The powered paraglider (PPG) is the smallest simplest powered aircraft in the world and the easiest to learn to fly.
Using a paraglider wing ensures safety and inherent stability, while the engine adds autonomy and freedom. Control is very easy; simply pull the right hand brake to turn right, the left to turn left and pull both at five feet above the ground to glide in for a gentle landing.
Frequently asked questions
How does the paraglider inflate?
There are two methods to inflate the wing:
Forward – with the wing behind you in low wind conditions, you run and pull the wing up using your speed to inflate.
Reverse – with pilot facing the wing we use light winds to inflate and pull up the paraglider.
How do you steer the powered paraglider?
Control is very easy. Simply pull the right handle to turn right, the left handle to turn left and pull both at five feet above the ground to stop with a gentle landing. Squeeze the throttle to climb and release it to glide back down.
How low can the powered paraglider fly?
The unique aspect of the powered paraglider is the fact the wing is some distance above the pilot. This allows flight at ground level and up. (This cannot be done safely with any other aircraft in the world.)
What happens if the engine stops?
The engine is only used to go up. At any time you can shut off the motor and land safely because you are flying with an efficient wing that can glide up to 8 feet forward with only one foot down (8 to 1 glide ratio).
What do the engines weigh and do I carry the weight?
The engines vary from 33 lbs to 65 lbs. The weight is carried by the pilot only until the wing is inflated and then the weight is burdened by the paraglider.
How long does it take to learn to fly a powered paraglider?
Most students can solo in a few days. The majority of training is done on the ground learning to control the wing. The actual flying is so easy that any person can control the powered paraglider once in flight.
Can you restart the paramotor in flight?
Yes, new engines come with very high energy ignitions, that make starting very easy with a small tug on the pull starter rope. You can stop the engine and soar and then restart anytime you like.
How safe are these paraglider wings?
The modern paraglider is built and tested with loads up to 15 times greater than can be exerted during flight. The type of paraglider used with an engine is a DHV 1 one or standard rated glider that will continue to fly without pilot input.
Does equipment type differ for different size pilots?
Yes, the weight ratings of the wing and the engine thrust are very important to the size and weight of the pilot. Think about this before buying used equipment. Talk to your instructor before making equipment decisions.
Are there times and conditions when I cannot fly?
Yes, the fact that you are flying a very light airplane means that you are limited to light wind conditions up to 10 mph and morning and late afternoon flying. The mid-day skies are generally too rough to enjoy this type of flying. The exception to this is beach flying where you can fly all day long as the air is not disturbed by the ocean as much as it is by land.
How maneuverable are they?
This airplane can fly sideways, backwards, turn on it’s own axis and fly close to the ground endlessly. You can take off in 1 foot and land on 1 foot in certain wind conditions. There is no other aircraft in the world that can do this!
It is vital that you have the right combination of paramotor and glider tailored to suit your body weight. Safety is paramount and training is imperative. Always ensure when buying a paramotor that you will receive professional training with qualified instructors.
How Safe Is Powered Paragliding (PPG) in the U.S.? (PPG Bible & USPPA.Org)
Numerical Analysis is tough but I suspect that we can get within an order of magnitude. Yes, yes, it’s as safe as you make it but lets take an objective look. If you fly a powered paraglider, what are the chances you’ll die doing it? I don’t address the much greater risk of injury because data is even sketchier. Of course you can improve your chances—dramatically it turns out—but I’ll approximate the overall odds.
Lets start with the year 2007 estimate of about 3000 active pilots (those who fly 5+ times per year—see sidebar) in the U.S. We’re averaging 1 fatality every 8 months. So we can say there are about 1.5 fatalities per 3000 participants per year which is 0.5 per 1000 participants. I use the per participant numbers because flight hour numbers are even harder to estimate. The comparisons below assume that average participants engage in the respective activity about the same amount per year.
Compared to motorcycle riding. In 2003 the National Center for Statistics and Analysis reported about 0.7 fatalities per 1000 registered motorcycles. I’m assuming that anyone bothering to register their bike is probably active. Some bikers ride all the time and others just keep them registered with very occasional use. Same with PPGers although the avid riders take their bikes to work every day—PPGers can’t do that. So, although it appears that PPG is about 30% safer than motorcycle riding, the number may easily be skewed more than others.
Compared to paragliding. The U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA) has about 10,000 members of which approximately 4500 are paraglider pilots. To be conservative, I’m assuming all are active (at least 5 flights per year). Over the past 5 years they have experienced about 3 fatalities per year. That’s about 0.7 fatalities per 1000 participants—almost identical to motorcycle riders which means that paragliding is about 30% more dangerous than powered paragliding. Given that its entirely possible that paraglider pilots have even fewer yearly flights (they are more weather dependant) than paramotor pilots, paragliding could easily be far more dangerous than this suggests.
Compared to driving. Unfortunately, driving to the field is much safer than paramotoring. The NTHSA report used above (to compare motorcycle riding) finds that driving is 16 times safer than motorcycle riding so we can infer that paramotoring, which is 30% safer than motorcycle riding, is about 12 times more dangerous than driving.
