Powered paragliding

Two powered paragliders in flight

Powered paragliding, also known as paramotoring, is a form of ultralight aviation where the pilot wears a motor on his or her back (a paramotor) which provides enough thrust to take off using an adapted paraglider or paramotor wing. It can be launched in still air, and on level ground, by the pilot alone — no assistance is required.

In many countries, including the United States, powered paragliding is minimally regulated and requires no licence. The ability to fly both low and slow safely, the 'open' feel, the minimal equipment and maintenance costs, and the portability are claimed to be this type of flying's greatest merits.[1]

Powered paragliders usually fly between 15 and 50 mph (25 and 72 km/h) at altitudes from 'foot-dragging on the water' up to 24,000+ ft (5400 m) although most flying is done under 500 ft (150 m) AGL (above ground level).[2] Due to the paramotor's slow forward speed, it must not be flown in conditions of high wind, turbulence, or intense thermal activity.

The paramotor, weighing from 45 to 90 pounds (20 to 40 kg) is supported by the pilot during takeoff. After a brief run (typically 10 feet or 3 metres) the wing lifts the motor and its harnessed pilot off the ground. After takeoff, the pilot gets into the seat and sits suspended beneath the inflated paraglider wing. Control is available using brake toggles for roll and a hand-held throttle for pitch.

Prices for a complete new package (wing, harness, and motor) vary from approximately 5,000 USD to 13,000 USD.



Powered paragliding has seen very limited use in the military including insertion of special forces soldiers into specific areas. The Lebanese Airborne regiment adopted this technique in 2008.


Powered paragliders are useful as replacements to terrestrial vehicles in difficult terrain. In the spring, when the sea or lakes are still frozen, but the ice has begun melting, they cannot be walked, skied, or driven on, and cannot be navigated by boat. Hydrocopters, hovercraft, and aircraft are the only ways to travel in such conditions. Furthermore, if the landscape is fractured by small and shallow lakes and bays, as in swamplands, it may be difficult to navigate even in good conditions. Observation and counting of protected species, e.g. Saimaa ringed seal, in such conditions has been conducted using a powered paraglider.

Another use that has been demonstrated is the herding of reindeer. Although the tundra is open terrain, there are no roads and the terrain is still uneven. A powered parachute can be used instead of a snowmobile or a motorcycle.

Safety and regulations

Research estimates that the activity is slightly safer (per event) than riding motorcycles and more dangerous than riding in cars.[3] The most likely cause of serious injury is body contact with a spinning propeller. The next most likely cause of injury is flying into something other than the landing zone. Some pilots carry a reserve parachute designed to open in as little as 50 ft (15 m). The most likely cause of fatality is drowning.

The lack of established design criteria for these aircraft led the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch to conclude in 2007 that "Only when precise reserve factors have been established for individual harness/wing combinations carrying realistic suspended masses, at load factors appropriate to the maneuvers to be carried out, can these aircraft be considered to be structurally safe"[4]


Powered paragliding can be noisy, depending on equipment flown and distance from the observer, and present a nuisance to people on the ground. This is one reason why flying activities get restricted from flying sites near noise sensitive areas.

License and training

Neither a license nor specific training is required in the U.S., U.K. or many other countries. Where there is no specific regulation (e.g. Mexico), paramotor flying is tolerated provided the pilots cooperate with local officials when appropriate. In countries where specific regulation exists, such as Canada, France, Italy, and South Africa, pilots must be trained, both in flying theory and practice, by licensed instructors. Some countries that require formal certification frequently do so through non-government ultralight aviation organizations.

Regardless of regulations, powered paragliding can be dangerous when practiced without proper training.

For a pilot to get through most organizations' full pilot syllabus requires between 5 and 15 days which, due to weather, may include far more calendar time. A number of techniques are employed for teaching, although most include getting the student familiar with handling the wing either on the ground, via towing, small hills, or on tandem flights.

With special gear it is possible to take a passenger (tandem), but most countries, including the U.S., require some form of certification to do so.


In most countries, paramotor pilots operate under simple rules that spare them certification requirements for pilot and gear. Those laws, however, limit where they can fly—specifying that pilots avoid congested areas and larger airports to minimize risk to other people or aircraft. U.S. pilots operate under Federal Aviation Administration regulation Part 103.


In the USA, the sport is represented primarily by the US Powered Paragliding Association (USPPA)[note 1] which also holds an exemption allowing two-place training using foot-launched paramotors. The US Ultralight Association (USUA) and ASC also offer some support.

In Britain the sport is officially represented by the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association[5] and unofficially by the Paramotor Club.[6]

Trikes and powered parachutes

A powered paraglider trike landing

Lightweight carts or "trikes" (called "quads" if they have four wheels) can also be mounted on powered paragliders for those who prefer not to, or are unable to, foot launch. Some are permanent units.

In some countries, such as the UK, the legal position of trikes is unclear. In the United States, if the aircraft meets the ultralight definitions, no license is required. The same is true in the UK under SSDR rules (Single Seat De-Regulated). However, even in these countries, if the machine has two seats it is no longer an ultralight. In the US such a craft would be governed under the Sport Pilot rules and regulated as a light sport aircraft powered parachute which requires an aircraft N-number and pilots must be licensed.

A powered paraglider differs from a powered parachute (PPC) primarily in size, power, control method, and number of occupants. Powered paragliders are smaller, use more efficient (but more difficult to manage) paraglider wings, and steer with brake toggles like sport parachutists. Powered parachutes typically use easier-to-manage but less efficient wings, have larger engines, steer with their feet, and may be able to take along passengers. There are exceptions; a growing number of powered parachutes use elliptical wings, some use hand controls, and many are light single seat aircraft that meet FAA Part 103 requirements.

World records

Determined by the FAI, RPF1 category.[7]

Determined by Guinness World Records [9]


See also


  1. Unpowered paragliders are represented by the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA) which distanced itself from any motorized flying in 2006
  1. Goin, Jeff (2006). Dennis Pagen, ed. The Powered Paragliding Bible. Airhead Creations. ISBN 0-9770966-0-2.
  2. "Paramotoring Questions Answered". U.S. Powered Paragliding Association. 2006-07-27. Retrieved 2007-01-24.
  3. Jeff Goin March, 2012
  4. UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch "Bulletin S4/2007 Special", August 2007
  5. "British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association". Bhpa.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-10-12.
  6. "Paramotor Club". paramotorclub.org. Retrieved 2011-10-12.
  7. "Microlights World Records". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, FAI. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
  8. "Flying over the top of the world". BBC News. 2007-05-17. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  9. "Microlights World Records". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  10. "Guinness Word Records : Longest Journey by Powered Paraglider". Guinness Word Records, UK. Retrieved 1 January 2013.

External links

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