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All That You Ever Wanted To Know About About Paragliding

(But were afraid to ask)

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about Paragliding.

What is paragliding, what is a paraglider?
Is paragliding the same as parasailing, parachuting, or BASE-jumping?
How is paragliding different from hang gliding?
What can I do with a paraglider?
Is paragliding safe?
Is paragliding scary?
Who can do paragliding?
How much does a paraglider cost? How long does a paraglider last?
What do I need to know when purchasing my first glider?
How do I get started?
Do I need a license to fly?

 

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 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. Paragliders routinely stay aloft for 3 hours or more, climb to elevations of 15,000', and go cross-country for vast distances.

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Is paragliding the same as parasailing, parachuting, or BASE-jumping?

   The answer to these three questions are, "No Way", "No How", and "Most Definitely No". Parasailing is what you do at a beach, in a modified parachute tied to a boat, often after you’ve had one too many alcoholic beverages. 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. BASE-jumping, another form of parachuting, is what you do when life has lost all meaning and you don’t really mind if you kill yourself as long as the last few seconds are exciting. BASE-jumpers open their parachutes during free-fall after jumping from bridges, buildings, etc. By contrast, paragliders 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.

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How is paragliding different from hang gliding?

   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"; 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 60 to 100 lbs., you are committed. The paraglider folds up into a 30 lbs. 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.

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What can I 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 15,000' and travel cross-country for great distances. In addition, paragliders can be easily carried and launched off of most mountains.

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Is paragliding safe?

   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.

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Is paragliding scary?

   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.

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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. 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.

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

   A new paraglider, harness and reserve will cost somewhere between $2,800 and $3,800. 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 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.

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

   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.

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How do I get started?

   The best way to start is with a Introductory Tandem Instruction Flight designed to give you a taste of real flying. If after your introductory flight, you want to continue with paragliding, the next step is to enroll in a Pilot Certification Course which will teach you about micrometeorology, different launch and flying techniques, safety procedures, etc.

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Do I need a license to fly?

   To fly paragliders in Australia you must have a licence (pilot certificate) and be a member of the Hanggliding Federation of Australia. To get a licence you have to do a course with a certified instructor. A course to get you a licence to fly takes about 6 days of tuition, and generally costs around $1000. When purchasing equipment, a responsible dealer will always require some proof of certified rating.

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