Compared to flying light airplanes. According to Flying Magazine, a light airplane pilot has 10 times more likelihood of dying on a personal flight than on a drive—about the same risk as paramotoring.
Compared to flying light helicopters. Yes, this is a ridiculous comparison but, since I fly a helicopter, wanted to quell the common accusation that they are highly risky. Helicopters can land safely after an engine failure and, in fact, have a nearly identical risk of fatality, per hour, as light airplanes. That means helicopter flying is about as risky as flying paramotors.
Compared to Sky Diving. Not surprisingly, sky diving is incredibly dangerous! It’s a skydiver myth that flying up in the airplane is more dangerous than the jump out. According to the U.S. Parachute association (USPA), a sky diver is 4 times more likely to die on the jump out than the flight up. That means that sky diving is about 4 times more dangerous than powered paragliding. 4 paramotor flights is the same death risk as one skydive. That is, in fact, how I decided to go skydiving—I decided the fun factor would equate to 4 paramotor flights. Risk and reward.
But I Don’t Do Risky Things, Am I Safe?
Once you’ve been trained and have achieved approximately PPG2 skills, the risk drops dramatically. Then, if you start exploring steeper maneuvers, flying low or accepting stronger weather conditions and tighter sites, the risk goes back up just as dramatically. Avoiding those things keeps your risk low.
This isn’t intended to be a preachy “don’t do such-and-such” but rather a heads up on what the risks are. Hey, we accept x amount of risk just by strapping one of these things on.
The motorcycle rider can do only so much because he’s dependent on others. Multi-vehicle crashes produce nearly half of all the motorcycle deaths. If we die, it’s probably our own doing.
Most fatal PPG accidents have been related to (remember, these are for fatal accidents):
1. Training. Sorry to say but this is a dangerous phase. Make sure your instructor goes through the USPPA syllabus methodically, using a simulator and rehearsing reaction to his instructions. THIS IS CRITICAL! If you’ve not flown, it must be automatic how you’re going to react. Just being told won’t cut it. You must rehearse! The more realistic the rehearsal, the more it benefits.
Get a tandem or do hill flying before going aloft alone. Your life depends on it. A flight can go from fun to fatal in a matter of seconds with inappropriate control inputs. Towing is another way to get a flight before soloing with the motor but that has it’s own risk. One student has died during a towing accident—treat it with great respect.
2. Water. Never, ever accept any situation where you could end up in water over 12″ deep if the engine quit. By avoiding the possibility of water immersion you improve your odds by at least 25%.
3. Steep maneuvering. Wingovers are the worst because they involve so much vertical and can easily result in wing collapses. Steep spirals are almost equally bad. They can be disorienting or cause the pilot to lose consciousness.
4. Low flying. Wires pop up everywhere and, if you fly low long enough, eventually you’ll run into one. When you do, there’s roughly a one-in-30 chance it will be fatal. Other risks of low flying involve being confused by the “downwind demon” illusion and whacking into something from inappropriate reaction. That illusion only causes problems when flying low.
5. Weather. Fly within the first 3 and last 3 hours of daylight on days with benign conditions and no major changes forecast. If it’s windy aloft, it will soon be gusty and turbulent at the surface. Strong conditions have been a likely factor in three fatalities that I know about and overlap a couple others. Training in strong conditions, for example, is a particularly bad idea.
Some pilots seek out thermals to stay aloft. I have, too. This trades some safety for the fun of soaring and a reserve parachute is essential. It’s not uncommon for paragliding competitions to see several “saves” after pilots take large collapses in strong thermal conditions. A reserve is no panacea, though, top pilots have still died at the hands of strong conditions even though they carried reserves.
6. Midair. If you fly with others you are at risk. If you hit someone there is about a 1 in 10 chance it will be fatal. “look, shallow, up/down, turn” means look in the turn direction, start a shallow bank while looking up and down in the turn direction and finally do your turn. It doesn’t take many pilots in the air, either. The one fatality I’m aware of happened with 4 pilots aloft and neither was in a landing pattern.
7. Equipment. Using someone else’s equipment adds risk. A 2007 fatality happened to a pilot who took off in borrowed gear and got a brake wrapped in the prop. This is more likely in low hook-in machines but there likely other risks that apply to all machines.
If you have a low hook-in machine, make sure the cage has sufficient protection above and on top (covering the prop, preferably) to prevent a brake toggle from going in. It depends on the wing, too, since they have different brake pulley positions and some pilots have modified their brakes to hang below the pulley. Otherwise it will be up to you to insure it doesn’t happen. I’ve seen or heard of brakes going into the prop about 12 times and this is the second fatality resulting from it.
8. Sites. Flying from tight or unknown sites has proven risky. Scope them out, walk them off, if necessary and don’t accept places where you don’t know how much wind may be present if rotor could be a factor.
9. Landable areas. Landing in or colliding with a tree gives about a 1 in 50 chance of being fatal. Always have a safe landing option. This is painlessly easy to heed for most of us. In fact, if you land into the wind, out of any significant rotor and on dry surface, the chances of dying are very, very small (I don’t know of any). But don’t land in trees or water!
2007-08-15 Thanks to John Will & Mike Nowland for input and correction on the fatality rate computation and units.