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PARAGLIDING FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Paragliding is the newest and fastest growing form of foot-launched aviation.  Below are answers to frequently asked questions about paragliding. Contact us if you have any other questions.

Q. What is it like to paraglide, what is a paraglider?
Q. What if I am afraid of heights?
Q. Is paragliding the same as parasailing, parachuting, or BASE-jumping?
Q. How is paragliding different from hang gliding?
Q. What can I do with a paraglider?
Q. Is it safe to paragliding?
Q. Is it scary to paraglide?
Q. Who can do paragliding?
Q. How much does a paraglider cost? How long does a paraglider 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 is motorized paragliding or powered 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 wing that fits in a backpack. 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 hooked 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 many hours and can climb up to the clouds, sometimes as high at 18,000 feet, and fly cross-country for hundreds of miles.

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Q. What if I am afraid of heights?
A. Most people who think they are afraid of heights are actually afraid of falling, and the two are very different. If you can look out the window of an airplane but standing on the edge of a building makes you nervous then your fear is not of heights but of falling. Because there is no free fall and you are support by the wing, the fear of falling does not engage.  If  a paraglider is not flying properly the launch is aborted before leaving the ground. The other major difference is that a paraglider is designed to fly up in air currents and is therefore much more efficient and aerodynamic than a parachute that is designed only to come down.

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Q. Is paragliding the same as parasailing or parachuting?
A. No on all counts. Parasailing is what you do at a beach, in a modified parachute tied to a boat. Parachutes are designed to be deployed during free-fall from an airplane and to then descend to the ground. In contrast, paraglider pilots launch from gentle hillsides with their gliders already opened for flight like giant kites.  If  a paraglider is not flying properly the launch is aborted before leaving the ground. The other major difference is that a paraglider is designed to fly up in air currents and is therefore much more efficient and aerodynamic than a parachute that is designed only to come down.

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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 bird-like. Many pilots enjoy both sports equally and you might enjoy trying 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 mountains that would be difficult or impossible to reach with a hang glider.  And after you land you can throw a paraglider in a bus or the back of a car to get back to launch.  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. Paragliders can more easily be landed back on top of a mountain use much smaller landing areas, This makes cross country flying less stressful because there are more potential places to land safely. 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.

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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 over 400 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 many hours and can soar up to the clouds.  On a good day a pilot can fly many miles drifting from could to cloud.  In addition, paragliders can be easily carried and launched off of most mountains. Paragliders have been flown off almost every major peak in the United States and Europe as well as off Mt. Everest.

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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 and safe a learning environment as possible. But paragliding is still an outdoor sport and Mother Nature is unpredictable.  The primary safety factors are personal judgment, attitude, and experience.  You must be willing to learn gradually and to keep your ego in check. If you don't, then you can get injured or killed; if you do, then you can probably paraglide until you're 90. 

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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 runs 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 a safe solo 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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Q. Who can do paragliding?
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, however, is being physically and mentally alert and prepared. To be a successful paragliding student and pilot you need to be able to think clearly, listen well, and make consistently good judgment calls.

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Q. How much does a paraglider cost? How long does a paraglider last?
A. A new paraglider, harness and reserve parachute will cost somewhere between $5,000 and $6,500. Depending on the amount and intensity of the sunlight UV exposure a paraglider will need to be replaced after about 300 hours of use, which for most pilots is around 3-4 years of  flying.  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 for many years with good care. Most pilots who get into the sport also purchase a two-way radio, a GPS and a variometer (which is an altimeter that which tells you whether and how fast you are going up or down) for an additional $500-$1,000. Good used equipment is often available at much lower prices and your instructor can help you select appropriate equipment to assure your safety.

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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. 

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Q. How do I get started?
A. The best way to start is with an either a tandem flight or an introductory course designed to give you a taste of real flying. Under radio supervision, you will fly solo from a training hill and progress to higher flights. The basic techniques of paragliding -- launching, turning, landing -- are fairly easy to learn.  If, after your introductory flights, you want to continue with paragliding, the next step is to enroll in a Novice (P2) Certification Course which will teach you about micrometeorology, different launch and flying techniques, safety procedures, etc. Paragliding has been called the easiest form of aviation to learn, but the most difficult to master and you should expect to continue throughout your flying career.

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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 and Paragliding Association (USHPA) To keep it self-regulated, pilots and instructors alike adhere to the policies and guidelines of the USHPA. Local flying regulations may require a pilot to have certain USHPA ratings, such as Novice (P2) or Intermediate (P3) in order to fly a particular site. When purchasing equipment, a responsible dealer will always require some proof of certified rating.

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Q. How long does it take to learn to fly?
A. In order to acquire the basic skills necessary to fly on your own without instructor supervision, you need to complete a Novice (P2) Certification Course, which generally takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, and a minimum of 25 flights. During such a course, you will complete the USHPA-mandated amount of ground-school time, flights, and flying days, and will learn about high altitude flight, advanced maneuvers and reserve parachute deployment.

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Q. What is motorized paragliding or powered paragliding?
A. With a gas-fueled motor unit attached to the pilot's back by means of a special harness, it is possible to paraglide in areas where, and at times when, flying sites or conditions are limited or non-existent. With thorough training a backpack motor pilot can use the motor to launch and then spend the rest of the day ridge soaring or riding thermals, using the motor only when necessary to keep from landing. All of the same general considerations discussed about paragliders apply to motor units. Since the pilot will be launching and landing with 45 lbs. to 100 lbs. of additional weight, it is extremely important that the pilot be competent in evaluating the conditions and have the appropriate skills. You should secure a USHPA Novice license before using a motor unit. The information and training provided is crucial to your long term success with a motor.