Paragliders take us into a world driven not by the laws of man, but by the laws of nature. They have evolved significantly since their early parachuting days back in 1985. Early gliders had a glide ratio of around 4:1 and an extremely narrow speed range. Today's 'hot ships' have a glide ratio of better than 10:1 and optimum speed may exceed 65kph. This improvement has been brought about by a continual process of experimentation, lateral thinking and inspiration on the part of the designers.
History and General InformationSince the first FAI World Paragliding Accuracy Championships held in the UK in 2000, this comparatively new CIVL discipline has been increasing steadily in popularity. Today some 1000 pilots from more than 20 countries are logged on the CIVL Paragliding Accuracy database and WPRS.
European countries currently dominate Paragliding Accuracy. However, Asia is rapidly catching up, with pilots from Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia in the rankings, and especially China, whose top pilot took gold at the 2009 World Championships. Over the past few years, we have seen FAI Category 2 competitions running in Japan, Kazakstan, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Korea. The number of competitions worldwide is increasing steadily too. In 2010, more than 35 Category 2 competitions were sanctioned and many countries run additional non-sanctioned national and regional events.
Hill and tow launchAlthough its roots are in parachuting and parascending, today's Paragliding Accuracy competitions, both hill and tow launch, are flown on certified paragliders. The FAI rules are set out in Section 7C of the Sporting Code. Additional documents on organising Paragliding Accuracy competitions, and on the Judging Code, are available.
Competitions are generally both individual and team events. Often several 'rounds' can be flown in a day, in which case, a weekend event can comprise up to 6 scores or more, giving a highly satisfying competition. Although weather conditions play a critical role, generally, a Paragliding Accuracy competition is less weather dependent than cross country events. Providing the wind is not too strong, and the appropriate site is selected, a competition can start early in the morning and continue until near sunset.
Overcast or non-thermic days are no barrier. Indeed, the 2007 World Championships took place in February, with pilots tow launched over a frozen lake!
Target approachStandard equipment in a Paragliding Accuracy competition is an electronic target pad: a pressure sensitive device measuring 30cm in diameter. (The same equipment is used in Parachuting Accuracy) The point of firmest pressure is measured and displayed, from 0 to 15cm. Around the pad, circles are market out at 0.5m, 5m and 10m. Landings made off the pad are marked by 'fichet' Judges and then measured manually.
One of the first lessons that Accuracy pilots learn is to fly your foot to the dead centre, not your eye! It is easy to overshoot. Similarly, if you set up too 'cold', only a very lucky thermic glide will skim you into the scoring zone!
Judging teamIn a Category 1 competition, the Judging team comprises: Chief Judge, Event Judge, 3 fichet Judges, 2 strike Judges, scorer/recorder and wind speed monitor. In a Category 2 event, some of these roles can be combined. While the fichet Judges mark the exact spot where the pilot landed, the strike Judges confirm the first point of contact (which foot, or maybe a 'bum' strike if the pilot is skimming in low).
Safety first - No fall ruleUnlike parachuting and parascending, Paragliding Accuracy pilots must land on their feet and stay on their feet. If you fall over before your wing is on the ground, you will be penalised and receive the maximum score. (Remember, the winner has the lowest score in Accuracy). If a pilot approaches the target dangerously, stalling the wing, spinning or performing any aerobatic manoeuvres close to the ground, a penalty system is implemented (warning, maximum score, disqualification).
Transferable skillsPracticing Paragliding Accuracy is an excellent skill for all pilots, whether cross country flying or hill soaring. You never know when you might have to make a landing in a very small field, avoiding obstacles such as power lines and trees. Paragliding Accuracy can help you understand how to control your wing in difficult situations, such as landing when strong thermals are triggered, and how to judge your glide to a potential landing field.
But more than that – Paragliding Accuracy can be great fun! Especially on days that are not ideal for cross country flying, or if there is a group of you soaring on a hill at the end of the afternoon. Even a top-to-bottom flight can be a learning opportunity if there is a target in the landing field.
Indeed – pilots should think about accurate landings on every flight. It is always good practice, not only to select early, the best field for landing in, but pick a (safe and sensible) spot in that field and aim for that. See how close you can get – 10m? 5m? 1m? It might be harder than you imagine.
ParaglidingParagliding is the recreational and competitive adventure sport of flying paragliders: lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid primary structure. The pilot sits in a harness suspended below a hollow fabric wing whose shape is formed by its suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside.
Despite not using an engine, paraglider flights can last many hours and cover many hundreds of kilometres, though flights of 1–2 hours and covering some tens of kilometres are more the norm. By skilful exploitation of sources of lift the pilot may gain height, often climbing to altitudes of a few thousand metres.
Paragliders are unique among soaring aircraft in being easily portable. The complete equipment packs into a rucksack and can be carried easily on the pilot's back, in a car, or on public transport. In comparison with other air sports this substantially simplifies travel to a suitable takeoff spot, the selection of a landing place and return travel.
Paragliding is related to the following activities:
- Hang gliding is a close cousin, and hang glider and paraglider launches are often found in proximity. Despite the considerable difference in equipment the two activities offer similar pleasures and some pilots are involved in both sports.
- Powered paragliding is the flying of paragliders with a small engine attached.
- Speed riding or speed flying is the separate sport of flying paragliders of reduced size. These wings have increased speed, though they are not normally capable of soaring flight. The sport involves taking off on skis or on foot and swooping rapidly down in close proximity to the slope, even periodically touching it if skis are used. These smaller wings are also sometimes used where wind speeds are too high for a full-sized paraglider, although this is invariably at coastal sites where the wind is laminar and not subject to as much mechanical turbulence as inland sites.
- Paragliding can be of local importance as a commercial activity. Paid accompanied tandem flights are available in many mountainous regions, both in the winter and in the summer. In addition there are many schools offering courses,and guides who lead groups of more experienced pilots exploring an area. Finally there are the manufacturers and the associated repair and after sales services.
- Paraglider-like wings also find other uses, for example in ship propulsion and wind energy exploitation, and are related to some forms of power kite.
- Kite skiing uses equipment similar to paragliding sails.