WHAT IS PARAGLIDING?
Paragliding is a relatively safe recreational and competitive flying sport. A paraglider is a free-flying, foot-launched aircraft. The pilot sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing, whose shape is formed by the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing.
THE PARAGLIDER WING
The paraglider wing is comprised of two layers of fabric which are connected to internal supporting material to form a row of cells. By leaving most of the cells open only at the front (leading) edge, incoming air keeps the wing inflated, thus maintaining its shape. The pilot is supported underneath the wing by a network of lines. The lines are gathered into sets of left and right risers. The risers collect the lines in rows from front to back, distributing the pilot’s weight. The risers are connected to the pilot's harness by two carabineers. Tandem paragliders, designed to carry the pilot and one passenger, are larger but otherwise similar. They usually fly faster and are more resistant to collapse.
The pilot and passenger are buckled into harnesses which offer support in both the standing and sitting positions. A reserve parachute is connected to the pilot’s paragliding harness.
A brake is held in each of the pilot’s hands. Generally, the brakes provide the primary means of controlling the paraglider. The brakes are used to adjust speed, to steer (in addition to weight-shift), and flare (during landing). Weight-shifting, or leaning, in addition to manipulating the brakes, allows the paraglider pilot to steer properly.
As with all aircraft, launching and landing are done into wind. In low winds, the wing is inflated with a ‘forward launch’, where the pilot runs forward so that the air pressure generated by the forward movement inflates the wing.
In higher winds, a ‘reverse launch’ is used, with the pilot facing the wing to pull it up overhead, then turning and running under the wing to complete the launch.
Rising air is needed to keep a glider aloft. This rising air can come from two sources –thermals and lift. Columns of rising air known as thermals are generated when the sun heats features on the ground. When the sun warms the ground, it will warm some features more than others (such as rock-faces or large buildings), andthese set off thermals which rise through the air. Once a pilot finds a thermal, he or she begins to fly in a circle, trying to center the circle on the strongest part of the thermal (the "core"), where the air is rising the fastest. Most pilots use a variometer, which indicates climb rate with beeps and/or a visual display, to help ‘core-in’ on a thermal.
When wind encounters a ridge in the landscape, the air is forced upwards, providing lift. In hill environments, ridge lift is used for ridge soaring, and landing can be done either back at the launch site, or at a landing field at the bottom of the ridge.
Landing involves lining up for an approach into the wind, and just before touching down, ‘flaring’ the wing (pulling down on the brakes) to minimize forward speed. Landing will typically be at a gentle forward run.
Paragliding is perhaps often viewed as a higher-risk sport than it actually is. Paragliding equipment is very carefully engineered, if properly cared for, will never fail. As an example, the average paraglider has approximately 30 lines connected to the risers; with each individual line strong enough to support the full weight of the pilot.
TO FLY TANDEM will only fly on days in which the weather is conducive to safe flight. General safety precautions include pre-flight checks, helmets, harnesses with back protection (foam or air-bag), reserve parachutes, and careful pre-launch observation to evaluate conditions. While the occasional freak accident does occur, the most commonly reported injury is a twisted ankle; therefore, proper footwear with strong ankle support is mandatory.