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Know-It-All Q&A - Powered Paraglider

Q. How is level flight maintained in a turn?

A. To maintain altitude during a turn, you must directly coordinate the amount of steering input with the amount of throttle increase because of the loss in vertical lift. To make a shallow turn, only a modest amount of steering control input and throttle increase is required. As the steering input is applied, you will also simultaneously apply the corresponding amount of throttle increase to maintain level flight throughout the turn.

The greater the bank angle, the greater the throttle required to remain in level flight. Also, with increased bank, greater skill is required to reduce the pendulum effect when coming out of the turn or reversing the direction of the turn.

Q. Can I sew my own wing?

A. There is no known source to obtain a pattern. A paraglider looks deceptively simple but is the product of years of development and testing. Even minor changes as a result of age (fabric or lines stretching or shrinking) can have a profound (and in many cases dangerous) effect on how the glider behaves. And there’s a reason why factory test pilots carry two or three reserve parachutes!

Q. Is this sport limited to a younger person in great physical shape?

A. Not really. If you can run aggressively for 12-15 steps, carry 50 pounds on your back, and jump down and land 2-3 feet you are a candidate to fly a powered paraglider. If you have a good positive attitude and a willingness to learn you can be successful. It is a good idea to start an exercise program by walking and stretching to prepare your body for the physical activity. Learning and flying a powered paraglider is all about technique, not strength.

Q. How much does a powered paraglider weigh?

A. Total weight of 60 to 90 pounds is typical, 45 to 75 pounds for the motor and frame, 15 pounds for the wing/canopy.

Q. What size motor do I need?

A. Like the wing, the motor must be sized to your own weight. A light person doesn’t need (and can’t handle) a great big motor, while a small lightweight motor will be insufficient power for a heavy person.

As there’s a wide range of motors, there’s also a wide range of horsepower options. A pilot at sea level will need less horsepower than a unit launched at 5,000 feet above sea level. These are questions your instructor/dealer/trainer will be able to properly advise you on before your purchase.

Q. What is the advantage of electric start?

A. Some motors offer electric start as an option. Electric start provides the easiest method to restart an engine in the air, while pull-start units can be anywhere from 5 to 12 pounds lighter as they eliminate the battery, starter, flywheel, and charging system. Some pull-start motors can be started in the air, but others can’t. 

Q. Which is better, high or low hang points?

A. It depends on user preference. Proponents of low hang points say it's more like a free-flight unpowered harness. Low hang points allow more weight shift control; however, weight shift ability is more a matter of the relative position of the hang points and the machine/pilot's center of gravity (CG). Machines with high hang points and vertically swiveling arms are designed for weight shift and probably have about the same amount as low hang point machines designed for weight shift.

High hang points tend to provide a more "stable" feel and less balance issues, possibly at the expense of ease of launching. Those with swiveling arms for weight shift give up some of that stable feel.

If you’re considering a machine with low hang points, you need to be sure your body weight and the weight of the motor unit are compatible. As the risers hook in below and in front of your shoulders, the CG adjustment is also below your shoulders. A light pilot on a heavy unit may put the risers uncomfortably close to the pilot’s shoulders, possibly to the point of limiting movement. Moving the CG too far forward to move the risers away from the pilot’s shoulders may cause the propeller angle to be tilted downward too far. This can and has caused torque and asymmetric blade thrust issues which can lead to a dangerous situation. The longer the propeller, the more critical this becomes. Low hang points are a great option, if set up properly. With low or high hang points, make an effort to hang in a simulator with someone who knows how to set up a harness.

Q. Prior to flying with the motor, should I learn to paraglide without the motor first?

A. Opinions vary on this. If you live or will train in a mountainous or coastal area where free-flying motorless paragliding is possible, it’s an excellent idea. You can learn the basic flying techniques before risking the expensive motor equipment and gain a better appreciation of micrometeorology as well. However, many – if not most – paramotor (powered paraglider) pilots start with no free-flying experience and do just fine.

Q. Why doesn't a powered paraglider (PPG) have a rigid or inflatable structure to prevent a canopy collapse?

A. In many cases, a canopy collapse is actually a safety feature. When for any reason the wing's angle of attack (AOA) decreases to the point that the ram air can't maintain the internal pressure to hold it open, it collapses. This can happen if you fly into a down gust, fly out of rising air, or if for some reason the wing surges forward in front of you.

If the wing collapses, lift is eliminated, and drag increases. This results in the wing being blown back; the pilot swings forward, the AOA increases again, and the wing reinflates quickly.

If the wing isn't allowed to collapse, the lower drag due to the lower AOA means the wing will keep flying forward in front of the pilot, the lines will go slack, and the pilot may actually fall into the wing, a far worse situation than dealing with a simple collapse. PPG pilots who fly in suitable, low-wind conditions will rarely if ever see a canopy collapse.

Q. How long does it take to learn to fly?

A. It depends on the individual. Most instructors recommend five to seven days of training. This can be spread over several weekends, though waiting on weather can complicate things. By far the most difficult part of learning to fly is handling the wing on the ground, which takes hours of practice to become really proficient and must be mastered before the first attempt to actually fly. Existing pilots of other types of aircraft may be able to move quickly through some parts of the training (regulations, aerodynamics), but the basic flying of a powered paraglider is completely different from any other aircraft, with little transfer from other types of flying.

Q. Can I teach myself to fly a powered paraglider?

A. It’s been said that anybody who teaches himself to fly has a fool for an instructor. Yes, some people have successfully self-trained, especially in the early days. However, for everyone who succeeded, there are probably several more who gave up after a few too many botched launch attempts, broken propellers, body parts, etc. The odds are that if you self-train, you will spend more on equipment repairs than you would have paid for instruction. Even if you do succeed, you will likely miss out on the finer points that an instructor would teach you, which can make a big difference in safety over the long run.

The United States Powered Paragliding Association maintains a listing of powered paraglider training facilities. You can search their directory by clicking here.

Q. Do I need a sport pilot certificate to fly a powered paraglider?

A. No. Powered paragliders meet the requirements for an ultralight vehicle and are operated under the rules of FAR Part 103, which defines an ultralight by:

  • 1-seat
  • less than 254 pounds empty weight (powered)
  • less than 155 pounds empty weight (unpowered)
  • 5 gallons maximum fuel capacity
  • 55 knots maximum full power calibrated airspeed in level flight
  • 24 knots maximum calibrated airspeed for power-off stall speed.

Part 103 does not require a pilot certificate, vehicle registration, or airworthiness certificate for the operation of an ultralight vehicle.

Even though the FAA does not require a pilot certificate, it is very important to safely learn how to operate a powered paraglider by an experienced person. The United States Powered Paragliding Association (USPPA) is dedicated to safety and training for powered paragliding. Their website is an excellent informational resource and a way to find a qualified instructor to teach you to safely fly a powered paraglider. Visit the USPPA.

Q. What is a powered paraglider?

A. Powered paragliding is the simplest form of powered ultralight flight. They are foot-launched vehicles that are easy to fly and transport and are inherently stable, but they offer very precise control. The wing has no rigid structure; its shape is achieved by ram air in the leading edge. After foot launching, the pilot, connected to a harness, sits in a seat suspended by Kevlar lines from the wing. The backpack power unit attaches to the harness and provides thrust for climb and cruise flight. Speed is typically 20 mph, with a fuel burn of 1 gph.

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