Imagine parking your car at
a beautiful upland vantage point on a sparkling spring day. You open the
boot and don flying suit and boots, then lift out your incredibly light
flying machine in its carrying rucksack and trek off a few yards to where
your friends are preparing to fly. After a few minutes spent inspecting
your equipment you don helmet and harness, look around, allow the wind to
raise the canopy of your glider and launch off into space. This is
exactly is it?
Developed from parachuting
canopies, modern paragliders can be soared effortlessly on windward slopes
and across country in good conditions. It is the same freedom that hang
glider pilots have, but a paraglider is more portable and a little easier
to learn to fly. They are more hampered by strong winds than hang gliders
but are easier to land in small fields.
In the UK paragliding is a
thriving sport and there are numerous importers of canopies and equipment.
The country-wide network of BHPA clubs offers literally hundreds of flying
sites and a supportive flying and social environment.
you do with one?
Many paraglider pilots
strive to perfect their skills in cross-country flying. A summer sky
filled with fluffy cumulus clouds provides abundant - but invisible -
lifting currents which pilots use to gain altitude. Setting off on such a
day, either towards a pre-selected goal or just drifting where the wind
will take you, is one of the most breathtaking experiences available
today. Most pilots will talk of the sense of privilege they feel when
drifting from cloud to cloud, in almost total silence, watching the
landscape unfold beneath them as they navigate across the sky.
Flights of over 150km have
been made by paraglider pilots in the UK. Abroad, especially in the Alpine
regions, the potential is infinitely greater, and many British pilots take
advantage of the paraglider's portability to visit Europe or more exotic
locations further afield. For those of a competitive bent, local, national
and international competitions offer challenges to novice and experienced
pilots alike. The reigning World Champion is British and UK pilots are a
consistent force in international competitions.
Do they always need a
Paragliding is not limited to upland environments.
Tow launching, the launch technique use in the flatlands and practised
here today, uses an engine-driven winch to pull pilots aloft where they
search for lift like their hill flying friends. Parascending pilots use an
SUV to tow up and then descend onto a chosen point, displaying incredible
skill in landing within centimetres of their target. Parascending offers
scope for Air Experience flights, and many youth groups such as the Scouts
use it to give young people their first taste of the air.
do they cost?
Paragliders are not cheap,
although they represent one of the least expensive ways to get into the
air. A new paraglider suitable for a recently trained pilot will cost up
to around £2,000 ($3000); second-hand canopies can be obtained for much
less. Training to the level at which you can fly your own canopy in a club
environment costs around £5 - 700 ($1200); introductory courses cost
around half that. Apart from a glider you need a harness, helmet, flight
suit and boots; later in your flying career you may choose to buy
instruments and other useful accessories.
Paragliding is a great
community. You'll often find championship-winning pilots comparing notes
with novices; both know that theirs is perhaps the simplest and most
intuitive way of flying yet devised. If you want to enjoy the challenges
that only being truly at one with the elements can provide, book a
training course today!
to fly a paraglider
Expect a full course to take
seven to ten days of flyable weather. You might also consider a short
'taster' course or a limited Elementary Pilot certificate.
Training is usually
conducted on a gentle slope. Your instructor will explain how the canopy
is laid out, inflated and controlled by its brake lines; you'll then take
it in turns with other members of your group to have your first short
When you've become adept at
ground handling, controlling airspeed and making gentle turns, you'll
probably go to a higher hill for longer flights. The instructor may even
take you up dual on a special canopy to demonstrate an exercise. As things
fall into place you'll learn to soar - to stay up in favourable winds and
make longer flights.
In the classroom you'll
cover flight theory, meteorology and basic air law and sit a simple exam.
With a positive assessment from your instructor on your flying, normally
on your own the canopy, you'll be given a Club Pilot rating enabling you
to fly in the club environment. You'll find that DIY takes a back seat
when you've discovered the unlimited freedom of the sky!
You can also learn to fly
lower performance canopies in an airfield environment, using a winch or
vehicle to tow you aloft. Training takes less time and you can convert to
higher performance canopies later if you choose to.