A Better Paramotor Harness
2013 Feb 18 (Updated with new materials sites) Is a Better Harness Possible?
A Better Paramotor
There have been at least three accidents resulting in pilot paralysis.
In one, a reserve parachute may have saved the day but in the other two
it would not have since they were doing low level maneuvering. One
safety improvement that MAY have reduced those injuries is an airbag
harness like what's used in free flight.
It won't be easy. A paramotor seat must be able to retract for walking
around, takeoff and landing. In flight the harness must fill with air
while not impeding pilot movement or weight shift. It must deal
with frame parts that could impinge on the pilot or airbag. It must be
lightweight, reliable, and affordable.
This may be impossible but my hope is that some enterprising, capable
harness designer can pull it off. We'll see!
Here is a concept idea for handling the seat retraction issue for
For the purpose of an airbag harness I see two (probably more, of
course) distinct design issues.
1. Weight Shift or floating J-Bar machines: Every weight shift or
floating J-Bar paramotor that I'm aware of has the pilot's butt on the
ground just sitting in the unit. That means that if the pilot hits the
ground from a nearly vertical drop with his legs out front, his spine
takes the impact.
2. Others: Every other (not defined above) paramotor that I'm
aware of keeps the pilot suspended above the ground so that the frame
should take the initial impact. But accident history shows that this
will NOT always protect the spine as evidenced by one pilot who did
suffer serious back trauma on such a machine so these machines should be
included in any design proposal.
Other design criteria, should be:
2. Completely passive. The only action on the
pilot's part may be to pull a chord that makes standing up for landing
easier by opening a hole in the airbag. But there are probably automated
ways to do that (which is what the animation shows).
4. Highly reliable even if the harness gets some amount
of sand in it. It will likely tolerate less such abuse than a regular
harness but we have to be realistic about how these things are used.
Thanks to Jeff Williams, a long time free flyer who has recently
gotten into paramotoring, for bringing his knowledge of safety gear from
other adventure endeavors. One sound suggestion regards a kind of foam
that may be able to play some part in our search for safety. Here are
the links for creative types who may be able to put them to use as the
next revolutionizers of paramotor protection.
Pads for helmets:
CONFOR foam seat cushions are used in gliders for seat comfort and
protection in hard landings. These could be considered in a system that
employs both hard and soft foam, especially for seat padding and
possible side protection. Is there an automotive or aviation crash
protection specialist in the house?
Just Fly Safe
"Just fly safe." You could say the same thing to racecar drivers but, lets face it,
what they do carries certain unavoidable risks. That's us!
Yes, most of the injuries happen to intermediate and advanced pilots
but everyone benefits from the safety initiatives employed for their
more ambitious needs. A reserve parachute is good, for sure, but is only effective in
certain types of accidents. Passive safety systems (like seat belts and
air bags) have made the single biggest improvements in auto accident
survival. Airbag harnesses in paragliding have been extremely effective
at reducing injuries. If we can get them incorporated for paramotors, it
could greatly improve your odds of a debilitating back injury.
I'm not a designer but I sure hope someone, with the smarts and
resources, can come up with something. I'm to help with financing some
research, and will certainly promote, any company's likely solutions to
this. Plus, I'll be the first to buy a couple.
One crude idea to handle the stand-to-land seat
retraction problem with using an airbag harness. This is an extract from
the YouTube video that shows how it works. This would clearly not be
usable but is intended only to show a concept.