What Is Paragliding: A Brief History & Overview Of The Sport

What Is Paragliding A Brief History & Overview Of The Sport

What is Paragliding?

What is paragliding? It’s one of the most natural and unadulterated ways to go about in the air. It is accomplished by the use of a paraglider, in which the pilot is hung from a huge, curved fabric wing while sitting in a harness. Because there is no engine, the pilots have to start by running in order to get lift. Because the wing has a curve to it, it is possible for an experienced pilot to glide for great distances and rise to great heights. Pull handles that are situated beside each shoulder are used to control the direction the vehicle travels in.

One of the least complicated ways to fly, paragliding is also one of the most accessible forms of the sport. People who appreciate the challenge and excitement of flying, as well as the great outdoors and the breathtaking aerial views that may be obtained, are likely to find pleasure in this pastime activity.

However, much like other types of flying, paragliding is a skill that must be learned and mastered over time. There are risks involved, and a lack of control, a sudden change in the weather, or improper use of the equipment may all lead to fatalities.

Where did the sport of paragliding come from?

A large number of persons from the United States and France have been involved in the sport of paragliding throughout its brief existence. The early forms of paragliding were taken from the already existing parachute, which had a circular shape and was intended to descend in a controlled manner.

The United States military’s parachute landing training is generally credited as being the first known instance of paragliding. It took a lot of time to keep sending troops back up into the air so that they could leap out of an airplane. When troops made their own way into the air by paragliding, it was less expensive, it took less time, and it allowed for more jumps to be completed in a day than when they used a helicopter.

The first documented event took place in 1952, when an American named Domina Jailbert successfully applied for a patent on a gliding parachute that had many cells and controls that made it possible to glide laterally. The first Parafoil was created by Domina in 1963 and patented that same year. Because of its ‘ram-air’ construction, it has multiple cells that gather air and, once they are full, provide the pilot the ability to lift off. The form has shifted from that of a circular parachute to that of a rectangular wing with a gentle curvature.

During the same time period, David Barish was working with NASA space capsules to design a sail wing as a recovery method to return people back to Earth. This work took place in the 1960s. He designed a parachute that was in the form of a rectangle. In an effort to get “slope soaring” off the ground, Barish pitched the concept to several ski resorts located all across the United States. At the time, people merely saw it as a means to glide above the ground while racing down grassy ski slopes in the summer. There was no purpose to take advantage of any thermals or dynamic winds in order to glide to a high altitude.

In the same year, 1961, the French engineer Pierre Lemongine produced certain innovations that helped make it possible for people to go paragliding. He devised a design for a parachute that allowed it to be towed into the air and controlled once it was there.

The year 1978 was the starting point for the commencement of the meteoric growth in popularity of the sport of paragliding. The defining moment occurred on June 25th, when two French skydivers named Jean-Claud Betemps and Andre Bohn sprinted down the steep mountain slope of Mont Pertuiset in France and released themselves into the air. This event is considered to be the “defining moment.” Betemps and Bohn were preparing for the French national skydiving championships, but they did not have the money to pay for the gasoline that would have been required for an aircraft to transport them up and down the slopes. At the time, they were unaware of David Barish’s prior work on the other side of the globe. However, they did inquire with scientists as to whether or not their ideas were feasible, and they received a “yes,” although with some reservation.

Their flying was displayed in the media, which inspired others to attempt the activity and led to Betemps being hailed as the creator of paragliding since he was the first person to paraglide on that day.

After this point, participation in paragliding saw consistent and rapid growth in popularity. Betemps was one of the first instructors hired when the very first paragliding school opened its doors in 1979. 1985 was the year that saw the first year that people were able to purchase paragliders. The fabric of the wings was more rigid than that of a parachute, and the lines had less give in them. This afforded the pilot an increased degree of control as well as steadiness.

What Kinds of Parts Are Included in a Paraglider?

