Although some of us paramotor pilots get to enjoy a little paragliding during our training, most pilots go straight to powered flight and miss out on this amazing and important flying experience. In this post we’ll look at why all paramotor pilots should start out with paragliding, and why it’s OK to ditch the engine now and again and go paragliding.
When I learned to fly I was very fortunate to train with a school that had a huge paragliding hill set right next to their paramotor training field. My instructor was quick to tell me a few horror stories of schools that didn’t have this option, and how skipping top to bottom flights and going straight to powered flight involved a lot more risk.
One of the other students on my course had his own personal story to share. He’d actually came from a different school because they’d sent him straight into the air with no preliminary top to bottom flight. As he was unprepared, he ended up crashing into a hedge upon launching and breaking an arm.
Should I learn to paraglide before learning to paramotor?
If you’re new to the sport, a top to bottom flight is basically paragliding from the top of a hill during light winds, and flying straight down and landing at the bottom. This gives the student their first taste of flight, and it’s much safer than being thrown straight in at the deep end and taking off with an engine strapped to them.
Here’s a few reasons why a top to bottom paragliding flight is a safer option for the pilot’s first solo:
- Weight: you have no paramotor so your take-off weight is about 30 kg lighter, this makes the launch and landing much easier. Your first flare will be much easier to time correctly because of the slower descent, and landing will be much gentler.
- Flaring: top to bottom paragliding flights give the student a chance to flare for the first time with no heavy paramotor to worry about. The flare will be much gentler, the descent will be slower, and the speed will be far lower. If you do happen to time your flare wrong by flaring too soon or too late, you have no expensive equipment to damage if you come down hard.
- Sitting during take-off: this is a very common beginner mistake, and most instructors see it regularly. The pilot will jump during their take-off run, and sit straight down into their harness the moment their feet leave the ground. Because the pilot jumped before reaching the correct take-off speed, the only thing the wing can do is dive back down. The pilot is sat down and now has no landing gear, and the paramotor’s cage hits the floor, often breaking the propeller or damaging the cage. This mistake can also happen while paragliding, but it’s no big deal as there is nothing that can be damaged.
- Thrust: the feeling of quickly ascending, or suddenly shooting upwards on a paramotor will cause many beginners to completely freak out. It’s common for new pilots to panic and pull excessive amounts of brake, this puts the inexperienced pilot at an immediate risk of stalling the wing. When you’re paragliding there’s no thrust pushing you into the air, just the forward motion you generated by running. As it’s a top to bottom flight with little wind you’ll start to descend almost immediately, and this is a much less scary experience for anxious beginners.
- Information overload: although paramotors are fairly simple aircraft, a new pilot will often experience information overload while using unfamiliar controls, and experiencing sensations completely new to them. This is very risky when launching a paramotor, and will also put the pilot at more risk when landing for the first time. Paragliding is much simpler, and during a top to bottom flight all you’ll have are the two brake toggles and your landing to think about.
If your chosen paramotor school cannot offer top to bottom flights, then I recommend that you either find a paramotor school that can, or that you train with a paragliding school first. All paragliding schools will have a hill, or they’ll take you to one as part of your training. Unfortunately most paramotor schools will not have access to a hill, and they’ll put you straight onto a motor.
Another option paramotor schools may have is a winch that pulls the pilot into the air with no need for a motor. Although this may be OK for more experienced paragliding pilots, I do not recommend it for beginners. If you end up veering off the winch line, you can enter something called a lockout. This will immediately send you diving towards the ground, and has unfortunately been fatal for many pilots.
This video shows what can happen during paraglider winch towing, luckily this pilot just managed to throw his reserve in time.
RECOMMENDED PARAGLIDING SCHOOLS
TRANSITIONING TO POWERED FLIGHT
When you’ve taken your paragliding training you’ll have good ground handling skills, wing control, and you’ll know exactly what to expect when your feet leave the ground. This will make paramotor training much quicker and easier. Your first paramotor flight will be a little different because of the added weight, thrust, and torque effects, but the transition from paragliding is very simple.
