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Paragliding FAQ

What is paragliding?
Is paragliding the same as parasailing, parachuting, or BASE-jumping?
How is paragliding different from hang gliding?
What can be done with a paraglider?
Is paragliding safe?
Who makes a good pilot?
What does paraglider equipment cost?
What do I need to know when buying my first glider?
How do I get started?
What’s the downside of being able to fly?
Do I need a license?
What should I look for when signing up for a lesson?
How long does it take to learn?
Where and what is Taiwan?

What is paragliding, what is a paraglider?

Without going into poetry or metaphysics, paragliding is the purest form of free flight available to humans. A paraglider is a foot-launched inflatable wing. A paraglider is made of durable nylon or polyester, and the pilot sits comfortably and securely in a harness suspended from it by kevlar lines. A paraglider is launched by running off a hill or being towed up into the air. All the equipment is easily carried in a backpack to travel with, easy to launch, and easy to land. You really fly just like a bird, soaring upwards on currents of air. When more adept it’s possible to stay in the air for hours, climb to heights of over 3,000m (10000 feet), and fly cross-country for long distances. The current world distance record is now over 500 kilometers.

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Is paragliding the same as parasailing, parachuting or BASE-jumping?

No. Parasailing is being towed behind a boat under a kind of parachute. You are just being dragged around like a kite really, not controlling or piloting the aircraft as in paragliding.¬†Parachutes are deployed during free-fall from an airplane and then descend to the ground. Paragliders can be launched from gentle hillsides pre-inflated for flight. Once in the air paragliders are designed to fly, not just descend like a parachute. BASE jumping is an extreme form of parachuting in which you jump from a building, aerial, bridge or cliff rather than from an airplane. With a paraglider you launch not leap, there’s no falling or high-speed descent.

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How is paragliding different from hang gliding?

The basics of paragliding can be learnt quicker than hang gliding. Paragliding is generally considered safer than hang gliding when launching and landing because of the slower speeds and lower weight of the equipment. The trade-off is that hang gliders are faster and have better gliding performance. They can fly in stronger winds than paragliders. Some pilots also prefer lying prone rather than sitting up as in a paraglider. However, being slower paragliders can turn in small areas of lift and stay airborne in light conditions. They can cover close to the same distances as a hang glider when flying cross country. Perhaps the main advantage of paragliding is its portability. It’s an aircraft that weights under 15 kg all up and fits in a backpack! A paraglider can be ready for flying and packed up in under 5 minutes and transported easily in a backpack on foot or traveling. A hang glider typically weighs over 40kg and requires roof racks on a vehicle and takes 30 minutes to set up and pack away.

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What can I do with a paraglider?

Paragliders are designed to soar. The world distance record is now over 500 kilometers! To begin with you practice handling the canopy while on the ground, learning how to launch. Within days you’ll be flying off higher hills and soaring ridges. Eventually you will have the confidence and skill to catch rising air currents- thermals- and climb hundreds or thousands of meters in the air and travel cross- country. You could become adept at aerobatics. Novice, cross country and aerobatic competitions are regular events in many countries, and internationally. Your skills and hours of flight are recognized with intermediate and finally advanced paragliding licenses. You could learn to fly tandem or become an instructor yourself.

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Is paragliding safe?

Paragliding, like all other forms of aviation, contains an element of risk. You may choose to follow either safe or dangerous practices. You may decide to limit yourself to cruising along at smooth coastal sites or battle with strong thermals and tricky winds in the mountains. It’s up to you to get the best qualified instruction, use safe and well maintained equipment and have a sensible attitude to the sport. Pilots who follow these rules and always fly within their abilities have accident rates comparable to mountain bikers or trail walkers. It can more dangerous driving your car to the flying sites!

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Who makes a good pilot?

