What Is Paragliding?
is a kind of flying, but instead of a wing made of metal, wood, fabric
or plastic, it uses nylon or polyester fabric instead - the kind of thing
windsurfer sails are made out of. Paragliders fly the same as any non-powered
aircraft, and can glide quite a long way if you simply jump off a hill
(for the technical, glide ratios of up to 9 or 10:1 are quite possible).
The wing itself is made of two layers of fabric that form a wing-shaped
bag with openings along the front. As the glider starts to move forward
off a hill, the openings allow the wing to fill with air, pressurising
it and making a standard aerofoil shape. The wing (often referred to as
a canopy) is attached to a harness by a series of up to 30 thin but very
strong lines, much like a parachute. The harness is where the pilot sits
- and you'll be glad to hear it's much more comfortable than a parachute
harness. You can even take sandwiches in them, as they have pockets for
food, radios, water ballast or a camera, and anything else you want to
Steering is the simplest thing possible. The pilot holds
a special line (called a brake line) in each hand, and if he/she wants
to go left, they pull down on the left one. To turn right - pull on the
right brake line. Pulling both slows the canopy to land, and most paragliders
have an extra, speed-up control worked by their feet. That's it. Very
simple, very controllable and yet capable of flying over 300km on a good
day. But still small and light enough to be packed up and fitted in under
the back seat of the car after you have landed.
Is It Safe?
Like driving a car and deep sea diving, paragliding is as safe as the
person doing it. The big advantage is that it is probably the slowest
form of aviation, so at least if you do crash you will hit the ground
more gently than a fixed-wing aircraft! And remember that the canopy normally
sits right above the pilot, so that when you are learning, all you need
to do is put both brake lines up and you will immediately start flying
normally - because the paraglider is probably the most inherently stable
aircraft there is. In some circumstances the air can get squeezed out
from between the two fabric layers, which stops it flying like a wing,
but then it simply reverts to being a parachute until the pilot starts
it flying again. High speed dives are virtually impossible in a paraglider.
So unless the pilot does something to make it unsafe, a paraglider is
How Did It Start?
in the Alps started jumping off mountains in order to get down quicker.
At first they used simple parachutes, but they soon refined the designs,
made more aerofoil cells, improved the wing sections, used sitting harnesses
and thinner lines. All these things produced better handling, more manoeuvrable
and safer paragliders until we arrived where we are today. Beginner level
canopies are certified to recover from any mistake or problem within four
seconds, with no pilot input at all. Advanced canopies can loop, spiral,
wing over, stall and do some very impressive aerobatics in the right hands.
And in Europe, there are hundreds of thousands of paraglider pilots flying
regularly - mainly because the setup is so easy to carry up a mountain
either on your back or on a chair-lift.
Where Do I Learn?
There is a list of schools at the end of this section, and most of them
work either inland (near a large hill) or near the coast (near a sea cliff).
All paragliding schools are required to be members of, and checked
by, the HGFA (Hang Gliding Federation of Australia) Operations Manager,
who checks for safety and correct teaching procedures. All schools will
take you through the first steps of learning to inflate the canopy, launching
and landing, as well as basic flying controls within a couple of days.
The schools use ground to air radio instruction, tandem flying experience
and schoolroom theory sessions to make sure you get the most from your
new sport. Some schools also use towing as a launch method, where the
pilot and canopy is attached to a winch or car, and pulled up into the
air like a kite. Once they are up, the pilot can release the tow line
and glide back to the landing area. Learning to fly a paraglider is not
hard, mainly because they are light. So you don't need to be a Tarzan
(or Jane) to lift one. It takes about seven days to get your restricted
licence, then you are free to fly without any further instruction at a
huge range of sites across Australia.
What Do I Need?
normally wear tough warm clothes, in case they get very high in a thermal
(up to 10,000ft is legal), and a helmet in case they stumble on landing
or takeoff. Most also wear gloves and sunnies. Standard outdoor boots,
jeans and a sweatshirt will get you started. In terms of equipment, all
schools will supply suitable training canopies, harnesses, radios and
helmets. Once you have your licence, you will probably want to buy your
own gear, which you will be able to choose much better once you have finished
your course. After you start flying regularly, you will also need a radio
and a willing and helpful driver to fetch you after you have broken that
long distance flying record . . . .
Where Can I Fly?
Most flying is done either on a ridge - this can be inland or at a coastal
cliff - when the wind is moderately strong, or at a high inland mountain
where there are thermals. All paragliding comes under CASA regulation,
which means no flying over 10,000ft high, no flying in regulated airspace,
and carrying a VHF radio if you intend to fly in an MBZ (mandatory broadcast
zone). Some local restrictions also apply in terms of flying near urban
areas, roads and spectators. But in general, if the landowner doesn't
mind you taking off and landing on their property, if the airspace you
are in is unregulated, and if the wind is in the right direction - go
Is there an age limit?
There is no upper age limit as long as your instructor or safety officer
deems you capable of piloting an aircraft, but the youngest anybody can
fly a paraglider is 14.
Who can do it?
Anybody with good eyesight, good balance, and a healthy outlook is a potential
paraglider pilot. If you are short, tall, heavy, light, male, female,
strong, weak or even slightly disabled, you can still fly a
paraglider. It is probably the most relaxed way to get an adrenaline buzz
there is, as you are sitting down all the time. Good hand/eye co-ordination
is helpful, but most pilots find it takes some practice to become smooth
at everything. In many ways it is much like learning to ride a bicycle
- except without the grease marks on your trouser legs or the grazed knees.
You will probably discover some muscles you didn't know you had whilst
learning, but many of those will be thanks to the walk back up the training
hill to launch. People like diabetics and epileptics may need to check
with the doctor before they fly, but if you can swim, drive or ride a
bike the chances are you will turn out to be a competent paraglider pilot.
How much will it cost me?
depend on the school. The minimum requirement is for seven days instruction
at several different flying sites, so you will be looking at around $1000
minimum for the training course. Once you have your licence, you can buy
your own equipment - canopies start at about $3500 new, harnesses $600
new. Of course there is an active secondhand market in canopies and harnesses,
so there are plenty of much cheaper bargains to be had. Other equipment
usually extends to a UHF radio, a reserve parachute, a full face helmet,
and a variometer (to tell you if you are in rising air when thermalling).
Then you can go on to barographs, GPS sets, voice activated headsets microphones,
in flight cameras and more. But you don't have to.
Flying a paraglider is pleasurable thanks to its simplicity. So if you
have a harness, a canopy and a helmet (plus a licence of course) you can
fly with the best of them. With any luck, we may see you in the air with
us this season.