Are paramotor reserve parachutes important? In this post I'll tell you why you should never fly without a reserve parachute, we'll learn a bit more about them, and you'll find out how to look after your reserve, so that you can rely on it saving your butt if you ever need to use it.
You're happily flying along, enjoying an awesome evening in the sky. Everything seems perfect, but as you enjoy the amazing views, you're unaware that an aircraft is approaching you from behind.
The pilot of the aircraft is paying attention, but the small size of a paramotor makes it notoriously difficult to see. The pilot of the aircraft suddenly spots you directly in front of him, and he immediately turns the aircraft in an attempt to avoid you, but it's too late...
The aircraft doesn't hit you, or your paramotor, but the propeller cuts straight through your wing, and you immediately begin to fall out of the sky.
So what now? Well, Your only hope is to throw your reserve, otherwise you're probably going to die on impact with the ground.
The thought of a reserve toss is pretty damn scary to the average paramotor pilot, and although it's rare during normal everyday paramotor flying, it can, and does happen.
But we're already flying a parachute!
Unfortunately, some pilots believe there is no need to carry a reserve parachute, and when you start flying with other paramotor pilots you'll often hear statements like:
"You're already flying a parachute, why would you want another one?"
" I don't fly high enough to need a reserve, it wouldn't have time to open if I threw it anyway.”
Your reserve parachute is your lifeline, but if you believe a reserve chute isn't necessary, have a quick look at paramotoring accidents and reserve toss videos on YouTube. Many pilots would be dead if they weren't carrying a reserve when it was needed.
Reserves parachutes save lives, it's really that simple. If your main glider fails, or if you have a mid air collision, a reserve will give you a chance of survival. It only takes a quick search of paramotoring accidents online, to realise how important a reserve parachute is.
You'll see reports and videos of mid air collisions, drones and birds stuck in lines, and near misses with fast moving aircraft.
Check out the video below to see how fast it can go wrong.
Some pilots also believe that a reserve gets in the way during the launch run, but this isn't true. I've flown with a front mount reserve since day one, and it's never bothered me during launching or landing.
If you do find that it gets in your way, simply mount your reserve in a different place.
How paramotor reserve parachutes work
Reserve parachutes are packed into a small container that clips to your harness. The container has a large handle that you can quickly and easily grab during an emergency.
If anything untoward happens, you will be able to throw it, and it will open up just like an old fashioned jellyfish parachute, and safely carry you down.
How to throw a paramotor reserve
To throw a reserve you simply pull hard on the handle, this releases the pins from the locking loops, and opens the container. In one smooth motion, you pull it straight out in front of you.
The whole chute and half of the container will be attached to the handle you're holding, you then throw the whole thing to the side, as hard, and as far as possible.
Do not throw it towards the main glider, as it can get tangled in it, rendering it useless.
When the reserve opens, it's common for the main glider to stay partially inflated, or even open back up completely. So as soon as the reserve has opened, begin to pull the main canopy towards you. This prevents it getting tangled in the reserve, or causing you to spin.
Where to mount a reserve chute
A paramotor reserve can be mounted on the lap strap, or on the frame behind your head. Some harnesses allow you to mount them in the side pocket, or even underneath the seat.
Some pilots opt for the harness pocket mounted reserve because they are out of the way, and they don't flap around while you're running. This is great, but bare in mind that you'll need to reach it as easily as possible, and this may be difficult while dropping out of the sky in a state of panic.
To reach the handles of a reserve chute super fast, the best place to mount one, is where you can see it. So mounting it behind your head or under the seat probably isn't the best idea.
Mounting it in a harness side pocket should be fine, but lap mounted is the best option. With a lap mounted reserve, you can pull the handle straight out in front of you unobstructed, and easily swing your arm to the side to throw it.
Once mounted, the bridles of the reserve are routed inside of a velcro flap that can be found on all modern harnesses. They attach to two loops on the shoulder straps, where they are connected by using 6 MM steel maillions. When the reserve opens, these will be your new hang points.
Do reserves always work when you need them?
Do they always open?
When a reserve is thrown, it may open straight away, or in some instances it may take a few seconds to fully open. This depends on the reserve, packing, and how it's thrown.
If you're too close to the ground when the reserve is thrown, there's a chance that it won't have time to fully open. You can see an example of this in the video I shared earlier, luckily the other pilot threw his early, and it was enough to carry both pilots down to safety.
Don't let this put you off carrying a reserve if you plan on doing lots of low level flying, as reports suggest that reserves have opened from as low as 80 feet.
