Can a paramotor be detected by radar

Can a paramotor be detected by radar, or are we sitting ducks?

When you’re happily flying along on your paramotor and you spot a fast jet skimming the ground a few hundred feet below you, you’ll likely wonder whether the pilot was able to see you. After all, you’re just a tiny dot in the sky compared to most aircraft, and you don’t carry a transponder. You didn’t even see the plane until it was directly below you, so it’s unlikely he saw you. So can a paramotor be detected by radar, or does this mean the pilot wasn’t able to see you either?

In this post we’ll look at how radar works, whether military radar is more likely to detect a paramotor, we’ll learn about transponders, and most importantly find out whether a paramotor can be detected by radar to give you peace of mind while flying.

How radar works

Aircraft radar is a technology used to detect and locate objects in the surrounding airspace. The basic principle behind radar is the transmission of radio waves, which are then reflected by objects in their path. These reflected waves are detected by the radar antenna and used to create an image or map of the surrounding airspace.

How aircraft radar works:

  1. A radar transmitter emits a series of short radio pulses into the surrounding airspace.
  2. These pulses travel at the speed of light and will continue to propagate until they hit an object or are absorbed by the atmosphere.
  3. When the radio waves encounter an object, some of the energy is reflected back towards the radar antenna.
  4. The radar receiver detects these reflected waves and processes them to determine the range, bearing, and altitude of the object.
  5. The information gathered by the radar is displayed on a screen in the control tower, or in the aircrafts cockpit, allowing the pilot to see the location of other aircraft or potential hazards in the area.

There may be several different types of radar used in aircraft, including weather radar, terrain avoidance radar, and traffic collision avoidance systems. Each of these systems has different features and capabilities, but they all rely on the same basic principles of radio wave transmission and reflection.

Can aircraft radar detect paramotors and paragliders?

do paramotors show up on radar

Aircraft radar can detect smaller objects like paramotors, paragliders and even birds, but whether they show up on the screen depends on several factors, such as the size and shape of the objects, the altitude and speed at which they are flying, its distance from the radar source, and the radar’s frequency and sensitivity.

Paramotors are very small and lightweight which can make them difficult to detect using radar, and we usually fly at lower altitudes than commercial aircraft, which means we may be operating outside the range of some radar systems. Flying at lower altitudes may also cause the radar beam to be blocked by terrain, buildings, or other obstacles on the ground.

Paramotors definitely are detectable on radar, but many radar systems use filtering software that’s specially designed to exclude slow moving and low altitude objects.

Some modern radar systems are designed to be sensitive enough to detect small objects like paramotors, even at lower altitudes. These systems typically operate at higher frequencies than traditional aircraft radar systems and may have specialized settings that can be adjusted to improve their sensitivity to smaller objects.

Overall, the effectiveness of radar at detecting paramotors will depend on a number of factors, including the radar’s technical specifications, the weather conditions, and the specific flight characteristics of the objects in question. In general, the larger and more reflective the object, the easier it will be to detect using radar.

Radar can detect birds, so why does it struggle to detect paramotors?

We need to understand that there are many different types of radar, and each will have its own specific application. There are radars that are used to track aircraft, and these are the ones we need to focus on for paramotoring, but there are also meteorological radars used to determine the density of the clouds, marine radar that’s used on boats to assist navigation during the night, radar used by the police to measure the speed of cars, and avian radars.

Avian radar

Avian radars are systems that are designed specifically to detect not only flocks of birds, but down to the individual birds inside the flock, but the effective range for this system is only around 20 miles.

Birds are classified as volumetric targets, meaning aircraft radar can track a flock of birds, but if an individual bird drops out of the flock, that bird will not be detected. In radar detection, a volumetric target is not a true target but a cluster of individuals in close proximity to each other. If the individuals in a cluster begins to spread out, it is called dilution, and eventually the target would disappear, even though the individual birds are still there.


Radar cross-section (RCS) refers to the amount of radar energy that is reflected back to the radar receiver by an object, and smaller objects reflect less energy. Because of a paramotors small size and low RCS it will be much more difficult to detect at a larger distance, and because they have a low reflective quality aircraft radar operators will probably find it hard to tell the difference between a large flock of birds and a paramotor.

Are fast jets and low flying recreational aircraft a threat to paramotors?

Fast jets such as fighter aircraft are typically equipped with much more advanced radar systems that are designed for high-speed operations and complex missions.

One common type of radar used in fast jets is a “pulse-Doppler radar,” which can operate at high speeds and provide accurate tracking of moving targets, such as other aircraft or ground-based threats. These radars use a combination of pulse and doppler techniques to measure the range, velocity, and direction of objects in the environment.

fast jets may be equipped with a variety of different radar systems, depending on their intended mission and operating environment. These radar systems are critical tools for ensuring situational awareness, detecting and tracking targets, and conducting successful missions.

