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Paragliding: what exactly is it?

A paraglider is a cross between a parachute and a hang glider. Like a hang glider, a paraglider is foot-launched and flies only by wind power and gravity. Unlike a hang glider, which has a rigid frame, the paraglider’s “wing” is an inflatable, arched, nylon canopy that attaches to the harness in which the pilot is suspended by Kevlar lines. In a hang glider, the pilot lies prone; in a paraglider, the pilot can adopt a seated position. Like a parachute, the paraglider can be folded down and carried in a pack. However, paragliding does not involve free fall; the pilot is able to control the speed and direction of the aircraft. Usually, the flight is initiated from an elevated position (hill or mountain). Upon landing, the pilot radios a chase crew for a pick-up. The aerodynamics of a paraglider translate to slower flying speeds (15 to 25 mph) and shorter flights compared with a hang glider, but paragliding is promoted as a serene flying experience in which the flier works in harmony with the elements to maintain flight. Since the introduction of paragliding to the U.S. in 1986, the technology, safety and popularity of the sport have soared, and distances up to 300 km have been recorded.

Who is ready for paragliding?

There is no federal licensing requirement for paragliding, but local regulations often require certification for solo flying at certain sites. Qualified instructors confer the competency ratings (P1 through P4) on their students, so that some formal training is necessary.

Instructors claim that just about anyone can learn to paraglide in a short time, from a few days to a few months, depending on the student’s comfort level and desired degree of expertise.

Paragliding schools provide all equipment for trainees, but a new paraglider costs between $2,800 and $3,800. The canopy has an active use-life of about four years. Radios and variometers are highly recommended, adding at least another $500 to the initial investment.

Learn more about paragliding:

For detailed information about paragliding instruction in southern Arizona, try Fly High Paragliding by telephone at 480-266-6969, or contact carlos@flyhighparagliding.com. With Fly High, the non-pilot can arrange for a tandem (ride-along) flight; they also offer a special novice package.

Desert Wind Paragliding specializes in instruction techniques appropriate for the desert environment, specifically techniques to achieve flight without a high elevation launch, including scooter tow and hydraulic payout tow systems. At their website, desertwindparagliding.com, click “Contact” to communicate with instructor, Chandler Papas.

Both of these businesses can assist you with equipment purchases and trip reservations.

The Southern Arizona Hang Gliding Association (which incorporated the American Paragliding Association in 1992), based in Tucson, has a website (sahga.com) that provides general information on paragliding, as well as membership opportunities and news about paragliding events. 

Note: References to specific organizations or businesses in this article do not constitute an endorsement on the part of LPM. That said, all businesses listed here have instructors/guides certified at the highest levels in their respective fields.

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