Paragliding Wing

The term “wing” refers to the primary component of the paraglider. This resembles a parachute in appearance, but rather of being spherical, it has the form of a rectangular rectangle and is curved. These wings are constructed of two layers of fabric, which are typically ripstop polyester or nylon, and cells that bind the layers together. It is able to capture and retain wind during takeoff and flight because to the curved form of the wing and the cells that make up the wing. This kind of airfoil design is known as the ram-air airfoil. The kind of turbulence that the pilot anticipates encountering and the level of speed that he or she wants to achieve both have a role in determining the sort of paraglider wing that should be used.


The pilot is secured in place by a harness that is attached to the underside of the wing. A simple harness system, which consists of nothing more than a series of straps, is one example of this. A chair, for example, is at the opposite end of the range and offers significant protection. These more sophisticated harnesses will have a reserve parachute stowed away beneath the seat, and it will have a handle that you may pull to swiftly release it. In the case of a botched takeoff or a difficult landing, these harnesses additionally offer storage as well as foam or airbag protectors to ensure the safety of the wearer.

Holding Area for the Parachute

The majority of pilots that participate in paragliding nowadays fly with a reserve. However, the pilot should only do this move when they are very positive they won’t be able to regain control of the paraglider. When you open a reserve, you expose yourself to additional dangers, such as a lack of control over where you will land and the possibility of candlesticking (the point at which the main wing and parachute collide and converge). Many pilots who compete in aviation events carry two reserves with them at all times in case of a candlesticking emergency. As a paraglider, it is important to ensure that you have appropriate training and can manage severe circumstances or avoid them totally, rather than fly through anything in the knowledge that you have a reserve available to you in the event that anything goes wrong.

Paraglider Tech (Variometer, GPS, Radio, Compass)

It is essential to have a variometer in order to accurately measure not only your vertical speed but also other factors, such as relative height, real altitude, air temperature, and air speed. The majority of variometers have the capability to capture data during your flight and give you auditory warning tones. This data may then be transferred to your computer.

If the pilot’s variometer does not already have a built-in GPS, they will need to purchase a separate GPS device. It’s more difficult to tell if shifting weather conditions are causing you to slow down or drift backwards when you’re flying a paraglider a mile above the ground. GPS devices come in quite handy for paragliders because of this. Those that fly in high alpine settings will always take a digital compass with them just in case they have to navigate under cloud cover, an environment in which GPS systems are rendered useless.

Protective Gear for the Unforeseeable

Kevlar is used in the construction of quality paragliding helmets because of its low weight and high strength. Due to the fact that head damage may be caused by accidents from any direction, helmets provide 360-degree protection to the head. In the event that the launch does not go as planned, a substantial faceguard will prove to be of great assistance.

Learn more about how to be safe when paragliding.

Footwear that is Suitable for Touchdown

If you can believe it, the portion of the body that is damaged the most often when paragliding is the ankle. The majority of individuals can get by with conventional hiking boots, but more expert hikers should use a specialized boot designed for their activity that has high sides to protect the ankle from injury. In addition, paragliding boots are not intended to have exterior lacing clips since these clips might cause your lines to get entangled.

Mastering the Art of Soaring, Piloting, and Landing a Paraglider

Launching a paraglider may be accomplished in a number of ways, the most common of which are the forward launch, the reverse launch, and the towed launch. During the forward launch, the pilot would sprint ahead while spreading out their wing on the ground. This is called a forward launch. This is done in the middle of a current of air, most often on higher land. Some pilots like this method since it simply requires them to sprint forward in order to experience the excitement of takeoff. On the other hand, since the wing will be behind you, it will be more difficult to ensure that it is inflated properly and that there is no tangling of the wires.

The use of a reverse launch is an option that pilots have when dealing with high altitudes and severe winds. The pilot is needed to do very little running, and at the same time, they may keep an eye on the wing and the lines as they lift off the ground. To effectively perform this launch, however, requires a certain level of ability, since it requires the pilot to keep their foot on the brakes, spin to the side, and keep from tangling the lines.

