See also Comparing
Ten minutes after putting your car in park, everything is ready. It's just you
and the perfect morning air, at the perfect place, ready to go fly. You throttle
up and start to run. The wing springs to life, fills with air and comes
overhead. You squeeze into full power and with a few more steps, run into the
The view is essentially unobstructed and the control precise. With experience, a
pilot can control the flight path within inches of his or her desire.
Many pilots enjoy just tooling around to enjoy the sights while others enjoy
carving up the sky and thrilling to the fine control. The same wing that is used
for powered paragliding (PPG) can be used for soaring, just like sailplane
What is a Powered Paraglider?
Paragliding is the simplest form of flight: no plane, no windows,
minimal frame—just you in
control, flying through the air. It launches from a field, is easy to fly, to
transport, and is inherently stable but offers amazingly precise control. The
paraglider itself has no rigid structure—the pilot sits in a seat, suspended by
lines. The paramotor, a backpack power unit that attaches to the harness,
provides thrust for climb and flying level at your own will.
It is not a parasail or powered parachute which use very stable, but far less
The motor does most of the work. Although you must be able to walk around and
handle its weight you certainly don't have to be an athlete. Numerous pilots
continue flying into their 70's and others have started as young as 14 years
old. Once in flight, the wing is carrying all the weight.
License, The Law, & Where You Can Fly
No license is required although training is incredibly important. PPG’s are
minimally regulated under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 103.
Essentially we can fly during daytime in wide-open areas. We must avoid
congested areas, busier airports and a few other locales.
Private open fields, some airports, and a few parks are great places to fly. One
beauty of the sport is that we don't need an airport! Most state and national
parks are off-limits to launch but do allow overflight.
There are many groups of pilots who have established local flying sites where
you can launch. Courtesy of neighbors is important to minimize complaints.
Fear of Heights
Ask just about any pilot if they're afraid of climbing ladders and the answer
will be yes. Human nature is to be afraid of heights, a healthy response to
obvious risk. Everybody starts with that fear and, after a few flights, it is
essentially gone. Once you internalize how secure the harness and wing is, there
becomes nothing to fear.
Different courses are available, but be very careful to pick a qualified,
certified instructor with an organized program. Make sure they use the USPPA
syllabus or equivalent and have thorough emergency training including simulator
rehearsal. Make sure that, if towing is used, USPPA tow guidelines are followed.
Solo pilot certification is available for student (PPG1), pilot (PPG2) and
advanced pilot (PPG3) levels through the USPPA/USUA. Visit
www.USPPA.org for a
list of schools and instructors.
You can reasonably expect to have your first flight (achieve the PPG1) in 3 days
but are far from ready to be considered a pilot (PPG2). Accelerated courses,
which take significant extra precautions, can get someone a flight on their
first or second day. Expect 5 to 8 days to earn a PPG2 rating.
What Weather Can It Handle?
This is a light-wind sport. Generally a maximum wind of 12 mph is acceptable
although, under certain conditions, experienced pilots can fly in stronger
winds. We generally fly in the mornings and evenings so as to avoid the bumpy
mid-day air. A few pilots seek out those mid-day conditions at the expense of
some added risk.
What's the Risk?
Powered paragliding is probably the safest form of recreational aviation ever devised.
Get good instruction, pay
close attention during training and respect the propeller to minimize most of the risk.
Like any recreation with humans in motion, there is risk. Training and the first
few hours of flight are the most critical. We estimate the overall risk is less
than motorcycle riding or free flying (paragliding with no motor) or flying
small airplanes but more than driving a car.
Of the minimal risk, most comes from pilot error, not equipment malfunction. A
conscientious pilot with the right attitude and good instruction can make this
sport incredibly safe.
What if the motor quits?
It's a glider, and glide it will!
Conscientious pilots stay over landable terrain at all times which is
real easy in a craft that lands at 9 mph. From 500 feet you can glide
well over a half mile. With minimal control input you'll coast downward about 3 mph as you glide
forward at about 20 mph. You can land in a space smaller than the average yard
so a motor failure is rarely more than an inconvenience.
In all the accident
reports I've seen, there has never been a fatality that resulted from a
motor failure although there have been injuries when pilot disregarded
flying over safe terrain.
