What is Paragliding ?

Not a Pilot ? Wondering what this is all about ? Read on .....

Paragliding is an air sport like no other. With the bare minimum of equipment - a glider and harness that all fits into a backpack - you can soar like a bird for hours on end in the right conditions. Launching can be from a hill or cliff, by winch or tow from flat ground, or even using a backpack motor (paramotoring). All you need to do is lay out the wing, connect the harness, check conditions and in as little as 3 minutes you can be up in the sky.

Paragliders can soar along inland and coastal hills and cliffs riding the upslope winds, seabreeze or onshore winds. Inland they can also launch from a hill and catch a thermal up to the clouds just like eagles do ! By linking a series of climbs in thermals and glides, cross country flights are possible allowing skilled pilots to fly many hundreds of kilometers with just the power of the sun. It is this latter part of the sport that is the test for competition pilots.

Modern high performance gliders have glide angles of around 11:1 at 40km/h (ie: for 1000m above the ground of height they can glide 11kms in nil wind) and can race along at up to 70km/h airspeed. Of course beginner gliders don't perform as well as the Formula 1 hot ships but still manage excellent glides around 8:1 and speeds up to 50km/h. The maximum legal limit for altitude in Australia is 10,000ft (3000m) above sea level. On good days thermal climb rates can be in excess of 8 metres per second (25km/h or 1600ft per minute).

Learning to Fly

Paragliding is easy to learn for anyone who can run a few steps and has some general co-ordination. The oldest pilot in Manilla is Bill the Postman - he's now 76 !

The sport is controlled in most countries by official associations or federations (in Australia its the HGFA) which require a license to be obtained via a week long approved course.

Many students will have experienced a tandem flight before committing to a course while some just know its for them. Most schools start off with ground handling in a field - learning to inflate and kite the wing which simulates launching. Then its small slope training followed by high flights, ridge soaring and thermalling. Theory is also learnt and there are exams at the end of the week. If the student has the skills he/she is then signed of for a “novice“ type license.

Manilla Paragliding, operated by Godfrey Wenness runs paragliding license courses in Spring and Autumn every year at Mt Borah. Private 1:1 lessons are also available all year round. Only Manilla Paragliding offers courses which cover both types of skill sets in the one location -  inland thermalling (for cross country flying) and ridge soaring.

Courses are attended by all ages from 16-65 with an average age around 35-45. As long as you can run 20m at good speed and are relatively co-ordinated, paragliding is easy to learn - similar to skiing or cycling in terms of difficulty.

For more information about courses click on the Learn to Fly tab on the top of the side bar.


The basic equipment consists of a paraglider, harness and reserve parachute and weighs around 16-20kgs in total. Some light weight minimum equipment for hiking and mountaineering weighs as little as 12kgs total ! Many also fly with an altimeter, GPS, radio and mobile phone. Gliders are sized according to pilot weight and can vary from 22sqm to 30sqm surface area with tandems up to 45sqm taking total weights over 240kgs ! The glider material is a special light weight rip-stop nylon and lines are made of kevlar or dyneema and have breaking strains over 100kgs each (there are many dozens of lines on a wing !).

All reputable flying gear is rigorously certified according to european tests and can handle well in excess of 6G's. There are many brands of all gear in the market today - new prices for a basic glider is around A$3800 and harness reserve around A$1500. Manilla Paragliding has second hand gear available too which allows people to enter the sport relatively cheaply.

Recently Speed Flying has developed which involves the use of small wings which fly faster. Originally devised to descend mountain sides and fly close to terrain "at speed" by ski launching, this discipline has evolved in the past few years to now include ridge soaring in coastal areas where wind can often be too strong to fly standard sized gliders. Safety is not as good as it could be in Speed Flying with pilots taking too many risks close to the ground at high speed without care or understanding of the consequences. Many deaths and inujries have been occurring even to highly experienced pilots.... as such it is only for well experienced pilots at the moment (2010)

Paramotoring (PPG) has been around almost since the beginning of paragliding and involves the use of a motor backpack to launch from flat ground. The engine set up weighs around 20-30kgs extra and flight times are typically around 2hrs depending on fuel tank size. Small high tech 2 stroke engines are mainly used through a reduction gearbox or direct drive with propellor sizes varying from 1.0-1.4m. PPG (Powered paragliding) also noted as MPG or paramotoring, is not without its inherent difficulties but can be done by most fit intermediate skill level pilots. Despite what the promotors of the sport might say it is not recommended for those with mobility issues or lacking fitness !


Competition Flying

The major high level events last for a week or in the case of the World Championships 2 weeks. Smaller regional and club events run over weekends. 

Taking account of the weather conditions, pilots in short Race style events are given a task each day to fly to a goal via a given course which can include turnpoints, or in the case of Open Distance events (like the XC Open World Series) pilots fly as far as they can each day.

Launching is permitted once the “Window“ is open with the race starting either at a pre-determined time (Air Start - once all pilots have launched) or at intervals (Elapsed Time Race - to avoid congestion in the air). It is this period (and the arrival at Goal up to 5 or 6hrs hours later) that is most spectacular for visitors and generally occurs between midday and 3pm.

The pilots then navigate and fly the course and hopefully make it to the goal. Not all make it and may find themselves landed on course somewhere. The flights are checked at the end of the day using sophisticated GPS software and scoring is achieved by a program that allocates 1000pts for the winner if the spread of the pilots which landed on course or at goal is fair. Those that make goal receive distance and speed points, while those that don't make it only get distance points. The day value can be affected (reduced from 1000pts) for example if no one or too few make it to goal, too many land well short, or the spread of the field is not even. This tries to account for lucky or unlucky, and thus unfair conditions on course, and levels out the scoring between days where otherwise the points may not show the relative merit of the pilots skill on the day (ie: easy short task compared to hard long task).

In the case of XC Open events pilots fly as far as the can in a given amount of time following the wind and clouds. This is a new event style and was pioneered in Manilla by Godfrey Wenness with the worlds first ever FAI sanctioned XC Open in 2005. It has now become a World Series and many smaller events have copied the format which gives pilots much more XC airtime than Race events which typically are over in 1.5 - 3hrs. The event style is also more relaxed and less stressful as flights are done with tail wind. Flying in these XC Open events is more like running a marathon as airtime can be up to 8hrs each day ! Points are allocated according to a % of the winners distance being worth a maximum of 1000pts daily.

In both event types the pilot with the most points at the end of the event is the winner, though in some events days can be dropped to become the best X of Y days scores.