Towing a launch may be accomplished with the assistance of a fixed item like a winch, vehicle, or vessel. When there is minimal wind and the terrain is level, this might make it simpler to paraglide.

Maintaining Command of the Paraglider

The speed bar, which the pilots may manipulate with their feet, allows the pilots to boost their speed if they so want. This is attached to the harness, and it has the effect of reducing the angle of attack of the wing. The pilot operates two controls, one on each side of the cockpit, to apply and release the brakes.. These are used to regulate the speed of the aircraft, and a pilot may also use them to modify the steering of the aircraft by moving their body weight while using them.

The wing may also be controlled by a skillful pilot via the use of lines and risers. This may be helpful for accelerating the approach to a landing, slowing down in the event that the brakes fail, and maintaining control in the face of rapid changes in wind direction.

The pilot of the paraglider may, for the most part, let the aircraft glide by itself. Beginners often make the error of spending an inordinate amount of time overcorrecting and using the brakes.

Launching a Paraglider


It is essential that the landing of a paraglider be carefully planned and carried out in a measured manner. When you hit the brakes hard at the beginning of the landing, it usually results in a more difficult landing and possible injury. Pilots are instructed to avoid making a bad landing and to take their time to touch down in the best possible circumstances whenever they can. Landing with the wind may help to ensure a smooth landing, however landing without the wind may require the pilot to demonstrate some level of ability and “flare” near the conclusion of the landing. You must increase your speed in order to flare the wing and decrease the possibility of making a painful hit as you get closer to the ground. After you have gotten close to the ground, lowered your legs, flared out your wing, and completed your final checks to ensure that the surface you are going to land on is secure, you are then ready to apply the brakes.

In the event that a more quick landing is required, an experienced pilot could be able to execute a spiral dive, a b-line stall, or a big ears landing, depending on the circumstances and the amount of space that is available.

What Kinds of Paragliding Are There to Choose From?

The sport of competitive paragliding encompasses a variety of subdisciplines, each of which caters to a certain set of skills and interests. The majority of events may be broken down into three primary classifications: hike-and-fly events, cross-country flying contests, and aerobic paragliding competitions.


Soaring is accomplished by making use of the wind that is funneled upward by a huge object, such as a mountain, cliff, ridge, or giant sand dune. In order to do this, there must be a steady and enough amount of wind. If there isn’t enough wind, the paraglider won’t be able to take off without causing any damage. It is possible for the paraglider to be blown back over the hill if there is an excessive amount of wind.

Flying in Thermals

Flying on thermals involves taking use of the rising air currents that result when solid objects, like boulders, are heated by the sun and release heat into the surrounding air. When pilots locate a thermal, they will either use a varioaltimeter or fly in a circle in order to locate the core of the thermal, which is the strongest area of the thermal and where the air is rising at the fastest rate.

Flights Made Across Country

Gliding from one thermal to the next is required to complete a cross-country course in paragliding. Since cumulus clouds are often found at the top of a warm air thermal, paragliders may soar in the direction of terrain features that have the potential to create thermals or they may look for cumulus clouds to fly underneath.

What Does Paragliding Feel Like?

The sensation of paragliding is described as being “quite great” by the vast majority of persons who have experienced it. The activity of paragliding represents flying in its most elemental, unrefined, and unadulterated form. You are able to feel at one with your environment because to the restricted construction, which consists of the lack of walls and a floor. Although it is commonly lumped with dangerous sports like skydiving and bungee jumping, it is actually a lot more serene than those other activities, and a wide variety of people love it. Gliding in the air on a paraglider is not nearly as terrifying!

Even if you have a fear of heights, you could find that paragliding is an activity that you can still enjoy. The thing that makes the majority of people anxious about heights is getting too near to the brink or really doing it (e.g. jumping off a platform when bungee jumping). In this sense, paragliding differs from other activities. You ease off the ground and are hoisted into the air as the vehicle accelerates. And if you’ve never done it before, you should definitely begin with tandem paragliding, which is when an expert pilot guides you through the whole flight, from the launch to the landing.