If a you see a fast jet approaching, it’s likely you’ve been picked up on radar long before you noticed the jet, but you cannot depend on the radar detecting you. When a Tornado jet narrowly missed a collision with a paramotor at 460 MPH, the paramotor wasn’t picked up by the radar in the aircraft, or by air traffic control (ATC).

This isn’t the only time military radar has failed to detect paramotors, just a quick search will bring up multiple reports like this one where a paramotor got a little too close to an RAF Airbus A400M.

Airforce pilots know this, and they’re trained to not rely solely on the aircraft’s radar, and they’ll be looking around scanning the skies for other aircraft at all times, just as you should be.

Recreational aircraft and ultralight pilots will not have sophisticated radar systems. This means that they’ll be operating under visual flight rules just like you, and their only way of spotting you is with their eyes.

Should paramotors carry transponders?

Regulated aircraft will carry transponders to make them more visible to other aircraft. A transponder is a device installed in an aircraft that helps ATC to identify and track the aircraft. The term “transponder” is a combination of the words “transmitter” and “responder,” as the device transmits a signal in response to a request from a ground-based radar or other ATC system.

The primary function of an aircraft transponder is to provide ATC with information about the aircraft’s altitude, speed, and location, as well as its unique identification code. When the aircraft’s transponder receives a signal from an ATC radar or other system, it responds by transmitting a signal that includes this information, allowing ATC to track the aircraft and monitor its progress.

In addition to providing tracking information, aircraft transponders can also be used to receive and respond to emergency signals. In the event of an emergency, the pilot can activate the transponder’s emergency code, which will alert ATC and other aircraft in the vicinity of the emergency.

Transponders for paramotors

Paramotor flight rules vary around the world, but no country currently requires paramotor pilots to carry transponders. Transponders are typically required only for larger aircraft, and those operating in controlled airspace, as they are an important tool for air traffic control to track and identify aircraft.

Paramotors are unregulated and considered to be ultralight aircraft, and are not required by law to carry transponders, but there has been talk of them being introduced in some countries due to paramotors being much harder to see by pilots in faster moving aircraft. Transponders are a vital part of a system called TCAS, and could help pilots of faster moving aircraft to avoid paramotors.

What is TCAS?

Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) is an aircraft radar system that helps pilots avoid collisions with other aircraft. TCAS uses the same basic principles of radar, but it is specifically designed to detect and track other aircraft in the vicinity and issue warnings or advisories to pilots if a potential collision is imminent.

How TCAS works:

  1. The TCAS system uses a transponder on the aircraft to broadcast its own position, altitude, and other information to other aircraft in the area.
  2. The TCAS system also receives similar information from other aircraft in the vicinity, which allows it to track their position, altitude, and movement.
  3. The TCAS system uses this information to calculate the risk of collision with other aircraft and issues advisories to the pilot to avoid the potential collision.
  4. The advisories issued by TCAS may include visual and audible warnings, such as flashing lights or a voice message in the cockpit, as well as instructions on how to avoid the potential collision.

The TCAS system is designed to work independently of ground-based air traffic control systems and can operate in areas where there is no radar coverage, this would make it ideal for paramotors flying at lower altitudes.

Overall, TCAS is a powerful tool that helps pilots avoid potential collisions and ensures the safety of all aircraft in the area. By providing early warnings and instructions on how to avoid potential collisions, TCAS has saved countless lives and prevented numerous accidents in the aviation industry.

Although TCAS would help paramotors to avoid mid-air collisions, the idea of transponders didn’t go down well with the paramotor community in a recent online discussion. We currently enjoy a lot of freedom in our sport, and transponders would most certainly take away much of that freedom due to the fact that we’d have to display wing registration numbers, and ATC will always be able to see our exact position and altitude.

We recently tested a paramotor app called Gaggle, this app has a great anti-collision feature that lets you view aircraft in the surrounding airspace, and can also send your position to those aircraft. It also alerts you with an audio cue if they get close. Click here to find out more.

Rounding up

Because of their size and slow speed, paramotors are much harder for pilots to spot than most other aircraft, and we’ve learned that most planes and ATC will not be able to see them on radar due to filtering. Localized radar operating on higher frequencies may show some return, but it will likely be very low. This is why, as a paramotor pilot, you need to be extra vigilant and constantly scan the airspace around you as you fly.

I spoke of the time I had two near misses with a microlight, and was able to speak to the pilot after landing in this post. He told me how difficult it was to see me, and that he hadn’t even spotted me on the first occasion.

I regularly fly from a local airfield and all of the fixed wing pilots tell me how hard it is to see paramotors, that’s why we should do everything we can to increase our visibility to other pilots, like fitting strobes, and choosing brighter wing colours.

Click here to find out how to make yourself more visible with a strobe light.


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