When you’re ready to start paramotor training, talk to your instructor and tell him you’ve already completed paragliding training, and he should be able to offer you a transition course.
There’s no need to take a full paramotoring course, and the transition course will be slightly different as you won’t need to learn ground handling, air law, meteorology, and you’ve already taken a few paragliding flights. The time you save can be spent in the air on a paramotor, and perfecting your launches and landings.
Other reasons to choose paragliding first
I’ve talked about the expense of paramotoring in previous posts, and I’ve noticed this is something that unfortunately stops many pilots from entering the sport. Spending 10k+ on equipment plus training is simply not an option for many people, and upon hearing the costs of the sport they immediately turn their back on it.
Fortunately there is another cheaper way to get into the air that many aspiring paramotor pilots often overlook, and that’s paragliding. All you really need to start paragliding is a harness, wing, and a helmet. The cost of all of this could be less than 2k if you buy good used gear, and this should be within reach of anyone. Even buying brand new equipment could cost you less than 5k.
RUNNING & MAINTENANCE
When you paramotor you have to spend money every time you fly. 2-stroke paramotor engines will usually drink 3-4 litres of fuel for every hour you fly, and you’ll need to mix oil with the fuel at about 40:1. Although the costs are low, they do add up, and my annual running costs are over $750! See how I worked this out here.
There are also maintenance costs, you can see all of my paramotoring maintenance costs at the link above. You’ll also need to consider the cost of breaking the odd propeller here and there, they aren’t cheap at about $400.
When you paraglide there are no running costs, and the only regular maintenance will be sending your wing and reserve parachute off for its yearly inspection.
YOU’LL BECOME A BETTER PILOT
Let’s face it, paragliding pilots generally have a lot more piloting skill and knowledge than the average paramotor pilot. A paramotor is easy to keep in the air, just pull the throttle and you’re away. Keeping a paraglider aloft for any extended period of time is much more difficult.
I recommend all paramotor pilots take advanced lessons on meteorology, but most don’t. Paragliding pilots are forced to become weather experts if they want to enjoy long safe flights. Knowing when it’s safe to fly is just the start, tracking thermals and staying aloft for many hours at a time is a skill that can take years to develop.
STORAGE AND TRANSPORT
Storage is another thing that is easier, a paragliding wing and harness will fit into your wardrobe, and is possible for everyone. Not everyone has enough space for a paramotor in their home, and many people don’t have any storage options in their gardens, this is enough to keep them out of the sport of paramotoring.
Transporting the paramotor can also be a problem for people with smaller vehicles. I’ve suggested putting a tow bar mount onto smaller vehicles as an option to carry your paramotor HERE, but this is seen as just another expense for many people. The dream of flight is still possible if you learn to paraglide! Pop the harness and wing on your passenger seat and you’re good to go.
When you fly a paramotor you should expect the odd noise complaint from people living near to your launch zone. Although I personally love the sound of a paramotor, some people can’t bare it, and they’ll get mad even if you only make one pass over their property.
Paragliders never have this issue, and most people will never even notice you overhead. It’s also more comfortable for you as a pilot, as you won’t need ear protection like we do on paramotors.
Paragliding or paramotoring?
I’ve written a whole post comparing the two sports, and looking at the pros and cons of each, you can find that HERE.
You’ll definitely have a favourite out of the two, but I think pilots from both sports should occasionally transition and experience the other side. Although paragliding and paramotoring are very similar in many ways, they are two different disciplines requiring slightly different techniques during all stages of flight.
Unfortunately paragliding may come with a little more in flight risk than paramotoring due to the fact that stronger weather conditions and thermals are required to stay aloft. But with that being said, the accident rate is comparable due to many paramotor accidents happening on the ground (prop strikes, burns etc), and also pilots drowning due to flying low over water, something that paragliding pilots generally aren’t tempted to do.
We compare the safety of paramotoring vs paragliding in THIS POST.