Who Is Doing This, and Where Is It Done?

In the mountainous parts of Western Europe, paragliding has long been a very well-liked recreational activity. There are many different locations in France, some of which are Annecy, Chamonix, Plaine Joux, and Dune of Pilat, to mention just a few. Interlaken in Switzerland, Tyrol in Austria, Tuscany in Italy, Oludeniz in Turkey, and Algodonales in the south of Spain are some of the other famous spots to visit in Europe. These are the places where you’ll find professional paraglider pilots as well as tourist companies that provide short tandem paragliding trips for those who have never done it before.

Other popular places to go paragliding across the globe include the following:

  • Australia
  • Bali
  • Africa, South
  • California
  • Pokhara in Nepal
  • San Gil in Colombia
  • Valle de Bravo in Mexico
  • Canoa Quebrada in Brazil

However, a lot of individuals like paragliding, and many of them have their own places they visit to be away from others so they can take in both the tranquility and stillness of nature in addition to the thrill of flying.

How does one begin the sport of paragliding?

If you’re not sure whether or not paragliding is something you want to make a significant time and financial commitment to, it’s a smart idea to do a few tandem flights with an experienced pilot. If you’re motivated to learn how to paraglide, you might discover organizations that provide instruction in most countries as well as well-known paragliding locations. The admission requirements are quite simple in compared to those for other types of human flight, such as skydiving. There are training programs that may be completed in as little as eight days, after which you will be able to fly on your own.

Although we have nothing against these courses, they cover so many things in such little time that it’s conceivable you won’t acquire a lot of practical experience from them. After you have completed your training, it is in your best interest to continue flying with other paragliders who have more expertise. They will be able to suggest flying spots in your neighborhood that are suitable for your level of experience.

In many countries, there are paragliding clubs and organizations where you can talk to seasoned pilots who are prepared to give you tips and pointers on how to improve your flying.

These are the following:

  • Within the United States, the USHPA may be found.
  • The SAFA in Down Under
  • The Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of the United Kingdom, often known as the British Hang Gliding Association
  • A refresher course in meteorology is another smart thing to do to improve your skills. Educate yourself about the many types of clouds and the influence they have on thermals.


In the majority of nations, paragliding is regarded as a “self-regulated activity,” and hence solo flight does not need a pilot’s license. Before you are allowed to join some groups and organisations, however, they could want you to provide some kind of certification proving that you have gone through training beforehand.

In addition to this, you are responsible for abiding by the regulations that govern restricted airspaces in your nation, which may include airports, flight routes, and military bases. In addition to this, pilots should steer clear of flying too low over roads and buildings.

The Step-by-Step Guide to Buying a Paraglider

As long as you are cautious while shopping, buying old paragliding wings, lines, harnesses, and navigational equipment is OK. Have an experienced friend join you while inspecting the equipment and looking for any indications of damage to the wing, lines, and harness if you wish to err on the side of caution.. Alternatively, you may acquire the equipment from a reliable member of your local organization.

The reserve parachute and the helmet are two components that should be purchased brand new if at all possible. Buying defective or outdated equipment only to save a few bucks is not worth risking your life on since you never know when you may need it.

There are a variety of EN ratings that can be found on paragliding wings. These ratings serve as a guide to assist you select a paraglider that is appropriate for your level of experience and the kind of flying that you want to do. Those who are new to the sport of paragliding will begin their training in the “first wings” class, which has gliders that are simpler to control and more stable. The “progression class,” which often earns an EN B grade, is the next level up from this one in the hierarchy.

  • Following this, there are classes that provide a high level of performance in certain aspects, such as the following:
  • The Cross-Country (XC) class enables riders to make quick turns and exhibit athletic handling, both of which are difficult to master without prior training and experience.
  • A excellent all-around wing, particularly suited for thermalling, falls within the Sports Class umbrella.
  • Performance oriented, with an emphasis on long, quick glides. Can be more difficult to launch.
  • Competition—specifically, for those who are participating in international contests


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