Paragliding - A Detailed Guide | himalayanfever


We human beings always had a desire to fly touching endless heights. This dream has been turned true within few years with the help of aircraft, hot air balloons, gliders, and other techniques. Among all these techniques, one of the most economical and adventurous ways of flying is Paragliding. Paragliding combines the thrill of adventure with an awesome experience of flying in the air controlling the parachute and performing stunts too. Paragliding is a type of recreational and adventure sport of pilots, flying with the help of paragliders.

Paragliding is an affordable way of flying with the help of a paraglider, allowing pilots to fly freely taking advantage of wind currents. Paragliding involves flying in the open winds, it can fulfill one's dream to fly in the air like a bird. With proper skill and experience, a paraglider's pilot may gain incredible heights, climbing to an altitude of a few thousand meters. Paragliders are basically high-performance parachutes with some design upgrades and modifications that enhance their gliding capabilities.

The paragliders are lightweight and foot-launched parachute and are one of the best variations of glider aircraft. Unlike hand gliders, paragliders have no rigid structure and their canopy itself acts as a wing creates with the help of fabric cells. The canopy(wing) shape is maintained by the various suspension lines and other factors. An ordinary paraglider does not have any kind of attached motor or engine to propel itself.

Another sibling of a paraglider is paramotor, which has an engine with a propeller at its back to propel itself. This type of paraglider which uses a motor is referred to as a powered paraglider or a paramotor. In basic paragliding, we perform free flight using the wind currents instead of using a motor. Even without the use of a motor, paragliding flights can last up to hours and can cover many hundreds of kilometers.

History of Paragliding

It was in the 1950s when modern paragliding embarks on its journey. The main contributors to the advancement of this great sport are Domina Jalbert, David Barish, Pierre Lemongine. Domina Jalbert is one of the pioneers responsible for revolutionizing paragliding in the 1950s and 1960s. Domina Jalbert was a native Canadian, who settled in Florida and was curious about researching and understanding aerology. In 1952, he designed gliding parachutes that are more advanced than previous models and can be controlled easily.

After Jalbert's work in the early 1950s, his works begun to gain popularity among people. People raised the potential of his discoveries. In 1954, an article in Flight Magazine written by Walter Neumark predicted the day when people would be able to fly by running over the edge of a cliff or down a slope.

Now comes the role of  David Barish. David was an American Air Force Pilot, who after the end of the World War left his airforce job to study aerodynamics more deeply. He later became a consultant for NASA, and in 1955, he designed Vortex Ring, a lighter and stable parachute. Later in 1961, the parachute design was improved to the Para-Commander. Para-Commander was a design modification to the previous parachute design by the French engineer Pierre Lemongine. The Para-Commander had cutouts at the rear and sides.

In 1963, Domina Jalbert filed the patent for "Multi-Cell Wing Type Aerial Device". In the next year 1964, Domina Jalbert invented the Parafoil which has an aerodynamic cell structure inflated by the wind. Parafoil has sectioned cells in an aerofoil shape, and the ram-air inflation forced the parafoil into a classic wing cross-section allowing it to glide.  Parafoil technology became compulsory in a number of air sports including Sky Diving, Paragliding, Kite Surfing, Speed Flying, Sky Diving, and many more.

Till up to that time in 1965, David Barish was working in the development of a Sailwing. Sailwing was a single-surface wing developed for the purpose of recovery of the NASA Space Capsules. David Barish later tests it out in the Hunter Mountain, New York, and referred to it as Slope Soaring. Then he began to promote Slope Soaring as a summer activity for resorts. David Barish is undoubtedly the most important contributor to paragliding history.

The term "paraglider" was introduced by NASA in the 1960s and the word "paragliding". The British Air Association of Parascending was the first to introduce paragliding as a sport. In 1973, Author Walter Neumark and a group of other paragliding enthusiasts formed the "British Association of Parascending Clubs" which later became the "British Handgliding and Paragliding Association". In 1985, the authors Patrick Gilligan from Canada and Bertrand Dubuis from Switzerland wrote the first Paragliding Manual.

Later in 1978, this sport of paragliding finally took off. Three French parachutists named Jean-Claude Betemps, Andre Bohn, and Gerard Bosson decided to perfect try running and launching technique in Mieussy, France. Their flights gained massive attention from the media, attracting other people. The popularity of the paragliding grew rapidly in 1979, when the first Paragliding School was founded, where Betemps served as an instructor. Soon companies started manufacturing and selling the paragliding wing.

