What is a Paraglider?
WELL, It's brightly colored, it's made of nylon and it looks rather like a large inflatable
airbed drifting lazily overhead with a pilot hanging underneath on a little seat. What's
more, he seems to be able to make it go where he wants it to, Amazing huh?  That's a
paraglider!

A paraglider is the most basic form of flying machine that man has yet devised, a sort of
cross between a glider and a parachute. It is simply a self-inflating fabric canopy,
without fuselage, tail, undercarriage or engine, but because the canopy, like the wing of
an aircraft, is a classic airfoil shape, it will always try to move forward into the air
stream. By manipulating his rigging lines like a normal parachutist, the pilot suspended
underneath can change the shape and angle of the wing to steer the paraglider, By taking
advantage of favorable breezes and thermals - rising currents of warm air - he or she can
sometimes stay aloft for hours, soaring over the countryside like an eagle.

The paraglider's secret is that its canopy consists of a set of closely-spaced parallel
tubular nylon pockets, called cells. Take your paraglider to the top of a hill, run forward
a few steps, and pull gently on the brakes of a wing, and you will begin to R-I-S-E.  
How far you rise is at least partly up to you, but it can be a very long way, The world
height record for a paraglider is around 18,000 feet, they have traveled 280 kilometers,
and they have stayed airborne for at least 12 hours. In Britain, the endurance record is
about five and a half hours.

Paragliding was born in the 1970s when America's NASA space agency dreamed up the
idea of a parachute that could be flown like a glider. There are many different models,
but a typical sporting paraglider will have a span of about 30 feet, and its 280 sq.ft. wing
will contain between 35 and 60 air cells. The whole  paraglider, including altimeter and
rate-of-climb indicator, will weigh only 12 or 13 kilograms, light enough to be carried
like a rucksack by pilots hiking their way to a lonely hilltop far from the road.
Assembling the paraglider will take 10 minutes or so; at the end of your flight, a quarter
of an hour will see you packed up and ready for home.

Not surprisingly, Paragliding thrives in areas like the Alps or Rocky Mountains, where
you can depend on sunshine, blue skies, plenty of up currents over the sun-warmed rock
faces, and lots of nice high mountains to fly off. Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe,
is ideal. You can take the cable car to then fly all the way down to the bottom again.
Paragliding is a growing sport and quite simple to learn. It is also much safer than it
looks, and serious mishaps are rare. "In one sense it's rather like skiing.. The basic
techniques are quite easy to learn, and after that, it's largely a question of practicing
under the eye of an expert." Paragliders can be towed into the air on the end of a
winch-drawn tow rope ,just like a full-sized glider. Paragliding, using the most basic
form of flying machine, is a growing sport.

Proper instruction is essential and the early stages can be hard work, especially walking
back up to the top of the hill for the next flight.  After about four or five flying days,
under the watchful eye of an instructor, you should be ready for your student pilot's
certificate. Another five or six days' flying should bring you up to club pilot standard,
which means you're ready to make most of your own decisions, although you should still
be flying with other pilots from a single site. Not until you've acquired a lot more
experience and passed examinations in subjects such as map reading, meteorology and
air traffic control regulations will you be ready to fly away on your own. An expert can
land a paraglider in a suburban back garden. Paragliding is a highly competitive sport, and
enthusiasts believe that by the early twenty-first century, it may become an Olympics
event.

While most paraglider pilots are men, it's a sport at which women are extremely good.
Age is no barrier, either; anybody reasonably fit and active can learn. It is not uncommon
to find pilots in their early 70s still keenly pursuing the sport.
Check out the
TV8 Interview
with Greg Kelley at
the bottom of this
page.
What is a Paraglider?
Double click to view video full screen
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Vail Valley Paragliding
Vail Valley Paragliding