This post will help you to understand the perfect paramotor weather conditions. You'll learn what's safe and what's not, we'll look at wind, rain, fog, clouds, thermals, and more. We'll also look at what you can do if you ever happen to get it wrong.
Your first flights
When your training is complete and you're given the all clear to fly, you'll be super exited to take your first flights without instruction. But one of the most daunting tasks for any new paramotor pilot is judging the weather conditions. From now on you'll have to make your own decision as to whether the conditions are safe to launch in. You'll also need to be sure that they'll stay that way for the duration of your flight.
So firstly we'll look at planning your flight and checking that the wind will be suitable for paramotoring.
Paramotor wind limits
The first thing you'll need to get is a good weather app for your phone; here's a list of my favourites > Apps. A good app like Windfinder will give you an accurate prediction of wind speeds and gusts at certain times.
When planning a flight you can expect most forecasts to be fairly accurate for up to 3 days in advance. You'll need to consider the time you want to takeoff and land, the wind speed, and the maximum wind gust. Depending on your launch site, the wind direction can also come in handy.
Most pilots, including myself, have a 10-12 MPH flying limit. So if the wind speed is over 12 MPH we don't fly. The wing will handle wind speeds over 12 MPH, but you'll be battling against the wind with very little ground speed. Technically we can fly in higher winds, but there's no pleasure in doing so.
You will also need to consider the wind gusts, gusts are what makes a flight bumpy and potentially dangerous. A sharp gust of anymore than about 5 MPH above the average wind speed will start to become unpleasant.
The screenshot from my Windfinder app below shows what a good flying window looks like...
You'd need to get up early but you can see that Wednesday morning at 5 AM there is a beautiful 3 MPH wind speed with no gusts. This is perfect paramotor weather! You'll see that the window continues until 7 AM, but by 8 AM the conditions would likely become unpleasant. It'd be a little chilly, but you'd be able to have a good smooth 2 hour flight.
These apps are pretty accurate, but you'll also need to check the conditions when you reach the field. As a beginner it's a good idea to get yourself a wind speed meter, or anemometer like this one on Amazon > WindSpeedMeter.
Put up a windsock, and watch the wind for at least 15 minutes, and continue to observe it as you set up. If you feel the wind is approaching the limit, you can ground handle your wing for another good indication. If ground handling becomes difficult or a little unpredictable, then flying will be the same.
If you find the wind speed is very low, or zero, there's a good tip you can use in this post. When you're happy with the wind forecast and conditions, don't forget to check whether there is any rain on the way...
Can you paramotor in the rain
Flying a paramotor in the rain can be very dangerous and often leads to something known as a parachutal stall. In a parachutal stall, the glider stays fully formed but slows down to almost zero forward air speed, and starts to drop vertically.
This is caused by a thin film of water droplets that bead up on the surface of the wing, causing disruption to the airflow over it. In addition, the mass of the wing increases as it absorbs some of the water. This causes the wing to become heavy and sluggish, creating a further loss of lift, and an increase in drag.
These effects can be seen on many aircraft, but they're most pronounced in slow high-lift wings such as paramotor wings.
There's also a danger of the trailing edge of the wing filling with water. A wing with holes in the trailing edge may help with this, but water can still build up in places where it can't escape.
If you think there's a chance of rain, it's best to stay at home and forget about flying for the day. Don't head to the field looking for a small weather window, as you could easily get caught out.
What if it starts raining while you're flying?
Sometimes the forecast can be wrong, and you may get caught out in the rain whilst flying. It's happened to me and many of my flying buddies as you can see by the picture above.
The best thing you can do is land immediately, but there's a few things you can do on your way to your landing spot. These things will help you to avoid a parachutal stall..
1: I mentioned that the problem is more pronounced on slow high-lift wings, so to help relieve the problem you can speed up the wing. Open up your trimmers and if you have a speed bar fitted, apply it. Keep these settings all the way down to the landing area, only releasing speed bar when you're ready to flare.
Note: speed bar shouldn't be used when your wing is trimmed to the slow position, this could cause further dangers. And never use the brakes while trimmed fast with speed bar.
2: don't steer with your brakes, instead keep hands up and use the tip steering toggles.
3: to loose height fast use tight turns, but don't exit the turn aggressively. Coming out of the turn too quickly can cause a higher angle of attack, further increasing the chance of going parachutal. This is also a good reason to not use wing overs to loose altitude while the wing is wet. Keep everything smooth and release the toggle slowly and steadily.
4: an average wing will stall around 17 degrees angle of attack, if your wing is wet it could stall at just 9 degrees. With this in mind, flaring during landing could cause problems. So be very careful and only flare very close to the ground within the last few feet.
The last thing to note is that even very light rain will increase the likelihood of a parachutal stall. If you have the option it's always best to land as soon as you can, rather than returning to your planned landing spot.
What if your wing goes parachutal?
If your wing goes parachutal without enough height you're going to crash; a parachutal stall can take a long time to recover. If you have enough height you need to put your hands up, and fight all temptation to grab the brakes. If you have a speed bar fitted you can push full speed bar, but only if the hands up option doesn't work.
The take-home message from this is to avoid rain at all costs. If it looks like it could rain, even a small chance, stay at home!
