Man has always been fascinated with flight – Icarus took to the skies way before the Wright Brothers came to the scene, on wings made of feathers and wax. Had he been alive today, his curiosity and elation of flying would not have ended in disaster as it did then. To understand the exhilaration that Icarus must have felt, all you have to do is get to a mountain top, strap yourself in and take off – in a paraglider. Imagine yourself thousands of feet above the ground, gliding on a sea of air, watching birds dong the same either alongside or below you and being able to control your ascent, descent and turns as you take in the vast vista open in front of you.
A paraglider has no rigid structure and is a free flying, lightweight soaring aircraft. The basic components of a paraglider are the wings, harness and controls. Unlike in the case of Icarus, the wings of the modern paraglider are made of rip stop polyester or nylon and generally have a surface area of 220 to 380 square feet. Weighing around 3 to 7 kilograms and with a span of 26 to 39 feet, these wings or canopy as they are also called, are made of two layers of fabric, interconnected to the internal supporting material. (image by Luke Sugars).
Attaching the wings to the harness are the suspension lines. Made from Kevlar/Aramid or Dyneema/Spectra, these lines may look rather thin and frail, but they are immensely strong. Two sets of risers made of strong webbing are attached to the harness by a carabiner, with one set on either side of the pilot. These are further attached to a number of lines forming a fan shape. The top of the line is attached to a loop sewn on the canopy.
The harness or the seat is where you are buckled in – comfortable as a lounge chair, the harness generally has foam or airbags both behind the back and under the seat to cushion your body. Offering full body support in both sitting and standing positions, most if not all also have a reverse parachute attached to them.
The controls are held by the pilot, one in each hand and these are connected to the trailing edges of the wing. Known as brakes, they provide the primary control of a paraglider and are used for steering, to adjust the speed and to flare the canopy during landing.
In addition to the above, most paragliders also carry a two way radio, a variometer and a GPS unit with them. These help the pilot in communicating with the ground, knowing their climb rate or sink rate and altitude and knowing the location where they are at that moment.(image by Paul Morrison).
A paraglider is always launched into the wind. The method used for launching could either be a forward launch, a reverse launch or a towed launch. A towed launch is generally used when flying from a flat surface as opposed to a slope. The basic principle in a launch is the same – the pilot moves forward into the wind, thus inflating the wing due to the air pressure generated by this forward movement.
Paragliders can stay aloft for hours although generally a typical flight would last one or two hours covering around ten to fifteen kilometers. To feel as free as a bird, all you need to do is head to the nearest paragliding institute and give it a go – either in tandem flight or in a solo effort.
All the best!
Related post : 8 Things Must Take on Your Camping Retreat
Feature image by Mike Teixeira