Powered paragliding, also known as paramotoring, is a form of ultralight aviation where the pilot wears a motor on his or her back (a paramotor) which provides enough thrust to take off using a paraglider wing. It can be launched in still air, and on level ground, by the pilot alone — no assistance is required.
In many countries, including the United States, powered paragliding is minimally regulated and requires no license. The ability to fly both low and slow safely, the 'open' feel, the low equipment and maintenance costs, and the portability are claimed to be this type of flying's greatest merits.
Powered paragliders usually fly between 15 and 45 mph (25 and 70 km/h) at altitudes from 'foot-dragging in the grass' up to 18,000 ft (5400 m) although most flying is done under 500 ft (150 m) AGL (above ground level). Because of the low forward speed possible and sensitivity to crosswinds, paramotoring is impractical for most of the year over much of the globe, and is generally a summer sport.
The paramotor, weighing from 45 to 80 pounds (20 to 36 kg) is supported by the pilot during takeoff but then, after a brief run (typically 10 feet or 3 metres), the wing lifts the motor and its harnessed pilot off the ground. After takeoff, the pilot gets into the seat (previously folded for takeoff) and sits suspended beneath the inflated paraglider wing. Control is available using brake toggles in each hand and a hand-held throttle.
Prices for a complete package (wing, harness, and motor) vary from approximately $6000 USD to $9500 USD.
License and training
Neither a license nor specific training is required in the U.S., U.K. or many other countries. But getting thorough instruction is still very important. Countries that require formal certification frequently do so through non-government ultralight organizations.
For a pilot to get through most organization's full pilot syllabus requires from one to four weeks. A number of techniques are employed for teaching although most include getting the student familiar with handling the wing either on small hills or on tandem flights.
With special gear it is possible to take a second person but most countries, including the U.S., require some form of certification to do so.
In most countries, paramotor pilots operate under simple rules that spare them certification requirements for pilot and gear. Those laws, however, limit where they can fly--specifying that pilots remain in sparsely populated areas where risk to other people or aircraft is limited. U.S. pilots operate under Federal Aviation Administration regulation Part 103.
Research done by the USPPA estimates that the activity is statistically safer than riding motorcycles and more dangerous than riding in cars. The most likely cause of serious injury is body contact with a spinning propeller. The next most likely cause is flying perfectly good gear into something other than the landing zone. Some pilots carry a reserve parachute designed to open in as little as 50 ft (15 m)
The lack of established design criteria for these aircraft led the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch to conclude in 2007 that
In the USA, the sport is represented primarily by the US Powered Paragliding Association (USPPA) which also holds an exemption allowing two-place training using foot launched paramotors. The US Ultralight Association (USUA) and ASC also offer some support. Unpowered paragliders are represented by the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA) which distanced itself from any motorized flying in 2006.
In the U.K., the sport is represented by the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA).
In some armies, powered paragliding is used to insert special forces soldiers into specific areas. The Lebanese Airborne regiment adopted this technique in 2008.
Trikes and powered parachutes
Light-weight carts or "trikes" (which may have three or four wheels) can also be mounted on powered paragliders for those who prefer not to, or are unable to, foot launch.
In some contries, such as the UK, adding wheels changes the craft's status and requires a license to fly. If the aircraft meets the ultralight definitions in the United States (single place, 254 pounds or less, 5 gallons fuel or less), no license is required. However, if the machine has two seats, it is no longer an ultralight and is governed under the Sport Pilot rules and regulated as a light sport aircraft powered parachute which mean that the aircraft needs an N-number and the pilot must have a license.
A powered paraglider differs from a powered parachute (PPC) primarily in size, power, control method, and number of occupants. Powered paragliders are smaller, use more efficient, but more difficult to manage paraglider wings, and steer with brake toggles like sport parachutists. Powered parachutes typically use easier-to-manage but less efficient wings, have larger engines, steer with their feet, and may be able to take along passengers. There are exceptions; a growing number of powered parachutes use elliptical wings, some use hand controls, and many are light single seat aircraft that meet FAA Part 103 requirements.
Determined by the FAI, RPF1 category.
Many forums exist online that support the powered paragliding sport. A forum can be a good place to connect with other pilots and enthusiasts, ask questions, and find an instructor.
Published - July 2009
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