Article by Tim Parrant
So, you may be a skydiver wanting to learn Paragliding or Speedflying?
Absolutely fabulous idea! Especially if you want to become a better canopy pilot.
But what’s the difference?
As a skydiver we can fly a pattern and flare so we might think, what can be so hard about flying a Paraglider or even a Speed wing? There are many similarities but also differences. Here I will explain these related sports and their main differences plus outline the appropriate steps to transition from flying a skydiving canopy to these new wings…
There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots
Paragliding is the recreational sport of soaring from a slope or a cliff using a wide canopy attached to a person by a harness. A paraglider will use the rising air from hitting a slope or a hot air thermal to gain altitude. A paraglider can stay in the air for several hours at a time and reach thousands of feet in altitude. The goal of paragliding varies on different types of paragliding but can mainly viewed to stay in the air as long as possible using natural lift.
Speed flying is the recreational sport of gliding down a slope or mountain. It uses a similar canopy to a paraglider but it is much smaller in size and designed to have faster capabilities. A speed flyer will launch by foot and stay within proximity of the terrain. The goal of speed flying can be to constantly swoop the mountain.
Speed riding can be viewed as the same as speed flying though instead of ground launching by foot, you launch your glider with skis and both fly and ski down the mountain. Speed riders will touch down and continue having their glider above while skiing, then fly off again from the ground, several times throughout the course of the mountain.
Most 9-cell sport skydive parachutes have an aspect ratio of 3.1 compared to a standard paraglider ratio of 6.1 Therefore a paraglider can cover a much longer distance than a skydive wing in straight flight in normal conditions.
For a skydiver it may seem difficult to appreciate or understand the distance that can be covered between the two different wings. A skydiver will look at point A to B and think ‘it’s not possible’ where a paraglider pilots will know it’s possible with their glider and also calculate a path A to B and on to C to reach their destination. This is based on knowledge of what the wing is capable of in different weather and terrain conditions.
When learning to Paraglide or Speed fly avoid the POINT OF NO RETURN – an area where there is no safe place to land your glider/canopy in case you don’t reach your intended destination
Most skydiving parachutes are not very sensitive to small inputs compared to paragliding wings. Even high-performance canopies are not as sensitive as some paragliders. This is because paragliders generally have longer lines and the risers are attached at the hips. At first a skydiver will likely use excessive input on a glider to keep it under control, especially with the toggles. It’s important to become comfortable with the sensitivity of the glider before hitting the mountain.
Overreacting in a paraglide nuisance/malfunction can have an adverse reaction and may result in falling into the glider
A skydiving harness is relatively the same across the brands. In paragliding there are many different types of harnesses depending on the type of flying you plan to do. A paragliding harness for someone starting out should have appropriate back padding to prevent serious injury. A speedfly harness is a simpler design and generally has no back protection.
Just like skydiving, Paragliders and Speed Wings are classed into different categories. Paragliders can be split into A, B, C, D, Competition and Acro. Speed wings usually don’t have a classification but can be categorised into Mini Wing and Speed Wing; and vary in sizes and characteristics. As a skydiver transitioning into Paragliding/Speed fly you should start off using an A or low end B wing and progress onto Mini Wing then Speed Wing, if that is your goal.
Before Speed flying it is recommended to at least reach PP2 paragliding classification training
A skydive reserve parachute is a 7-cell steerable ram-air parachute where a paragliding reserve is most commonly a non-steerable round parachute and is thrown while the glider is still attached to you (no cutaway), so the procedures are very different. A Speed flyer will most likely not use a reserve parachute at all.
Helmets save lives and unless you’re using a rated helmet (such as the TFX from Tonfly) your average skydiving helmet is not suitable for Paraglide/Speedflying. It is essential to use a rated helmet (I use a D-Curve ski helmet) You might also consider wearing appropriate knee pads and boots to protect yourself from obstacles you will come across in mountain flying.
Learning to fly
It is highly recommended that you take a paraglide course from a certified instructor before attempting your first flight. However there are some steps you can take to speed up your learning progress.
Ground handling is the art of being in touch of your glider
Most drop zones will have someone who owns an old glider that may not be safe for flying any more but is perfect to master your ground handling skills. With a mate or videos online it is easy to access information to be able to kite a glider safely on flat ground. The more kiting skills you have the more successful pilot you will be. So before spending lots of money on a Paraglide instructor to teach you to kite, you can try playing with an old wing on flat ground and learn the basics. I recommend even after your course to continue to kite a couple of times a week to really understand the reaction of your glider and have a set of different kiting skills for take-off.
Steps of learning
Whether you are interested in Paragliding or Speed flying the first steps of learning all start the same.
- Learn to kite with old equipment on flat ground
- Take a paraglider course with a certified instructor
- Obtain PP2 certification
- Educate yourself on terrain, weather, self-rescue and buddy rescue
If Speed fly is your goal
If Speed fly is your goal, after obtaining PP2, you must learn kiting with the particular wing you choose to use. Seek out an appropriate instructor or mentor. Grassy (training) hills are the perfect way to start by short straight flights, practising launch and landings until you gain the basic skills to try a different location.
or Speed flying?
After you have gained basic paraglide skills you might be wondering to either to continue your progression with paragliding or move into speed flying. Having done both sports I found both to give similar adrenaline rushes and just as extreme as the other. Speed flying is fast ,no doubt about it, but short rides. Whereas a paraglide flight can last for hours on end – and if you eventually go down the road of Acro Paragliding you will go for spins reaching a couple of Gs. I can say both sports will be rewarding with unbelievable views. Check out the videos below to visually understand the difference between paraglide and speed fly.
Videos for Inspiration
Speed flyer – Jamie-Lee
Paraglide – Jean-Baptiste Chandelier
It may be tempting even as a very experienced skydiver to jump straight into gliders without appropriate training but you must respect these are different sports and approach them with a realistic, educated plan. Your canopy experience will stand you in good stead and if you go through the appropriate steps you will be a skilful pilot shredding the mountains in no time!