Choose a quality reserve that has gone through real-life tests to check opening times. The faster it opens, the better.
Caught in the main glider
Another problem that could occur is the reserve getting caught in the main glider. As previously mentioned, you should throw your reserve away from the main chute.
This may be easier said than done, as during a real emergency situation you'll want to throw it as fast as possible. But you should know in your mind that if it goes into the wing, you're in trouble.
A quick look to see where the wing is before throwing could save your life. The only other option is to have a backup reserve, or a second reserve chute.
Check out the video below to hear what happened when the first reserve got caught in the glider, a backup saved this mans life.
How to choose a reserve parachute
When you're ready to buy a reserve, you'll need to take a few things into consideration.
All reserves will have technical data or specifications, with a few important figures you'll need to consider.
Firstly, you'll have to weigh yourself while fully geared up. This means wearing your helmet, flight suit, and any other gear you fly with. Then add the weight of the paramotor with a full tank of fuel, and your wing.
This is known as the take off weight, and you might see this written as TOW on the reserve specifications. It's important to get this right, as a reserve that is too large could cause oscillation problems.
Next, look at the sink rate. This is how fast the parachute descends at its maximum quoted weight. These figures may not be fully accurate, as the reserve is tested in perfectly still air, after disconnecting the main wing using something called quick outs.
Unfortunately, paramotor pilots probably won't be equipped with quick outs. This means your real sink rate might be higher, especially if your still connected main wing causes oscillations.
But it's still important to find a reserve with a low sink rate. The best reserves fall at around 5 – 6 meters per second.
You can then choose the type of reserve you want. A steerable parachute, known as a Rogallo reserve is the best option. They're expensive, but a steerable reserve lets you land in a safe place, and avoid dangers like power lines and water.
The most commonly used paramotor reserve is the round traditional type, these are well tried, tested, and trusted. These are also the cheapest type of reserve you'll come across, and are the simplest to pack.
The drawback of a standard round reserve, is that it will fall straight down, and you will have no control over where you land. This means there is a danger of landing on roofs, power lines, in water, or onto a busy road.
You can also get square reserves which reduce oscillations during your descent. These are more expensive, but you still can't steer them.
You will also see the reserve packing volume quoted, this will be something like 3.5 – 5.6 Litres. If you're buying a reserve container separately this will be important, as you'll need a container that's big enough, but not too big.
When you buy your container, simply match the figures with the chutes packing volume.
The last thing you should see is the rating, or certification. This confirms that the reserve has passed certain safety tests, this will usually be an EN or LTF rating.
If you don't see this, then don't buy it. You need to know that the reserve is capable of carrying you down safely, without oscillating out of control, or falling so fast you break every bone in your body on landing.
If you choose to buy your reserve parachute second hand, bare in mind that most manufacturers recommend replacing your reserve every ten years. If you buy an 8 year old reserve it won't last you very long, so keep this in mind when searching for one.
You should also be sure to buy one that has a test report from the repacker, this means that it's been checked, and is safe for another year until the next repack.
Paramotor reserve parachute repacking
Keep a look out for something called the Big Fat Repack reserve clinic. These are run by BHPA clubs, and give you the opportunity to throw your reserve, while sliding down a zip line.
You can then learn to repack your reserve parachute under the guidance of a certified repacker.
If you haven't taken an approved course to learn how to repack reserve parachutes, you'll need to send yours off to a licensed repacker. Repacks should be done at least once per year to keep your reserve in tip top condition, and to ensure fast opening times.
Why get a repack?
Repacks should be done to remove any grit that collects inside the container, as this can cause damage through abrasion. The fabric can get compressed over time, which delays the opening time.
Damp can also collect and cause mildew, sticking the fabric together,
and further delaying the opening time.
The reserve will also receive a full visual inspection to check the materials and bridles. All materials degrade over time so this is important.
To practice throwing your reserve, you can do it on a zip line
Whether you think you'll need a reserve or not, a reserve will give you much more confidence in the air. With that lifeline on standby, you'll feel more relaxed, and you'll know that you do have a second chance if the unthinkable happens.
Whichever reserve parachute you choose, be sure to get one, and keep it attached to your paramotor at all times so that it doesn't end up getting left at home when you head to the field.
I hope this post has been helpful, happy flying, and I hope you never need to use a reserve, but please don't neglect one!
Cut the chances of needing a reserve with a strobe light to make you more visible to other aircraft, check out THIS POST for the best paramotor strobes.