Foot-Launched Flight History (PG/HG)


  • Foot-Launched Flight became popular in 1970s with Rogallo-type hang-gliders.

  • In 1986, French Mountaineers started taking square parachutes up during their ascents to glide down to the valley floor to maximize their ascents of different mountains. The term Parapente was coined which translates to Paraglide .

    A letter from an early Paraglider Pilot:

    Hi Jim.

    Saw the web page. Very nice. This part on PG history really is forgotten frequently. When I bought my first PG in 1986, it was due to the fact that Ailes de K in Switzerland had started to make PGs in 1984 just a few, then a full blown commercial production in 1985. Kalbermatten initially contracted a few different sailmakers/sewing facilities, which makes one chuckle, thinking about who those were. In 1986 they were selling something like 4000 gliders, made by a Swiss sailmaker on Lake Geneva.

    That's why often in Europe they, and especially the founder Laurent de Kalbermatten, will be considered the father of paragliding, since they actually had something for people to get and go fly with.

    Mountain climbers in different areas had experimented with parachutes as descent canopies several years before 86. But those things were so ill behaved and sluggish on the ground, that you almost needed a helper or two to even inflate them. And that is when AdK as the first manufacturer came and said : Let's make something, not designed to jump out of airplanes with, but to foot launch and glide down the slopes with. And let's make those 'parapentes' available for purchase as well as set up some schools that teach people how to do it.

    That was the the beginning as I recall it. Janet and Joris Moschard will remember too.

    Thought you'd be interested.


    Christian Mulack


  • Since 1986, many modern safety enhancements have been incorporated to maximize flying safety and comfort . . . reserve parachutes, comfortable harnesses, and most importantly structured training courses through HPAC (Hanggliding and Paragliding Association of Canada).

  • Using modern equipment a Pilot can be assured of flights of over an hour duration using the thermal currents in the summer, and ridge lift in the winter. Canadian Distance records of over 100 km have been set using APCO gliders.

  • Safety records show Paragliding to be safer than General Aviation during the past five years in North American (accidents per 100,000 hours).

    Frequently Asked Questions about Paragliding

    What is a Paraglider?

    A paraglider is a foot-launched, ram-air, airfoil canopy, flown and landed with no other energy than the wind,gravity, and the pilot's muscle power. It gets lift from the wind and sun, providing a way to soar along a ridge or to rise in the warm air of invisible, thermal currents.

    Is a Paraglider the same thing as a parachute?

    No, a paraglider is similar to a modern, steerable skydiving canopy, but different in several important ways. The paraglider is foot-launched from the ground either by running down a hill or being towed into the air. The construction is generally much lighter, as it doesn't have it withstand the sudden shock of opening at high velocities.

    Is this like BASE Jumping?

    No, BASE jumpers open their parachutes to land after they free-fall from bridges, cliffs, or buildings. Paragliders launch from hillsides with their glider already opened for flight. If the glider isn't flying properly the launch can be aborted before leaving the ground. An important distinction!

    What's a Parasail?

    That's what you ride at the beach. It's a modified parachute connected by a rope to a boat. The driver of the boat determines where you go and where you land. Paragliders fly free. In a parasail you're a passenger, in a paraglider you are a PILOT.

    What is the difference between a Hang Glider and a Paraglider?

    The hang glider has a rigid frame maintaining the shape of the wing, with the pilot usually flying in a prone position. The paraglider canopy shape is maintained only by air pressure and the pilot is suspended in a sitting or supine position. The hang glider has a "cleaner" aerodynamic profile and generally is capable of flying at much higher speeds than a paraglider.

    Why would anyone want to fly a Paraglider instead of a Hang Glider?

    Many pilots fly both. The paraglider is more portable and suitable for back packing to launch sites. It folds down into a large pack but weighing as little as 23 pounds, complete. Conversely, a hang glider needs a vehicle with a roof rack for transportation to and from the flying site, as well as 30 minutes to set-up and strip-down. Paragliders are ready to fly in 5 minutes. It's also somewhat easier to learn to fly a paraglider.

    How "physical" is it?

    In BC, paragliders are flown by pilots from 16 to 72 years of age. Hiking to launch is good exercise but many sites can be driven to. Good pilots find that finesse is as important as brute strength.

    How much does a Paraglider cost?

    This varies between makes and models, but a new middle of the range canopy, helmet, and harness will normally cost about $3500 to $5000. Good used equipment is often available for half the price of new. In addition to the canopy and harness most pilots purchase a reserve parachute and other safety equipment Two-way radios, GPS position finders, and a variometer complete the equipment for advanced pilots who fly cross-country.

    How long does a Paraglider last?

    Generally five years of average use. This obviously depends on how and where it is used. Ultraviolet rays from the sun are the greatest source of canopy deterioration. 300 hours of exposure is considered the normal life. Canopies are routinely tested for strength. Long before they become unsafe their flying performance will mark the need for replacement. APCO Gliders are warrantied for 3 years/250 hours.

    How high and far can a paraglider fly?

    The current world's distance record is over 200 miles (set on an APCO XTRA in South Africa in 1995). In Washington State, a pilot launched near Chelan and landed in Canada, over 100 miles away. Paragliders are restricted from flying above 18,000 feet. (Oxygen is normally used above 10,000.) Paragliders have been launched from the highest mountains of the world including Everest.

    How long does it take to learn?

    Student pilots "get their wings" after about 30 supervised flights. After theory and ground school, flight instruction can be done solo or in a tandem glider with the instructor. Training proceeds from the "bunny hill" where you hardly get off the ground to ever higher launches. Solo training is usually performed under radio instructions from the ground.

    Do I need a license to fly?

    No license is required to paraglide. Paragliding is a self-regulated sport under the auspices of the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada (HPAC). HPAC certifies instructors and they issue pilot's ratings based on experience and skill. Responsible dealers always require proof of a rating prior to selling a canopy.

    Who teaches paragliding?

    Paragliding is a life-threatening sport and qualified instructors are the ONLY way to start. In the Canada, the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada (HPAC) certifies instructors. Don't try to learn from a book or from your brother-in-law (unless he's HPAC certified). You want to have a good rapport with your instructor.

    Is Paragliding safe?

    Paragliding is as safe or as dangerous as the pilot makes it. Good equipment, proper training, and most importantly mature judgment make the sport safe. Accidents can happen though; this is an adventure sport after all. Waiver of Liability is required at schools and flying sites.

    How do you buy your first glider?

    First, you need to know how to fly. Equipment is normally provided by your instructor during training. Once you've been "signed-off" he or she can guide you in your choices. Paragliders are rated by performance and safety factors. New pilots should fly only basic gliders until they gain experience and judgment.

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