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introduction to paragliding

Imagine parking your car at a beautiful upland vantage point on a sparkling spring day. You open the boot and don flying suit and boots, then lift out your incredibly light flying machine in its carrying rucksack and trek off a few yards to where your friends are preparing to fly. After a few minutes spent inspecting your equipment you don helmet and harness, look around, allow the wind to raise the canopy of your glider and launch off into space. This is paragliding!

What exactly is it?

Developed from parachuting canopies, modern paragliders can be soared effortlessly on windward slopes and across country in good conditions. It is the same freedom that hang glider pilots have, but a paraglider is more portable and a little easier to learn to fly. They are more hampered by strong winds than hang gliders but are easier to land in small fields.

In the UK paragliding is a thriving sport and there are numerous importers of canopies and equipment. The country-wide network of BHPA clubs offers literally hundreds of flying sites and a supportive flying and social environment.

What can you do with one?

Many paraglider pilots strive to perfect their skills in cross-country flying. A summer sky filled with fluffy cumulus clouds provides abundant - but invisible - lifting currents which pilots use to gain altitude. Setting off on such a day, either towards a pre-selected goal or just drifting where the wind will take you, is one of the most breathtaking experiences available today. Most pilots will talk of the sense of privilege they feel when drifting from cloud to cloud, in almost total silence, watching the landscape unfold beneath them as they navigate across the sky.

Flights of over 150km have been made by paraglider pilots in the UK. Abroad, especially in the Alpine regions, the potential is infinitely greater, and many British pilots take advantage of the paraglider's portability to visit Europe or more exotic locations further afield. For those of a competitive bent, local, national and international competitions offer challenges to novice and experienced pilots alike. The reigning World Champion is British and UK pilots are a consistent force in international competitions.

Do they always need a hill?

Paragliding is not limited to upland environments. Tow launching, the launch technique use in the flatlands and practised here today, uses an engine-driven winch to pull pilots aloft where they search for lift like their hill flying friends. Parascending pilots use an SUV to tow up and then descend onto a chosen point, displaying incredible skill in landing within centimetres of their target. Parascending offers scope for Air Experience flights, and many youth groups such as the Scouts use it to give young people their first taste of the air.

How much do they cost?

Paragliders are not cheap, although they represent one of the least expensive ways to get into the air. A new paraglider suitable for a recently trained pilot will cost up to around 2,000 ($3000); second-hand canopies can be obtained for much less. Training to the level at which you can fly your own canopy in a club environment costs around 5 - 700 ($1200); introductory courses cost around half that. Apart from a glider you need a harness, helmet, flight suit and boots; later in your flying career you may choose to buy instruments and other useful accessories.

Paragliding is a great community. You'll often find championship-winning pilots comparing notes with novices; both know that theirs is perhaps the simplest and most intuitive way of flying yet devised. If you want to enjoy the challenges that only being truly at one with the elements can provide, book a training course today!

Learning to fly a paraglider


Expect a full course to take seven to ten days of flyable weather. You might also consider a short 'taster' course or a limited Elementary Pilot certificate.

Training is usually conducted on a gentle slope. Your instructor will explain how the canopy is laid out, inflated and controlled by its brake lines; you'll then take it in turns with other members of your group to have your first short training hops.

When you've become adept at ground handling, controlling airspeed and making gentle turns, you'll probably go to a higher hill for longer flights. The instructor may even take you up dual on a special canopy to demonstrate an exercise. As things fall into place you'll learn to soar - to stay up in favourable winds and make longer flights.

In the classroom you'll cover flight theory, meteorology and basic air law and sit a simple exam. With a positive assessment from your instructor on your flying, normally on your own the canopy, you'll be given a Club Pilot rating enabling you to fly in the club environment. You'll find that DIY takes a back seat when you've discovered the unlimited freedom of the sky!

You can also learn to fly lower performance canopies in an airfield environment, using a winch or vehicle to tow you aloft. Training takes less time and you can convert to higher performance canopies later if you choose to.