A decade later, in 1989, the first Paragliding World Championship was held in Kossen, Austria. Two years earlier, the first unofficial Paragliding World Cup was organized in Verbier, Switzerland.

Paragliding Equipment

Wing: In aeronautical engineering, the paraglider wing or canopy is termed as a ram-air airfoil. The wing consists of two fabric layers and connected in such a way to the internal supporting material, forming cells in a row. The shape of the wing is maintained by keeping some of the cells open at the leading edge(front of the wing). Leading-edge is the part where cell openings are located and the air enters and inflates the wing through this part. The back part of the wing is called the "trailing edge".

The paraglider's wing is connected to the pilot harness via suspension lines. The wing consists of a row of cells, which are divided by walls. The paraglider wing upon inflating has an arc shape. A paraglider wing has a basic weight range of about 3-8 kgs. Two wings of the same area can have different weight holding limits. One wing may hold weight from 90-110 kgs while the other may tolerate only 80-100kgs.

Modern paraglider wings are made of high-performance materials such as ripster, polyester, or nylon fabric.

Paraglider Suspension: The suspension distributes the weight of the pilot throughout the wing surface. The paraglider suspension mainly consists of lines, risers, and carabineers. The suspension gives shape to the wing. The canopy is connected to the harness with the help of suspension lines. The top end of each line is attached to small fabric loops of the wing structure. The lines nearest to the front are known as A-lines, simultaneously the next line B, and then C and finally D. In some cases, the rows of the suspension lines have been reduced to only three or two rows to reduce drag.

Paraglider lines are immensely strong and made from materials such as Aramid, Polyester, Dyneema, and Kevlar. Depending on the paraglider, paraglider manufacturers use different suspension lines of varied thicknesses. A 1.1mm Kevlar wire can tolerate a weight of 80kg, while, a 1.2mm of Aramid's wire can hold a weight of about 200kg. These lines are used to control the paraglider and are grouped together in a bunch on both sides of the pilot's harness. The bunch of these grouped lines is referred to as risers.

Nylon is the best choice for the risers because of its strength and durability.

Paraglider Harness: The paraglider's wing(canopy) is attached to the harness via the suspension lines. The pilot sits in the harness which is suspended below the airfoil(canopy). The harness provides support to the pilot during flying. The harness transfers the height of the pilot to the fabric wing through the risers, suspension lines. While sitting within the harness, the paraglider's pilot can control the whole glider with the help of controllers such as break connected with the suspension lines.

Since paragliders are famous for their portability, so today there are modern harnesses that serve the purpose of both the paraglider and a rucksack. Most of the harness consists of molded plastic foam, conforming to the industry-standard thickness. This foam can be located anywhere under the seat or at the back in a separate container, depending upon the manufacturer's. A reserve parachute is also located there within the harness which is reserved for the case of emergency.

The harness holds the pilot's body in all positions and makes the pilot feel comfortable throughout hours.

Variometer: The primary function of a variometer is to measure the vertical speed both upwards and downwards. The variometer is also known as Vertical Speed Indicator(VSI), or also as Vertical Velocity Indicator(VVI). The variometer is one of the instruments used in aircraft or gliders to inform the pilot about the rate of sink and climb. The measurements are taken in "meters per second" in Europe. The measurements may be calibrated in "feet per minute" depending on the country and type of aircraft. Paraglider's pilot makes certain use of variometer to keep their flight level maintained. It informs the pilot about the rising and sinking area.

The information of climb/rising rate(positive value) helps the pilot to find perfect wind thermals and maintains the appropriate altitude helping to minimize the altitude loss. While the sink rate(negative values) indicates vertical speed but downwards towards the ground. If the vertical speed downwards sink rate is high, then the paraglider must move to another area to find higher altitudes. As we human wings don't have a dedicated sense to detect the rising and sinking air, variometer does the job for us through short audio signals producing beep sound.

A variometer can show altitude too and a paraglider can be equipped with more than one type of variometer.

Reserve Parachute: We are humans and we all make mistakes. If you find yourself in an emergency situation during a paragliding flight, you need to quickly use the reserve (reserved parachute). The condition may arise due to any factor such as harsh weather conditions, a mid-air collision with another parachute or a large bird, and even the failure of equipment. So this is the main equipment that helps in the case of an emergency.

