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Paragliding is the recreational and competitive adventure sport of paragliding: a lightweight, non-powered, glider which takes off standing and without a primary rigid structure. The pilot sits in a harness suspended beneath a fabric wing comprising a large number of interconnected cells. The shape of the wing is maintained by the suspension lines, the pressure of the air speed entering the front of the wing, and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside.

Despite not using an engine, paragliding flight can last many hours and do hundreds of kilometers, although one to two hours and do a few tens of kilometers is the most normal. By skillfully exploiting the sources of ascent, the pilot can gain altitude, often climbing to a height of several thousand meters.


In 1952, Domina Jalbert made controllable multi-cell glider parachutes and controllable side-sliders.

In 1954, Walter Neumark predicted (in an article in Flight Magazine) the time would come when a glider pilot would be “able to fly himself by dropping over the edge of a cliff or down a slope … whether on a rock climbing or skiing vacation in the Alps.

In 1961, French engineer Pierre Lemoigne came up with improved parachute designs that led to the Para-commander. PC created indentations on the back and sides that allowed it to be towed into the air and steered – leading to the paraglider.

Domina Jalbert, a Canadian who invented the Parafoil, sectioning the cells into an airfoil shape; an open leading edge and a closed trailing edge, inflated by passing through the air – the dynamic air design. He filed U.S. Patent 3,131,894 on January 10, 1963.

About that same time, David Barish was developing the “wing sail” (wing-single surface) for recovery of NASA space capsules – “slope flight was a way to test the Sail … Wing.” After tests over Hunter Mountain, New York, in September 1965, he went on to promote slope flying as a summer activity for ski resorts.

Author Walter Neumark wrote Operating Procedures for Parachute Ascending, and he and a group of enthusiasts with a passion for launch tow computers and ram-air parachutes eventually broke away from the British Parachute Association to form the British Association Paragliding Club (BAPC) in 1973. Authors Patrick Gilligan (Canada) and Bertrand Dubuis (Switzerland) wrote the first flight manual, the Paragliding Handbook in 1985, officially coining the word paragliding.

These events were combined in June 1978 by three friends, Jean-Claude Bétemps, André Bohn and Gerard Bosson, from Mieussy, Haute Savoie, France. After inspiration from an article on slope flying in theParachute Manual magazine by parachutist and editor Dan Poynter, they calculated that on a suitable slope, a “square” ram-air parachute could be inflated by running down the slope; Bétemps launched from Pointe du Pertuiset, Mieussy, and flew 100 m (328 ft). Bohn followed and glided down to the soccer field in the valley 1000 m below. “Paragliding” (pente in French is “slope”) was born.

Since the 1980s, the equipment has continued to improve, the number of paragliding pilots and established sites has continued to increase. The first (unofficial) Paragliding World Championships were held in Verbier, Switzerland, in 1987, although the first official FAI World Championships were held in Kössen, Austria, in 1989.

Europe has seen the greatest growth in paragliding, with France currently registering more than 25,000 active pilots.



The paraglider wing is usually what is known in aeronautical engineering as a “dynamic air lift surface”. Such wings comprise two layers of fabric that are connected to an internal support material in such a way as to form a row of cells. By leaving most of the cells open only at the leading edge, the incoming air keeps the wing inflated, thus maintaining its shape. When inflated, the cross-section of the wing has the typical teardrop shape of the airfoil. Modern high-performance gliders are made of non-porous materials such as polyester ripstop or nylon fabric.

Paraglider lines are usually made of Dyneema / Spectra or kevlar / aramid. Although they look thin, these materials are immensely strong. For example, a single 0.66 mm diameter line (the thinnest) can have a breaking strength of 56 kg.

The glide ratio of paragliders ranges from 9.3 for recreational wings to around 11.3 for modern competition models, reaching up to 13 in some cases. By way of comparison, a typical skydiving parachute will achieve approximately 3: 1 glide ratio. A hang glider ranges from 9.5 for recreational wings to about 16.5 for modern competition models. An ultralight aircraft will achieve 9: 1. Some gliders can achieve a glide ratio of up to 72: 1.

