Questions you may have about getting started Paragliding:
1. What is paragliding, what is a paraglider?
Paragliding is the simplest form of human flight. A paraglider is a non-motorized, foot-launched inflatable wing. It is easy to transport, easy to launch, and easy to land.
The paraglider consists of a canopy (the actual "wing") constructed of rip-stop nylon from which the pilot is suspended by sturdy Kevlar lines called risers, and a harness. In addition, the brake cords provide speed and directional control and carabineers are used to connect the risers and the harness together.
The pilot sits in a harness for maximum comfort. With a paraglider, you can fly like a bird, soaring upwards on currents of air. Paragliders routinely stay aloft for 3 hours or more, climb to elevations of 2,000m, and go cross-country for vast distances.
2. Is paragliding the same as parasailing or parachuting?
No, it is not the same as parasailing. Parasailing is what you do at a beach. You are in a modified parachute tied to a boat. You get dragged around the harbor by the boat. You do not "pilot" a parasail.
No, it is not the same as parachuting. Parachutes are designed to be deployed during free-fall from an airplane and to then descend to the ground. By contrast, the paraglider is designed to be foot-launched from a gentle hillside with the canopy already opened for flight.
Since paragliders do not have to withstand the sudden shock of opening at high velocities during free-fall deployment, they are much lighter and aerodynamic and are designed to go up rather than down.
3. How is paragliding different from hang gliding?
A Hang glider has a rigid frame maintaining the shape of the wing, with the pilot usually flying in a prone position. The Paraglider canopy shape is maintained only by air pressure and the pilot is suspended in a sitting or supine position. The Hang glider has a "cleaner" aerodynamic profile and generally is capable of flying at much higher speeds than a Paraglider.
The paraglider folds up into a 12-15kg. backpack in about five minutes and can be easily transported – people commonly carry their paragliders to the top of peaks in the Cascades, Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The hang glider, due to its weight and rigid frame, must be transported on a vehicle with a roof rack and requires about 30 minutes to set up and again to take down.
Because hang gliders fly faster, they can cover greater distances more easily. But paragliders, which have advanced rapidly over the last few years, can now cover distances almost as great and, due to their tighter turning radius, can often stay aloft in light lift when hang gliders can’t.
It's somewhat easier to learn to fly a Paraglider. Paragliding has a faster learning curve than hang gliding due to the paraglider’s slower forward speed and more forgiving design. Your launches are not "committed" with a paraglider; if you want to stop your launch, you just stop running and the canopy floats down behind you. By contrast, once you start your launch in a hang glider, which weighs anywhere from 30 to 50kg, you are committed.
4. How is paragliding different from powered paragliding?
Paragliders are usually flown without engines, from hills or mountains, or can be towed aloft using a suitably designed winch. In order to extend the flight, the paraglider pilot needs to find rising air (lift) in the form of warmer air rising in "thermals", or ridge-lift, where the wind is deflected upward by mountain slopes. Finding and using lift to stay aloft is known as soaring. Without this lift, a paraglider will glide, gradually descending until reaching the ground.
Combining a paraglider with a backpack engine forms a Powered Paraglider, also known as a paramotor, which can be flown from level ground, without the need for hills, mountains, a winch, wind or thermals.
The engine is used to gain or maintain height and the pilot can cover vast distances without the assistance of wind or thermals. The engine can then be switched off to glide or soar as desired and re-started in flight when required to gain altitude.
5. What can you do with a paraglider?
Paragliders are designed to soar. The duration record is over 11 hours and the distance record is 300 kilometers. In training you will start out just skimming the ground. As you progress and become more skilled and confident you will probably want to go higher and use the wing for its designed purpose -- soaring!
Average recreational pilots, utilizing thermal and ridge lift, routinely stay aloft for 3 hours or more, soar to altitudes of 2000m and travel cross-country for great distances. In addition, paragliders can be easily carried and launched off of most mountains. Paragliders have been flown off of almost every major peak in the United States and Europe as well as off of Mt. Everest.
6. 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.
