Paramotor Safety

Beginner Wings

Better safety while learning

Beginner wings get a bad rap. They're slow, don't turn well and just aren't cool. And hey, I used to think this way myself until observation of crashes and at least one fatality made me reconsider. If surviving PPG's learning curve is important to you, read on.

It's simple: sporty handling wings for a new pilot can be deadly! Paramotor dynamics conspire to cause incorrect action because body movement is initially opposite to wing movement. Pull right brake and your body briefly moves a few inches *left* as the wing banks right, pivoting around a point just above your head. That causes new pilots, and by new I mean those with less than 50-100 flights, to easily get out of synch with the wing's motion. If they're on a sporty-handling ride, that can quickly devolve into worsening Pilot Induced Oscillations (PIO's).

This has proven fatal! It has also caused many takeoff and landing accidents and is why any capable instructor will insist that new students NOT use any left-right steering inputs while close to the ground during takeoff or landing.

I've flown a number of "beginner" wings that have quite sporty handling, especially at wing loadings above about 9 lbs/sq meter (flat). That's not what a new pilot needs. He needs benign handling that's forgiving. Typically these are called "school" wings because they're sometimes used by the school for initial learning -- a practice that I wish were more common.

Training is the 2nd most likely time to die in our sport. It's true that going into the water is worse but that's easy to solve: don't fly where it's possible. Learning is, unfortunately, something we must all go through.

In the past my experience with true beginner wings, those with super sluggish handling, was that they were hard to inflate. That was reinforced when I watched some students struggling with forward inflations on a Power Atlas, trying to get it overhead in a 3 mph wind. That should be nearly brainless but clearly wasn't. These were capable people. Flummoxed, I asked to try it out. Sure enough, the amount of A's required to pull it up curled the leading edge. I was able to get it overhead but it was ridiculously difficult. In a bit more wind it's obviously easier but why make it harder? While the handling on this wing is perfect for a beginner, it's inflation characteristics are simply unacceptable.

I recently tried out a school wing with similar handling but that was decent to inflate, the Axis Stardust. There are others, of course, and now that I see their importance I'll take any opportunity to review them. A key characteristic is that they must be very forgiving of brake pull. I realize that larger sizes go a long way to achieving this so I would be trying them in the 8 lbs/sq meter (flat) range. My motor and I weigh 205 pounds so a 25 sq meter (flat) size is about right. That will equate to about 22 sq meter projected.

To determine the appropriate size wing for you, divide your fueled weight (you & motor) by 8.5. That's the approximate flat area of a desirable school wing. Too lightly loaded (wing too large) is equally bad so don't go less than about 8 lbs/sq meter (flat) which risks parachutal stall and/or spins.

Balance

Of course there's balance and yes, really good training reduces the chances of problems, but human behavior is unpredictable. I'd rather we give new entrants the best chance of survival and this is an easy first step. Once left/right pendular control is mastered THEN move into a hotter handling ride. Don't fall for the "I wana be cool" trap. Choose life. I'm glad that I learned on a benign ride.


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