The speed range of gliders is normally between 20-75 kilometers per hour (12-47 mph), from stall speed and top speed. Beginner wings will be at the lower end of this range, high performance wings at the top of the range.

Flexible tandem wings, designed to carry the pilot and a passenger, are larger, but otherwise similar. They generally fly faster with higher finishing speeds, are more resistant to collapse, and have a slightly higher sink rate compared to solo gliders.


The pilot is loosely and comfortably buckled into a harness, which provides foot support and the position is seated. Most harnesses have foam or airbag protectors under the seat and behind the back to reduce impact on takeoffs or missed landings. Modern harnesses are designed to be as comfortable as a lounge chair in the seated position. Many harnesses even have an “adjustable lumbar support”. A reserve parachute is also usually attached to a glider harness.


Most pilots use Variometers, radios, and, GPS units during flight.

– Variometer

The primary purpose of a variometer is to help a pilot find and stay in the “core” of a thermal to maximize altitude gain and, conversely, to indicate when a pilot is in descending air and needs to find rising air. Humans can perceive acceleration when they first hit a thermal, but cannot detect the difference between steadily rising air and sinking air.

– Radio

Radio communications are used in training, to communicate with other pilots, and to report where and when they intend to land.


GPS (Global Positioning System) is a necessary accessory when flying competitions, where it can be shown that the waypoints have been correctly transmitted.



As with all aircraft, takeoff and landing are performed upwind. The wing is exposed to a current of air, either running or, or an existing wind. The wing moves upward over the pilot into a position where the passenger can be carried. The pilot is then lifted off the ground and, after a safety period, can sit in his harness. Unlike skydivers, paragliders, like hang gliders, do not “jump” at any time during this process.


Landing a glider, as with all non-powered aircraft that cannot abort a landing, involves some specific techniques and traffic patterns.

Landing involves approaching upwind and, just before touchdown, “burning” the wing to minimize vertical and/or horizontal speed. This consists of going smoothly from 0% brake to about two meters to 100% brake when touching down on the ground.

In lighter winds, some minor steps are common. In stronger wind landings may be no forward speed, or even go backwards relative to the ground in very strong winds, but this usually means that conditions were stronger for that glider.


Brakes: Controls held in each of the pilot’s hands that connect to the trailing edge of the left and right sides of the riser. These controls are called “brakes” and provide the primary and most general means of control in a glider. The brakes are used to adjust speed, to steer (in addition to weight change), and to brake on landing.

Weight shift: In addition to manipulating the brakes, a glider pilot must also brace in order to steer correctly. These huge weight shifts can also be used for more limited steering when brake use is not available, for example when under “big ears”. More advanced control techniques may also involve weight shifting.

thermal flight

When the sun heats the earth, this will heat some things more than others (such as rock walls or large buildings), and these thermal currents rise through the air. Sometimes these can be a simple rising column of air or they are blown sideways in the wind and detach from the source, with the formation of a new thermal following.

Once a pilot encounters a thermal, he or she begins to fly in a circle, trying to center the circle on the strongest part of the thermal (the “core”), where the air is rising most rapidly. Most pilots use a vario-altimeter (“Vario”), which indicates the rate of climb with beeps and/or a visual display, to assist in the core of a thermal.

There is often a strong sink surrounding thermals, and there is also strong turbulence resulting in wing collapses as pilot attempts to enter a strong thermal. Good thermal flying is a skill that takes time to learn, but it is normal for a good pilot to be able to turn this current all the way to the cloud base.


FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) world records:

– Straight Distance (preliminary claim) – 514 km (319 miles): Frank Brown (Brazil); Tacima (Brazil) – Monsenhor Tabosa (Brazil) – Oct. 8, 2015 flight record

– Altitude gain – 4,526 m (14,849 ft): Robbie Whittall (UK); Brandvlei (South Africa); January 6, 1993

– Maximum flight altitude – 6,000 m (20,000 ft): Thomas De Dorlodot; Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan) above Ladyfinger Peak near Rakaposhi.

– Oldest person to fly: Peggy McAlpine from northern Cyprus. She took to the sky at the age of 104 from a maximum of 2,400 feet.

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