FAQ's

Q. What is it like to Paraglide, what is a paraglider?

Q. Is paragliding the same as parasailing or parachuting (skydiving)?

Q. How is paragliding different from hang gliding?

Q. What can I do with a paraglider?

Q. Is it safe to paraglide?

Q. Is it scary to paraglide?

Q. Who can paraglide?

Q. How much does a paraglider cost? How long do they last?

Q. What do I need to know when purchasing my first paraglider?

Q. How do I get started?

Q. Do I need a license to fly?

Q. How long does it take to learn to fly?

Q. What should I look for when signing up for lessons?

Q. What is motorized paragliding or powered paragliding?

Q. What is the history of paragliding?

 

Q. What is it like to paraglide, what is a paraglider?

A. 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 itself is constructed of rip-stop nylon from which the pilot is suspended by sturdy kevlar lines. The pilot is clipped into a harness and oriented in a sitting position for maximum comfort. With a paraglider, you actually fly like a bird, soaring upwards on currents of air. Paraglider pilots routinely stay aloft for 3 hours or more, climb to elevations of 15,000 feet, and go cross-country for vast distances.

 

 

Q. Is paragliding the same as parasailing or parachuting?

A. "No", "No", and "No". Parasailing is what you do at a beach, in a modified parachute tied to a boat, often in Mexico after you've had one too many cocktails. You get dragged around the harbor like a sack of potatoes, not like a pilot. (If you want to offend a paragliding pilot, refer to their sport as "parasailing".) Parachutes are designed to be deployed during free-fall from an airplane and to then descend to the ground. By contrast, paraglider pilots launch from gentle hillsides with their gliders already opened for flight; if the glider isn't flying properly, the launch can be aborted before leaving the ground. Since paragliders do not have to withstand the stresses of free-fall deployment, they are much lighter and aerodynamic and are designed to go up rather than down

 

 

Q. How is paragliding different from hang gliding?

A. Paragliding and hang gliding are very similar in terms of the pure joy of flight. The sensation of flying either craft is very birdlike. Many pilots enjoy both sports equally, you should consider learning both. There are aspects that make each a little easier in some situations and more difficult in others. A paraglider is a bit faster to set up and put away, it folds up into a 30 lbs. backpack in about five minutes and can be easily transported in the trunk of a car, whereas a hang glider requires a roof rack for transport and takes at least twice as long to set up and take down, they generally weigh twice as much as a paraglider. Pilots commonly carry their paragliders to the tops of peaks in the Cascades, Alps, Andes, and Himalayas, this would be difficult with a hang glider. It's also easier to check the paraglider as luggage with the airlines or bus, or even just to hitch a ride back to launch. Paragliding launches are not as "committing"; if you want to stop your launch, you just stop running and the canopy floats down behind you. BUT, a hang-glider can be launched from smaller spaces, i.e. narrow openings in a treed ridge line, and more easily in higher winds. Because hang gliders fly slightly faster, they can cover greater distances more easily and can fly up-wind 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. Both paragliders and hang gliders can be towed into the air by winches and can use auxiliary motors to launch. Hang gliders, due to their slightly higher speed range have the unique advantage that they can be towed by motorized ultralights thousands of feet above the ground where they can then release to fly freely, just like a sailplane, this is very fun. Paragliders can more easily be landed back on top of a mountain or the side of a hill and use much smaller landing areas, This makes cross country flying less stressful. A hang glider is controlled through weight shift and the feeling of carving turns is similar to riding a roller-coaster head first. A paraglider is controlled through weight shift and application of brakes which deform the back edge of the glider, there is a similar feeling of carving turns, but there's not as much speed and you're upright in a sitting position. They both have similar safety records.

 

 

Q. What can I do with a paraglider?

A. 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 15,000' 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.

 

 

Q. Is it safe to paraglide?

A. You can make paragliding, like most adventure sports, as safe or dangerous as you want. It is of course crucial that you receive instruction from a certified professional and use safe equipment -- professional schools will create as controlled a learning environment as possible. But paragliding is still an outdoor sport and Mother Nature is unpredictable -- the primary safety factors are personal judgment and attitude. You must be willing to learn gradually and to think with your head not with your ego. If you don't, then you can get injured or killed; if you do, then you can paraglide until you're 90.

 

 

Q. Is it scary to paraglide?

A. Paragliding is the simplest and most serene way to fulfill humankind's oldest dream -- free flight! The pilot jogs down a gentle slope and glides away from the mountain. There is no free-falling or jumping off of cliffs. The launches and landings are slow and gentle and, once in the air, most people are surprised by how quiet and peaceful the experience is. Even a fear of heights is rarely a factor, as there is no sensation of falling. The solo lesson requires more effort (physical and mental) than the tandem lesson, but it lays the basic groundwork necessary to become your own pilot. If the idea of watching 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, appeals to you, then paragliding is for you.

 

 

Q. Who can paraglide?

A. 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. In Europe, where the sport is immensely popular, you will see pilots as young as 10 and as old as 80. 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.

 

 

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

A. A new paraglider, harness and reserve will cost somewhere between $3,600 and $5,000, or you can purchase used gear for less. 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 many years with good care. Most pilots who get into the sport also purchase a two-way radio and a variometer (which tells you whether and how fast you are going up or down) 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.