Almost anyone can physically fly a paraglider. It’s about 90% mental. You don’t have to be particularly fit. Certain personality types seem to be prevalent among pilots though. Other solo sports, compete-against-yourself activities paraglider pilots seem prone to include hiking, climbing, surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, kayaking, skydiving, scuba diving‚Ķ. Many pilots get motion sickness travelling in cars, or are afraid of heights, and yet love to fly paragliders. Since so much depends on the weather, patience is an asset.

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What does a paraglider cost? How long does it last?

A full paragliding kit includes the glider, harness, reserve, parachute, radio and helmet. To buy a new glider will cost about US$2500 to 4000 and about US$750 to 1000 for the rest of the kit. A new glider should last about four years if properly maintained and the other equipment almost indefinitely. The life of a glider depends on its exposure to UV sunlight and how well it is treated. Get it serviced regularly and the nylon strength tested and lines checked. You can get used gear for as little as half the new price. The price will depend on how old and used it is, like a used car. Paragliders vary in performance from beginner to competition wings. Your decision to move up to better performing wing as you become a better pilot will also determine how long you keep it. Other equipment is used for cross-country flights and can be added as you progress- variometers, which tell you how high you are, and fast you are climbing or descending, and GPS units.

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What do you need to know when buying your first glider?

For your own safety, it is important you have had qualified instruction and know the fundamentals of paragliding before buying a wing. Gliders are made for all levels of skill from beginner to high performance gliders for competition. Many new pilots end up with a glider too advanced for their skill level, some long-obsolete model, or one that slipped out the back door of a factory in China.

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How do I get started?

You could try an introductory tandem flight with an instructor or advanced pilot. If you decide paragliding is for you, start with a Beginner course which teaches you how to inflate the canopy on the ground, launch, make short flights under radio supervision, and land. A Novice course teaches you more advanced flying techniques, longer flights, safety procedures, and theory subjects such as aerodynamics and weather. A Novice rating allows you to fly solo!

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What’s the downside of being able to fly?

Not being able to fly! Work may become just a distraction; every moment anchored to the ground a torment!

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Do I need a license to fly?

Paragliding in Taiwan is an unregulated sport with licences issued by various clubs. However, few if any sites ask that pilots be licensed. Though Taiwan is again a member of the worldwide sport aviation organization, the FAI, and licenses issued here are not readily accepted in any other country. A reputable dealer will not sell you a glider without a rating. Many of the foreign pilots here are members of overseas free-flight associations better recognized worldwide.

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What should I look for when signing up for a lesson?

When selecting a school for paragliding instruction, first make sure that the instructors are certified by an internationally recognized body. Things to look for include: What is the student to instructor ratio? Are the flights radio supervised? Will the training proceed gradually up progressively higher hills? Does the instructor operate at enough sites to accommodate more than one wind direction or season and thus more flying days? What is the safety record of the the instructor? How many students has the instructor taught, how many of its students receive certification each year?

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How long does it take to learn to fly?

You’ll usually be flying solo under close supervision during your first or second day. To be able to fly without your instructor will take at least 25 flights and usually about seven to ten days. In that time you will also complete the ground school. How quickly you progress on to higher levels will depend largely on how many flights you make and how much time you spend in the air as progress comes largely from experience from this point. A year to become a full Pilot is about normal. There are many courses and clinics offered teaching various advanced skills. Different countries have different license levels and schemes by the way.

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Where and what is Taiwan?

It ain’t Thailand, that’s for sure. Taiwan is an independently administered island nation of over 23 million people situated some 180kms off the coast of the People’s Republic of China. Taiwan has it’s own democratically-elected government, currency, internet TLD, national airline etc. etc. Although the ISO calls Taiwan a ‘province of China’, what that is referring to is the claim the so-called ‘Republic of China’ (a regime that ruled China from 1911 until it lost the civil war to the Chinese Communists in 1949, and now exists as a government-in-exile, still claiming it has the right to rule all of China) has on the territory. The People’s Republic of China also claims Taiwan as it’s own, despite having never for one moment exercised control over the island and having been completely uninterested in doing so until recent times. The position of the United States government is that Taiwan’s sovereignty is undecided.