So what is paragliding?

Examine these photos:

None of these activities are Paragliding. The first is parachuting, the second parascending and the final one is hang gliding.

A paraglider is a foot launched aircraft. The pilot sits in a harness attached to a fabric wing by the use of strengthened string. He will launch by standing on a hill and moving forward, this inturn inflates the wing. A paraglider is designed to stay airborne, but to do so it needs upwards currents of air. These can be gained through soaring along a cliff or steep hill, where the wind is deflected upwards, or through the use of thermals which are invisible bubbles of heated air that move upwards from the ground.

It is the ultimate in free-flight, no engine, just the noise of the air and the skill of the pilot and it is possible to gain incredible height and travel long distances. The world record for distance, currently stands at over 500km.

Still confused? Then take a look at this excellent presentation about paragliding from an American gentleman called James Bradley: Click here

What's learning like?

The link below covers what the emotions of learning to paraglide are like. It's the German system of learning which is a little different to the UK and British Hang-gliding and Paragliding Association method. But this is a very well made video - click on the CC button to get subtitles.

Click here for Flying is Freedom video.

So how do I learn to do this?

You will need to register for an officially recognised course. Under no circumstances attempt to teach yourself, this is extremely dangerous and can be fatal. Most Countries have national bodies that administer paragliding activities, in the UK it is the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA). The BHPA certifies individuals from the clubs in the UK to become Instructors and therefore most clubs have at least one instructor. The APPI certifes in other countries. sTraining to the minimum standard of Club Pilot is done in two stages and what follows is a brief description.

Elementary Pilot (EP)

Training starts by learning about the equipment and practicing Parachute Landing Falls (PLFs), this is necessary to protect yourself in case of a hard landing. You will then be taught how to forward launch, before moving to a hill.

Once at a hill, you will, starting from fairly low down, start your first hops. These are just descents - top-to-bottoms as they're otherwise known. An instructor will hold bats and will give you signals on how to steer. After a few hops, you'll move further up the hill until you're at the top. Then you will move to a better site, where you'll learn flight planning.

Flight planning is planning your path through the air, to get to the landing area. They are still top-to-bottoms, but they will take a little longer and you will feel more like you're flying.

You will cover the theory of flight, rules of the air and meteorology throughout the course and you will have an exam at the end of the EP phase.

On successfully passing the exam, you will progress to the Club Pilot phase.

Club Pilot (CP)

The Club Pilot is allowed to fly in a club atmosphere. Once qualified, you still have an enormous lot to learn, but you will be able to fly almost completely unsupervised.

The CP course focuses on hill soaring -staying airborne. You'll learn how to maximise lift, how to turn efficiently and use emergency procedures to deal with collapses and descend quickly. You will also learn a different launch technique, reverse launching. You will be expected more and more to make your own decisions, to decide you're own flight plaths and deal with all eventualities.

Once you have completed a set number of tasks, you will be required to complete another exam and then you are a pilot! There are other levels after CP that give you more freedom, but CP should be your short term goal.

The BHPA publishes a free guide to elementary paragliding and hang gliding training which is freely available to new and existing BHPA pilots. Download your copy from the BHPA here. This guide will be updated from time to time, so please keep your copy up-to-date.