The reserve parachute is a piece of fabric in the shape of a hemisphere with a hole in the center. It is important that you should know, that it is the only last resource in the case of an emergency. So, one should properly know how to handle and use it properly. This parachute is folded and then placed in the compartment of the harness, called the container. Remember that you always check your reserve parachute before flying and it functions properly and quickly.

Radio: In paragliding, radio is required to communicate with other pilots and to report their position for landing. Radios normally operate on a range of frequencies. The range of frequencies varies from country to country. Some local authorities operate through radio communication and provide weather updates onset of intervals on different radio frequencies. In rare cases of emergency, pilots use radio to talk with the airport controllers towers and air traffic controllers. Radio is very effective in communication and will assist the pilot during an emergency. While many pilots prefer to carry a cell phone rather than a radio so that they can call for help if they landed away from the intended point of destination.

Headgear: When it comes to gliding, thinking about safety is the first concern. So, another vital piece of equipment is the safety helmet. There are a number of helmet types and are made available bases upon the pilot's choice. When paragliding, it a pilot should always wear a helmet before flying as a precaution for flight accidents. Most of the helmets have two hard layers: an outer shell and an inner shell.

The outer shell is made of Composite Fiber, Kevlar, combined with Carbon Fiber. While the inner shell of the helmet is designed for absorbing most of the shock during any collision. It is important that the inner shell should be more fragile and be checked carefully for any dents or bends. Many pilots prefer the use of a high-quality hard-shell helmet.

Sunglasses: It is a good idea to carry sunglasses during flight, to protect your eyes from the UV radiation of the sun. The sunglasses too have a wide range of options to choose from, depending on one's preference. Sunglasses for paragliding should be lightweight and be strong enough to tolerate the impact during a collapse or mishap. The sunglasses should be optically accurate, fog-resistant, and fit comfortably under a helmet.

How Paragling works?

To fly a paraglider properly, one must know how it works properly and should know how to handle it properly. Paraglider makes the use of lifting thermals(air currents) in the same way as another type of glider aircraft. The whole sport of paraglider depends on the wind thermals, from the launching to the landing. With proper experience and knowledge, using the air current a paraglider can attain a height of 7,000 meters. Paragliding flights can alone cover hundreds or thousands of kilometers depending on the air currents. The paraglider is lighter and portable than the hand-glider.

Paragliding is confused with parachuting, but in parachuting, one can jump from a plane and deploy the parachute during the time when he is falling down towards the earth and the parachute can easily tolerate that instant shock. While in the case of paragliding, the pilot starts facing the wind on the ground with the parachutes being ready, waiting for the perfect air currents. Pull-on the wing causes to start filling it with air and then it will convert from a piece of fabric wing to an inflated one, rising over the pilot's head and dragging him behind on the ground.

The process during which the wing inflates in the glider's wing while he is still on the ground is "kiting". While the perfect moment comes, the pilot runs down a hill or slope, and instantly wind lifts the pilot up into the sky. There are a number of launching and landing techniques within the sport of paragliding. The type of air currents is not only limited to the thermals, but there are three basic types of rising air: Thermals, Ridge Lift and Wave Lift.

Types of Flying

As mentioned above, there are different types of rising air. So, this is the case with the types of flyings in paragliding. The three basic types are:

Soaring flights: Soaring flight is a special type of flight, in which the pilot flies in a rising air current. It is the best option for beginners who do not have that much experience. Soaring flights can occur at some special places and time events such as warm air heated by the sun can rise up from a heated ground into the sky. The rising air current is called thermal. Thermals rise up along the slope of a hill, but can also be formed over flat ground. In Soaring flight, the flight is achieved using wind rising upwards with the help of a fixed object like a ridge.

In this flight type, pilots fly along the slope relying on the lift provided by the air. The three air sports that use soaring flight are hand gliding and paragliding. Slope Soaring cannot be done with places having insufficient wind or excess wind. A pilot should avoid flying such regions having insufficient or excess wind. Slope Soaring is totally dependant upon steady wind along with the wing's performance and pilot skill.

Thermal Flying: Thermal Flying is one of the most popular paragliding types. The ground and the surrounding becomes hot due to heat radiations from the sun. The surrounding may include rocks, trees, buildings, and many other structures. The ground and the surroundings radiate some heat to a thin layer of air situated above. A thermal basically is a rising air column produced by the uneven heating of ground(earth's surface) from solar radiation. Generally, when the air is cold, warm air bubbles are formed by the ground heating air flowing above it.

