There are several air sports activities that are closely related to paragliding but they all have their own individual characteristics. So if you’re looking to take up an activity that gets you ‘up, up and away’, here is a brief lowdown on what you can expect from each of them.
Hang gliders can be piloted in 3 basic ways. You can launch yourself off the top of a hill into the facing wind, you can get airborne using towing winches on flat ground or you can be towed by a microlight aircraft from an airfield until you become airborne.
The objective is to remain airborne as long as possible in lifting currents of air and, for many, to enjoy the experience of flying across country over long distances. A hang glider has a wing-shaped appearance and you are able to fly over longer distances and at greater speed than you can using a paraglider which makes learning how to fly one more difficult than learning how to pilot a paraglider.
Powered Hang Gliding
This is obviously very similar to basic hang gliding but comes fitted with a 2 stroke engine and allows the pilot to foot launch from a flat field or landing strip. It is more expensive to buy than a normal hang glider as you have the additional expense of the power unit which can typically run to £3000 itself on top of the cost of the glider.
Once you reach a suitable current of air, you can, of course, switch the engine off and glide as you would using a normal hang glider. This flexibility is attractive to traditional hang gliding enthusiasts as it allows them the added benefit of gliding where there are no hills from which to launch. Usually, you will have learned how to use a normal hang glider first before you use a powered one and, from a classroom basis, you’ll be taught additional theory in fuels, engines and propellers. Some people refer to this activity as ‘microlighting’. However, that is only strictly true if the powered hang glider is fitted with wheels which you use on take off and landing and not all of them are.
You will be more familiar with parascending than you realise if you go on holiday, particularly abroad. You’ll no doubt have seen (or even experienced) speedboats in the water at many beach resorts towing a person attached to a parachute through the air behind them. This is called parascending and is an activity that people also pursue on land. It will usually take place on an airfield or air strip using a winch and a length of rope and you’ll usually be towed by somebody driving a Land Rover or some other vehicle akin to it who will get you airborne, be in control of your flight and then will bring you safely back down to earth.
Once you’ve done this a few times, you can then learn how to release yourself from a much longer length of rope and glide back down using your own steam and without the aid of the driver. Flights of this nature tend to be much shorter and, just like at the beach, there are no specific mandatory training courses you need to go on. However, it’s important that the person driving the vehicle has a lot of experience of running parascending activity trips.
As the name suggests, paramotoring is a combination of paragliding with the power of motorised flight and consists of a 2 stroke engine worn similarly to a backpack under the wing of the paraglider and it also allows the flexibility to take off from a flat space on land. In effect, it is to paragliding what powered hang gliding is to normal hang gliding and its flexibility is what gets it the ‘thumbs-up’ from paragliding enthussiasts.
Like a powered hang glider, once you’re airborne you can keep the power on or turn it off, or alternate between the two, enabling you to adapt your flight to suit the prevailing conditions. The basic training is similar to that of a paragliding pilot but you’ll also be taught how to assemble and disassemble the power unit, how to start the motor and control the throttle and about the effects of thrust alongside extra safety procedures you should follow and precautions you should take.