Last updated on February 17th, 2019 at 09:28 pm
Is paramotoring safe? This is by far the question that I get asked the most! Paramotoring will always have its risks, as will any type of aviation. There have been some very nasty accidents, in the air, and on the ground, but the majority were caused by pilot error. By following some simple advice that I will go over in this article, you can make paramotoring safe for yourself and for others on the ground.
Is paramotoring safe? ACCIDENTS ON THE GROUND
Since learning to fly in 2013, I've discovered the most common way for pilots to get injured is on the ground! This happens before they're even strapped into their paramotor, and usually ends in disaster. Pilots have lost fingers, hands, and have been left with life changing injuries.
As a new pilot, this may scare you; but to make paramotoring safer, we must learn from these mistakes. And by understanding why these accidents happen, we can prevent them reoccurring in the future.
So what is happening to cause these terrible accidents? The main problem seems to be with people trying to start their paramotor on the ground, without being strapped into it. A simple jammed throttle causes the engine to go to maximum RPM, it flips the paramotor over, and the propeller hits the pilot.
So what's the solution? A few pre-start checks will go a long way in preventing this from happening again. First off, always strap yourself into your paramotor before starting it. If you have problems starting it while it's on your back, ask somebody to pull the cord for you.
Always ensure that the cruise control knob on the throttle is fully unwound, to prevent it gripping the throttle. These vary on different paramotor models, but the picture below shows what to do with a Parajet throttle. Also check that the throttle lever returns to the stop with a nice smooth action.
You should also check that the throttle returns to the closed position on the carburettor. Listen to hear the butterfly in the carburettor hitting the stop, and check that the cable is running nice and free. If any of these checks fail, then don't start the motor, even if it's on your back.
Another thing you need to be aware of on the ground, is the throttle cable being able to pass through the gap in the cage. This has happened to myself, and luckily the only consequence was the throttle cable getting minced. Unfortunately, others haven't been so lucky; cables have gotten caught in propellers, and pulled pilots hands in with them.
You can read all about a recent case of this happening, which is also the accident that prompted the video below > HERE
One way of overcoming this problem is by wearing the throttle slightly different. The video below isn't mine, but it explains how to avoid this situation, and I'm sure he won't mind me sharing it.
A few more things to note about safety on the ground.
- Always wear a helmet, a simple trip whilst launching could end badly.
- Always call out to let anybody close by know that you are about to start your motor. "CLEAR PROP" is the standard call.
- Tuck in hoods, long hair, and anything else that could get sucked through into the propeller.
Find out what paramotor uses a unique device to prevent propeller injuries by clicking HERE.
So is paramotoring safe on the ground? The answer is very safe, as long as you follow these rules at every start up, and never get complacent. But is paramotoring safe once you're in the air? Let's find out.
Is paramotoring safe? Accidents in the air
The biggest cause of accidents that I've seen since starting, has been caused by people playing around down low. By playing around I mean pilots doing tight turns, spirals, wing overs, and flying through their own wash. If you play low, you're playing dangerously.
A bad exit from a wing over or a spiral can easily result in a wing collapse. If you're not high enough the wing will not recover in time, and you'll hit the ground. If you're going to practice acro, perfect your manoeuvres high up. Then, if the worst should happen, you'll actually have a chance to throw your reserve.
Something else that can result from spiral dives is G-lock, this means you will black out. If you don't come around in time you'll hit the ground. I personally know how easily this can happen, in a tight spiral I very nearly lost consciousness..
Everything was going fine then suddenly the tunnel vision started, everything went red. Luckily, I was able to slowly let the brake handle up, I recognised what was happening in time. Others have blacked out suddenly, some haven't woken up in time, and have hit the ground in a full spiral. This has happened multiple times, and is also common in acro paragliding. I'd advise against even attempting spiral dives, the risk of blacking out is too high to mess with.
Flying in bad weather conditions or rotor
You'd be surprised at how much a paramotor wing will take before it finally collapses. But this may lure people into a false sense of security. For some reason, pilots feel the need to fly in stupidly strong wind, mid day thermals, and down wind of objects....
Is paramotoring safe in Strong wind?
Strong wind isn't a problem as long as it's blowing slower than the top speed of your wing. If it's faster you may end up flying backwards, and find yourself unable to loose height, which really isn't fun.
The problems occur when the wind gets gusty, you may take off in 1 mph wind, but if there's a 20 mph gust you're in trouble. This can cause unpredictable reactions of the wing, and collapses. You should always check the weather forecast to make sure no strong gusts are due. Also, watch the wind for 15 minutes before flying to see what it's doing, the forecast isn't always accurate.
