Paragliding is an adventurous flying sport that represents recreation and competitiveness of paragliders. A paraglider is a foot-launched, free-flying, lightweight, glider aircraft which does not have a fixed primary structure. The pilot is positioned in a suspended harness with a fabric wing above that consists of many interconnected cells. Suspension lines maintain a wing shape by balancing air pressure between the vents in front of the wing and over the exterior of the wing where the air flows with aerodynamic forces.

Even without an engine, the paraglider flight can be of many hours and can cover several hundreds of distance in kilometres. However, the normal travel is of 1-2 hours covering around tens of kilometres distance. Paragliding is best done with the skilful use of lift sources wherein the pilot can reach greater heights even up to several thousands of meters.

The unique feature of Paragliders is that they can be easily transported. The whole apparatus consists of a rucksack which the pilot can easily carry upon his back or even in a car, or on a public transport vehicle. Thus, paragliding is much more simplified than other sports in terms of to-and-for travel and landing space.

There are many activities that are associated with paragliding:

  • Hang gliding

This is the similar sport where the launch of hand glider and the paraglider are often seen. Though there are a lot of differences in terms of the equipment used, these two activities are of equal fun. That’s why some pilots like to associate themselves with both kinds of sport.

  • Powered paragliding

It is a sport which involves the use of engine-driven paragliders.

  • Speed riding

Also known as speed flying, this is a sport that involves smaller paragliders. The wings of these paragliders offer higher speeds, but are usually incapable of soaring flights. The pilot takes off on a pair of skis or on foot while rapidly sloping down close to the slope, sometimes touching the slope if he is using the skis. The smaller wings are useful when the pilot needs to fly in areas of high wind speeds, usually at coastal areas where laminar wind is experienced and not much turbulence is witnessed.

Paragliding is also seen as a commercial activity of local importance. In mountainous areas, tandem flights can be attained on paid basis during the summer and the winter. There are also a number of schools that provide training courses and guides who form groups with other experienced pilots in the area.

Kite skiing is a sport that involves similar equipment to that of paragliding sails.

Cross-country Flying

Cross country flying is a status that a pilot can attain after he or she has mastered the skill of gaining altitude using thermals. The pilot will then be able to shift from one thermal down to the thermal after gaining a certain altitude. The pilot identifies typical thermals by observing the land below. Some areas require the cross-country pilot to be additionally skilled and experienced in the aviation maps in order to be familiarised with restricted airspace, flying rules and regulations.

The shape of the wing (airfoil) is determined by the air entering it, and thus, in turbulent airspaces the wing (airfoil) can collapse/deflate partially or completely.  The piloting technique of “active flying” reduces the frequency and effects of such collapses or deflations to a great extent. In the case of modern and recreational wings, these deflations normally retreat without any pilot intervention. The input of the pilot is of pivotal importance during severe deflation because a correct input can enhance deflation recovery, while a false input can slow down the return of the glider to normal flight conditions. Thus, pilot training, experience and practice for correct input and response during deflations is important. If the recovery from deflation (or more threatening situation like a spin) is not possible or difficult, most pilots are provided with a reserve (also known as rescue or emergency) parachute. This reserve is seldom used by pilots, i.e., only when required. In the situation when the deflation occurs right after takeoff or just prior to landing with the wing deflating at low altitude, the paraglider may not go into recovery immediately, thus leaving the pilot to deploy his reserve parachute at less altitude (the minimum required altitude to perform this is about 60m or 200ft, but mostly requires an altitude of 120-180m or 400-600 ft). The deploying time of a parachute depends on its packing. ‘Bad air’ or turbulence can cause the wing to collapse and this can lead to the parachute taking more time to inflate and stabilize itself. Wing failures at lower altitudes can cause serious injuries and can sometimes prove fatal to the subsequent velocity of the descent, wherein, failures at higher altitude will leave more time for regaining control over the descent rate and this fact helps with safe deployment if required. Flying in a suitable glider, choosing the best weather conditions and the experience or skill level of the pilot are key factors that can help reduce the hazards of in-flight deflation of the wings.

Sports/competitive flying

It is an adventure for some pilots to go beyond the norms of recreational flying. Such pilots possess numerous options:

    Cross Country Competitions

This is where races take place around waypoints with a usual distance of about 50-150 kilometres.

    National/international records

Apart from the usual records of the longest distance or the highest altitude, there are several other records that can be achieved, for example, the distance to the declared goal, speed of above 100kn triangular course, distance run over a triangular course, etc.


This is an aero-cum-acrobatic stunt kind of flying which employs tricks like ‘helicopters’, synchro spirals, wing-overs, infinity tumbles, etc.

    Cross-country leagues

Based on an individual’s cumulative best distance of flights, there are worldwide leagues held annually, regionally or nationally and also worldwide.


These include landing competition in which the pilots are supposed to land on particular targets with a centre spot of 3cm kept out to a circle of 10 meters.

 For competitive flying, wings of high performance are required. These wings need more skills to run than the conventional recreational flights, but at the same time they are more responsive, providing better feedback and flying faster with greater gliding ratios.

Learning to fly

There are usually a lot of schools that provide paragliding training. These schools are either registered with or organized under a specific association. The certification system is different based on the country; though a minimum of 10 days instructions are followed as a standard.

A pilot certification instruction program for paragliding has many key criteria. The beginners usually have an initial training which mostly involves ground training including the basics like fundamental theories, basic structure and also operational procedures of paragliders.

Following the basic training, students then go on to learn about glider control on ground, practice takeoffs and also control wing overhead. Then students get to experience flying over low altitude hills so they get used to the wing operations and get skilled to handle the wing over terrains of varying nature. Areas without hills can be used to learn how to tow the glider to lower altitudes using special winches.

Having gained enough experience and skills, students then shift to flying at steeper and higher hills (or winch tows of higher altitude) thus learning to perform longer flights, controlling the speed of the glider, turning the glider, mastering the skill of taking 360o turns, doing the ‘big ears’ (a method used to elevate the rate of paraglider descent), spot landings, and many other sophisticated paragliding techniques. Radios are the primary mode of communication during these training programs, especially during the students’ first flights.

Another key component of paragliding instructional programs is that they give enough background expertise in important aspects like aviation law, general etiquettes of flight area and meteorology.

Prospective pilots are given the chance of determining whether they are fit to go on into full fledged training program. For this purpose there are several schools that provide tandem flights. In a tandem flight the paraglider is controlled by an experienced instructor accompanied by the prospective pilot who seats as a passenger. The pilot’s friends and families also get the chance to fly tandem at several schools which also have tandem flights as an activity at holiday resorts.

The training programs and course provide the pilot with a national licence and also an International Pilot Proficiency Information (IIPI) or Identification card which is internationally recognized. There are five specific phases within the IPPI for paragliding proficiency which begins at the entry level called ParaPro1 and continues to the last stage, stage 5. The level ParaPro3 is the minimum level a pilot needs to attain so as to be able to fly alone or solo, without the supervision of an instructor.