’t have much experience then. There was a convergence, it was midday and the wind had switched so quickly it was hard to avoid. I just wanted to get back as it was so bumpy. The wind was suddenly blowing off shore and I was heading over the cliffs and it was pushing me down and suddenly I was in a spin. All I could see was my lines and risers twisted.”
Carmen and her paramotor spun to the rocks below: “I just remember going round and round and then I blacked out.”
Luckily Carmen was shaken but unhurt: “There wasn’t even a scratch on my helmet,” she recalls. “Everyone said you need to get back flying straight away. But I couldn’t.”
For her 18th birthday, Carmen was given a paragliding harness: “Paragliding was a way of keeping the dream going but I still couldn’t go paramotoring.”
She tried hypnosis and listened to podcasts in a bid to conquer her fear and even spoke personally to champion female paraglider Karen Skinner in France.
“She told me not to give up. She said if I didn’t carry on I would regret it. It was really getting me down. My dad said he would only support me if I really wanted to do it – I did want to do it, it was my goal.”
With gentle encouragement from her dad, Paul and another paramotoring friend Gabriel Cassidy, Carmen eventually took to the air again flying her paramotor. “They are the ones that didn’t give up on me when things got tough. All three are the reason my confidence is back and I’m flying again.”Carmen’s boyfriend Harley Douglas, a skilled kayaker, has also taken up paramotoring and last year the pair, along with Carmen’s dad John, went to Annecy on a paragliding expedition.
“There we were, me, dad and Harley and lots of other paragliders in the French Alps at 4,000 feet. It was a straight top to bottom flight, but I don’t think I have ever seen my dad so quiet! I was the first to go – it was fantastic!”
Carmen, who graduated from Salford University with a degree in Wildlife Conservation and Zoo Biology last year, concludes: “It’s all about making memories isn’t it? I think some of the other paramotorists look at my dad with envy, having a daughter who he can go flying with. I am just so glad I got my confidence back. I think it was love for my dad that got me back flying – we really are the best of friends.”