Not a Pilot ? Wondering what this is all about ? Read on .....
Paragliding is an air sport like no other. With the bare minimum of equipment - a glider and harness that all fits into a backpack - you can soar like a bird for hours on end in the right conditions. Launching can be from a hill or cliff, by winch or tow from flat ground, or even using a backpack motor (paramotoring). All you need to do is lay out the wing, connect the harness, check conditions and in as little as 3 minutes you can be up in the sky.
Paragliders can cruise along coastal hills and cliffs riding the seabreeze or onshore winds, or launch from an inland hill and catch a thermal up to the clouds just like eagles do ! By linking a series of climbs in thermals and glides, cross country flights are possible allowing skilled pilots to fly many hundreds of kilometers with just the power of the sun. It is this latter part of the sport that is the test for competition pilots in these events.
Modern competition gliders have glide angles of around 10:1 at 40km/h (ie: for 1000m above the ground of height they can glide 10kms in nil wind) and can race along at up to 70km/h airspeed. The maximum legal limit for altitude in Australia is 10,000ft (3000m) above sea level. On good days thermal climb rates can be in excess of 8 metres per second (25km/h or 1600ft per minute).
The events last for a week or in the case of the World Championships 2 weeks.
Taking account of the weather conditions, pilots are given a task each day to fly to a goal via a given course which can include turnpoints. Launching is permitted once the “Window“ is open with the race starting either at a pre-determined time (Air Start - once all pilots have launched) or at intervals (Elapsed Time Race - to avoid congestion in the air). It is this period (and the arrival at Goal up to 5 or 6hrs hours later) that is most spectacular for visitors and generally occurs between midday and 3pm.
The pilots then navigate and fly the course and hopefully make it to the goal. Not all make it and may find themselves landed on course somewhere. The flights are checked at the end of the day using sophisticated GPS software and scoring is achieved by a program that allocates 1000pts for the winner if the spread of the pilots which landed on course or at goal is fair. Those that make goal receive distance and speed points, while those that don't make it only get distance points. The day value can be affected (reduced from 1000pts) for example if no one or too few make it to goal, too many land well short, or the spread of the field is not even. This tries to account for lucky or unlucky, and thus unfair conditions on course, and levels out the scoring between days where otherwise the points may not show the relative merit of the pilots skill on the day (ie: easy short task compared to hard long task).
The pilot with the most points at the end after 2 weeks of tasks is the winner !
Learning to Fly
Pargliding is easy to learn for anyone who can run a few steps and has some general co-ordination. The oldest pilot in Manilla is Bill the Postman - he's 72 !The sport is controlled in most countries by official associations or federations (in Australia its the HGFA) which require a license to be obtained via a week long approved course.
Many students will have experienced a tandem flight before committing to a course while some just know its for them. Most schools start off with ground handling in a field - learning to inflate and kite the wing which simulates launching. Then its small slope training followed by high flights, ridge soaring and thermalling. Theory is also learnt and there are exams at the end of the week. If the student has the skills he/she is then signed of for a “novice“ type license.
The basic equipment consists of a paraglider, harness and reserve parachute and weighs around 16-20kgs in total. Many also fly with an alitmeter, GPS, radio and mobile phone. Gliders are sized according to pilot weight and can vary from 22sqm to 30sqm+ surface area with tandems up to 45sqm taking total weights over 240kgs ! The glider material is a special light weight rip-stop nylon and lines are made of kevlar or dyneema and have breaking strains over 100kgs each (there are many dozens of lines on a wing !).
All reputable flying gear is rigorously certified according to european tests and can handle well in excess of 6G's. There are many brands of all gear in the market today - new prices for a basic glider is around A$3500 and harness+reserve around A$1500. Most countries have well developed second hand gear markets too which allow people to enter the sport relatively cheaply.
Manilla Paragliding - operated by Godfrey Wenness the Worlds event organsier - runs paragliding license courses in Spring and Autumn every year at Mt Borah.