Is paramotoring safe in mid day thermals?
Pilots don't generally fly in mid day thermals during summer months. It can be done, but this should not be attempted by inexperienced pilots. Stick to flying early morning before it warms up, and in the evenings when it cools down. You can usually tell if it's too hot to fly as the thermals will create lots of wind. You'll also see lots of fluffy clouds forming in the morning as it heats up, this is a good indication to head for home.
Is paramotoring safe in rotor?
Of course it's not! If you're flying downwind of any object, you will be in the rotor. As wind hit's an object like a tall hill, it will create a swirling air on the other side called rotor. This can easily collapse a wing, and should be avoided at all costs. Even low winds can cause considerable rotor, so be aware of it at all times.
Read all about paramotor wing collapses, what causes them, how to prevent them, and why they may actually be a good thing in > THIS POST.
More paramotoring safety tips
Pre flight checks
Before you fly, you should give your paramotor a thorough check. This check should include the harness, frame, engine, and wing.
Check the stitching on the harness, and the straps and buckles.
Be sure to check all nuts and bolts on the engine to make sure they're tight, and also check the propeller bolts are tight. I know somebody that lost their propeller just after takeoff, this ended well and we laughed about it. But if a propeller fell off and struck a person on the ground, I hate to think what would have happened.
Take a look at the hang points and the swing arms. Check the wing for tears, check the stitching and inspect the lines. And look closely at the cells, I once found a stiffening rod poking through the stitching on a low hour wing.
Write a checklist and tick it as you run these checks, this ensure everything is as it should be, and safe to fly.
Netting is placed around the cage to stop things being pulled through, and into the propeller.
Just after I began flying I heard of a terrible accident in Australia. A very experienced pilot had failed to repair the netting on the top section of his cage. As he let the brake toggle go, it got sucked through the gap and caught in his propeller. This sent the glider into a steep spiral at just 100 feet. Unfortunately, there was no time to react and the pilot died. I've since heard about another similar accident involving brakes getting sucked into the propeller.
To learn from this, you should always place your brakes on the magnets when they're not being used. If you buy a paramotor that has no netting like I once did, then put some on before you fly it. And if your netting ever gets damaged, don't fly again until it's fixed.
If you need to install your own netting, be sure to avoid using cable ties around the outside of the cage. This can snag your lines during launch, and cause damage to them.
Carabiners should be checked regularly and replaced every 5 years. I recommend using stainless steel carabiners rather than aluminium ones. Although it's rare, aluminium carabiners have been known to crack, so if you have these, replace them asap. I've been using stainless steel carabiners by Austrialpin for many years now, and recommend them to everyone.
Check carabiners before every flight, and when you clip in, make sure they're locked closed.
I heard of a man that forgot to clip his leg straps up whilst paragliding, and fell out of the harness in flight. It's important to check, and check again, that all straps are clipped up before taking off. A six point check should become routine before every takeoff. Check both leg straps, chest strap, both carabiners, and your helmet strap.
Flying with other paramotorists
Never fly directly behind another paramotor as their prop wash can cause your wing to react unpredictably, or even collapse.
Never fly on the exact same level as other pilots you're flying in close proximity with. A sudden gust could easily cause a collision, so always fly slightly higher, or lower. You can read about a very near miss that I had when flying at the same level as another pilot in THIS POST.
Never land close to running motors on the ground, you could easily land into somebody else's propeller. Or your wing could fall into their propeller, potentially destroying it.
Always fly with a reserve parachute
When I fly, I never go up without my reserve parachute! A reserve is packed into a small container that mounts to your harness. If anything untoward happens, you will be able to throw it as a second chance. It will open up just like an old fashioned jellyfish chute, and safely carry you down.
Before you takeoff, make sure the locking pins are secured to prevent an accidental deployment. Have it checked and repacked once a year to keep it in tiptop condition, and never fly without it.
So in general, is paramotoring safe?
Nothing is ever completely risk free, but paramotoring is considered very safe. You're generally more likely to die travelling to the airfield in your car, than you are flying a paramotor.
As you've read in this article, accidents have happened, but it's rarely, and maybe never because of equipment failure. Pilot error is the main cause of paramotoring accidents.
If you go out to fly by yourself, early on a still morning, or on a calm evening, the conditions will be perfect. And if you follow all of the advice in this article before and during each flight, you'll be pretty damn safe.
If the thought of paramotoring makes you anxious, or if you really want to try but you have a fear of flying, check out This post.
Find out whether paramotoring is safer than paragliding > HERE.
And read an in depth report on the most common accident in paramotoring HERE.
Check out my paramotoring theory of flight explanation and discover how paramotor wings work HERE.