How Does Powered Paragliding Work?

Powered paragliding is not without risk, but is considered to be relatively safe in the world of adventure sports.

Powered paragliding, also known as paramotoring, is a cutting-edge form of ultralight aviation. Powered paragliding is virtually the same as regular paragliding in that it usually requires a foot launch from the pilot and a non-rigid paraglider wing to maintain flight. However, powered paragliding also utilizes a paramotor to maintain a source of thrust throughout flight. Paramotors, which are worn like backpacks, vary according to the different needs of pilots. There are many different kinds of paramotors and related gear that boast different specifications. However, most paramotors differ in weight between 45-80 lbs, are capable of speeds between 25-40 mph, require 1.2-5 gallons fuel and cost between $3500-6000.

Paramotors are not considered difficult to operate, yet it is imperative that a pilot have a good understanding of how the different parts, such as the handheld throttle and the brake toggles, work before attempting flight. Much like the pedals in a car, the handheld throttle and the brake toggles control the power and speed of the paraglider. Therefore it is paramount to practice with such equipment before attempting to fly solo. Even though the paramotor is not essential to maintaining flight while paragliding, it is a great tool for pilots who want to reach extraordinary heights and/or travel great distances. The paramotor makes it possible for pilots to safely reach altitudes as high as 18,000 feet, which is the legal limit set by the FAA. Powered paragliders can also cover as much as 80 miles through the air.

Because paramotors allow gliders to reach such high speeds, pilots are constantly trying to outdo each other and set new records. The latest example of an adventure sports enthusiasts pushing powered paragliding to the limits is Bear Grylls, the host of Discovery Channel's "Man vs. Wild", who tried to break the altitude record while paramotoring over the Himalyas on May 14, 2007. With a modified paramotor built by Giles Cardozo, Grylls was able to reach an altitude 29,494 feet. If this flight is validated by the FAI it will stand as the new world record for highest altitude in that class of aircraft.

With such high-profile enthusiasts and world class attention, it is no wonder that powered paragliding is growing in popularity.

Related Paragliding Video: Paragliders coast over the cliffs in Santa Barbara, California.It not only provides excitement for thrill seekers of all ages, but is also easily accessible. Powered paragliding is considered a self-regulated sport; therefore the FAA requires no licensing or certification for powered paragliding pilots. As a result, many people are willing and able to try it. Despite the lack of licensing and certification requirements, there are several organizations that take powered paragliding safety and training courses very seriously. The United States Powered Paragliding Association (USPPA), the United States Ultralight Association (USUA) and the Aero Sports Connection (ASC) all offer detailed equipment descriptions, safety tips and course recommendations for anyone wishing to try the sport. If a powered paraglider wishes to become an instructor or to fly tandem with someone, then the law requires that the pilot become certified under the USUA and/or the ASC.

Powered paragliding is not without risk, but is considered to be relatively safe in the world of adventure sports. In fact, USPPA statistics suggest that powered paragliding is safer than riding a motorcycle. So, if the proper safety precautions are taken and all of the necessary training techniques are observed, powered paragliding can be an excellent aviation alternative for those who enjoy a little adventure and a birds-eye-view of the world.