Educational by Chapter of the Powered Paragliding Bible

I: First Flight

01 Training Process

02 Gearing Up

03 Handling the Wing

04 Prep For 1st Flight

05 The Flight

06 Flying With Wheels 

II: Spreading Wings

07 Weather Basics

08 The Law

09 Airspace   

10 Flying Anywhere

11 Controlled Airports

12 Setup & Mx

13 Flying Cross Country

14 Flying With Others

III: Mastery

15 Adv Ground Handling

16 Precision Flying

17 Challenging Sites

18 Advanced Maneuvers

19 Risk Management

20 Competition

21 Free Flight Transition

IV: Theory

22 Aerodynamics

23 Motor & Propeller

24 Weather & Wind

25 Roots: Our History

V: Choosing Gear

26 The Wing

27 The Motor Unit

28 Accessories

29 Home Building

VI: Getting the Most

30 Other Uses

31 Traveling With Gear

32 Photography

--- Not in book ---

33 Organizing Fly-Ins

34 Places To Fly

35 Preserving the Sport

36 Tandem

Chap 18: Flying Small Wings   Active Piloting   Maneuvers Clinic   Maneuvers in a 2005 Spice   Incidents & Analysis

Flying Small Wings

The risk, the fun, the differences

It seems that wings are getting smaller so I thought it might time to explore their behaviors, risks and benefits. I, too, have come to love flying smaller sizes but there are, as always, tradeoffs.

What we're really talking about is flying heavily loaded. After all, what's small to a 250 pounder is huge for a 140 pounder. Most pilots fly at wing loadings (pounds / flat area) below about 12 pounds per m.  I consider a wing small at loadings around 14 per m, extremely small over about 17 lbs/m and crazy small over about 20 lbs/m . I've done that once and will never do it again.


Heavily loaded generally means more resistance to collapse but a more spirited response. It clearly means faster takeoff and landing speeds, and much more dynamic handling.

So far, our limited accident data suggest that small wings do increase fatal accident risk during training and/or new pilots due to overcontroling. Otherwise, most risk comes from falling due to the higher takeoff and landing speeds and to mishandling on launch. I've seen examples of this.

High loadings make engine failures on takeoff or at low altitude (5 and 20) feet more consequential. It takes a lot power to keep small wings happily aloft and when that power dies, they dive. Not handling it right could be quite thwackful. At heavier loadings you need enough height so that, if the motor quits, you can establish a glide and regain enough speed for a full flare. On really small wings, 30 feet might not be enough. There are ways to handle this, of course, but they require practiced reaction that still won't necessarily leave you standing up.

Inflight left/right oscillation is another problem. Many wing/motor combinations will oscillate left/right even without any brake input and its usually worse at higher loadings. The slightest bump gets them started and, in some cases, will diverge until becoming big wingovers. Of course YOU won't ever let that happen.

Knowing You're Ready

How can you know if you're ready? Well one way to handle this question is to progressively fly smaller gliders. Do some maneuvering each time, though, so you get a feel for the wing. If you're already flying in some level of turbulence, or come from thermal-based free flight, you're probably in good shape from a maneuvering perspective.

One thing to be proficient on is the slider landing, where you slow down with moderate brake pull then, at 20 to 30 feet, ease into a hands-up dive, then use that extra energy to flare, sliding slide along the ground briefly before stopping. If you've got that down, you'll be better prepared for the necessary technique of small wings, or at least the most reliable technique for landing at their higher speeds without falling.


The biggest benefit of small wings is incredibly crisp handling. Load 'em up a bit you can they bank extremely aggressively. Plus they have quite a bit of speed range. You want to be real carfule because you're already loaded heavily and then, if you get into a bit of a spiral, the reaction becomes eye popping. The heavier the loading the more responsive it will be. And by responsive I mean that it might only take an inch of brake travel to effect and immediate 60 degree roll. Do that close to the ground and you'll become unwittingly one with earth.

Another benefit is super easy inflation. Not only does the wing have little area to resist your run with, but it doesn't have far to come up. Get some speed, as with any wing, to be sure it doesn't fall back.

If you're into soaring or handling high winds, small wings rock. They'll let you at least kite in 20 mph winds and, if you're at a soaring hill, it's possible to soar them in strong conditions. You can use a LOT of brake to slow down and reduce descent then, when you want to sink, let off the brakes to plummet. Very cool. Most pilots only get to this level after hundreds of flights, many of which are in challenging conditions.

Anyone who likes to go fast will enjoy being loaded. You can have the speed of a reflex glider but pay a price on the low end since a larger reflex glider will go just as fast but be able to go slower.

Lastly, they pack up into a duffle bag and weigh next to nothing. Folding is fast.


Nothing is free and the benefits derived from flying heavy come with various drawbacks.

  • Risk is obviously the biggest drawback so you'll want to be highly experienced, risk tolerant and pay attention attention while flying.
  • You'll need more room for launch and landing.
  • You'll need more power and will burn more fuel.
  • You'll need to run like a gazelle and have really good technique in zero wind.

For the experienced pilot who knows the risks and that wants to sow some oats these are great fun. Be careful, make sure you're ready and enjoy!

1. This 24 m Ozone is huge in comparison with the 17 m Gin Bobcat.

© 2016 Jeff Goin & Tim Kaiser   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!