 

 

Q. What do I need to know when purchasing my first paraglider?

A. 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. See our advice on buying paragliding equipment for more information.

 

 

Q. How do I get started?

A. The best way to start is with an Introductory Course designed to give you a taste of real flying. 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 Novice (Para 2) Certification Course which will teach you about micrometeorology, different launch and flying techniques, safety procedures, etc. You should try and complete the Novice Course in a concentrated period of time.

 

 

Q. Do I need a license to fly?

A. Paragliders are regulated under the Federal Aviation Regulations Section 103 and therefore a license is not required to paraglide. In essence, paragliding is a self-regulated sport under the auspices of the United States Hang Gliding Association (USHGA) To keep it self-regulated, pilots and instructors alike adhere to the policies and guidelines of the USHGA. Local flying regulations may require the pilot to have certain USHGA certified ratings, such as Novice (Para 2) or Intermediate (Para 3) in order to fly a particular site. When purchasing equipment, a responsible dealer will always require some proof of certified rating.

 

 

Q. How long does it take to learn to fly?

A. 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 (Para 2) Certification Course, which generally takes a total of 7 to 10 days and a minimum of 25 flights. During such a course, you will complete the USHGA-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.

 

 

Q. What should I look for when signing up for a lesson?

A. When selecting a school for paragliding instruction, first make sure that the instructors are certified by the United States Hang-Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA). Things to look for include: What USHPA ratings do the instructors have? How many instructors are at each class, what is the student to instructor ratio? Are the flights radio supervised? Will the training proceed gradually up progressively higher hills? Does the school have hills to accommodate more than one wind direction and thus more flying days? What is the safety record of the school and of the instructors? How many students has the school taught, how many of its students receive certification each year? Does the school operate full-time to fit your schedule? You may call the United State Hang Gliding Association at 719-632-8300 for the names of instructors you may want to interview.

 

 

Q. What is the history of Paragliding?

A.1986-87 Paragliding arrives in the US. The gliders were squares with 8 or 9 large cells, glide ratios of 3:1, and a sink rate of 3 meters per second. Harnesses consisted of leg loops and a chest strap, with loops near the shoulders to hook in carabineers. The average flight was less than a two minute sled ride. There were 150 paraglider pilots in the US at the end of 1987.

1988 The design of the paragliders had evolved into the current elliptical design by 1988. Glide ratios were 4.5:1, soaring was becoming possible in ideal (strong windy) conditions. The American Paragliding Association was accepted, as the US governing body of the sport in September 1988. The development of detailed training programs was becoming standard practice. The first US training program was held in Bishop, CA and all ten US instructors attended. The US had approximately 300 pilots.

1989-90 As the sport continued to develop, paraglider design features and capabilities surpassed most of the current pilot's skill levels. Accidents were in the forefront as pilots pushed the limits. Gliders were achieving 4-5 hour flights, glide ratios were 6:1, and sink rate was 1.3 meters per second. Harnesses now had seats and some had speed seats. Many pilots began to wear reserve parachutes, and gaining altitude above launch became more common place. Paragliding the Magazine was started in June of 1990. The longest recorded flight in the US in 1990 was 24 miles; pilot Mark Shipman, site; Chelan Butte, Washington. There were 24 US instructors at the end of 1990 and approximately 600 pilots. The US saw the first powered paragliders, made by Adventure, in France.

1991 The APA grew to 785 members, with 73 certified instructors. Part of this large increase was due to a seminar that introduced 50 current hang gliding instructors. Back protection for crashes was being developed. The longest US foot launched flight recorded, was 63 miles, pilot; Bob England, site; Horseshoe Meadows to Bishop, CA. Longest US flight off tow was 81.8 miles, pilot; Robert Schwaiger (Austria), launch site; Hobbs, New Mexico. ACPULS developed the 12 test rating for certifying paragliders, (gliders were rated with 12 A's or 9 A's and 3 B's etc...)

1992-93 gliders reach 7.7:1 glide ratios, during a contest in New Hampshire. Two pilots set records in the Owens Valley, CA; Kari Castle set the Women's World Distance for paragliding with a flight of 60 miles. Both flights began at Horseshoe Meadows, near Bishop, CA. Tandem paragliding is accepted by the FAA, under the USHPA tandem waiver. The APA joins the USHPA in December 1992 with 1800 members.

1994-96 Paraglider development has leveled out in terms of new innovations, more emphasis is now going into producing safe, stable gliders with a good speed range and user friendly handling characteristics. ANFOR rating changed to Standard, Performance, and Competition, rather than the A's and B's system. A typical paraglider has 7:1 glide ratio, 1.1 meter per second sink rate, and a top speed of 28 mph on average. The USHPA reported 2,692 members in December. The USHPA buys Paragliding the Magazine.

1997-2006 Paragliding has really started taking off the past decade. The designs of canopies have increased performance while maintaining stability. As more and more people find out about the sport, the pilot population continues to grow. Records are being broken all the time for distance and duration. The future is bright, and things will only get better.

2006-2008 The technology seems to continue to improve. The New DHV 1 wings perform as well as some of the intermediate advanced wings from the early 90's. Pilots are able to fly wings that perform very well with all the security of a DHV 1 wing.