How do I Choose a
Nearly all experts recommend choosing an instructor, not gear, when
you first get started. Do ask about cage safety: ask how well the cage
protects you hands (see A better
Paramotor), a leading cause of pilot injury.
success is far more dependant on good training than what type of
equipment you buy. The instructor will know your tradeoffs because it
depends on quite a few things: how you plan on traveling with it, what
elevation you'll be flying from, how much you weigh and others. Heavy
pilots will require more power but lighter pilots will struggle with
heavy gear regardless of power.
Besides, as a new pilot, you won't
know the difference. Most pilots stay with the style of motor they learn
on which suggests that there really is no "best."
Start with finding one that is USPPA/USUA
certified. They have shown skill and knowledge in the most important
area: powered paragliding. Those certified by other orgs or not
certified at all may be good but it's up to you to
find out. Plus, make sure to ask to use the USPPA/USUA syllabus—unfortunately
that's not required but is your best guarantee that you're
learning what you need. Any USPPA/USUA
instructor has access to the syllabus.
Another viable method is
learning paragliding from a USHPA
certified instructor but make sure they are also an experienced paramotor instructor
or go to a paramotor instructor afterwards. There are aspects of flying
with a motor
that are critically different.
Flying Without the Motor
Paragliding, or free flying, can be done using your same wing with a different
harness. You need mountainous areas, ridges or a towing operation but being
towing is dangerous beyond appearances. Never, ever try
towing without using proper equipment and certified tow operations.
Free flyers use natural energy in the form of rising air
they call lift to stay up. That means rising air from warm ground or air that is deflected
upwards over hills.
Can I take people up?
The simple regulation we operate under is intended for solo operations. However,
recognizing the value of two-place (tandem) training, an exception is made for
instruction using two-place craft. The instructor must be qualified under a
special program run by an organization allowed to do so by the FAA such as USUA.
Tandem operations require significant knowledge and skill to operate safely
since you must manage the motor, wing and another person at the same time. Many
instructors use a wheel-equipped machine to make it easier.
Does Any Machine
No. People like Dell Schanze (see
more about his travesty) will tell prospects such utter nonsense
with great conviction. Neither I, nor any other experienced paramotor
pilot I know, have flown a high power machine that eliminates the
effects of torque and certainly the one he promotes does not do so. An
enormous amount of torque effects depend on setup. ANY paramotor can be
made unflyable due to torque effects if not properly adjusted, even the
small motors (80cc). But no amount of setup will eliminate torque
effects on high power machines, particularly those that lean back a fair
Parts of a Powered Paraglider. Diagrams by Jeff
1. This basic description is used in the USPPA's
information brochure. You can download the
FootFlyer version here. Michael O'daniel is shown cruising a canyon in
2. Tim Kaiser is flying near Las Vegas, NV in a
descriptive picture that has been used in several publications.
From the Powered Paragliding Bible
Powered paragliders can and do fly aircraft style
patterns but they also use less traditional approaches. Why? Mostly
because they can.
When you can fly at jogging speed it opens up many
opportunities. This diagram is from the Powered Paragliding Bible.
Altitude: Up to
18,000 feet although most pilots fly between 200 and 2000 feet above
ground level (AGL).
Speed: 20-35 mph although most fly about 25 mph.
Weight: about 65
lbs ready to launch including fuel. The wing weighs about 15 pounds but
the pilot doesn't feel it.
$3500-$6000 Motor, $1700-$3500 Wing, $600-$1500 Training. Don't be
fooled by "free" training. You pay somewhere whether it's schedule
reliability, higher equipment costs or training quality.
Payload: 170 - 400
Lbs. Powerful tandem units provide the highest payload.
Fuel: 1 - 5 US
Gallons of auto fuel or avgas mixed with 2-stroke oil. A few motors
(4-stroke) require no mixing.
Endurance & Range:
1 to 3 hours, 40-70 miles (no wind)
Transport & Storage:
Small Car or conveniently shipped affordably in boxes and stored in
a room corner.
Motor: 12-25 hp 2-Stroke, 12-15 hp 4-stroke, 8-12 hp electric (these are
Propeller: 30 to 51
inch wood or composite with from 2 to 4 blades. Larger props are spun
through reduction drives.
It depends dramatically on wind, terrain but, in calm air, 200' x
400' with a another 400' clear climbout zone is good. Experienced pilots
can fly out of a 50' x 200' area with another 400' clear climbout zone.
Glide Ratio: About
6 feet forward for every foot lost (6:1).
You’ll see higher numbers advertised because they are tested
without the motor and its draggy cage.
Visit USPPA.org for a USPPA/USUA certified instructor in your area. Do
that before buying equipment, not all instructors will teach on all