7. Is paragliding scary?
Paragliding is the simplest and most serene way to fulfill your dream of free flight! You jog down a gentle slope and glide away from the mountain. You do not free-fall or jump off of a cliff. Your launches and landings are slow and gentle and, once in the air, you will probably be surprised by how quiet and peaceful the experience is.
Even if you have a fear of heights, it will rarely be a factor, since there is no sensation of falling. Your solo lesson will require more effort (physical and mental) than your tandem lesson, but it lays the basic groundwork necessary to becoming your own pilot.
If you would like to watch the sunset from a comfortable seat in the air, supported by the buoyant evening air, with perhaps an eagle or hawk joining you off your wing tip, then paragliding is for you.
8. Who can do paragliding?
Paragliding is about finesse and serenity, not strength and adrenaline. As in rock climbing, women often do much better than men because they don’t try to muscle the paraglider around. If you choose to hike to launch then you’ll want to be in good physical condition, but you can also drive to most popular flying sites. More important than physical conditioning, is being physically and mentally alert and prepared. To be a successful paragliding student and pilot, you need to be able to think clearly and to listen well.
9. How much does a paraglider cost? How long does a paraglider last?
A new paraglider, harness and reserve will cost somewhere between $3,600 and $5,000. After four years of fairly active usage and exposure to UV light from the sun, a paraglider is generally in need of replacement. This of course varies with how you care for your wing. It’s easy to test your lines and sailcloth for strength and thus determine your need to replace your paraglider long before it becomes unsafe. Harnesses and reserves should last indefinitely with good care. Most pilots who get into the sport also purchase a two-way radio and a variometer (which tells you are going up or down and how fast) for an additional $500 altogether.
Good used equipment is often available for half as much though it will have a shorter life-span. In addition, because the sport is evolving rapidly, newer paragliders can have significantly better performance and behavior than older ones.
10. What do you need to know when purchasing your first paraglider?
First, you need to know how to fly. No would-be pilot should purchase a wing before learning at least the basics of paragliding. It is your instructor’s job to help you select your first wing. Different paragliders have different characteristics and require different skill levels; your instructor will match the glider to your particular interests, strengths, weaknesses, and skill level. Develop a solid relationship with an instructor you trust before purchasing equipment. "Good deals" generally end up costing the naive new pilot a great deal of money. Most instructors rely on referrals and repeat business so they are very determined to help you make the right decisions. When purchasing equipment, a responsible dealer will always require some proof of certified rating.
11. How do you get started?
The best way to start is with a tandem introductory flight. This gives you a taste of flying. Once you have seen what it is like then you can sign up for an Introductory Course. Under radio supervision, you will fly solo from the training hill and progress to higher flights, all in two days. The basic techniques of paragliding -- launching, turning, landing -- are fairly easy to learn. The length of the course is designed to compensate for weather constraints and different learning curves. If after your introductory flights, you want to continue with paragliding, the next step is to enroll in a Certification Course which will teach you about micrometeorology, different launch and flying techniques, safety procedures, etc. It is best to complete the Novice Course in a concentrated period of time.
The Starting Paragliding video is the perfect introduction and tells you everything about getting started in paragliding.
12. Do you need a license to fly?
Paragliders are regulated in the USA under the Federal Aviation Regulations Section 103 and therefore a license is not required to paraglide. So, in essence, paragliding is a self-regulated sport under the auspices of the United States Hang Gliding Association (USHPA) To keep it self-regulated, pilots and instructors alike adhere to the policies and guidelines of the USHPA. Local flying regulations may require the pilot to have certain USHPA certified ratings, such as Novice (Para 2) or Intermediate (Para 3) in order to fly a particular site.
13. How long does it take to learn to fly?
You’ll be flying solo during your first day of paragliding instruction, which is one of the advantages of the sport. However, in order to acquire the basic skills necessary to fly on your own without instructor supervision, you need to take a Novice Certification Course, which generally takes a total of 7 days and a minimum of 25 flights. During such a course, you will complete the USHPA-mandated amount of ground-school time, flights, and flying days, and will learn about high altitude flight, advanced maneuvers and reserve parachute deployment. Whether you complete your training in consecutive days or spread out over several months is up to you, although the more concentrated your training, the better.