Last updated on February 17th, 2019 at 09:17 pm
I get asked the question what's the difference between paramotoring and paragliding all the time. If you're new to paramotoring and paragliding, both sports can look very similar. When you see a paramotor flying high overhead there are only two distinguishing differences. Do you know what they are? If not, this article will answer the question and list all of the differences between the two.
The reason the two sports get confused is because they both use a very similar wing. These wings resemble a parachute and attach similarly to the harness that the pilot is strapped into. In both sports the pilot will launch the wing like a kite and run effortlessly into the air.
The pilot is hanging free in the open air with no cockpit surrounding him like he'd have with other aircraft. Both paramotoring and paragliding gives the pilot an overwhelming sense of freedom. Comparing planes with paramotoring and paragliding is kind of like comparing cars to motorbikes. I've spoken to fast jet pilots and they all say that they've had much more fun paramotoring and paragliding!
Both sports require you to follow the laws of the air, and there are certain rules paramotoring and paragliding pilots must follow. These easy to follow rules are taught during training along with many hours of ground handling. Ground handling teaches pilots to handle the wing on the ground and successfully launch it. Pilots can go from complete beginners, to flying solo without an instructor within about 5 days.
Check out my full list of every rule and regulation placed on paragliders and paramotors > HERE.
So what's the difference between paramotoring and paragliding?
Paragliding requires a wing, a harness, and a hill. The wing will be clipped to the harness using carabiners and the pilot will launch from the side of an hill. If there are no suitable hills paragliders can be launched using a winch that pulls the pilot into the air.
Steady laminar wind will be required to keep the paraglider aloft and to gain altitude. If the wind drops off the only other way of staying in the air is by using thermals. Thermals are upward currents of warm air, you may have seen birds using them to gain height on warm days.
Paragliders can stay in the air for many hours and travel many miles whilst the conditions are correct. In 2015 a world record was set when paragliders were able to travel a massive 318 miles in one flight taking 11 hours. This record took place in Brazil where conditions are perfect for many hours everyday.
But if the wind or thermal activity stops, the paraglider will slowly loose height until it's forced to land. Many pilots will only manage very short flights because the sport is so weather dependant, and that's where paramotoring comes in..
When paragliding pilots got annoyed with short flight times a few brave pilots decided to try something different. These pilots attached their paragliding harnesses to metal frames and then added something to allow them longer flight times. They added two stroke engines to the frames and attached aircraft propellers to push them along.
This was all happening way back in the 1980's, but since them paramotoring has come a long way. Paramotors are now churned out in their thousands on production lines around the world. This gives pilots the opportunity to buy a dedicated flying machine capable of flying when paragliders cant.
Paramotoring and paragliding differences
As we mentioned earlier paragliders need a hill or a winch to launch, and this is where we discover the main difference between paramotoring and paragliding. Paramotors can be launched from a flat field, the thrust from the motor is enough to lift it into the air. This opens up new opportunities for pilots that live in very flat areas who would have to travel miles to find a hill. But the difference between paramotoring and paragliding doesn't stop there...
Paragliders can launch without wind, but they will not stay aloft. This would be called a top to bottom flight as the pilot is simply launching and gliding straight down to the landing zone. Paramotors can launch without any wind and will be able to fly for many hours without any wind or thermals. In fact these are the conditions that paramotor pilots crave, they create smooth and safe flights.
Paragliding pilots will normally launch from a hillside and land down the bottom of the hill. This means pilots have to climb back to the top to get to their vehicles. Or maybe they left the vehicle at the bottom and climbed up for the launch. Either way, there is usually a climb involved unless the conditions are perfect enough to allow a top landing. Paramotors will be able to fly around for as long as they have enough fuel and land back at their launch site.
If paragliders decide to go on cross country flights they will usually land many miles away from the launch site. This means they will have to find some way of getting home. Most paramotors will allow pilots to fly for around 3.5 hours on a single tank of fuel. Pilots will usually land back at their launch site, but it's possible to land near a petrol station and refuel. Most paramotors use two stroke engines so the pilot will need to carry a small pot of oil to mix with the fuel after filling up.
It's also possible to switch a paramotor engine off and use thermals just like a paraglider. The extra weight makes this more difficult and inexperienced pilots are warned against flying around mid day thermals.
So with all of this in mind what are the two distinguishing differences that I mentioned at the start? Well firstly you'll hear the sound of the engine, and secondly you'll see the motor. Simple, but you can see why people would get confused between the two.
Should I take up Paramotoring or Paragliding?
So you like the sound of both paramotoring and paragliding, but which one should you learn to fly? Well when you learn to fly paragliders transitioning to paramotors is very easy. The ground handling technique is the same and launching is very similar. Paragliding is very graceful and the silence in the air is very relaxing and stress relieving. But paragliding is certainly more dangerous than paramotoring.
Paragliding is more dangerous as you will be launching in fairly strong wind and thermic conditions. I've seen paragliders suddenly drop out of the sky as the wind has suddenly stopped. If there is no forward motion the wing can easily collapse. If the pilot is high enough when a collapse happens the wing will usually re-inflate and recover. But if a wing collapses down low the wing may not have time to recover. Pilots can learn to deal with collapses and how to avoid them, and taking a course to learn these skills is recommended.
Find out the chance of taking a wing collapse while you're paramotoring here > HERE.
If you learn paramotoring you'll usually do some top to bottom paragliding flights to get you used to the wing, so this will be a good paragliding taster. And if you decide to take up paragliding after learning to paramotor it's a simple transition.
Paramotoring is much safer than paragliding as you don't need wind or thermals, you will be launching in calm conditions. There is also constant forward motion which will keep the wing inflated preventing collapses.
Paramotoring can get dangerous when pilots decide to ignore safety procedures, and when they decide to fly in rough conditions. Most pilots that I know will only fly during calm evenings or early mornings before the thermals kick off. Paramotors can safely be flown in strong wind but pilots discover that flying is simply more enjoyable during calm conditions.
Check out this article for more on paragliding and paramotoring, it covers the safety of both sports to help pilots make a sensible decision on which one to learn > HERE.
So which one is it going to be? Paramotoring and paragliding are both super fun, but the choice is entirely up to you! I decided on paramotoring, but I really enjoyed the few paragliding flights that I did during training.
Good luck with your decision, I hope you enjoyed finding out the difference between paramotoring and paragliding.
You'll also like these other articles:
Find out how to easily transport your paramotoring equipment to and from the field > HERE.
Find out whether paramotoring is as safe as all of your friends have been telling you > HERE.
And if you don't know how a paramotor or wing works then THIS POST will explain everything.