Paragliding and Speed Flying
Welcome to the amazing world of Paragliding and Speed Flying! You have most likely stumbled upon this page in your initial research about the sport and where you might learn to fly. We have done our best to answer all of the most common questions about paragliding and speed flying on this page. The most common question recently, and therefore the first one that should be answered is: What is the difference between Paragliding and Speed Flying? This is an important question to answer because it will determine which direction you decide to go in the sport. Let’s explain.
Paragliding involves piloting a very large “ram air” canopy with the ultimate goal of soaring for extended periods of time. The wing is long and narrow, which creates a large amount of lift with very slow airspeeds. Paragliding is a cruising sport, where the pilot makes strategic use of the winds and other natural lift sources to sustain flight. Those individuals that would be drawn to sailing a boat are the same types that would enjoy paragliding.
Speed Flying, on the other hand, is for the fighter pilot at heart. A speed flying wing is shaped more like a high performance parachute and meant to descend out of the sky at adrenaline inducing speeds. The pilot begins her flight at the top of a mountain, launches from a healthy sprint, and then races slalom style through the different terrain features on the way down. Speed flying is certainly a cousin to paragliding, but it’s the cousin that the rest of the family loves to share stories about, but not necessarily join in the adventure.
This explanation of the differences between paragliding and speed flying should suffice to give you a good idea of which sport is for you. We will now answer common questions specific to each sport below, such that you can skip directly to what most interests you.
Is paragliding safe? The sport of paragliding has evolved tremendously over the last decade, and with this evolution there has been a significant increase in the safety. Like any other adventure sport, there are always risks, and it is up to you to determine your risk threshold. With proper training, a modern paraglider, and good judgment, you can fly injury-free well into old age. Of course, you can also do the exact opposite of all this, continually scare yourself, and maybe even get lucky enough to not get injured. We obviously don’t condone this behavior, and steer well clear of those that do.
How long does it take to learn? You will fly solo on your very first day of training, and it takes 5-10 days to master the required skills to earn your “P2” rating. Believe it or not, the flying is easy. What takes a good portion of time to learn is “kiting”, which is controlling the wing overhead while standing on the ground. Not only does this make you a better pilot, but it is fun! Also, you can go out and practice your kiting just about anywhere. So if you take your wing home with you and do your kiting homework, you can get through the P2 course in minimal time.
How much does everything cost? Training through the P2 license is $1,500, and is discounted $300 with the purchase of paragliding gear. There are also 1-day lessons for $250 and 2-day lessons for $400. A complete paragliding system, which includes the wing, harness and reserve parachute, will range between $4,500 and $5,500. When properly taken care of, this gear will last you hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of flights.
What kind of flying can I do with a paraglider? There are five different types of flying you can do: “Sledders”, ridge soaring, thermal soaring, cross country and acro. These are listed in order of difficulty to learn. The Sledder is simply flying from the top to the bottom of a hill, and you will do many of these in your training. The next goal is to master soaring techniques, with ridge soaring being the first since it is generally the easiest and safest to do. This type of soaring occurs at a hill, mountain, ridge or cliff, where the winds are coming straight in and strong enough to sustain flight by being deflected upward. Thermal soaring involves riding “heat bubbles” high into the atmosphere, and very large climb rates and altitudes are possible with this type of flying. Cross country flying is achieved by connecting the thermal dots in the sky to fly large distances, sometimes hundreds of miles. Finally there’s acro, short for acrobatic, which as you might guess is radical maneuvering of the wing such as spinning and looping. It would not be incorrect to call this a risky activity.
Speed Flying FAQ
Is speed flying safe? We apologize if you read through the paragliding questions above and this sounds like a repeat, because essentially it is. Like any other adventure sport, there are always risks, and it is up to you to determine your risk threshold. Speed flying is a new sport here in North America, but it has been popular in Europe for a few years now. In that time there have been significant improvements to the safety aspects of the wings, as well as the piloting techniques. With a modern wing in the right weather conditions, one can easily make thousands of incident-free flights. Although speed flying is a faster sport than paragliding, there are a variety of speeds to choose from, as explained below.
How long does it take to learn? You will fly solo on your very first day of training, and within 3-5 days you will have the necessary skills to fly unsupervised. It will be up to you to only fly in good weather conditions. This good judgment and a proper attitude will be what keeps you safe in the sport. You will work toward your “S3” rating, which requires a minimum of 10 flying days and 25 flights.
How much does everything cost? The range is $250 for a 1-day lesson, to $1,250 for the training through the S3 rating. There is a $250 training discount with the purchase of speed flying gear. A complete speed flying wing and harness combo will cost between $2,100 and $2,500. This significantly lower cost than paragliding gear is due to its much smaller size and no need for a reserve parachute (you will typically not fly high enough). When properly taken care of, this gear will last you thousands of flights.
What kind of flying can I do with a speed wing? As mentioned earlier on this page, you will feel like a fighter pilot when speed flying. There are two types of speed flying that cover the range of how radical you want to get. Proximity Flying is slalom-style racing down the mountain only a few feet above the ground, while contouring the terrain. Speed Soaring is sustained flight in high winds, similar to that of paragliding, but with very fast and agile maneuvering capability under the small wing.