Paragliding - By Lamorna Harpin

What is paragliding?

Someone who paraglides uses a foot launched, non motorized inflatable wing that is easy to launch, transport and land.

The canopy fabric that forms the wing when filled with air, is made from rip stop nylon. The paraglider pilot wears a harness and is suspended from the canopy by risers and suspension lines made from Kevlar. Brake cords are used to give directional control and speed and carabineers are used to connect the harness and risers together.

The harness is designed so that the pilot is sitting comfortably upright. Due to the paragliders characteristics, the wing can catch thermals and currents, allowing you to stay in the air for a long time, 3 hours or even more, climbing to altitudes of 15,000ft and navigate over countryside.

Is paragliding the same as parasailing?

Parasailing takes place on a beach. A modified parachute is attached to a boat and the boat travels around the waterfront with the parasail behind it.

Is paragliding the same as parachuting?

There are some similarities with parachuting and paragliding. However, parachutes are designed to be deployed during freefall from an aircraft before descending the skydiver safely to the ground.
A paraglider can be launched by foot from gentle slope and is already open and ready for flight.
Because paragliding canopies do not have to be built to endure the opening shock of a skydiving parachute, paragliding canopies are able to be more aerodynamic and as such can go up in altitude aswell as down.

Is paragliding the same as hang gliding?

A hang glider pilot flies in a horizontal position, and flies a rigid frame the shape of a wing. The paragliding pilot’s canopy is only the shape of a wing due to the air pressure when it is filled with air. Also, a the pilot is sat in a sitting position. Due to the specific, cleaner aerodynamics of a hang glider, it is able to fly at much higher speeds and therefore cover greater distances than a paraglider.

Due to the hang gliders rigid frame and weight, it must be transported on a roof rack by vehicle. Hang gliders usually take around half and hour to set up and to disassemble.
Paragliders are much more portable and are easily carried around in a backpack with a total weigh of about 30 pounds. It is not uncommon for pilots to take their paragliders with them up to the Andes, Alps and other top peaks in the Himalayas.

Paragliding technology has advanced a lot in recent years, and therefore paragliders are able to cover large distances almost as great as hang gliders. Also, paragliders are able to turn more precisely and this enables them to stay aloft in when the lift is light when a hang glider would be unable to.

Hang gliding takes longer to learn than flying a paraglider. This is because of the paraglider’s slower forward speed and forgiving characteristics. Especially during the ‘launch’ part of the experience, under a paraglider you are able to stop running down the slope and the paragliding wing above you will simply float to the floor. Due to the weight of the hang glider (60-100lbs), you are committed once you start launching.

How is paragliding different from powered paragliding?

A powered paraglider flies with an engine mounted on the back. This is also known as para motoring. Due to the engine, a paramotor can be flown from anywhere, without the need for hills, thermals or mountains. The paramotor engine can be used to gain altitude, maintain height and travel large distances without thermals or currents. However, the pilot can still glide and use the canopy to take advantage of thermals by stopping and restarting the engine as required.

Paragliders are usually launched from hills and use thermals and currents to stay aloft. They can also be uphill by using a specially designed winch. Staying aloft by using natural methods is called soaring, and when the paraglider is flown out of the thermals they simply float down to the ground.

What can you do with a paraglider?

Paragliders are designed to stay aloft and travel long distances. The record for longest amount of time is over 11 hours, and the maximam distance covered under a paraglider is about 300 kilometres. When you first start to learn to paraglide you will be skimming the ground. As your experience and confidence increases you will be able to launch from higher altitudes and fly to larger heights to be able to soar.

By making the most of thermals, currents and ridge lift, a paraglider can stay in the air for three or more hours, ascend to heights of 15,000ft and travel great distances. Paragliders are easy to launch from most mountains- in fact they have been flown from almost every major peak in Europe and the US, as well as Mount Everest.

Is paragliding safe?

You can make paragliding, like most adventure sports, as safe or dangerous as you want. Ways you can make it safe are to receive instruction from a certified professional and use safe equipment -- professional schools will create as controlled a learning environment as possible.

Paragliding is an outdoor sport and Mother Nature is unpredictable -- weather is always a big consideration. The primary safety factors are personal judgment and attitude. You must be willing to learn gradually and use good judgment and have an appropriate attitude. If you don’t, then you can get injured or killed; if you do, then you can paraglide until you’re 90.

Is paragliding scary?

Flying a paraglider is one of the most serene and simple ways of achieving flight. By jogging down a gentle slope you simple take off and glide away from the mountain. There is no jumping involved and both landing and launching the paraglider are smooth transitions from air to land. The whole paragliding experience is a quiet and peaceful experience.

There is no sensation of falling in paragliding, and even people who have a fear of heights can still enjoy it. A lot of people start off with a tandem paragliding experience, before moving onto a solo lesson which requires a little more mental and physical effort.

Some of the most enjoyable moments under a paraglider can be found whilst watching the sunset, on the evening currents with a hawk or eagle flying alongside you.

Who can do paragliding?

Paragliding is not a sport that focuses on adrenalin and strength. Paragliding is more about serenity and finesse. Many popular flying sites you will be able to drive too, but some pilots prefer to hike to their launch sites. A certain amount of physical fitness is required for paragliding, but more important is to be mentally prepared and alert. A good paragliding pilot is able to listen well and think clearly.

How much does a paraglider cost? How long does a paraglider last?

There are second hand equipment available from various sources, but if you are interested in buying brand new equipment, you will pay from 3,600 – 5,000 USD. Paragliders usually need to be replaced after about four years of active use, due to the exposure to UV light from the sun. It is important to look after your equipment, and there are simple tests that you can do on the paraglider lines and material to ensure that it is safe to use, or that you need to replace some parts. The harness and reserve canopy should not need replacing if they are looked after well.
It is also an idea to buy a 2 way radio and variometer. The variometer is a device that tells you how quickly you are ascending or descending.
If you do decide to buy used equipment, then bear in mind that it will not last as long. The technology in paragliding is also improving at quite a rate, so newer paraglider designs will also better behaviour and performance than some of the older equipment.

What do you need to know when purchasing your first paraglider?

It is recommended that you become familiar with paragliding before you start purchasing equipment, and your instructor is the best person to advise you when you are ready to buy your own paragliding equipment. He/she will be able to teach you about he different characteristics of differently designed wings, and their performance and therefore skill levels required to pilot them safely. Most paragliding instructors will be happy to help with these decisions- instructors do tend to rely on referrals and repeat business, so this is in their interests too.

How do you get started?

One of the best ways to experience paragliding for the first time is with a tandem flight. You can then start tuition, and will be communicating with your instructor by radio whilst flying solo from a training hill. As your skills progress, you will be able to move up to higher flights in as little as two days of instruction. You will learn the three basic techniques to begin with; launching, turning and landing. The Novice Certification Course teaches you about different launch and flying techniques, micrometeorology, safety procedures etc and this course is best when carried out over a short space of time.

How long does it take to learn to fly?

As early as your first day of paragliding instruction you will be able to fly solo. To be able to fly on your own without supervision, you will need to take the Novice Certification Course which will teach you all of the basic skills. This course usually takes around 7 days and a minimum of 25 flights to complete.
Throughout the course, you will complete ground training, flights, lessons on high altitude flying, advanced manoeuvres and reserve parachute deployment. It is better to concentrate all of your training into a short space of time as this will help your learning curve, however, some people find it is more convenient for them to spread their training over several months.

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