Disciplines of the Sport
Simple flight aka “Sled Ride” is a very enjoyable experience. A paraglider has a sink
rate of about 8:1, gliding 8 feet before dropping 1 foot in stable air. Generally paragliders
sink at a rate of 200 feet per minute, so if you drive up and launch from a 3000 foot
mountain in stable air, you could expect a 15 minute flight and travel 4-1/2 miles. Usually
the air isn’t that stable and we like having our landing zone no further than a 4:1 or 5:1 from launch.
To get more airtime pilots look for a “Soaring Flight.” To soar we need rising air.
There are 2 main types of lifting air paragliders use which include Ridge Lift and
Thermal Lift. Ridge Lift - A prevailing wind encountering a hill, ridge or cliff
will be force upward. Paragliders and hang gliders ride this wave of air for as
long as the wind continues with a base of 10 mph and a max of 16 mph.
Thermal Lift - The sun heats the ground, the ground heats the air above it. This air expands
and becomes less dense and wants to rise in the form of a bubble or column of air.
This air can rise at a rate of 50-2000 feet per minute depending on a number of variables. If the
air has moisture the rising air may reach its due point and form a cumulous cloud.
Birds, paragliders, hang gliders and sailplanes circle in these thermals gaining altitude without
flapping or powered assistance. Pilots can reach cloudbase but not legally enter the cloud.
Right of way rules dictate that the first person in the thermal chooses the turn
direction and pilots below have the right of way because they can’t see you,
because their canopy blocks their view above.
Experienced thermal pilots often move towards “Cross Country Flying.”
Cross country flying is simply connecting the thermal dots. On a good weather day,
pilots thermal high above launch and generally glide downwind to places
where they anticipated lift may occur such as mountain peaks and spines.
Here is a picture of a cloud over a peak indicating good thermal lift. Once you find
the next thermal, circle in the rising air and climb back up to cloudbase and go
on glide again. Repeat this as long as you can always keeping a safe landing option nearby.
Eventually you won’t find enough lift to stay up so you will sink to the ground.
Landing in an unfamiliar area is an interesting prospect. Scout the area for power lines,
fences and any other obstacles to avoid. Once you’ve landed you have 4 options:
1) Call a friend for a lift home, 2) Hitch Hike, 3) Start Walking or 4) Consider you new location home.
The current paragliding world record distance is 263 miles accomplished in 10 hours of
flying by Will Gadd from Zapata Texas directly to the north. It occurred on
June 21, 2002 – the longest day of the year and it followed a popular bird migratory route.
Will is also the first paraglider pilot to cross the Grand Canyon. He launched using a truck mounted
tow system, released at 1000 feet over the ground and then found a thermal that took him to 17,900 feet.
From there he was able to glide across the Canyon in a 3 hour flight.
The “Hike and Fly” is becoming more and more popular. Pilots hike their kit up a mountain
and take flight. This can be a single day event or sometimes pilots will repeat this process
over several days. Sky camping, also called Bivouac flying allows the pilot to cover
miles and miles of alpine country.
One couple from France has hiked and flown tandem off all of the
highest summits of the 7 continents including their 6th flight off Everest. Claire and Zeb
flew from the top of Everest on May 24, 2001 to enter the record books.
In August of 2005, Red Bull sponsored the 2nd XAlps contest. The rules are that
you must hike with your gear or fly an 800 km course from Dauchstein, Austria
to Monaco including 2 turn points. You are allowed 1 support crew that can set
up camp, cook food and help plan your route based on current weather reports.
This year’s winner was Alex Hoffer who accomplished the task in
12 days with 59% flying and 41% hiking.
Accomplished XC pilots often take up Cross Country Competition flying. Generally there
are between 2-4 major national competitions each year and over a dozen local and regional
competitions throughout the US. The US National Championships moves location each year
somewhere in the western states. 70-100 pilots take to the skies in search of glory.
Each day a task committee looks at the days weather and determines a challenging
and safe course usually 20-60 miles in length. At the pilots meeting the course is presented
with a list of virtual GPS turnpoints. A typical task may include 3-6 turnpoints and a goal
cylinder. Pilots are given a launch window, let’s say 12:00-2:00 and a launch cylinder to
hang out in till the start time of let’s say 1:00. They are then sent off on a series of turnpoints
and a goal. In this scenario, it would be good to launch early at 12:00, get as high as
possible on the edge of the start cylinder and then leave at exactly 1:00 and race
as fast as possible to get to goal. Each pilot carries a GPS that records the time of departure
and leaves a track log showing that they flew through each turnpoint cylinder and finally
what time they reached the goal cylinder. A competition may last between 3-12
days and pilots will be ranked by their combined daily scores.
Maneuvers training. A basic understanding of collapse recovery, spirals, spins and stalls
is a good investment of time and energy to pilots looking to fly in advanced thermic conditions.
A safe approach to this understanding is accomplished with radio instruction over water.
Pilots are towed behind a motorboat with a pay out winch system over a fresh water lake.
The line is released when the pilot is between 2000 and 4000 feet over the lake. The tow line has
a drogue parachute that allows the winch to recoil the line easily without tangles.
The pilot positions himself over the lake and the instructor coaches him to collapse the glider
and recover it. This process is repeated over and over accomplishing many collapse recoveries
and general understanding of wing dynamics in non-level flight.
Here we see an “Asymmetric” collapse that may cause the glider to rotate to the right.
Generally all that is required to recover from an asymmetric collapse is to lean your weight
opposite the collapse and keep you hands up. On the right we see a “full stall.” Again a properly
timed release of the brakes will allow the glider to reinflate and start flying again.
Some pilots seek greater thrills and skills of aerobatic flying. Current tricks are very
complicated to describe but are generally advanced combinations of spirals, spins,
stalls and wing reversals to accomplish loops and tumbles. Generally the US
holds 1 or 2 aerobatic competitions each year.
Here we see a loop, full stall and a series of photos showing a “Death Spiral”,
where the pilot spirals towards the lake and puts one wingtip on the water before
exiting the spiral and landing safely on the pontoon dock.
Synchronized aerobatics shows the real skill more accurately as a team of pilots is
judged on the difficulty of tricks and their synchronization.
Here we see two pilots spiralling together with their top surfaces touching.
This is called “Mirror Flying.” The bottom left image shows paraglider
stacking and one pilot flying upside down. Next to it is “Wing Walking.”On the right
is 2 pilots hooking legs and “Downplaning” by flying their gliders straight down.
Paramotoring. By putting a giant fan on ones back, flight can be accomplished
off flat ground. This highly unregulated sport often gets lots of media attention
with crash footage. This is due to a serious lack of education on a very complicated
form of flight. A pilot has 60-80 pounds of engine and prop on their back as they try to inflate
and power up into flight. Here the Fan Man gets stuck on the Statue of Liberty. He was later rescued.
Again we here from record holder, Will Gadd who flew across America in May
and June of 2001 starting in Ventura, CA and ending at Kitty Hawk, NC.
© Circling Hawk Paragliding • Santa Barbara, California • Bo Criss • 805-403-5848 • Bo@CirclingHawk.com