The pilots use a flying instrument called variometer or "Vario" to help find the best thermal. Once a pilot finds a thermal, he begins to fly in a circle. The center of the circle is the strongest part of the thermal. The strongest part of the thermal(circle's center) is called the core where the air is rising fastest. The paraglider pilot tries to reach the center of the circle(core). While rising above, the thermals can form a new thermal. The good thermal flying technique is quite difficult and needs some patience and time to finally master it.

Thermals are one of the sources of lift used by birds, paragliders, and hand gliders to soar. If the slope and ground are not uniform, it will form some thermals more than others such as a large building.

Cross-Country Flying: Cross-Country Flying also referred to as "XC" is all about staying up in the air for many hours covering long distances using only the sun and the wind as an energy source. This type of flying is more difficult than the other two because in this type of flying you will really need a deep understanding and control of your paraglider. XC is the most beautiful, amazing, and peaceful art of free-flying. Once the technique of thermal flying has been mastered, then one can try Cross-Country. In this type, a pilot glides from one thermal to the next available thermal.

A pilot should recognize the perfect thermal by identifying land features and cumulus cloud where the humid air condenses to form a cloud. The XC is the most thrilling type of flying as it involves flying for several hours covering large distances. Before a cross-country flying, a pilot must inform someone and should take necessary precautions already to help him in the case of an emergency. For Cross-Country flying, pilots need proper knowledge of air law, flying regulations, aerothermal, aviation maps that show any restricted airspace, etc.

Health Benefits


As an extremely adventurous and fun rewarding sport, paraglider offers great opportunities such as experiencing the world through a different eye view, making new friends, and overcoming new challenges. Besides all of these benefits, there is a wide range of positive health benefits that one experience from paragliding. Some of the health benefits are listed below:

Adrenaline Rush: Being on the top flying through the endless sky, will definitely cause an adrenaline rush within your body. Adrenaline is also known as the "fight or flight hormone" is released in stressful, dangerous, and exciting situations. Adrenaline helps your body to react more quickly and it is released suddenly, often referred to as an adrenaline rush. The pilot's body responds to the adrenaline rush quickly, bringing an urge in the energy and sense of excitement. It is a necessary mechanism for the body's overall health and results in increased awareness of the surroundings when floating in the sky.

Body Strength & Balance: During a flight, a paraglider pilot has to control the parachute which requires proper functioning of the body. Paragliding involves both the upper body and core. The more one flies and controls the glider, the stronger its arm muscle will become. A good upper body increases overall mobility, flexibility, and range of motion. Paragliding also engages your deep core muscles in the center of the body providing more power to the core muscles which reduces the risk of injury during any exercise or activity. A strong provides a better posture, balance, and stability to the body.

Boost Confidence: Anyone can practice this aerial sport, from a young one to an old one. However, it is not as simple for everyone, as there are people who are afraid of it because of the heights involved. Paragliding is a sport that requires good mental will. Do you know the experience of accomplishing something you always feared before trying out? This is the same level of feeling that a person experience after trying it for the first time. Once a person experiences paragliding for the first time, he might wonder why he hadn't tried it before.

After realizing really how relaxing and exciting the sport is, his fears and concerns will automatically vanish. Once someone gets that initial confidence boost, then he will feel motivated to take his skills to the next level. That initial confidence boost could even change one's life and make him feel like a newly born you, as you conquered your fear of heights.

Stress Relief: There are a number of factors in day-to-day life causing you to feel stressed. Due to the adrenaline rush, you will get more aware of your surrounding. In paragliding, the complete focus is on the present moment, and the concentration level during this activity increases. You forget all about your worries and distractions of life and focus more on handling and flying looking around. The stress, disappointment, and all distractions disappear once you are flying and make you feel cleansed both physically and mentally.

Burns Calories: Paragliding is a thrilling sport and requires energy. When flying, the rush of adrenaline makes it necessary for a body to burn calories. Within a single hour only, one can easily burn around 230 calories.

Future Scope

Till now, the number of paragliding pilots has increased and thousands of people participated in this sport, all across the globe. The majority of pilots all around the world reside in Europe, and France alone in 2011 has over 25,000 active paraglider pilots. No matter where the paragliding enthusiasts live in the world, paragliding continues to carry its popularity forward into the future.

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  1. Best article on paragliding I had ever read. The article is quite descriptive and proves that author had a decent knowledge in this topic.