Flying in the clouds and fog
Paramotoring over early morning fog, or cruising high above the clouds is an amazing feeling. But there are certain rules you must follow, and certain clouds you must avoid.
The CAA rules of the air regulations, or the FAA's FAR 103, both state that all aircraft operating under visual flight rules (VFR) must maintain a certain flight visibility, or distance from clouds. These rules keep you safe from aircraft operating under Instrument flight rules (IFR), these are aircraft that are allowed to be in there.
I've seen a pilot fly into a blanket of cloud not knowing what was hiding inside. He told me he climbed full power for around 2 minutes before he broke through. He took some cool pictures and a Facebook live video before dropping back down through. Very cool, but also very dangerous; and illegal!
Cloud clearance rules also keep you safe from the danger of something known as cloud suck. Towering cumulus clouds and cumulonimbus are often associated with this phenomenon.
Cloud suck is more commonly seen in paragliding, when thermalling pilots find themselves fighting to stay out of the clouds. The vertical extent of a cumulus cloud is a good indicator of the strength of lift beneath it, and the potential for cloud suck.
Some pilots have reported that they have been unable to descend while trapped in cloud suck, even while pulling deep spirals. Cumulonimbus clouds can expand rapidly over a large expanse with large areas of strong lift. This makes them very dangerous for slow moving paragliders and paramotorists who can't escape the area of danger.
There's been multiple cases of cloud suck, even with large aircraft, but this is the one I was told about during training that really stands out.
Polish-German paraglider Ewa Wiśnierska is a member of the German national paragliding team. She's very experienced and won the paragliding world cup on several occasions. In 2007 she was training for the paragliding world championship in Australia, where she was was sucked into a cumulonimbus cloud.
Ewa's GPS and variometer tracked her climbing at 4,000 feet per minute and up to an altitude of 32,600 feet. She lost consciousness due to hypoxia, and glided unconscious for 30 - 60 minutes before her glider collapsed. This dropped her down below 23,000 feet where the air was thicker.
Luckily the canopy re-inflated and continued to fly, and with increased oxygen Ewa regained consciousness, and was able to slowly spiral down. She landed covered in ice after 3.5 hours, 37 miles away from her takeoff position. Ewa's only injuries were frost bite to her ears and legs, she's very lucky to be alive.
Another paragliding pilot from China, He Zhongpin was sucked into the same storm. He was struck by lightning at 19,000 feet and died.
Pilots who set out with the intention of reaching cloud base are far more likely to experience cloud suck than those who stick to the rules. Follow the laws regarding cloud clearances and visibility in my above linked articles, and avoid these storm clouds at all costs.
Get to know Cumulonimbus clouds here, and also take a look at Cumulus congestus clouds (towering cumulus) here. Keep a good distance from both of these at all times when flying. Paramotor weather and cloud safety should be a part of your training, you should be able to ask your instructor for a printable copy of everything you're taught.
Most pilots are taught that they should avoid flying mid-day. Generally, pilots will only launch 3 hours before sunset, or no later than 3 hours after sunrise. This is good advice most of the time, but in certain situations flying mid-day can be safe.
Why are we told to avoid mid-day flying?
On a hot summers day thermals can become very strong and unpredictable. It's hard to put into writing the sheer amount of power an invisible mid-day thermal can have. Classic paramotoring wings would become very dangerous during these times, often leading to serious collapses and accidents.
Modern reflex wings will handle thermals that would easily fold a classic wing. They've made paramotoring much safer, but mid-day thermals can still pose a risk to pilots. Unless you're accustomed to thermal flying, it's recommended that you don't venture out late morning / afternoon during hot weather.
If the wind conditions are calm with total cloud cover, flying mid-day may be safe. Use a rasp forecast to check the thermal up-draft velocity before heading to the field.
If you wish to learn all about thermal flying, it's best to do so without the paramotor to begin with. Flying in thermic conditions is one of the most demanding tasks a pilot can face, so find a good paragliding instructor for more information.
Mid-day flying during the winter
During the winter months when thermal activity is lower and weaker, it may be possible to fly all day long; depending on your location. In the UK we fly throughout the day from October to March, but be warned, the thermals can still be strong on occasion.
I find that thermals will be much more punchy during the spring months when we have very cold nights, but hot days. As the cold air warms up rapidly the air will become very active.
Start off flying slightly later each morning to get a feel for more turbulent air, and to build up your bump tolerance. And remember, landing your paramotor will become much trickier when you're being thrown around. Watch out for up-drafts, and a sudden loss of lift while you're close to the ground.
Rounding-up Paramotor weather limits
You should now have a good understanding of the perfect paramotor weather, and when not to fly. Understanding meteorology is super important before taking those initial flights after training. Paramotoring can be very safe, but pilots that push the weather limits will eventually get into trouble.
There's a famous quote that you should always remember if you're ever unsure of the weather conditions:
It's better To Be On The Ground Wishing You Were In The Air, Than Being In The Air And Wishing You Were On The Ground!
Thanks for checking out this post, any more tips or personal experiences are welcome in the comments section. If they're relevant they will be added to this post to help others.
Check out this post about the most common accidents, and how to minimise your risk > HERE.